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Suppose I own a greataxe, and a blacksmith owes me a favour. The Smith knows how to craft silvered weapons, and has agreed to do the work as a favour if I provide the raw silver.

The rules on silvered weapons state:

You can silver a single weapon or ten pieces of ammunition for 100 gp. This cost represents not only the price of the silver, but the time and expertise needed to add silver to the weapon without making it less effective.

So clearly the material silver is not worth 100 gp.

How much raw silver do I need to provide to the Smith as material?

My instinct is that the smith will primarily be working the silver into the cutting blades, so a few dozen silver coins would be sufficient. Thus a couple of gp worth of silver?

Is there any further RAW guidance about this? Are there standard interpretations/conventions to cover this?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast was that comment aimed at any aspect of my question in particular? Or just an automatic comment you add any time you interact with someone who's a new user on this particular SE? \$\endgroup\$ – Brondahl Sep 4 at 10:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ The latter. It shows the "new contributor" banner below your username under the question. I see you've actually had an account for a year and a half, though this is your first question here :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 4 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Brondahl not only that... that is a quality first question. Welcome to RPG. \$\endgroup\$ – IT Alex Sep 4 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast yeah, I've been a lurker for a while :D. DnD et al have appealed for a long time, but I've just been invited to a newly-forming group, so now I actually have questions to ask :) (Obviously I'm aware that the DM has the final say, but knowing what's normal and conventional will help me avoid pushing for things that are overly greedy) \$\endgroup\$ – Brondahl Sep 4 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ We're glad to have you! \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 4 at 21:35
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The standard rule for crafting items is a 50/50 split between materials and labor

Both the PHB and Xanathar's Guide to Everything present rules for crafting items as a downtime activity. While the rules differ in some respects, they are consistent on the most relevant bit: the cost of crafting an item is split evenly between the cost of materials and the cost of labor. From the PHB section on Crafting (as well as the corresponding section in the Basic Rules (emphasis added):

You can craft nonmagical objects, including adventuring equipment and works of art. [...] You might also need access to special materials or locations necessary to create it. [...]

For every day of downtime you spend crafting, you can craft one or more items with a total market value not exceeding 5 gp, and you must expend raw materials worth half the total market value.

And the crafting rules in XGtE agree:

A character who has the time, the money, and the needed tools can use downtime to craft armor, weapons, clothing, or other kinds of nonmagical gear. [...] In addition to the appropriate tools for the item to be crafted, a character needs raw materials worth half of the item’s selling cost.

Regardless of which crafting rules you use, you need half an item's value in raw materials in order to craft that item.

What about silvering an existing item?

Strictly speaking, silvering an item is not the same as crafting a new item, so the above rules do not apply directly to this case. However, I am not aware of any rules specifically for silvering weapons that would answer this question, which means the DM is empowered to make a ruling. In my opinion, a DM looking for guidance in making such a ruling would be entirely justified in using the above rules as a precedent to say that silvering a greataxe requires 50 gp worth of silver (and perhaps other materials) and 50 gp worth of labor.

How much silver is that anyway?

50 gp worth of silver would be 500 silver pieces. By the rules, 50 coins of any type weigh 1 pound, so this would represent 10 pounds of silver. At 10.49 g/cm³, that makes about 430 cubic centimeters of silver, or just under half the volume of a 1-liter bottle. (I've elided the tedious unit conversions. You're welcome.)

However, the actual amount of silver might be less than this, since it's possible that other materials are also required for the silvering process, and the costs of these materials would also be part of the total material cost of 50 gp.

As to whether this is anywhere in the ballpark of the quantity of silver that would be required to silver a greataxe in real life, I have no idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A regular greataxe weighs 7lb. So, a thin coating of silver over just the axe-head should weigh much less than this. But like you say, it's possible other materials are required. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Sep 4 at 2:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus I agree, the weight of silver would be very low. The player may have to pay for the charcoal the smith uses in the process. \$\endgroup\$ – mwarren Sep 4 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mwarren Or the acids and electrical components if they're using electroplating. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Sep 4 at 9:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have concerns about how you got to 50 GP being the material cost of silvering a Greataxe. Bear in mind that in the Trade Goods section of the PHB, 1 lb. of silver is worth 5 gp. \$\endgroup\$ – GuidingOlive Sep 4 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the real world, 10lb of silver leaf would be enough to silver half an acre. \$\endgroup\$ – Pete Kirkham Sep 4 at 22:24
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An incidental, token amount

In-Game Reasoning

The rules of silvering you present are correct, but they also mean that it costs the same to have any weapon (or ten pieces of ammunition) silvered. It will still cost 100gp, whether you need the amount of silver required for ten blowgun darts, a dagger, or a greatsword.

Since the cost of the process is the same regardless of how much material is involved, it stands to reason that the value of the "time and expertise" is considerably more than that of the silver itself. Perhaps the smith, by charging the same regardless, is making a little less profit on a greatsword than a dagger, but apparently the difference is not enough to warrant a variable rate.

Furthermore, adding this silver (a relatively soft metal, at least compared to iron or steel) to the weapon is neither reducing the weapon's effectiveness (as stated in the rules) nor increasing its weight (assumed since it does not state that the properties of the weapons change, and increased weight would certainly affect the range of ammunition).

Thus we can conclude that the actual amount of the silver is negligible compared to the "time and expertise" needed to successfully work it, and is certainly less than the initial weight of ten blowgun needles.

Meta-game Reasoning

Comments on this answer suggest that the DM is trying to break up the standard 100gp price of silvering. It may be worth considering why.

Is it that the DM is rewarding you for role-play with the blacksmith owing you a favor? In this case the DM should decide how much of a discount on this standard service they would like you to get, and that decision should be based on how much they want to reward you, not on an accurate calculation of silver content.

Is it that the DM is willing to reduce the price for a desired service in return for a 'fetch quest' of you bringing silver to the smith? This is trope that can be usefully employed, although silver seems an odd choice as it is abundant in most game worlds. In any event, the answer to how much silver you would need becomes 'as much as I acquired in the quest set up by the DM', and again accuracy of calculation is not important.

Is it that the DM is trying to build an internally consistent economic system in the game, which can allow material values to interact with labor costs? Good on them! But I would suggest that they start with high consequence, frequently occurring interactions. If your game is not one in which you frequently are owed favors by skilled craftspeople resulting in such deals, accurate calculation of this particular exchange is unlikely to be useful in setting up the system.

Conclusion

If the blacksmith owes you a favor, but you have to supply the silver, any small, token amount of silver should do. Give the smith a handful of silver coins or a small silver item. This will fulfill any role-playing aspect of you providing the smith with silver without having to accurately calculate what is a negligible and ultimately meaningless price.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure you can logically infer anything from the fact that it costs the same to silver any weapon, or any 10 pieces of ammunition, nor from the fact that doing so doesn't change the weapon's weight. This is likely for reasons of game balance and simplicity, not realism. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Sep 4 at 3:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson I don't doubt that the rule is for reasons of game balance and simplicity. But by the same token then, game balance and simplicity would argue that one shouldn't have to calculate the actual amount of silver involved. The motivation for my answer is to provide an in-game reason for why it doesn't matter. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 4 at 3:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt, "game balance and simplicity would argue that one shouldn't have to calculate the actual amount of silver involved" - which is why they list the price including materials, time & expertise. The question has only arisen because the DM is trying to break up that all-inclusive price. \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Sep 4 at 4:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus If it is the DM's desire to break up the price, then the DM should be prepared to decide how much they would like the PC to pay, since that is more relevant than trying to calculate a price. To the OP's question of "Are there standard interpretations/conventions to cover this?" My answer is, 'my interpretation is that the silver value is negligible, so the DM should impose a token fee.' \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 4 at 4:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer. Silver is a highly ductile metal, and as such can cover a weapon in a layer thinner than common household aluminum foil. And yes, weapons are typically not that heavy... silvering becomes questionable even if doing so only added half a pound of weight (25 coins,) so it makes sense that THAT would be an UPPER limit. And we're not even getting into whether or not the silver is electroplated on (which may or may not be an option in your campaign world,) which would use even less. Seems to me that a token amount of silver--at most a few coins--is the proper amount. \$\endgroup\$ – Lord Blitz Sep 4 at 17:20

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