Magic Items

This will probably be the last major post before I reveal the completed magic document at the end of the month. Today we’re going to look more closely at magic items, how they interact with player characters and how PCs can create magical items and weapons of their own.

Before I begin, I want to state that none of the following changes the way that magic items work in D&D. All the magic items that your characters have access to remain completely unchanged. What I am changing (or what I am proposing that we change) is the mechanic used for creating new magic items, and also the way we manage magic items in the game. This is all to the benefit of the players. Honest.

Inherent Bonuses

The D&D game assumes that player characters acquire increasingly powerful magic items as they advance. The threats that characters meet are balanced against the assumption that they have the right magical kit for the job. A CR 10 monster is only an appropriate challenge for a party of 10th level adventurers, if those 10th level adventurers have the right magical weapons and trinkets.

After all, if the game assumes that a Fighter should have a +2 sword by level 10, and that fighter doesn’t have a +2 sword, then he’ll hit less often and deal less damage than the game assumes he will. As a result he will not stand up against his enemy as well as he should, which could have any number of painful ramifications.

Now this system works well enough as long as the GM continues to hand out level appropriate magical items as the characters continue to advance. I think my players can see where I’m going with this…

I don’t hand out magic items even half as quickly as the game assumes I should. Magic items just aren’t that common in the Iourn setting, and I’m seeking to preserve a certain integrity by not giving every leering henchman a +1 club. I think that magical items should be potent storied items. There is little room for something as utilitarian and boring as a +2 ring of protection. But I know that without a handful of rings of protection the saving throws of the characters won’t keep pace with there they need to be at a given level.

So what am I to do? Well, fourth edition introduces a concept called Inherent Bonuses (it’s on p138 of DMG2). Designed for low or no magic campaigns, the basic idea is that as characters advance in level they gain the bonuses they otherwise would have got from magic items. These bonuses overlap (do not stack) with magic item bonuses. So a 12th level character might have a +2 inherent bonus to attack and damage rolls. If he picks up a +3 sword then he uses the higher value – gaining a net +1 to attack and damage rolls in this case.

My intention is to divide 4e’s “inherent bonuses” into Offence and Defence modifiers that characters get a different levels. Observe:

Defence Modifiers: The character gains a +1 enhancement bonus to Armour Class, and a +1 resistance bonus to saving throws at level 4. This bonus increases to +2 at level nine, +3 at level fourteen, +4 at level nineteen, and +5 at level twenty-four. The defence modifier does not increase beyond +5. The defence modifier does not stack with the enhancement bonus gained from magical armour, or the resistance bonus gained from rings of protection. If the character has access to these magical items then take the higher value.

Offence Modifiers: The character gains a +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls at seventh level. This bonus increases to +2 at level twelve, +3 at level seventeen, +4 at level twenty-two, and +5 at level twenty-seven. The offence modifier does not increase beyond +5. The offence modifier does not stack with the enhancement bonus gained from magical weapons. If the character has access to magic weapons then take the higher of the two values.

Yes, yes. I know. It’s all horribly gamist and smacks royally of fourth edition. It demeans the importance of magical items, and these are bonuses that can’t be readily explained in game – which is largely something I want to encourage. Why would I want to do this?

My best defence of this system is that it is necessary. Especially as PCs edge into high levels, characters are going to need to have the best equipment available to them. I know that I don’t normally spend a lot of time balancing encounters, or worrying whether villain X is a match for the PCs, but this is how D&D works. It would be very nice for me if I still didn’t have to worry about this sort of thing, if I knew that the PCs  – stripped naked and armed only with fruit – would still be able to punch their weight. This isn’t something I would have done in HD&D, but we’re not pursuing that any longer. The d20 system is flawed in its approach to magic items. These rules are a patch.

To be honest, I also think that this system has the potential to lead to more innovative magic items. From this point on, what makes magic items special is not the static bonuses they given to your saving throws or attack rolls – that’s fairly dull anyway – what makes magic items special is what else they can do.

Example: Elias is currently wielding Andel’s sword. It’s a +4 bastard sword. Well, Elias is 16th level so he already has an inherent +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls. The sword is only giving him a net +2. But the bonus isn’t what makes the blade special. What makes the blade special is the blue metal used in its construction, the way it can shed pale blue light and the way that its hilt is shaped like an owl with wings spread. That owl is a miniature construct that can disconnect itself from the sword and fly off on reconnaisance missions. It can observe locations as a greater prying eyes spell, and then return to Elias to report. The bonus to hit and to damage is the least of what the magic item does.

Here’s a few other things to consider:

  • Offence and Defence bonuses are based on over-all character level; not on any one class level.
  • The bonuses gained with these rules aren’t magical. Elias may have a +2 enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls, but that doesn’t mean he can strike creatures that have “xx/magic” Damage Reduction.
  • Enhancement bonuses to damage apply to all attack rolls, but they’re not added to damage from magic spells. I’ve already introduced Spellpower – anything else is probably a step too far.
  • Defence Modifiers only overlap with the enhancement that can be applied to armour. They stack with armour bonuses, natural armour bonuses and even magical armour bonuses. The defence modifier would apply to a character wearing nonmagical armour, wielding a magical shield or wearing brancers of armour.
  • The rate at which defence and offence bonuses are acquired lags behind the bonus granted by a magical item of that level. Elias has a +2 offence bonus, but a +4 sword. The bonus doesn’t, therefore, replace the magic item – it shores up a deficiency in those who don’t have magic items at all.
  • However, offence and defence bonuses apply across the board to all characters – even those characters who may not bothered to acquire such bonuses. A 29th level wizard has a +5 offence modifier for melee attacks with his non-magical dagger.

So please have a deep and long think about this. I think it’s a behind-the-scenes change to the game. Most characters aren’t going to notice their offence and defence modifiers at the moment. It will most benefit characters that don’t have magical items improving their attack rolls, damage rolls and saving throws: I’m looking at you, Raza.

Creating Magic Items

My goal in writing these blog entries is to hammer the game into shape for the next Roleplaying Retreat, therefore I only really want to concentrate on game elements that will see play in April. The rules for creating new magical items probably isn’t one of those elements. Therefore, this entry is more of an overview of my intentions for the system than polished rules.

Although it does have some relevence for PCs choosing new feats.

My plan is to inject a heavy dose of the 2nd edition game into the rules for making permanent magical items. Instead of using the feat system for magic item creation, we will use the spell system instead. What I’ve come up with is something similar to the ritual system in 4e, but with a little more options. Bear with me, and I’ll talk you through my intentions.

Existing Item Creation Feats

Ignoring Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion (which I’ll get to in a moment) – there are six item creation feats in the core game: Craft Magic Arms and Armour, Craft Rod, Craft Staff, Craft Wand, Craft Wondrous Item and Forge Ring. The level at which you can gain these feats differs between third edition and Pathfinder (with Pathfinder being more forgiving). If I was using this system, I’d probably stick to the core third edition rules.

Once you have a feat, you can create magic items of the assigned type. All you need is the raw materials, the required gold, and access to the spells required in the item’s construction. As long as the creator succeeds a Spellcraft check then the item is made after a certain amount of time has passed.

New Item Creation Spells

In the proposed system a wizard (could be a cleric or any number of other classes, but we’ll say wizard) still gathers the required materials for the magic item. The spellcaster still needs a masterwork item to enchant, and he still needs to lay down the requisite gold to pay for the constuction. This gold represents the esoteric components required to make a magical item. The caster can substitute residuum for gold – as in the standard fourth edition rules. Some items might require very specific components that must be quested for. A Spellcraft check is still needed at the end of the process to make sure everything works, but no experience points need to be burned.

In the new system I propose a new third level spell called Enchant an Item. A wizards casts this spell upon an item to open it to enchantment. He then uses the necessary components and casts the relevent spells to create the magical item he desires. Finally, he must seal the enchantment by casting a Permanency spell. Without pemanency the magic from the item will leak after a number of days equal to the caster level of its creator. As permanency is a 5th level spell, the creation of permanent magic items is put back to ninth level at the earliest.

In addition to the spells normally associated with creating an item – an additional spell in place of the old item creation feat needs to be cast. At the moment I’m torn regarding this spell should be. It could be something as prosaic as a spell version of craft magic arms and armour, or it could be something very specific such as craft keen weapon. I’ll stick with the former idea in the following example:

For example: Fouchard the Fairly Sinister wishes to create some eyes of doom as a wedding gift for his favourite witch. First he commissions a pair of crystal lenses to be made, and gathers the requisite materials in his lab. In all the cost of the raw materials is 12,500 gp. Fortunately, Fouchard has 5000 gp worth of residuum left over from the time he destroyed a holy avenger, so he only needs to pay 7500 in gold, and make the rest up in raw magical essence. He then casts enchant an item on the lenses, followed by the new spell craft wondrous item, then by the required spells (doom, deathwatch and fear) and then finally he casts permanency to seal the magic. Now all he needs is a presentation box and some wrapping paper.

All magic items in the Pathfinder game have Caster Level prerequisites. So there will be some items that you cannot attempt to make until you are a certain experience level. The third edition Magic Item Compendium goes a step further and lists a level for each magic item, so a GM knows at which level this sort of magic item should become available. At the moment, I’m not sure which of these rules I will use. Maybe both.

On the whole, that is that… except to say that I don’t rule out requiring PCs to jump through a few more colourful hoops in their creation of magic items. This quote from the second edition DMG should always be bourne in mind: “…the final steps in the enchantment process… are defined by the DM… The character might have to take the enchanted item to the peak of the highest mountain to expose it to the rays of the dawning sun before it will be ready. He could have to immerse it in the distilled sorrows of nightingales…”.

Disenchant a Magic Item

We’ve discussed the economics of magic items and magic item shops at length in the past. I don’t really want to get into that discussion again here. However, the price to create magic items is so astronomical that even minor items are out of the price range of most spellcasters – there isn’t that much gold in existence. The currency of magic items therefore isn’t in gold – it’s in residuum. This is the raw essence of magic that can be subsituted for the gold piece cost of items – as seen in the example above.

Residuum can be purchased, but as 1 gp’s worth of residuum costs 1 gp, it isn’t cost effective if you want a large amount. By far the best way to gain residuum is by destroying other magic items. We have a new third-level spell, Disenchant a Magic Item, which allows a caster to draw the residuum out of a magic item. Disenchant a magic item only works on items of your level or lower, so you can’t disenchant the Hand of Vecna unless you’re also a demigod.

Let’s take the holy avenger from the example above. According to the Pathfinder rules the Holy Avenger has a market price of 120,630 gp and a cost to create of half that amount (60,630 gp) – it’s the same cost in third edition if you were wondering. Now, the “market price” is absolute kibble as these things would never be for sale, so let’s concentrate on the cost to create the item. If you are a high enough level to cast Disenchant a Magic Item on a holy avenger (you would need to be 18th level, by-the-by) then you could destroy the sword and gain 60,630 gp’s worth of residuum.

So the magical item economy is actually a separate entity to the conventional economy. The gold piece value of such items is seldom realised as hard cash, but simply passed from one magical item to another. As certain magic items are consumable, and others are destroyed without their residuum being reclaimed, there are actually less and less magic items available as time passes.

Scribe Scroll and Brew Potion

A final word on scrolls and potions. These minor magical items are among the few such items that are commonly for sale in magical boutiques and shady markets. I’ll be approaching these slightly differently: again to the benefit of the players.

Scribe Scroll: This ability remains as a feat, but has a much wider application than before. All spellcasters can potentially use this fear to record their spells in some fashion – using exotic inks or dyes or other items to hold the magic in place. I’ll be writing a lot more about scrolls in the final post on magic, but the nature of the ‘scroll’ will vary from tradition to tradition, and class to class. Sure, it might be a scroll for a wizard or a cleric, but its more likely to be an expertly sculpted crystal for a psion, or a bag of beaver entrails if you’re druid. Instinctive casters might have any number of ways to record their spells – many won’t bother to take the feat at all. Whatever the method, the game mechanics are identical. Creating “scrolls” will cost money or resources from the party, and will usually be dependent on a caster having a least a few ranks in an appropriate skill.

Brew Potion: This ability remains pretty much unchanged in the new game. It is still a feat with the same prerequisites. Anyone with the feat can brew a potion of any spell he can cast as long as it is third level or lower. There is still a cost involved in so doing. So for those of you who have the brew potion feat nothing has changed.

What does all this mean to players?

In the short term, these changes to the magic item creation system won’t mean a very great deal to my existing players. You can tell the new rules haven’t been properly fleshed out yet, but it isn’t something I’m inclined to look at before the Roleplaying Retreat.

What it does mean is that anyone who has an item creation feat (except Brew Potion or Scribe Scroll) doesn’t need to have that feat any more. This frees up the feat slot for something else – perhaps something that will get more use in play. I am (after all) introducing quite a few new feats to take advantage of the recharge and languor magic systems, and I want characters to feel as though they are able to take them.

And that is the real reason behind these changes. I have come to think that making item creation dependent on the feat system is a mistake. Feats are a limited resource, even in Pathfinder. Even a wizard who wants to dedicate his life to making magical items, is not going to spend all his time doing so. Creating such items is usually an off-stage activity – spending a great deal of time on one player creating magic items isn’t really fair on the rest of the group.

And if the character is only ever using all these feats off-camera, then why make them feats in the first place? Feats should be flash and showy. They are third edition’s ultimate means to customise your character. Even the stogiest of wizards should have the freedom to be flambuoyant (or take that Skill Focus feat he’s always wanted).


5 thoughts on “Magic Items

  1. Just as a note; you don’t need to add that the inherant enhancement and resistance bonuses don’t stack with the enhancement and resistance bonuses of magic items; same type bonuses never stack remember, no matter where they come from.

    Also; i see nothing wrong with characters picking up defense and attack bonuses as they level. They’re already picking up feat, talent and stat bonuses as they level; -not- improving their attack and defense bonuses seems out of place in comparison to the other inherant advancements PC’s get.

    I think it would be worth putting some time into considering magic items that are magical by virtue of being made of magical things, rather than having magical spells cast upon them. The image of the Dwarf Blacksmith forging a Vorpal Blade is one deeply ingrained into much fantasy and it has always been a pet peeve of mine that D&D didn’t allow for mostly nonmagical smiths to make magical items by using magical materials.

    Sure, implanting spell magic into a weapon is one way of making a magical blade, but forging it from star steel and quenching the blade in demon blood is another; and requires no magic in the forger. It always struck me as odd that by the rules, magical weapons started off as exceptional examples of mundane equipment that were then enchanted by the typically academic Wizards; what ever happened to forging the Sword of Truth (or whatever)?

  2. I completely agree with you about Magic Items. As I said, the rules are not in a finished form. I just wanted to announce that PC spellcasters no longer have to worry about taking Item Creation feats. This is probably something I’ll revisit over the Summer.

    That said, I seem to remember that there are rules somewhere in Pathfinder that allow for the nonmagical construction of magical items. I can’t remember where they are – maybe the Advanced Player’s Guide or in the playtest for Ultimate Magic? When the time comes, I will certainly look at incorporating them.

  3. Not sure about Pathfinder, but i remembered finding it amusing that 3.5 contained multiple magic items that were specifically stated to be magical because they were made out of magical materials, but never actually published rules for doing just that.

    iirc, there was a third party suppliment which addressed it somewhat, but i don’t think WotC ever released anything official beyond DM Fiat.

  4. Neil says:

    Just read your magic item post and have three comments:

    1. Why bother with the inherent bonuses at all? Why not simply reduce the CR? Is this too difficult? I can’t see why you can’t just say the CR is X instead of why if you know that CR X assumes a certain level of power.

    2. What is the point of your craft wondrous item spell (or whatever it ends up as)? It appears to be just something else the wizard needs to tick off as having to be able to create the item, but if you go down the route of unique magic items which require very specific ingredients (which I agree with by the way) this seems a bit pointless.

    3. I also agree with Will, mundane smiths should be able to forge magical items using Magical materials, however I would say that the smith should have to have a certain prowess to even attempt such a thing; perhaps even the equivalent of a “feat”? Basically it should be limited to a select few such mundane crafters (not necessarily just smiths).

    • In answer to your questions:

      1. Sadly the game is more complex than that. I used the CR as merely as an example of one of things that is out of kilter if the PCs don’t have magic item improving their attacks, damage rolls, saving throws and armour class. Not having magic items actually causes a problem in every part of the game – from the description of spells, to combat manouevres to the way some skills work. Clumsy as it is, it’s easier to give the PCs a few inherent bonuses than to change everything else.

      2. Probably no point in having a craft wondrous item spell. It was only there as a placeholder until I think of something better. It’s possible that each type of magic item will have a very specific spell instead of this.

      3. I agree was well. Something that should definitely be implemented. Just not on the top of my list at the moment.

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