The table on page 129 of the DMG lists the costs to craft an item.

Taking as an example a Common magic items, such as a level 1 spell scroll, the cost is listed as 100 gp. The crafter can only make 25 gp worth of progress per day, so this takes 4 days worth of effort, at 8 hours per day. The crafter must use a spell slot to cast the spell once on each of those days.

Meanwhile, the guidelines on page 139 for the costs of magic items states that a common magic item is worth 50-100gp with consumables, such as a spell scroll, costing half. So a first level spell scroll "should" cost at most 50 gp.

Looking at the tables for other rarities of items, again the creation cost is listed as the maximum of the suggested values for items of that rarity, and that doesn't even take into account the value of the crafter's time to work for many, many days to craft it.

Am I missing something here? Can someone explain how this makes sense?

(Obviously, this assumes a campaign where at least common magic items are available for purchase)

I understand that the prices listed in the DMG are suggested starting points only, but why are the suggested starting points for item values inconsistent with the suggested starting points for item creation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Tonight on 600 Rounds: we expose the hidden world of scroll sweatshops! That cheap magic missile you used may have a hidden cost... in child labor! We find shocking examples of elves as young as 100 working 80 turns a day... \$\endgroup\$ – Digital Chris May 1 '15 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DigitalChris Um... you do realize 80 turns is only 8 minutes, right? Because a turn and a round are both 6 seconds, the only difference being that each creature has their own turn, all of which occur simultaneously during the same round. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Sep 21 '16 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson Back in the good old days, a turn (non-combat) was 10 minutes, junior. rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/19164/… \$\endgroup\$ – Digital Chris Sep 21 '16 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DigitalChris interesting info, thanks for that. So you're using the definition of turns from that system (80 turns = 800 minutes = 13 hours, 20 minutes), but using the modern definition of rounds (600 rounds = 3600 seconds = 60 Minutes, not 600 rounds = 6000 seconds = 100 minutes), is that right? \$\endgroup\$ – Dan Henderson Sep 22 '16 at 19:50

I think there's two reasons why it would make sense for magic item creation costs to be as high or higher than purchase cost, that fit with the idea of D&D and the stories portrayed:

Most of the permanent stuff for sale is ancient

For most of it, it doesn't matter how much gp a caster once spent for it. The magic item for sale in the Bazaar of the Bizarre isn't made by the owner, or anyone he knows. It's made by an ancient wizard, who died centuries ago, and isn't going to see a penny of that money. It was probably looted by adventurers, who then decided they didn't need it all that much, so they sold it for whatever they could get for it and now it's for sale for whatever the item's owner thinks he can get for it.

The reason he asks you for 2000gp, even though you can make it for 2000gp is because A) most of the people who can afford a magic item, could also make one themselves and B) he's now undercutting any bored Wizard who tries to compete with freshly made magic gear. Considering these magic items are practically indestructible and require next to no maintenance, there's eons of time that they've been made in and most are simply still around to be found.

The market for permanent magic items is terrible because the stuff literally lasts forever and there's a whole class of people whose only job is to venture into the wilds, "liberate" the items and then sell them cheap so they can get some more potions for their next "adventure". Sellers are simply responding to this dynamic.

Most of the consumable stuff is made by specialists

The reason your Wizard takes 4 days to write a scroll and spends a 100gp on it is, for a major part, because your Wizard is a firebreathing, lightning throwing, people charming, monster summoning murder-machine and not a scribe.

Probably if you decided to spend 90% of your time learning how to write a Scroll of Burning Hands faster and cheaper than usual, you could also learn to do it in half the time and for half the cost and earn some money selling those scrolls to the other Wizards who don't perfect the art of calligraphy but instead waste their time going out to kill things and take their stuff.

You simply cannot reasonably compete with the people who dedicate their lives to creating consumable magic items and never learn to survive adventures. (And the reason there aren't any rules for doing so is because this is Dungeons & Dragons and any such character would be an NPC, not a player character)

Why you can't make money selling magic items

Ultimately, what it comes down to is this: making a lot of money off of creating and selling magic is boring and not what D&D is about, so the standard rules don't allow for it. The above is just flavoring for why it's like this.

Any experienced DM who can turn "making and selling +1 swords" into a fun play session will have enough experience to tweak (or disregard) the rules so that it works.

Any DM who doesn´t have that level of experience cannot accidentally screw up his game by showing his players how to make loads of money without actually risking their hides in the adventures that the game is about.

It's a win for everyone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the Bazaar of the Bizarre reference. And for the whole "that would be boring so why bother" part of it I suppose. Churning out items to sell is more of a CRPG thing, and even then I don't think it'd be that enjoyable \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz May 1 '15 at 19:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ (1) D&D 5E goes to great pains to suggest magic items are rare, but your answer hinges on the idea that they are so over-abundant that making new ones is a waste of time. (2) This seems fine, but raises the question of who these specialists are and why no option exists for players to attain such skill. (3) The money making argument isn't really specific to magic items and is undermined by the existence of other, much more effective means of generating wealth via downtime. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin T May 1 '15 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JustinT: they can still be extremely rare if you like. Thing is; if the selling price is higher than the making price, they won't be rare for long. And I'm pretty sure option 2) exists; it's called "retiring your character". \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 2 '15 at 8:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's another point that could be added to the 'ancient' paragraph: They are ancient, and back then, wizards knew how to create items cheaply. However, this knowledge has been lost, and now various people try but mostly fail. The few who do find out the secrets of cheap item creation are not likely to share because it would erode their profit margin. \$\endgroup\$ – Mala May 2 '15 at 9:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ TIL the "dead hand" of the magic item market is a literal dead hand. Of a wizard. Who is dead now. \$\endgroup\$ – cr0m May 3 '15 at 19:18

Magic items' costs, sans a specific campaign, are undefined. The paragraph above the pricing table on DMG page 135 makes this explicit (emphasis mine):

If your campaign allows for trade in magic items, rarity can also help you set prices for them. As the DM, you determine the value of an individual magic item based on its rarity. Suggested values are provided in the Magic Item Rarity table.

The numbers in the DMG are suggested starting points only, and DMs are required to develop actual purchase costs from that baseline. As a result, magic items are only purchasable if a DM makes it possible, and their cost to create only matches their purchase price if the DM decides that's so.

The suggested starting points are useful as a measure of the relative value between magic items, rather than their absolute value or value relative to crafting costs. The default is that you cannot use the rules for personal-use magic item crafting to turn a profit simply because a public market for magic items does not exist:

Selling magic items is difficult in most D&D worlds primarily because of the challenge of finding a buyer.

(Note that this is mostly in the context of found magic items, even, not necessarily crafted ones.)

Simply, the game defaults to magic items not being salable, and therefore does not even attempt to set up a balanced magic item economy. This fits with the rest of the system: tight balance is not attempted in the majority of the game. Based on experience with previous editions, attempting to balance a magic-item economy would have been futile in any case because it only solidifies the loopholes that undermine the initial effort. Instead, as with every issue of potential balance problems, it is left to the DM's intelligence to make it work at the table, if they want to homebrew a magic item economy. (As with a number of things in 5e, this is also an obvious call-back to editions earlier than 3e, since it's identical to the default for how magic item crafting costs and market price are [or aren't] related and set in AD&D.)

And since you've identified a problem that would be an issue for you, you're already doing exactly that for any game you might run.

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While crafting, you can maintain a modest lifestyle without having to pay 1 gp per day, or a comfortable lifestyle at half the normal cost.

Its not clear what this money might represent―perhaps your character earns it by doing repair-work on the side to support his crafting endeavors.

Regardless of what this money means, this gold per day adds up (or rather, isn't lost.) This is why you would craft a suit of armor instead of buy it, whether its magical or not.

There is no need to resort to wild explanations that lack internal consistency.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't work for consumables, if your campaign uses the "consumables should cost half" guideline. Then you still spend 100gp and 4 days, and end up with a 50gp first level scroll, having saved 4gp on living expenses. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont May 2 '15 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Level 1 human rogue with starting gold, persuasion expertise, magic initiate feat for Guidance. Buy one magic potion for 50gp, pay skilled hirelings to find magic item buyers for you until you persuade a shady buyer to buy it for 150gp. With enough skilled hirelings you can do this in 1 day. Repeat. Your gold triples every day. After 100 days you have 2.57 * 10^49 gold. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin T May 2 '15 at 17:46

SevenSideDie has it it right about why Magic Item pricing is near non-existent in the various D&D 5e books.

My answer about what to do if you want to fix it and have magic shops in a 5e campaign.

Magic Items are a Luxury Trade

A lot of folks get hung about the special nature of magic items. The fact is that if a world existed where the assumption of D&D 5e were true, people will buy and sell Magic Items. They have a value, there is a demand for them, and for many people who possess them there comes time when they need to convert that value into something else like coin.

One thing is right about the popular conception of D&D magic items is that they would not be sold like ordinary goods. Instead their economics would follow the rules of luxury goods. I am not claiming this is how it was in all times and places but based on my research it is representative of how it was handled throughout history.

  • To be able to buy or even sell magic items requires knowing the right people.
  • The right people will be serving a clientele of the wealthy and powerful. The people that is worth the time of a person trying to make a living in the trade.
  • The sovereign of the realm will typically be offered first choice. In general this is not a bad thing but neither it is a good thing. Quite simply you won't get the price you looking to sell the item at and take whatever the sovereign is offering. But most rulers know that they can't be too greedy or the trade will go underground.
  • The common and uncommon items will have known values. Rarer items will invariably be auctioned off if a sovereign doesn't want them.
  • There will be a network of magic-users who create items for a commission. Getting a magic-item made requires an "in" to this group. It will be slightly easier for Common and Uncommon to find a magic-user to commission to make it.

Figuring out the Price of Magic Items.

So how to figure the price for anything? Quite simply the cost will equal to the cost of material plus the cost of labor. In D&D 5e the cost of material easier just look it up on the table on page 135 in the DMG. It is however a rather abstract system but that doesn't matter for this.

To figure the cost of labor you need to look at how long it takes to make an item, how much does a mage expect to earn on a per day basis. Note this is not the same as a cost of living. This is based on what kind of salary a mage could earn if he or she was employed in the service of another.

D&D 5e doesn't have firm guidelines on hiring a spellcaster. The most detail is given on page 159 of the 5e PHB where the price of a 1st level spell is given at 10 gp to 50 gp.

I find this somewhat ludicrous as a they also state on page 157 of the PHB that an aristocratic lifestyle can cost 10 gp per day. And it doesn't correlate with some of the other expenses, wages, and prices It not enough for something to be rare to be pricey it has to be in demand. And frankly the utility of 1st and 2nd level spells do not ever warrant 50 gp relative to the other prices that are given.

But suppose you accept their guideline and even feel that the high of 50 gp is warranted. So what is the price of a magic item?

  • Cost of the material as given on page 135 of the DMG
  • Take the number of days required to make a magic item and multiply by 50 gp.

Add the two together and that what it would cost to commission a given magic item.

For example a +1 suit of chainmail is rare according to page 152.

  • Cost 5,000 gp in materials to make.
  • Cost 75 gp to get a suit of chainmail armor.
  • It take 200 days to make which costs 10,000 gp in labor.

The final price to commission a suit of +1 chainmail is 15,075 gp.

Armed with the above you can tweak the number to get the exact feel you want for the buying and selling of magic items in your campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So why accept without change the guidelines for how much it costs to make an item, rather than the guidelines for how much they are supposedly worth? Your pricing makes sense, but it's inconsistent with the pricing guidelines in the DMG. Why assume one set of numbers is more "fixed" than the other? \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont May 2 '15 at 2:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont because the pricing in the DMG do not make sense in terms of the assumptions they laid out. It is obvious they were biased towards the idea that Magic item are special and the rules of even D&D 5e economics don't apply. What usually happens is the players will pick up on the inconsistency and for a few it impact their enjoyment of the game. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley May 2 '15 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ My point is they laid out 2 sets of guidelines that are not internally consistent. There's not really any a priori reason to accept one set over the other. Or if you think there is (that one set of numbers "makes sense" and the other does not) you should explain why in your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont May 2 '15 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleVermont, I did get into specifics "I find this somewhat ludicrous as a they also state on page 157 of the PHB that an aristocratic lifestyle can cost 10 gp per day." There are other items like the cost to craft an item, etc. But I felt I got my point across. \$\endgroup\$ – RS Conley May 4 '15 at 12:15

In any standard economy, the price for an item is dictated by the fixed cost, variable costs, and expected profit margin. Translating this into your campaign is relatively simple but may require some additional planning and record keeping.

Creating a magic item requires:

Fixed costs: Shop space to craft the items-one can probably assume that powerful magic items are not being created in the corner of the local tavern, or in the middle of the public street. There must be someplace where the atmosphere is appropriate for the concentration and casting of spells can be done for the 8 straight hours to complete such work. Now, a "professional item creator" probably has a permanent arrangement for this space, just like any other profession. Whereas an adventurer would probably have to rent or make such a space just the same as a character wishing to manufacture any mundane item would. While the details of such an arrangement can be left out of the campaign (he is renting the Joe the Scrollmaker's backroom for a few weeks at x silver per day), the additional cost should not be ignored. Or at least not without impact. Imagine a mechanic is travelling, yeah he will have tools for basic repairs on his car, but he is likely unable to completely rebuild his engine without first finding a functional garage.

Variable costs - these would include supplies, tools, beakers and glassware... a local vendor would have local supplies for these things, whether it is knowing where to gather the purple moon fungus, or even have a supply of tools that the character would not readily be able to carry. Imagine carrying a full chemistry lab in a backpack. These are costs that a character would have to pay, but the professional would find at a discount.

This leads finally to profit margin, the local item creator would find that he could earn a living selling large volumes to regular customers, whereas a character might just break even.

This is similar in nature to asking why anyone with a skill set to build something in the real world can't just compete with large companies building the same exact thing. Can you build a computer as cheaply as Dell or Apple? Of course not, they have vendors and machines in place to build those items. Now try going to a city where you don't know anyone and build them on the street corner. Or how about manufacturing a car for the same price as Ford or Chevy?

Now the flip side of this coin is, if you have a PC that wants to devote a significant amount of time and effort becoming a professional item creator, and there is room in the campaign for this activity, I don't see why temporarily unoccupied characters would not be able to get a job using any of the skills they possess up to and including item creation. Though, for simplicity sake I would assume that they were working for someone else rather than setting up a business for a variety of reasons. If as a GM, I were asked why, I would probably reference a law requiring acquisition of a business license. My real reason would be the insane amount of bookkeeping required would bog the game down.

Next let's hit on the difference between salary and contractors mentioned elsewhere in this post. While it may cost 50gp per level to have a contract spell caster cast a spell for you, this does not assume that said spell caster receives that for a days work. If you walk into any contract service company, they will charge you a certain rate, at best the person actually performing the work might get half. The rest goes towards business overhead, supplies, fees, licensing, ect.

There is no reason to believe that the local mage guild is in any way different and don't get me started on the expenses of organized religion. The Catholic Church is one of the largest financial organizations world wide.

If the characters are seeking temporary employment within your campaign, (which I might add makes perfect sense in a realistic campaign, as an exsoldier I can tell you that it is always hurry up and wait), I would figure out the daily wage for any other highly skilled profession, then adjust for the relative scarcity of magic in the campaign.

Sorry for the long answer hope it helps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of this answer assumes a heavily-industrialized economy with many middlemen, very unlike medieval economies, and only dubiously like the pseudo-medieval melange of D&D. In particular, when the norm is for individual craftsmen to be in business for themselves with a few apprentices and the support of a guild, most of the economies of scale that allow Dell to make a computer more cheaply fall away. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Feb 8 '16 at 23:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question isn't asking how to find the cost of creation, but is asking how to reconcile the known, listed costs with the sale prices. This answer doesn't attempt to explain the existing numbers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 9 '16 at 6:06

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