Magic item creation in 3rd edition is a far cry from the tortuous process of 1st edition – more structured and accessible, but sadly lacking in zest. Casting our minds back to reflect on the ‘old ways’ of 1e, you had to be at least 12th level and expend considerable time and resources on the creation of even a +1 Dagger, with no certainty of success. Generally speaking, magic users in 1st edition who were able to create magic items never bothered with anything so trivial as a +1 dagger -the overhead simply didn’t justify it, and you’d probably have picked up something better than that by then anyway. They’d only ever bother with creating items of significant power. If you were going to lock yourself in a room with a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door for weeks on end it had to be for something good.
This mechanic failed to explain the existence of countless low-powered magical items that tended to populate minor treasure hoards in 1e.
Fast forward to the year 2000. 3rd edition arrives and with it a new mechanic for creating items, that allows lower level spellcasters in on the act. Oh yes, 3rd edition made magic item creation much easier.
Unfortunately, in this DM’s opinion, it went a little too far the other way and made it too easy. All you need do is be of the right caster level (as low as 1st in the case of some items), have the right feat, you expend a little money and some xp and a small amount of time (typically just a day) and presto! Your magic item is created. It became a rather mechanical, soulless process and certain to succeed if you met the prerequsites – there’s no frisson of risk involved, and everything is just too tidy and neat. This has two downsides. The first is that I want my magic item makers to have to grub around in the entrails of some magical beast they’ve hunted down to acquire that fresh, dripping levitation organ they need for their magic carpet – not just buy some ‘magic powder’ down the local market. The second downside is that it invites the grisly spectre of player entitlement in through the door. I could write a lot about that subject itself, but I won’t here. Hopefully you’ll grok what I’m talking about.
I’ve introduced some house rules in our campaign to inject a little 1e flavour and goodness into the process whilst retaining the upsides of the 3e mechanics. I’ve even expanded the scope of the system to allow more flexibility in terms of collaborative item creation, though as you will see, this increased flexibility comes at a price.
So, here goes with the first bit.
- Every magical item will require a special component, not generally available on the open market. This will usually be a piece of some creature that the wizard needs to source themselves, although components for items of up to +2 equivalence might be available for sale in a large city – it will very much depend on the nature of the item in question. The more powerful the magical item, the scarcer the component is likely to be. In some cases, particularly items of +4 value or greater, the item can only be enchanted at a special location and/or time.
- In keeping with our standard campaign currency downscaling, all gp costs are to be divided by 10. However, other calculations based on gp cost (eg xp cost) will be performed based on the original cost before the division by 10 occurs. (This is obviously a campaign-specific thing, you’ll need to adjust or discard to suit your own campaign)
- Number of days to manufacture will now be in two parts – a ‘base’ number of days, and a variable number of days based on the outcome of Spellcraft checks (to be outlined hereafter). The Base number of days is calculated from the xp cost divided by 250, rounded up to the nearest whole number.
- After the base number of days are expended, a Spellcraft check must be made. This is DC 15 + 2 x Base number of days. If this fails, an additional number of days must be expended equal to half the Base Days, rounded up. Then another Spellcraft check is made. The process is repeated, potentially indefinitely until success is achieved – whereupon the item is created – or a ‘critical’ failure occurs.
- Every 10% compound increment that is added to the materials cost expended in item creation (specified at the start of the process) will add +1 to the Spellcraft check result. XP costs are unaffected.
- If a natural ‘1′ is rolled on one of these Spellcraft checks, make another check immediately at -5. If this fails, or another natural ‘1′ is rolled, the item creation process fails (‘critical failure’).
- In the event of failure, any xp expenditure of less than or equal to 100xp is automatically recouped; and 90% of xp over and above the first 100xp is also recouped.
- The item itself cannot be enchanted in the event of failure, but still remains a quality item that is worth 25% of the base materials cost. Another 25% of the materials cost is recouped in the form of re-usable components. The rest is lost. The quantity of any ‘special’ hard-won components (magical organs or whatever) that are lost is at the DMs discretion in this event.
- Optionally, allow for a critical success: a natural ’20′ succeeds, and the item creator may make a second check at -5. If this second check succeeds, the item acquires a ‘free bonus’ power, at the DM’s discretion. This might even be intelligence – a stray spirit is captured and bound into the item (possibly unwillingly, or possibly the spirit elected for this to happen to enable it to exert some influence in the world). It is not suggested that intelligence should always be the additional power, in fact it would occur in a minority of cases. But if the DM is kind, and it seems appropriate, probability (or destiny) might favour the PCs (I would probably make some kind of open dice roll, with a DC appropriate to the situation).
So, there you have it. Mostly, the above modifications tend to make item creation more difficult and risky, without putting the mockers completely on minor item creation (you don’t stand to lose much if you fail to enchant that +1 Dagger, apart from a bit of time and money). In the next part I’ll examine collaborative item creation, which I have made more flexible than the rules-as-written.