It's been too long since my last thousand-word shitpost.
Alright so, I was looking at the nonmagical items because those are some of the more interesting ones. Shit you can get at the very start of the game. It has some interesting implications on the worldbuilding of the setting... As well as any setting that it's stapled onto, in case you worldbuilders were thinking of adding the base system to your own and changing the flavor.
Right off the bat with weapons, we get a lot of weird shit. I won't go too far into detail because obviously price can vary WILDLY depending on what it is and how it's made, but take a look at this from a conceptual standpoint:
A peasant makes 6 gold a month. A dagger costs 2. It's a non-canonical fan-theory by someone on reddit, but the average peasant, after food, maintenance, and taxes, will be able to save about 4 silver a month. A peasant's going to have to save up for 5 months in order to afford a dagger. This is half as much as a spear or a sickle, which, from a glance, makes sense in a medieval world, right?
It makes sense that a dagger, a weapon commonly only carried in cities for self defense and on battlefields for the purpose of getting through armor, would be more expensive than a simple tool that a peasant probably already has and has (probably) been refurbished for combat use by a village blacksmith.
There would be low demand for a dagger for people who aren't comfortably wealthy. Small-time country blacksmiths (read: Most of them) wouldn't need to know how to make most kinds of dagger effectively. The skill required might demand more money... Assuming the dagger is one of the small swords depicted in DnD art and not just a glorified prison shiv like The Seaux
Only, in that very same table, a handaxe (visually no different from a normal hatchet in official art) costs 5 times as much as a spear. And a pike, something that requires not that much more work and material than a spear (even assuming the pike has a metal end) also costs 5 times as much.
I can't claim to know the actual costs of things. And Medieval Economics is kinda fucky because the amount of work put into things didn't really have any monetary value, in a barter system things are more distributed according to the need of both parties involved rather than strictly with monetary abstraction, so who knows.
Maybe thieves (listed as having the same income as peasants) in a hotly contested urban area do walk around carrying daggers, as is the trope. Because they can get a really good price for them (in the bartering sense) since the blacksmith really needs all the peasants around him to be able to defend themselves from goblins if he's going to have a business.
Maybe flails, despite being a pain in the ass to make, only cost as much as lances (which are just spears, unless you're in a jousting tournament, in which case a jousting spear is specialised sporting equipment that wasn't actually used on the battlefield) because knights (the ones who actually USE money) are primarily mounted units who use lances, which frequently break, which means they recieve constant orders.
This might have inflated the price, meaning that pounding out a metal-tipped wooden spear costs just as much as something that requires you to go through the pain in the ass process of bending wires into chains and casting a spiky metal ball before attaching it to a stick of the right length where it won't smash your hand. But isn't that already quite a huge fucking lore implication?
And if they're going to be so expensive, why don't they go buy literally any other polearm? Y'know, all the polearms that are mechanically so much better than the lance, and won't cost, oh, I dunno, 5 times the average spending money they're likely to make in a month?
But you know what costs the same amount as a flail? A shortsword. Now, the definition of shortsword is fucky at best, but it's usually illustrated as something like a gladius. Is a gladius more of a pain in the ass to make than a flail? I don't know. But just keep that in mind. Keep in mind that a gladius is a mass-produced soldier's weapon, and a flail is a really fucky-looking mace that only nobles used, if at all.
You know what else costs 10 coins? A blowgun. A simple tool, and readily available to any peasant with woodworking skills. Assuming that peasant is in a tropical area. So does that mean that it's expensive due to its exotic materials? Or could a dirt farmer from Fantasy Asia suddenly decide to become an arms-dealing mogul if he decided to spend a few hours every day whittling for a few years?
A crossbow? Eh. Peasant weapon. It only costs 2 and a half blowguns. A longsword doesn't even cost that much!
A big fuckoff greatsword? Well, maybe that's a little pricy. Assuming you're working basic peasant hours, it might cost more money than your house. A peasant might have to work for as many as 83 years in order to afford one the normal way. But hey, if you could get ahold of 5 blowguns, it's as good as yours!
A longbow, something far more mass-produced than a big fuckoff greatsword ever was? I guess despite how popular they were, they couldn't figure out how to make it less expensive than a regular greatsword. A unit of longbowmen could be economically devastating, which is why all kingdoms have secret underground guilds of blowgun-makers to keep the economy running.
But the weapons aren't even the shit that I want to talk about. Actually, I think you can ignore the past 10 or so paragraphs because what I find the most interesting from a technical standpoint is the standard equipment, the random gear you carry around to get up to not-necessarily-combat-related actions.
We'll start off with Alchemist's Fire. What does it do? It explodes, and causes a fire. That's literally it. There's nothing you can't do with Alchemist's fire that you can't do with Oil, a tinderbox, and the omnipotent powers of Forethought, but I suppose a fool and his money are soon parted. Which brings me to Oil itself.
First off, what the fuck is oil? Where does it come from? What does it want from us? The only thing that the player's handbook gives us is that, if we light it on fire, it hurts people. You can presumably put it in a lamp. Common fanon says that if you pour it on squeaky hinges, it'll lube it up and stop the noise, but that's more of a petroleum oil thing. It's a fair bet to say that this oil comes from seeds or nuts or something, which means you can cook with it!
But it also means that it is, justifiably, very cheap, as the resources for making it are all around, and are commonly farmed. OR IS IT JUSTIFIABLE!?
It takes an entire farm to produce the sheer surplus of seeds required to create oil and also replant the seeds for next time. Pressing the oil out of the seeds is a grueling process in and of itself and it typically takes something like multiple pounds of seeds in order to get a few ounces of the yellow juice. Results may vary from plant to plant. Refining the oil takes countless man-hours and a lot of water and sand. And all for one single vial to cost nothing but a silver piece?
Well, the process of turning wheat into flour and then into bread is also similarly time-intensive, and people throughout history did that a helluva lot more than they turned seeds into oil. I'm going to let this one slide because I have no idea what the fuck bread costs in dungeons and dragons, and it's also 5:14 AM and I realize more and more every day that I actually don't know anything about history.
There's also antitoxin. I don't know what the fuck Antitoxin is made out of, so that also gets a pass for costing 5 whole blowguns despite being so niche and situational that no player would ever buy it for that much money.
Enough about shit that's too expensive. Here's a real doozy. You can buy a bag of one THOUSAND ball-bearings for one gp. One. THOUSAND. Ball bearings. Now, if I've been browsing through welding forums in the wee hours of the morning long enough to know one thing, it's that a blacksmith in the medieval ages probably has better things to do than make even one fucking ball bearing, let alone ONE FUCKING THOUSAND BALL BEARINGS.
Normally, I would try and figure out what kind of process it would take to make a ball bearing using medieval technology, but, like, I'm genuinely stumped. Probably because nobody ever fucking looked at a steel ingot before and thought "Y'know what would be useful? If I was able to just get up to retarded slapstick shenanigans while running away from people!"
There's no way I can really ascertain how the fuck anyone would make ball bearings. There's no resources out there for me. The idea that ball bearings existed at all in medieval times is a fucking myth. A myth perpetuated by Shakespeare's forgotten play "Home Alone" wherein a child named Kevinne of MacAllister defends a castle from Aaron and Iago using, among other things, a pile of these tiny metal devices THAT WOULDN'T BE FUCKING INVENTED UNTIL 1794!
HOW THE FUCK DO THEY MAKE BALL-BEARINGS!? Nothing in any of D&D lore seems to cover this. Is it magic? Is there just a fucking ball-bearings spell? I know you can shape metal with your mind or some shit if you reach a level of wizarddom that few people ever get to, but can you shape ONE THOUSAND little pieces!?
I don't know. I literally do not have the fuckingest clue. What would a medieval merchant do if you offered him a ballbag for 1 gp? Well, it's 2 pounds of metal in a size and shape unattainable by any technology currently known to mankind. He'd probably consider it... A steel.
AND THEN THERE'S THE FUCKING VIAL OF ACID
MOTHERFUCKING VIAL OF ACID
Vial of Acid. It costs 25 gp. Again, more money than 90% of people have time to work off, and its most straightforward purpose would be to dump it on somebody in order to do literally twice as much damage as being slammed in the face with a handaxe. But it costs years of standard wages in order to do that once.
Now, why the fuck is acid so expensive? We can be led to assume that it's due to some arcane alchemical process that requires a lot of time and resources, since most vaguely alchemy or apothecarial things in the standard equipment list are expensive as fuck to the average person. But that's just the thing- They had acid back then, that was equally as killy. And they did it without magic.
One possible sort of acid would be Calcium Oxide, or "quicklime", because they made it out of lime, and, uh... I guess it started moving faster afterward. You can make it out of limestone or seashells, and it turns into a powder that burns things. What would they use it for? Well, back then, they didn't use it for much.
Mostly plaster, which, admittedly, would be in high demand for those who wanted to whitewash their buildings or their interior walls, and they also poured it on corpses to cover up the smell. It was believed to accelerate decay, but it actually sort of just created a seal over the body and preserved it in some cases.
Now, not everybody has a decent supply of limestone, and not everybody has the time in their day to burn rocks and make sure they're burning properly. Maybe the Mason's Guild is hiking up the prices. Maybe you have to pay people off to get ahold of it, and maybe you need to purchase an expensive license in order to buy it for personal use because nobody wants you to go about covering up bodies...
So I can see it being expensive, but not 25 fucking gp for one tiny fucking bottle expensive, especially not when, assuming you get it from a mason or plasterer, y'know, the person you would buy quicklime from in a medieval world, you would probably be buying it in bulk, because that's how he would store it in the first place. He might charge you one gp for dunking your grubby little bottle in a jar of his quicklime, unless he's running a fucking scam. The whole barrel probably cost 25 gp to make.
But quicklime isn't "2 handaxes to the face" harmful. It's a mild irritant, pepper-spray at best, used by militaries throughout history, yes, but mostly for its crowd-control capabilities... Because, it also isn't something that comes in a vial. It's a powder, that creates a lingering cloud. It's not a liquid.
But I'll tell you what is 2-axes-to-the-face harmful! Lye!... Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but if we're supposing that all the wounds a person can possibly take before death can be abstracted down to a number, Lye might actually place up there as comparable to a strike with a D&D weapon.
Lye will severely burn your skin and flesh, melt your eyeballs to a fine slurry, will fuck up any organ that even its fumes touch, and it might kill you just a bit. In essence, you can't touch it, you can't look at it, you can't breathe around it, it's the archetypal sort of acid that you dump on someone's face in order to attack them, right?
Would you like to know what it's made out of?
Water, mixed with ashes, left to sit in a warm room.
Literally anyone could make lye. In fact, it was absurdly common to make lye. It's something peasants have been doing for literal ages. You use lye to make soap! Fuck, it was so common people even figured out ways to eat it! Well, that's not really the case, but salt is really fucking expensive, so why not use watery burnt tree-acid to cure your food instead? Food preservation is one of the most important things in all of civilization, and you could easily use lye for that. It will not taste good, but it will work. And when you're a peasant, that's important!
And that, my friends, is FUCKING INSANE, alright?
At least the blowgun had the caveat of typically being made from materials you don't usually find in fantasy europe, but Acid? A vial of acid? It only takes two of those, and suddenly you're a greatsword-wielding peasant. A barrel full of it? You can afford a full suit of plate armor.
In dungeons and dragons, the only diference between a peasant and an immeasurably wealthy merchant lord is the fact that one day, the merchant dipped a glass bottle in the village's vat of quicklime, and hiked it up to such an exorbitant rate that he was actually able to afford 5 more bottles.
And even assuming the acid isn't lye, (Because presumably it does a few things that lye doesn't, like eat through rock or metal on account of magical cartoon logic) then why isn't lye available as a cheaper alternative that dissolves organic material only? Because surely way more adventurers would be willing to buy that for the same purposes most players would use acid for, and then only buy acid for the extremely niche situations that it is useful?
There's probably other shit that I'm missing, but the research has been a real pain in my ass and I need to go to sleep. That's been my TED talk; please join me again next time when I prepare a small rant about why the Thieves' Tools don't make any sense.
Just wanted to add that Alchemist Fire practically burns forever, and that Oil evaporates pretty quickly in DnD.
When you douse someone with oil, you have 1 ingame minute to light them on fire before the oil evaporates with nothing left behind somehow. Even then, the attack only does a flat 5 fire damage for one turn. Alternatively, you can cover a 5 foot area with oil and light it, causing it to burn for two turns and do a flat 5 damage per turn to anyone inside, for a max of 10 damage.
Alchemist Fire, when thrown onto an enemy, does 1d4 fire damage per turn. You might think this is worse than oil, but it only costs one action to use because it lights itself, and the fire burns continuously. In 3 turns, if the damage rolled is 4 every time, it will have already passed the possible 10 damage Oil could have made. The target has to make a Dex Save to put out the fire. So if you put this on a creature with low dex (giants, ropers, golems, etc) they could be burning for a long time. And it uses an action every time it wants to put out the fire, so then it's not attacking your party.
I think your tired mind has overlooked the worth of a bottle of napalm.
That may be the case, even if you've given Alchemist's fire THE BEST POSSIBLE CASE. In practice, Alchemist's fire might do 5 damage over 3-4 turns and distract a monster for 2 of those turns, in which case you've spent good hard-earned smackaroos on an inconsistent grapple. But outside of very low levels, (levels when it probably wouldn't be practical to spend this much money on a single use bottle of napalm that only has one purpose) I can't see this making the spectacular strategic difference that can be made with time and our Golden God-Given Seed-based Lubricant.
I mean hey, I loved the acorns in Willow as much as anyone. I guess that's the nature of Adventure! You use what you have, even if it's single-use and holy-fuck-level rare, when you know the time's right. And if it works, brilliant! But speaking from the point of view as Joe Schmo the Medieval Peasant who has to take care of unusual problems, I'd probably prefer to invest in oil.
If you need to light the way, you use Oil. If you need to burn out an offensive smell of noxious gas from a safe distance, how about oil? If you need to quench a sword in something that won't affect the crystalline structure on the surface of your metal as adversely as water, you use oil. If you need to bring something up to a scalding, skin-melting temperature that mere water could not hope to attain, in order to seep through armor and/or slough off the flesh of your enemies and turn them into a wasted heap of sizzling, delicious-smelling burn trauma, there's oil. If you need to bring something up to similar heat in order to saute onions and garlic for your manicotti, I mean... You can't really saute things with any other substance available in this time period.
AND THEN THERE'S THE FIRE!
Personally, I like the 5 flat damage. Magic Missile gets absurd in later levels for a reason. The less variables you have, the more you can screw over your enemy. With how ridiculously cheap oil is, it's safe to say that anything one simple alchemist's fire can do, 25 gold's worth of oil can do better. In fact... 250 flasks of oil? Why, that could have world-altering effects! Even 10 flasks of oil can clear out an entire room of things. You might not kill much right off the bat, but a previously insurmountable hoard of minions? Consider them surmounted.
If your DM is some sort of grognard who takes reality into account, an alchemist's fire worth of oil could turn an entire dungeon into a fully-functioning oven that'll create air so hot all 70 orcs inside won't be able to breathe it. 25 gold worth of oil, and you could burn a city. A CITY! I mean, there's at least enough oil to cover the surface area of all the important parts of a small village alone, even if we live in a gonzo universe where fire doesn't spread. Alchemist's fire does have its niche uses in singling out big dangerous targets in higher-level campaigns, but there's an ever-so-brief window of time where it truly shines. That's more than I could say for something like, I dunno, Acid. But hey, like I said, from a medieval retail standpoint, I could see acid costing the same amount or less, and oil costing slightly more. So who knows how the cost-effectiveness would pan out in a more """""accurate""""" setting.
By the point in DnD's progression that the price of Napalm isn't a problem, some other equally advanced wizard could have specced into threatening to stir fry entire castles until they give him enough free stuff to increase his oily supremacy. I'm sure there's even an ideal build for an oil wizard that might even win some sort of campaign duel against an alchemist's fire user, but I'm not remotely literate in the world of gamebreaking combos.
As far as I know, there isn't a lot of volcanic activity in most Fantasy Europes. I suspect that the knowledge and resources necessary to make it artificially would be fairly scant due to its very limited use to the public compared to something like Lye. I think, if it could be made artificially without magic, it would probably be regarded as one of those obscure, expensive "alchemist tricks" like making pyrite turn gold, or attempting to process small beads of aluminum, the most precious mineral in the world, out of bauxite.
I think, however, that because it's free in a lot of places and alchemists might have some demand for it, you could probably get it for a good price if your local fantasy civilization is somewhere like Italy or Scandinavia, which have a lot of volcanic lakes. Distilling it out of the water might not be so intensive, but I think the corrosiveness would be very hard on any metal equipment. That's alright though, because clay boilers and things tend to be the less expensive option. I could see it costing maybe 1 gp for a flask of the stuff if you had to get it from a distant point in a country that has lakes, but none near you. In other places, the 25 gold might be actually justified simply because of the cost of shipping it.
Just hire some low-level mages to cast some acid based spells, and get them to pay *you* for the opportunity to get some target practice and tips on technique.
That's true. I think 5e makes "cone of acid" or something a literal level one cantrip. So you could basically convince any schmo off the streets, any remotely magical scholar or street-magician, to help you, and with a day of preparation beforehand, they could just do it. In wizarding communities that trade with nonmagical societies, homeless people might hold out flasks or beakers instead of tin cups, asking for their fellow wizards to finger-bukakke enough acid into their bottles that they can go to the other town and sell their collections for hundreds of gp.
That's essentially what Rogue Trader, the first Warhammer thing ever, was. You didn't have to go dungeon-fightin'. In fact, the world is overwhelmingly METAL and you're pretty fucking likely to die if you do. It's your job to take the resources of whoever you can bribe, coerce, rob, or threaten out of an unexploited niche and reap the benefits of your plunder as you Conquistador your way through the galaxy.
I think it's canonical that people already use gelatinous cubes as garbage disposals and dungeon roombas. It shouldn't be too expensive to cultivate 'cuttings' and basically sell slime in a bottle that'll have the same effect.