D&D 5E How were the "Sane Magic Item Prices" arrived at?

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Yeah, at this point I've sort of thrown up my hands, and am using some combination of my gut, the AD&D Encyclopedia Magica, the Thieves Guild website / the Sane Magic Item prices document, and then more of my gut. It's very messy and I know it could be better, I just don't have any answers right now.
Per Mike Mearls, the old 3E and 3.5 numbers were basically made up whole clothe without a lot of reasoning, so for 5E they figured DMs could make it up on the spot just as easily.
 

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SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
When I read over Sane Magic Prices, I thought it included explanations.

I will check.

Edit: I was wrong, nothing there.
 


NotAYakk

Legend
I'd avoid using it. I found it was a seriously 3e inspired price list, and 5e isn't 3e.

As noted, static bonuses are super cheap. What more, shields cost the same as armor, despite the by design lower rarity of shields over armor in 5e.

In addition, a bunch of stuff is priced by "what would a rich level 20 PC who wants to buy the only version of this item in the entire world would pay". You can see this in the instruments of the bards; an entire series of items all with the same ability with rarities from common to legendary, but they are among the most expensive items because if a level 20 bard had no other access to one of its abilities and if it was the only item the bard could buy then the bard might be willing to pay that amount if this was the bard's build.

Meanwhile, very rare +3 weapons that almost every single PC would love to have are much much cheaper.

Which ones get what treatment is up to the whims of the designer of the price list.

Other problems is that it completely ignores attunement as a cost. A bunch of really nice attunement-free items are much cheaper than other similar attunement-requiring items (disease/poison necklaces, vs anti-detection necklaces).


My advice:

1. Don't provide a "pick a magic item" mart to PCs. PCs don't get to buy items off the DMG list.
2. If you do have a magic shop, pick a treasure table and roll on it. Or pick specific items. Regardless, any item for sale in a shop should be treated as treasure - you should assume the PCs will buy it, steal it, or get it somehow.
3. Embrace that magic item prices are irregular. Use the entire suggested range. Sometimes an item is crazy cheap - that is ok. Sometimes another item which isn't as good cost more - that is also ok. PCs are free to try to buy the first when it shows up and decide if the 2nd is worth buying. But they don't get to sell the expensive item and buy the cheap item "because they are both magic items" - they have to find the cheap one. Note that selling magic items is a bit easier than buying them, unless you really want full price - then it gets hard.
4. If PCs want to look for a specific item, they can - but this is akin to going on a quest for it or whatever.

In this model, gold is a way to persuade people to do things in the world.
 
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The prices for magic items in the DMG/XG assume a low magic setting where there is no "magic item economy" to speak of. Buying a magic item is like trying to buy something unique, like the Mona Lisa. Prices are huge, pretty random, and you are generally going to have to deal with shady people to get hold of it.

This is consistent with the 5e rules being balanced around parties with zero magic items. It is not a good fit for higher magic settings like Eberron (which was notably designed for 3rd edition) where you can reasonably expect to walk into a magic shop and pick something off the shelf. Under these circumstances completely different price scales are required.

The issue with 5e is one of gold sinks. If you can't spend your loot on magic items or castles, what are you going to do with it? But this reflects a general move to story based rewards rather than wealth.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
That's from 3rd edition. Static bonuses from magic items are baked into character progression, therefore items of that type must be affordable.
5E is supposed to work without these static bonuses. Magic items are not supposed to be needed. :) But Sane Magic Item Prices (SMIP hereafter) does seem to assume you hand out static bonus items, as most pre-written scenarios do even at very low levels.

The SMIP seem to follow the quadratic price development of 3E, where cost is a function of the level squared. The prices in 5E are exponential, multiplying by ten every 5 levels. However, I find the difference less than expected and i don't plan to hand out x10,000 gp at level 20, so I am quite happy with the quadratic development.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
instruments of the bards...
What I think makes these priced as they are is that they all give disadvantage on saves against the bard's spells that cause the Charmed condition, which is indeed very powerful and worth more than the spel-llike abilities the instruments give. IMC I have introduced much cheaper versions that lack this one ability.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
What I think makes these priced as they are is that they all give disadvantage on saves against the bard's spells that cause the Charmed condition, which is indeed very powerful and worth more than the spel-llike abilities the instruments give. IMC I have introduced much cheaper versions that lack this one ability.
Yes, but that is a flaw of assumption!

Sure, they are strong, but some of them are common.

I mean, lets take D&D. Lets remove all weapons. What is the value of a greatsword? It adds 6 damage per attack to every melee PC! That is a crazy strong item.

Or remove shields. What is the value of a shield? An item that adds +2 to AC? Doesn't even require attunement? Amazing!

Or remove all armor, then price plate armor -- +8 to AC! CRAZY! That is stronger than any defensive item in the entire game!

The power of a magic item is a ceiling on how much it costs. The floor is set both by alternatives and by demand. Here, the authors of the list chose the ceiling; elsewhere, they chose the floor.

When they note that winged boots are better than another rarer flying item, here we have direct competition of items - and you can argue that if winged boots are easily available for 500 gp, then the inferior alternative shouldn't cost more.

(This argument only holds if you assume items are available on-demand for the prices described. If there is significant friction in finding specific items for sale, price inversion is perfectly reasonable; the price of flying items floor is not "does a better item sometimes get sold for less" but rather "do I need a flying item right now, and can I find a cheaper one right now, and how much am I willing to wait for finding a cheaper one").

But the instruments of the Bards have no such comparables except each other. You can't compare them to a warlock focus, because they aren't usable by the same people or spells.

If we presume the DMG treasure tables and the word "uncommon" says what it means, then we also know how often they show up. And as written, the insanely expensive uncommon items they have in the price guide mean a lucky roll makes the PCs insanely rich and able to buy really crazy items (like cloaks of invisibility).

The prices for magic items in the DMG/XG assume a low magic setting where there is no "magic item economy" to speak of. Buying a magic item is like trying to buy something unique, like the Mona Lisa. Prices are huge, pretty random, and you are generally going to have to deal with shady people to get hold of it.

This is consistent with the 5e rules being balanced around parties with zero magic items. It is not a good fit for higher magic settings like Eberron (which was notably designed for 3rd edition) where you can reasonably expect to walk into a magic shop and pick something off the shelf. Under these circumstances completely different price scales are required.
Sure. But in Eberron, what I'd do is work out what items are commonly for sale. The prices will be set by the various manufacturing guides.

They'd even be tempted to do annoying things with attunement magic items. Imagine magic items whose attunement can only be changed by members of the guide? That would be a fun curse, and would shut down used magic item sales.

The "standard" magic items will mostly be tools.

Expensive combat magic items will be status things. And as such shouldn't be optimized for efficiency, but rather for flashiness.

There will be a tier of moderately expensive enhanced gear. Elven Chain Shirts for discrete protection, Mithril Armor for bodyguards able to move faster. But mass equipping soldiers with +1 gear is uneconomical; you'd rather have your enchanters build firearms, things that change capabilities instead of making existing skills slightly better.

OTOH, we could have all militaries using +1 gear. The gear is branded with sigil of the military in question, and use outside of that military is proof of theft from the state. So now we have "cheap" but dangerous black market +1 items, possession of which is a capital offence.

Lots of fun stuff.
The issue with 5e is one of gold sinks. If you can't spend your loot on magic items or castles, what are you going to do with it? But this reflects a general move to story based rewards rather than wealth.
Sure, but you can treat gold as a story based reward instead of an adventuring gear based reward.

Even in a magic-heavy world, not all magic items need to be common. You get to pick what.

But what I'm trying to say is, I would actively attempt to avoid using gp as a secondary xp system. It didn't work that well in 3e and in 3e they tried to design the game around it. It didn't work that well in 4e (although a tad bit better), and again the economy and part of gameplay was designed around it. 5e wrote it off.

If you want to reintroduce gp-as-advancement I'd go back to the drawing board. Maybe steal from 4e.

The result will be a different magic item list, a different power curve, and a bunch of other issues. A simple price list ... doesn't do a good job. Especially one without a pile of work the SMIP people didn't seem to do.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
A lot of advice boiling down to "IF you choose to have a specific magic item for sale, price it by feel" – which sounds like most of us, myself included, are doing.

Experiment: How much is Keoghtom's Ointment sold for?

For anyone interested, what price would you place on keoghtom's ointment? And how did you arrive at that value?

Assume 3 doses, if it matters for your estimate. There's no wrong answer. I'm curious to see how different GMs rule this, and how much variance there is across interpretations and tables.

For the purposes of this exercise, if you find yourself saying "it depends" because you need to make further assumptions to arrive at a numerical value, go ahead make those assumptions and state what assumptions you had to make, and present a number.

Keoghtom's Ointment
Wondrous item, uncommon
This glass jar, 3 inches in diameter, contains 1d4 + 1 doses of a thick mixture that smells faintly of aloe. The jar and its contents weigh 1/2 pound. As an action, one dose of the ointment can be swallowed or applied to the skin. The creature that receives it regains 2d8 + 2 hit points, ceases to be poisoned, and is cured of any disease.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
If we presume the DMG treasure tables and the word "uncommon" says what it means, then we also know how often they show up. And as written, the insanely expensive uncommon items they have in the price guide mean a lucky roll makes the PCs insanely rich and able to buy really crazy items (like cloaks of invisibility).
In my reading, "rarity" doesn't really reflect rarity at all, it reflects supposed power level and the character level where it can be expected to appear. Common items at level 1-4, uncommon at 5-9, rare at 10-14, very rate at 15-20. The pricing rules in the DMG are based on the idea that you get ten times the loot at each tier and thus the cost is also multiplied by ten. But the rarity ratings are deeply flawed, with flight items being a great example - more rare in no way makes for better flight. Rarities are also setting specific. That the flying broom is just uncommon makes perfect sense in a Hogwartsesque setting, but is in no way balanced against other flight items.
 

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