Money makes the world go 'round, so how the hell do you earn it?
At your most basic, the game assumes you make money by making skill checks to get income over a period of time. The most basic of these is probably Profession, which is broken into a series of skills that represent your ability to [do a thing]. To earn a living, roll a profession check and collect a number of gold pieces equal to half that result for that week. You can take 10 on a profession check to represent an average amount of effort, so your average level 1 character is probably going to earn somewhere around 5 to 8 gold pieces a week.
Of course, your income is based on your check result, so anything that boosts your Profession skill will in turn boost your weekly income by 1 gold piece for every 2 points. For example, a masterwork tool for a particular profession costs 50 gp and adds a +2 bonus to your checks, meaning it pays for itself after a year or so. Among the easiest ways to boost your skill is simply having a high wisdom stat- and as you age, your wisdom stat naturally improves even as your physical stats quickly deteriorate. Certain races such as gnomes get a +2 racial bonus to Profession checks, though halflings can also pick up a similar ability through alternate traits. To make matters worse, dwarves not only get a racial bonus to Wisdom, but can get a racial bonus to Profession (sailor) checks, or Profession checks that deal with metal or stone, and thus are perfectly capable of taking the jobs of hard-working humans and doing them better and longer. The only recourse a human has is to take the heart of the fields racial trait, adding a bonus to their checks equal to half their level, and then must out-level the dwarf to stay competitive (sadly, even then the dwarf will have a few more centuries to out-earn the human).
Assuming you're some sort of level 20 shit-kicker with the wisdom that surpasses gods, every skill-boosting feat known to man, a rocking magic item that boosts your skills and a host of minions aiding your every move, you may be able to earn a princely sum of... forty to fifty gold pieces a week.
Interestingly enough, while use of your Profession skill means you're familiar with the basic tools and tasks of your trade, it doesn't allow you to do anything that's already covered by other skills. Thus, you may have the world's greatest merchant, but that doesn't mean you're any good at fast-talking, haggling, spotting cheats or even knowing anything about what you're buying. If you had Profession (doctor) and someone asked you to heal them, you'd be perfectly justified in saying "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a doctor!" (Perhaps that is why Profession (Doctor) is not on the list of profession skills- who knows how they earn their money?).
But maybe the service industry is not for you, so why not take up crafting? Just like Profession, you can spend a week to earn half your Craft check in gold pieces by making things and selling them. Alternatively, you can make things and sell them. To do so (assuming you have the right craft skill), you find an item, spend 1/3 its cost to buy raw materials, and then make one craft check a week against a DC based on the item. If you're successful, you multiply your check result by the DC and that's the number of silver pieces (10 silver pieces equals 1 gold piece) worth of work you've accomplished that week. Once your amount of work exceeds the cost of the item, you're done.
Given that you're basically comparing (Craft Check*DC)/10 to (Craft Check)/2 to determine how many gold pieces you "make" in a week, crafting items on your own becomes the superior option for all but the most trivial of DCs. The problem then becomes one of market price, raw material cost, and time. Calculating in terms of silver pieces is fine and all when you're dealing with forging horseshoes or whatever, but when you start dealing with items worth hundreds or thousands, or tens of thousands of gold pieces, that translates to one enormous pile of silver pieces that you have to chip away at. Even assuming you basically earn your craft check squared, a talented crafter hitting a DC 30 each time is going to make 900 silver pieces worth of progress per week, which means it's going to take 16 weeks to make a suit of full plate and since a suit of mithral platemail adds 9000 gp to the cost, it requires another two years of work. This may seem fair, but mechanical traps cost 1000 gp x the trap's challenge rating, which means it can take our talented crafter twelve weeks to make the most basic ones. The game admits that simple traps might cost as little as 250 gp x the trap's challenge rating, but that still means it takes our talented craft three weeks to dig a hole in the ground. If we didn't have this crafting all-star at our beck and call, it could take half a year or more. Of course, we can decrease the construction time down to a quarter of that by just adding pillows to the bottom, reducing the trap's CR and thus making it cheaper and faster to build. Things get even faster if you have the right magic tools to craft 2000 gp worth of stuff in an hour, or just finish up inside of six seconds if you're a wizard.
So, one might ask, what exactly does the sweat of our brow get us? Well, let's find out.
For starters, we can look at the bottom of this page to get the basic approximation of cost of living per month.
Core Rulebook posted:
Food & Lodging (aka Monthly Cost of Living)
An adventurer's primary source of income is treasure, and his primary purchases are tools and items he needs to continue adventuring—spell components, weapons, magic items, potions, and the like. Yet what about things like food? Rent? Taxes? Bribes? Idle purchases?
You can certainly handle these minor expenditures in detail during play, but tracking every time a PC pays for a room, buys water, or pays a gate tax can swiftly become obnoxious and tiresome. If you're not really into tracking these minor costs of living, you can choose to simply ignore these small payments. A more realistic and easier-to-use method is to have PCs pay a recurring cost of living tax. At the start of every game month, a PC must pay an amount of gold equal to the lifestyle bracket he wishes to live in—if he can't afford his desired bracket, he drops down to the first one he can afford.
Destitute (0 gp/month): The PC is homeless and lives in the wilderness or on the streets. A destitute character must track every purchase, and may need to resort to Survival checks or theft to feed himself.
Poor (3 gp/month): The PC lives in common rooms of taverns, with his parents, or in some other communal situation—this is the lifestyle of most untrained laborers and commoners. He need not track purchases of meals or taxes that cost 1 sp or less.
Average (10 gp/month: The PC lives in his own apartment, small house, or similar location—this is the lifestyle of most trained or skilled experts or warriors. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 1 gp or less from his home in 1d10 minutes, and need not track purchases of common meals or taxes that cost 1 gp or less.
Wealthy (100 gp/month): The PC has a sizable home or a nice suite of rooms in a fine inn. He can secure any nonmagical item worth 5 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes, and need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 10 gp.
Extravagant (1,000 gp/month): The PC lives in a mansion, castle, or other extravagant home—he might even own the building in question. This is the lifestyle of most aristocrats. He can secure any non-magical item worth 25 gp or less from his belongings in his home in 1d10 minutes. He need only track purchases of meals or taxes in excess of 100 gp.
Recall that Profession and Craft will get you half your check per week, or about two times your check per month (again depending on how time is blocked out in the world). Your average commoner has a check of about 14 when taking 10 for average results, enough to support the commoner and one or may two dependents (two if the dependents aid the commoner) at an average lifestyle.
Let's make an elite commoner here. Level 1, using the basic array and putting our highest score (13) into Wisdom. Making a dwarf, that bumps it up to 15 Wisdom, and let's be middle aged for an additional +1 to Wisdom, 16 total and a +3 wisdom modifier. 1 rank in profession (miner), with a +3 bonus since it's a class skill, a +2 bonus because of the dwarf racial trait +3 wisdom +3 skill focus (profession (miner)), and why not have a masterwork mining tool for an additional +2. 1d20+14 check, take 10 for 24 and 12 gp a week. That's almost two gp a day!
Let's make it rain!
We can easily afford the 10 gp a month for average living conditions, so we don't have to keep track of meals and other expenses that cost less than 1 gp, and can support up to three other dependents such as offspring. We have enough money to enjoy a decent meal, plus a good drink now and- oh look, a pound of chocolate costs about what we make in a week . But that doesn't matter, we make enough to enjoy the simple things, even if a good-sized game ball costs half a week's wages. Why, just looking around, we're doing pretty well in comparison to our fellow workers. We have enough money to travel and stay at a nice inn, and afford a hot bath every day. We make almost two gold pieces a day... learned people like doctors, scribes and valets are paid only one gold piece a day. Life is pretty good. A wealthy lifestyle is just a frivolous material thing, forever out of our reach... we should not desire such transient things.
And look, a chronicler can make 5 gp, an experienced lawyer or companion makes 10 gp, and a sage makes 15 gp- oh, that's per day . That's impossible! Do they only work one or two days per week, or do they possess such amazing Profession skills that even the gods might shudder in fear of that talent?
How is such a thing possible?
Well, the third way to make money using your own skills is through Perform. Unlike the previous two skills, Perform doesn't function on a weekly basis, but a daily one, and its output scales much differently. Unlike the strictly linear results of Craft and Profession, Perform starts out earning only about 5 copper pieces a day (100 coppers in one gold piece), making it inferior to the 5 gp a week from Profession or Craft checks, and inferior to the 1 silver piece a day you get from unskilled labor. A DC 15 check earns 1d10 silver pieces a day (around 3 or 4 gp per week if you work without breaks), out-earning unskilled labor but still less than the 7.5 gold pieces per week you'd earn if you could hit that DC with the other two skills. Once you hit DC 20, you earn 3d10 silver pieces a day, and on average are competitive with the 10 gold pieces per week you could earn from doing other work. At DC 25, you're now earning 1d6 gold pieces a day, and have left the other skills in the dust, even moreso for the 3d6 gold pieces a day you get from a DC 30 check. Even better, at high results you get attention from powerful patrons, meaning you're pretty much always going to be in demand.
Of course, this does all depend on how exactly time flows in your game world. While days, seasons and years can all be measured by changes in your environment, weeks and months are an entirely arbitrary way of measuring time chosen by your civilization. While our weeks are seven days, they could just as easily be five days or ten. Since Perform runs on days while Profession and Craft run on weeks, the longer the week the less you get done and the better Perform becomes in comparison. A kingdom that has five day weeks will produce twice as a fast as a kingdom that has ten day weeks. A kingdom that switches over to one day weeks will become one of the most prosperous ones in existence. And it's never entirely clear just how many days per week you're supposed to be working. Do they have weekends?
Moral of this story: If you want a job and don't really care about it, take Profession. If you want a job with some flexibility and the option to do your own thing against an uncertain future, take Craft. If you're going to be good at your job and want to earn piles of cash with no commitment of time, learn how to rock.
Of course, a character capable of hitting a DC 30 Perform check with regularity would certainly be a rare find, someone who had seen and undergone much. Just how much a veteran would such a person have to be?
Well, if we wanted to build an elite performer, it'd be best to start with a race that grants a +2 bonus to Charisma and a +2 racial bonus to Perform checks. One possible option is the Vishkanya, a race of attractive poisonous people (possibly descended from snake people?). Or we could start with an Azata-blooded Aasimar, descended from passionate and expressive angel-like beings. Same positive bonuses as the vishkanya, but fewer penalties (aasimar are pretty good as a player race). But let's start with a merfolk with the "sea singer" trait, which has even better stat modifiers (three positive stat modifiers and no negative stat modifiers, an absolute rarity among pathfinder races).
We could start with an expert, but let's kick things up a notch and go with a bard, because music, right? Let's further modify it with the geisha archetype, which sacrifices the bardic knowledge for a bonus equal to half our level to several skills, including a perform skill of our choice. It also sacrifices armor and weapon proficiencies, but who cares? We're only here to rock. As a character of some importance, we also have access to traits, which are little features that boost various skills and provide other options. We could have tossed a trait on the dwarven miner, but sadly there weren't any that boosted Profession (miner) checks (though we could have been a sailor instead and earned a bit more). Anyways, for our performance trait, we could be a musical savant and get +2 to all perform checks, or we could elect to believe in our inner beauty once per day for a +4 trait bonus to one check. Actually, since they're two different categories of traits (savant is social, inner beauty is religious), we can have both traits, though since they're trait bonuses they don't stack.
Well, as a character with class-levels, we can use the elite array, which means our highest ability score starts at 15 instead of 13, boosted to 17 by the merfolk's racial bonuses. Our starting feat is Skill Focus (Perform (sing)), so how far must we go before we hit the big time?
Well, at level 1, we've got 1d20 + 3 (charisma) + 1 (rank) + 3 (class skill) + 1 (geisha knowledge) + 3 (skill focus) + 2 (racial) + 4 (trait) = 1d20 + 17. Not quite enough. Even if we find a masterwork item like a microphone or acoustic sound stage something for a +2 bonus, it's still +19, requiring an 11 or higher, a 50/50 shot at the big money (but even at our worst we still earn about as much as a day job). Of course, a level 2 bard gets 1 more rank, putting you at 1d20+20 with a masterwork item bonus, which means you can take 10 for a result of 30. But maybe the DM doesn't like the masterwork idea, fair enough. Level 3 adds another one rank and the option of taking a feat- there are many that boost your Perform check, one of them being prodigy. But maybe your DM doesn't like +4 trait, either. Ok, level 4 grants us another rank, and a bonus point to round our Charisma from 17 to 18, increasing the bonus to +4 and boosts the geisha knowledge bonus.
1d20 + 4 (charisma) + 4 (ranks) + 3 (class skill) + 2 (geisha knowledge) + 3 (skill focus) + 2 (prodigy) + 2 (racial) + 2 (savant trait) = 1d20+22, which is more than we need. We can drop any of the +2 traits or feats and still come out ahead.
At DC 30 when taking 10, we earn 3d6 per performance each day, 10.5 average. We earn as much money per day as an elite lawyer (or escort). We need only work 10 days out of the month in order to live like the wealthy do, and anything past that can be blown on fun things. With 200 gp of discretionary funds, we can buy some nice novelty items, or more if we're willing to save. We could basically retire at level 4.
By level 10, we've taken 6 more ranks, gotten another +3 from geisha knowledge, and another +5 from our two feats (with room for three more feats), putting us at 1d20+36. We can show up completely drunk, slur all our words, insult the audience and then pass out on stage and we'd still receive rave reviews and a call for an encore (in fact, we could basically stop caring somewhere around level 8, or earlier if we got the right items or feats). And this is performing solo, without some fellow performers to hand out +2 aid another bonuses. And since we're a bard, one of our class features is versatile performance, which allows us to use our ridiculous singing modifier to both lie and detect lies. No one will ever discover our secrets!
Some may point out that as a member of the merfolk species, our bard is ill-suited for working in the city, what with the whole "no legs" thing that gives the merfolk a land speed of 5 ft (compared to a human's 30 ft). Surely, it would be better for a merfolk to take something like the strong tail trait to sacrifice swim speed for a better move speed, or take advantage of the Fins to Feet spell (which comes in item form). Sure, you could do that... if you were weak. We can reject the prejudiced assumptions of the city dwellers and make our own way in the world.
There are several possible ways to get around this limitation.
The first is to recognize that a move speed of 5 feet is still a move speed. Spells like expeditious retreat and longstrider or even stuff like taking the travel domain or levels in barbarian or monk can boost your ability to flop/drag/wriggle around on the ground at speeds approaching normal. In fact, a merfolk with 18 levels of monk can crawl as fast as a human can jog, but the downside to that is that you just took 18 levels of monk. There is the question of anatomy- while they don't have legs, does a merfolk adventurer have feet for the purposes of wondrous items? While they can't wear shoes, can they strap anklets on near their caudal fins or something? If you do have a feet slot, then items like boots of striding and springing might be useful, otherwise you'd have to stick to a staff of travel or something.
Hypothetically, you could also try jumping. Leaping around was folded into the acrobatics skill and basically allows you to jump as far as your check result with a running start, or half that without it. Monks and ninjas are always treated as though they had a running start for their jumps. With such a crummy move speed, a merfolk will take a good-sized penalty to the jump attempts, but more importantly the skill says that "No jump can allow you to exceed your maximum movement for the round." But what counts as maximum movement? Is it your speed (5 ft)? Your speed on a double move (10 ft) or a run (20 ft)? And if you roll a result higher than your move speed, do you just fail to cover any extra distance or do you keep going into the next round? If so, does a merfolk who rolls a 30 get 6 rounds of hang time?
Alternatively, with the right items you could spike your carrying capacity to the point where even the weakest merfolk could lift its own body weight. Could you then use Acrobatics to walk around on your hands? If so, at what speed?
Of course, the far easier method is just to outsource your walking needs. The aforementioned strength-boosters can be slapped onto a companion, who can then give you piggyback rides. You could also get your own vehicle such as a dogsled or chariot. As a race with a Dexterity bonus, merfolk make decent enough cavalry despite their complete lack of legs, so a merfolk paladin, druid, summoner, ranger or any other class with an animal companion or similar creature will have little problem riding around and delivering justice. You can even magic up your own horse or chariot (or less impressive horse) and take a ride that way.
If you're going to use magic, why not bring the water over to you and swim in that? The rules are completely silent as to how deep the water needs to be before you can make swim checks, so maybe you can swim across a wet floor. At higher levels, who needs a land speed when you have a fly speed? Even if you're not capable of casting those kind of spells, unlimited flight is still within your capabilities through the use of items such as brooms, carpets or flying bathtubs, or through capes or headbands if you don't want people hijacking your junk. And while it can't fly fast or long, it's difficult to beat a ambulatory sofa when it comes to traveling in style. Feel free to animate your own furniture for your convenience
There's also the poor merfolk's substitute of levitation (available in footgear form)- while it normally lets you push or pull yourself around at half your speed, it's rather vague about how outside forces can act on you. If they can't affect you, then it's an easy way to make yourself an Immovable Fishstick, but if they can affect you then just attach a rope to your waist and let your friends drag you around like a parade balloon. Similar options involve surfing around on an ally's floating disk if you don't mind sticking close and not going anywhere in a hurry.
Most of these options work not just for merfolk, but anyone else who may have limited mobility due anatomy or circumstances.
Anyways, we've established that it's not too hard for a merfolk bard to rock like Keith Richards and live accordingly. But still, 300 gp earned per month at low levels is only enough to put us in the "wealthy" bracket, even if it is ten times more than anything else that a commoner would earn. What kind of luxuries await for those who live in the Extravagent bracket? Well, ignoring purchases of 100 gp and down means you can enjoy all but the finest luxuries in food, housing, service and entertainment. Pathfinder indicates that this is the lifestyle of aristocrats, though the aristocrats don't have any sort of class features that let them hit this level of income with anything other than DM fiat.
Well... sort of.
See, Pathfinder has a Noble Scion prestige class (not to be confused with the Noble Scion feat that can be used as a prerequisite for the PrC, or the Noble Scion NPC who has neither the feat nor levels in the PrC, and in fact doesn't really even fully qualify for it). It's pretty much a straight improvement for NPC aristocrats and an interesting enough option for some player characters.
At level 1, you get 750 gold pieces and you gain an additional amount equal to 750 times your level in this class each time you take a level in this class. One level is not really enough to justify levels in this class, but ten levels is an extra 41,250 gp, which is certainly something.
At level 2, you get Leadership, pretty much The Best Feat. In 3e, Leadership was a throwback to the glory days of old when higher level characters suddenly got saddled with a keep full of men-at-arms or a tower of wizard apprentices or something. Anyways, take leadership and you get two things- a pile of followers and one cohort. Followers are basically NPC minions that you don't really need to worry about, but a cohort is basically an NPC with class levels. Depending on how many PC options you incorporate, you can wind up getting a second character for the price of a feat (a character who may be under the DM's control, but that's still an expansion of options). Normally, you're prevented from recruiting a cohort that's up to two levels below you, but a cohort that adventures with you levels up normally, and can quickly close the gap just by gaining more XP per fight due to the level difference and requiring less. A noble scion is instead limited to recruiting a cohort that's up to one level below you.
Level 3 adds a bonus equal to half your noble scion level to your Diplomacy (useful) and some Knowledge checks (not quite as useful).
Level 4 brings up the first of three bonus feats (next at 6 and 8, useful), as well as a weekly pile of wealth equal to 150 + 10 gp per noble scion level. 250 gp a week at 10 levels of noble scion translates to 1000+ gp a month, perfect for living the high life! Unfortunately, by rules-as-written, an extravagent lifestyle requires 1000 gp spent at the start of the month, so the weekly fund might not cover it. And while the game prohibits the Noble Scion from stockpiling wealth through this ability, it does allow this wealth to be spent hiring entertainers and experts, so it's possible you could engage in a spot of nepotism and set your friends up with cushy jobs (for a small kickback, of course).
Level 5 (and level 9) allow the noble to study a few odd disciplines for a few bonuses. Unfortunately, if you don't have the ability to cast spells or use baridic abilities, you're going to have to learn how to shank someone. So don't turn your back on a high-ranking noble.
At level 7, you get another cohort, only this one is an NPC class character who doesn't adventure with you, but can stay home and take care of your stuff. Basically, your own Alfred. As such, you're probably better off with a spell-casting adept or a skilled expert rather than combat-ready warrior or another aristocrat (or a commoner, but that goes without saying).
At level 10, you gain the ability to roll twice on social skills and take the higher result, plus you can now recruit a cohort of a level equal to yours. So now you can pretend that your cohort is your main character and your Noble Scion is your cohort skillmonkey.
While followers with NPC levels generally aren't super important for anything other than day-to-day management, you can use the right magic items to double your total. Twice (which translates to triple, not quadruple, under Pathfinder rules). Maybe you can have your 500 minions make Craft, Profession or Perform checks and give you a cut of the proceeds to better build your glorious empire.
NPC classes in general are weird in Pathfinder. If you were born into a wealthy family and have every luxury available to you, what would you do with your life? In the case of most NPC aristocrats, the answer is "prepare for war". A crown princess has devoted every scrap of effort towards battle and is able to win a knife-fight with a bear. The king goes even farther. The exception here seems to be the queen who has devoted some effort towards more useful skills, but even she can probably put a 10-ft tall ogre into a Boston Crab.
This is what passes for normal.
So, there we have it... if you want to live an extravagant lifestyle, you pretty much have to be a high-level member of the aristocracy, or possibly operate under DM fiat, right?
Well, not quite.
There's this class you may or may not have heard of called the wizard...
Now, thing about spellcasting is that spells have value. Specifically, they have a value equal to the spell level multiplied by the caster level multiplied by 10 gp. So a wizard fresh out of the academy with a caster level of 1 and a single 1st level spell has a spell worth 10 gp. Spells can be prepared and cast each day.
A 1st level caster is, at minimum, pulling the same daily wage as one high-grade lawyer or prostitute. A 1st level spell from a 20th level caster is worth enough to rent out an entire law practice or brothel.
Just about any wizard who is even worthy of the name has a high enough Intelligence modifier to get a bonus 1st level spell per day, and is thus probably worth at least two lawyers. A school specialist gets a further slot, and a wizard with a bonded item gets one on top of that. Of course, you have to be in a place with demand and have spells other people will pay you to cast, but I don't see a lawyer getting huge business in the middle of the wilderness either. While a lawyer or prostitute generally works the entire day, a wizard can fire off all spells within the space of a few minutes and then go take a nap for eight hours and then do it again during the night shift.
Even if the wizard doesn't want to fire off any daily spell slots, the wizard still has options. 1 gp is enough to hire someone to magically clean your clothes using prestidigitation, a cantrip that can be prepared and used at-will by any wizard. All you need is a location and people who value speed more than money. Any crop of aristocrats should do.
Once this wizard gets to level three, you're going to see some serious shit. At this point the wizard can take Craft Wondrous Item and get into the fine world of making magical toys for overgrown children. There's a huge pile of wondrous items that a wizard can make, and build using this feat. You need capital, of course, but once you have that, then it's time to get to work.
All items have a market price, and a caster can craft them for a cost equal to half that price (though rare and expensive spell components drive up the price). In order to craft things successfully, you need to make a Spellcraft check with a DC equal to 5 + the caster level of the item. For any prerequisites you don't meet, the DC goes up by 5. Crafting an item takes 8 hours per 1000 gp of the item's price, or rushed to 4 hours per 1000 gp of the item's price by increasing the DC by 5. Regardless, a caster can't get more than 8 hours of work per day.
Those of you capable of basic math may have noticed that items sell for 100% markup, or a 50% margin. This is rather lucrative, especially when you're dealing in items that cost thousands of gold pieces. Thing is...
Price: This is the cost, in gold pieces, to purchase the item, if it is available for sale. Generally speaking, magic items can be sold by PCs for half this value.
For some reason, the game world knows which characters are PCs and which ones aren't. Old ethnic stereotype hanging out in a wagon selling home-made magical charms? PCs are going to pay full price, with no way to haggle it down. PCs dress up as an old ethnic stereotype and hang out in a wagon selling home-made magical charms? No one is going to pay more than half price, with no way to haggle it up. And given that half the price is what it costs to make the item, the game is rather adamant about the PCs not making a profit. Similarly, while PCs are expected to pay sticker price for an NPC to cast spells for them, you're probably not going to see too many NPCs who are going to approach the PCs looking for magic. Discrimination at its finest.
Of course, maybe the vendors have to charge so much for their stuff is that they've got huge overhead with their stores and employees and have to go for days before making a sale. And for all the people who complain that purchasing magic items turns the game world into Magical Walmart, it brings up an interesting question- why isn't there a magical Walmart? Why aren't there magic item craftsmen who forge items and take advantage of their low overhead costs to sell the items at steep discounts compared to their nearest competitors, slowly exerting a downward pressure on the market and driving most of the competition out of business by leaving them unable to compete? Even if they didn't make a 100% markup, they could profit through volume by pricing magical items at a level more people can afford. If the PCs can't get market price, why can't they find someone walking into a magic shop and point out that they're offering the same item for 25% off? Better yet, they could offer membership programs, where you pay a few hundred gold pieces a month to get a 25% discount, and maybe save 50% on spellcasting services. For elite members, you might be able to save 30%, 40% even 45% off of market price at certain select sales during the year!
Of course, even with the deck stacked against the PCs, there is one way to make a profit on magical items.
Advanced Player's Guide posted:
You apprenticed for a time to a craftsman who often built magic items, and he taught you many handy shortcuts and cost-saving techniques.
Benefit: Whenever you craft a magic item, you reduce the cost of gp required to make the item by 5%.
It's 5% off the cost of the item, a savings of 2.5% compared to the market price. So if an item retails for 1000, instead of costing 500 to build it, it costs 475, for a profit of 25 gp per 1000 gp of the item's price. You can only make one item a day at most, so the objective is to see how much you can make in a day. Fortunately, if you're a wizard, that number is "a fair amount". Once again, we turn to our faithful valet familiar, whose Cooperative Crafting ability lets us double our output each day. Instead of crafting 1000 gp a day for 25 gp profit, it's 2000 gp a day for 50 gp profit. But we're a wizard, and Spellcraft is not only a class skill, but based on our awesome Intelligence modifier and we can take 10 on item creation checks. So we might bump up the DC to halve the amount of time it takes, potentially allowing us to make 4000 gp worth of magical gadgets per day for a 100 gp profit.
Even with just our trusty familiar, 50 gp a day is 1500 gp a month, enough for an extravagant lifestyle with money to spare. We can even take the weekends off and still keep our palatial estate. With spellcraft booster, we can do even better, and only work a few weeks per month, spending the rest of the time partying it up. We even have most of our spell slots each day, on the off chance anyone wants to pay our level 3 wizard 60 gp for one of our two or three level 2 slots, or 30 gp for one of our three or four level 1 slots. If we spend a few months to save up enough for a ring of sustenance, we can really get cooking.
0h: Day starts
0h-2h: Prepare spells, prepare self, cast spells for people who want them
12h-13h: Prepare spells
13h-15h: Sell item. Cast spells for people who want them
Or something to that extent. At any rate, we can get a craft session and two sessions of spell-for-hire while still leaving four to eight hours to do whatever else we want. If you're an elf, you've got a few centuries of working ahead of you. If you're feeling the burn, just drop a session or two or take a few days off- you've got funds to spare. Fill your shop with enough workers and you've got a solid enough production base for your always-low-prices magical shop, and eventually you'll have enough funds to start expanding your operations!
All you need is the starting capital- 1000 gp if you're making 50 gp per day, or 2000 gp if you're going for 100 gp profit per day. How fortunate then, that the net worth of a level 3 PC is 3000 gp. You have enough funds to retire into hedonistic luxury as soon as you're capable of pulling off this stunt (assuming you survive the ensuing thieves and assassins).
If a commoner earns a respectable 10 gp a week for 50 weeks a year, then working for 70 years straight will earn 35,000 gp... which a PC has somewhere before level nine. In fact, 35k gp won't even buy a +6 stat booster item, and it's not uncommon for every member of a high-level adventuring group to have two or three of them, plus weapons and armor that are worth two or three times that, and that's before you get into things like bags of holding and magic carpets. Adventuring is like winning the lottery, if collecting your winnings required you to win a cage match with the previous lottery winners.
Imagine that you and three to five of your friends have just engaged in a life-and-death battle with a winged, firebreathing monster the size of a galleon with teeth bigger than your arm. Having murdered this beast and having been nearly murdered in return, you stumble across a mountain of gold, gems, art and artifacts. There is enough wealth for you and your companions to spend the next several decades living in wealth and comfort, or the next few years engaging in every hedonistic pursuit you can think of... what do you do next?
You spend all that money on things that help you kill better and then you go back out to do it again.
Adventures just don't brain like most people. They devote immense amounts of time, effort, and money into becoming the most efficient killers and thieves the world has ever known. A high-level adventuring party is essentially a sovereign nation with (winged) feet- their chief export is murder and they're running one hell of a trade surplus. It's as if Stark Industries did its weapons business through house calls. A 20th level adventurer has 880,000 gold pieces, and a dedicated crafter can build double that amount in magical artifacts. That's enough cash to live in absolute luxury for the next seventy years. And it's not enough, it's never enough. They're the Rich Kids of Instagram with lightsabers and power armor.