So in my campaign, whenever players find treasure, I give them the sale price of the item, no need to roll for appraisal checks every time or slow down game play. Additionally, this means I cannot forget to give them the price and have to search for it or make it up later when they do get around to an appraisal check. My exception to this is for magic items, which they need to discover by identifying them, using them, or getting them analyzed by someone of magical abilities. Now, you might say that takes all the realism out of the game, items are just boring commodities now. My response to this is allowing the variations to come in when it comes time to sell, and hand-waving away the knowledge of prices as adventurers having a solid knack for how much things are generally worth.
There are two ways players can sell or buy items. They can work the general market over the course of a few hours or they can seek out specific merchants and deal with them individually.
In the general market, the player chooses what items they intend to buy or sell, and then roll a diplomacy check. The moderate difficulty, DC 15 in D&D 5e, of this check increases when trying to buy or sell items too rare for the size of the market. Generally, I envision the markets of settlements to have a maximum item type of common or mundane non-magical items in towns or smaller, large towns can deal in up to common magical items, small cities in uncommon magical items, cities with rare magic, large cities with very rare magic, and a metropolis or capital city can deal in items up to artifact level. These general rankings can vary, such as a magically skilled wizard college town might be a step or two above what its size might indicate while a backwards, repressed city could drop down a rank. Each step the player is trying to go above what the settlement can handle increases the difficulty by a step, or adds 5 to its DC in D&D 5e.
Trying to buy or sell an item in a settlement undersized for it, automatically increases the price by 20% per step and doubles any price penalties, while halving any bonuses. Buying such an item in a place not sized for it will likely result in the addition of time, as the merchant works their network to find the item and have it delivered. Alternatively, the DM can dramatically increase the price or reduce the sale price, perhaps by 20%-50% per step, while the persuasion check is to confirm the possibility of the deal at all. Whether the player is dealing with a market or an individual, or both, the penalty for the town size should only be incurred once.
Town or smaller: Mundane, non-magical items only
Large Town: Common magical items
Small City: Uncommon magical items
City: Rare magical items
Large City: Very rare magical items
Metropolis or capitol city: Artifacts
Success on this check nets the player a bonus +10% on the sale price or a -10% on the buy price, while failure inflicts the opposite. Greater success adds an additional 10% bonus for every 5 points higher than the DC, and a critical success, rolling a ’20’ on a D20, adds a bonus 10% on top of the result. A greater failure likewise inflicts a further 10% penalty per 5 lower than the DC, and a critical failure, such as rolling a ‘1’ on a D20, adds an automatic 20% penalty on top of the result. Then, the players totals up the additive percentages and applies it to the price they were given on acquiring the item, or to half its sale value for an item they bought. The player may then choose to buy or sell and of the items they designated, but if they choose not to purchase an item, they cannot buy or sell that item on that day. This restriction applies to others trying to buy the item for the bartering character, as the general market includes all of their various attempts, schemes, and deals. Modifiers to the difficulty class or the player’s roll can include a hostile city, strict marketing regulations, financial troubles, trade festivals, unusual economic practices, high demand, or overproduction.
If, instead, the player wants to work with a specific merchant instead of the general market allows them to let their personality and connections do more of the lifting. Alternatively, working with a specific merchant can help overcome or magnify the results obtained in the general market. This might also apply to items sufficiently rare, expensive, or illicit that the general market is not interested.
When dealing with a specific merchant, the player must again select which items they will buy or sell before making a roll. Then, the player makes a diplomacy check against the DC of the merchant, which is based on their friendliness, relationship, and insight skill. This might mean an easy check for a merchant that owes their business to the players, or a hard check for one negatively impacted by their adventuring. The results apply as above, but they add together with any previous results from the general market roll. However, whatever items the player selected must be bought or sold, whether they want to do so at that price or not. If the player cannot afford the item, either their relationship with the merchant is soured permanently, as well as a bad reputation in the settlement, or they must take a disadvantageous loan secured with a valuable item (perhaps the purchased one) as held collateral until the remaining balance is paid with interest. A basic rule is to set the merchant DC at a 5 for friendly, 10 for neutral, 15 for unfriendly, and 20 or more for hostile. Modify this by the merchant’s insight skill bonus, plus any situational modifiers that might apply.
Why might a merchant give you a worse deal? A troubled business, economic factors, a different buyer/seller, they fast talked you into it, they discovered a flaw/feature during the negotiations, they would have difficulty reselling/buying the item/replacement, taxes, organized crime, seasonal effects, or the item is outside their expertise.
Why might you get a better deal from the merchant? You helped line up a buyer/seller, you purchased/sold in bulk, you fast talked them into it, you discovered a feature/flaw during negotiations, they have sympathy for your troubles, this is their reward for your heroism, you are transacting under the table so no taxes, supply/demand, you promised a favor, you paid upfront in or took a delayed sale payment, or you pointed out the extra value of another item the merchant already owned.
A bard is looking to sell their old magical lute (worth 500, an uncommon item) and a collection of mundane goods taken from goblin thieves (total value of 1500). They are selling them in a large city. Since their items are at most uncommon magical items, their is no penalty. They roll a 17, with their +6 persuasion bonus, they get a 23 result. This means they can sell those items for +20%. Feeling lucky, they scope out a specialty dealer in resold adventurer’s good, Garfield the Deals Warlock, who has a neutral reaction and no prior history with the bard. With a roll of a 10, the bard’s +6 persuasion brings him up to a 16, enough for a further +10% sale price. Garfield’s neutrality sets him at a 10 + his insight of 6, luckily just low enough for the bard’s talking to work. This brings him to a total of +30%, making his original sell of 2000 into 2600, which Garfield is happy to pay, as his activities around the market hawking his wares have brought in numerous customers just ready to pick over the goblin treasures, so he’ll have little overhead turning a profit on the deal.
Say, instead, the bard had prior history of misleading Garfield on the quality of his wares, and was also looking to buy a new set of magical scrolls, totaling 1000. In this case, Garfield is unfriendly, putting his DC at a 15 plus his insight of 6, putting his difficulty at a 21. Now, the bard’s roll of a 10 plus 6 is not enough, and is in fact 5 below the DC. This results in a -20% penalty to the sale price, counteracting all the good work he had done in the general market earlier, returning his selling price back down to the 2000, and ensuring that he pays full price, 1000 for the new scrolls.
Axehead the barbarian walks around the market too, hoping to buy a new, bigger axe, a rare magical item that costs 6000, in a small city. His DC is 15 + 5 for the rarity of the item being too high for the settlement size. He rolls a 3, modified by his meager +3 persuasion, to result in a 6, a full 14 points below the target. This results in his axe, the place he is able to find something like it, charging +30% per his roll and +20% due to the size of the settlement, 9000. Not liking this result, and thinking his luck will turn around, Axehead looks for a blacksmith and wizard to do custom work for him instead. Unfortunately, he rolls a natural ‘1’ on this check, for a total of 4, against a DC of 10 + 7 (for the high insight of the wizard, the higher of the two), putting his 13 points below the target. This results in him gaining an additional 20% penalty for the fumble, and 30% for the result. He has been taken for a ride with wild overestimates on costs, so his axe will cost double what the normal price is, 12000. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the cash to cover that and has to take a steep loan for the remaining 3000, which he has to pay off, plus 300 in interest, before he can get his axe.
Another month, another package, this one coming in with a regular Knights of the Dinner Table, Judges Guild Journal, half page adventure hook, and hardcover Freebooter’s Guide to the Razor Coast. While I am not a huge comic book fan, the KDT comic book is growing on me, this one had an silly storyline about min-maxing superhero characters. The Judges Guild Journal was excellent, as it held the winners of an old dungeon design contest. Despite the age of the contest showing in its retro dungeon maps, the content of the dungeons was decent. I’ll have to see if any are worthwhile enough to transcribe and update. I was not a big fan of the half-page adventure hook this month, as it felt rather like it was an encounter on rails, with very little interesting player interactions. Lastly, the razor coast guidebook has loads of material including NPC’s, magic items, settlements, spells, locations, and more that I can freely rip off to use in my own game. That is, if the players ever go to the coast… Oh, and included was a nicely painted casting of a thick door that reminds me a lot of the door to Narnia. A solid piece for the table.