Making Manufacturing Magical Items More Magical

It seems to me that with the advent of 3.0 D&D, magic items became less wondrous and more of a commodity. They went from things to adventure for to things you could pop down the shops to get. That never really worked for me and—luckily for me—Gary Gygax himself agreed with me!

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)

 

So what did Gary say?

“A properly run campaign will be relatively stringent with respect to the number of available magic items, so your players will sooner or later express a desire to manufacture their own.”

1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 166), Gary Gygax

I was recently asked by a reader how to make crafting magic items more wondrous. She was worried that in her campaign the entire process had been reduced to mundane bookkeeping.

Well, I think the answer is pretty simple: make making magic items harder. Here’s a very brief summary of how you make magic items in 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder:

  • You need a feat—some available at very low levels (Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion being the two most easily gained).
  • It’s relatively quick to do; it takes one day per 1,000 gp value of the item.
  • You can do it literally anywhere, any time–even around the campfire after a hard day’s adventuring
  • It’s not particularly expensive—particularly for low-power, single use magic items.

1st Edition Crafting

Now, lets look at how you crafted magic items in 1st Edition AD&D.

Making Potions

  • Potions may be made by any magic-user of 7th-level or higher.
  • A magic-user requires a proper laboratory worth between 200 gp and 1,000 gp to work on potions.
  • The laboratory requires a 10% monthly outlay to cover the cost of breakages, the cost of supplies, firewood and so on.
  • The number of days it takes to make a potion is a function of its value; it takes one day per 100 gp-worth of value; i.e. a potion worth 250 gp takes three days to brew.

Making Scrolls

  • Scrolls may be made by spellcsters of 7th-level or higher.
  • The materials used affect the chance of success; there is always a chance of failure. Base chance of failure is 20%.
  • Scrolls require special inks; the scriber must discover the recipe for different kinds of spells
  • It takes one day per level of the spell to be scribed to write a scroll. During this time, the spell caster must be essentially uninterrupted. If he does something else, his efforts are wasted.

Making Magic Items

  • All other magic items require the enchant an item spell. (A 6th-level wizard spell so a 12th-level+ caster). Casting this spell can take up to ten days and the magic-user must be uninterrupted and use no other magic during this time. Clerics don’t require enchant an item, but must meditate and fast for three weeks before starting to create a magic item!
  • Once an item is enchanted by a magic-user with the desired spells a permanency spell is also required.
  • Once an item is completed, the creator is exhausted and must rest one day for every 100 gp of the item’s experience point value. This could easily amount to a week, a month or even longer.

Contrast and Compare

Clearly in 1st Edition AD&D, the whole process of making magic items was much harder than in 3.0 and later editions. That’s either a good thing or a bad things (depending on your perspective). The salient points seem to be that in 1st edition:

  • Fewer people could make magic items because you had to be higher level to make even temporary magic items like potions and scrolls.
  • It took longer to do and you couldn’t be interrupted while doing it. You also had to rest afterwards.
  • You needed a quiet, well-stocked base.
  • It was more expensive and required research.

These factors have the knock-on effect of reducing the number of magic items available in the campaign; after all there are fewer higher level spell casters than lower level.

Dare I say it, but this makes magic items more wondrous. For me, this is a positive thing and I think it’s a positive thing for my campaign. I want magic items to be seen as wondrous treasures, not something you can order via a magical medieval version of Amazon.

Sadly, to make magic items—particularly potions, scrolls and wands—more wondrous in a Pathfinder game will require some rules tinkering. This is not for the fainthearted, and should only be done after chatting with the rest of the group. While I firmly believe that a GM is in charge of his game and campaign world, such a major change requires discussion with the players. Magic items are, after all, one of the foundational aspects of the game.

The Easy, Quick Fix

The easy way to make this work in a campaign is just to increase the caster level pre-requisites for the various Item Crafting feats. Here’s my suggested list:

  • Brew Potion and Scribe Scroll: Caster level 7th
  • All Other Item Creation Feats: Caster level 11th

Of all the classes, this affects wizards the most as they get Scribe Scroll at 1st-level and get bonus feats at 5th and 10th which can be used to get additional item crafting feats. To offset the loss of the various Item Creation feats, I’d simply add Spell Focus, Greater Spell Focus, Spell Penetration and Greater Spell Penetration to the list of feats a wizard can pick with his bonus feats.

You might also consider changing the time it takes to craft an item.

  • Potion or Scroll: 1 day per spell level of the potion or scroll
  • Other Magic Items: 1 week per 1,000 gp value (or part thereof)

What Do You Think?

Do you want to make magic items rarer in your campaign? Alternatively, am I mad–would this destroy the game for you? Let me know, in the comments below.

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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24 thoughts on “Making Manufacturing Magical Items More Magical

  1. This is one of the reasons I moved away from 3.x. I much prefer that I, as a player, don’t get everything I want; I have to search for it. Quests are, after all, part of the game. And as a DM I prefer the “post apocalyptic” world where there was more magic in the past, then a wave of destruction that means the magic is hidden and lost.

  2. When I started gaming with my children last year we started with 1E/2E, but I quickly wanted to get away from THAC0, and upon researching d20 options picked PF – mainly because I could get CRB and Bestiary as a free PDF to try out, and we quickly ordered hardbacks.

    However, the high and required level of magic was a little discouraging for me, and as is often pointed out on Paizo’s online forums, if you as GM don’t “let” players craft or buy magic they will quickly be unable to keep up with the game mechanic’s math for AC/ToHit/Saves. Making crafting harder would of course limit player created items, but wouldn’t fix the mechanical requirement in PF for you to have certain stats by certain levels.

    Paizo actually created a work-around in their Unchained book, called automatic bonus progression (I recently implemented it when the party leveled up). ABP gives PCs automatic increases as they level to things like AC (deflection and natural armor), Hit/Dam, resistances, and physical/mental stats; which reflect the PC getting “better” as they level up. With ABP in place, the GM doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about ensuring the PCs have magic items with bonus “X” by certain levels, nor do you have to be as strict on giving them wealth X by level Y to ensure they can buy what they want; since their PC’s ABP will keep them up to par with the math.

    ABP opens the game up for that “old school” or low magic style that I like. not only that but I always like more unique magic items that didn’t match the DMG slots (boots of protection or cloak of giant strength for example) or items that offered low level spell options on a per day/week, or “favored enemy” for some small bonus.

    I’m also planning with ABP to change crafting for my PCs to become more interactive. IE Quest to collect the proper materials and instructions, since items won’t be required to hit the mechanics anymore I can stretch it out and make it less mundane.

    Finally, I’m going to basically do away with “magic marts”. Low level potions may still be available at temples or an apothecary who specializes in things like healing (consumables is a great way to get the players to willingly spend some of that gold they find). however, if you want to hire the best blacksmith in town to put the flaming enchantment on your sword (for light and that extra d6 of damage), its going to be a process beyond book-keeping.

  3. These factors have the knock-on effect of reducing the number of magic items available in the campaign; after all there are fewer higher level spell casters than lower level.

    I hesitate to agree with this one. If you look at how many magic items were floating around in many of the early-edition AD&D modules it’s hard to say that there aren’t many magic items available in the campaign. Fewer people currently alive who can make them, perhaps, but even then there are a many high-level casters… and the handwave “it’s from a former age”.

    • I think if you really want magic items to be wondrous you don’t need to change the rules around their creation, much. Leave the item creation feats alone.

      What you need is for the magic items to let their users break the rules. Many items today are there to either give the PCs numbers (enhancement bonuses, ability to do more damage, higher Strength, etc.) or basically bottled spells (potions, obviously, but scrolls, wands, and many wondrous items fall into this category).

      While this is easy to implement and adjudicate, it sucks the wonder right out of the items.

    • Now, on to the actual subject of the post, I agree that the current rules are lacklustre… which is not to say they are wrong. If the game isn’t about crafting magic items they’re probably about right, to be honest. In many campaigns they offer the ability to exchange gold and time for exactly the desired magic items, within the limit of the crafter to create them, without the assorted painful overhead of tracking individual requirements and processes.

      How many people actually used the rules in Compleat Alchemist back in the day? They expanded on rules in the DMG1 and looked cool and all, but added even more player overhead.

      You might check out Dynamic Magic Item Creation from Pathfinder Unchained. It doesn’t address everything involved, but does extend the process somewhat and makes it easy to introduce events and oddities during enchantment.

    • That’s part of the point! I much prefer a low magic style of game (although–of course–your definition of low magic is possibly different to mine). That would mean you have to modify the adventures and encounters the PCs face, but that’s no biggie (but perhaps the subject of another blog post).

      • That was my point, old school adventures have many more magic items floating around than many people think. Not quite as many as modern D&D, but I hear people talking like it’s an order of magnitude different and it’s nowhere close.

        Put it his way, the AD&D1e paladin had a limit to how many magic items he was allowed to have (6-10 IIRC, book not handy) and it was considered a legitimate and serious restriction.

        They didn’t have the MagicMart (usually), but apart from that there was a lot of magic floating around.

        • Very valid point. Most of us probably wrecked at least one of our own campaigns with too much magical loot. I mean its cool to find, its cool to build the hoards, everyone is happy right??? Then the party is boot-stomping every encounter, turning +2 swords into plowshares and you realize…this isn’t much fun anymore, lets go back to 1st level for a good old kobold lair with narry even a silver dagger among us.

        • You are right–I suspect–that old modules had a fair amount of magic floating about, but I do think it was less than modules today (particularly in regards to potions and scrolls). I don’t have a general problem with the amount of magic in modules as such, but I do loathe the magic mart system which generally didn’t appear in older adventures. (Although there was a module in an early issue of DUNGEON that has a magic item auction as its setting).

  4. In (some of) my own games, I eliminated the need for feats to create magic items and instead made item creation require recipes that were either found (in Wizards’ libraries) or researched independently (at the same cost/time as it would take to research the spell or spells involved). These recipes required special ingredients (which were a ton of fun to come up with) that led to even more adventures (I need bile from a red dragon, but they don’t appear to have it at the general store…)

    On an unrelated note, I think it’s interesting that in 1st edition, a gold piece was 1.6 ounces (10 to the pound) but, in 3rd edition, a gold piece is about 1/3 of an ounce (50 to the pound). That means that 1gp in 1st edition is worth about 5gp in 3rd edition.

  5. I think possibly 12th level is too high. What’s in it for him to create a +1 short sword if he’s the baddest wizard in 100 miles? Particularly if he can make a +2, +5 … for little extra outlay (presuming he’s reasonably flush for funds)

    Giving each item a backstory like a character definitely helps. It gives the raisin d’etre of the item. I created a +3 carving knife which was found in the house of a rich family of demonologists the party investigated. However, a carving knife is designed to cut thin slices, so while it nearly always hit, it only ever did 1 pt of damage.
    I don’t think the player ever knew that I ignored her damage rolls!

  6. I agree, the current system makes magic items too accessible and too perfect. We used to save any items we got, because we never knew if we could find another more one more suited to our character or our situation.

  7. In much of 3E and beyond, magic items are simply tools. I, also, don’t like the need for certain levels of magic items to maintain balance for advancement. The number of magic available is irrelevant, What is more important is that those items should be more than just “a noun of verbing.” A magic item should mean something, in my opinion. “Sting” is more important than a +! sword of goblin detecting. “Mananann Mac Lir’s Ring of Invisibility” which you can use, but have to return to the god who loaned it to you is cooler than a ring of invisibility found on a cave path…unless of course that ring is the “One Ring.” Make your magic magical.

  8. In my OSR games I make crafting scrolls pretty easy for core spell casters; Clerics and Magic Users. 100 gold pieces times the spell level. Takes one day per spell level. Everything else requires a load of work, stuffs gotta be dialed in, procured, researched and so on. I let them earn maybe one or two magic items per player per level; so if each player has two or three characters, by the time they are second level, my players usually have one magic item between their two or three characters.

  9. I saw a comment on one of the Pathfinder forums about a particular magic item which was ‘looks nice, I might buy a couple.’

    This is the opposite of what I think magic items should be, a precious resource made by craftsmen who have taken a *lot* of time, trouble and expense to make. It’s treated now as if there’s a production line somewhere churning out boxes of the stuff to be stock in the backroom of ‘Ye Olde Magick Shoppe’.

    I’m not quite yet at the stage of there’s only one +1 longsword in the world, but I am very far away from having a dozen in a shop in each hamlet.

  10. I started playing D&D with Basic boxed sets, and graduated to AD&D (1st), then steadily acquired every variation that followed. My most frequent gaming was as a kid in the 1980s and early 1990s, when I had summer vacations, free weekends, and long holidays – which means a lot of my gaming happened with pre-3.x D&D. College, work, and life really slowed the gaming tempo down.

    In all that gaming time, several things stood out to me:
    1) How limited pre-3.x D&D was, compared to games with skill systems and item crafting
    2) How many raging, rules-lawyering arguments were held over off-the-books ad libbing (you know, real roleplaying, not rollplaying)

    With 3.x D&D, I was happy to return to the game because it finally could put numbers to so much stuff that had to be ad libbed, hand waved, and wasn’t consistent, and thus led to painful arguments among good friends. I mean, I like real roleplaying – my favorite campaign was a Vampire game of over-the-top elders where we might make one or two rolls in entire game sessions because everything else was roleplayed out – but there are times when you need certainty in rules.

    And D&D 3.x did more than lower the levels of PCs required to make magical items, it set up a whole mechanism for doing so that was absent in earlier editions. I really liked it. I don’t want a whiff of 1e or 2e near a game anymore. 20+ years onward and no thank you.

    If I want to lower the amount of magic items in a game, I prefer to restrict a) magical materials, b) “mana,” or equivalent, or c) high level characters. I just ran a game where I aggressively limited levels among NPCs, since – unless I missed something in Pathfinder and 5.0 – most people are 0th or 1st level anyway. 3rd and 5th level characters ARE rare. 7th and 11th? They’re mythical demigods (which I say with hyperbole, since there are actual demigods.)

    PCs who rolled into cities with thousands of gold couldn’t find dozens of healing potions because there weren’t enough magic users in the cities to make that many, nor could most of the population afford them. Want a 200,000-gp suit of +4 armor of faerie shadows? Great, that’s the next three sessions of gaming as the PCs try to gather enough pixie wings and shadow strands from the Plane of Shadows (or whatever) for the smith since he ain’t getting off his wealthy and powerful butt to get the ingredients for the PC’s mega armor.

    Anyway, there are answers to “too much magic” that don’t involve tormenting me with older editions of D&D. Your mileage may vary, of course.

    • I wasn’t planning to torment you with earlier editions, Mike! And I can certainly see where you are coming from. In my own gaming group, we often have diversions into realism vs. rules. Luckily, we’ve managed to keep such discussion friendly and no one’s nose has been put out of joint!

      I absolutely agree with you about 3-5th-level characters being rare and 11th-level PCs being crazy powerful. I don’t think the current advancement track really handles that progression very well as I think PCs level too quickly. I’m a huge fan of the slow advancement track that–I think–supports a much more “realistic” and gritty feel to a campaign. That said, I think that’s probably a subject for another article!

  11. I notice one of the old requirements was left off this list.
    The permanent loss of 1 point of Consitution each time you created a magical item. (although I do think this only applied to permanent items)

  12. Interesting post! I am a big AD&D fan, and I still play it today, but I think it’s worth mentioning a few things.
    I’d note that magic item creation in 3.0 (not sure whether things changed in 3.5) is different than PF. It’s generally more costly, both in terms of money and time (e.g. potions always take at least one full day.) It also costs XP, which in my experience is somewhat of a deterrent to willy-nilly item creation.
    I’d also add that typically only cost is listed for ingredients, but nowhere do the books say that these should be easy to obtain! Also the environment should be as quiet as possible, which means that typically it can’t be done adventuring in the wilds. Why? Random encounters!
    I use plenty of random encounters (per 3.0 DMG; another thing I see the PF rulebook fails to mention); this also means that spellcasters have to weigh their use of spells carefully; I never ever had the LFQW problem at my table, simply because of constant attrition of spellcasting resources.

    As a consequence of all the above, my players only rarely undertook the task of crafting magic items, and definitely not around the campfire!