In March I discussed magic items being too easy to buy and offered some ways to make it more realistic. After a lot of discussion, it strikes me that as unrealistic as Magic Shop Syndrome is, it’s a rule of third edition that magic equipment can be bought and sold, and denying your players their shopping trips in the interests of realism is removing something that many players enjoy.
In other words, if your players are used to carting back unwanted items as vendor trash while treating the back of the Dungeon Master’s Guide as a shopping catalogue, they’re probably quite enjoying this part of the game and even relying on it as part of character progression. Of course, this freedom causes problems that aren’t covered in the manuals, because they didn’t exist in earlier editions and didn’t occur to the original writers. It encourages a new level of powerplay, it’s more paperwork to record and handle all that vendor trash, and it strains realism to buy and sell rare equipment so easily. Thankfully, there are solutions.
In terms of power-play and min-maxing, this can actually be a good thing. Experienced players enjoy buffing their characters with rare and valuable magic items, and have played for long enough to know what items they want.
Realism can be handled by enforcing common sense and a few existing rules. First and foremost, there’s the gold piece limit per settlement – travelling to a sufficiently large settlement takes time, or at least a prepared teleport spell. At 200 gp, a village won’t even have any masterwork weapons for sale, having a few minor potions at best. A small town may offer wands of cure light wounds and all but the top tier of potions, but at 800 gp you’re not going to have significant equipment. A large town is the smallest to offer you a +1 weapon, will have any potion you wish, and any wondrous item up to 3,000 gp, which includes basic staples like the cloak of resistance +1. Traveling to a small city you’ll find anything up to 15,000 gp, which includes +3 armor and +2 weapons and the important “+2 ability score” equipment. A large city (40,000 gp) will see you up to +6 equivalent armour and a +4 weapon, as well as the +6 ability score gear and all but the top tier of rings and wondrous items. Naturally, most adventurers will want to settle in a metropolis, whose 100,000 gp limit offers any item short of the ridiculously expensive: the manual of bodily health +5, ring of elemental command, staff of life, +8 equivalent weapons or better, and artifacts which cannot be purchased.
There’s also the gruntwork of selling, which can be largely glossed over as long as it’s described well enough. The general idea is to make sure players know that they aren’t buying and selling at some anonymous magic-mart. It may take several days to line up buyers and sellers for all the equipment they’re selling, and these rich buyers and sellers have names and faces. Don’t forget that items must be identified before sale, costing 110gp per item. This is your tax for having to look the item up in your notes.
When it comes to the paperwork, a piece of advice I agree with is to let the players handle as much of it as possible. Have one of the players take responsibility for recording “party loot”, ideally using a bag of holding. Next, very importantly, have the players do all the adding up. You should only have to tell them the prices of items that aren’t in the DMG, such as gems and jewellery which you can make up if you don’t know. You do have to trust your players not to embezzle you, but the alternative is that your players hand you an itemized bill and sit bored while you count their money for them. Your players should have that pleasure themselves.
In summary, if you’re DMing for experienced players who know what they want, you might as well just let them buy magic items. Just make sure they get the feeling that there’s no such thing as a catch-all magic shop for high-level items, and make sure it’s the players who get to enjoy the gruntwork.