Magic items and 5E D&D go hand in hand – and it’s only natural for the player characters to search for ways to spend their hard-earned gold on magic items and sell the magic items they can’t use!
With an official ruleset that doesn’t offer much when it comes to buying and selling magic items in 5E D&D, this article will dive into how to turn it into a fun experience at the table involving roleplaying and haggling for the price when the characters want to buy and sell magic items in 5E D&D!
Wanderer’s Guide to Merchant & Magic has 166 pages of magic shops and new magic items, including price lists for all magic items in the 5E SRD and rules for buying and selling magic items!
Buying & Selling Magic Items in 5E
Buying a new rope, picking up a grappling hook, or restocking rations may be fine to simply handwave, but D&D is a roleplaying game, and buying a unique wand or selling a magical ring that allows you to become invisible should be a fun and exciting roleplaying scenario!
On the one hand, it certainly seems that the official ruleset is trying to make the trade of magic items into something mysterious and magical. According to the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide, buying and selling magic items is “likely to remain similar to the market for fine art in the real world, with invitation-only auctions and a tendency to attract thieves – if they’re even sold at all!”
On the other hand, the rules provided for buying and selling magic items in 5E extend only to rolling a few dice as a downtime activity. Not quite the unique experience you’d expect the purchase of a magic item to be.
So… what do we do about that?
Haggling & Bartering
In our first article in our series on dealing with magic items, we covered the notoriously hard task of pricing magic items, and in our book Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic, we’ve set individual price tags for every item in the 5E SRD, so check that out if you haven’t already!
As we all know, the “fair market value” of a commodity, is, however, only one side of the coin when it comes to buying or selling it. The other one is negotiating for the actual price.
If dealing with magic items in a roleplaying game like 5E D&D is supposed to be a thrilling and unique experience (which it should be!), a player characters’ interaction with a merchant should, of course, impact the final price tag on any magic item they’re buying or selling.
Being a merchant – at least a good one – fundamentally entails selling stuff at a higher price than it is bought, so a merchant running a magic shop would naturally try to get the best deal possible. Whether a player character wants to buy or sell a magic item, the starting point for such a deal should therefore be an initial offer from the merchant which is clearly to their advantage!
In turn, the player character should then be allowed to make a counteroffer, leading to back and forth haggling until a price has been agreed upon. Unless, of course, the player character is okay with being robbed in broad daylight and accepts the merchant’s first offer. The merchant sure isn’t going to complain about that.
Below is a section of the rules for appraising and bargaining for magic items in 5E from Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic.
Wanderer’s Guide to Merchant & Magic provides an easy-to-use ruleset that makes buying and selling magic items into a fun (and fair!) scenario at the table!
Buying Magic Items from a Merchant
To be concrete about how a negotiation for a magic item could play out in 5E D&D, let’s first take a look at a scenario where the player character wants to buy a magic item from a magic shop.
If you’re using the pricelist for magic items from Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic to decide the market value of an item – or just have a price tag in mind for the specific item a player character wants to buy – it would make sense to have the merchant’s initial offer add somewhere between 10-50% to that base price (depending on how greedy they are).
You can then allow players to haggle by making a Persuasion or even a Performance check to lower the price by first giving a counteroffer and then have the merchant incrementally lower the price depending on how well the character haggles (perhaps 20% for each success).
Repeat this process a few times until the two parties agree on the final price!
If you don’t have a price list at hand and don’t really trust your own judgment on finding a fair market value for an item, you can also go by the rarity-based prices provided by the official rules. You should be mindful that the suggested prices in the Dungeon Master’s Guide have a pretty wide range (a very rare item is worth between 5,001 gp and 50,000 gp, for example).
So, if you go by the rarity of an item, I’d recommend having a merchant’s initial offer be the maximum price for an item, and then letting the players’ bargaining skills determine how low the price can go.
Selling Magic Items to a Merchant
As for selling magic items, you can reverse the above process.
If you use a price list to decide on the market value of an item, it’d make sense for the merchant to start the negotiation by offering a player character 30-50% of that value to buy the item – and then allow the character a few checks to improve the offer.
If you’re using the rarity-based guidelines provided by the Dungeon Master’s Guide, this part becomes a little more tricky. In that case, I’d recommend you start out at the lowest price range for that rarity and have the character’s best possible sale price be around half the range’s maximum price.
In most cases, you don’t want to make it possible for a player character to secure a higher price than the market value for an item that they’re selling to a merchant. Both because only a very bad merchant would pay more than market value for something they need to turn a profit on, but also because keeping selling prices significantly lower than buying prices helps avoid over-inflation and characters becoming incredibly wealthy.
Each merchant in Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic comes with a bargaining DC, unique biases, and set prices!
Setting the DC
Of course, every merchant isn’t the same – and that should be reflected when negotiating a price!
We’ll cover how to create and run a magic shop with a flavorful merchant in our next article in this series, but what you need to consider when it comes to buying and selling magic items is how a merchant’s personality would impact its prices – and the DC for bargaining for a better deal.
An opportunistic merchant might, for example, start by asking for a higher price but have a lower DC when it comes to be persuaded into lowering their price compared to a more fair merchant whose initial offer isn’t too far off from the actual market value.
At the same time, a player character could be allowed to make their bargaining check with advantage if the merchant takes a liking to them! That’s why every merchant in Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic has a specific set of biases that influences their demeanor toward specific characters.
For example, the ruthless goblin merchant (and self-perceived noble) Marizyn always adds 50% to the base price of an item initially, but the DC to persuade her is relatively low as she needs the money to sustain her lifestyle! At the same time, she despises dealing with other goblinoids but is positively biased towards nobles and important people.
So, if a character with a background as a noble visits Marizyn’s shop, they would have a much easier time securing a good deal from her than the party’s urchin goblin would. This could mean giving advantage or disadvantage on the bargaining check. Or you could decide that Marizyn demands a much steeper price from the goblin urchin, while almost offering a magic item for free to the noble (as long as they promise to put in a good word in for her with some important people!).
In other cases, a merchant might not even be interested in gold – or might overestimate the value of large gemstones that the characters use as payment. The options are endless, but the bottom line is that a merchant’s personality should affect how they bargain with the player characters!
Having the player characters negotiate for the price of a magic item isn’t as easy as it sounds – hell, even pricing magic items is extremely difficult in 5E D&D! When a player is buying or selling a magic item, just remember that:
- Trading with rare magic items in a roleplaying game like D&D should be an exciting endeavor.
- A merchant wants to turn a profit by buying items below their market value and selling them at a higher price – but a player character should always be allowed to bargain for a better deal!
- Every merchant is unique – and their specific quirks and biases should influence how they interact with the player characters when negotiating the price for magic items.
I think those are the basics when it comes to buying and selling magic items in 5E D&D!
Of course, there are a bunch of other things worth considering that simply aren’t within the scope of a single article – do the player characters even know what the fair price of an item is, for example? And what happens if a character insults the merchant while settling on a price?
To cover every aspect of dealing with magic items in 5E D&D – and have more than 20 ready-to-player magic shops at hand – be sure to check out Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic!
And stay tuned for our next article where we’ll dive into how to create a well-protected magic shop, design a unique merchant, and put together a cool inventory!
S. K. Valeur