There's a city. It houses just over 200,000 people. What's special about this city, is that it's the only city.

About nine kilometres from the center of the city, in all directions, is a fog. Any roads that lead out of the city will inevitably somehow lead back into the city, and going off road has as much success. There is no known way to truly escape the foggy event horizon.

Twice a month, a traveller with no memory will wander into the city, and any writing they have on them will be distorted and unreadable. They cannot leave through the fog, and they start with nothing magical.

The city has an abundance of domesticated animals, farms, quarries, mines, clay pits, etc.

It also has access to a lake, mountain, caves, forests, and various supernatural dwellings. The tech level is medieval-ish, aside from items relating to the true subject of this question.

The true subject of this question is the peculiar phenomenon that occurs in the city. When a person grows a strong attachment to a material possession, it may eventually gain mystical properties.

These properties will often vaguely relate to the thing they were used for, but with a twist. A much-loved book may change genre to match the reader's mood, a rope may coil automatically, a mirror may show no people whatsoever, only the inanimate objects behind them and the background, two matching rings may make nobody find the wearer attractive except the bearer of the other ring, a favoured pencil might change the scription to the way a pirate would write.

These changes are usually benign, occasionally useful, and often subtle enough to go undiscovered for months, sometimes years. They will not usually make the item more durable, and usually never have effects that are quite the same as a past object.

They are sometimes stolen by magical creatures, accidentally broken, and are occasionally instructed to be destroyed by their original owner in their will. There is usually about one of these per two people.

More interesting, however, are items that are used communally or by an organisation. These will tend to take on more specific, elaborate, and purpose-focused effects.

These include a bell that only the desired servant can hear, a waste bin that destroys any inanimate object put inside it, a pool that turns non-organic substances into copper on contact, a keg that will turn beer into a practically infinite number of different liquids, depending on how the three dials are turned (pear brandy, syrup, tar, lime perfume, blood, olive oil, nitric acid, saliva, brine, mercury, etc.) or a book that will erase crossed-out words, remember what was written on torn out pages, or even in dreams or other timelines as long as paper is placed in its position.

These are rarer, and there may be one per fifty people.

This likely creates a culture of holding onto things.

Prices of resources that can easily be created with items will likely decrease significantly.

But my question is more focused on how the economy deals with the abundant magical items themselves, not how this affects industry.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Free market will find an appropriate price for every unique item. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Feb 20, 2018 at 23:13
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There seems to be a process for the creation of magical items, via the emotional attachment of, usually, individuals. It is unclear whether those magical properties need to be maintained by continuing attachment, or whether they may decay over time once they pass into the hands of another. However, the emotional attachment is important, since this will work against trade in such items. Personal possessions, especially those perceived as special or unique by their owner (with or without power) do not change hands often. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Feb 21, 2018 at 8:09
  • $\begingroup$ this depends a lot on the social structure and economy of your city. Is it authoritarian, representative, ect. without knowing this how it will respond ot these artifacts is complete guesswork. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 21, 2018 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @John A Representative. A council member is voted in democratically from each district, of which there are fifteen. They vote on decisions, and also have consultants from the heads of guilds. $\endgroup$
    – Piomicron
    Feb 21, 2018 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Piomicron that is still a very wide range, covering ancient Rome, nazi Germany, modern Sweden, the USSR, ect. things like protected private property is or how nationalistic the society is will have a big impact. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Feb 22, 2018 at 19:54

4 Answers 4


A lot depends on Item Synergy/Competition

The price of the item will depend primarily on how if affects the broader economy. This will also depend on how it synergies and competes with other items. Given your examples, the copper pool will be incredibly valuable, until another item emerges that can cheaply create copper. The keg, meanwhile, will become vastly more valuable if another item emerges that creates beer cheaply.

Speculation, Risk, and Corporations

This will encourage high-risk speculation on the future emergence of magical items. It will also result in vast fortunes being gained and lost on a moments notice as new items emerge that nullify the value of previous ones. This could encourage a society of risk-takers, or it could encourage the formation of large corporations which pool risk and ensure that if one item loses it's value, the other items they possess will make up for the loss.

Gaming the System?

Another option, meanwhile, could be to game the system. Is it possible to "create" a magic item by deliberately forging an emotional bond with an object? If so, that vastly increases the competition for items, as it's much easier to get the item you want (say, a pool that makes gold). However, given your setting, this seems a bit broken.

For the less valuable/more specialized items

Finally, there would likely be a register of all items and their abilities, as some people might have uses for items that others do not. Perhaps a security guard could use the mirror you described to search for weapons, depending on what it does and doesn't filter? These sorts of specialty items would have value, but likely wouldn't command insane prices like the pool/keg due to the lack of a bidding war over them.

  • $\begingroup$ You have to genuinely create an emotional bond, which doesn't always work. Items are more focused and powerful if they're from groups of people. Even then, you can't choose what it does. $\endgroup$
    – Piomicron
    Feb 21, 2018 at 8:25

Once the novelty wears off, the items will be priced based on their usefulness. If it has a useful property it will be priced higher than one that doesn't and one that has a detrimental or annoying property will be priced lower.

How much higher or lower depends on how much people are willing to pay for that feature (or save in the case of negative features).

Since they aren't rare, they won't have premium pricing, just utility pricing.


Unique (or very rare) objects tend to attract collectors. Witness the effects in our world: expensive artworks, out-of-print or erroneously printed stamps, incorrectly minted coins, personalised clothing or jewellery, antique objects, and vintage cars. All of these items tend to be valued far more than mundane versions of a similar nature.

Even if the objects are not terribly useful, I foresee a market developing for them. Auction houses will deal in such items, thieves will seek to steal them, forgeries will appear (a more recent not-quite-the-same object is passed off as an older one, provenences are faked, etc), museums will showcase historical items, and so on.

An economy will develop around such items as it has in our world for similar rare items.

Important things to consider:

1. Rarity

Is the item really unique? Or are there multiple similar items? Truly unique items tend to be the most valuable, with the price dropping when a similar item appears.

2. Age

Older items tend to be worth more. Antiques from hundreds of years ago are worth more than similarly produced items today, simply because they have survived the ages.

3. Fame

The paintings of the masters are worth more than those of currently living painters, even if more recent technological advances or better talent have improved the quality of art. T-shirts worn by superstars are auctioned for thousands of dollars.

Magical items created by or belonging to famous people will be valued more than those from 'ordinary' folk.

4. Quality

An object that is inherently valuable is worth more than an object with no intrinsic worth. Therefore, a magic item created from a rare quality gemstone will be valued over something made from base metal or a straw doll.

5. Condition

Mint condition isn't just a phrase. Items without damage on them are valued more than items in a damaged condition. Mint condition stamps, collector cards, or first edition comic books are priced higher than used ones.

6. Power

While this can be an influence, none of the effects mentioned are overpowering. I don't see the economy being drastically altered because one tavern obtains most of its alcohol from a magical cask. After all, does the produced alcohol taste good? Will patrons get bored of the taste and seek out different ales? Will the cask get stolen? The last is most likely to happen.


These items are metaphors.

What you describe is subtle and well thought out. The fog bound city is surreal and Kafkaesque. I am certain that your magic items are a metaphor for something else. I suspect you are writing sociological science fiction (or his cousin sociological fantasy).

Soft/sociological science fiction is character-driven, with emphasis on social change, personal psychology and interactions, etc. While technology may play a role, the emphasis is not so much on how that technology works, but how it affects individuals or social groups. Robert Silverberg's short story "To See the Invisible Man," for example, focuses on how a futuristic form of punishment affects the individual and the surrounding society. Ursula K. LeGuin is a noted author of sociological science fiction. (For more information, see How to Write Soft SF, by Penny Ehrenkranz.)

The first paragraph of your OP hints that you can write. This could be a powerful story - not dungeons and dragons stuff but real literature. Now you have a task. You may or may not be aware what you are actually writing about or you may have an idea you can coax out from the shadows and shake hands with. Wrap your head around what you mean and then assemble these magic items in your story to bring your meaning forward.

I hesitate to put ideas in your head, but here is one. These items are concrete and concrete readers can appreciate them, and by making them items they step a comfortable distance from the psychology of the interpersonal. But we all have magic, now, in the real world. The association with a person, loving him or hating her, cooperating with him, hiring her - all of these interactions partake in the magic an individual has cultivated over the years. In your story you can explore that at arms length because everyday items are playing the role of the magic of an individual.

How do I partake of your magic in the real world? I can eat a meal you made, or laugh at your silly jokes. I can sleep dry under a roof you fixed. I can sing a song you wrote a hundred years ago.

We are abundant too. How does commerce and the economy deal with the real magic that individuals possess - and can cultivate, and can neglect, and can pass along to their students and children? Can you explore these ideas with your magic items?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Very creative answer, thank you for this profound contribution! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Feb 24, 2021 at 15:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .