It’s the Magic Item Economy, Stupid!

Dedicated readers of Intelligence Check (there’s something like four, now) will notice that this blog devotes quite a bit of space to the kingdom building rules from Paizo’s Kingmaker Adventure Path. There are multiple reasons for this, both personal (I’ve run a Kingmaker game, which is currently on hiatus) and professional (I think that introduces concepts that can be used to really change the focus of the game).

Having said that, the kingdom building rules are, like any other rules set, subject to being bent and even broken. While I’ve little doubt that Paizo playtested them and edited the mechanics they wrote prior to releasing them, it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, despite the best editing in the world, errors and unexpected loopholes make it into the final rules.

Luckily, there’s a wide community of gamers out there who, in the course of playing the game, will eventually stumble upon these problems and, in some cases, talk about them on the internet. In other words, they become de facto playtesters. And we can learn from their mistakes so that the headaches they had to endure don’t come up in our games. It’s with those gamers in mind that I move on to today’s topic.

The Politics of Failure Have Failed…

The central part of using the kingdom building rules is spending Build Points to construct new buildings in your cities. Some of these builds have magic item “slots” – that is, they generate a magic item(s) of a certain type (minor, medium, and/or major) every month, which then remain until they’re sold – whether to the PCs or someone else.

The secrets of the universe at discount prices.

By itself, this isn’t a big deal. It’s a way of measuring what’s available should the PCs (or some NPCs) go shopping for magic items; the PCs don’t determine what these magic items are, nor do they have access to them without paying for them first, just like in any other campaign. ’nuff said.

Except, however, for a clause mentioned elsewhere in the rules. Step 3 of the Income Phase, “Sell Valuable Items,” says the following (emphasis mine):

You can attempt to sell items that cost more than 4,000 gp through your city’s markets to bolster your kingdom’s Treasury; these can be items you recover during an adventure or they can be magic items currently held by any of your cities. To sell these items, make an Economy check (DC 20 for minor items, DC 35 for moderate items, and DC 50 for major items). A failed check indicates the item doesn’t sell. Success indicates that the item sells and you can increase your kingdom’s treasury by 2 BP (for minor items), 8 BP (for moderate items), or 15 BP (for major items). You can make one Economy check per city district during each Income phase.

From what I’ve heard on the Paizo messageboards, the emboldened part of this rule quickly became a problem in many Kingmaker games.

The nature of the problem is self-evident. Once the PCs spend BP to build these shops (the ones that generate a magic item every month), they can then make a check each month to have the shops sell the magic item and reap the BPs that are generated from doing so. And this happens every single month with the PCs not needing to spend any further BPs to keep earning these rewards.

Needless to say, this is a HUGE problem. Yes, there’s often a significant investment cost for the PCs to build shops that generate magic items in the first place (particularly for shops that make medium and major magic items), and yes, they still do need to make a check…but those aren’t really disincentives. Once the PCs have a high enough Economy score (something that’s not at all hard to achieve), and don’t roll a natural 1 on their check, they can pretty well count on free BPs each month. And this is a problem that only snowballs as the PCs build more and more magic item-generating shops…

Given that, let’s lay down some guidelines and alternate rules to keep this sort of thing from happening.

…We Need to Make Them Work Again

The rallying point for a Kingmaker capitalist revolution.

First, let’s establish why the existing rule doesn’t make sense. There’s a disconnect between the in-game nature of the government that the PCs run, and the metagame nature of the players building a country. While the metagame effects of the PCs spending BPs to decide what buildings get built makes it seem as though they (the government) is managing the economy, this isn’t the case in-game. In-game, the economy is a private sector that doesn’t answer to the government (though it likely works with it).

It’s this separation between the market and the government that stops the PCs from simply taking every magic item that shops generate for themselves for free – if the PCs were to decide that they wanted to keep a randomly-generated item, for example, instead of selling it, they’d still have to pay for it. So if that’s the case, why do they get to reap the benefits (in BPs) of selling those same magic items? When stores in the real world sell wares, the government doesn’t get to keep the profits – the private sector does (taxes are the exception, but the kingdom building rules already models taxes in a different way).

As such, Step 3 of the Income Phase, “Sell Valuable Items,” is deleted. Cross it out entirely and don’t use it in your game. If your PCs want to earn BPs for selling things, it must be for things that they personally own.

But how do they do that, now that we’ve eliminated the aforementioned rule? Well, let’s back up and look at Step 1 of the Income Phase, “Deposits:”

You can add funds to a kingdom’s treasury by donating coins, gems, jewelry, weapons, armor, magic items, and other valuables you find while adventuring. For every full 4,000 gp in value of the deposit, increase your kingdom’s BP by 1. Items that individually cost more than 4,000 gp must be sold as detailed under Step 3 below.

This is a good guideline, and we’re going to tweak it, largely be eliminating that arbitrary proviso that caps what this step can handle at 4,000 gp. Try using the revised version of this rule given below:

You can add funds to a kingdom’s treasury by donating coins, gems, jewelry, weapons, armor, magic items, and other valuables you find while adventuring. For every full 4,000 gp in value of the deposit, increase your kingdom’s BP by 1.

Items that individually cost less than 4,000 gp can be deposited without a check. Items that individually cost more than 4,000 gp must make a successful Economy check to be deposited. The DC of this check is 10 + the gp value of the item divided by 1,000. For example, selling a pair of goggles of night – which have a market price of 12,000 gp – would require a DC 22 Economy check [10 + (12,000/1,000) = 22]. Successfully selling the goggles of night would increase your kingdom’s BP by 3.

You can attempt to make one such check per item over 4,000 gp per turn.

This method not only limits the PCs to selling their own materials, rather than mandating shops to sell their wares and turn over the profits, but has several other benefits as well. The major one is that it keeps the rewards for selling magic items to reasonable levels – A PC selling a +5 vorpal longsword, which has a market value of 200,315 gp, will only earn 50 BP for its sale. That’s a lot, but not at all game-breaking.

Further, this system prevents the PCs from automatically being able to liquidate big-ticket items. The aforementioned magic sword, for example, would require a successful Economy check against a DC of 210! Notwithstanding rolling a natural 20, only the largest and most prosperous of kingdoms could make that check, which makes sense.

Finally, note that “depositing” items using this system doesn’t necessarily mean letting them sit in the kingdom’s treasury. In fact, it’s more likely that such “deposited” items are sold by the PCs’ government, gaining material wealth, favors owed, goodwill, and all of the other tangible and intangible rewards that are represented by Build Points.

Mage Labor and Capital

Of course, these rules are just suggestions; make sure to tweak them to fit your home game if you find that they’re not working as well as you’d hoped. For example, perhaps the BP gains for depositing items should be 1 BP earned per 1,000 gp spent (but make sure to adjust the ratio of making withdrawls to match – you should always be able to withdraw gold for BPs at a rate of half the gold you must deposit to earn BPs). Or perhaps it’s better to eliminate the “1 always fails, 20 always succeeds” rule for kingdom checks, so that PCs with a low Economy score can’t try and sell that uber-expensive magic item.

However you tweak these rules, hopefully they’ll save you from PCs attempting to become insanely rich on the backs of honest merchants making magic items. After all, the rules are for building a kingdom, not running a communist state.

…though a Communistmaker game does sound interesting, comrade.

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5 Responses to “It’s the Magic Item Economy, Stupid!”

  1. Will Says:

    If i had to guess, i’d say the selling items to get BP’s thing is supposed to represent the profits gained from tax when the magic item shop sells the item. Kingdoms typically levied taxes on people living and operating inside their borders.

    I won’t comment on the balance, but i’m guessing that’s the logic behind the rule.

    • Alzrius Says:

      I would have thought so too, except for the fact that you can already set the Taxation Level as one of your Kingdom Edicts in the kingdom building rules.

      Now, you could say that that’s a different form of taxes (e.g. income taxes, whereas selling magic items result in sales taxes), but that’s a tricky distinction to make, simply because it’s more specific than the abstract nature of the rules seems set up to handle.

      And also, I’ve seen a number of posts on the Paizo forums saying how the question of the Magic Item Economy is unbalanced if the players decide to min-max the system. This is just an alternative idea on what to do about that.

      • Will Says:

        Oh i know, i’m not commenting on balance; what those rules have is simple exponential increments which are always a problem. I’m just guessing that the ‘sell items, get BP’ mechanic in the normal rules is supposed to represent the tax gains from selling those items. Mostly because i notice the BPs you get from selling the items are significantly less than the BP’s you’d get from depositing their worth in gold.

        It’s an odd choice; i’m not sure why the PC’s have the choice whether or not the magic item shops sell their items, and i’m also not sure why magic item shops ‘generate’ items to begin with, but i guess there’s a layer of abstraction there.

  2. Derek Says:

    Yea I had to rewrite the system entirely I had such a bad reaction to the magic item part of the economy now my version of KM looks only superficially like the one they published.

    • alzrius Says:

      From what I’ve seen, a lot of people who take the time to really dig into the Kingmaker rules come to find them lacking.

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