Making Magic Items

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The root of all evil: This is part of series of five posts concerning how we handle rewards, wealth, money and equipment in the game. The other posts are on Wealth and Economics, Treasure, The Cost of Living and Experience Points. You can read them in any order, but you might want to read them all before commenting.

The rules for creating magic items in Third Edition (and Pathfinder) are complex. Magic items are divided into numerous different forms, types and categories. Each of their special features and abilities are distilled down to a monestary (gold piece) value, and from there it’s possible to calculate how such an item could be replicated by a player character.

As long as a GM only allows PCs to create items that already exist in a published book, then the process isn’t too painful. However, when you step outiside the strict guidelines of ready-made magic items and try to build something for yourself it can be more than a little confusing.

The official rules for magic item creation can be found on p548-553 of the Core Rules (2009). They are also on the Pathfinder PRD. On the whole I have no great desire to try and change them. This means that the house rules that do currently exist will have to be swept away. Well, *almost* swept away. There’s one thing that I think we should keep. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first we should consider the three tests:

The Three Tests

Narrative Integrity

The actual mechanic of using the written rules and returning Item Creation feats to the game doesn’t impact on the story of Iourn. The current house rules have never really had an airing in the game, and the number of PCs who can actually create such items is pretty low. However, there’s more to creating magic items than the mechanics.

Each item has a gold piece value, and in order to create the item the creator needs to pay half that value in material components, special candles and whatever other magical tomfoolery is required. The problem is that these sums of money can be very high. Very high indeed.

As I explained in the post on Wealth and Economics (or will explain if you haven’t read that yet) there simply isn’t enough free money sloshing around on Iourn – or any sane mediaeval economy – to allow for a trade in magic items. No one has enough money to buy them. There aren’t enough gold pieces in the world! By the same token there aren’t enough gold pieces in the world to allow for the creation of new magical items in any meaningful quantity.

This becomes a rules issue because a gp value is assigned to each item. It’s a game balance thing. PCs need that much wealth in order to make magic items. But that much wealth is in itself ridiculous. If they didn’t spend it on magic items they’d have more than the treasury of most kingdoms. Therefore something needs to be done to ensure game balance, and keep the sums of money in the economy at a reasonable level.

Games without Miniatures

Although individual magic items may make use of the tactical rules, the creation of such items is an activity that takes place outside combat. As a result there are no complaints on this score.

Our Preferences

I have no great preference for my house rules on magic item creation over the published rules, except in one area. That’s the rule I think we should maintain, and that’s the rule I intend to deal with now:

Cannabilising Magic Items

Bacially: what we need is a way to create magic items that doesn’t use gold.

In fourth edition, magic items can be drained of their magic to create a substance called residuum. This residuum can be bottled and kept indefintiely. It can be sold on. And it can be put toward the gp cost of creating a magic item. So if you had 50,000 gp worth of residuum in a bottle you could use that instead of gold to make items. I liked the rules for residuum and incorporated them into the original house rules. However, in hindsight, I don’t think they’re a brilliant fit for Iourn; so they become the inspiration for these rules instead.

I propose that spellcasters should be able to cannabilise magic items in order to gain the power that is required to make a new magic item. No special feats, spells or rituals are required. Under this system any caster who can create magic items has the ability to drain the magic from an existing item and use it directly in their casting.

This doesn’t create residuum; the magic is simply taken from the sacrificial magic item during the item creation process. It all happens seamlessly. Each magic item contributes a gp value equal to its construction cost in the Pathfinder rules. So if a party has a Ring of Water Walking that they don’t want, they can drain it of magic and it would contribute 7500gp toward the cost of a new magic item.

Within the game world this works really well. The magic item creation rules can exist in exactly as they are written, and I don’t need to make tens of thousands of surplus gold pieces appear in the economy just when a wizard wants one. Most wizards creating magic items would actively have to seek out caches of existing magic items in order to create new ones.

These rules don’t preclude PCs finding magic items in treasures or in the cold dead hands of NPCs. It doesn’t stop a wizard discovering a laboratory that has 100,000gp worth of magical components in it, or an elemental vortex that enables him to forge a Flame Tongue sword with little components at all. It won’t attack any flavour, it will just make the low-magic economy thing make sense.

As I mentioned in the section on Treasure, I will need to do more to place magic items in the path of the party. These are either items that can be kept, or items can be viewed as a resource for creating something else. I think this is the only sensible way to go about things. I can’t logically give away the sort of money that the rules would demand at each level: it’s insane and incompatible with Iourn. But at the same time, I can’t not give away the money and maintain the magic item creation rules unchanged. I don’t want to change those rules, and so this is a compromise.

Let me know what you think.

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