Regarding Magic Item Creation…

2007 November 15
by Dante

I have long wanted to make a sorcerer or mage dedicated to the art of magic item creation. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be the D&D equivalent of Santa Claus that comes rolling into town with a new complement of toys and cool magical devices? I know I would. The trouble with such a character under the normal D&D 3.5 rules is that magic item creation requires two things: a lot of dedicated time and experience loss.

Both of these things are counterintuitive to the whole notion of an adventuring party, so I never really got to execute my vision of a traveling mage that specialized in the art of magic item creation.

Learning lessons from Technology Past

For several years, I was a huge fan of the Gemstone IV multi-user dungeon (or MUD, for you acronym lovers). They handled magic item creation in a much different way than D&D… in their system they had an Enchant spell that could be used to raise the enchantment level of a particular magic item effectively raising its to hit and damage.

The trick to this system is that it required incremental casting, meaning you had to prep the item with a special (somewhat expensive) potion and cast at the item multiple times in order for the final enchantment to take. The item was extremely brittle and unusable for the multiple days (sometimes weeks) that the item was being cast upon, but it could easily be stored in a pack or something while you were working on it.

Also, the Enchant spell was very much a black box process and there was a distinct risk of failure… there was conjecture that things like time of day, amount of weight that the caster was carrying, time period between casts, and whether or not any other protective spells were active all affected the success of the cast. If the cast failed, you ran the risk of being forced to start the time intensive process over, unenchanting the item, or blowing up the item causing severe bodily damage to yourself and anyone nearby.

I found this system remarkably interesting, and it had the notable bonus of being do-able while “on the road”. The mystery surrounding the proper method for enchanting led to some very interesting rituals by those that chose to specialize in this spell, and personally I believe that all magic in roleplaying should have the same air of mystery.

Translating to D&D

I’ve seen several attempts to replace the current item creation system in D&D. I’ve seen point-buy systems, material based systems, and many other combinations therein. One system, that was created by our buddy Sir Geekelot (currently a player in our campaign, then DM of his own campaign) actually went as far as to create an entire player class encompassing this topic.

There was nothing wrong with any of these approaches, but most (if not all) were logistical nightmares, causing the player to keep track of a lot of materials, points, combinations of items, and the like. That, or the systems would be out of balance in some other way such as enabling the creation of low point cost and high power items.

None of them seemed to match the general elegance of the Gemstone style Enchant spell, and this is something that I hope D&D 4.0 addresses. If nothing comes of the 4.0 edition, I may try my hand at translating the elements of Gemstone’s enchant system myself, but I’m always concerned about game balance when introducing major new systems like that.

Has anyone else had success with an elegant enchantment or item creation system? Please share, because I sure would love to get this character out of my head!

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Doug Hagler permalink
    November 15, 2007

    I don’t now if you’re familiar with the Eberron campaign setting, but one of the semi-unique aspects of the setting is the Artificer core class. Essentially, you have a pool of item creation points every level that you can spent in lieu of experience points, so each level you can create at least a few magic items without having to cought up xp. The class also has a unique spell list for their Infusions, which are essentially temporary enchantments that can be placed on objects, among other things.

    The Artificer definitely lacks the raw firepower of the Sorcerer or Wizard, but the Santa Claus aspect is definitely there, and you can always multi-class – the Artificer benefits from high Intelligence and Charisma both, so either pure arcane caster would be a logical choice.

    In my experience, playing an Artificer, you tend to end up being something of a magic item factory for the other PCs. This ends up being a little hard to regulate at the table, but it is one solution to the problem that I agree is inherent in the 3.5 magic item creation system.

  2. Dave The Game permalink
    November 15, 2007

    Yep, I was going to recommend the Artificer too. I also like that he can leave your constructs to make the magic items for you, so that you can still adventure while supplying, instead of having to sit in town for weeks just creating.

  3. Wiz of Ice permalink
    November 15, 2007

    I essentially did away with the time factor and give out one party XP from which each player subtracts their magic item XP pool. Anyone can contribute the XP for a particular item (and the recipient of the item has always been the one to pay it).

    If the rest of the party levels and one doesn’t because his pool is too large, then I calculate the XP difference he would get being a level lower and he subtracts the difference from his pool.

    I am not in love with this houserule, but I prefer it to RAW. We discussed the possibility of making it more ingredient intensive (essentially, in order to make a particular magic item, you need a particular component), but I decided that A) these easter egg hunting trips would interfere too much with the overall story (because he makes a lot of items) and B) it would put the onus of deciding when the PCs can make an item back on the DM, forcing me to be stingy or Monty Haulish depending on who’s observing.

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