Dungeons & Dragons Online

How much should spell scrolls costs in D&D 5e?

Ok, I'm an economics nerd. Money makes the world go 'round, and the world of D&D is no exception. I've done a detailed analysis of spell scroll creation mechanics supplied by both the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) "Crafting Magic Items" (p. 129) and the alternative rules supplied in Xanathar's Guide to Everything (XGtE) "Scribing a Spell Scroll" (p.133). Both of these systems look ok on the surface, but when you crunch the numbers, they fall flat. If you wish you had a detailed spreadsheet of how those systems work, now you do: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1_aw2U7taVe_2Q0XQ0oyRYf7xDJshPN-Mi1SYaUh4nr8/edit#gid=1111465017

Here are the core things that are missing in these systems:

  • There's no opportunity cost: how much could a wizard/cleric make doing other things rather than creating spell scrolls?
  • What's the overall market look like? Would cheap goods mess up the economy?
  • Isn't a level 20 wizard's time worth A LOT more than a 1st level wizard?
  • Does it really only take 10 days and 25 gp of marketing to find a buyer willing to spend 100,000 gp on a level 9 spell scroll?

In my recommended alternative I am keeping the following assumption:

  1. Since they scale up nicely, let's start from Xanathar's spell scroll costs RAW
  2. As they are also pretty good, let's keep Xanathar's scroll time creation – EXCEPT for level's 2, 1 and cantrips.
  3. Let's make 3rd level the MINIMUM caster level to be able to create a scroll, but otherwise keep the spell levels as defined in Xanathar's.
  4. Finding a buyer gets more difficult the higher price the item is.
  5. The costs for finding a buyer go up the higher price the item is.

Spell Scribing Time, Costs, & Sale info

Caster levelSpell levelTimeCost (gp)Marketing Expenses (gp)Days to find buyerBase Sale Price (gp)
3rdCantrip4 days15 gp1 gp150 gp
3rd1st6 days25gp2 gp280 gp
3rd2nd8 days250 gp7 gp4330 gp
5th3rd10 days500 gp15 gp8665 gp
7th4th20 days2,500 gp65 gp103,000 gp
9th5th40 days5,000 gp135 gp206,200 gp
11th6th80 days15,000 gp360 gp4018,000 gp
13th7th160 days25,000 gp700 gp8032,000 gp
15th8th320 days50,000 gp2,500 gp16067,000 gp
17th9th480 days250,000 gp5,760 gp320280,000 gp

Why does any of this matter?

If you are reading this far, you may be curious why I've bothered to crunch the numbers here. I wanted to see if a wizard (or other spellcaster) were to engage in the economy how much income they would be able to produce. If you go by these numbers, here's where they land in terms of average profits (if their scrolls were to sell at a base price):

  • 3rd level – 9 gp per day
  • 5th level – 15 gp per day
  • 7th level – 21 gp per day
  • 9th level – 27 gp per day
  • 11th level – 33 gp per day
  • 13th level – 39 gp per day
  • 15th level – 45 gp per day
  • 17th level – 51 gp per day

Given the expense costs in the Player's Handbook, by the time they reach 3rd level, most spell casters would be able to earn enough to live a wealthy (4gp/day) lifestyle. As a comparator, they can earn the same (9 gp per day) by working as a firefighter in the City of Waterdeep. Prior to this, they could earn 4 gp per day working as fire guard for an important person. I wanted to crunch the numbers to see at which point a spell caster could settledown and live the good life out of harms way.

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