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Benefits of Living Standards in D&D 5E

The 5th Edition of D&D defines six levels of living conditions, from Wretched up to Aristocratic with different costs associated. However, apart from hob-nobbing with the rich (or the poor) there are no real mechanical benefits to each standard of living. This leads many players to ask: "Why pay 10gp a night to live at an Aristocratic Standard, when I could sleep in a ditch for free?"

The most obvious answer is: "Because you won't have to sleep in a ditch!" but roleplaying benefits are not mechanical rewards, and some people are more focussed on the later than the former, which is a perfectly fine way to play. If you need your gold to buy diamonds for resurrection, you won't want to waste it on expensive inns.

Standards of Living

Standards of Living are dealt with in Chapter 5 of the Player's Handbook (pp157–158), in the section on Expenses. Each standard has an associated cost per day, from 0 (for wretched) up to 10gp+ (for Aristocratic). Xanathar's Guide to Everything expands on the Downtime activities that you can do between adventures, adding some that subsume (or in the case of crafting, subsidise) your living costs.

Lifestyle Price/Day
Wretched-
Squalid 1 sp
Poor 2 sp
Modest 1 gp
Comfortable 2 gp
Wealthy 4 gp
Aristocratic 10 gp minimum

Spending all your time practicing a trade allows you to maintain a poor lifestyle without cost. Spending your time in the wilderness with Surivial Proficiency lets you live at a comfortable lifestyle (PHB p159). If your trade is Performance, you can use it full time to maintain a wealthy lifestyle without cost, while being a member of a professional organisation makes it comfortable (PHB p187).

Adding Benefits (and penalties)

Your choice of living standard has benefits and penalties beyond the impact on your bag of gold. Sleeping uncovered in a freezing alley has immediate consequences; long term it is extremely bad for your health. A night of luxury in a sumptious caravanserai with peeled grapes on hand boosts your spirit immensely.

In the following table a Brief period is one or two nights living at the level, while an Extended period is a week or more. If you spend an extended period living at a level you also get the benefits (or penalties) of a brief period.

LifestyleEffects
Wretched Cannot regain Exhaustion
Cannot Long Rest
Brief: -2 HP (min 1) per Hit Die rolled
Extended: Gain 1 level of Exhaustion if you have none
Squalid Brief: -1 HP (min 1) per Hit Die rolled, -1 Hit Die recovered
Extended: Cannot regain your last level of Exhaustion
Poor Extended: Cannot regain your last level of Exhaustion
Modest-
Comfortable Brief: +1 HP per Hit Die rolled
Wealthy Brief: +2 HP per Hit Die rolled, +1 Hit Die recovered
Extended: gain temporary Hit Points equal to your level each morning, and for 1 week afterwards
Aristocratic +2 HP per Hit Die rolled, +1 Hit Die recovered
Brief: your Hit Point Maximum is raised by 1/2 your level. This effect lasts while living at this level and for 1 week afterwards regain 2 level's of Exhaustion per Long Rest instead of one Extended: you gain Inspiration each morning while living at this level

References to rolling Hit Die at squalid and above are for characters taking a short rest (see below), or groups using the the slow natural healing rules (DMG p267), if you aren't using them ignore the HP per Hit Die modifications when taking a Long Rest.

Changing Living Standards

Detrimental effects of a living standard take effect as soon as you start living at that level. Similarly beneficial effects (except those noted as lasting longer) end as soon as you stop living at that level. Brief effects begin after the first night, and Extended effects on the 7th night.

Example

Gambling George spends three nights living like an Aristocrat after a big win. He gains +2 Hit Dice after the first night (and +2 HP rolled if using slow healing), and raises his hit point maximum by half his level on the second day.

On the fourth day he loses everything betting on racing snails and is chucked out into the street with only the tunic on his back. With no other option, he spends the night in an alley at Wretched level. Despite spending the night, this only counts as a short rest. After two nights in the alley he also gains -2 HP per Hit Die rolled (relevant after he gets beaten up by street thieves). However he still keeps the raised hit point maximum until day eleven.

Resting in the wilderness

It is a sad fact of the adventuring life that many characters will find themselves resting in dank caves, foetid swamps, and noisome tombs. A wise adventurer brings a Ranger, a comfortable tent, and a Leomund's Tiny Hut.

The following table equates conditions during a short or long rest with the lifestyle conditions above, and gives the benefits of a brief period at that level. For example, a long rest in a Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion carries the benefits of a brief period of Aristocratic lifestyle (+2 HP per Hit Die, and recover 2 levels of Exhaustion per day), while a short rest in an Otyugh pit has the same effects as a night of Wretched Lifestyle (-2 HP per Hit Die).

LifestyleEffects
Wretched Short rest in a truly horrible place: an Otyugh Pit, a charnel house, a catacomb
Short rest in a dungeon without Surivival Proficiency or a proper camp (e.g. no fire in the cold, nothing to sit on, no hot food)
Long rest in the wilderness without shelter in bad weather, without the Surivival Proficiency or any sort of camping gear
Squalid Long rest in a dungeon
Short rest in the wilderness without shelter in bad weather, without the Surivival Proficiency or any sort of camping gear
Long rest in the wilderness without Survival Proficiency or a proper camp
Poor Short rest in a dungeon
Long rest in a dungeon with Leomund's Tiny Hut
Long Rest in the wilderness without Survival or proper equipment, but spending all day on it
Rest in the wilderness without Survival Proficiency, but with normal camping gear
Modest Short rest in a dungeon with Surival Proficiency or Leomund's Tiny Hut
Rest in the wilderness with Survival Proficiency or camping gear
Comfortable Short rest in a dungeon with Survival Proficiency and Leomund's Tiny Hut
Rest in the wilderness with Survival Proficiency and camping gear
Wealthy Rest in the wilderness with Survival Proficiency and high quality camping gear (double all costs)
Rest in the wilderness with Survival Proficiency, camping gear, and Leomund's Tiny Hut
Aristocratic Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion

Example

Parolin the Penniless and Richy Rich the Bard head out into the wilderness for an adventure. Neither has proficiency in Survival, but Richy has at least packed a good tent for the two of them.

On their first night out they camp in a woodland, under the shelter of the trees, and using their tent. The rest counts as modest, so they gain no particular benefits or penalties. The next day they delve into a goblin infested hole. Things go badly. Both adventurers are wounded, and are forced to hide in the goblin's garbage pit for hours.

Their time in the garbage pit counts as a short rest in wretched conditions. Both characters roll hit dice to regain some hit points, but each hit dice restores -2 HP. Both are still wounded and no one is happy.

Finally winning free of the goblin hole the pair are dismayed to find that their tents have been stolen by the goblins while they were hiding in the trash heap. They have no choice but to head back towards town, and sleep in the open. Since they have neither Survival proficiency or tents this counts as squalid conditions — they still have -1 HP on each hit die they roll. (They could spend a day in the wilderness on their long rest to raise it to poor, but choose not to.

The next day they get back to town. With little gold, Parolin chooses to roll herself in a blanket and sleep in a freezing ally each day; Richy sets out to sing in the local taverns instead.

After the first night Parolin is living at a wretched level. She rolls her hit dice to recover, but still suffers -2 HP on each one, so she is still hurt. Despite sleeping all night she only counts as taking a short rest. Richy's performance proficiency keeps him at a wealthy level. Richy rolls his hit dice to recover and gains +2 HP for each dice.

After a week, Parolin is going downhill. She gains a level of exhaustion that won't shift (disadvantage on all ability checks) — and probably a horrifying cough. Richy, meanwhile, gains temporary HP equal to his level, and no cough.

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