Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Magic Item Creation

I started writing an extensive blog about magic item creation, but instead thought I would ask a few questions. What system of magic item creation do you use? Do your players find it worthwhile to create magic items? And how do you determine what it takes to create a magic item?


  1. When running D&D3.x my players rarely created their own magic items. Some scrolls, some potions.

    Unfortunately this means I never really got to work with the system.

  2. We use D&D 3.5 to determine the spells required and magic items that can be created. They don't cost XP, and they don't cost gold. Instead, you have to provide a base item (eg. a masterwork longsword), and some special material component. We created a lists on our campaign wiki as more people got interested in creating magic items. Until now the party has killed a Xorn to create some magic armor, and a non-summoned chain devil to make magic weapons, and they bartered with some elves that control a portal to arborea for some more extra-planar metal to use for magic weapons. It seems to work quite well. I just told them I wanted thematically linked material components that were interesting adventure seeds. It seems to have worked quite well and I'd continue to use this system. Naturally this means that there are not many magic items to be found -- about half of the few magic items that they found were powerful, named items with power groups interested in retrieving them.

  3. I try and leave a few different venues for creating magic items, from spells, to runes to holy relics to just building something out of certain materials (if you use iron from a meteorite to build a sword, its automatically a magic sword because its build with "magic" metal)

  4. Alex, nifty list of interesting materials. Thanks for sharing.

    I use the D&D/Pathfinder system as the core but appropriate exotic materials can reduce the cost or provide other benefits. I definitely encourage my players to create their own items as it make the game and world more theirs.

  5. @David> That's what I am hoping to change in this up coming campaign. Like Alex mentions it could create a different kind of adventure and when players kill a creature they may be trying to figure out what bits they want to keep.

    @Alex> Thanks for the link. That's the kind of stuff I am looking for.

    @seastarsrpg> I was reading through the latest Pathfinder Core rules which I think puts more effort into magic item creation than others, but it lacked the color I wanted for my game, but it does provide a base to build upon.

    Thanks for the comments so far.

  6. Wow! All great stuff. Tim, let me know what you come up with. I'll trade you 5 new creatures for a method of creating magic items, plus 1 character class to be named later.

  7. My system is still in the works. Basically, it boils down to this:

    Step 1: Gather materials. Any material has a certain amount of magical energy it can soak up and use to enchant. You can also just enchant something that's nonmagical and already finished.

    Step 2: Pre-enchant. You set up the mystical lattice around the item. This takes a couple days.

    Step 3: Soak. Let it bask in the invisible rays of energy emanating from the world. You don't need to be present for this. Certain "mana wells" in the world make items soak faster. Any material still has its maximum capacity of course. Magic wells are always in dangerous, inconvenient places far from civilization. This takes years in a normal zone, months in a magic well.

    Step 4: Seal enchantment. After this is done you have a finished magic item. There is a small chance of failure, which can range from losing some of the stored magical energy to an inconvenient curse to a broken magical lattice (nonfunctioning item).

    You have to decide what powers the item will have in Step 2 and that can never change - if you unravel anything the item's lattice crashes.

    Each type of magic item has a magic power requirement. Permanent items must have the full amount, daily use items use a portion which is automatically replenished, and charged items have a non-replenishing reservoir (which you can recharge with some risk of crashing the item but it's cheaper than making a new one).

    So if you want to make a powerful item, like a vorpal sword, not only do you need materials of a high power capacity, you need to let is soak for a long time, and even then there is a chance of failure.

    A "crashed" magic item can never be enchanted again. This means if your vorpal sword enchantment fails, you cannot just take your materials and try again.

    Potions and scrolls have a very low power requirement because they're single-charge items. So the difficulty of gathering materials and the time spent soaking is much lower.

    The main questions you have to ask is, "how do I keep this from turning into a magical assembly line, and how do I keep a minor character from making major items".

    First off, the limitation on materials is important. It prevents someone from just going into the weapon shop and buying 300 long swords to enchant. None of those swords will have a power capacity high enough to do more than an ever-polish or ever-sharp enchantment. You'd need to stick a special gem in the pommel or bathe the blade in the blood of a magical beast to give it a better capacity - or just make it out of mithril or adamantite. As a referee, if you want to retain control over what level of items get made, you have to retain control over high-power materials.

    Second, the chance of failure for an item is higher for more powerful things, and the character gains a small bonus per level. This means a high level enchanter will always succeed at simple things, and will find previously-impossible enchantments easier. But the added cost of the occasional failure keeps the number of finished items less than the amount of potential materials available.

    Side note: "why aren't all the items in the world already at their maximum magical power capacity?" Answer: You have to pre-enchant before it can soak.

  8. On a second and probably parallel line of reasoning, note that not every Magic-User should be able to make magic items. If you learn how to make magic items you're spending time NOT learning how to cast spells or swing a staff. I'd suggest that even in 1E or 2E games Enchanting should be an optional but not guaranteed skill (much like assassins have to go through a special poison training course at a certain level in the 1E DMG). Making spellcasters choose Craft X Magic Item as a feat in 3E is good because that's one less feat he has for Spell Focus or Spell Penetration, which leads to fewer higher-level feats because he doesn't have the prerequisites. I'd completely forbid feats, spells, magic items, prestige classes, etc. that alter any part of the enchanting rules I outlined, except to make the labor of Steps 2 and 4 faster. Anything else is worth more than even an epic feat.

  9. I'm running 4e right now. What I generally do is think about the kinds of things my players need or want, take a magic item from the book that's similar to that, and then modify it to make it a little more personal.

    For example, there's an amulet that gives you +5 necrotic resistance and +2 to some skill or another. I changed it to be +5 poison resistance and +2 stealth, and refluffed it to be a cloak. My ranger loves it.

  10. As far as players creating magic items (don't know how I missed that part of the question) they're too low in level to do that yet. But once they get there, I'll probably let them do something similar - pick something out of the book and tweak it to their liking.