Constructing Magical Items

Creating magical items? No, I’m not talking about creating brand new items . . . though I suppose that I could be! But more specifically, I’m talking about an 11th level clerics and wizards ability to create their own magical items and devices.

This is one of those things which requires some forethought, the most important thing to consider is that we don’t want players creating every magic item in the DMG. Magic items are rare, they require lots and lots of work for the characters to create, the harder you make it, the more the players will understand why not everybody they fight are all carrying around wands of the Arch-Mage and dressed in Robes of Blending while running around in Boots of Speed, throwing beads of force at all of the darkness.

Demographics is the answer. At 4th level, magic-users can start creating their own scrolls, this makes them fairly common. At 7th level they can start brewing their own potions, making them less common then scrolls but more common then magical items. How many wizards and clerics actually have what it takes to get to 11th level? Well, that depends on your world! I would say that a large kingdom would have only a handful of mages and priests powerful enough to create a magical item. That is how the demographics of the game work, if they don’t work in this way, if magical items are too plentiful, then the game will become boring. Discovering a magical item should be exciting as hell! Fighters shouldn’t ever discard +4 swords for Flameblades, the very fact that they have a +4 sword should be reward enough!

Now, with that over-blown and blatantly power-mad opinion out of the way, lets get back to constructing our magical item. A sad fact of the game is that by now, every player has read the DMG at least once, and many of them have a good idea of what kind of stuff is in there, specifically magical swag! I may sound like an old fart now, but this never used to be the case. It kind of destroyed a lot of the mystic qualities of the game, but, as they say, never look back! Players today are much more informed then they ever were in the past (or as old grognards say, they are cheating their a$$es off). With this in mind, we have to convince them that they read it wrong. The only person who knows what or how to make these things is you, the DM, and then tell them to go get you a nice cold beverage from the fridge.

While they are doing that, lets talk about exactly how to go about doing this without losing whatever it is that keeps your game unique. Yes we want to limit the players abilities to a level that we can live with. We like keeping things balanced so that we don’t have to come up with all of these pain in the butt scenarios involving gods and Armageddon. We want to limit the game, after all, that is what we are there for. But we have to do this without ever out-right saying the word “NO”. No is always too limiting, and while the players depend on you to set limits upon them, they don’t want their ideas or actions limited in any way. Never say no, no matter how crazy or insane, try to find a way to do it in a way that you can live with it, and as long as the character gets something along the same lines as they wanted then they’ll be happy.

The first thing that we have to do is figure out exactly what the player wants. This is going to be expensive for them, and harder then heck to complete. Of course they may not realize this at the time, but we can silently beam knowing what kind of hells and pain that we’ll be able to reap upon them.

Hopefully they’ll want something that we’ve already got plans for, or something that we can work with. Once the player has announced his intentions, then we can figure out what all goes into making it happen. This is a lot like researching a new spell, it will involve a quest for the perfect vessel, the hard to find components, riddles to solve, in a word: DANGER! Of course we keep this information close to our chests. While we’ll know exactly how to go about creating a broom of flying or something as simple as a rod of magic missile chucking, we won’t tell this to the player. They have to pay for the information, spending lots and lots of their hard earned cash renting the use of a library, hiring a sage, or whatever our evil minds can dream up. The magical item can involve components, rituals, formulas, magical rites, planetary alignments, blessings preformed by mythical beasts, finding a scroll filled with riddles, the sky is the limit! We want this to be as mysterious and as occult as possible. Once we’ve figured this out, then it is up to the player to try and drag it out of us, stopping just short of ritualized torture before spilling all of the beans.

Of course, once he finally does get this information, he still has to assemble the proper materials and complete other tasks to achieve the goals he’s set out for himself. All of this will be expensive and time consuming, requiring more adventures to finance and collect stuff, YAY!!!!

Wizards don’t spend all that much money on equipment, this is where there money is suppose to go so don’t be feeling guilty. The more powerful the object is, the harder and longer that it will be to complete.


There are many ways to go about doing this, but the best is the grocery list method. Some of these items will be practical, but very rare. They should make sense to what you are doing, but be different from spell components since it is assumed that the wizard always has the components that he needs, these can include plants which grow only in certain areas (far away of course), grizzly bits and pieces of monsters, precious stones and jewels, etc., but a few of the items should be absolutely crazy! The more powerful the magic, the more crazy items you put in the list. Now these things takes some ingenuity on your part. Perhaps an item called Underwater Fire can be found under the ocean depths, a volcanic flame so hot that not even the salty murky water can extinguish it, it is up to the player to devise some method of getting it up to the surface, if he only needs it to heat a specific item, such as the call of a raven, he simply needs to take a bit of the fire up to the shore to burn a wooden ravencalling whistle.

You can go really bizarre here, things that will take the player a while to think about, and require additional spells to bring about, such as a listing as “Whisper of Grizzly Bear” could require the wizard to locate a grizzly bear and cast a spell which will give it a voice, then convince it to recite an incantation over the bark of brier tree which was struck by lightning (which required a journey and casting a lightning spell).

Wands don’t have to be made of wood either. Perhaps a lightning bolt striking specific sand in the heart of a desert will form a small column of colored glass which can be dug up and used as the vessel to contain lightning bolt spells? Imagination is the limit, and this is the perfect time to strut your stuff.


Players can create dang near anything in the DMG, but we won’t let them create Artifacts, Magical Books (with the exception of Spell Books), or intelligent weapons. These things are only created by Dungeon Masters, and that is it.

Some items also require a specific race to create them. Elven Chain Mail can only be created by elves, Dwarven Warhammers can only be created by Dwarves, Halfling Staves of Endless Whining are only made by halflings. Under rare cases we may have a race assist an out of race character to complete the item, but we shouldn’t make a habit of it.

A magical item is also, of course, restricted to items that are available in the world. No new technologies can be created by the player. If you are playing in a distinctly Roman, Bronze Age campaign, you don’t want anything messing up the flavor of it . . . though, what a wizard is doing in a bronze age campaign is beyond me.


A wizard (in spite of what the player may claim), never trusts anyone to construct materials for him. Too much time and energy is involved for him to ever trust the faulty work of others whom he doesn’t oversee or respect. If he is constructing a sword, he won’t be able to construct the sword himself, but he will be able to supply the specific metals, drawing out the specific runes and symbols for the craftsmen and supervising the procedure as it is completed by master craftsmen to insure the best workmanship possible. After all, this is serious business! He may hire the work to be done, but he must supervise, and the cost that he will be willing to pay is astronomical. Only the finest will do! This is a hard limit.

Say that the wizard is looking to create a magical ring. He must collect the valuable metals, finding a dwarven village he pays for them to create the perfect block of metal mined from a spot which the wizard deems perfect. He takes this block of metal to an elven village, where master artists mold and shape the ring in the desired method, finally, he’ll take the ring to a gnome village, and have them finish the ring with a fine stone which he pulled from some dangerous dungeon. All of this required tasks to be preformed for each of the races involved in the creation process. This doesn’t even consider the oils and components required later on, or discovering the ancient rites and incantations required to bind the proper magics into the ring itself. All of this was done just to get a proper vessel that can hold the magical energies properly without fear of it exploding or warping during the intense rituals which will come later. The price for the vessel should be at least 1,000 gp, but preferred to be 10,000gp or even higher! Perfection does not have a cheap price tag.


Once you have collected all of your materials, or your grocery list, they will all need to be prepared for the magical energies. Some of this can be done out in the field, but other things need further purity. Our ring, for instance, will need to be soaked in mild acids which will burn any further impurity which the gnomes may have missed. Other materials may need to be mixed with herbs and potions before they are capable of being of any use to us. This stage will cost an additional 500gp at minimum. We’ll be doing this in our lab, it will also require all of our concentration, thus we won’t be able to go adventuring again until this task is complete, which can take several weeks!


At this stage, we are finally ready to begin the rituals and rites required to create the item. It always starts with casting an Enchant Item spell. As soon as we cast this spell, it is now ready for further magics. The final ingredients are added and consumed by the item, the proper spells which we wish to embed within the item must be cast, and finally, if we want the item to be permanent, a permanency spell is cast. If this last spell is forgotten, then the item will have the equal amount of spells as the wizard or priest put into it. A staff of healing, for example, if the priest cast 13 healing spells into it, then it has only 13 charges in it. A permanency spell turns the staff into a proper staff of healing.

This process may require some spell research beforehand. A wizard must first find the existing spells, namely Enchant and Item, and Permanency, but odd items which require magics that are unknown to the world, such as the magic used to create Gauntlets of Dexterity will require a new spell to be researched by the wizard before enchantment can begin.

Finally, once the magic is all in place, everything is done and the wizard is finished we must make a success roll. Mistakes can go unnoticed, perhaps flies laid eggs in our eye of dragon? A bead of Dwarf sweat dripped upon the metal while smelting? We ourselves had to sneeze and became more attentive to holding this back then what we should have, regardless, the base chance of success is 60% with a bonus of 1% per level of the magic-user. If this roll was successful, then the item is finished! However if it fails . . . either the item is cursed, we become delusional about it, or all of that work was all for not and it is forever ruined.

THIS is why magical items are rare. This is why there aren’t any stores that sell bags of holding, swords +5, and girdles of Giant Strength. The money going into creating them is astronomical, the amount of work exhausting and as far as mass marketing these things goes . . . impossible.

Hopefully this will help the player understand the world which his character is fighting for a little bit better. Maybe, just maybe, it will make even those Arrows+3 more treasured? Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know. Some players are just plain old boneheads, ain’t they.

ART BY: Mitchell


Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, sorry if this is too long, but I hope you get a kick out of this...

I like the hard to find poetics of creating magic items, whispers of Bears are my favorite! I have been blessed to have older players who never read the DMG and trust me to explain the rules of the game to them. On top of that, they gravitate to fighters, rangers and thieves. To get them to play the party magic user they consider a chore. Hence a low level campaign with few, few magical items. +1 blade they missed in the treasure trove they didn't find... Evil Overseer's Whip Of Stunning they destroyed, didn't even try to sell it for gold, because the illustration of the item I showed them had some really evil looking gargoyle faces carved into the handle. Our CLERIC thought the item was evil and possibly possessed, and best be destroyed. So, no munchkins, my bunch.

With regards to magic, Picture a wizard going to the shop and asking, do you have any second level scrolls? I do believe I have just reached level Three and threfore I can now scribe Second Level Spells. Have you got any second level scrolls?

I consider the conept of spell levels artificial and undid it. Neither did I want the magic user gatling guns using spell points.

Solution? Schools of Magic, ability to use the Verbal, somatic and material components are skills that a magic user can learn and improve. Ancient languages(several setting specific, schools of magic and spells are also culture specific), calligraphy, alchemy are all skills into which a wizard have to invest in the long run. RQ sytem, like, skills improve with use. Trying to work with a spell above the wizard's level, halves the skill for each level of magic above the wizard's. A first level wizard trying to learn a Fireball spell will do so at 1/4 of his ability. Considering that all skills start out at 18-40% on the percetile scale and that it would take about a week to learn to cast that spell on the first attempt, you are talking months on end before a first level wizard can learn a Fireball spell, and there are always critical fumbles.

The cruxt of the mechanic is the Wizard Mastering a spell. Instructor helps. Wizards Guilds charges a lot of money for membership and instruction. Sort of like realtors associations. If the Wizard has learned basic skills to PERFORM a spell, he may attempt to LEARN TO CAST THAT SPELL, rolling against all of the requisite skills until s/he gets it all right. It takes four hours to learn a first level spell? It takes a day to try and master it. Any roll fails, it's over and wizard is tired and exhausted will have to try the next day. Once all the skill rolls succeed and the spell is cast, the wizard is assigned a skill percentage of success with that particular spell. The percentage is affected by how well or how poorly the player rolled against those component skills when learning the spell. Each wizard develops their own strengths, weaknesses and styles.

From there on the wizard only needs to prepare for his magical performance, two or three hours and make that spell roll. Roll again if it fails. After that the wizard can cast the spell many times, until the fatigue and stress make wixard lose his or her composure and get out of practice. First spell is always cast. If the wizard loses a spell because of damage or he casts it for the second time, Wizard makes a Costitution check on 1d20. If he makes it, he cats a spell again, if he doesn't he forgot some important detail and can't cast it. To cast THAT SAME spell for the second time, wizard will have to do a CON check at -1, to cast the spell for the third time, will be CON-2 etc until the wizard fails. The wizard can try to cast the spell again, but each additional attempt will be done at additional -1 penalty whegher the spell was cast or not. This is very similar to temporary muscle failure in weight training. Martial Arts type "Spell Focus"training can make the Wizard stay in the fight longer.

This makes the gameplay so much more realistic: Wizard may go into battle with two, three, or four spells, cast them a certain number of times, and then start forgetting them, which one first? after how many times? as the wizard gets hammered into exhaustion. Unpredictable, fickle nature of magic as opposed to memorize spell/Use Spell, Memorize Spell/use spell of the traditional AD&D rules.

RQ style, each spell has a chance to improve only after it was used successfully in the game. In case of magic missile, it would mean, that magis missle was the last attack that dropped the opponent. In case of invisibility, the use of an invisibility spell led to some successful outcome in the adventure.

With regards to magic research, necessry to create new spells and magic items, Wizard needs a lab to work in, and librarues and books. Who says magical libraries are free? How much will an alchemy lab cost? performers for the rituals? Craftsmen to create the item to be enchanted? How about the prime materials that are neneded to make the items?

In today's market, a small knife made of real Damascus steel costs about $250, a dagger about $750, a well designed damascus dagger will cost about $2,500 USD. Similar dagger finished with precious metals and gems for the Saudi types will fetch $10,000 to $15,000 USD. Any takers? And this is out modern world where cutlery is no longer the weapon of choice. How much would Damascus steel or Japanese craftsmanship cost in the D&D world, where swords are the assault rifles of the day?

And that's another question, whaty wouild be the difference between a magical item and a finely crafted one from the finesrt materials. Never mind the cost, the King paying 10,000 gp for his sword. Do we just chalk it up to "Magic +2 sword" whether it's magic or finely crafted? I would tend to think that a finely crafted weapon will do more damage and will not break as easily in a critical fumble, but a non-magical weapon will not incur any of the "to hit" bonuses. Just throwing a thought out there. In my gold starved world, where hungry and wet characters do things to rescue their family members, they haven't got enough gold to look at fine weapons. Where would we be if the sergeant at arms didn't feel sorry for them and didn't give them a couple of shirts of chain mail? Get this, they just finished a hard adventure, and a local Earl will throw a feast in their honor and will try to retain the services of their main tank as a fencing instructor for Earl's men. There will be intrigue and they will have to set up a fencing school in a barn and an adjoining ruined farmhouse, that the Earl will most graciously lease to them if they properly carry themselves through a few insults and intrigues at the feast...That will be the next weekend's adventure.

I know, more D&D heresies...

RipperX said...

The magic system has always been a prime motivator for house rules. I remember being a kid and just not understanding how the one in the book worked, or playing a wizard and getting frustrated. I will admit that I have never heard of the system which you talk about, if I was younger I would definitely had tried it. We used that stupid spell points crap and gave wizards access to all spells that he could cast. The logic behind it came from a player who purchased those big old compendium books of spells, claiming that he wasn't going to spend that kind of money and not be able to use it.

The biggest problem with the system was for the DM, it took so much work designing NPC wizards that we never used them. WE DID LEARN THE SPELLS THOUGH!!! I mean, as a player, we did get something out of doing that, but now as an adult player, I can see the logic and charm behind a restricted spell casting system, and I'm very happy with how it handles itself on its own terms.

Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, it's house rules. Find a copy or Runequest and see how they handle skills and skill improvement. That bit is amazing and does wonders for the AD&D non-weapon proficiency system. RQ has its flaws, and is ultimately weak on its own, as everything would be, since the TSR came out with the gaming infrastructure - hundreds of spells and monsters etc, and copyrighted everything so that everyone else had to work around the AD&D.

I remember way back when I met a guy who was writing a novel, his life's work. He played through the "Against the Giants" series and was basing his story on that. I looked at him and thought, he will never publish it, everything he talks of has been copyrighted by TSR. Then I thought of the TSR logo - "Products of your imagination". In the very real sense they have copyrighted the building blocks of this guy's imagination and made it impossible for him to publish his novel on its own terms. This was in 1986, and I remember thinking, Bastards!

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