The Gassy Gnoll: Pondering Mage Slavery

Have you ever considered the true cost of a standard magic item? No, I’m not talking about the actual cost of making a magic item in D&D terms, with XP and gold. I’m talking about the hidden black market of magic item manufacturing… Yes, I know this topic has been covered before – as with Janx’ articles on ENWorld justifying why there should be magic shops and why there shouldn’t… But now it’s the Gassy Gnoll’s turn to poke at it with a sharp stick…

Somewhere I think there is a factory where mage slaves (or interns) are working impossible hours and using their gifts under duress to make simple magic items. Look for a moment at the lists of items available at the d20 Pathfinder SRD and the Hypertext d20 SRD… That’s a lot of items. They have to come from somewhere, don’t they?

Imagine for a moment the typical magic shop anywhere in your typical fantasy world. Sure, most magic shops my PCs have been in over the years have had limited inventory. But who supplies that inventory? Where do all those potions, wands, rings, weapons, and other miscellaneous items actually come from?

My first theory is that somewhere there is a magic item sweat shop. In that sweat shop are hundreds of brand new wizards, apprentices, or interns all doing their best to create several items a week. They may get room and board that would be close to a monk’s cell on the nice side or a jail cell on the not-so-nice side. They may get some form of income as a percentage of what they make. Who knows?

What’s ironic is that all those mage guilds scattered throughout the realms might actually be behind it all. Perhaps each guild requires a certain commitment from new members to participate in the manufacture of goods to be sold in guild stores. It might actually be viewed as a legitimate way to get a leg up on the competition.

But now that I think about it a bit… maybe the sweat shop theory is hogwash.

Let’s take an example.

Let’s say a guild wants to create several Rings of Protection +1, which costs 2,000 gp according to the d20srd. We know (also from the d20srd) that a Ring of Protection is created using a 1st level Cleric spell – Shield of Faith, which grants the subject a deflection bonus to AC. And the Cleric has to be of a level at least 3x greater than the bonus of the ring to create it. But the Cleric also needs the Forge Ring feat, which requires a 12th level caster.

So now you have at least a 12th level Cleric to create a very minor magic item, which has a creation cost of at least 1,000 gp, plus 1/25 of the item’s base price in XP (1/25 of 2000 is 80, so 80 XP). Now you’re talking about not only a high-level Cleric but a NPC who must sacrifice part of his own XP along the way to create the item, eventually draining him to less than 12th level if he’s not careful. And it takes a day to do the creating, so it’s not a fast process.

By now you probably see the Monte Haul approach… You could kidnap the Cleric, set him up in a lab with infinite materials and gold, and a daily monster attack by which they would get back enough XP to be able to repeat the feat the next day. Perhaps a few rats or spiders might be enough depending on what kind of quota the person in charge hopes to get out of their prisoner…

It’s ridiculous. And it gets even weirder when you look at mages. Let’s take Scribe Scroll as the feat involved, which brings the level requirement of the creator down to 1st level. Again, using the d20srd as my guide, it looks like the base price of a scroll is its spell level x caster level x 25 gp. Plus 1/25 of this base price in XP plus 1/2 the base price in gp.

So if George, the wizard, creates a Scroll of Magic Missile, we’re looking at a 1st level caster casting a 1st level spell x 25 gp. So it costs 1 XP and 12 gp, 5 sp, plus the day in creating it. Not very cost effective. And the higher the level of the wizard, the closer you get to the same scenario plaguing that kidnapped Cleric from earlier.

Thus it’s not really cost-effective to create magic items in a factory setting… We’re just back to the odd shop owner creating whatever magic items his clientele asks for at the time and the customer being forced to pay something up front. The shop owner meanwhile would have to go adventuring himself to acquire additional XP, which may in turn force him to go to the magic shop in the next town to talk to that owner, and so on.

At least it’s self-perpetuating for the most part once you have NPCs with high enough levels to create the items. The only problem then is that as a store owner I’d want to mark up the cost and pass it along to the consumer… Long story short, you end up with a high demand and small supply for magic items, meaning those greedy store owners can charge whatever the heck they want.

So where exactly *do* all of those magic items come from that stock their shelves? Curious minds want to know… Really!

Agree or disagree? Have a different opinion or theory? Leave comments below or drop the
Gassy Gnoll an e-mail via the contact page!

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4 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Pondering Mage Slavery

  • Honestly? I’ve never felt that the ‘wizard makes magic items’ made a lot of sense. As a player and a GM it was always a really dubious concept and hell, in 2e the game basically said that magic items shouldn’t be a requirement for the game but rather a prize to be fought tooth and nail for. Something WORTH the effort, something you shout hurrah after acquiring. Every magic sword unique, every blade engraved with incredible runes and every helm covered in a fantastic design.
    So yeah, I’ve never dug the idea of magic item shops except in very explicit cases. For example in eberron it makes far more sense because eberron uses magic to replace technology, and in my own setting the reason there isn’t a similar situation and spells are instead encoded into items is because every form of magic is more or less a kind of science, so of course spells will take the place of components of devices rather than actually being the reason devices function.

    • Fitz

      @PixelScum – Yeah… It’s a weird economy to start with. It would be better if magic items were unique in the wild and (as you say) be “a prize to be fought tooth and nail for.” And then when you get the item, you have to [gasp] figure out how it works and maybe you explore its abilities and as you learn more (and go up in experience) it has more powerful effects…

      But I’m glad to know I’m not alone in thinking the whole setup is whacked. 😉

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