Thursday, August 14, 2014

The 5e Economy

In older versions of D&D, the economics were weird and often nonsensical.  Especially considering that PC’s do not inhabit the “normal” economic system.  They operate more like gold rush prospectors than shopkeepers.  High risk, occasional massive payout and long stretches of downtime.

And where do magic items (sale and purchase) fall into the economy?  3e just normalized it – you could buy/sell magic items, and were expected to.  4e ignored it, mostly.  You sell magic items for half their worth, buy them for full cost and just shut up and kill stuff.

And then there is crafting.  Where does it fall into the economy – it has to be less profitable to stay home and craft than to go on adventures – otherwise, who would go adventuring?

I think it should be useful/interesting to be able to do crafting.  Players like to have their characters build things, create things, to leave a mark on the world other than by killing.  Plus, as a DM, it’s nice to have an underlying economy that makes a bit of sense – that you can build off of in a consistent, interesting way.

I’m going to start digging into the 5e crafting economy, looking at its links to the larger economic structure implied by the lifestyle and hireling rules, and see if it all hangs together.

Hellz yah Ron Perlman
Case Study 1:  Blacksmithing.

Historically, Blacksmithing was a high-skill, high-prestige occupation.  Ideally, that will also be the case here.

According to the rules, it takes the average person 250 days to learn to use a Smith’s tools, and the cost is 1 gp per day to do so, assuming they can find a teacher.  The tools themselves cost 20 gp (I assume this is for a travelling blacksmith, rather than the cost of setting up a forge).

Based on the lifestyle expenses, this is a fairly expensive proposition – essentially it is the cost of a year of modest lifestyle, so a reasonably high barrier to entry, consistent with a high-skill occupation, and requiring an apprenticeship period.

Now, let’s assume that the blacksmith has the skills – the crafting rules state that they have to pay ½ the cost of the item in “raw materials”.  My initial thought is that this is too high a raw materials cost, but if we suppose it covers the overhead to set up and run the forge, or to use somebody else’s forge, it might be doable.

The example they use in the book is 3 people working on a suit of plate mail, so let’s look at the economics of that and see if crafting actually pays.

We’ll start with the numbers.  A suit of plate mail costs 1500 gp.  So it will cost 750 gp in raw materials.  Let’s assume that means all the leather, coal, metal, tools and facilities you need to build the suit of armor.  In practical terms, this means that only a well-established, experienced blacksmith could even attempt this – the materials cost is too high, unless you are being fronted by the client.  But let’s assume this is an experienced smith who has the resources to do this project.

The remaining 750 gp worth of labor needs to happen at 5 gp/day, or 150 days worth of labor.  Remember that the smith can maintain himself at Modest level (1gp/day) for that time period.  If he does it all himself and lives modestly, he makes 750 gp profit, plus the 150 gp in living expenses.

*Edit* I messed this up.  I assumed that the profit was all they got back - but it isn't - they recoup their initial investment as well.  So this part below is all wrong.

So here is a big problem – if he starts the same project over again, he’s back to 0 – making nothing but plate mail (or anything else, by extension) means he never makes profit.  He has to plow all his profits back into materials for the next set.  

Of course, he is paying for a modest living for himself, so that is something.
Now let’s assume he has 2 helpers.  The helpers also earn 1 gp/day while helping, and they cut the time down to 50 days of labor.  Great – 750 gp profit for 50 days of work, plus the "lifestyle income" of 150 gp.

If he has a family– let’s say 3 gp/day for a family of 4.  So it’s costing him 2 gp/day to work on this – if the kids are the helpers, then just the forge work pays for itself, and he's still making 750 gp in 50 days.  Which is pretty good.

So these rules work (sorta) for PC crafting, since I guess the raw materials (this is really just materials, not raw materials) cost assumes that the PC doesn't
want to do most of the work themselves, and has the scratch to pay for steel, chainmail, leather and soforth.

So blacksmithing – it’s a decent living, and it doesn't really seem to matter what you are building - the 5 gp/day structure ensures that you can make a pretty good living at it, assuming you start with the matching 5 gp for raw materials.

I would like to give it more flexibility though, so say that you can put in UP TO 50% in raw materials, with a 10% minimum.

Let's try that suit of plate again with these rules.

The blacksmith puts in 25% in raw materials cost - 375 gp.  He has to do 1125 gp worth of work, or 225 days of labor.  He has 2 helpers, who just get paid the 1 gp/day modest living salary.  That means 75 days of work for the three of them.  At the end of that time, they clear 1500 gp for the suit.  Takes longer, but the basic math is the same.

Of course, if I was being detailed, I'd modify the raw materials cost and final product cost based on material availability and technology levels in an area, but that's for another day.