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Harry Potter and the Natural 20, a fanfic, describes several potential money pumps in the 3.5 rules:

  1. Casting Wall of Iron, and selling the iron produced.
  2. Creating items of summon undead, and then using the resulting undead (he suggests squirrels) to build a mundane item factory
  3. Building a more standard - style factory, relying on commoners, to mass produce mastercraft items

DM discretion aside, are any of these legal under 3.5 rules? More generally, is there an expansion (or fanspansion) which more accurately models economics (and which would properly prevent these kinds of exploits from occurring)?

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+1 for this delightful fanfic :) –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 30 '13 at 2:40
I am afraid these are the lesser of your problems when dealing with D&D economy. –  kravaros Jun 3 '13 at 21:48
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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The money pumps as described are both legal and restrained.

While SirPoley is writing high-opt, he's... very carefully not touching various "I win" buttons and most of his wealth comes from very simple arbitrage. His recent (and brief) dip into artificer failed to produce a number of objects of "I win" (slotless use-activated tatoo of chained shatter, anyone?) He's not touching the infinite reinvestiment engine of the DMG2. Or the astonishing arbitrage opportunities of stoneshape. Or the various hyper-skillup options that can then magically generate money from craft checks. Or any of the dirty tricks. Or the quite literally infinite and unlimited energy of a permanent wall of fire which, with a little effort, translates into arbitrary money. (and so on and so forth.)

The Economicon and other portions of Frank & K's homebrew cycle tend to normalize the economy well

The economicon, is the authors attempt to fix what makes them sad about the 3.5 economy:

100 pounds of gold for a house? How does anyone make rent without a wheelbarrow?" Since time immemorial, D&D has used the "gold piece" as its primary currency. It is apparently a chunk of reasonably pure gold of vaguely standardized weight that people use fairly interchangeably in different cities populated by different species. In the bad old days, each gold coin was a tenth of a pound, which was hilarious and inane. In the current edition, each gold piece is a fiftieth of a pound. That's 3.43 gp to the Troy Ounce, which means that in the modern economy, each gp is about $171 worth of gold. Obviously, gold is significantly more common in D&D than it is on Earth, gold is also undervalued because its status as a currency standard drives it out of industrial uses and causes inflation. Further, populations in D&D are orders of magnitude smaller than they are in the real world, so the gold per person is higher even with the same amount of gold. So the gold piece is massively less valuable in D&D economies than it would be in Earth's economies.

Nonetheless, things are really expensive in D&D, and the high price in gold means that there's a distinct limitation of how much wealth can be transported by any means available. The economies of currency transaction are actually so unfavorable that currency as we understand the term does not exist. Things don't have prices or costs – all transactions are conducted in barter and a common medium of exchange is heavy lumps of precious metal.

While it's scattered about on various sites, the various copies that exist explore the nature of economics, business, and the power relationships of adventurers.

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Frank & K's musings on D&D economy are among the very few aspects of their work that I actually like, and I like those musings quite a bit. –  KRyan May 30 '13 at 2:46
Yeah. Their actual homebrew stuff is eeh, but their theoretical musings are fantastic. As a philosopher, I appreciate how they handle a discussion of chaos and evil. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 30 '13 at 2:47
It's worth noting that a pennyweight of gold was typically worth 8-20 penyweights of silver (depending upon relative purity and trust in the realm issuing the coin), and that few, if any, people would carry more than a few ounces of gold, except for major funds transfers. Letters of Credit were far more useful. Further, a pennyweight of silver was a not uncommon day's labor in pay for a journeyman, though he'd likely be paid in copper coins. Also, most rents historically were paid in product or labor, not coin. D&D, despite having listed sources that mention this, goes all fantasy on coins. –  aramis May 30 '13 at 21:58
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Yes, these and more are legal

It’s fairly trivial to destroy the economy in 3.5. In fact, I have actually seen tables that basically assume that money is unlimited after a certain (fairly low) level.

I’m not super convinced about the undead-squirrel-based factory, since Crafting typically requires checks that are beyond the abilities of mindless undead (or squirrels), but selling off the iron from wall of iron definitely works, as does the far more mundane commoner-based factory.

Some other trivial ways to make ludicrous amounts of money include magical traps (automatically resetting traps of any Conjuration (Creation) spell that makes something valuable), abusing gate and wish (wish can get you ridiculous amounts of material wealth), and Sandstorm’s flesh-to-salt spell (salt has a very-high sale value per weight, and transmuting an entire creature to salt produces a very large amount of it.

Personally, I prefer to try to keep things reasonably close to the Wealth-by-Level guidelines, though I’m much more comfortable with higher-wealth than with lower wealth (see the second half here for more on my thoughts on low-wealth 3.5), because at extremely-high/nigh-infinite wealth, the game becomes extremely homogenous as everyone has access to the same, extremely-powerful features.

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It's legal, but you decide if it's profitable

Most of these exploits tend to gloss over some important details. Let's look at the wall of iron trick.

First, the SRD math.

  1. The material component cost is 50gp.
  2. You need to be an 11th level Wizard to cast Wall of Iron, but let's make him 12th to make the math a bit easier. One casting will get you a 3" thick slab of Iron that's 60 square feet, or 15 cubic feet of iron. (60 sq feet * 3") Cast iron runs about 450 lbs per cubic foot (according to the interwebs), so that's 6,750 lbs of iron.
  3. PHB says that iron is worth 1sp/lb, so that giant hunk of metal is worth 675 gp (-50 for the casting cost). So your computer margin isn't too bad - 625gp.

Now, here's where you as the DM comes in. Some obvious questions:

  1. Who wants to buy a giant slab of iron? And are they going to pay full price for something they'll have to pay to cut down to usable size?
  2. If the party is going to cut it down (or start a foundry), then you get to start charging them for the space they're using. (And the squarest size you can make this thing is 5x12 or 6x10 - and remember it weighs over 3 short tons!). And the supplies they need to heat it up (and where are you getting a furnace that big?) And the manpower...
  3. If you're min-maxing this, you'll be casting this multiple times a day. Which means you also need somewhere to store your 3 ton slabs o'iron. And some way to move them..

Put all those costs together, and suddenly it may not be the most profitable use of a wizard's time...

And when you get to the end of it, there's always GM fiats:

  1. The PHB is "normal" price - adding a few tons of iron to the local supply on a regular basis will likely depress prices (How much iron does a town need?). Basic supply/demand at work.
  2. This is an easy excuse to have a lot of people very unhappy with your party - local miners who are now out of work, other smithies (either because the party is producing cheap goods, or because they now have a monopoly on the supply), any other baddies in the neighborhood who are looking to raid the "merchants"... (And remember to have them attack after they've cast all those 6th level spells!)
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In point 3, you forgot that buying price and selling price are not the same in any economic situation. (To be fair, I don't think the PHB is trying for either; just a right-order-of magnitude standard.) –  TimLymington Jun 3 '13 at 21:45
@TimLymington OTOH, they don't give a sell price, so I could see it being more a DM fiat rather than RAW. (And if I put on my player hat, I'd argue that someone is buying it for 1sp/lb, so why wouldn't they pay me that much?) –  Allen Gould Jun 4 '13 at 1:56
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3.5 has some really obnoxious potential exploits.

3.5 has some (inherited) unrealism. The standard 3.x coinweight is 1/50 of a pound avoirdupois (291 2/3 dwt), about 5.8dwt (pennyweights) - a not unreasonable coin, a little over the weight of the 5.2dwt of the US Sacajaweah dollar. A hefty coin by medieval standards. THe D&D fixed 1:10:100 Gold:Silver:Copper is a problem - copper was almost never that high in relation by weight, and silver was usually higher; 1:12:96 or 1:20:160 is much more "historical". (At present, tho... 1dwt of 18Kt gold is $52, 1dwt of 90% silver $1.05, and 1 dwt of 95% copper about $0.01 - copper and silver have both been extracted in much higher rates than the medieval period could, and gold costs so much to extract that it's value relative to silver has climbed; further Silver and Copper's decorative uses are far fewer now.) Platinum wasn't even really known in medieval times... at least not in Europe. (It was known and used in gold alloy in the pre-contact Americas.)

The use of undead to provide base level labor is doable. It's about the limit of their ability. Turn a crank, push a broom. I wouldn't trust them to paint things, tho dipping whole objects into pain and putting them back on a different belt might work.

The use of undead squirrels to provide the labor to build a factory I find generates much incredulousity... They can't think, so they can't do the assembly. They lack useful manipulators. Stupid but free willed undead might be able to, but not skeletons as described. They could certainly be used in a cage wheel to provide motive force.

There are some excellent expansions on the medieval economy... but they are, for the most part, incompatible with D&D. D&D has a coin based economy - the medieval one was primarily a barter economy, tho city dwellers (under 2% of the total population) dealt in copper coins ranging from 1 to 10dwt, and wealthier townsmen in silver coins of 1/2 to 10dwt; Gold coins were rarer until later, and represented concentrated wealth, seldom exceeding 10dwt, and often a 1dwt of gold being a common townsman's monthly or seasonal income.

Of course, that leaves out using transmute Rock to mud for tunneling (and thus mountainside homes), and the use of wood frames to turn it into high quality bricks... Fortunately, in D&D, that's not a low level spell, so it's not going to be too disruptive.

So, in the long run, while they don't break the rules, per se, they break willing suspension of disbelief. Further, fixing the rules for the economy is nearly impossible, because of the inherited problems from the original simplifications Gygax used.

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