March 20, 2016 – See the updated version of this homebrew variant at the bottom of this page. The image links to a PDF I created.
This is part two of a series on homebrew rules for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.
Exhibit 2: Magic Items & Their Market
There is a persistent misunderstanding about buying and selling magic items in 5th Edition: that there’s no market for it. Certain people maintain that the Dungeon Master Guide specifically prohibits the existence of a magic item market, but this is, frankly, poor reading comprehension. Page 129-30 of the DMG says the following about selling magic items:
Few people can afford to buy a magic item, and fewer still know how to find one. Adventurers are exceptional in this regard due to the nature of their profession.
A character who comes into possession of a common, uncommon, rare, or very rare magic item that he or she wants to sell can spend downtime searching for a buyer. This downtime activity can be performed only in a city or another location where one can find wealthy individuals interested in buying magic items. Legendary magic items and priceless artifacts can’t be sold during downtime. Finding someone to buy such an item can be the substance of an adventure or quest.
The remainder of the section, entitled Selling Magic Items, goes on to provide a complex series of hoops necessary to sell your goods. I will go into further discussion of why this is easily the worst method below. Suffice it to say, a magic item market exists, it’s just harder to break into than in previous editions.
Part of the problem with selling magic items has to do with the paradox of their value and ubiquity. To illustrate how this can rapidly cause problems I would like to go back to everyone’s love-hate partner, 3rd Edition.
Suppose that you have established a lucrative company which employs wizards to summon Efreeti from the Elemental Plane of Fire who are then subdued and coerced into using their spell-like abilities (SLAs), as detailed on page 116 of the 3.5 Monster Manual. Once per day, every Efreeti your company has chained in a heavily guarded Planar Blocked room could be slapped around into granting three Wishes, each granting your organization their choice of the following:
- A nonmagical item of up to 25,000 gp in value.
- A magical item
Such an enterprise would immediately destabilize the global marketplace. Nonmagical items worth up to 25,000 gp would flood the market. Mighty fleets of three-masted warships could be conjured faster than new sailors could be trained to crew them. Currencies based on the intrinsic value of the precious metals they contain would become obsolete as tons of gold, silver, and platinum were simply created and melted down into bars for trade. Armies would have hundreds of archers each equipped with Composite Longbows (+249). Accidental death would be a thing of the past as diamonds worth 10,000 gp would be little more than shiny rocks whose sole application in society was to hand a cleric so they could Resurrect your loved one.
Additionally, an organization with Efreeti-powered mass production abilities would gain control of the entire magic market, and would shortly amass the capital to buy out all their competitors and establish a monopoly. Until, that is, another group of people managed to do the same. Then another. Then another. Magic items would eventually become ubiquitous and devalued, such that someone who couldn’t afford to get a new set of kitchen knives might simply grab one of the magic daggers hanging on the wall, stuffed under the floorboards, or propping up the wobbly table leg to finish preparing dinner. An attempt was made to balance this latter problem by imposing a limit on the value of magical items created by wish. The number 15,000 gp was chosen arbitrarily (incidentally, this is also the maximum value of currency rendered in platinum pieces that a creature such as a Balor can take with it when using its Greater Teleport SLA), and while it helps, it still leads to the same issues as experienced by mundane items. You could trade magic items worth 15,000 gp like nothing, but you’ll never find a magic item worth 15,001 gp available for cash. That kind of thing is rare, special; it sells for an altogether different kind of currency, like maybe “true love”, or even “your soul”. Cue the Faustian bargains.
Anyone with even an amateur knowledge of economics can see how this kind of system is completely flawed. A “market value” is a purely economic measure determined by supply and demand, and cannot serve as a reliable measure for the efficacy of magical abilities. And yet, this is exactly the same mistake that Wizards of the Coast has repeated in how they managed magic items in 5th Edition.
The first and most serious complication of using market value as a determining factor when dealing with magic items demonstrates just how little thought evidently went into the process of magic item creation in 5th Edition. Below are three charts provided in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for crafting and selling magic items:
Table 1-1: Crafting Magic Items
Item Rarity Creation Cost Minimum Character Level
Common 100 gp 3rd
Uncommon 500 gp 3rd
Rare 5,000 gp 6th
Very Rare 50,000 gp 11th
Legendary 500,000 gp 17th
Table 1-2: Salable Magic Items
Item Rarity Base Price d100 Roll Modifier
Common 100 gp +10
Uncommon 500 gp +0
Rare 5,000 gp -10
Very Rare 50,000 gp -20
Table 1-3: Selling Magic Items [simplified]
d100 + Mod. Result
<21 You find a buyer offering 1/10th base price.
21-40 You find a buyer offering 1/4 base price.
41-80 You find a buyer offering 1/2 base price.
81-90 You find a buyer offering full base price.
91+ You find a buyer offering 1.5 times base price.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the problem with this system. For the time and investment that it takes to create a magic item, there is minimal opportunity for making a profit. In fact, you’re more likely to take a loss in your sale than you are to even recoup what it cost you to create the item! So much for rewarding ingenuity. Consider the following cautionary tale before accepting this system:
Imagine that you have sought out the greatest masters to teach you the secrets of weaponsmithing. Braving primeval forest trails to reach elven sages and hunting dangerous monsters for crucial components for particular advanced spells, you have crafted a powerful sword. It is your single greatest achievement. You plan to sell this weapon at the annual market in the capital, where the wealthiest swordmasters will seek a blade worthy of their name. Your creation, a broadsword you have named Flame Tongue for its power to alight with crimson fire, is unique in this part of the world. You learned the secrets of its creation from the inscriptions on the wall of the lost forge of an ancient elven kingdom’s preeminent artificers. Crafting this weapon took the better part of a year and consumed your entire fortune. That’s fine, you think, because surely such a blade would be priceless in the eyes of a wealthy duke or prince.
You arrive at the fair on the first day. It will last but one week, and after that you will have to seek another market for your ware if you are unable to find a buyer. You roll first your Intelligence (Investigation) check to find a buyer. It’s a DC 20, and you roll 23. You then roll a d10 to determine how many days it will take to find this buyer. You roll a 6. Cutting it close, that’s the last day to sell in the market, as it will take you the remainder of today to set up your stall. You look to your other wares, swords of masterwork quality and perfect balance. They’re but essays in the craft; they will sell, but they won’t provide you the fame and fortune that you deserve. Now for the next most important roll. Your d% roll for determining the price you get offered. Your roll is 28. You also roll a Charisma (Persuasion) check and add the total to this. You roll a 16. Your total is 44, which is not bad, but then – because this is a very rare item you’re selling – you apply a -20 to the check, and you wind up with only 24. Damn.
Your prospective buyers are rather cheap. The foreign ambassador negotiating on behalf of the neighbouring kingdom’s crown prince offers you only 1,250 gp for the weapon – a quarter of what it cost to make this masterpiece! Your protests that its value is much greater fall on deaf ears; His Highness has only a meagre allowance while his father finances a costly war to protect his trade interests in the north. Perhaps another 250 gold can be offered, but full price is out of the question.
Crestfallen, you must refuse the offer. Not only is the weapon worth far more, so is your reputation and desired lifestyle. The new guildhall you planned to open will cost 5,000 gp alone, and you spend upwards of 7 or 8 gp a week maintaining a comfortable lifestyle while forging arms and armour to perfect your trade. The practical benefits of applying yourself toward mastering the crafting skills are, for the first time, seemingly useless. As you prepare to pack up your stall, however, you are approached by another man. His client – whose name is unimportant – has interest in the weapon. Your asking price means nothing now that you’ve received but one other offer. Any offer is better. Nonetheless, they’re willing to meet you halfway. A sum of 2,500 gp is offered to salvage your operation and keep you afloat, albeit at a loss. It’s only half the investment you made into crafting this weapon, but it’s enough to let you live comfortably and pursue other, less high-stakes endeavours. Perhaps shoeing horses, or forging standard weapons for a local petty lord. As it becomes apparent that this is the best offer you’ll get, your dreams of a large estate to retire on begin dwindling. You accept the offer with a heavy heart. The client pays in precious gems, diamonds and rubies. Most of them are, at least. When you have the stones appraised, three of them turn out to be elaborate fakes. That’s what you get for dealing with shady buyers. Your fortune has now dwindled to 2,000 gp, less than half your original fortune. Your foray into forging the mightiest weapons has left you in the red.
Obviously this is not an encouraging narrative, and it does not suit a game that moves from milestone to milestone in a constant string of accomplishments. Furthermore, if the magic item market is so minimal in this edition, newly crafted items are easily the most attractive commodities which would fetch truly outrageous markup prices.
With these considerations in mind, I have revamped Tables 1-1 and 1-3 to create more lucrative prospects for those who develop the highly precious ability to craft magic items.
Table 1-1: Crafting Magic Items (Revised)
Item Rarity Creation Cost Minimum Character Level
Common 25 gp 3rd
Uncommon 100 gp 3rd
Rare 1,000 gp 6th
Very Rare 10,000 gp 11th
Legendary 100,000 gp 17th
Table 1-3: Selling Magic Items (Revised)
d100 + Mod. Result
<21 You find a buyer offering 1/10th base price.
21-30 You find a buyer offering 1/4 base price.
31-40 You find a buyer offering 1/2 base price.
41-60 You find a buyer offering full base price.
61-70 You find a buyer offering twice the base price.
71-80 You find a buyer offering three times the base price.
81+ You find a buyer offering four times the base price.
Using this method, players who choose to invest their fortunes into a crafting endeavour will be far more likely to reap their deserved rewards. It would take poor business acumen to suffer a loss on something as valuable as a magic item with this improvement to the vanilla formula. Your players are sure to thank you.
Image credit: Wizards of the Coast (via D&D Adventurers League)
March 20, 2016 – This homebrew variant has been updated. See the PDF below (click the image link).