Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Creating Magic Items. Part I

One of Untimately's 20 questions was about the creation of magical items.  This is one of the areas where my tastes probably differ from most old school players.  I actually like item creation as it exists in 3e, with some  modifications. Under 1e, wizards have to wait until 11th level to create items, and under 2e they have to wait until 9th.  In 3.x, Wizards can get the scribe scroll feat at level 1, brew potion at level 3, and create wand at level 5.  This seems like it would be a total game changer at first glance, but I find that incorporating the 3.x item creation feats (these 3 in particular) into an old school game can serve to balance out the Magic-User at low levels.

There is some controversy with the 3.x item creation feats (beyond the level they can be purchased), most of which stems from the rule that requires the expenditure of XP in order to create the item.  Frankly, the XP cost is so small that I just ignore it.  For the more powerful magical items I think the idea makes sense (ie Sauron forging part of his power into the One Ring), but not for simple things like scrolls.  The other controversy that has come up in games I've been involved in is the creation of permanent items, liked a sword +1, or a ring of protection, or a bag of holding.  Under 3.x, characters can start making these sorts of items as low as level 3!.  I agree that having characters running around at level 3 creating permanent magic items could be a problem, but  rather than forcing magic-users to wait until a higher level to create these items, I just make the creation of such items more difficult than what the 3.x srd states.  But that will be another post for another day.

To me, the most important item creation feat is Scribe Scroll. By allowing low level Magic-Users to scribe scrolls, you no longer have to worry about them not being able to cast enough spells per day.  Every Magic-User should have at least 1 scroll of every spell that they know.  They are fairly cheap and quick to make.  In my game I even make most low level (level 1-3 spells) scrolls available for purchase.  The limiting factor for PC M-Us is that they have to have the spell they wish to scribe prepared.  So a level 1 M-U can either cast 1 spell or scribe 1 scroll a day.

At this point I should mention something that many GMs overlook when dealing with scroll and potion use in combat.  I don't recall very specific rules for using scrolls and potions during combat in early editions of the game, but 3.x simply requires a Move Action to ready the scroll or potion, and a Standard Action to use it.  While I don't have an problem with how using the scroll or potion is handled (unless the character is being attacked), I think that allowing characters to freely ready whatever scroll or potion they want in the middle of combat is overly generous.  Ever tried to find that exact thing you need in you bookbag or purse?  I don't have any hard and fast rules for this yet, but if a player is carrying around a bunch of scrolls or potions, they better explain how they are organizing them or it is going to be difficult to find the correct one during combat.

Which brings us to wands.  I don't want Harry Potter taking over my D&D any more than you do.  However I like the idea wizards having access to a low level combat spells (like ray of frost or a 1st level magic missle) that they can use pretty much at will.  I've been toying with the idea of giving M-Us a wand of Ray of Frost (d3 damage, ranged touch attack to hit, no save) as standard starting equipment. In my 1e games the low level M-Us just ended up throwing darts or daggers, so I don't think the cheap low level wands would unbalance things.

I've still got some mixed feelings on potions.  Creating a scroll doesn't really require a lot of material, just some paper, ink and quills, and a quiet place to write. Potions really need a laboratory.  I like the idea of low level potions being readily available to PCs (for a price), but I don't see most low level PCs having access to a lab.

1 comment:

  1. I also like magic-users to be able to create (at least some) magic items at lower levels. So few games ever make it to name level. In Holmes, magic-users can scribe scrolls at any level. The rules are (Holmes basic rulebook page 13):

    This rule [Vancian casting] places great limitations on the magic-user's power, but there are ways to partially overcome them. One is to have the spell written out on a magic scroll. Scrolls are written in magic runes that fade from the page as they are read, so a scroll also can only be used once. Magic users may make a scroll of a spell they already "know" (i.e. have in their magic book) at a cost of 100 gold pieces and 1 week's work for each spell of the first level, 200 gold pieces and 2 weeks for a second level spell (if the magic-user is third level), etc.

    Have you seen the Grognardia Dwimmermount take on wands? They are basically degenerate ray guns: