Monday, December 20, 2010

Pathfinder Zaniness: The 7 gp Magic Item

The Pathfinder RPG contains a table that describes most magic item costs.  Below the table are a few additional rules.

What is the least expensive magic item?

A wondrous item that grants +1 competence bonus to a skill costs 100 gold pieces, if the item must be worn on a certain part of the body.  Restricting the item to only work once per day shrinks the cost to one-fifth the normal amount.  Restricting the item again to have 50 charges shrinks the cost by another one-half.  Restricting the item again to only function for characters with a specific alignment shrinks the cost by another 70%.

Thus a bracelet that grants +1 to a skill to lawful characters, once per day, fifty times, costs only 7 gold pieces.

How much is 7 gold pieces?  The Gamemastery book says a PC living in a town with "average" lifestyle spends 10 gold pieces per month on food and board.  This probably means most crafters and merchants earn about three times that, since PCs generally do not support a family. So crafters about earn 30 gold pieces each month.  A gold piece is probably a daily profit for the middle-class workers of the Pathfinder world.
The rules require a minimum of 8 hours to create any wondrous item (more if the item costs more than 1,000 gold pieces).  So these bracelets still take a full work-day to create.  Because creating a magic item requires materials costing half its retail value, these bracelets cost 3.5 gold pieces to create.

We should examine two disastrous corollaries.

First, these bracelets are sensible to create.  Their creator would only need to know the guidance orison.  Paying an initiate 1.5 gold pieces to create the bracelet would be a generous daily wage.  Materials cost 3.5 gold pieces.  That leaves 2 gold pieces profit per bracelet (about 29%) for whomever is running the operation.

Second, introducing these to a city's economy would be horrible.  If most craftsmen are first-level commoners with an Intelligence score of 13, their profession's craft skill is 5.  They earn about 1 gold piece per day, so it would not normally be sensible to spend a week's wages for a bracelet that gives them a 20% skill boost only 50 times.  However, market conditions might force them to...

Time for a quick tangent about cracker/cereal history.  There was a huge and ruthless conflict a few years ago among the makers of crackers and breakfast cereals.  A giant company invented "mini" crackers and "snack size portions" of cereals.  Manufacturing these was overall a loss, because it required new equipment, more packaging, and more payment for shelf space on the grocery store aisles--the new product was not any more valuable than the old product, so there was no increase in profit (consumers would pay a little bit more, to offset the extra packaging from which they directly benefited).  But the giant company could cope with the loss better than any smaller company, and all the small companies had to follow the trend or have their share or grocery store aisle shelf space halved compared to the competition.  It was a brilliant but evil move.

The same effect would happen with our Pathfinder bracelets.  Imagine a group of neutral-evil druids that "generously" gave a bunch to local craftsmen as thanks or accolades.  Then the city's other craftsmen would need to buy bracelets to remain competitive.

Since increasing a craft skill from 5 to 6 does not allow creating more valuable items, consumers would notice and appreciate slightly better stitching in their boots or slightly nicer decoration on their pottery, but would probably not be willing to pay more for products with only minor aesthetic improvements.  These bracelets would suck away 7 gold pieces from each crafter every 50 days: 14% of the entire city's crafting economy.

The evil druids would, of course, reap most of this profit.  Undoubtedly other people who knew the guidance orison would join the new business and claim a share.

But no city's economy can handle a 14% hit.  The local economy would nearly crumble, and with a little subtle provocation the city would see riots and looting.  Then the group of evil druids would laugh and move on to the next city.

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