The economics of Continual flame

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Hello

So I'm prepping this adventure in a castle where the servants have been prevented by mayhem (why the PCs are called in) to light or replace candles, torches etc, so I was thinking it would be dark. Then I realized - silly me, this castle is owned by a powerful wizard, there should be continual flame spells everywhere.

But then I started thinking about it... Continual flame spells are expensive... or *are they*?

Let us consider not a mage or a rich noble, but a modest artisan. He's doing ok for himself, living a lifestyle of 1.5 gp a day (halfway between modest and comfortable). He needs light every evening in a single room, for 3 hours on average. Nothing extravagant. This, however, has a cost. If he uses a lantern or lamp, this is about 5 cp/night. Candles would cost him 3 sp/night (and shed less light). Torches are as cheap and shed more light, but the smoke... so let's stick with an oil lamp - he's has a little bit of money, after all.

at 5 cp a night, this adds up to about 18.25 gp a year. So in other words, a continual flame spell would pay for itself in less than 3 years! People in the middle ages were capable of long term planning - they did long term projects for great gains - building a fence, planting an orchard, or building a cathedral. Our artisan could, for example, limit himself to candles and in less than a decade, take the spare 2cp/night to buy the continual light, and save that 5 cp a night for other things.

Given that continual light spells can be cast by low-level casters, I can see this as a common, harmless way to raise funds. Temples could sell them too to the faithful - they might be hesitant to give magic to the masses, but same as a potion of healing, what harm could *light* do? Even very humble peasants may have one - the "family continual flame", passed down from generation to generation - it was given as a reward to great grandfather Jeb by the bishop as a reward for his help in fighting off the goblins - or some other colorful story.

Having continual flames everywhere may be too "magical" for the setting you want to create. But the economics tell us that they should be all over the place.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Hello

So I'm prepping this adventure in a castle where the servants have been prevented by mayhem (why the PCs are called in) to light or replace candles, torches etc, so I was thinking it would be dark. Then I realized - silly me, this castle is owned by a powerful wizard, there should be continual flame spells everywhere.

But then I started thinking about it... Continual flame spells are expensive... or *are they*?

Let us consider not a mage or a rich noble, but a modest artisan. He's doing ok for himself, living a lifestyle of 1.5 gp a day (halfway between modest and comfortable). He needs light every evening in a single room, for 3 hours on average. Nothing extravagant. This, however, has a cost. If he uses a lantern or lamp, this is about 5 cp/night. Candles would cost him 3 sp/night (and shed less light). Torches are as cheap and shed more light, but the smoke... so let's stick with an oil lamp - he's has a little bit of money, after all.

at 5 cp a night, this adds up to about 18.25 gp a year. So in other words, a continual flame spell would pay for itself in less than 3 years! People in the middle ages were capable of long term planning - they did long term projects for great gains - building a fence, planting an orchard, or building a cathedral. Our artisan could, for example, limit himself to candles and in less than a decade, take the spare 2cp/night to buy the continual light, and save that 5 cp a night for other things.

Given that continual light spells can be cast by low-level casters, I can see this as a common, harmless way to raise funds. Temples could sell them too to the faithful - they might be hesitant to give magic to the masses, but same as a potion of healing, what harm could *light* do? Even very humble peasants may have one - the "family continual flame", passed down from generation to generation - it was given as a reward to great grandfather Jeb by the bishop as a reward for his help in fighting off the goblins - or some other colorful story.

Having continual flames everywhere may be too "magical" for the setting you want to create. But the economics tell us that they should be all over the place.
It would depend on how many casters of that level are expected to be available.
Cost would shift to account for profits except maybe from cleric devoted to light deities.
Continual would open up longer night periods as well.

So, premise is sound depending on some setting considerations.

I myself would use it asa status thing, where having Continual would be a sign of wealth or staus.

Of course, at a re-sale or fence value of at least 25gp, the mobile ones might be a prime target for theft if not very distinctive.

Interesting spawn of a variety of flavors for a setting - esp if color and hue are customizable.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
3e was written from the NPC/world perspective to build a simulation. 5e was written from the PC perspective to serve the needs of an adventuring party exploring dungeons. So what makes sense in the world is the genre and themes that are represented in the campaign.

Also, it doesn't cost 50gp, it costs ruby dust. The amount of Continual Flames are limited by the amount of rubies.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
3e was written from the NPC/world perspective to build a simulation. 5e was written from the PC perspective to serve the needs of an adventuring party exploring dungeons. So what makes sense in the world is the genre and themes that are represented in the campaign.

Also, it doesn't cost 50gp, it costs ruby dust. The amount of Continual Flames are limited by the amount of rubies.
Yes but the price of rubies is also tied to their availability (and purity and cut for specific items but not for the crap stuff and dust) so if rubies are very rare their base price is higher and the amount of ruby dust needed goes down which makes it easier to find that smaller quantity - unless a GM adds in a setting specific twist to select components.

Some GMs have diamonds of certain sizes held ransom by some cults for instance.

But is it worth it for a faction to obsesson on making Continual Light harder on a large scale?

I could see the reverse - ruby miners promoting Continual Light as status symbol - to create market for their scraps.
 

Horwath

Explorer
In my setting any well off town or city could have Continual Flames all around the streets.

It maybe costly at first but it is cheaper in the long run and more healthy for the population.

Also it cuts down on man power of turning on light at evenings and refiling oil tanks.


Think of it as we are turning in last 10-20 years to LED lights from old incandescent light bulbs.
My 3 room apartment has around 70W of lights in total. 10 years ago it was probably more than 500W.
 

rgoodbb

Explorer
I did read of someone placing a continual flame spell inside a scroll case. When his PC took the cap/lid off, he had a Flashlight/torch beam and when he put the cap/lid back on the torchlight went away. I thought it was quite clever. Expensive but a good gimmick if you like that sort of thing.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I think a lot of people underestimate how life changing having a simple light source can be. Add in the fact that continual flame lasts basically forever and requires no maintenance. Unless your spell casters are so rare as to be only rumors I think they would be fairly common. A light could easily be an important family heirloom passed down from generation to generation in even families of modest income. Besides, retired spell casters have to do something in their retirement.

It would be limited by the availability of rubies, but nobody said they had to be ruby dust from gem quality stones.

Then again my world is fairly high magic, at least magic that is useful to non-casters. Not quite Eberron level but close. NPC craftsmen casters can do much of what PCs casters do, just not at the snap of the fingers. Because spell-casting classes are so ubiquitous in D&D it doesn't make sense that they would be the only ones able to manipulate magic. Your campaign may be different of course.
 

fjw70

Explorer
A couple other things to consider are (1j how much would a caster charge to cast the spell and (2) can the artisan afford to front 3+ years of lighting costs?
 

jrowland

Villager
Interesting.

Continual Flame:
Lasts forever
Has inherent value
Has utility
Is rare/hard to make/obtain new sources
is portable

Gold:
Lasts forever
Has inherent value
Has utility
Is rare/hard to make/obtain new sources
is portable

I could see Continual Flame objects used a currency among the lower classes (I'll give you three cows for that Continual Flame)
 

hbarsquared

Quantum Chronomancer
Remember the "cost" for someone to cast a spell is never just the cost of the components. The material cost of a light bulb might be 10cents, but the supplier needs to pay for overhead, wages, distribution, loans, etc - all before even thinking about profit, which is why that light bulb might cost $2.50.

The "cost of material" for any business can be anywhere from 1% - 90%, before even considering profit.

So, material components might be 50gp, but the actual price to cast might be 200gp. The wizard has to pay for his workshop, fund further research, pay off the loan he made to buy the spell scroll he copied from in the first place, guild fees... Again, all before profit or making a living.

Of course, none of this takes into account supply and demand. That wizard can only cast it twice a day, and at the expense of other spells he might cast. And if there is only one 4th level wizard for every 10,000 people, those services are in hugh demand. Economics will increase that price drastically.

So, the cost of a continual flame spell could easily be in the 500gp - 1,000gp range
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
A couple other things to consider are (1j how much would a caster charge to cast the spell and (2) can the artisan afford to front 3+ years of lighting costs?
As for your second question, I did the math in my post!

As far as the first one goes... typically it would be "double base cost" (so 100 gp) but there may be competition so it may be less than that.

Theft of continual flamed items may be a problem, so it could be that the spell tends to be used on "unique" items. For example - a stick of apple wood with "PROPRETI OF SMIT FAMLY" engraved on it. You can try to scrape that off but then you risk ruining the spell. A bit like towels with the hotel name on it. There are all sorts of social considerations here...

edit: ah, [MENTION=6919838]5ekyu[/MENTION] had already made that point.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Remember the "cost" for someone to cast a spell is never just the cost of the components. The material cost of a light bulb might be 10cents, but the supplier needs to pay for overhead, wages, distribution, loans, etc - all before even thinking about profit, which is why that light bulb might cost $2.50.

The "cost of material" for any business can be anywhere from 1% - 90%, before even considering profit.

So, material components might be 50gp, but the actual price to cast might be 200gp. The wizard has to pay for his workshop, fund further research, pay off the loan he made to buy the spell scroll he copied from in the first place, guild fees... Again, all before profit or making a living.

Of course, none of this takes into account supply and demand. That wizard can only cast it twice a day, and at the expense of other spells he might cast. And if there is only one 4th level wizard for every 1,0000 people, those services are in hugh demand. Economics will increase that price drastically.

So, the cost of a continual flame spell could easily be in the 500gp - 1,000gp range
This would not match how D&D usually does it, where material cost is usually 1/3 to 1/2 of final costs.

And 1 in 1000 is not that rare. The most common craftsmen in the medieval era (based on some survey from the 1300s found) was cobbler (ie shoe maker), and it was about 1/150. So for every 7 shoe makers, you have a wizard (or cleric...) able of doing this. And unlike shoes, which wear out, this lasts for generations.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Large cities might have lamplighters who make sure that main thoroughfares are well lit, but smaller cities probably just have torchbearers for hire. Palaces may have empty hallways lit, but only the very rich would bother with such a thing, and so they may find continual flames to be a viable alternative.

Something else to consider is that people generally didn't stay awake long after dark. The use of candles and lamp would be fairly limited, not running all night. Additionally, fireplaces would provide light, and would be banked to provide warmth overnight, still providing dim light for the room. I would say that no more than an hours worth of light would be needed for most people each night. This greatly reduces the assumed cost, making continual light an unneeded luxury.

Leaving clerics aside for the moment, there is also the question of if the caster in question has learned the spell. In addition, if they have the spell, most mages (at least in my world) don't want to be bothered with trifles, and might be unhappy with being disturbed for such things. Finally (also in my world), most people are superstitious about magic, not trusting it or those who wield it.

Clerics do tend to skew this, but likely they would only perform the service for the faithful, and such magics would take away from other spells that could be used to help other parishioners (or the church itself), such as lesser restoration, augury, or even zone of truth. I would imagine that most temples would have the main worship area lit by continual flame, and possibly other sacred areas, but unless they're an opulent faith, they probably don't spend too much money on it.
 

Horwath

Explorer
Remember the "cost" for someone to cast a spell is never just the cost of the components. The material cost of a light bulb might be 10cents, but the supplier needs to pay for overhead, wages, distribution, loans, etc - all before even thinking about profit, which is why that light bulb might cost $2.50.

The "cost of material" for any business can be anywhere from 1% - 90%, before even considering profit.

So, material components might be 50gp, but the actual price to cast might be 200gp. The wizard has to pay for his workshop, fund further research, pay off the loan he made to buy the spell scroll he copied from in the first place, guild fees... Again, all before profit or making a living.

Of course, none of this takes into account supply and demand. That wizard can only cast it twice a day, and at the expense of other spells he might cast. And if there is only one 4th level wizard for every 10,000 people, those services are in hugh demand. Economics will increase that price drastically.

So, the cost of a continual flame spell could easily be in the 500gp - 1,000gp range
1000gp seem really too much.

In 3rd edition cost of 2nd level spell to be casted was 60gp, plus any costly material components. I don't see why it would be much different in 5th edition. Unless you are going for low-magic setting.

That is of the shelf price. No bargaining, no contract.

3rd level wizard can cast 3 2nd level spells per day(with arcane recovery). If a town or a city takes wizard under contract for mass casting(i.e. 100 light posts), I'm sure that then price will be in the 10-20gp range, not 60gp.

for a months work(and by work, I mean few minutes per day), 3rd level wizard is up for 1000gp without any risk. One month of easy work gives you 8 months of wealthy living.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I had a wizard in a 3E game that was able to purchase one of the dull grey "burned out" ioun stones for cheap money after it had absorbed its last spell. The ioun stone itself no longer had any magical abilities, but we said it still would circle around your head when placed there. I then cast Continual Flame on the stone, so that I had what basically amounted to a "light halo" over my PC that produced light and that I didn't have to carry. And if we needed it dark or I went outside, I could just grab and stow the stone for later. It was basically a 3E predecessor to the Driftglobe.
 
This reminds me of a thread from the old WotC forums: if continual light is cast on a stick and the stick is broken, do you now have two continual lights?
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Let us consider not a mage or a rich noble, but a modest artisan. He's doing ok for himself, living a lifestyle of 1.5 gp a day (halfway between modest and comfortable). He needs light every evening in a single room, for 3 hours on average. Nothing extravagant. This, however, has a cost. If he uses a lantern or lamp, this is about 5 cp/night. Candles would cost him 3 sp/night (and shed less light). Torches are as cheap and shed more light, but the smoke... so let's stick with an oil lamp - he's has a little bit of money, after all.

at 5 cp a night, this adds up to about 18.25 gp a year. So in other words, a continual flame spell would pay for itself in less than 3 years! People in the middle ages were capable of long term planning - they did long term projects for great gains - building a fence, planting an orchard, or building a cathedral. Our artisan could, for example, limit himself to candles and in less than a decade, take the spare 2cp/night to buy the continual light, and save that 5 cp a night for other things.

Given that continual light spells can be cast by low-level casters, I can see this as a common, harmless way to raise funds. Temples could sell them too to the faithful - they might be hesitant to give magic to the masses, but same as a potion of healing, what harm could *light* do? Even very humble peasants may have one - the "family continual flame", passed down from generation to generation - it was given as a reward to great grandfather Jeb by the bishop as a reward for his help in fighting off the goblins - or some other colorful story.

Having continual flames everywhere may be too "magical" for the setting you want to create. But the economics tell us that they should be all over the place.
This makes sense, but let's add in a few other factors. First, the cost of the spell isn't 50gp. The cost of the spell is 50gp plus costs to get someone to cast it. If you just pay 50gp, then the church gets no donation out of it.

Also, the need for light doesn't disappear for the 3-4+ years to save for it. Sure, with the above-modest artisan they can save up enough in, as you say, less than a decade. But even not looking at other emergency expenses (needs a cure disease on her husband, etc.), there are many who would not be able to put away enough after spending for lamps or candles to do in in 20 years.

Finally, at a value of 50gp+, it's likely the single most precious object, and by nature can't be hidden while in use. I can easily see them stolen.
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
And of course you have the street urchins stealing/breaking them (misdemeanor?), drunk wizards dispelling them, the torch/lantern oil guilds lobbying against them....

maybe the oil guilds are hiring the urchins to prevent adoption of new tech, thus maintaining their monopoly on light...
 

Jester David

Adventurer
From the Discworld series: The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Economic Injustice runs thus:

Samuel Vimes earned thirty-eight dollars a month as a Captain of the Watch, plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so as to prolong the moment of shelling out another ten dollars.

Therefore over a period of ten years, he might have paid out a hundred dollars on boots, twice as much as the man who could afford fifty dollars up front ten years before. And he would still have wet feet.

So, it saves money over three years to have a continual flame spell cast on an object. But you still need to be able to afford three years worth of candles all at once.

Meanwhile, the 50gp cost for a continual flame spell is basically paying for "parts". You can go to the mechanic with the parts to fix your car and it's still going to cost you. The specialist charges for their time.
The Basic Rules put the cost of a 1st level spell at 10 to 50 gp, so a wizard might easily ask 100 for the 2nd-level continual flame. Or 500gp. They can really set their price, since it's unlikely there'll be competition in all but the largest of cities, and it's not like they want to be bothered casting spells freely.
 

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