Equipment costs and Advancement

Thursday, 6. January 2011

Yes, this stuff is very expensive for good reason! (Flickr / Laenulfean)

Looking through some posts today, Red has an interesting one on the price of plate mail and why it may or may not be expensive.  The point of interest seems to be the change in prices from Basic through 3e, and then a huge drop coming into 4e.  I will argue in this case that it’s not the time, expense and rarity of the material that determines cost in this case, but rather how much player advancement is affected by it.. and how much it is factored into the characters base level of effectiveness.

Skipping back to the plate mail however, actual costs were determined by a few things.  Rarity of the materials was the first one.  Iron ore took a lot of work to get out of the ground and refine into a usable form.  In addition to considerable effort, it also took considerable talent to do such.  In addition to being a rare material, iron took a long time to work into a proper shape and steel to be worn.  We’re talking a time frame a months to complete, even with  the assistance several apprentices working on it (Lower cost labor in this case.)  If we don’t want to look at frills and embellishments to the armor (fluting for instance, made it considerably stronger in addition to making it look cool) the we can also look to guild control of the items.  Such monopoly only served to drive the prices even higher, out of the range of any “normals” per say.  So, the previous editions had it right, armor was extremely expensive.

What those previous D&D editions didn’t have that 4e does.. is fighter spells (admittedly 3e started to get into this with feats, but not to the same extent.)  By fighter spells, I mean that the sum of their combat effectiveness isn’t the gear that’s on the fighter at the time.  The fighters have abilities they can used to make themselves considerably better.  Their sum total of their existence is no longer ingenuity, gear and level.  This is a carry over philosiphy of attempting to improve MMO’s, where for a long time those were ingenuity didn’t matter, so only 2 things that mattered for melee style classes.   In addition, the better armor is simply considered a baseline point of effectiveness.    Fighter types are assumed to have an armor of X or better armor, and of course you have a few flavors depending on how your skill checks feel.   The really heavy stuff is no longer a prize… the prize is the various versions of enchanted armor.

There is my rational for cheaping out what should be a terribly rare and expensive item. The expectation of the game that the players are going to have it, and the lessened need of it for effectiveness.  Thoughts?

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3 Responses to “Equipment costs and Advancement”



  1. Don Says:

    I’m not sure the 4E “cheapens out” the armor per se. In previous versions, starting gold was dependent on character class. Fighters had decent starting money, and wizards did not.

    However, if you look at the “investment” in ability at first level, a fighter could be a young nobleman to a gladiator just earning his freedom to a brawler. There probably wasn’t a lot of “personal investment”.

    A wizard on the other hand, supposedly studied at learned colleges of magic-craft, learning the ways of the arcane, and can finally whip out a magic missile spell or put their opponents to sleep. The “sum of personal investment” for the mage might be years and hundreds, if not thousands of gold for his studies. Some of this may have been paid in the form of work, apprenticeship, or errands, but the price was paid.

    So, between the two there is a very disparate difference in “cost of training” up to that point. To me, it only seems fair that a fighter of first level has paid his dues and can afford the tools of his trade, especially considering the mage of old had years of school, a spell book, and spells worth a lot of money as well when starting out.

    I do think this could have been reflected in keeping the starting gold different for each class rather than adjusting prices, but I think WotC wanted to level the playing field, and this constant starting gold value does that, and brings relatively equal value to both classes.



  2. Grey Says:

    That still dosen’t affect the production values of the armor. If they wanted to do that, why not just give the fighter a boatload of money or better yet just say they inheret a set of heavy armor?

    With the current pricing, every chump walking around can have one!



  3. Runjikol Says:

    There seems to me to be two main approaches to pricing adventuring gear.
    1. Cost == Effectiveness
    2. Cost == Economics

    In approach 1 the cost is based on the game-mechanic effectiveness of the item. So a wand of fireballs costs a lot more than a wand of prestidigitation.

    In approach 2 the cost is based on economics of production and market forces. Like the plate armour of old: very rare specialists working with the highest technology of the time (metallurgical and engineering).

    What DnD does is follow mainly 1 with a sprinkling of 2 thrown in. Just look at the cost of longbows vs. the costs of swords. A standard longbow is not a composite or laminated work. It does require a specialist but the materials are not rare or expensive or labour intensive. Yet making a sword requires a much more specialised cratsman with rarer materials that are more labour intensive; yet a longbow is the same if not more expensive.

    It would be very easy to show how broken the economics of DnD is but Grey has said that pretty well. If plate armour is so cheap every chump would have a suit. That would mean that plate armour workshops are very common (so that every chump can get a suit) and suddenly plate armour is like a TV in modern times. Every chump has got one and lots of people work for TV factories.

    However, if it doesn’t really matter in the games people are playing, and enjoyment is not being impinged; then play on with what ever model you are using.

    If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.

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