Pricing items as a DM

I seem to be struggling with pricing items that players can purchase. In particular magic items such as scrolls/potions ect. I read the rules and have scoured the internets to try figure it out but there is still clear problems with my understanding outlined by trying to use the rules to price items they give a price for.

The list of potion costs do not seem to match the calculations for making magic potions.

Examples are things such as barkskin which should be 2×2×50=200g but is priced as 300g and a similar case for darkness and worse for water walk which I calculate as 3×3×50=450g but is priced as 750g.

So how do I actually price anything? What am I missing that is causing these problems?

You are mixing up Caster Level and Spell Level. The formula for pricing magic items is generally

CL × SL × X gp

where X varies depending on the type of item. The Spell Level is as listed in the spell’s description, and seems to be the number you are using for both Spell Level and Caster Level. However, Caster Level is different: it is a property you get for having levels in the class that grants the spell.

Caster Level in most classes is equal to your level in the class. Some (so-called “half-casters,” e.g. paladin and ranger) have Caster Level equal to only half their class level. There are even oddball cases that use a different scheme for determining Caster Level.

Furthermore, each class gains access to spells of a particular Spell Level only at a certain Caster Level, which is usually higher than the Spell Level itself. For example, clerics, druids, and wizards only get to cast 2nd-level spells at Caster Level 3, while bards, paladins, rangers, and sorcerers get them at Caster Level 4. This is the minimum Caster Level for those spells for those classes.

Items are usually crafted at minimum Caster Level to keep the cost down, but the Caster Level must be at least the Caster Level at which the Spell Level may first be cast. For a 2nd-level Druid spell like barkskin, that is Caster Level 3.

With all of this information, it becomes clear what’s going on. You should be multiplying Spell Level and Caster Level, i.e. 2×3, but you are multiplying Spell Level with itself, i.e. 2×2. If you use 2×3×(50 gp), you get the 300 gp you see in the other table.

For a 3rd-level Cleric spell like water walk, a cleric needs a minimum of Caster Level 5 to cast that, so the cost is 3×5×(50 gp), or exactly the 750 gp you see in the table.

While not usually done, you can craft things with higher Caster Level. For example, you could craft a water walk potion with Caster Level 10 (assuming you have a Caster Level of 10 or greater), so that it lasts longer and is harder to dispel. This would cost 3×10×(50 gp) = 1,500 gp. This gets prohibitively expensive quickly, so most people stick to minimum Caster Level most of the time.

Do note that when you create a magic item yourself, you only pay gold equal to half the item’s base value. Be careful about whether a given table is giving you the crafting cost or the base cost. Also, some spells require extra materials or XP to cast, which is also reflected in their cost to create, and therefore also in their base cost.

Anyway, as for DMing and charging players who want to buy items, base costs are usually equal to the market value of the item. Most of the time, I strongly recommend just leaving it at that; the pricing isn’t anything like perfect but it works well enough and changes can have very unexpected results. Costs can be tweaked to represent unusual economic situations (particularly high demand for a given item, perhaps), but generally speaking that sort of thing should be done very carefully, and I recommend new DMs avoid doing so until they have a pretty good grasp of how the economy and system works (or doesn’t).

• awesome that explains things. I knew it would be something simple! When you say items are crafted at minimum caster level does this mean that if a druid requires caster level 4 while a cleric needs caster level 2 then you use 2 rather than 4? or does this situation never crop up? Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:37
• @user10530 Well, 2 and 4 don’t get clerics or druids any new spell levels, so those are never minimums for those classes. What I mean is that a cleric or druid needs CL 3 to cast 2nd-level spells (SL 2). But a cleric or druid with CL 8 can, of course, still cast them. A CL 8 cleric or druid can choose to “downgrade” his CL for the purpose of the item to keep costs down, but for a 2nd-level spell the minimum is still CL 3 because that was the CL at which they could first cast 2nd-level spells. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:54
• @user10530 If a spell appears at different levels on different classes’ lists, you use the Spell Level (and minimum CL) of the spell as it appears on your list. So for dispel magic, a cleric has it as a 3rd-level spell (SL 3, min CL 5), but druids have it as a 4th-level spell (SL 4, min CL 7), so if you are a druid you’re forced to pay more (and wait until a higher level) as it’s a higher-level spell for you. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:55
• Why do these potions get special prices? Bless weapon (oil) 100 gp Enlarge person (potion) 250 gp Reduce person (potion) 250 gp Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 22:08
• @Simanos At a glance, I cannot see any reason why they would be. I assume they've been made at a higher caster level, but it doesn't actually say that (and does say that all items are made at minimum caster level unless otherwise noted), so that might not be the case. Alternatively, the magic-item-pricing section are explicitly guidelines which will not always produce balanced results. Perhaps Wizards thought the guidelines underpriced those items. I (strongly) disagree with that if they did, but it is possible. Or it could just be a mistake, though a strange one. Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 5:02

Caster level is not the same as Spell Level when determining base or market price

Market prices are generally the Spell Level × the Caster Level the spell is cast at × the base item cost (25gp for scrolls, 50gp for potions, etc)

Generally, the Caster Level is the minimum level caster who can cast the spell. So a Water Walk spell is a 3rd level spell, but the lowest level caster who can cast it is usually 5th level. So when you imbibe the potion it activates the spell as though it was cast by a 5th level caster for purposes of duration, effect, etc.

3 (spell level) × 5 (minimum caster level for a 3rd level spell) × 50 = 750

Barkskin, a 2nd level spell requires at a minimum a 3rd level caster to cast it.

2 (spell level) × 3 (minimum caster level for a 2nd level spell) × 50 = 300

Same thing with scrolls, like a scroll of Magic Missile; the minimum caster level is 1 and its a first level spell:

1 × 1 × 25 = 25gp and it fires 1 missile like a first level caster would.

But for a scroll of Magic Missile that fired 3 missiles at once, you would need a 5th level caster per the definition of the spell to create the scroll

1 × 5 × 25 = 125gp

The base prices in the DMG generally assume a caster of the minimum level required created it. A higher level caster can create an item at a 'lower level' though. A 10th level wizard could scribe a Fireball scroll that would cast at 5th level (5d6 damage)

3 × 5 × 25 = 375gp

or 10th (10d6 damage)

3 × 10 × 25 = 750gp

or anything in-between.

The actual Craft Feats - Brew Potion, Scribe Scroll and others in the PHB give some more information about creating the items. They list the base cost formula expected (generally, the market price) and specify 'you must spend 1/2 of the cost of the base in raw materials to create them' as well as an experience point cost 1/25 the base cost. Creating Magic Items is also covered on pg.282 of the DMG.

• If you want, &times; can be used to type a multiplication symbol × instead of using the letter x or an asterisk *. You can also just copy and paste the ×. Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 23:35