In my youth, I always had issues with the way we handled gems and jewelry. Not with the fact that you could pay for a room at the Ol’ Pig Sty Inn with a 5,000 gp diamond and the innkeep would have change— that was fine since we had little idea about market economies or business overhead and the like. Instead, it was the manner in which we would cash in gems, jewelry, and objects d’art that troubled me.
Back then, if Hugo the Fighter found a 100 gp gem in his adventures, he knew he could always visit the jeweler or moneychanger back in town and get exactly 100 gold pieces for it. Even at a young age, I knew something was amiss with this system. How did this benefit the jeweler or moneychanger? There was no profit to be made so was he simply providing a community service? Once I learned about things like luxury taxes and the like, this method of equal exchange made even less sense.
If you’ve been following this blog long enough, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that I’m not a simulationist by any extent. Although I do make friendly nods to reality most of the time, I’ll readily jettison reality if it gets in the way of a good time or a great game. Nevertheless, perhaps since I’ve had this peeve for so long, I wanted to come up with a quick and easy system of dealing with gems, jewels, and art objects once the PCs hauled it back into town. And, since I hail from the school of thought that “Charisma is not a dump stat,” I settled on the following:
Whenever the PCs visit a merchant to sell or exchange non-coin treasure, I have the PC doing the negotiations roll 2d6 modified by their CHA reaction adjustment and other nebulous modifiers. I then compare the adjusted roll to the list below. The final result determines what percentage of the item’s actual value the merchant is will to buy it for.
2 – 100% of actual value
3-5 – 90% of actual value
6-8 – 80% of actual value
9-11 – 70% of actual value
12 – 60% of actual value.
Think about it: A grizzled, muscle-bound guy who hasn’t bathed in a week and looks like he slept in his armor comes into Gerry the Gem Merchant’s shop and wants to sell this sapphire he claims to have found in those caves just outside of town. You know, the ones that nobody ever seems to come back from? He’s got nothing to prove the jewel’s provenance other than his word—maybe that of a couple of other gnarly looking characters if he’s lucky—and he’s looking for some fast cash so he can buy a horse to ride off to his next “adventure”… or so he claims. If you were Gerry, would you really give this guy the full value of the rock?
For all you know, this guy swiped this rock from some powerful warlord or wizard and is looking to ditch the loot ASAP. You’ll probably have to sit on it for a few weeks just to be safe or work it into a new piece to disguise its original appearance. That’s time and effort, both of which cost money. Unless he’s really, really persuasive or you’ve dealt with him in the past, you’re going to offer a fraction of its real value.
Although the PC’s CHA adjustment plays the largest role in modifying the dice throw, I do allow adjustments for roleplaying (usually -1 to the roll) and for repeated dealings with the merchant (again, usually -1 but I will go higher if the party maintains good relations with the same dealer over a long period of time). These relationship adjustments are fickle, however, and can easily change if the party isn’t careful. Just recently, the PCs visited their usual merchant and weren’t satisfied with the deal he was offering. There was some debate about marketing the gems around town to try for a better deal, but they decided to take the offer in the end. Had they started trying to move the stones through another dealer and their usual guy found out about it, he would have been less likely to give them a good deal in the future and the die roll would be adjusted accordingly.
In addition, most jewelers have a personal quirk regarding gemstones and, if the PCs can figure these personal likes and dislikes out, they can use them to their benefit. For example, the party has recently learned that their regular go-to jeweler, Seno, has a particular love for pearls and is always willing to pay top dollar for them.
I should mention that, regardless of what the party gets for this type of loot, I always award them experience points equal to the items real value. My intent is to mimic the fluctuations of the market and to try and keep the PCs money-poor for as long as possible, not retard their level advancement.
The above chart is just for legitimate dealers and plundered loot. I have a second one which is reserved for fencing stolen goods, but it also does double duty when the characters want to sell their used armor and other goods after they’ve upgraded. It works the same as the above table, but the percentages are much reduced.
2- 50% of actual value
3-5 – 40% of actual value
6-8 – 30% of actual value
9-11 – 20% of actual value
12 – 10% of actual value