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My group is very dissatisfied with the item creation rule in D&D 4e. Specifically the fact that it costs exactly as much to create an item as it does to buy it.

The problem is:

  • The economics doesn't pass the smell test. Why sell something at cost?
  • It provides very little value of the feat. The feat represents expertise in crafting, but provides no cost reduction. Essentially it's a "buy whatever you want" feat.

What would be a fair, non-game breaking rule in D&D 4e to allow characters to create an item for less than it's purchase price?

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6 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Reduced Magic Item Creation Costs

When a PC makes a magic item, they may (if they want) attempt to cut costs. This is done with an Arcana check that alters the creation cost up or down by 1% per point under or over the DC.

Rule

Check Arcana at 15 + the level of the magic item. Every point above the required DC results in a 1% cost savings. Every point below the required DC results in a 1% cost overrun that must be paid, or the money and the item are lost.

Examples

So a min-maxed 1st level wizard (20 Int, trained Arcana, maybe a +2 skill focus) will have a +12 Arcana. To make a level 1 item, that's d20+12 vs. DC 21, resulting in a discount 75% of the time, break even 5% of the time, and a cost overrun 20% of the time.

A less optimized 1st level wizard (16 Int, trained Arcana) will have a +8 Arcana, and will get a discount on a level 1 item 40% of the time.

At 11th level, the min-maxed wizard (now at least +17 Arcana) can make a level 11 magic item (DC 26) 55% of the time. The less optimized 11th level wizard (+13 Arcana) can do it 35% of the time.

Note that, the higher the level of the item, the more potential for cost reduction (by %). The ranges are larger. Also, 1% of a more expensive item is a large amount than 1% of a less expensive item.

Options

If you're a very kind DM, you can remove the overrun penalty and just let them roll to reduce the cost; failure just means it costs the base price.

You can have fun with this, too. Offer them special ingredients that cost about 10% of the total cost of the item but give them a +4 to +6 bonus to the roll.

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One trick I am fond of is to introduce treasures which are, effectively, material components for the creation of magic items which may have a cash value of X but when applied to a particular item (or type of item) it is worth some multiple of X (5X is a decent rule of thumb, but some may be more or less). What form these items take is a function of your campaign setting—they might be monster gizzards, elemental gems, relics of an ancient race, or whatever—but the bottom line is that they're specialized to make a narrower band of items and (implicitly) the feat is required to identify and process them.

Thus, the "cost" of making a magic item is the same as if you buy it under normal conditions because residuum is fungible. It is equally viable for any type of magic item, and is the main stock in trade, especially because it's predictable and stable. Merchants are far less likely to carry specialized components because a) there's less guarantee of resale, and b) fire gems tend to explode when shaken and brined beholder eyeballs have a bad habit of moving on their own.

Net result: by adventuring after the appropriate components, players can drastically reduce the cost to construct a particular item.

Now, this has some flaws. First, you need to decide how to value the components when it comes to treasure parcels. Whether they count as their sale value, their specialty value, or something in between depends a lot on how strictly you adhere to the rules for cash and treasure parcels. I'm assuming that if you want to do something like this it's because you want to have players be able to get magic items without being as wealthy as kings, so that should not be a problem—just continue to play it by ear.

Second, you need an arrangement with your players that they not just use these components to make items, then disenchant them into residuum. That would be cheesy and undercut the whole point. If you need to start tracking "disenchant value", then do so. It actually adds an interesting twist to these things if component cost doesn't come back when disenchanting, so the payoff of disenchanting any given item may actually be lower than expected, introducing a bird-in-the-hand kind of idea.

Alternately, if the hang up is the smell test, just make the currency of the dominant power a residuum (rather than gold) standard. It's a little hokey, but it makes things seem a little less silly, and you just add a small "processing fee" to enchantment and disenchantment (so, like currency exchanges, they're technically equal, but the guy making the exchange always gets a cut).

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My recommendation is keep the item creation price as is but make the in-game/setting price higher. Make a separate list or use a multiplier to create your in-game price list. The reason for this is that D&D 4e uses the prices as a balancing factor. Instead of points they use gold pieces. As a consequence the system treats MIs you make the same as MIs you buy.

The logical thing to me is to make the in-game prices higher than the book. Some factor to consider are how long it takes to make the item, and how useful the item is. Some items may have a fad associated with it which will inflate their value.

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The point that 4e uses prices as a balancing factor is well made, but I'm not sure I see why that suggests raising purchase prices over lowering creation costs. Could you explain your thought process there? –  Numenetics Sep 18 '10 at 1:06
    
Also: PHb p224. "Prices shown are the base market price for the items. The actual cost to purchase a magic item depends on supply and demand and might be 10 to 40 percent more than the base market price." Therefore using the ritual actually saves money because you always create items for their base market price, not for the increased actual purchase price. –  user660 Nov 2 '10 at 8:06
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I'd recommend that you check out the changes made to item rarity and creation that comes out with the Essentials line. In the preview article on magic item rarity, they address some of your issues directly and cite rules changes in Essentials that are designed to fix them.

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A link would be wunderbar! –  C. Ross Sep 16 '10 at 21:05
    
    
They went in to more detail at gencon but I can't recall which of the 3 hour long sessions of podcast that information is hiding in. In essence, by taking away the ability for players to buy all but the most basic of magic items, treasure becomes much for exciting again. If they can't buy cool items anymore then the only way to get those items are through adventuring for them or for the "parts" to make them. Seems like a very positive change, and one I'm looking forward to reading more about. –  SladeWeston Sep 16 '10 at 21:16
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4e isn't trying to simulate a "realistic" economy in the way 3e or other editions did. The rules that apply to PCs don't apply to NPCs and vice versa. even for scrap. The focus is firmly on going on adventures. This is why the rules don't really support looking monsters for mundane items to sell. PCs aren't expected to be crafting magical items for profit. 4e classes are balanced almost entirely inside of the combat system; there isn't a way to balance creating magical items at a discount with the rest of a a class's package or other feats that might be taken. Crafting items really exists to provide a colorful alternate way to acquire items, one that can potentially be justified outside of a market environment. Thus, the economics don't make sense. So what you're trying to accomplish cuts against the grain of 4e.

If it helps, think of it this way: crafting magical items economically is a job for a specialist, the sort of person who doesn't adventure, or at least no longer adventures. As an adventurer and generalist, a PC isn't really set up to be a cost effective magical item crafter. They're too busy having adventures to spend the months or years of time to create a fully stocked laboratory and to do the fundamental research to lower the prices.

All that said, I'm betting a small discount, maybe 5%, wouldn't seriously impact your game. If you want to do more work as a GM, give them a big discount, but keep track of how much benefit they get. Did they save 3,000 GP crafting magic items last level? The next level's treasure parcels lose 3,000 GP of value. That preserves the mechanical balance while giving you the economic simulation you want.

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Some of us aren't quite as fond of the combat focus and would like to even it out a bit. –  C. Ross Nov 2 '10 at 1:24
    
A problem with reducing the parcel for the next level is that the character creating the magical items may not be sharing them with the rest of the party. It would be unfair to the rest of the party to reduce the treasure for the next level. And if you keep the rest of the party with equipment but lower it for the one player, it becomes obvious reverse discrimination –  briddums Nov 5 '10 at 1:03
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Another vote for, "If you don't want to sell the magical sword you made at cost, don't sell it at cost."

If the players go on a quest to find a buyer for their magical doodad, I certainly think the quest rewards could be rolled into the sell price, helping emulate profit.

The DMG in 4e is presuming that merchants purchase at 20-50% cost and sell at 100+%, generally making horrible margins. If you really want it to pass an economic sniff test, say that the merchants have formed a guild to control the pricing of magical items and the reason the PCs cant make any money at it is because the merchants guild is undercutting them. (See real-life monopolies and trade-pricing shinagans.)

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