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This question asks how a party can move 10,000 pounds of gold coins quickly, to remove them from a treasure vault before the Waterdeep authorities arrive and demand their share.

Currently three answers (here, here, and here) and a comment on a fourth answer from the author of one of the three answers, suggest using the spell Fabricate to turn the coins into solid ingots, the better to count as a single object for the application of spells like Reduce. So far, no one has expressed any objection to using the spell like that.

Because my objection is longish, and rather than start a comment dialog that will be moved into chat on three separate answers, it seemed better to ask this as a separate question. Am I misunderstanding the Fabricate spell; can finished coins actually be used as the raw materials for ingots?

Fabricate says:

You convert raw materials into products of the same material. For example, you can fabricate a wooden bridge from a clump of trees, a rope from a patch of hemp, and clothes from flax or wool.

That seems pretty straightforward to me - 'raw materials' in, 'products' of those raw materials out. The examples make sense - a clump of trees is used to make a bridge, a patch of hemp is used to make a rope, and flax or wool are used to make clothes.

But all the answers on the linked question assume that you can use the spell to turn coins into gold ingots; that is, that coins are somehow 'raw materials' that are used to make the finished 'product' of an ingot.

Now, I don't doubt that you could melt down coins and use them to make an ingot, or even that people have actually done that at some point. But that doesn't seem like the normal production of finished goods that the spell assumes, whereby the product is much more highly processed than the raw materials. A coin, as I see it, is hardly a 'raw material'. Since 5e coins are apparently pure gold, one must first mine the ore, extract the gold, purify it, and then hammer it into sheets that are just the correct thickness to be cut into coins. If they are to be actual coins, and not just circular pieces of gold, they then need to be minted, or have figures, words, and numbers impressed on them with hand-crafted and possibly engraved dies. This level of processing can hardly result in what I would call 'raw materials', and while a solid gold ingot has been subjected to some of the same processing, it seems like objectively less.

For full context, the DM asking the question has made this heist a central theme of their campaign, and it appears that they want the players to succeed, but also to have to work over many sessions to come up with a functional plan that challenges their resources and creativity. If a DM wants the spell Fabricate to work in such a way to serve their greater campaign narrative, then good on them. I am not asking whether a DM should allow this or the merits of doing so.

It doesn't seem to me like this is what the spell, RAW, actually does, and that is what I would like answers to address.

Related, but for 3.5e, Can I use fabricate to turn gold coins into ingots worth three times as much gold?

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“Raw materials” literally means only “materials used to make something else.” Anything that can be used to make something else can be considered a raw material. That is, something is a “raw material” only with respect to a particular process of creation—the finished product of one process may well be the raw materials used by another process.

Merriam–Webster, for example, defines “raw material” as

crude or processed material that can be converted by manufacture, processing, or combination into a new and useful product

(emphasis mine)

The examples given in fabricate are, themselves, somewhat illuminating. Consider that we have both “wool,” as well as “a clump of trees.” Wool requires some processing to obtain—it has to be shorn off of sheep. Meanwhile, in most cases, the “raw material” assumed for wood objects is lumber, that is, trees that have been cut down and sawed into more-or-less uniform pieces. Most processes wouldn’t consider still-living trees to even be raw material, as they need harvesting and processing to become lumber, the “real” raw material for most purposes.

Unless, of course, you’re operating a logging operation.

Ultimately, “raw material” is always a relative term, where the material is “raw” only in comparison to the final product. Fabricate uses the term in the same way: whatever you’re casting the spell on, has to be something you could use to produce what you’re trying to get out. There are no other restrictions.

And, for the record, nothing about the process of turning gold into coins does anything to them that prevents them from being used for other goldsmithing. In fact, given that coins typically come with a stamp guaranteeing a certain high and standardized level of purity, they’re a pretty good raw material for goldsmithing—not as convenient as an ingot carrying a similar sort of stamp, but nonetheless. If nothing else, gold coins were often used as the raw material in the forging of more gold coins, because old and damaged coins were recycled into new coins.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I think it would be extremely difficult to quantify how processed something is, and I’d point out the processing for ingots and coins just about exactly the same—purify, weigh, mold, stamp. Just different molds, really. In both cases, arguably less processing than clothes, I’d think. And ingots definitely are the typical raw material that most smiths work with. “Raw material” just means different things to different people. At any rate, I don’t really think there’s any justification for trying to split hairs of this sort with fabricate; I don’t think any such were intended. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7, 2022 at 2:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Another thing to consider: in the modern era, a major “raw material” necessary for a lot of industries—and generating many headlines today due to supply issues—is computer chips. There are a ton of standardized ICs produced by any number of suppliers that are bought off the shelf or in bulk to incorporate into commercial and hobbyist projects. An integrated circuit is an incredibly processed piece of technology, but I don’t think you could argue that fabricate would fail to assemble them into a circuit. I’d sooner expect it to fail if starting from sand and copper. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7, 2022 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, my only point was that there may be some undesirable story consequences if it becomes known to the local authorities that the players are doing this. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 7, 2022 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AustinHemmelgarn In the original question that prompted this, local authorities already would have had strong objections, since legally the coins belonged to the city and not to the players. But fair point in general. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Feb 7, 2022 at 15:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott When the value of a gold piece depends on it being a piece of pure gold, as opposed to modern fiat currency whose value depends on trust in the government issuing it.... if it's not actually pure gold, it's counterfeit and phony, and a) doesn't actually have the value expected and b) is going to make people upset if they find out. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2022 at 16:43
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There Is No Rules-As-Written Answer

What you're asking for is a 5e-defined bright line categorization of "raw materials" vs "not raw materials." But there isn't one, only three small examples from the spell itself which are not sufficient to generalize to all cases.

Failing that, 5e falls back on a tradition of "plain English reading" or "Idiomatic English reading." But here we also run into difficulty, because "raw material" is highly context sensitive, and no bright-line rule really exists in English; no single definition is going to do justice to the concept unless it is a contextual definition pinning itself to known concepts like the progression of unfinished goods into more and more complex goods.

You can insist on a definition that favors metal ores and fresh fallen tree limbs, or a definition that favors ingots and dressed timber. I think there's a strong case to be made for a GM's right to favor one over the other, as long as it's communicated early and consistently. But there is simply no support in the rules as written for favoring one over the other that I can see, on an idiomatic basis.

I, myself, would allow the use of coins, based on the following two-prong logic:

  • I just really doubt that the designer intent is to consider silver ore as raw material for a silver sword, but not silver ingots, and,
  • I just can't see the meaningful difference between silver ingots and silver coins, in this context. They're just different shapes of the same stuff. (Frankly, I would probably vanish in a puff of semiotic smoke if I tried to work through the ramifications of why a 4th level spell would care about the difference between ingots and coins.)

But I would not pretend that is a Rules-as-Written ruling. It isn't. It's a GM filling in the blanks because the rules are not infinitely precise ruling.

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Let's not quibble amount the meaning of "Raw Materials"

5e isn't SAP Enterprise Resource Planning software, where each item number is defined as raw, in-process, finished, etc. In this case, it's just a material we use to make something else. And even SAP will let us make an assembly out of multiple finished goods. 5e wasn't written by material planners, it's just regular people.

Of course, we can use "finished goods" to make other things. While the examples given use trees to make a bridge, there's nothing stopping us from using a truckload of staves to do the same thing. The spell restrictions just mean we need to use material to make material. Coins are just minimally-processed metal anyway.

It's fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That is perhaps the single most horrifying and hilarious answer I have ever seen, and it will haunt my nightmares forever. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Feb 7, 2022 at 18:01
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Every DM I've had has allowed us to use coins as raw materials. The reasoning was sound, in my opinion: we were basically buying materials by using money as the materials. This created a finite amount of materials to use and we obviously had to carefully manage how we did this or possibly go broke and starve to death. Money wasn't always hard to come by, but this made it reasonable to use as a source.

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As many have said, "raw materials" is somewhat difficult to parse out. But take a look at the bigger picture: What is happening here?

To make something in the mundane way, you have inputs, in the form of raw materials. And then people would do work on the raw materials in order to eventually produce an object. Fabricate essentially replaces "a bunch of people doing hard work" with "I snap my fingers". If I could pay workmen to, eventually, produce the object I want Fabricated, then the spell can do it. (The spell even explicitly references artisan's tools if you want to get fancy, further implying this link.)

In other words, I can (using the example provided) make a bridge out of some trees. But I can't make a metal sword out of trees. The phrase "raw materials" means that, while some degree of transformation is involved, you can't squeeze blood out of a stone. Fabricate is not True Polymorph.

Could a bunch of people take gold coins and melt them down into ingots? Absolutely. Then they are "raw materials" for the purpose of this spell, at least when used to make bullion or (say) a gold statue (if you also meet the artisan's tools requirement).

In the same way, if you had the raw ingredients for, say, alchemist's fire on hand, then using Fabricate to make alchemist's fire seems like a perfectly reasonable use of the spell.

I would also allow someone to take old, rusty metal objects and Fabricate a new piece of equipment out of them, or use Fabricate to, say, repair a sword that had snapped in half. Because you could hire a blacksmith to do that, Fabricate can do it also. (But do note the restriction to one object per casting generally makes this a waste of a slot.)

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Coins are not raw materials

Fabricate states:

You convert raw materials into products of the same material. For example, you can fabricate a wooden bridge from a clump of trees, a rope from a patch of hemp, and clothes from flax or wool.

“Raw materials” has no special definition in the context of the rules, so we understand it in its usual English definition. Borrowing from the Wikipedia article for the term, we see:

The term raw material denotes materials in unprocessed or minimally processed states; e.g., raw latex, crude oil, cotton, coal, raw biomass, iron ore, air, logs, water, or "any product of agriculture, forestry, fishing or mineral in its natural form

This definition of raw materials is consistent with the examples given in the spell description, “clump of trees”, “patch of hemp”, “flax or wool”.

What we are looking for to use with fabricate are materials in their natural form. Coins are indisputably not the natural form of the minerals they are composed of, rather, coins are already a final product having been manufactured from raw ore for use as currency, so they are not eligible materials for fabrication via fabricate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Odd to go to a wiki article for a definition, my search finds 'the basic material from which a product is made' and is more akin to how I am people I talk to understand it. The raw material in a ladder for example wouldn't be a tree, but wood. That might still disallow coins from working, but for different reasons. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6, 2022 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri what products are made directly from coins? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6, 2022 at 20:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage Coin collections and flat pennies. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 6, 2022 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ "magic items can't be created or transmuted by this spell. " If "Magic items" specifically can't be transmuted (the raw material side) by this, it seems like that leaves "items" available. \$\endgroup\$
    – Daveman
    Feb 6, 2022 at 23:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Historically coins are raw materials in the "coin -> smaller coin + shavings" process \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleth
    Feb 7, 2022 at 10:10
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Coins are not “raw materials” (probably)

Coins are clearly manufactured and so do not meet the definition of raw materials in the sense that Fabricate uses it. They are the end product of a processing and manufacturing process and are rarely, if ever, turned into something else.

An argument could be made that they can be an input into a business and are therefore raw materials in a metaphorical sense but a) that’s not what the spell contemplates and b) you’d have to accept that a businesses’ workforce are also raw materials and therefore valid targets for the spell.

There is a question as to whether the metal gold is a valid target - except for alluvial gold, the metal is the processed form of gold bearing ore, so it’s not a “raw material”. Strictly speaking, only alluvial gold in nugget or dust form is “raw materials” because smelting it into ingots is processing it.

This is a variation of Sorites paradox aka the heap problem. Human language has a category called “raw materials” which you want to have hard, clean edges so that something is clearly in the category or not in the category. However, the edges of the category are inherently and unavoidable blurry. Each DM has to draw their own line.

Let me illustrate by using something the spell actually mentions: “a wooden bridge from a clump of trees”.

  • What if the trees have been felled?
  • Does it matter if they were felled deliberately be lumberjacks or naturally by a storm?
  • If it does, does it matter if the storm was magical?
  • If it does, does it matter if the magic was a “natural” intrusion from the Plane of Air or a spell?
  • Does it matter if the felled trees have had their limbs removed turning them into logs?
  • Or if the logs have been turned into lumber? I means, lumber is clearly the raw material of bridge building. Wooden bridges at least.
  • What if the lumber has been turned into a wagon?
  • What if you disassemble the wagon, turning it back into (used) lumber? After all, second-hand lumber is the raw material for some very expensive furniture.

Where do you draw the line?

Me, well, a grove of trees is definitely ok and a pre-existing bridge definitely isn’t. (Although, an older bridge can serve as its own raw materials for a rebuild …). Everything else, I’ll decide on a case by case basis.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You end with calling a bridge raw materials, which is in direct contradiction to the rest of your answer, and even the sentence directly before it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6, 2022 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri of course. That’s the point. “Raw materials” is a fuzzy category. Bridges (and coins) can be recycled - does that make them raw materials or not? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Feb 6, 2022 at 20:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ But your headline is quite clear that they are NOT raw materials. If you are trying to say 'its unclear' then you need at least a new headline. It reads as if you wanted to say no, but slowly convinced yourself that actually they might be, and the answer ended up muddled. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Feb 6, 2022 at 20:50

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