The Burnt World of Athas

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Jon // Oracle, jon[at]

Behind the eye: the complications of monetary standards, markets, labor and item creation

For purposes of creating magical and psionic items in an Age of Heroes Dark Sun campaign, convert the Market Price entries from the Dungeon Master Guide from gp to cp. The item creation process as per the Dungeon Master Guide and Player�s Handbook requires an expenditure of raw materials equal to � the Market Price entry in the Dungeon Master Guide. What constitutes these raw materials is up to the DM. Suggestions include jade, amber, marble and other rare valuables that can be bought at a market place. Inventive DMs who want to make the item creation process more difficult and challenging could resort to components such as �dew gathered from the eyelash of a hurrum�, though these inventive DMs should be warned that such components are difficult to appraise in terms of monetary value, and thus could complicate the item creation process. Both approaches to item creation are explored in this article, with a subtle basis in economic theory.

The Valuable Minerals Approach

Gold standard vs. ceramic standard

The Athasian economy is more advanced than the economies of many other campaign worlds. The depletion of metal has lead to a radical change in currency and monetary standard unit, from a gold standard in the Green Age, to a ceramic standard in the Age of the Sorcerer-Kings � the latter still applies in the present day Age of Heroes. In the Green Age, one gp could buy the equivalent of what a cp can today in the Age of Heroes. For item creation purposes this also applies, since the cost of raw materials would depend on the standard coin, be it gold or ceramic. Thus a magical or psionic item did not cost any less in the Green Age nor does it cost any more in the Age of Heroes. The same amount of raw materials is required to create an item in the Age of Heroes as it was in the Green Age, and for all practical purposes they would cost approximately the same under free trade conditions (which is a hypothetical market situation, which applies even less to Athasian markets than markets in our real world, but still remains a foundation for economic discussions).

Law of relative value

It would be tempting to say that in an item creation perspective, the values of the raw materials are constant. However, game balance issues interfere to prevent us from doing so. How much is a given mineral or material worth per unit of weight (f.ex. pounds) in the item creation perspective? For example, is silver worth less than gold in this aspect? What about amber and jade? For game balance issues, the values should not differ from the cost of acquiring them. Thus the easiest way to address this issue is to apply a law of relative value, tied to the market price of a given material. This way game balance is retained and the various materials attain relative values to one another. To determine these values use the price entries for the materials in an accessory such as Dune Trader (DSR2) and compare the listed price per a common unit of measure (convert all weight measures to f.ex. pounds).

Market fluctuations � an extension of the law of relative values

However, Dune Trader introduces a problematic option � differing prices in different cities. If you use this optional information, you introduce an opportunity for speculation in item creation raw materials (buy the materials that are cheap in your local area, travel to another place and buy a different cheap material et.c. � net result cheaper psionic and magical items), unless you (for simplicity�s sake) assume the law of relative values applies to the extent of natural market fluctuations. Assume that the average price for a material in a given area is the result of natural market fluctuations, i.e. sparcity, distance to central resources, amount of suppliers etc.

The ceramic piece in an item creation perspective

Note that if you count gold and silver as valuable minerals in the item creation perspective (and there is no reason why you shouldn�t), these two materials are no different from the other materials, even though they are part of the currencies that have changed over the ages. 50 gold coins weigh one pound, and the price for a pound of gold is 50 gold pieces. The same applies to silver (50 sp = 1 pound and 1 pound of silver costs 50 silver pieces). A ceramic coin, however, is worthless in the item creation perspective, since it is not fashioned from a valuable material. However as the accepted standard currency in the Age of Heroes, the ceramic piece can buy its accepted market value (1 cp) in �raw material value� for item creation purposes at a market. Confused yet? For all practical purposes, just convert the Market Price entries in the Dungeon Master Guide from gp to cp for Age of Heroes Campaigns, and you�ll be fine (Green Age campaigns, for the GMs who would run them, use a gold standard and thus need not convert the entries).

The Exotic Components Approach

Labor as a measure of value

For the DMs who choose the more exotic approach to item creation, requiring materials such as �dew gathered from the eyelash of a hurrum� or a �thought from a tree of life as it is being drained of energy by a defiler�, labor seems like a natural choice for value assessment. The time, difficulty and risk involved in attaining the material component in question determine its value. Rather than operating with fixed monetary values for such items, an ad hoc adjustment is better in a game balance perspective.

If we compare gathering the materials for a psionic or magical item to that of performing a craft, this will explain why. For example, one carpenter could use four hours to produce a chair, while another carpenter could use only two hours to produce an identical chair. The second carpenter might have better tools, more experience and resources at his disposal to make his work more efficient. While they would earn the same amount of coins when selling the chairs, the amount of labor invested differs substantially. In a game balance perspective this can be a problem, at least in the issue of magical and psionic item creation.

Ad hoc labor cost

For instance, say the exotic component required for an item to be created is �a dwarf that is blind, yet can see�. One character might search high and low for a long time to find a blind dwarf psion (seer) with the psionic power clairvoyance. Another character might simply walk up to the first dwarf he sees and poke out one of his eyes, leaving the other intact. In both cases, the dwarf is blind, yet can see. Ethics and moral values (or lack there of) are not the topics of this article. The point here is that one character resolved the situation much faster than the other, and while I usually encourage and reward creativity, I would award these two characters with a different amount of �labour cost� in the item creation perspective. There might be those who would disagree to this approach, using the argument that in the long run these things even out. To quote the great economist John Maynard Keynes: �In the long run we�re all dead!� To put it another way, Keynes says it is the short term effects that matter. In our item creation example, the creation �cost� should be balanced � there is no guarantee that matters even out in the long term, and even if they do, two wrongs do not make a right.

Benefits and drawbacks

The major benefit of the �The exotic components approach� compared to �The valuable minerals approach� is that the DM can to a greater extent control the item creation process and thus the amount of items created to a level he/she sees fit for his/her campaign. Care should be taken, though, so the benefits of item creation feats are not reduced to a minimal level of usefulness, and a certain amount of magical and psionic items are needed to maintain game balance (or else the characters must be treated as having reduced ECL � Effective Character Level - for purposes of battling monsters of various CRs - Challenge Ratings). Furthermore, �The exotic components approach� can in itself lead to new adventures for characters who are creating psionic and magical items. However, one major drawback to the method is that the price of labor is difficult to appraise, and a DM must be careful not to �overprice� or �underprice� an item. For the DMs who prefer the �I�ve got a heap of values � poof! I�ve got a cool item� way of item creation, and/or a more theoretical foundation, �The valuable minerals approach� is probably more appealing. Choose the method that suits your campaign style best.