Magic Item Creation
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Creating a magic item for D&D/d20 in many
ways is similar to creating a spell, if only because most magic items are
based on existing spells. The fine-tuning of an item's price is the main
issue for balancing an item.
Magic items made from the same spells can have greatly
different effects. Rhino hide armor, speed weapons, monk's belts, boots of
speed, and horseshoes of speed all use the haste spell, but each uses it
to a different effect. Half the fun (and half the puzzle) of designing a
magic item is about what spell to use as a model.
Unlike spells, it's OK to have an item that has multiple
features – you just pay through the nose for it. When creating a new magic
item, instead of choosing a single ability for it, choose one or more abilities
based on a single theme. That makes the item more interesting and allows
it to stand out from a "generic" item that just grants a numerical bonus.
Writing the Magic Item
Once you have the idea for the item, putting it in the
right format is essential. The standard magic item format is presented in
the DMG. Using the standard format helps remember to finish all of the pieces of the item.
This is the item's common name. Magic items are sometimes named for the person
that created them or a famous person that carried them. If creating an item
for generic D&D/d20 (instead of a specific world), avoid using character
names unless the character appears in the same book as the magic item.
A magic item's descriptive text should include a physical
description of the item so a DM may describe it on the spot (armor and weapon
properties do not need a physical description, but those that do are often
clues for the powers of the item). If the item has multiple forms or changes
its appearance when used (such as iron bands of Bilarro), these other forms
should be described as well.
Later parts of the description indicate the abilities
of the item, how these abilities are activated (both in terms of what the
user needs to do with the item and the game rules for triggering the ability).
For clarity's sake, if an item is something other than a potion, scroll,
wand, staff, or an item with a constant effect, say if the item has a command
word or a use-activated trigger. If the item's abilities duplicate a spell,
it doesn't hurt to use the name of that spell in the description so the DM
knows exactly how to use it.
Item DCs: The DC of a magic item's spell effects
is based on a minimally competent caster casting that spell (a 3rd-level
divine spell would have a caster with Wis 13, for example). The formula is:
10 + (spell level x 1.5) rounded down.
Warning: Do not use the word "enchantment" to describe
the abilities of a magic item unless you're referring to something from the
enchantment school. An enchantment is something that affects a creature's
mind. Objects do not have minds, magic items are objects, and so magic items
cannot be the target of enchantments. Yes, some items in the DMG use the
term "enchantment;" they shouldn't. It's a bad habit from 1st/2nd edition
A magic item's statistics block contains the following items.
Caster Level: The caster level of a magic item
is the default caster level of a "found" item of this type (such as in a
treasure hoard). It determines what caster level the effects of the item
has (if any) and how difficult it is to affect the item with a dispel magic
spell. All effects in a magic item should normally have the same caster level
for simplicity's sake, but it is acceptable to create an item with effects
at different caster levels (only one caster level should be listed here).
Prerequisites: The feats, spells, and other criteria
to make the item are listed here. Feats are listed first, spells are listed
second and in alphabetical order, and other criteria (such as "creator must
be an elf" for boots of elvenkind) last.
Caster level is not a prerequisite unless it is listed
after the Prerequisite header. As mentioned above, the caster level is the
default caster level of a "found" item. A pearl of power in the DMG has a
caster level of 17, but its prerequisites are "Craft Wondrous Item, creator
must be able to cast spells of the spell level to be recalled." This means
that a typical "found" 1st-level pearl of power has a caster level of 17
(it's hard to dispel) but there is no reason why a 3rd-level wizard with
the Craft Wondrous Item can't make a 1st-level pearl of power.
Market Price: Calculating the price of an item
is a task in itself. This should always be listed as a gp value. The market
price is used to determine how much it costs in gp and XP for someone to
create the item.
Cost to Create: Some items have additional costs
built into the market price that don't exactly follow the formula for determining
the cost to create of an item. Magic weapons and armor, which have a mundane
and masterwork cost for the original item, and items with spells that have
costly material components or XP components (such as wish) need to have these
extra costs calculated separately so someone creating the item pays the right
price. For example, a +1 longsword has a market price of 2,315 gp. Normally
a spellcaster wanting to create a magic item spends 1/2 the market price
in gp and 1/25 the market price in XP. However, 315 gp of that cost is just
from nonmagical supplies (the masterwork longsword). The spellcaster shouldn't
get a 1/2 discount for that 315 gp, nor should she have to pay XP for those
nonmagical supplies. Therefore, the cost to create the item is 1/2 the magical
cost (1/2 x 2,000 gp = 1,000 gp) plus the full normal materials cost (315
gp) plus 1/25 the magical cost in XP (1/25 x 2,000 gp = 80 XP), which adds
up to 1,315 gp and 80 XP. Because pricing a magic item is a complex process,
we make it easier for the DMs by calculating this cost ahead of time.
Weight: Magic items of certain types have a set
weight. Any item of this type should use that weight unless you specifically
want it to weigh more (a sword made of gold, for example) or less (a rod
that is weightless). An item with negligible weight has a weight of "--". Weights
are always listed as pounds, with "lb." Or "lbs." after the numerical weight.
Not all DMG items follow these standard weights (but perhaps they should…).
Belt: 1 lb.
Boots: 1 lb.
Book: 1 lb.
Candle: 1/2 lb.
Cloak/cape/mantle: 1 lb.
Helmet: 3 lb.
Robe: 1 lb.
Manual/Tome: 5 lb.
Potion: no need to list weight, as the potion item description does not include a weight.
Ring: no need to list weight, as the ring item description does not include a weight.
Rod: 5 lb.
Staff: 5 lb.
Wand: no need to list weight, as the wand item description does not include a weight.
Pricing a magic item requires you to be familiar with the pricing guidelines
on page 242 of the DMG (or page 74 of Tome & Blood, which takes into
account the DMG errata and clarifies some points). The mistake that a lot
of people make is using the guidelines as a hard-and-fast rule for prices.
Any item that is created should be compared to similar items in the DMG,
and common sense should be a factor as well.
Chakra: "Chakra" is the unofficial WotC term for
"space that a magic item uses as defined on DMG page 176"--boots, cloak, amulet,
and so on. The pricing guidelines assume that a magic item uses a chakra.
An item that doesn't use a chakra (like an ioun stone) costs twice as much
as a chakra item.
Hands as Chakra: Although not a chakra space listed
in the DMG, an item that must be held in a hand to be activated counts as
a chakra point. This is because you can only have two hand-chakra items active
at once, and to switch to another hand-chakra item you'd have to spend an
action to do so (just as if you wanted to put on a different amulet).
Multiple Abilities in One Item: An amulet
of natural armor +2 and a belt of giant strength +4 each use one chakra.
If you were to make an amulet of natural armor +2 and giant strength +4,
obviously this item is more valuable than the sum of its parts because you
now have the belt chakra available for another item that you could wear.
This "bonus value" is handled in the pricing rules.
1. Compare all of the component prices as if they were separate items.
2. The most expensive property cost does not change.
3. All other property costs are doubled.
4. The sum of these costs is the cost for the entire item.
5. If the item doesn't use a chakra space, remember to double the final cost.
The Most Dangerous Piece of DMG Errata: The sidebar
on DMG page 243 says "each additional power not only has no discount but
instead has a 10% increase in price." Cross out that "10%" and write "100%"
above it. That's the "double cost" we're talking about above, and if you
forget to update your DMG with the errata your prices are going to be way
Multiple Similar Abilities: An item with multiple
similar abilities (such as a staff of frost, or an amulet that lets the wearer
cast flaming sphere and fireball) gets a slight discount from the above rule.
The most expensive power is at normal cost, the secondmost expensive power
is at 75% cost, and all other powers are at 50% cost. Don't be afraid to
be stingy in deciding if something is a "similar" ability or not. If using
this discount, do not apply the +100% rule to these properties.
Duration as a Factor: When pricing an item with
the guidelines, consider the duration of the spell that's used as a prerequisite.
A ring of true strike (constant effect) is much more powerful than a ring
of endure elements (constant effect) because true strike has a duration of
just over a round while endure elements has a duration of 1 day, yet according
to the guidelines they would be priced the same. This is one of the many
cases where common sense comes in to play, and it's best to compare the item's
price to that of a benchmark item to see if the costs are out of whack. In
fact, the preferred method is compare first, use the formula second. The
formula only works perfectly with charged items or one-use items; everything
else requires a reality check before proceeding.
Benchmark Items: Certain items have a standardized
price based on their numerical bonus, and these items are a good way to check
on a new item's price. If the new item does something similar to an existing
benchmark item and the new item's price is much less, the new item's price
is probably wrong. Benchmark items and their "areas of expertise" are:
Ability-score items (gloves of Dexterity, headband of intellect, and so on)
Bracers of armor
Save-boosters (cloak of resistance)
Skill-boosters (cloak of elvenkind, boots of elvenkind, and so on)*
* Note: I used to have the ring of jumping listed here as a benchmark item, but it was confusing people because the ring has a +30 bonus for the same price as +10 boots of elvenkind.
The price is correct, it's just that the ring is a weird case because the
Jump skill doesn't have a 1-for-1 correlation between the result of your
roll and the result of your jump (in other words, sometimes you have to increase
your roll by 4 or even 8 to improve the distance jumped, so the ring of jumping
gives you a greater bonus for the same price so the net effect is about the
same as a +10 bonus to Hide or Move Silently). Anyway, the item isn't listed
as a benchmark here any more to avoid confusion.
To use the ring of true strike example from above, such
an item would be priced at 2,000 with the formula. Compare the +20 from
the ring of true strike to the +5 attack and damage bonus of a +5 longsword.
The magic longsword costs 50,000 gp. Even if we divide that 50,000 gp cost
in half (because the +5 counts to attacks and damage) we're still left with
a 25,000 gp +5 attack item, so the ring of true strike
has to cost at least that much, if not more, for its +20 attack value (and
it's probably closer to 50,000 or even 100,000 because of its utility, even
though it doesn't allow you to bypass DR or other effects that come with
having an actual enhancement bonus).
Another example is the bracers of mage armor. These items
are a continuous use-activated mage armor spell, giving the wearer a +4 armor
bonus to AC, at a formula-derived price of 2,000 gp. However, +4 bracers of armor
have a market price of 16,000 gp, so the bracers of mage armor should be
Spell Power as a Factor: Misdirection and invisibility
are both 2nd-level arcane spells, but invisibility is a much more useful
spell than misdirection, so a ring of invisibility should accordingly be
more expensive than a ring of misdirection. That's why the formula would
price a ring of invisibility at 12,000 gp but the DMG lists it at 20,000
Effectiveness of Caster Level: Sometimes a secondary
function of an item doesn't need to be cast at the same caster level as the
primary function to be effective. For example, a ring that lets you cast
a 10th-level fireball once per day and also gave you a constant endure elements
(fire) technically should have the endure elements priced with a caster level
of 10 as well (since all powers of an item typically have the same caster level). However,
there is little benefit (other than resisting dispel magic) for creating
a constant endure elements item with a caster level above 1 because none
of the spell's effects are based on duration. In such cases, the item can
be priced at 1 level above its minimum caster level to reflect the very slight
benefit for the increased caster level (resisting dispel magic), but the
overall caster level of the item remains the same.
Another example would be an item with a caster level above
10 that also had a dispel magic function. Dispel magic tops out at +10 to the dispel check for caster level 10, so there
is no benefit giving it a caster level above 10. Price the dispel magic feature
at caster level 11 (because of the slight benefit the higher caster level
gives the item when trying to resist a hostile dispel magic attempt).
Several people can work together to create a magic item if the person with
the item creation feat doesn't meet all of the item's prerequisites. For
example, 9th-level Mialee could work with 9th-level Jozan to create a scroll
of raise dead, even though Mialee doesn't have the spell and Jozan doesn't
have the feat. The character with the feat pays the XP cost, but anyone can
contribute money to offset the gp cost. Everyone involved in creating the
item must spend the required 8 hours each day working on the item (the total
creation time doesn't increase, but all participants must be there the entire
time). This is because both the source of the spell's power (in this case,
Jozan) and the person translating that spell into another form (in this case,
Mialee) have to be present for the entire time the that spell is being translated.
Basically, Mialee can't write down Jozan's spell description if he's not
there, and Jozan can't recite it to her if she's not there.
A character can also use a spell completion or spell trigger
item to create an item with a spell he otherwise couldn't cast. For example, even if he
doesn't actually know the bull's strength spell, Hennet could use a wand
of bull's strength in conjunction with the Craft Wondrous Item feat to make a gauntlets of ogre power. When using the source spell from an item in this way, each day of item creation would require the expenditure
of one scroll of the spell or one charge from the item.
It takes one day per 1,000 gp of the item's market price to make the item.
The exceptions are potions, which always take one day.
The Potion Question
Debate rages about whether or not the only spells that
can go into potions are ones that you could cast on another creature (despite
the fact that there are some spells in the DMG that violate this rule). Options
1. You can only make a potion out of a spell that you can cast on another person.
2. You can only make a potion out of a spell that affects a single person.
3. You can make a potion of any spell, but the effect is centered on you.
4. You can make a potion of any spell, and drinking the potion lets you use that spell once.
The first option is the most conservative. This would
rule out a potion of shield or a potion of true strike. It is also pretty
easy to see how the potion would work … it's just like someone is casting
the spell on the drinker.
The second option is slightly more flexible. It allows
everything in the first option, plus personal-only spells like shield and
true strike. In effect, drinking the potion makes you the caster and the
target. Some people disallow this version because they feel that letting
non-spellcasters be able to use personal-only spells is a game balance issue.
However, this implementation does allow things like a potion of shocking
grasp, which charges up the drinker with electricity and allows him to make
a touch attack to discharge it, as if holding the charge on a spell.
The third option is basically a "spell in a bottle," in
that no matter what the spell is, you are the center of the effect. So you
could create a potion of fireball, but in drinking it the fireball
would detonate centered on you. Mechanically there is nothing wrong with
this option (according to the formula, which works fine for single-use items,
a single-use use-activated item costs the same whether it is a potion or a
wondrous item such as a sphere from a necklace of fireballs), although
it does mean that drinking an unidentified potion can be risky to others
as well as yourself.
The fourth option is the most flexible and essentially
gives the drinker a one-shot ability to cast the spell as if he were the
caster. Thus, a potion of fireball would allow him to launch a fireball at
enemies 100 feet away. As with the previous option, mechanically there
is nothing unbalanced about this option. Thematically, however, some people
feel that it violates the style of what a potion can do (drinking a potion
shouldn't let you point your finger and launch fire or lightning). For those
people, consider that Brew Potion allows you to make magical oils that do
not need to be imbibed, and an extension of that is allowing the potion's
effect to be centered on where the potion bottle is broken. Thus, you could
throw a potion of fireball to explode where it lands, smash a potion of monster
summoning III to create a servitor creature at the location of the broken
vial, and so on. Again, the cost is the same for a single-use use-activated
item, so the character isn't gaining an unfair advantage by this alternate