Note: The text below continues from a previous article, and constitutes Part II in a three-part sequence.
Making a Deal.
When you discover wonderful stuff in a marketplace — if you somehow get a great deal on a spell for your spellbook, a legitimate magical item, or some masterwork plate armor — it is likely to be through one of two scenarios:
- It will be up for public auction and your window for appraising and acquiring it will be short. (Worse, it will only be open to you if you notice the opportunity in the first place!)
- Or else the item will be tucked away somewhere, treasured by its current owner or on reserve for a valued customer, or kept in good condition for the right buyer, should he or she someday happen along.
Note to GMs: From this point on, referees will need a target value for the item. For magic items, use the official guidance and imagine someone selling a home on one of those real estate TV shows: They think they’re going to get the top value of each of those brackets for their “precious.” The PC thinks he or she is going to get it for the bottom of the bracket (or less, if unrealistic). If both sides are serious, they may end up near the middle.
For “masterwork” items with expiration points, assume the item is worth double the usual price, plus about 25 gp for each expiration point it has. Thus, a masterwork longsword with 3 expiration points would be worth 105 gp. This is just a rough guideline. Supply, demand, and common sense should trump this shortcut whenever your instincts say they would.
Fast Item Appraisal: Appraising an item quickly requires a DC 20 Investigation check, using the same guidelines offered in part I under “Investigation.” Success yields a narrow range for the maximum value of the item, say 95-105% of its actual listed value.
Example: You’re appraising an astrolabe with a book-listed value of 100 gp. You succeed at your check, estimating it’s between 95 and 105 gp in value.
Note to GMs: The difference between this check and the DC 15 version is that while the DC 15 determines whether the vendor’s merchandise is generally shoddy, normal, or high quality, it doesn’t help the person arrive at a price estimate. The DC 20 check does. You can be efficient here, using a single die roll for both types of information. Someone rolling a 17 would know the general quality of the item but be iffy on the right price.
For items of small worth, the minimum range is 1 coin of the appropriate type. That is, an item worth 4 gp might appear to be between 3 and 5 gp. An item worth 3 sp might appear to be worth between 2 sp and 4 sp.
Failure on the appraisal check is more complicated, following a modified version of Smarter Intelligence Checks:
- Missed by 1: You’ve under-estimated the value by about 5% (or one coin). This means the upper end of the range will be the true value of the item. Example: You think the astrolabe is worth 90 to 100 gp.
- Missed by 2: You’ve over-estimated the value by about 5% (or one coin). This means the lower end of the range will be the true value of the item. Example: You think the astrolabe is worth 100 to 110 gp.
- Missed by 3-4: You’ve under-estimated the value by 10% and are less confident about the range, with a range of 20 percentage points or 2 coins. Example: You think the astrolabe is worth 80 to 100 gp.
- Missed by 5+: You’ve over-estimated the value by 10% and are less confident about the range, with a range of 20 percentage points or 2 coins. Example: You think the astrolabe is worth 100 to 120 gp.
- Natural 1: You have either over-estimated or under-estimated by 20-50%. GMs: There’s an even chance of under-estimation or over-estimation. Roll 1d4+1 and multiply by 10 for the amount of error. However, the range is a tight and confident 10%, just as though the PC succeeded. This means it’s tough for a player to tell the difference between a fumble and extreme success, unless you’re letting the player roll and then expecting him or her to role-play the result. Example: The PC thinks the 100 gp astrolabe is worth 145 to 155 gp. Ouch.
Once you have more time with the item, you can appraise it again, taking 10 minutes, and rolling against DC 15 (even taking 10 or taking 20 if the GM uses such rules), and at that point may discover how wrong you were!
Hidden Market Deals: To have a chance at an item on the hidden market, you must first find the right kind of person — vendor 6 or 7 on the list in Part I.
If you are talking to vendor 6 or 7 and succeed at an Insight or Investigation check for evaluating the quality of that merchant (see Knowing Where to Shop), then you may also determine that there may be more than what’s on display.
Any character with a guild merchant background or proficiency in Persuasion knows (without rolling) that asking straight away about such items is kind of rude, and not the best way to go about this business. Instead, the best approach is to chat up the merchant about the items on display and his or her trade, using this opportunity to show that you are a serious and knowledgeable buyer. (GMs: A PC who role-plays such behavior should automatically have a chance to see hidden merchandise. Otherwise, a Persuasion check — DC 15, with Advantage if the character has expertise in skills related to the use or making of the item — yields the same result.)
In most such cases, the merchant will take time away from the main display to speak to you in private, away from the eyes of other buyers, handing off the storefront to an underling. Haggling, if it happens, works like this:
- The NPC knows how much he or she has invested in the object — not just financially, but in labor and time. He knows how much he needs to make to pay the bills. He or she also knows what it might sell for with other buyers. So he or she will have a strict minimum in mind. Short of magical compulsion, no matter how well you roll, the number isn’t going below that.
- You and the merchant start out with a kind of game, the object of which is to see who will be the first to name a figure. Whoever names a figure first is at a bit of a disadvantage, but someone has to do it. This is a Deception contest. Any character with a merchant background gains Advantage on the check. (This means most NPC merchants will have Advantage.) Whoever loses must either walk away or name a figure.
- Anytime you or the merchant make a bid, either you or the GM can call for a Deception vs. Insight contest.
- If the Insight check succeeds, the listener is very confident that the true value is equal to, higher than, or lower than the stated amount — and that confidence is correct.
- If the Insight check is close but lower than the Deception check, then the listener is uncertain.
- If the Insight check is significantly lower, the listener is very confident that the true value is equal to, higher than, or lower than the stated amount — but is wrong.
- If the merchant names a figure first, the figure is generally 120-150% of target.
- If you accept, a sale is made.
- If you counter at target or above target, the merchant aims for somewhere between your bid and his figure.
- If you counter below target, the merchant signals this is way too low, and reasserts a price slightly lower than his opening number, hoping to drag things north of the target value.
- If you name a figure first, here’s the likely script:
- If you come in far under the merchant’s target, the merchant responds with something along the lines of “Are you serious?” and sticks with this until you go away or come up with something closer to the mark. If you seem loaded but dumb (maybe you’ve failed your appraisal check), the merchant might try to correct that error, giving you a second shot at appraising the item.
- If you come in a little under the merchant’s target, the merchant responds by asking for something about 10-20% above target, but figures you’re going to end up close to the target and is okay with that.
- If you come in a little over, the merchant counters slightly more north, but is okay with things if you refuse to budge.
- If you come in far over, the merchant (if good-aligned), might suggest a more reasonable figure. If neutral, the merchant might simply accept. An evil merchant might still haggle, just to see how high you’re willing to go. Note that good or neutral merchants might, if financially desperate, also respond like the evil merchant — not everyone can afford morality. But generally, good merchants who are well-off will not want the reputation of someone who gouges customers and will try to avoid that kind of rumor.
At this point, hopefully you have closed some sort of deal, and if so, congratulations. As you leave the merchant with your hard-won merchandise, though, it would be wise to consider the sorts of attention you may have attracted — and that is the subject of the third part to this series.