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On the “magic” of symbols

The Gamergate event may be winding down, but the Hollerback catcall video is still a fresh thing and I thought I would take a moment to point out an interesting commonality between these things and roleplaying.

What the anti-journalist cause in Gamergate and the anti-street harassment cause (Hollaback) have in common is that the rhetoric used to support their respective causes do not rest their wait on the fullness of what actually happened that they are arguably against but instead rearrange the presentation to conform to certain ideas that the audience expected to happen. In the case of gamergate the spark narrative reverses the genders of the original story. In the case of Hollaback, only working class and minority harassment was included in the video – leaving out the acknowledged occurrences of white professionals harassing the woman. I am not a semiotician so I do not know the precise words for this, but it got me thinking about how magic or religion in a roleplaying game might be based on such symbols.

I think the Artesia roleplaying game had a dash and of this – you got more XP if you did something aligned with the Cosmic Tarot Card for something. Doing it publicly and with flair got even more because you were manifesting the powerful symbols on earth. Unknown Armies has this too.

Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to dive deeply into such things but I think it might be fun to do. Perhaps different cultures have different stories and myths that flesh out as different magic and gods. Not because the cultures are inherently different or because the magic system differs but because the practitioner needs to really see things through that particular lens to accomplish the arcane.

The Structures of Everyday Life

I’ve been reading Fernand Braudel’s three volume Structures of Everyday Life and found it very interesting in general. Among other things, it describes the development of ordinary things like diet, fashion, housing arrangement, and furniture.

New foods, furniture, and clothed spread quickly when they were adopted as fads by the rich and became more common in a community as production or import increased. On the other hand, things like new cereal grains took decades or centuries to be adopted as mass use crops because there was no appetite for them nor tradition of how to put them to best use.

I think this puts a new spin on playing long lived races relative to humans. Elves are the canonical example. They have been presented as particularly tied to the past and a bit xenophobic. This may not be (only) because there is a special power to the old ways but because they are just backward and stuck in their ways. The ten thousand year old elf king thinks hunter gathering is the way to go because that’s how he was raised more than because agriculture doesn’t support a higher population. On the other hand, sustainability takes on new meaning over those time scales.

You might also spice up your orc tribes by having them introduce a new and useful variety of plant or domesticated animal. Oldsters regard them as filthy and only fit for orcs and beggars, but my do they thrive on that otherwise empty badland…

Not blogging and not even thinking.

In my last post I talked about progress in the software development portion of this effort. Even that came to a halt  when I spilled liquid on my laptop and fried the keyboard.

The way forward then for now is trying out this WordPress app on my new phone. Only the future will tell.

Thinking and not writing

It has been quite some time since my last post, but I have not been completely idle on the project.  This blog is part of a larger effort that I hope will yield a toy and GMing tool for me that can simulate macroeconomic events and their in-game relevance.

I am currently thinking of implementing the actual simulation in python, with simulation parameters controlled by text files. Visualization to be done in d3.js against the python output. At first this would mean that the interface is static, but I think ultimately this would drive me to learn django and such so that I might able to make a responsive web-based simulation.

Towards this long-term goal, I have been thinking a lot about how to simulate the production, consumption, and development of pathfinder populations.  Because I desire output on a large geographic scale and do need individual outcomes, I cannot use agent-based modeling (e.g. Dwarf Fortress).

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what approaches might be interesting and “accurate” since then.  This series of posts is going to describe that process.

The simulation shoud be able to answer questions like: what and how much is produced, what and how much is consumed, what and how much is traded, and what and how much is stored.

I decided to start with modeling production first because I have gleaned from Fernand Braudel’s _Wheels of Commerce_ that the vicissitudes of popular consumption are the product of a developed trading economy, perhaps even an industrial one if the tastes of the poor are to be met, too. After reviewing the pathfinder production system, it quickly became clear that the answer to the production questions hinges on how much of the population is working in a particular trade, their skill, their tools, and their materials.   For an initial effort, I will start small with non-trading community.

The first approach I considered was to track population and for each skill track proportion of population working on that skill and average skill bonus.  This had the advantage of being being simple.  Output of a given skill in an area would thereby be proportional to the arithmetic product of population, skill proportion, and (10+skill)^2 bonus.  A population of 100 working 80% on food production with an average food skill of +2 would make food proportional to 11.5. The model is missing a limiting factor, but I could assume a maximum population that can work in a skill in an area (this is similar to how the Civilization series of games limits food production).

Such a model would let me answer questions like how quickly a given population could reach the carrying capacity of an area from starting conditions or the minimum population involved in food production to support a given population. To do this, I would need to make assumptions about carrying capacity of areas, how populations divide their time between working with skills, and how quickly a population develops its average skill bonus.  Only carrying capacity of an area seems to me to be an “easy” assumption to make from reference texts, especially if the goal is to evaluate how a population reponds to shocks like plague or a band of murder hoboes killing the town militia.

What this model would have trouble providing guidance about is how output would change if there were a shift in what people do for a living.  For example, if more people started working in leatherworking instead of farming, how should the average skill in farming and leatherworking change? That question requires more, complicated assumptions about the distribution of skill within the population, which brings me to the topic of the next post skill distribution.

Casting ain’t easy: Potential structures in the market for wizards

A wizard wishing to conduct spell research and live well will need to earn money. Even a seasoned adventuring wizard could easily spend his his entire convertible wealth (62,000gp) researching spells in two years.  To sustain a career in research, much less outfit a suitable wizard’s tower, a wizard will need money.  This post looks at the Pathfinder rules about the magic business and tries to infer what world building implications there might be.  How is wizard’s work organized in terms of institutions, trade links, and product lines? 

We have a handful of observations about prices and work opportunities for wizards:

1. There is no margin to make money manufacturing or distributing magic items because the price to make them is the same as the price the retailer will pay for them.
2. The retail spell casting market does not settle near the marginal price of casting, which is 0. Instead it is 10gp x caster level x spell level.
3. A day’s earnings for a wizard using his class abilities (e.g. casting spells) to earn money is surprisingly low: only d20 + character level+ best ability score modifier -5 sp per day (may take 10). A 10th level caster would earn only about 14gp per week.
4. A day’s earnings for wizard using his skills to earn money is modest, half your skill check in gp per week.  A 10th level caster might earn 14gp per week without special equipment or feats.
5. A small magic shop (800gp wholesale of merchandise or less) dealing in magic items, spells, magical remedies, and perhaps spell components produces 19gp per week of profit before random events for a non-absentee owner with a purchase value  of 1590gp. This is a 62% annual profit on the initial investment (again, before random events).  
6. The retail price for magic items starts at 12.5gp for the cheapest scrolls and 25gp for the cheapest potion. However, even the smallest settlements (< 20 people) have a 75% chance of magic items under 50gp in retail price being available for sale.

These findings paint a picture of a business in magic items that has no margins in manufacture and distribution paired with very large profits at the retail scale. Magic items and presumably the shops that sell them are very common in Golarion, since even small settlements have selections of potions available.   One caster working full time for a year could supply more than 150 magic shops worth of inventory by working 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. Even if a magic item shop goes sells through its inventory 4 times a year, the caster can manufacture supplies for 39 shops (250,000gp retail). In this 39 shop example, the 250,000gp gross would be divided:  50% on magic item raw materials, 15.4% in dividends to the non-absentee store owners, 11.3% to store managers who ensure things go well for 2 gp per day per store, 2.4% on unskilled shopkeepers (based on 1sp per day per unskilled retail person at 39 stores), and 0.2% for the caster’s labor to make the magic items (generously assuming he were paid as a 10th level caster). That leaves 10.7% paid by the retailers for taxes, dues, transportation, depreciation, rents, interest, and other miscellany.  One complicating detail to my explanation is that the return on investment in the downtime rules for starting a shop is really good (greater than 50% per year before random events) for all kinds of shops, not just magic shops.  I will explore that in a future post.

The low share for the caster’s artifact making labor does not depend on the assumption I made about turnover per store. With higher average sales per store, the owners’, managers’, and unskilled laborers’ portions would decrease, and the miscellaneous category would increase by the same amount. The share paid to the maker of the magic items would be changed. 

I say all this to point out that there is a lot of money to be made, and only a sliver of it is going to the wizard despite the fact that in most settings the wizard is a rare kind of person.

How can a GM explain this conundrum in the most entertaining and fun way possible? In order of descending likelihood that could cause wages for magic item making to be so bad:
* Magic shops tend to be owned and run by by casters who make most of the wares. This might be with the imprimatur of a sanctioning organization (e.g. a guild). This has the advantage lower inventories, providing a store front for retail casting, socialization with and respect for magic-users,  and giving magic-users something to do other than make trouble when they don’t have an adventure. The sanctioning organization gets its power from its partnership with the state or community.

* A force in the market such as a guild, nobles, religion, law, or popular custom prevents heroic classes from charging more than a few gold a day for their skills.  For example, perhaps the ruling powers don’t want heroes freelancing in the towns. They either want the heroes to work for the ruling powers or leave town. (likely some of the time)

* Housing magical energy in the body is dangerous.  A wizard who memorizes spells on a daily basis will die an early death by demonic possession, magic worms, madness, or worse. The only safe way to memorize spells or keep them memorized is to discharge the energy buildup into specially prepared inanimate objects. This was how arcane magic items were first invented. Wizards are desperate to find work making magic items, so they will accept the meager fees listed above so they can safely keep their spells memorized. The wizard guild is not just a cartel – is a public trust to keep wizards from endangering the community.

* There is a large organization that sells magic items at-cost as a loss leader for something that makes even more money. (unlikely since magic items are so expensive you would expect something else to be a loss leader for them). One possibility is that it is a loss leader for the army in order to keep a large stable of magic-users occupied when they are not needed for other missions.

* A cabal of wizards/casters in Golarion has discovered a new metamagic feat or other means to make magic items on a large scale for lower cost than standard price.  They are using this to take over the market, and crafters can’t make a good living making items any more. (this could be a fun adventure hook).

* There are so many magic items in the market that there is no money in making new ones (unlikely, but depends on setting)

* There are so many casters in the market that their wages are low.

* I’ve made a mistake in my calculations.

* The rules are inconsistent or not meant to be used this way.

A Good Adventure is Hard to Find

A wizard who lives a long natural lifespan will have perhaps 4000 weeks  to adventure, research, scheme, effect schemes, and conjure the object of one’s vices.  Most wizards would also agree that they would like to attain as much power as possible to further their pursuits. Not only is a higher level better because it offers more intensity and variety per moment, but it also allows the wizard to gather the resources to pursue his goals. For example, a wizard researching spends perhaps 500gp per week, making magic items costs 3,500gp per week. A wizard needs to pay his cost of living, too. Servants, fine liquor, and silk sheets would be nice to have, too. How to raise the funds when even owning a magic shop earns only 19gp per week and working as a 10th level wizard pays about 14gp per week? Skilled work pays a little better. Those downtime rules look broken to me, but I will have to dive into that rabbit hole at a later date. Let it suffice to say that as written, a wizard would have to own 185 magic shops to support himself at making magic items full time. 

Unquestionably, the best answer to this funding problem would be adventuring. The profits are enormous compared with ordinary work or capital. With only modest breaks of down time to reequip, adventuring in a world where magical potential comes from overcoming dangers to accomplish goals and accumulate money is both lucrative and empowering. Many campaigns I have played in have effectively leveled my characters 10 levels or more in a year of in-game time.  I have always preferred a bit more down time per level when I GM, but fast leveling (as measured by in-game time) is certainly a thing in official Pathfinder campaigns. Yet Golarion and the settings I have played in are not full of high-level 22 year-olds, nor are old NPCs always high-level NPCS. If being a 10th level 22-year old was as simple as slaying enough people with money, I strongly suspect a shortage of brutal 20-year olds would not be the limiting factor on a world full of high-level brigands. I suspect that what limits leveling is that appropriate level challenges become rarer and rarer as level increases. A 4th-level brigand and his gang hiding beside the road find fewer level appropriate travellers to rob, etc. At a certain point, adventure slows down and you have to spend your time less lucratively.  What is a wizard to do when he has spent all his adventuring money, there are no adventures to be had,  and he is worried about making rent on his villa and paying for experiments?

Efficient design of a self-licking icecream fantasy cone.

You might be wondering where all the pretty figures have been these last few posts.  It isn’t that I have forgotten the aspiration of my blog, its that I couldn’t find a good module in Python for simulating game theory interactions of wizards.  Worse yet, while I fiddled around with 3d visualizations of the predation-cooperation-ignore boundaries,  I could not escape the sense that any particular results of those boundaries are not useful to anyone whose campaign isn’t reflected by the specific parameters. Why implement a generalized solution to wizard competition if the initial conditions (the setting of the campaign) are going to make all the difference? 

In real life, a generalized model’s specific parameters could be compared with empirical results to get meaningful predictions, but sadly (happily?) that isn’t an option here.  The conceit of this blog is to look to the Pathfinder rules and infer about the setting, but sometimes the rules aren’t there to fill in the gaps and the gap is too large to fill in with guesses.  

From a world-building hobbyists’s point of view I am very inspired by the infrastructure  Alexis at Tao of D&D has built, but my skill set urges to me to take a path toward a solution that has more automation, more programming, and less map-building.  I aim for  a modeling engine that would estimate the price effects of a dragon’s hoard being spent in a small kingdom, or the supply limitations caused by kobold’s plaguing an important iron mine.  When I think about getting to that end-state, I know there will be assumptions and code infrastructure to be built, but it is not yet clear how much micro-foundation, such as agent-based modeling, needs to play a role  to get price-level  and macro population effects.  I don’t see myself as using this tool to get specific information about how Smith Brown’s hammer broke today, and I don’t have a server farm to through at world-simulation.  

What needs to be coded to get to a model that can take local events like a dragon slaying or war, and translate them into GM interpretable story results?  If anyone has any insights or suggestions, I am all ears (or all eyes on the comments).

Wizards are just like you and me.

I posted four questions about wizards last time, but it has not been easy to decide where to start. I am starting with the cooperation incentives for wizards because this is a topic that is relevant to setting and roleplaying as well as analysis of wizard economics.

Two wizards who encounter one another face the same kinds of incentives and decisions as you or I:  Avoid the encounter, seek some constructive benefit from the other person, or try to take what you can by fraud, stealth, or force. Just as in the real world, what stops people from robbing everyone they meet depends on the person, but the kinds of obstacles to predation include things like social/moral inhibitions, having something better to do with your time,  fear of losing something in the conflict,  and the limitations of what can be gained by attack.  Qualitatively, none of this is different for wizards.

What is different?

  • Two wizards encountering may not suspect each other of being wizards unless there is a display of wizardly eccentricity (familiar/staff) or magic (mage armor/mount/something flashier).
  • Weak wizards cannot spare magic for display but not all strong wizards will advertise their magic. This is not really a difference from the muggle’s situation if we substitute “wealth” for “magic”.
  • Wizards are smarter than average, but not necessarily any wiser.  The smarter the wizard is, the more magically powerful he is, too.
  • Wizards can reasonably expect another wizard is more dangerous the more valuables he carries.
  • Wizards can reasonably expect that another wizard has more to offer from cooperation the more valuables he carries.

Put differently, there will often be a high uncertainty about the payout of cooperation and predation because each wizard cannot be sure whether he has met a wizard nor how powerful that wizard might be. If the other wizard is advertising his power, a wizard can take that as a sign of foolhardiness, confidence, or security. 

In a situation where a hidden wizard H encounters a showy wizard S, H will have an opportunity to evaluate S’s power before revealing himself for the encounter. This is a big advantage for H and will tend to tilt the balance toward wizards staying hidden when they don’t feel safe. In an environment with lots of stranger-muggles around, like a city, this is going to offer wizards plenty of muggles to hide among. A solitary wizard might reasonably be able to keep a low profile if desired.  Anonymity helps protect wizards, especially weak ones, in every day encounters with strange wizards.

From the point of view of a hidden wizard approaching a possibility of an encounter, such as a settlement or a figure in the distance, here are some of the factors that might shape the payoff numbers:

  1. S is for security. It the cost inflicted by third-party the external punishment for selecting conflict.
  2. P is the power of the wizard evaluating his decision as he approaches.
  3. O is the expected power of the wizard who might be encountered.
  4. C(P,O) is the estimated payout of cooperation is the value of new spells gained in trade minus copy cost. C increases with both P and O. As an equation, it might look something like: C(P,O)=a+bP+cO+dPO where b,c, and d are positive real numbers.
  5. R(P,O,S) is the estimated payout for choosing predation. It is the value of spells gained from conflict minus losses in conflict.  R increases with P, decreases with O, and decreases with S. As an equation, it might look something like: R(P,O,S)=a+bP+cO+dO/P-S where b is a positive real number and c and d are negative real numbers.
  6. I(P) is the value of ignoring the conflict. It represents what better you have to do with the time. I increases with P. As an equation, it might look something like: I(P)=a+bP+cP^2 where a,b, and c are all positive real numbers. This is an important consideration because wizards, like everyone, have other things they do than hunt for people to rob or befriend.

If each wizard (P and O) in the encounter   both have some idea beforehand about how powerful the other might be, both P and O will can make informed choices based on their comparative strength and the prevailing security of the encounter area.  When one party is much stronger than the other, the strong party would be tempted to predate or at least ignore the other because of better uses of time.  Cooperation makes more sense when the parties are near in strength (making combat uncertain).

The security environment would be the controlling factor, which should be no surprise when you think of it.  Encounters in the wilderness are just more dangerous.  When S is large, noone who isn’t desperate chooses predation because some third party force will come down harder than any payout. This will make the encounter space safer to choose to be showy and in turn make the possibility of identifying potential collaborators higher.  For this to happen, S has to be the kind of security who will protect both wizards, or only the protected wizard will feel safe to show himself in public.

When S is low, aggressive wizards choose predation freely when R(P,O,0) is high enough. This raises the incentive for weaker wizards to choose to hide. This makes both cooperation and predation rarer. Only the foolhardiest and most confident wizards will choose to advertise themselves in those situations.

Cooperation is fostered by a secure environment for both parties who can trust that predation is generally off the table.  This might come from law enforcement that respects the rights of both wizards and will enforce against predation credibly. This could also arise in a situation where the weaker wizard has the benefit of local support and the stronger wizard, while unsupported, stays hidden until reaching out for cooperation. Foolhardy, friendy wizards are more apt to cooperate even if meeting in the wild, alone; but they are also liklier to be killed by bandits or predatory wizards.  Only the luckiest of them will survive to old age and high level.  

Factors favoring cooperation:

  • Fair strong law enforcement or institutions providing that sort of effect in the context
  • Strong party has reputation to protect against claims of predation
  • Strong security favoring a publicly known, weaker wizard
  • Desperation (very low or negative I(P))
  • Poor judgement (e.g., low wisdom)
  • Both parties have a preference for cooperation

Factors preventing cooperation:

  • Insufficient security prevents both parties from revealing themselves
  • Showy party is judged too strong to take the risk by weaker party
  • Showy party is deemed too weak to be worth the time by stronger party
  • One party has a dispreference for cooperation
  • Rents extracted from being sole provider of specialized service (i.e. only one who knows a special, useful spell), or from being locally dominant caster and jealous of potential loss of revenue from students and local spell casting buyers.

As I said above, security is key for wizardly cooperation and institutions are typically the key to security, whether they be wizardly or other institutions. There are lots of books and blogs on how ordinary muggle institutions arise to provide security, and I think a lot of that would apply to wizards.  The development of a secure cooperating community of wizards was probably not automatic prior to the development of high security settlements, but when chance provides an acorn of security  and cooperation, it might not be hard to grow that acorn into an oak of a strong wizardly institution because a wizardly institution will be credibly quite powerful, wealthy, and potentially able to provide security generally.

The prevailing security of the settlements a player encounters is likely strongly determined by the game’s setting, but there is no reason that great plots cannot be made out of the struggle to build institutions, raise security level, and ultimately make the game a safe place for even for a 1st level diviner to carry his toad familiar in public.

Wizards… how do they work?

Wizards… how do they work? No, I do not mean how do they get their magical powers. I mean how do they participate in the fantasy economy around them? Like any specialist, the wizard will be far behind in achievements if he tries to develop every spell on his own, hand-pick is own spell components, and make his own paper for his spell book. There are a variety of prices mentioned in the rules related to casters and wizards especially, and I am going to spend a couple posts discussing those rules, what they might imply about the Pathfinder wizarding world, and what rule changes might make the wizard prices align better with other fantasy settings.

I would like to start what Pathfinder has to say about a wizard’s costs and then his potential revenue sources.

* Recurring life maintenance costs. A wizard has a  cost of living,  the same as anyone else. The “Average” cost of living is 10gp/month, “wealthy” is 100gp/month, “extravagant” is 1000gp/month.  I think it is safe to assume that wizards worthy of the name certainly won’t fall below the “average” lifestyle in most settings. Note that “average” almost certainly isn’t the lifestyle of the typical inhabitant of most settings.
* One-time costs to record spells. A wizard needs a place to record his spells, typically a book. This takes:
    * One hour per spell level (with a DC15+spell level spellcraft check to understand the spell) in time to copy.
    * 0.15gp per spell level in cost of paper sufficient to record the spell (.15gp for 0 level spells, too).
    * 5gp for a 0-level spell or 10gp x spell-level-squared for suitable ink to copy the spell, unless the spell being recorded is one of the two spells automatically gained per wizard level. The automatic spells are free.
    * To borrow another wizard’s spells to copy them, the typical charge is half the copy cost. That is, 2.5gp for a 0-level spell or 5gp x spell-level-squared. Rarities will cost more.
    * Researching a new spell in addition to the ones gained by gaining wizard levels costs at least 1000gp per spell level and 1 week with mandatory spellcraft and arcana checks.   Each attempt requires a DC20 + 2 x spell level spellcraft AND arcana or the time is wasted. Each attempt takes 1 week for 0-3 level spell, 2 weeks for 4-6 level spell, or 4 weeks for a 7-9 level spell. Up to two research assistants are allowed to aid with the skill checks. The 1000gp base research cost is increased at GM discretion, perhaps based on the spell being researched and faciities available.
* Per casting costs
    * Casting from memory costs no gold because the spell components are effectively free unless specifically noted otherwise.
    * Casting costs from scroll are paid in advance to make the scroll and are 12.5gp x spell level x caster level + special component cost.
    * Casting costs from wands are paid in advance, in bulk (50 charges) for 7.5gp x caster level x spell level + special component cost per charge.
These are the costs listed as associated with being a wizard. On the typical day of a wizard’s life he probably has no marginal gold costs for using his powers.  Even when adventuring, he can avoid substantial use of scrolls with good planning. This observation about marginal casting cost is interesting because we have several Pathfinder rules about revenue sources available to wizards.
* Scrolls retail for 25gp x caster level x spell level,and can be sold to shops  for half that.
* Wands retail for 15gp x caster level x spell level, and can be sold to shops for half that.
* Spell casting services retail for 10gp x caster level x spell level + component

There are two interesting observations that come immediately from this. First, the raw material cost of scrolls is the same as the cost a retailer will buy them for. Second, the charge for spell casting services is less than the raw material cost to make a scroll.  What can we infer about the wizard markets in a standard Pathfinder setting?

    1. The magic item market (scrolls, wands, and the rest of the commercially available magic items) has retailers (strongly implied by the settlement rules), but it doesn’t have wholesaler or manufacturing firms or agents making money selling magic items. This inference comes from  the fact there is no money to be made between the wholesale price paid by retailers and the raw material cost.  The magic item creation section says that players cannot make money this way, and says to use the downtime system if you want to, but the 0gp margin has implications for more than just your wizard’s inter-adventure money woes.
    2. Wizards earning money in the market selling spell casting services are not going to be casting from than a scroll, since you certainly can’t operate with negative margins selling on a per-unit basis.  They might be casting from wands or permanent use magic items, which have a marginal casting cost lower than the price listed, and that would make sense to do so for spells needed immediately in large numbers.
    3. The cheapest way to acquire a new spell is to pay another wizard to lend you his spell book.  The most expensive way is to research it yourself.
    4. Time is the constraining resource for wizards, since money doesn’t limit spell casting once a spell is acquired.  
With these observations in hand, I invite you to think about the setting implications, because they are many and I am sure I haven’t thought of them all.  Here are a few I plan to discuss in future posts, but if you have any more ideas please leave them in the comments:    

* Why can’t anyone make money making or wholesaling magic items?
* Since you cannot make any money making them, who makes magic items and why?
* Why do casting services sell for more than marginal cost?
* Would or would not wizards cooperate on spell research when they are each other’s cheapest paths to new spells?
* Time is a major constraint on a community’s  aggregate magical capacity. How is this dealt with in terms of training new wizards?

Crafting – What elements of the crafting rules are realistic? (Part 3)

As promised to havenofinspiration in the comments of my last post, this time I will show the “Thomas Edison” Approach to crafting.  Thomas Edison’s approach to invention was to try tons of things until something worked. He had a experimental laboratory where just kept trying variations on the invention until a commercially viable one was found.  In that spirit, how much time and money would it take a crafter to complete an ambitious project (both in gp and dc) if he had the backing of unlimited time and money?


The top half of the figure shows the median amount of time it would take in log10 of weeks to complete the project of a given cost with the shaded area being the 10th to 90th percentiles.  The bottom half of the figure shows the same distributions for the amount of money in log10 of weeks. Remember, every skill check takes a week and every attempt costs one-third the retail price.  For reference, the red line in the gp half of the figure is the item costing its retail price in raw materials to make (e.g. 2 failures then a success).
The curves in blue show how a bonus +0 crafter would do making DC11 items with retail price from 10gp to 100gp. The curves in green show how a +10 crafter would do making DC21 items with retail price from 40gp to 400gp. In both cases, I chose these starting points because this starting price is the amount of value added a single take 10 success would create. For the +0 crafter, he will start spending more to make the item than its worth 50% of the time at about 40gp; for the +10 guy that happens at about 120gp.  However, the other half of the time, these crafters are still spending more (of much more) than the item is worth  to make it.  For very large projects (10 times the take-10 value-added per success), the median outcome is enormously expensive and the 10% to 90% range of outcomes is enormously wide.  For these big projects, you really have no idea what you are signing up for at the start (assuming you plan to chase success to completion).

This pattern looks realistic to me as a general representation that when we undertake a project out of our comfort zone (DC11+), we really have a wide variation in the time and effort it will take to complete it.   We often won’t know if success is just around the corner even after many previous failures (this attribute is modeled by the geometric distribution which is memory-less so previous success or failure doesn’t make subsequent success or failure more likely). A bad result on an ambitious project can be orders of magnitude worse than a good one.  This is a reminder that achievements like the moon landing were the products of good project management as well as high craft engineers.  Breaking a project into ten 10,000gp DC21 projects is much more likely to succeed on time and on budget than one 100,000 gp project of the same DC.

For players, I would say this re-iterates what I said in my previous post, with the possible addition of suggesting that you play a long-lived race if you care for your character to spend his retirement treasure on ambitious craft projects like writing the great novel of his or her respective cultural group. For GMs, an impatient patron who feels cheated by the artist contructing his glorious statue or precious steel-golem chassis are plausible adventure hooks, even if noone in particular is trying to do harm. Maybe the party needs to find a magic lathe to get that crucial additional bonus. Well… its an idea at least.