One-use item costs

This covers potions, scrolls, and rituals. The calculation is: (base×2 + wage×time)/chance of success

For example, assuming a formula, a rank 1 potion has a base 250 gp. We double that to 500 gp to take into account the special components. The wage for a fifth-level mage is 400 gp, and it takes 3.5 days (11.66% of a month), so the total wage cost is 46.66 gp.

The mage’s research throw is 12+. If we assume that his workshop is the minimum, he has INT +1, and another +1 bonus swiped from somewhere (such as Magical Engineering), his total chance of success is 55%. 546.66 gp / 0.55 yields 993.94 gp for the average cost per success.

The cost to successfully manufacture the potion, including paying the mage’s wages, is roughly 1,000 gp. A guild might invoke a surcharge on that (20% seems reasonable), but would also guarantee the cost—commissioning a lone mage could cost as low as 550 gp (if he succeeded on the first try), but could easily balloon to 1,100 gp, 1,650 gp, or more if he failed several times in a row.

Without a formula, the cost is more than double×the underlying price is the same, but the % chance of success decreases, so the number of attempts, on average, increases, ballooning the cost.

The expected chance of success by caster level (my numbers, please adjust as desired): 55% for rank 1, 50% for ranks 2 and 3, 60% for rank 4, 75% for rank 5, 90% for rank 6, 70% for rank 7, 65% for rank 8, and 60% for rank 9. All of these include a penalty of 1/2 rank for potions and full rank for rituals, and assume the minimum possible caster level.

Based on the above, the pre-surcharge cost, by underlying spell rank (and rounded off a bit):

1: 1,000 gp. Sales price (ACKS, p. 227) is 1,000 gp, so that works out nicely.

2: 2,200 gp. Sales price is 2,000 gp, which means a mage crafting this item won’t make back the time put into it.

3: 3,300 gp. Sales price 3,000 gp. It only gets worse.

4: 4,600 gp. Sales price 4,000 gp.

5: 9,000 gp. Sales price 5,000 gp.

6: 31,000 gp. Sales price 6,000 gp.
6 divine: 75,000 gp. Sales price 12,000 gp.

7: 92,000 gp. Sales price 14,000 gp.

8: 115,000 gp. Sales price 16,000 gp.

9: 140,000 gp. Sales price 18,000 gp.

It is a waste of a caster’s time to make a potion or scroll higher than rank 1, unless the caster intends to use it. The market price for higher rank potions and scrolls means that the caster makes less than expected wage on average.

This is not unexpected: Alex has stated explicitly that the intent of the magic crafting rules was to make them financially unviable outside of conspicuous consumption, personal use, and the rare moneybags with a specific need who doesn’t care about the market cost.

There are some interesting implications, however. Two that I noticed off-hand:

Harvest—at full price!—is profitable at 3,200 families in a domain and above.

Ravage, on the other hand, is guaranteed to cost the caster more than the damage dealt to the realm (hiring a 14th level cleric to make a one-use item of remove curse, a profligate expense, is only 15,000 gp, plus one month of damage brings that up to a maximum of 40,000 gp, compared to the 75,000 gp it cost to cast ravage). It might make a good statement of intent, but as a financial act of war, it is severely lacking.

Good analysis.

Yes, the system is rigged to make "magic shops" not particularly viable. It's possible that rare INT18, multi-ranked Magical Engineering mages could make a go of it, but run-of-the-mill mages cannot.

So out of curiosity why doesn’t the market reflect the actual cost? Shouldn’t items be more expensive?

Alex answers the why in a blog post, The Pricing of Magic Items in ACKS.

Hmmm well I can see it for things that can be easily replicated with mundane means. But no mundane force will let you fly, cure a disease(guaranteed), let you breathe underwater, fly, or come back from the dead!

Also I don’t think the lawyer/artist analogy really works. Crafting is one of the caster’s core skills not something unrelated to their job.

Still quibbles aside I do prefer the world this creates I just think some items should cost more!

There are two prices involved.

One is what it costs to manufacture the item. This is the “some items just cost more” side of the things.

The second is what people are willing to PAY for the item. This is the market price.

Ignore the lawyer/artist analogy. Let’s use a real-world example of exactly this sort of thing in action: knitting.

A sock hand-knitted from wool and custom-fitted to the foot and leg is amazing. I can tell you this, because my wife has knitted two pair for me, one ankle-length and one knee-high. I mean seriously amazing. Warm, breathable, fitted, comfortable, and exquisitely soft. The yarn, by itself, costs more than any ten pairs of my other socks. Don’t get me started on the hours she spent on them, multiplied by any reasonable wage.

But they’re soooo good.

But if they’re so good, why aren’t they available on the market? Because they cost a few hundred dollars each. That’s the COST. The market price, however, is about $20.

A cheap pair of socks is a dollar or two. People might be willing to pay $20 for an amazing pair of socks like mine. But they probably won’t pay $50, and they definitely won’t pay $300. Even though there is no other way to have a pair of socks that amazing.

So you can’t buy fitted, knitted socks. You have to know a knitter, and the knitter has to like you enough to make you an expensive gift. Or you have to be rich enough to indulge in conspicuous consumption. Or there needs to be an outside force that temporarily makes them more valuable, like an alien force that can only be defeated by warriors wearing fitted, knitted socks.

A potion that lets you bring someone back to life is amazing. It really is. And someone who expects to be in a tight situation might be willing to pay 5,000 gold for the ability to do that, once, in a tight situation deep beneath the earth.

But 9,000 gold is starting to get a bit steep. At that point, it might be better to just make sure you have an extra pack mule for the body, so you can haul it to a temple and have the same person brought back to life for 500 gold.

Even 5,000 gold is a bit steep at that point. Maybe you could just spend 4,000 gold to hire a 9th level cleric to come along with for the span of time required to manufacture the potion, and then you also get all of the other spells every day, and a decent fighter, too.

There are two very different markets for magic items: pre-owned and commission. Pre-owned items are items that already exist that some adventurer obtained and wishes to turn into liquid assets. Since it is rare for someone to want the exact item (whose origins are mysterious and is not necessarily safe) for sale, pre-owned items should sell for far less than their production cost unless someone is VERY lucky. The commission market, on the other hand, is when a buyer wants a SPECIFIC item that he cannot otherwise obtain, requiring him to get a mage to make him one special order. Since the mage doesn’t have to make it, the price in this case would be at bare minimum the cost of creation and labor for the entire creation time (not to mention a premium for the fact that not every mage knows how to make every item).

In this structure, a PC will have to spend a premium to get an item he wants, but will sell items for peanuts. Maybe a PC can look for magic items and see what is available, but it probably won’t be exactly what what he wants or his style unless he’s lucky. Might be able to pick up some (probably not cursed) magical trinkets at a bargain.

I agree with pretty much all of this, with the small note that a mage doesn’t have to “know” how to make an item: an existing sample or formula is sufficient to make the item at half cost. A guild with the formula in their library could have any mage of high-enough level (5th for a potion) perform the research.

For some reason I was assuming the mage had a sample or formula for the “baseline” price (a sort of silly assumption in retrospect). A mage could probably price items as if they had to design them from scratch or add a significant chunk of the design price (it isn’t like there are too many mages of sufficient level to provide price competition), though providing a new formula or sample for the item would probably make them waive that cost (especially if it was a sample or formula they could copy/keep after item construction).

As for the guild library (I’m assuming you are referring to a repository of formulas/spells not the chunk of gold required for general magic research), that would depend on the power of the guild and how openly they share formulas. If a judge offers most any formula/sample/spell to any PC mage guild member, it kind of makes the design rules useless except for custom items. I would probably use a system where access to such special information was handed out based on merit and service. For example: Original research into new item formulas could be submitted to the guild for the reward of access to existing guild formulas. Similarly, samples and formulas recovered from dungeons could be exchanged. Also a quest on the guild’s behalf could be rewarded with arcane knowledge. The higher level mages might have free access to the lower-level potion/scroll formulas, but encouraging research into new areas helps grow the guild’s collective knowledge. Another useful consequence is the fact that this system helps the guild keep a monopoly on arcane knowledge (the whole point of a guild).

  • REALLY the above rationalization works as an excuse to allow a judge to control player access to infinite arcane knowledge, but it makes sense in world. Access to the XX,000gp library, formula/spell trade, and the like is pretty good on its own though. This might also let a player trade an unrelated, yet equally valuable, sample to decrease the cost of item production as the mage could trade the sample to his guild for the appropriate formula.

Knitted socks is an amazing example! Awesome.