7
\$\begingroup\$

I'm running a 5e Eberron campaign. My players are about to discover that Lhesh Haruuc is secretly building a lightning rail line from Rhukaan Draal towards Sterngate, aided by a rogue scion of House Orien. In this campaign, slavery is legal in all of Darguun (contra the statement on pg. 112 of the official 5e campaign setting). As a result, other nations and dragonmarked houses are extremely reluctant to deal with Darguun: think anti-apartheid divestment. So Haruuc is funding this project himself, with assistance from his collaborator from House Orien and his own slave labor.

I want to determine, realistically, how quickly this line could be built. Haruuc thinks greed will take over once he connects to existing rail lines, and that House Orien will start sending trains to Darguun. So he isn't building trains; he's only identifying the best route, grading it, and installing conductor stones. The big unknown here is the conductor stones:

  • How much does the raw material for a conductor stone cost?
  • What level of magical ability is needed to manufacture a conductor stone, and how long does the process take?

A conductor stone is clearly a magic item of some kind, but it's not clear to me what its rarity is. This post indicates that in some previous edition the conductor stone was described as an air elemental bound in a Khyber dragonshard; however, I can't find any explicit statement to this effect in the 5e book. Pg. 235 describes the conductor stones but implies that they're distinct from whatever holds the bound elemental:

Each cart...has a conductor stone embedded in its underside. A corresponding set of conductor stones laid out in a line on the ground interacts with the stones in the carts to form a rail for the train to follow. Lightning arcs between the two sets of stones, accounting for the system's name.

The elemental vessel at the front of the train, called a crew cart, holds a bound air elemental that propels the train along its route...

Similarly pg. 275 states that air elementals bound in Khyber dragonshards are the basis for the lightning rail, but doesn't mention conductor stones.

This old post asks about the price of conductor stones, but it seems to be asking about finished stones, not the raw materials or the labor required. (And the discussion didn't reach a conclusion anyway.)

I'm not interested the mechanics of the actual procedure for creating a conductor stone; my characters probably won't be doing this. (If they do, I can use the suggestions in these answers for inspiration.) Rather, I want to get a sense of how the process scales up. I'm happy to assume that Haruuc has enslaved high-level magic users (including gnomes, if necessary for elemental binding) and/or skilled artisans from House Cannith. If I can get a sense of how much gold the raw materials for one conductor stone would cost, and how many person-hours are required to create one, I can extrapolate costs per mile of the lighting rail line.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Historical Note: The price and crafting cost of conductor stones was not specified in any previous edition's version of the Eberron campaign setting. In 3.5rd edition, they were explicitly not made from dragonshards and did not contain bound elementals; only the the lightning rail coach (the "engine" at the front of the train) did. Oh, and you needed at least one conductor stone every five feet for them to function as a traversable path for a lightning rail coach. (I wish they had listed a price for the things; one of my players wanted to establish their own lightning rail line.) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Aug 1 at 23:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good to know! And 5 ft apart is consistent with the artwork. That's about 10x more stones per mile than the estimate below. I think the resulting range (50-500 gp/mi) gives the DM room to choose a reasonable rate that fits the story. \$\endgroup\$
    – A. S. K.
    Aug 2 at 5:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Thank you for the added info from earlier editions. I updated my answer to reflect the larger number of stones. A. S. K., if you would use the 50gp/stone, this would cost over 50,000 gp/mile to construct. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2 at 10:12

2 Answers 2

21
\$\begingroup\$

This is up to you

The short answer is that I think creating such a conductor stone would likely cost about 50 gp and take about 5 days of work in a 5e framework. But you as a DM have total liberty to set the cost to fit your narrative.

Technical answer

For a technical answer, the magic item rules on page 281 state that:

Normally, a magic item in Eberron is created using the crafting rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide or Xanathar's Guide to Everything. But if you have a dragonshard, you can more easily create a common magic item.

The Orien trains are described to have lightning arcs between the carts and the conductor stones that make up the rail. With the carts being 60 feet long there must be at least one conductor stone per 60 feet, or about 90 such stones per mile, maybe more (based on artwork and earlier editions, you would need a stone every five feet, or over 1,000 stoned per mile - credits to GMJoe for the info).

Considering that the lines extend for hundreds and thousands of miles, the system needs many hundred thousands of these stones. That sounds like these should be common magic items:

Common magic items, such as a potion of healing, are the most plentiful (DMG, p. 135).

Without dragonshards, according to XgtE p. 129, crafting a common magic item costs 50 gp, and will take a workweek of 5 days. (Based on the DMG p. 129, the cost would be 100 gp, and take you 4 days of 25 gp increments; consensus is that the pricing in the DMG is high, which is why the XgtE optional rules lowered it).

With dragonshards, there is a simpler process to create such items:

The Creating Common Magic Items table states how much time and money you must spend to craft a common magic item with a dragonshard, which is expended in the creation process. The hours of creation can be spread over multiple days, which needn't be consecutive.

The price given for a common magic item that is not a spell scroll or potion of healing is:

Common magic item Time Cost
Any other common magic item 32 hours* 50 gp*

* Halfed for a consumable item like a potion or scroll

Based on this, the price should be 50 gp. At over a 1,000 stones per mile, the cost of one mile of track would be above 50,000 gp.

Economic answer

Your question is about economy, and the lighting rail is effectively a railway system. Another way to look at this is: what can one mile of track cost for this to make economic sense?

We can try and estimate this from translating the cost of real world railway systems, which need to be economically feasible too. Using rough numbers, in modern times, the estimated cost for new rail construction is about $1.5M per mile.

Because it is hard to translate between USD and gp, we'll use the value of a year of work of an unskilled worker as a conversion factor. An unskilled worker salary is about $25,000, so one mile should cost about 60 annual salaries. The annual salary of an unskilled hireling in the game is 2 sp/day, or about 73 gp per year. This would mean the cost of one mile of track should be 60 x 73 gp or about 4,380 gp.

If we assume one mile has 90 conductor stones, the price per stone would come out to about 48gp, very close to the 50 gp for a common magic item, which takes about 32 hours to construct.

If we assume over 1,000 stones per mile, then using this comparison, one stone only could cost about 5 gp, which seems very low; so construction would need to cost more than for a mundane railway track, and riding the train would need to be more dear, too. This is borne out: E:RftLW does not give costs for tickets, but Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron, also for 5e and by the setting's author Keith Barker, gives this pricing

A journey on the lightning rail generally costs twice as much as an inn stay of the same duration, with quality ranging between the modest coaches shared by most travelers (1 gp/day) and the wealthy luxury coaches (4 gp/day).

The ticket costs about a week to a month of laborer wages. This is several times more expensive than a long distance railway ticket today, if not a tenfold increase then maybe three to five times. Based on this, the price to a stone could be in the range of 15 to 25 gp.

Narrative answer

While I can understand your desire to find a price for this, I do think that you are spending your time on the wrong thing.

What are the overall costs house Orien has for maintenance of infrastructure and seats of power, paying retainers, fielding armies? What is their income from operating their train network, tithes, mines and trade levies? A single number in isolation is meaningless here. Would 5,000 gp/mile be much for them? Would it be little? How about 50,000 gp?

The thing is, it does not matter. You do not need to know this for your narrative to work. They are building this rail, they are using slaves, they are indenturing gnome artificers, it's all many thousands of gps, a huge undertaking. That is the cool stuff and all you need for the narrative setup. Your players will not write a doctoral thesis on the economic margins of freight transport, and likely have little interest in it.

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Awesome answer; thanks! Yes, you're right that the story is the important thing. This helps me feel confident that the things my players encounter will be at a plausible order of magnitude. (For example, whether the work camp they find has dozens of enslaved crafters or hundreds; whether the embezzled tax revenue supporting the project comes from one town or a whole region.) \$\endgroup\$
    – A. S. K.
    Aug 1 at 15:44
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "Your players will not write a doctoral thesis on the economic margins of freight transport, and likely have little interest in it." You haven't met my players... \$\endgroup\$
    – Bae
    Aug 2 at 2:48
4
\$\begingroup\$

It takes precisely as much as it needs to for your plot to work.

This isn't really about figuring out what kind of magic item a conductor stone is and working out time and gold per mile. The operation is large and expensive, and laying track (or conductors) is time consuming. Do you really need to know the exact amount of gold-per-mile and how many man-hours it takes? No, you do not. The answer is it takes as long as makes sense for your plot and it takes as much gold as it takes to make it an important issue.

Let the story you want to tell and the scenes you want to set drive your narrative, not some faux-economic evaluation.

Remember that your players are never really going to come into contact with this information, and if they do, they won't care how it was derived. You're doing a lot of work for no benefit. Just wave your hands and say "thousands of gold pieces and months of labor" and let it go at that.

\$\endgroup\$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .