Realistic Magic Item Shopping

I’ve been discussing my previous entry on magic items being treated like commodities with a few people, and a few ideas have sprung up.

Several DMs I’ve spoken to say that they don’t allow players to automatically assume a city to have specific magic items in stock. This might not be a representative sample, since most of the people I talked to were Greyhawk fans who tend to prefer things the old-fashioned way. One such DM suggests that high magic availability is indicative of either a particularly high-magic setting like Forgotten Realms, or, I might suggest, a game which sacrifices realism in order to simplify things for players in the interests of fun and character versatility.

If you find that magic items have become too easily available, then consider these house rules for buying and selling magic items:

  • There are no “magic supermarkets” - adventurers who buy and sell these items are rare enough, and any such business openly selling magic items would be a prime target for expert thieves. In order to buy or sell a magic item, players must first locate a buyer or seller in their current town or city.
  • Doing so requires a Gather Information check. The DC of this check varies from DC10 for common items (one tenth of the settlement’s GP limit or less) to DC30 (equal to the settlement’s GP limit). Increase the DC by +2 for each of the following:
    • Item is “named” or “specific” (Celestial Armour, Oathbow)
    • Item has a special prerequisite (like “creator must be a dwarf”)
    • Item is made by a divine caster (most items are arcane)
    • Item is psionic (if psionics aren’t used in this setting)
    • Item is deemed unusually rare by DM (from another campaign setting, another continent)

    The check can be made only once per month; five ranks or more in Knowledge (arcana) grants a +2 synergy on the check.

  • Alternatively, the player characters may approach a specific person in the town, and attempt to convince them to buy, sell or trade magic items in exchange for gold or services, perhaps making use of the Bluff, Diplomacy or Intimidate skills. Depending how convincing they are, a seller might charge over the odds for the item, or request something other than money in exchange - perhaps a service commensurate to the item’s value.
  • The DM can and should make certain common items more easily available. For example, perhaps a temple produces healing potions, or a +1 sword is relatively easy to come by in a large city.
  • The GP limit (Dungeon Master’s Guide page 137) still applies. Occasionally there may be exceptions, such as a powerful NPC.
  • Some items are practically impossible to be found (+20 to the DC). Examples include custom items (such as combination items like Boots of Striding and Springing and speed), which would probably have to be specially commissioned.
  • If the check fails by ten or less, the player characters hear a rumour about where they might find their item - perhaps leading to a quest following the trail of the item. If it fails by five or less, they also have an additional lead to go on.

Commissioning a new item: Even if an item cannot be found, it’s possible to have a new one commissioned. Doing so requires the players to approach someone capable of creating the item, then convince them to make it. While some may accept straight cash, others might refuse entirely, demand an exacting service in exchange, or demand that you swear fealty to their organization (such as a mage guild, church or nation). Magic is power, and those who control the source won’t just hand it out unless it’s on their own terms.

But who can create an item? Dungeon Master’s Guide pages 138-139 gives rules for how many of each character class typically live in a settlement and their levels. As a rough guide, assume that every wizard spends on average half his bonus feats (level 5, 10, 15 and 20) on item creation feats, and that every adept, cleric, druid, sorcerer and wizard spends one third of their normal feats on item creation. A little rolling of 1d2s and 1d3s for each feat slot, and assigning feats to those slots, should give you a good idea how many spellcasters of each class and level exist who have the feat required to create your item.

After all this, however, it’s still debatable whether or not it’s a good idea to make items harder to get. Players might simply complain that it’s an extra layer of hassle that keeps them from doing what they used to do. In the end, it’s up to the individual DM whether he introduces these rules, or if he dos so at all. Perhaps a powerful dragon demands an annual tithe in magic items, causing a shortage that makes people less willing to sell theirs. Alternatively, perhaps a flux in the nature of magic itself has seen significant numbers of items to stop working properly, making them rarer. Perhaps this is something the PCs can put an end to with a quest - again, this choice is up to the DM.

Don’t forget to use the option of the players only finding a rumour about the item, leading them on a quest for it where they may have to follow a trail of clues and defeat the current owner for it. Doing so allows players to get the items they really want without feeling like it’s just a matter of selling enough junk to pay for it at the local Arcan-o-mart.