Monday, November 16, 2009

Magic item creation in D&D and other strangeness...

The manufacture and trade of magic items in D&D has always been problematic for designers of the game, at least it appears so to me. In 1e/2e AD&D, the demands that had to be met to make magic items made them prohibitive. XP expenditures and permanency spells ensured that no PC would ever make a magic item. In the two decades that I played these editions, not once did I ever see a single magic item produced. As a DM, this was troubling for me. After all, I had to assume the same disincentives that apply to PC magic-users would also work on NPCs. Aside from the XP costs, which no red-blooded adventuring spellcaster would tolerate, magic-users and clerics have a virtual monopoly on magical power in a world where magic items are scarce. Why would they jeopardize that priviledged position? True, there would be exceptions. Liches, for instance, have all the time in the world. They could probably find time in their busy schedules to forge a few magic blades for use by their minions. Also, there would likely be a few potent items created at the behest of powerful nobles who have the authority to demand such items from their magic-wielding courtiers. However, this doesn't seem to be enough supply to furnish the multitude of +1 longswords circulating within most D&D campaign worlds.

D&D 3.5 included a somewhat more complete set of rules for magic item creation. Some items, such as scrolls and potions, could be created by low-level spellcasters and the XP costs for such items was low enough to entice at least some non-adventuring NPCs to give it a try. The permanency spell requirement for permanent magic items was dropped, however XP costs were still involved and the same disincentive was there. Supply should still be miniscule in comparison to demand. Further adding to the problem was the weird D&D economics of magic items. It costs half the list price of a magic item to make it and you get half the list price of a magic item when you sell it. So, there is literally no profit margin at all and no compensation whatsoever for the days or weeks it takes to make magic items. Obviously, a DM who wants some sort of commerce in magic items could step in and rationalize the magic item economy, but a game that has such clear and complete rules on so many other aspects of adventuring life seems to have a curious blindspot as far as the magic economy is concerned.

Pathfinder made some progress in making sense of the magic item creation system. The biggest and most far-reaching change is the eradication of the XP cost. I have seen more magic item creation in the last year as we started playing Pathfinder than in my previous quarter-century of playing D&D. The availability of magic items for purchase has also been tackled. In D&D 3.5, it was a free-for-all. Adventurers would return from their dungeon crawls loaded down with perfectly suitable magic items, but knowing they could buy any item they wanted at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, they would happily liquidate their massive hauls to get that +2 flaming burst keen greatsword for which they'd been pining. Those days are past. The availability of powerful magic items for sale on the open market has been dramatically reduced. If a character wants a particular item, he must acquire it through adventuring, commission its construction from a willing spellcaster or make it himself. And make it, we do. Now we happily liquidate our massive hauls in order to buy the raw materials needed to make the items we want. Item creation feats, once seen as pointless rule bloat, are now highly desirable. Still, the irrational economics of the magic item trade have not been abandoned. It is still not possible to make a living making magic items. Maybe in some future Pathfinder supplement, they will finally correct this oversight.



Obiri said...

The reason you can't sell magic items for profit should be fairly obvious. PCs are adventurers not craftsmen. If it was more lucrative to build and sell magic items then no one would bother to adventure anymore.
Does this make sense economically - no, but it is built into the game to keep the PCs looting dungeons rather then running magic shops.
3.x is the first version where character wealth factors into PC power. Everything is balanced and a certain level of wealth is expected when encounters are designed. I have to admit as I go through my old first and second edition books that they magic equipment on the pregenerates was a lot more varied and interesting then the cloak of resistance, ring of protection, and stat buff items we all have now.

Rognar said...

That may be thinking behind it, but I don't think you need to force players to go adventuring. Who among us would prefer to spend all our time making stuff when we could be killing monsters and stealing their treasure? When was the last time any of us took a Profession skill?

A Paladin In Citadel said...


I prefer to think of magic items as having been forged by the gods, or having been imbued with their magic due to some heroic or legendary event.

To be sure, the rules allow for the creation of magic items. But i've never been a fan of "Ye Olde Magic Shoppe" approach to DnD.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

the only magic items that make sense to manufacture are those that specifically benefit the makers ... wands, staves, scrolls, potions, protective devices or miscellaneous items that augment a MU's power.

Rognar said...

I agree with you. I've always thought magic items, at least permanent ones like magic swords, should be rare and special. Even a lowly +1 longsword should have a story and should be viewed as a treasured find. Unfortunately, at least since 1e AD&D, this has not been the thinking. The AD&D Monster Manual was chock full of monsters which could only be hit with magic weapons. In some case, a +2, +3 or even +5 weapon was needed.

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