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Do pocket watches exist, how much do they cost and how much do they weigh in D&D in the worlds of classic fantasy such as Faerûn, Dragonlance(Krynn), or Greyhawk? I am interested in the "in-universe" ability to track time up to a minute.

I have found the following comment of Ed Greenwood on sageadvice. According to that, after the Spellplague the use of water-clocks began to spread and large, cumbersome commercial water-clocks costs at least 1000 gp. Ed Greenwood also pointed out that rich merchants, nobles and busy warehousekeepers use pocket watches most often in the Realms; it is customary to wear those watches on a chain around the neck, not on the wrist. I could not find the recommended price and weight for a pocket watch in the official materials.

Editions from 2nd to 5th are of interest. If you manage to find this information, please mention to which edition the material that contains it belongs, if possible. Thanks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer will be diffrent for each setting, please narrow your question down. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Apr 15 at 15:03
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During the 2e era, there was a sourcebook titled Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue. This is a very interesting accessory as it is essentially an in-world catalog of mostly nonmagical items that could be found in a certain buy-through-mail store in the Forgotten Realms. In that book, we have (pages 43, 99, 147):

Hour/Minute Glass: ... various sizes of time glasses: half minute (5 gp), minute (3 gp), five minute (7 gp), ten minute (10 gp), hour (7 gp), and two hour (15 gp) glasses.

Water Clock: Tired of candles for your indoor time-telling? You'll love this marble and glass water clock. ... Sized to fit on mantel or tabletop. ... 20gp

DaRoni's Clockpieces: I built clockpieces of springs and gears and metal-tooled wedges to make true time machines. Some have winders and others have pendula, so tell me what you want. From 75 to 230 gp.

In the 5e, the price of an hourglass is 25gp. So perhaps there is some inflation or perhaps some items that require delicate workmanship has increased in price. Taking that into account, and the fact that DaRoni was the Faerun's equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci and was building only as commissioned, and finally the fact that you are aiming much smaller devices, the prices should be above the 1000gp level.

Moreover, it is not likely that the technology level of the Realms is high enough for the construction of non-magical watches. It is likely that they are semi-magical constructs. The church of Gond is very active in coming up with such inventions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is well sources except for the last part, do you have any more references? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13 '20 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ The "some have winders and others have pendula" part is notable; in the real world, there were portable torsion pendulum devices (drum, egg, and sphere watches in Germany) that were too imprecise to count minutes, were often worn around the neck but too bulky for a pocket, and date back to the early 16th century. They were still complex and fragile, but didn't require the level of miniaturization that geared watches do. Those would be more feasible non-magical devices in lower-tech settings. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_eggs \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13 '20 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage: That is partly my subjective overview, but is based on Q&A like the following: Is there an official reason the Forgotten Realms is stuck with “medieval” technology? \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Sep 13 '20 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ The earliest geared watches also were so imprecise that they could not count minutes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mary
    Sep 13 '20 at 21:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mary Speaking of gears, The Antikythera Mechanism has gearing of considerable precision made of bronze from about 300 BC. I think what was lacking for watches was the kind of steel needed to make springs. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 15 at 14:00
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The other answers excellently address the potential cost of ordinary clockwork, but I have an alternate proposal:
In 5th edition, a magical pocket watch may be cheaper than the mundane variety... if you can get one.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything introduces a Common magic item, the "Clockwork Amulet", which is described as containing "tiny interlocking gears", "powered by magic from Mechanus, a plane of clockwork predictability". One can hear "faint ticking and whirring noises" when listening closely to the amulet.

The Clockwork Amulet's function provides its owner a guaranteed number to substitute for the die roll when attacking, once per day. Regardless of how the amulet uses its connection to Mechanus to produce this magical effect, it seems far more complex than timekeeping. It stands to reason that anyone capable of creating a Clockwork Amulet could also build a timekeeping device running off the "clockwork predictability" of Mechanus.

The prices of Common magic items in 5e are fairly consistent.

  • The DMG lists the value of a Common magic item as 50–100 gp.
  • XGtE lists a Common magic item's asking price as (1d6 + 1) ✕ 10 gp; an average price of 45 gp (After, at minimum, one week and 100 gp spent searching for the item).
  • In Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, there is a store in Trollskull Alley which sells a small variety of Common and Uncommon potions for prices ranging from 50 gp to 250 gp. Another merchant will provide a variety of spell scrolls from a short list; 1st level scrolls (Common) are 50 gp each.
  • In Tomb of Annihilation, an NPC in Port Nyanzaru sells +1 ammunition (an Uncommon item) at 50 gp each, and another sells Common potions of any variety for 80 gp and 1st level spell scrolls (also Common) for 100 gp.

If one is available, based on the numbers given above, it seems that a Mechanus-powered timepiece should cost under 500 gp. Even within the requirements of XGtE's downtime searching, it would only take a few more weeks of searching and a few hundred additional gp to ensure that one can find a seller with a specific Common magic item which is the focus of one's search.

A clockwork device powered by an planar connection is certainly an object of more rarefied trade than those everyday adventuring items... So its availability in a particular setting would depend on the frequency of interplanar travel and trade. In a detail that may be telling, Dragon Heist lists a shop in Trollskull Alley run by a pair of genasi armorers, suggesting that Waterdeep is truly a cosmopolitan city at this time.

5e adventures in the Forgotten Realms setting are generally quiet about trade in magic items, aside from examples like those above. But the books suggest that DMs have a lot of latitude here—Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus boasts "If something can be given a price, it's for sale somewhere in Baldur's Gate."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also keeping with the roughly medieval time IRL equivalence of most fantasy settings, non-magical timekeepers would be far more expensive to manufacture (and still barely on time) than 500GP. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Jul 15 at 9:19
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Yes, they exist in the larger D&D universe

In the Curse of Strahd campaign for D&D's 5th edition, one of the random trinkets that an adventuring party may find (from page 210) is:

A pocket watch that runs backward for an hour every midnight

People will be quick to point out that Barovia is not Faerûn, Dragonlance/Krynn, or Greyhawk but I think Barovia is definitely a "classic fantasy setting." It was seeded by the core lands of the first couple of D&D editions and is connected to the various planes of existence, including the material plane that holds Toril/Faerûn, etc.

There is no evidence, one way or the other, as to whether the watch came from Barovia originally or found its way to Barovia from some other location. However, I will say that, if a watch is able to originate from the resource-poor (meaning both the building material and the skilled labor required to design, create, and maintain a pocket watch) land of Barovia, I would have to imagine that they exist in the realms beyond the mists.

This is further reinforced by the fact that Rock Gnomes have the Tinker racial feat which grants them the ability to make similar devices:

Using those tools, you can spend 1 hour and 10 gp worth of materials to construct a Tiny clockwork device

The list of devices is limited to a clockwork toy, music box, or tiny fire starter. However, it is my belief that this list is merely indicative, and by no means comprehensive, of all the things that gnomes can and do make.

Even so, it does suggest that perhaps a tiny clockwork device like a pocket watch might be valued at about 10gp. That might not sound like much until you realize that this is five days' wages for a skilled hireling or 50 days' wages for an untrained hireling (page 159 of the Player's Handbook).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent use of pay scale to keep perspective. \$\endgroup\$
    – aaron9eee
    Apr 15 at 20:04
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Well, the only official item I know of that has a listed price and is also some sort of intricate internal mechanical stuff would be the Gold Music Box Found on page 135 of the DMG for 5e. this item is a treasure so it unfortunately doesn't have a listed weight, but we do know the price which is a hefty 2,500gp.

The price for gold as a trade good in 5e is 50gp for a 1 pound bar of gold. (Pg.157 of the PHB)

Now, these prices are what you as a character could generally buy these items for, so now we just have to decide how big and heavy a golden music box would be.

In the real world, early music boxes tended to be smaller, small enough to fit inside a pocket watch actually as they were invented in similar time periods. Even today, most music boxes are very small, especially ones made from or plated in gold as it is a very soft metal so a larger volume just means it is easier to damage.

Looking online, some of the largest golden music boxes I could find (With a quick google search mind you) Were only 3 inches by 2 inches by 2 inches. If this were a solid chunk of gold, it would only weigh 0.5111 pounds, so it tells me that a majority of the price of this item is from the internal clockwork to make the music when it opens, not the gold.

I would honestly say with this that watches would be very expensive, probably not going for less than 1000gp. Which makes sense for wealthy merchants and nobles to be some of only a handful who can afford this item. For the warehouse owners, I don't really know, maybe the company invests in a heavy duty steel one that is ugly but could probably take a swing from a sword and come out alright and it just stays in the company for a few generations until it breaks down.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want another price comparison for a precision device, you could look at the spyglass (PHB 150), which is 1000 gp. Granted, a clockwork timepiece and a small telescope don't look very similar, but both are hand-held devices which require a high degree of manufacturing precision. (This supports your estimate of a pocket watch being at least 1000 gp.) \$\endgroup\$
    – BBeast
    Sep 13 '20 at 11:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Updated the question. Cumbersome water-clocks cost at least 1000 gp. \$\endgroup\$
    – ben-ben
    Sep 13 '20 at 12:15
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I'm not sure this will be as precise as you need your time but in 3.5ed there's a magical item called a Firmament Stone. It was listed in the Dungeonscape book. It's a violet iolite gem with a clear crystalline appearance that has been treated with an alchemical substance that reacts to the position of either the sun or the moon. While the heavenly body to which the stone is attuned is in the sky, a small yellow light glows within the stone, crossing from one side (when the body first appears in the sky) to the other (when the body sets). By examining the position of the glow, you can approximate the time of day or night. Firmament stones attuned to the moon also show the phase of the moon by altering the shape of the glow that travels through the stone each night. 110gp each. Get a pair of them, one for the sun and one for the moon, with a 20th of a pound of mithral for a case and a bit of chain, and you'd have a basic pocket watch for about 245gp. A farmer's almanac and some adjustable markings in the case should get your time pretty accurate, though I don't know if you could get it down to the minute in something that small.

Firmament stones are listed as 1/2 pound each, so two of them plus the minuscule amount of mithral is about a pound. But since it's just a gemstone treated with an alchemical substance you could theoretically just use smaller stones for a lighter and smaller object though at the expense of less accuracy. Or do the opposite and scale it up for more accuracy at the expense of increased size and weight.

There is a bit of a problem with this idea, mainly at night when the sun stone wouldn't be lit. Because the moon is not always in the sky at night. It lags behind the sun by about 50 minutes, which is what causes the phases of the moon. There's also some variation due to the axial tilt. That farmer's almanac will allow you to adjust the hourly markings correctly, and doing so on even monthly basis should allow it to be fairly accurate. But only on the days of the full moon will you actually have a 24 hour clock and even that only for the six months of the year that the sun is up for 12 hours or more. The fact that the moon slowly shifts would actually be beneficial for the shorter days, as it would provide time after the sun has set for a little more than a quarter of every month.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may be worth noting that prices between 3.5e and 5e aren’t consistent, so the actual gold piece count is dubious. Still, cool find, and I love the with put into figuring out the combination and how well it works. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Sep 10 at 1:34
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Well, in Xanathar's Guide to Everything there's the Orb of Time. It's a common magic item that, using an action, can show you whether it's morning, afternoon, evening or nighttime; it basically works like a pocket watch. Common magic items are around 100gp. That points toward the most basic version of a pocket watch being around that price.

Those 1000gp are for a water clock, which is a huge bulky thing that barely fits into a room; it's more like a tower clock. It's very expensive because you need a huge amount of material.

It depends, though, in which century your adventure takes place. Lantan reaproached in the late 15th century, so a pocket watch shouldn't be a huge hassle in that time period.

With that considered, a pocket watch is often a fashion item (somewhat). It could cost from 100gp to way over 5000gp (IRL there's a difference between Casio and Rolex as well, so there's no reason why it should be different in any D&D world).

Any experienced craftsperson should be able to build one if it's invented yet in your setting... or maybe a player character IS the inventor of those devices... I mean, why not? Artificers are a thing in Faerun, so there should be at least the possibility for your players to obtain such a thing early on without letting them decide whether they want cool magic items OR a lower fashion item like a pocket watch.

IMO 1000g is a bit much for a basic item. Compare that to other items that have a mechanical use and ask yourself whether you want your players to decide whether they want to flavor up their character OR being mechanically useful. I mean, why not both? Because most of your players will always prefer mechanical use over flavor... flavor isn't worth anything if you die the next day. I'd go with the lowest price you find for fashion/flavor items and give them to your players for the most basic version of said items.

As a DM (for over 20 years) I always went with "Whatever suits the character concept!"... and it always paid out to not be a jerk about it. It suits the fun of the game. So if a player wants to play a former merchant that once had a big business running but is now a rogue... I really don't see any reason, why said character shouldn't start with a pocket watch "for free" at character creation.

Disclaimer: I don't want to impose anyone my style of play! I just made the experience that's mostly often a good thing to give your players the most puzzle pieces you can offer to flesh out their characters early on.

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