Recently, I was asked about my views on player created magic items. My first response was that I thought it was a bad idea. Other than potions and scrolls, I do not allow characters to create magic items. Upon reflection though I realized that wasn’t quite true. I make a number of exceptions to that rule and maybe I should look at the whole matter a bit more closely.
Magic Items are Rare and Mysterious
When I started playing D&D, magical items were shrouded in mystery. Each one was a secret and discovering one, and what it could do, was like unwrapping a Christmas present. Players didn’t look through the DMG and had no idea what items it contained. Even the DM hadn’t studied the DMG closely at the beginning so he was as excited about each new item as we were.
Sadly, each edition since then has pulled back the veil a bit further until now we find ourselves at the point where magical items are generally viewed as commodities. They are no more special than a week’s worth of rations or a winter blanket or anything else a character may wish to buy from the standard equipment lists.
Each magic item has a known value and it is assumed that no matter what magical items the party returns to town with, there will be merchants lining up to pay top dollar for them. No haggling is even necessary as each item comes equipped with its own little price tag. Similarly, most magical items are readily available for sale. If, however, a character is unable to find what she wants, she can simply create the item herself or hire someone to make it for her. This does not fit my view of rare and mysterious. My goal is to recapture the feeling of awe and mystery I once felt and share it with the players in my game.
Replacing the Veil
As I’ve mentioned before, I maintain my own rulebooks that contain the modified rules as used in my game. The Player’s Handbook that I supply to my players does not contain lists or descriptions of magic items. Nor will a player discover any predefined prices for magic items. If the players choose to sell a magic item that they discover, they must find a potential buyer and come to an agreement on price without the aid of a magical blue book price guide.
Any magic shop found in my world will have various magic potions and scrolls available for sale, as well as all sorts of common material components, but no other magical items. That’s not to say that they never run into anyone with a magical item for sale, but there isn’t a readily available market where they can go find whatever they desire.
In this same vein, characters are not able to make magic items… generally.
Player Created Magic Items
Wizards and clerics can scribe magical scrolls. Wizards (with the necessary alchemy skill) can brew potions. Technically, that’s all I allow. However, an ingenious character will find there are exceptions. Many spells may be cast upon items, turning those items into temporary magical items. In some cases, permanency may be cast on them as well. Continual light, for example, cast on a coin that is then placed in a shuttered lantern makes an extremely useful magical item. There are all sorts of similar tricks that I’ll refrain from listing as they should be something players come up with on their own.
But there is even more that a character may create. I have introduced various alchemical recipes that allow any character, with sufficient alchemy skill, to create non-magical alchemical substances, many of which simulate spell-like effects. Also, I have added many other alchemical recipes, that are only usable by wizards or clerics, that allow the character to create various minor magical items.
More Powerful Magical Items
What I consider to be ‘true’ magical items are magical armor & shields, weapons, rings, wands, staves, rods, and what have come to be known as the ‘wondrous’ items.
First edition D&D included an Enchant Item spell. This spell would allow a wizard to simply cast any desired spells into an object, followed by permanency, in order to create a magical item. Later this spell was removed and various magical crafting feats were added which amounted to more or less the same thing. Both methods, imo, devalued magical items by making them far too easy to create and readily accessible to anyone who wanted one. If magical items are that easy to come by, they become common and the mystery dies.
My vision of magical item creation is a bit different. In my world, a magical race, now long dead, discovered and perfected the art of crafting magical items. The art was lost but later rediscovered through their writings. Each magical item requires its own specialized and unique ritual. These rituals are lengthy and complex and require various rare and valuable material components.
Wizarding guilds collect, and jealously guard, these rituals. The guilds have vast, dedicated resources set aside exclusively for the creation of magical items. They have ancient magic circles which are built upon sites particularly strong in magical power, and enhanced with spells that further increase the power of the circles. Creation of an item isn’t the work of a single wizard with some free time on her hands. It requires a great many wizards, specially trained in the art of item craft, working together over long periods.