Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Magic Research and Production

In his section on Magic Research and Production, Cook gives us this interesting little gem:
[Those things necessary to produce magical items] should be difficult to obtain, and the spell caster will often have to adventure to acquire the items, for there are no magic stores.
This begs the question, especially since there are rules in both Holmes and Cook for creating various magic items, what are the economics of magic?

There are four different systems given in the pages of Holmes and Cook.
  • Holmes indicates that any magic-user (but makes no mention of clerics) of any level can create scrolls for 100 gp and 1 week for every spell level to be inscribed upon the scroll.
  • Cook notes that Alchemists, if given a formula or sample, can produce potions at half the normal cost and time. They can also do magical research on potions at twice the time and cost of magic-users. All of this incurs the extra cost in the alchemist's monthly stipend of 1000 gp.
  • In his section on Magic Research and Production, Cook specifies that only magic-users and clerics of name level (9th level or higher) are able to create magic items. The cost for duplicating normal spell effects requires 500 gp and 1 week per spell level duplicated. Given that he fixes the price of a Wand of Fire Balls at 30,000 gp and a time frame of 4 months, this means that this price is for every single charge placed in the wand. These endeavors always have (at least) a 15% chance of failure (and thus creating a cursed item).
  • Cook continues to give the DM much more leeway in determining the price tag on items that do not duplicate spell effects. For example, he suggests plate mail +1 should cost 10,000 gp and take 6 months.
Following these guidelines, here are the prices & time requirements for various magic items involving the spell Invisibility:
  • Scroll of Invisibility — 200 gp/2 weeks
  • Potion of Invisibility — 1000 gp/2 weeks
  • Potion of Invisibility — 750 gp/ 1 week (Alchemist with formula/sample)
  • Ring of Invisibility — DM's descretion (at least 10,000 gp/6 months)
Given that a suit of plate mail only costs 50 gp (Holmes) to 60 gp (Cook) and that something as exclusive as a warhorse in barding costs 400 gp, this places even something as relatively inexpensive as a Scroll of Light well out of the price range of what any but the most wealthy could afford. Remember that at least 3 in 20 of these items are going to fail, which makes the endeavor to pay for magic item creation even more expensive.

All of this indicates that Cook is right in his assessment that there are no such things as magic shops — these items are just too expensive to expect there to be any kind of market; however, by including the alchemist in his list of Specialists and Mercenaries he indicates that there is a demand.

The only social stratus that can afford to demand magic item creation is the very rich. Given the inherent danger of this kind of endeavor (at least 15% of items will be cursed), implies either some kind of social pressure that holds enough sway so as to outweigh the possibility of a curse and/or a disquieting level of comfort with all things decadent and corrupt.

Given that the majority of magic items duplicate magic-user spells rather than cleric spells seems to indicate that magic item creation and its inherent risks are primarily an arcane magic-kind-of-thing, possibly even a pagan-kind-of-thing.

Since it is the rich and powerful who are the ones who would demand magic item creation, it would seem that there is an inherent conflict between church and state, where the state is more inclined towards paganism and the arcane power that comes with it and the church is more inclined to frown upon magic item creation of all kinds (possibly even including divine magic items).

The implied Guild structure of magic-user training and the reduced price of scroll creation, however, leave room for a middle way. The church could oversee and sanction certain magic item creation. There might be a mechanism where cooperation between magic-users and clerics reduces the potential harm of a cursed item. Indeed, I might wave the 15% chance in the case of scrolls if the magic-user inscribing them either pays a registration fee or otherwise works in concert with the church directly or through the Guild.

In summary:
  • Magic research and production is both dangerous and expensive.
  • Such research can only be accomplished through a patronage system, where there exists a demand among rich and the powerful.
  • The church sees both the benefits and the corrupting nature of magical research. While overall discouraging such research, it does work in concert with the Guild in order to make sanctioned research as safe as possible.
  • The Guild willingly works in concert with the church because, while greater magic might be possible outside the confines of sanctioned research, it is certainly safer.
  • Any overly-regulated economy is going to have a black market. In this case, given the corrupting nature of arcane magic, the word black is more than appropriate.
  • Given a black market, there is more than likely some kind of Inquisition-type of institution within the church (whether overt or covert) that tries to keep such activities to a minimum.

1 comment:

David The Archmage said...

All of the posts examining the implied settings, cultures, etc. of the DnD rulebooks are really quite fascinating. The black market thing wouldn't have occurred to me.