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I want to create a magic item that would be basically a lute left by the almighty Pun-Pun. I highly doubt that he would lower his standards to use pitiful materials like adamantium or platinum. I am wondering what is the most expensive material in the world of Dungeons and Dragons that could be used instead.

Materials from Dragon and Dungeon magazines are welcome. Previous editions would be fine as well, but their value would require a conversion to 3.5.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like an invitation to homebrew something... \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Apr 25 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon I think it's workable. "Single most expensive possible lute" is more workable than "come up with a lute for me" the same way "help me optimize this character for this purpose" is more workable than "come up with a cool character for me". \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 25 at 17:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon This looks like an optimization problem along the lines of "highest price for the seller" optimization. It also has a single criteria. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 25 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a shame that 3.5 edition doesn't have astral diamonds, it would be the most expensive easily. \$\endgroup\$ – Aguinaldo Silvestre Apr 26 at 5:07
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Black, pure, abyssal bloodiron, strung with a dragon's vocal cords and demilich teeth (~44,000 gp)

I'm starting with the following assumptions:

  1. Pun-Pun can only exist in D&D 3.0/3.5, so only materials detailed in that edition qualify.
  2. We're only interested in the most expensive material, per pound, which could feasibly be used to build a lute, and will ignore other factors which would increase the lute's value, such as exceptional craftsmanship, historical importance, or magical enhancement.
  3. No priceless materials. A material must have a defined price to be expensive.
  4. Based on the question's mention of adamantium and platinum, we should assume that it's possible for Pun-Pun to craft a fully working lute out of any material, despite that instrument ordinarily being made of wood.
  5. As per Complete Warrior p.136, a particular object can be made of only one special material. No silvered adamantine.

Using the Giant in the Playground Special Materials Index as a reference, the most expensive I can find are abyssal bloodiron (Planar Handbook p.69) and thinaun (Complete Warrior p.136), which both cost at least 10,000 gp for a weapon, or 3⅓ the price of adamantine.

Thinaun costs 10,000 gp for a light weapon (ranging from 1 - 4 lbs) and 15,000 gp for a one-handed weapon (3 - 8 lbs), so at first glance it's more expensive than abyssal bloodiron, which is 10,000 gp tops. However, lets remember one thing: Pun-pun the kobold is a Small creature, and a lute sized for him weighs a quarter of normal.

That's ¾ lb for a wooden instrument. Now, if you just polymorphed that from wood into steel, it would become approximately twelve times heavier and weigh 9 lbs, but the acoustics would be all wrong. A functional lute is sounded by the ability of the strings to resonate the body. That's why lutes are normally made from a light material like wood. The lute has to be made of thin enough metal to weigh something much closer to 1 lb, so we're unlikely to need 15,000 gp worth of thinaun.

So thinaun and abyssal bloodiron are both 10,000 gp for a weapon, but abyssal bloodiron also increases the cost of magical enhancements by 2,000 gp. While we're not counting the price of enhancements in the overall material value, it's a given that this lute either has been enhanced, or soon will be by whichever adventuring bard acquires this most legendary item.

By this tiebreaker, abyssal bloodiron is the most expensive special metal. It's more expensive than adamantine (3,000 gp for a weapon), obdurium (twice that, at 6,000 gp), Oerthblood (6,000 gp) and stygian ice (6,000 gp per weapon, 2,000 gp per pound). It's more expensive than starmetal, which as per Complete Arcane costs 5,000 gp per weapon. And while riverine (Stormwrack) is extremely expensive, it's still no more than twice the price of adamantine for any given use.

Aside: Why not gemstone?

For the previously mentioned reasons of acoustics, I don't believe that diamond or gemstone has the right material properties to make a working lute, at least not one that anyone but the superhuman Pun-Pun can play. Gemstone is generally too hard to vibrate and the sound response would be poor. We also don't know what size a diamond is, so it's impossible to price.

However, in Into the Wormcrawl Fissure (Dungeon #134, p. 85), there is a single star sapphire the size of a fist worth 12,000 gp. The specific density of sapphire is about 4 g/cm³, meaning that even if you did produce an instrument from this gem (which would ruin the visual qualities of cut and clarity that gems are generally valued for), a 10cm cube of sapphire weighs 4kg, or 8.8 lbs, giving this sapphire a value of only 1,364 per pound.

But if we're trashing priceless gemstones, lets go all the way and scrap a chaos diamond (DMG p.252), a one-pound gem the size of a fist and costing 160,000 gp. At this point, however, we have to stop, because, firstly, we could trivially use epic-level adamantine bracers of relentless might (4,384,000 gp for 1 lb) or even an infinite value of epic items.

Secondly, as I've mentioned, I do not believe any normal person could reasonably play a solid diamond lute.

But we can make it even more expensive.

Dragon #347, p. 47 describes pure ore, a variant type of ore of exceptional purity found on the Plane of Earth. Using as little as one ounce of pure iron ore is sufficient, and increases the cost by 400 gp per lb, or 80% the price of mithral. Abyssal bloodiron is, as the name suggests, a carefully smelted alloy of extraplanar iron and blood. Crafting an item from this material should pose no challenge to Pun-Pun.

However, abyssal bloodiron has this ugly red tint to the edges, and that's not to everyone's taste. That's why we use colored metal (Races of the Dragon p.122), a kobold crafting tradition which uses trace minerals to change the hue of metal. Doing so increases the price of an item by 10% to 25%.

Depending how many pounds of metal make one light weapon (I'm assuming between 1 and 3) and the price of coloring, we're looking at between about 4,100 and 13,000 per pound.

I'm omitting the possibility of alloying with Oerthblood (Dragon #351 p.45, +6,000 gp per weapon), as it's described that weapons "must be made of a specific alloy", suggesting that this is a material rather than an additive like pure and coloring, and I'm also assuming that even if you had sufficient metallurgy skill, you'd essentially be making half oerthblood and half abyssal bloodiron, which would only dilute the price.

I'm also ignoring pandemonic silver coating (Complete Warrior p.136, +9,000 per weapon), as the same page notes you can't make an item of multiple special materials, and I feel like this qualifies; but also importantly, pandemonic silver has the properties of alchemical silver, and DMG p. 285 is clear that the alchemical silvering process doesn't work on rare metals; it also only works on steel, and abyssal bloodiron is strictly speaking a form of cold iron. You could arguably apply it to thinaun, which is a steel alloy, but again I'm not counting this, as I feel it's against the spirit of the no multiple special materials rule.

But we're not done yet! A lute needs strings: dragonsong strings (Dragon #332, p. 52-54), crafted from the vocal cords of a gargantuan dragon, costs an additional 18,000 gp. This is quite possibly the most expensive component of the entire instrument. This isn't a magical enhancement, so it fully counts as a material component.

Is there any way to make it more expensive?

User ShadowKras notes that other power components made of other dragon body parts (Dragon #332, p. 56) have a market price. If any of these can be used as part of a lute, and weigh more than their equivalent in abyssal bloodiron or thinaun, they would increase the instrument's price significantly.

  • Horn of an adult force dragon (42,200 gp): A gargantuan dragon has a standing height of around 16 feet (Draconomicon), so at a conservative estimate its horn might be two feet long and 6 inches wide at the base, which assuming a perfect cone of solid keratin is about 226 cubic inches volume giving us just under 5kg (11 lbs) of horn, amounting to 3,836 gp per pound. Three pounds would cost 11,508 gp, making this a close contender to black pure abyssal bloodiron (11,440 to 13,000 gp for one light weapon), but the margins are too close to call.
  • Fire-breathing dragon teeth (220 gp): Since this works for any size of dragon, one could easily use four full wyrmling teeth as tuning pegs. Four real-world guitar tuning pegs weigh about one-tenth of a pound, giving us a value of 8,800 gp per pound and allowing us to increase the item's price by 880 gp.
  • Demilich soul gems (40,000 gp): If we want to be ridiculous, we can instead craft our four tuning pegs from the soul gems a demilich uses as teeth (Dragon #317, p.47). Eight soul gems have a value of 40,000 gp, allowing us to craft our four tents to add a value of 20,000 gp.
  • Other dragon parts don't make much sense as part of a lute (a dragon heart might make an excellent bagpipe or drumskin, but not a lute) or are too large to be worth much pound-per-pound. A prismatic dragon skull is worth 22,500 gp, but even a wyrmling prismatic dragon is Huge, so its skull might equal that of a T-Rex, weighing around 2,500 pounds (and while that's a figure for a real-world stone fossil, bone has a a similar densities), making it very cheap per pound of material.

Pun-Pun could, if he wished, make an even larger lute, and with epic checks no doubt even play an instrument too large for him to reach the strings (as a free action, while balancing on a cloud, etc). Once it begins to weigh as much as a one-handed weapon, it's definitively more valuable to switch to thinaun. Since thinaun is likewise a steel alloy, all of the above enhancements would equally apply. In fact, if you don't feel like visiting the Blood War to mine abyssal iron, and don't intend to magically enhance the instrument, thinaun would be evenly priced even for a small instrument.

The exact price of abyssal bloodiron and weight of a functional lute made from metal are not specified, so we can't easily pin down the price for the finished item. What we can say with certainty is that it's made from the most expensive material.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an amazing answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Tobyhn Apr 26 at 6:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not only is this pricey, but it's also exotic and in line with Pun-Pun's spirit. \$\endgroup\$ – Bernat Apr 26 at 8:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh boy, I dont know if you actually read the magazine, but you missed such a big opportunity in your answer. Keep reading up until you get to page 56-57 (Power Components), and look at the material component cost of dragon hearts (25,000) and horns (42,000). Assumedly, this is all third party and the prices are sky-high. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Apr 26 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Note that according to a logo on the top-left of the front cover of the issue, Dragon magazine is considered official material, rather than third-party. I did notice power components in the article, but these are for reducing the cost of magical enhancements rather than the actual crafting material, so I did not count them. I bet Pun-Pun could craft a cool flute out of dragon horn, though, or turn a dragon heart into a huge set of bagpipes... \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Apr 26 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden I suspect dragons would not like you very much if you had one. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Apr 26 at 22:33
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Star metal at 10,000 gp per pound

Star Metal is the most expensive material I could find. From Forgotten Realms Adventures (AD&D 2e, p.141):

A typical price was 10,000 gp per pound (22,100 gp/kg)

From Complete Arcane (3.5e, p.141):

Starmetal is extraordinarily hard and is equal to adamantine for all purposes. (...) Creating a weapon of star metal costs 5,000 gp more

Do note that those are two different scales, one is listing the price per pound of star metal, and the other is the price to craft a weapon using that material, which may not be completely made of the material and may include the purification and extra work necessary to forge the alloy and turn it into a weapon, as comically noted in this Order of the Stick comic:

enter image description here

For comparison, Mithral is listed as 500 gb per pound under Special Materials. According to Draconomicon (3e) under Trade Goods for calculating dragon hoards, Adamantine is priced the same as Mithral (100 gp for an ore). But we don't have the price per pound of adamantine, we may only guess they are equal or higher than mithril's, as their ore has the same cost.

So, Star Metal is 20 times more expensive than mithril and possibly adamantine too.

Considering that we have two listed prices (per pound and to craft a weapon), and that a lute is not (normally) a weapon, a medium-sized lute (3 lbs) would cost 30,000 if being forged purely from star metal, not including any art, jewelry or adornments, or even the cost of the strings.

Oerthblooded star metal alloy

The Oerthblood metal, mentioned in Dragon Magazine #351 is not a special material per se, but it must be turned into an alloy together with other metals, such as iron, steel or mithril, and it increases the base cost of the item on top of whatever other material it is made of. The benefit is doubling the hardness and increasing hit points by 50%, and granting a +1 luck bonus to attack rolls and causing a -1 penalty to saves against spells on foes struck by it.

So, an oerth-blooded iron weapon would cost +6,000 gp, while an oerth-blooded mithril item weapon would cost even more. While the article does not mention other metals it could be mixed it, other than iron, steel, and mithril when giving out examples of the hardness increase, it doesn't really exclude that idea either.

That said, even though the 3.x's version of star metal is listed as +5,000 gp for a weapon, it could be oerth-blooded into a new alloy, oerth-blooded star metal to increase that to +11,000 gp. Making that the second most expensive metal alloy in the game.

I won't be mixing this with Thinaun (+10,000) or similar, because those are already described as being iron or steel alloys. Being mixed alloys, they could affect each other and not actually produce a better alloy, but a more fragile one. That is a metallurgy question for your GM though.

But since star metal is a pure metal and not an alloy, it should be a valid combination for oerth-blooding.

Hold on, I said second most expensive, right? Well, what would be the first, then?

Oerthblooded star metal alloy coated in Pandemonium silver (and this is not a metal band cover, yet)

Yep, following that same logic of raw ore plus oerth-blooded alloy, we also have the Pandemonium Silver (Complete Warrior, p.136), which isn't a special material either, but a coating of silver extracted from the plane of Pandemonium, which costs +9,000 gp to coat a light weapon. I am going to use the cost of a light weapon because that is the closest I can imagine to a musical instrument like a lute, but the price for coating one-handed weapons is +11,000 gp and for two-handed weapons is +13,000 gp.

This brings our special alloy, now coated in silver from the Pandemonium, to a total of +20,000 gp (!), not including any jewelry we could possibly add to it, or the possibility of using dragonsong strings (Dragon Magazine #332, p. 52-54, as pointed out by Quadratic Wizard) for that additional 18,000 gp.

There is something else cooler in this, this coating also has a special effect when exposed to any wind:

In addition, a thin, unearthly scream issues forth from a bladed weapon made of pandemonic silver whenever it’s unsheathed in at least a light breeze.

Enjoy your Luck-bringing Outsider-slaying Screaming Lute of Pandemonium.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ switched from "star metal" to "sky metal". One quote referred to it as "starmetal" but that might be the quoted text. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Apr 25 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras, The page for special materials lists adamantine weapons at an extra 3,000gp. I'm not sure why the Draconomicon lists them at the same price, but from that page we can see that they aren't equal, just based on the differences in the other crafting costs. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Apr 25 at 20:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ So it is possible it isn't the material value of adamantine we're seeing in the SRD, but rather the full cost including the labor intensive smithing? If that is the case then that also makes me question how valuable obdurium actually is, given that it has twice adamantine's hardness. Maybe it's so expensive to get goods made out of it because it's such a pain to actually use the stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Apr 25 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ The confusion about prices is probably explained in this Order of the Stick comic. As noted in the 2e link, star metal is typically found in small quantities and used to produce alloys, such that a "star metal weapon" typically just has a small fraction of its material being actual star metal. \$\endgroup\$ – Nat Apr 26 at 11:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am willing to concede that this answer is the best one. However, such a screaming, infernal lute must be crafted with both the "razor sharp" and "serrated' special weapon properties, because anything else wouldn't be metal enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Apr 30 at 16:50
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Riverine from Stormwrack is water trapped between carefully-shaped walls of force. It’s fantastically expensive (2,000 gp/lb. for non-armor item), would be preposterously difficult to make into a lute, and is basically indestructible. Sounds perfect for Pun-Pun’s lute.

I cannot guarantee that riverine is distinctly the most expensive special material in the game, but I don’t know of any more expensive.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it would help this answer if you shared the cost. \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Apr 25 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ How about Riverine, but with a copper coin floating around inside? Would that be more expensive? \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Apr 25 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PinkSweetener It might not be any good as Riverine at that point, the same way your boot but with a copper coin stuck in it wouldn't be as valuable a boot as a coinless boot (despite ostensibly costing an extra copper coin). \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 25 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this stuff have any special properties? Might be worth to add in why you'd want to use it for anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Apr 26 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik As I said, it’s basically indestructible. Armor made from it gets special properties, but for a lute it’s just exceedingly durable. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 26 at 18:53
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Thinaun

Thinaun is a dark, glittering metal with the strength and weight of steel. It is extremely rare, being found almost exclusively in the Outer Planes, but its true value comes from its unusual property to attract souls. A creature who dies while in physical contact with a piece of thinuan, or a weapon or object crafted from it, will have their soul trapped within it.

Since star metal is only used for improving weapons and armor and is technically to scarce (if you are trying to stay lore-friendly) to be made into even a lute, regardless of cost, it is very difficult to find a source that could be accurate. Thinaun, however, costs 10,000+ gp at the absolute minimum for a light weapon. Pun-Pun's lute could cost far more depending on the size and what accessories he adds. I could not find the page, but it is found in the Complete Warrior supplemental rulebook.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good find. Also, that stuff is absolutely horrid. \$\endgroup\$ – Benjamin Apr 25 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Benjamin Probably not too bad when made into a lute, unless you're bashing people to death with it. \$\endgroup\$ – JAB Apr 26 at 7:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JAB There is an equine sheriff who does just that \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 26 at 12:28
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You're going to have quite a time pricing it but don't look at metals, look at gems. Pun-Pun would have crafted it out of diamond or something of that caliber. Raw diamond can be worked into the desired shape with Stone Shape, nothing comes to mind to fuse pieces together but at his power level that certainly should be possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what I was thinking, too. With the spell soul bind having set a precedent for black sapphires of any value being available somewhere and sizes for gems not being standardized, a black sapphire (or whatever) lute that's worth as much as Pun-pun wants it to be worth seems like the way to go. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Apr 25 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan it's worth even more with a soul bound into it. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Apr 26 at 2:57
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Obdurium (from page 35 of the Stronghold Builder’s Guide) is twice as expensive as Adamantine, but it has 60 hp/inch and 30 points of hardness (both values are 1.5 times that of Adamantine). For a legendary artifact, it seems like a good option. An obdurium weapon costs 6,000 gp more than normal.

Besides the base material, it is also important to consider alloys when determining materials and costs. In particular, Dragon magazine issue 351 (page 45) mentions a special material called “oerthblood” which doubles the hardness of the base material and multiplies the hp by 1.5. For a weapon it raises the cost by 6,000gp.

Assuming lutes are priced similar to weapons, this would make Pun Pun’s obdurium-oerthblood instrument cost an additional 12,000gp for the materials alone. And this isn’t taking into account any non-material features he decided to add into the construction, such as dwarvencraft/elvencraft, skill enhancements, making it a magic or intelligent item, or any of the Artisan Craftsman special properties (described in Dragon Magazine 358).

And for those paying attention, this metal has a hardness of 60 and 90hp/inch.

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