Gaming Tonic

How Should We Craft Items In D&D Next?

100553Magic has always been a major part of Dungeons & Dragons and I'm sure that will carry over into D&D Next.  Magic item creation has existed in many of the previous editions and has been handled many different ways.  I'm not sure if any of those has methods has really done much for me.  After several conversations with my regular gaming group I can say I'm not sure any of them have really been satisfied either.  Is there one way to satisfy all the different ideas that players have about magical item creation?

In previous editions magic item creation has cost Constitution permanently, experience points, feats, gold, and in 4th Edition the time it took to write down a wish list and hand it in to your Dungeon Master.  None of these have ever really made me happy.  To be fair that shortcoming was fixed a whole lot by the inherent bonus rule in 4E.    I prefer a game that doesn’t require any magic to keep the balance and so far the play test material seems to be following that pattern.  I hope that they stick with it.  There are several reasons for that and I want to talk about how it has been handled previously, and what I hope to see going forward with the 5th edition of D&D, as some call it.

First off if you have magic items cost something severe like losing a point of constitution by casting a permanency spell it will more than likely never get used.  That seemed to be my experience from playing the early editions, which I did a lot.  So if the cost is that severe why bother with creating rules that will never come up.  The creative energy of the designers can be put to better use in other areas.  There is nothing that says that PCs need to be able to create magic, but we will talk more about that later.

Having the crafter of the magic items pay experience points to craft magic items didn’t seem very popular in 3E/3.5 and I don’t think that will change much.  When I was a caster I pretty much didn’t take advantage of the ability to craft magic items because I didn’t want to lag behind the rest of the party in my overall power level.  I definitely wasn’t going to be crafting anything for anybody in my party to use.  I did play an artificer in an Eberron game and the craft pool allowed me to make items without dipping into my personal pool of experience, so I was much more satisfied with the results.  Feat taxes were also a part of this edition and we’ll talk about that now.

Having a feat that the caster has to take to create a magic item is a good mechanic in my opinion.  Is it perfect?  No, but it does allow for the caster to choose to follow that path and doesn’t assume it is just part of the base class abilities.  Feats that reduced the experience cost, gold piece cost, and time were part of the options for magic item creation and made the creator character a lot more playable.  Still I didn’t see many items being created.  If there was a feat tax as well as an experience point cost, gold, and a considerable amount of time it really just took too much to craft an item.  If it was a system that just cost a feat tax and gold then I have seen it get used, such as in Pathfinder.

Magic items could just cost gold to create but I don’t think that is enough of a deterrent to not have casters just creating magic items all the time and flooding your game with them.  Assuming that they cost less than the resell value you could just have your game turn into a game of magical merchants continuously fiddling with enchanting items and this is an adventure game and the players that have characters that are not interested in this will probably be bored.

One solution is to not have magic item creation in the game at all.  This forces the players to have to go out and adventure to gain magic items.  If you pair this with a game where magic items are not necessary it allows the DM to have some fun and put some real magic into the game.  This would be closer to what I would want to see in D&D going forward but I understand that you need to explain away how all these wondrous magical items came into existence.  It seems to follow along with lots of fantasy literature and film.  Rarely does it seem that a character in a book finds a dagger +1.  Instead Elric has Stormbringer, Tasselhoff has Rabbitslayer, and Drizzt has Icingdeath and Twinkle.  These were items worth adventuring for, and can often be the focus of an adventure.

My favorite idea would be a feat that was necessary to craft magic items or a prestige class/paragon path that a character would have to take to allow them to craft magic, excluding potions and scrolls.  In order to craft items material components that were unusual would be necessary.  This would make characters have to adventure to gather the components or to gather the amount of gold that would be necessary to purchase them.  Although I'd make it very expensive to purchase the items so the character is much better off to go adventuring.  If you want a Ring of True Seeing then you’d need something like the central eye of a beholder to use in the creation of the item.

This approach to magic item creation would also allow a lot of options as D&D Next expands and the monster descriptions would really become a lot more interesting.  Not only do you gain experience for monsters, but in some respects the carcass becomes another piece of the treasure.  How the monster fits in the world would be more relevant to the game and those “Ecology Of” articles would really return to being great additions of fluff and crunch to enhance your game.

Potions and scrolls would fall into a whole different level but could still use these ideas to enhance their magic possibly.  Magic item creation isn't the most important part of D&D but it has become a part that gamers expect.  Perhaps we will see casters able to make potions and scrolls and the rest of it to come at a later time.  How important is magic item creation to you and the rest of the gamers you play with?  I know it has sparked a lot of debate among my friends.  If you were the designer of 5th Edition what would you do?  The comment section is there for you to voice your opinion, so feel free to use it.  Until next time, Roll Hard!

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  1. Personally, I think the biggest problem with item creation was the time it took- just about every game of D&D I’ve been in has been a brutally fast-paced race against time to prevent some massive apocalypse from taking place, leaving absolutely no time for the creation of scrolls or potions, never mind weapons or armour. And you know what? That was good. Fast paced games are cinematic and dramatic, just like a real adventure should be- can you imagine a big blockbuster fantasy film that just comes to a dead stop for a few weeks while the party goes and crafts things? My main point is that item creation should be fast, never taking more than a day, in fact, instant item creation, like in Skyrim, might be a good idea. It may not feel realistic (insofar as magical enchantment can be realistic), but it is more fun, and isn’t that what’s really important in a game?

    • See, I feel 100% the opposite. Imbuing an item with a permanent magical effect is serious business and worthy of a quest in and of itself.

      • that all depends on the effect, i mean +1 or +2 should be so simple for a magic user that as long as you have the right components it should be like casting any other spell. now something like elemental effects or powerful enchantments might have a quest to get the components, but the enchanting should be no more or less difficult than throwing fireballs.

  2. I actually disagree with Timothy. But I don’t think that items should take eons either. The designers have been talking about this mechanic called “downtime” (though, like them, I hope they change the name). It’s a period of 7 days or so, 10 days I presume in FR, but it’s basically a week. During this week, your character can do one thing, one purposeful meaningful thing in that week. A fighter could craft his own armor, a rogue could run a caper with his guild, etc. A week is enough time that is uninterrupted to make a magic item I feel; any faster and I feel you’re taking away from the severity of such a permanent and important aspect to the game.

    Another thing, I know this sounds kinda corny, but…gems. I’ve always disliked how adventurers simply turn gold coins into magic items. I know it may be just a detail, but gems, and other rare items should be required for such items. If a town doesn’t have a spider-eyed garnet, well, that’s something the group needs to find—and a good DM would provide several different ways for them to accomplish that.

    • What you said about the gems Shimmertook is dead on with what I feel. I like the idea that something rare is required to accomplish crafting of a magical item. It allows the DM to prepare adventures around questing for something specific that is necessary to accomplish the craft. If you are in Waterdeep their might be a way to purchase something although if it is rare it could seriously drain the party coffers forcing them to adventure. If you are in a small time you could pick up a rumor about the location of the item and that could lead to an adventure. You will notice a theme of going on an adventure to get something done.

      I also like the downtime idea of a week because that allows the players to have their characters develop personalities, interests, and subplots for their characters. Accomplishing one meaningful thing during that time can also help keep a good pace of the game instead of working out what the characters do and who they talk to in a minute by minute schedule. Great thoughts!

      • Also, if a DM already has plenty of stuff planned and doesn’t want to get sidetracked, it could be just a matter of shopping by the players. That “adventure” to get a spider-eye garnet doesn’t necessarily need to include an all out dungeon dive, maybe it’s robbing a jeweler, maybe it’s talking up the constable, maybe it’s cashing in on a favor, or something like that.

  3. The idea of using feats for this is fine, in theory, but it reflects a now outdated way of thinking about character advancement. The problem with this in Next is that the game is designed to be feat-free at it’s core. Feats are not only optional, but the game is specifically designed to be balanced without them. They have further reinforced this by making feats so scarce, that you only get one at levels 3, 6, and 9, and never again. This has caused a lot of frustration for my group currently doing a level 14 playtest and realizing that the Next characters are a lot less dynamic/flexible/capable than we are used to due to less abilities through feats.

    If you use a feat to be able to craft magic items, that’s going to be a substantial part of who your character is. But that won’t even be an option if you aren’t playing with the optional rules.

  4. Yeah, I can’t help but think that a feat for crafting items is a terrible idea. It just seems like a worthless tax and as a wizard or cleric or whatever I don’t want to sink one into one of my precious slots because the rogue wants some fancy boots and the fighter wants a sword on fire. If those things can be found on adventures it doesn’t feel like you’re gaining much by investing a feat to craft your exact tools.

    I would like to see item crafting available only after 10th level, so they maintain their precious nature. If the group wants a particular item or items, they should bring it up to the DM. The DM then puts a laundry list of things that need to be done or obtained in order to find or build such a thing, and those things should be as rare as or on par with the value of such an item (a bag of holding might require three things: a simple sack, a “voidless gem” and a ritual of endless space). Perhaps if the DM wants to speed things along, a copy of the ritual might actually be found by a local mystic healer in the town they’re in—the group can choose to purchase it off him, steal it from him, maybe pull a favor, etc. Anyway, the DM can basically make those three things as easy or as difficult to find/achieve as he wants so it doesn’t entirely strip the campaign off its tracks, but still gives the PCs the sense that THEY are the ones who came up with a goal and achieved it.

    Taking it just a tiny step forward, magic needn’t always be so scripted so that only a wizard could do such a thing. Perhaps one of the components to crafting Frostbrand is that a normal sword must be immersed in ice for 10 days while held in the hands of its owner. Maybe it’s specific ice found only in xyz Mountains if the DM wants to emphasize it requires travel and potentially an adventure, but maybe it’s just regular ice. Either way, maybe the fighter or barbarian with extremely high constitution is the one who comes through with the *feat* of accomplishing the task which forges the magical nature of Frostbrand. Not only will this make the player feel more accomplished and attached to the item thereafter, but it redefines magic so that it doesn’t feel like a factory—sometimes it is unexplainable, and that is, likely, the very definition of magic.

    • I like the idea of having magic items require rare magic components. I don’t think it needs to take a lot of time. Downtime ought to be fine for something small, but by requiring components you create an adventure, either side-quest or full blown, mattering on where the game goes. :)

  5. Frankly I don’t see the sense in redoing the rules again. Players already have multiple versions of D&D rules to choose from, and nearly all of us create our own own house rules to fill in gaps or replace what we don’t like. I know that from a business point of view the goal is to sell another set of books, but from a player point of view that’s redundant.

    So how else can you keep monetizing D&D? With services! Other companies and individuals have created a growing collection of online RPG tools for players and GMs. There are tools for map drawing, campaign authoring and journaling, online tabletops, and a plethora of random generators. The one thing these tools can never provide, but Wizards can, is official D&D content. So far the company has done little in this area. The DDI tools are poorly integrated and the Communities site cautions users not to include copyrighted content such as monster stats.

    But using official content is the whole point of user participation. An enormous volume of official raw material exists. How about creating a playground where players can use it in a sanctioned way? This is the business model behind social networking sites – provide an environment, let users generate content, and paste ads all over it. Wizards could do that, but it would only work if you let users use official content. That’s what would make a Wizards service unique. I would sign up for that.

  6. How’s this for an idea, which i’ve only just had, so there may be some bugs in it:

    1: The characters decide what kind of item they want and do some research on how to make the item. This itself could be dangerous, what dragon wouldn’t keep an eye out for anyone trying to work out how to make a dragon bane weapon. They might even plant false information to confuse would be dragon slayers.

    2: The party quests for the ingredients which should be more difficult, the more powerful or valuable the the item will be, as well as having some obvious connection to the kind of item desired.

    3: They travel to an appropriate location which should also be more dangerous depending on how powerful the item will be. Maybe the dragon bane weapon above requires traveling to the dragon graveyard for example.

    4: They perform a ritual involving the location and ingredients, possibly while fighting off opposition. The ritual might even need to take place at a certain time of day/month/year again connected to the type of item.

    5: Assuming all goes well, they gain a shiny new item. Of course if the research wasn’t quite right it may not be exactly what they wanted, but them’s the breaks.

    My reasoning for this approach is that there’s lots of opportunities for adventure along the way. There’s also no feat or skill tax, it doesn’t necessarily require spellcasters and explains why there aren’t that many magical items.

    That questing stuff is dangerous, few non-adventurers would survive. It also offers a chance to make each item that much more unique. Two flame blades might look totally different from each other if one used fire dragon teeth and another used brass acquired from the Efreeti.

    Don’t forget of course that the Efreeti might want that brass back, or some relative of that fire dragon might want to avenge the insult to their family. Which is a neat way to give the party an item they need to deal with a specific foe, then take it back off them again when they no longer need it. Or as a believable way of taking an over-powerful item out of play.

    Anyway, any thoughts?

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