On Magic Item Creation, Solutions

So, how can we have magic item creation a part of our game?

There are a number of things we can do, but first, lets look at what options the base game has given us, so we have something to work from. We want to make it accessible, but also compatible with traditional expectations (and by proxy, with retro-clones). Not listed in the table below are the constitution costs for casting permanency for permanent items.

Let's look at some of the similarities between editions. Numbers with slashes are for potion/scroll/item levels. Numbers with slashes, always go in that order.

Creation Check?Success rates1Difficulty?Level? Cost of Laboratory
Gazeteer (D&D) Yes (Int + Level)*2 - (3 or 5)Yes (Spell level)9"Large Library"
BECMI Yes 85%No9-
1st Edition Yes 80-95%/80%
/Save vs. magic
No7(112)/7/12200-1000gp + 10% monthly upkeep
2rd Edition Yes 80%/70%/60%Yes9/9(73)/112000/50004 + 10% monthly upkeep costs
3rd Edition Yes Varies (DC)Yes1/3/5/7/9/115Free6
1 Success rates are before modifiers (bonuses for level/high quality items)
2 Wizards must be 11th level to make potions, unless they enlist the aid of an alchemist
3 Clerics can make scrolls at 7th level, instead of waiting until 9th
4 A lab for potions only costs 2000, for item/scroll creation it costs 5000
5 Not automatic, feats at level 1 for scroll, 3 for potion and item, 5 for wands/armor, 7 for rings, 9 for rods, and 11 for staves
6 "Using an item creation feat also requires access to a laboratory or magical workshop, special tools, and so on. A character generally has access to what he needs unless unusual circumstances apply."
Length of Time Potion Length of time ScrollLength of Time Item
Gazeteer (D&D) 1 week + 1 day per 1000gp in price
BECMI 1 week per "spell level" of power
1st Edition 1 day per 100xp 1 day per spell level3-10 days + 1 day per 100xp of item of complete rest
2rd Edition 1d3+1 weeks for initial formula, then 1 day per difficulty step7 1 day per spell level
(6 days for protection scrolls)
Weeks equal to difficulty rating + 2d6 months
3rd Edition 2 hours if < 250gp otherwise 1 day per 1000 gp in price 2 hours if < 250gp otherwise 1 day per 1000 gp in price1 day per 1000 gp in price
7 Rules from Book of Artifacts. 2nd edition DMG/PHB contain the same rules as 1st edition

My goal here is not just to present some new-fangled system for item creation - my goal is for it to be a more feasible option for games, as well as providing a large database of items designed to be created.

What can we see about our hypothetical situation? Well, that we'd like to have a method where magic item creation can fail, even if it is affected by player choices and skill. We also see that we'd like to have some restrictions on item creation, possibly based off level. I don't want to lose the early edition feeling of having to collect magical supplies, but at the same time, I don't want to stymie player interest in having their characters create items. We can have item creation without the ridiculous barriers to entry ("1 tarrasque tooth per +1 for oil of sharpness, I'm looking in your direction")

Item Creation Restricted by Level
Having magic item creation restricted by level (especially to such a high level) is one of the control mechanisms to prevent abuse - but it is also one of the factors that prevent players from being more active in item creation. There are a couple of solutions for this, Alchemy & Poisons will contain a class (called the alchemist, unsurprisingly) that will have the option of creating items much earlier. There will also be options for a variety of systems, allowing characters to craft items earlier then the official limits (proficiencies, skills). The level limits exist because item creation is not the preview of a first level adventurer. We all know as characters level, the game changes, but if item creation is a thing that you desire to do, the option for you to do so should be there before reaching name level.

The other thing we can do, is separate items (a'la 3.5) into a few separate tiers. One of the largest problems with item creation is that it makes it as difficult to craft a potion of healing as it is to make an intelligent longsword. No game will be unbalanced by a player collecting goblin hearts, and using them to craft half a dozen potions of healing before their next adventure. However allowing the same thing for long-swords. . . that, I think, could become a problem.

So all items are either crafted, enchanted, or legendary.

  • Anyone at any level can make crafted items, if they have the skill, ingredients, and time.
  • Enchanted items are a large subset of items (such as potions, scrolls, wands, etc.) that are fairly utilitarian in nature, but require some special talent or skill to create.
  • Legendary items are things such as ego swords, staves, rods, and powerful rings. They require the rarest ingredients and have no formulas for creation.

Alchemy & Poisons focuses mainly on crafting and enchantment items, but having a large variety of those certainly provides more impetus for the players to engage in crafting. This division maintains the epic nature of crafting special items, while allowing players (who have the proper supplies) to create potions and various other devices as they will without unduly unbalancing the game.

So what will prevent players from using these items that they can create to neutralize your adventure? If they know they are going to have to face a fire giant, what will stop them from crafting potions of fire resistance in advance?

First: This kind of forward thinking should be rewarded. Second we restrict it by requiring certain types of rare materials, enforcing strict cost and time constraints. How do we avoid these factors from creating the same resistances and difficulties that impede item creation traditionally?

Rare Materials
I don't know what your campaign looks like. Do you even have hell hounds or goblins? It's unimportant, because I'm going to assume you're not an idiot and can understand the magical laws of similarity and contagion. For my requirements for a resist fire potion, I'm not going to say 'requires a fire giant heart' I'm going to say, requires 'heart of a creature with the fire type or essence (4+hd)'.

But, you say, what if I'm playing first edition - creatures don't have type in that edition.

Doesn't matter. Does the title say fire, or hell, or is it hot? It's your game, you know what monsters you've used, you can let your players know if it will work or not. There will be a set list of essences and creature types, and you can decide which fit in your world or not. The idea here is to be flexible to encourage item creation.
 The other (optional) material control are 'rare earths'. A limited amount of these can be collected per day, and they can only be collected in a period free of adventuring and crafting.

The other issue is one of time and cost. The fact is, if you're going to have a character that creates items, you're going to have to track time and money fairly closely, being that those are the primary constraints on an overabundance of power. Sooner or later, they will run out of materials, money, or time. Needing certain gems will also prove to be limiting factor if needed. ("Sorry, we're fresh out of rubies!")

Most games I've run, the characters barely have enough funds and time as it is. By the time they do have a surplus of money and time, being able to create a bunch of items isn't all that overpowering (you're spending your time trying to outfit your men at arms in banded mail or better). There is even less danger then a financial fallout due to making and selling items. Not only do you need a buyer, the more you make the more the price drops, and you are far from guaranteed from finding a buyer.

Each crafting item, and magical item has a formula. Without a formula, costs, time, and materials requirements are doubled, as well as a serious increase in the chance of failure. Formulas are divided into common, uncommon, rare, and very rare formulas - alchemists will learn a limited number of these (in addition to all common formulas, like Alchemist's fire) as they level.

Otherwise, without the formula, creating the item is quite difficult. This gives the characters reasons to go adventuring, a new treasure type, and allows the GM to retain some control over which items can exist in his campaign, without making it impossible for the players to create their own items.

Do these things address our fears?
1) Fear of overpowered characters: Separating items into tiers means protection against the super-item. Powerful magical items remain as unique and difficult to craft as always.Yet resourceful players can have options. Formulas provide control over which items can be created.

2) Fear of the snowball effect: Having firm limits on money, materials and time always ensures the players run out of one fairly quickly, and then it is once more unto the breach.

3) Fear of loss of control: The items that are easily created have specific effects, easily forbidden if you find one that doesn't work for your campaign. You have final say over what qualifies as a component or where one can be recouped so players can't create anything you don't want to see in your games anyway.

Tomorrow: Weekly Trap. Friday: The Rules, and an Example


  1. I like the ideas of requiring formulas and rare-but-not-specific items. I'm mostly using 4e (but please let's not make this about edition wars), and this would be a better control than their current system of magic item rarity. One point I would make is to have the time scale should be explicitly related to the style of the GM. I've had GM's where the characters would often take months or years off between adventures. And I've had GM's where there are so many threats that players were running from one mission to another and the wizards didn't have enough time to copy spells into their spellbook, let alone craft items. Both styles of play can be fun, but one will provide lots of time for crafting and the other none at all. By adjusting the timescale, the GM can get the amount of crafting to what he wants.

  2. That is interesting.

    In old school games their are monthly upkeep costs. Plus, magic item creation is expensive in coin.

    The point being, that the time scale doesn't need adjusting (that's what I might call a more. . . modern viewpoint, out of a desire to avoid an edition war), because the character will need money to craft those items, and since characters leak money like a sieve (100 gold pieces, per level, per month, to say nothing of henchmen upkeep), if they have several months off, they won't have enough gold to *get* a lot of crafting done.

    Also: the comment about the GM getting the amount of crafting he wants, indicates a divide in our thoughts on the subject. The GM should be impartial, an adjudicator of rules, without a pre-existing idea of how much he wants the players to adventure or craft or what have you.

    The players decide what to do about the threats, and what consequences they are willing to live with. The players decide on the amount of adventuring they are willing to endure.

  3. I'm not sure that rare, material components is the way to go. After all, what's to prevent the players from wanting to buy those rare materials in the market? Are you telling me there are no high level entrepreneurs in your campaign world who have the will, and the hootzpah to acquire those rare components, and market them? I also think that requiring players to collect special components can get pretty dull after a while, particularly if they wish to create multiple versions of the same item. After all, there are only so many times you can make collecting a dragon's heart strings entertaining.

    Personally, I think a better idea would be to place a restriction on the types of facilities that players need in order to create certain magic items. Examples of such facilities might be a wizard's tower, or a religious temple. Such a restriction forces players to interact with the NPCs who run such facilities, who may require the PCs to perform a specific quest before they are allowed to use their facilities. It also gives GMs the option of allowing players to use the facilities by simply paying a small fee.

  4. Excellent comment:

    I would say that this is *exactly* what the tier system is supposed to handle. Rare material components are specifically for fairly epic items (staves, rods, ego swords, unique enchantments). Components would be like the sound of sadness, or the ashes of victory.

    For standard items (potions, wands, and basic wondrous items and whatnot) components such as goblin hearts, or giant brains or whatnot /would/ possibly be available at market. It possibly might be cheaper to find the potion for sale, or perhaps the components are not reliable that are for sale, so there is some risk, but you certainly would be able to sell and/or buy them as a player.

    Of course, if you killed the monster itself, then that would give you a great advantage in cost and certainty. The intent is, for a large portion of the 'work-a-day' enchanted items, you wouldn't have to collect 'super unique' items, but you will need things like hearts and brains that are in limited supply providing a control.

    There are requirements/bonuses for 'labs' and it would be trivial to set up requirements for licensing to create your own lab.

    In the end, making them pay a fee for a lab, or a fee for buying the part is irrelevant, except you have a lot more flexibility in a campaign by restricting the components rather then the environment. It's easier for the market to run out of elf liver, then it is for it to run out of laboratory rental time.


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