Hard Look and the Infinite Cost of Magic Items

I'm the first to admit that anything is better than magic items costing 300,000,000 gold. We need to get a gold system for the game that feels real, or at least doesn't fuel gamer jokes. At first I thought the idea that magic items are beyond gold value was a clever solution that just removed the argument from the board totally...but then I thought about it.

You're an adventurer. You can buy a +1 dagger that gives you a +1 to hit and a maximum of 5 damage instead of 4--or you can buy a short sword which gives you a maximum 6 damage without the plus to hit. That decision feels about evens to me. Yeah you can hurt otherwise impossible to damage creatures with a magic weapon...but still does that make it's value so far beyond gold that you can't even figure it? A torch can kill a troll when nothing else can, and it isn't expensive beyond gold.

It's just weird. +1 leather and a chain shirt are pretty effectively the same thing. Even objects that have magical effects that go beyond plusses still don't seem so powerful as to no longer be quantifiable. How much is a ring of featherfall? How much is a parashute? Why the discrepency?

Having magic items be worth infinite gold more just feels like a dodge--sooner or later we're going to have to address it, and when we do it would be nice to come at it not from the perspective of:

How much gold a character of a particular level "should" have since all encounters of a particular level should drop gold or gold equivalents in amounts proportionate to the difficulty of the encounter--and therefore an item that should be only had by an 8th or higher level character should have a price that would be impossibly high except for a character who's 8th level. (because this is terrible on a lot of levels)

but rather...

If this item were on the market what would people pay for it? How much is it compared to its nonmagical equivalent? Is there anything about the magic item that would make people choose it instead? If so, how much would it's difference in performance be worth to someone using the new economics in the packet (ie. commoners use coppers--silvers on big items, gold is the currency of wealthy nobles and merchant houses)

It's been a long time coming, and I'd love to see this happen!
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There are several items currently in the equipment list that seem a bit wrong price-wise. The potential discrepancy of magic item pricing is probably going to stay inflated until standard equipment pricing equalizes.

My biggest gripe right now are the items you can make via Herbalist. Healer's Kit, Healing Potion, and Antivenom are pretty nice items to have...but why ever have more than a couple of the potions and/or antivenoms? Healer's Kit does both of the same things, though over a longer timeframe, AND (this is the kicker for me) you get 10 uses. To top that off...the P Cleric (3rd level) can expend a single use to heal both him/herself and six other people over a short rest.

I think it's absolutely ridiculous that the 3 items cost the same. I'd honestly say that the kit should be more expensive than either of the potions.

Another example of price imbalance...
Long and short bows. They cost the same, 25gp per pound, but you get better functionality (l-bow ranges = 1.5 x s-bow ranges) out of one. That math alone makes the pricing off for my sensibilities. Compared to 3.5 listings [l-bow (3lbs, 75gp, 100rng), s-bow (2lbs, 30gp, 60rng)] the shortbow in this edition is a massive rip-off.

I'm just pointing out what I see being the current issue in equipment pricing...and I doubt that magic item pricing will be any better until the basics are straightened out.

Just my thoughts.            
No I think the basic prices need work too. Ideally I'd like everything to make sense--at least at an in-game level, if not necessarily in a mechanical, best bang for the buck, level. I mean--seriously in the real world there's plenty of things that aren't really worth the price difference but are more expensive anyway.
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Heh, we need to get a *silver* coin system that feels real.

Gold is something kings and princes (and their favorite merchants) have.

• Levels 0-4: Copper (but silver for special transactions)
• Levels 5-9: Silver (but gold for special transactions)
• Levels 10-14: Gold (but mithril for special transactions)
• Levels 15-19: Mithril (but quintessence for special transactions)

For me, the opposite of magic is money. Nothing is more mundane than money.

Trying to “purchase” magic with money, makes it feel nonmagical to me. It should even render the item as if nonmagical, in the sense there is no “bonding” with the magic of the item.

I feel, the transfer of magic items should involve altruistic generousity (ethically good), predatory theft (ethically evil), or else require “terms of exchange” (ethically fair), being services or promises to fulfill quests (especially those promises whose flavors relate to the magic of the item).
I think that a better way to look at magic item prices is to treat them in the same way that people treat out of print books - especially those that were rare to start with.

Sure, the functionality of the item is directly comparable to an existing item (example: The D&D Rules Cyclopedia is all you need to play an RPG, so is the Pathfinder beginer's box).

Sure, most people are going to just take the affordable option of the two... but neither of those facts stops someone from asking (currently) $38.99 to $290.67 for the out of print one on Amazon.com even though the other sells for $34.99.

You can, in some instances, but a mundane "pretty much the same thing" for an affordable price - but all the magical bits in the world fall into the category of pricing that out of print gaming books do... that being "I will charge whatever I think I can get someone to pay."

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

Even if the “terms of exchange” for a magic item involves the transference of money, the money should still have some kind of narrative agreement.

In fairytales, as far as I can remember, theres no such thing as simply “buying” a magic item (unless the buyer doesnt know it is magical). The acquisition or loss of a magic item always has meaningful implications for the story itself.

Also, by making the magic items require narrative arrangements, it also makes sense when needing to “upgrade” a magic item after leveling. Instead of “purchasing” a new mundane tool that is slightly better, the hero can go on a quest to intensify the “bond” with the magic of the item. In this way, the +1 sword at level 5 becomes a +2 sword at level 15.
I never allow purchasing magic items unless the party is starting at greater than 1st level.

Edition wars kill players,Dungeons and Dragons needs every player it can get.

Although a major shift in perspective from 'the old way' (the 'new ways' too, for that matter) - and thus unlikely to fly as an official rule - I like the approach that says items which merely grant a bonus to hit or a bonus to armor (e.g. plus x sword or plus x armor) are NOT magical - they are merely masterwork or crafted out of a rare and unusual material.

It may be that true magical weapons and armors typically (must?) use such an item as their base.  But the +2 sword is not a magical weapon in and of itself, it only becomes magical when it is enchanted to become a +2 flametongue (or whatever).

If this were the case - although such masterwork items might be exceptionally rare and expensive, they might still be for sale.  Without that fact implying that any true magic items were also available for purchase.

OP - You're an adventurer. But no, you can't buy a +1 dagger. The rules say that you don't buy magic items in this edition.

That said, your argument is perfectly valid. If I'm using a longsword and I find a +1 Dagger. The biggest weighting in my decision of which weapon to use would immediately fall to the average damage per round rather than the image I'm trying to create as a hardened royal guard who would never willingly use a dagger if he had a longsword. Change the dagger to a club and the problem gets worse, I'm now a member of the king's guard waltzing around looking like a peasant, no matter how shiny that club is.

In my opinion, magical weapons and armour should never simply give passive attack, damage or AC bonuses.

  • A bloodseeking sword can give you +1 to attack and damage against the last enemy that you damaged with it.

  • An echo pulse hammer can give you +1d6 damage and deal full damage to objects for 1 round after you strike a rigid object with it (such as an enemy wearing plate armour or a stone wall, but not dirt or a wizard).

  • Attack and damage bonuses are fine as long as they're interesting, but a +1 Dagger is an abomination that should never be allowed to exist.

  • I have less of an issue with CarlT's idea of calling a +1 Dagger masterwork instead of magical, but I still don't think it's very interesting. It would then be better to use a +1 masterwork Hammer (+1 attack and damage) instead of an echo pulse hammer (+3.5 damage if you hit someone with armour last turn or wasted your turn by taking up your issues with the wall). If there's a discrepency between which item is mechanically better and which one has a more interesting effect, I would personally go for the mechanically better one 95% of the time and I know a lot of other people who would too.

You're an adventurer. You can buy a +1 dagger that gives you a +1 to hit and a maximum of 5 damage instead of 4--or you can buy a short sword which gives you a maximum 6 damage without the plus to hit. That decision feels about evens to me. Yeah you can hurt otherwise impossible to damage creatures with a magic weapon...but still does that make it's value so far beyond gold that you can't even figure it? A torch can kill a troll when nothing else can, and it isn't expensive beyond gold.

You're thinking balancewise. That's ok but in a living world, an objects prize is correlated to it's rarity, just as a rock from planet Mars would sell high tough it's just a piece of stone.
Also, weapons happen to be somewhat balanced - daggers are simple, which means the +1 dagger is superior to the shortsword since anyone can use it. The high price of the dagger is thus justified, think of a merchant or a wizard who uses it as a last mean of self-defense for some reason. Your fighter won't bother with it, yeah. He buys a +1 sword.

In my opinion, magical weapons and armour should never simply give passive attack, damage or AC bonuses.

I agree. I like high magic scenarios but banalizing magic means wasting it's concept.
I guess while it might feel balancy--my thinking is anything but. The idea is that when you close your eyes and picture "magic items" you might get a wonderous idea of things of infinite cost and mystery--and with that in mind the idea of infinite magic item cost might make some sense. But that's not what magic items are--they're practical. In a world of people with money they trade for goods they should have a de facto value.

"You hocked a Hattori Hanzo sword? It was priceless!"

"Well, not in El Paso, it ain't. In El Paso, I got me $250 for it."

I guess the price of mars rocks or first edition Cyclopedias assume people who are interested in the historic or scientific value of a thing--or just sheer nostalgia. What I'm looking at here is a real setting filled with real people. You're an adventurer and you find a +1 dagger. You leave and find a travelling merchant. He says--"Wow! That sure is an amazing dagger! Give you 20 gold for it!"

Now there's a collision between the mystical close-your-eyes world of magic items and an adventurer with a paperweight he really wants to convert into gold. In which case twenty gold in El Paso trumps priceless for this guy.

At which point the question is...once again, what should magic items cost? (Assuming of course, paying money for a magic item doesn't cause it's enchantments to go away...)
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You could always look at previous editions to guide what those items are valued at...even if there are only 2 people in the game world that would actually buy them for that price.
Starting off, my personal opinion is that Magic Items in D&D games should serve as plot points, and should never be ‘random treasure’.  Once introduced into a game, a Magic Item has a profound effect on the course of any adventure.  Such an Item should be pried from the dead hands of an Antagonist, pilfered from a Dragon’s hoard, Quested for, or handed to the PC with some attached strings.  Alternately they should be the cause of a sudden plague, an Antagonists power source, a curse bearing object or something that motivates the PC’s to take action.

I don’t want to see them handed out as if they’re manufactured in an industrial factory, given specific costs and sold to the public.  I especially despise the +X magic items, and their proliferation in 3.xE and 4E.  It trivialized Magic Items role in D&D to an expected reward for Players in order to gain in power.

Instead, for 5E, I would like to see a different approach.  Initially, include a small guide in the DMG so that Artifacts can be introduced by DM’s.  In that guide, have some ground rules so that DM’s can create their own unique Items to use in their campaigns.  Later, in a Module or Supplement, introduce a fully realized Item Creation guide for use by DM’s and Players both.

In this Item Creation Guide, lay out how spell effects can be used to enchant items.  Set down what materials are needed and how much they cost for the component.  Not every component should be purchasable.  Each spell component added to the item should also have some cost to the Caster in addition to the monetary cost of components, that can be RP’d in game.  And finally, every Magic Item should have a consequence tied to it for using the item, based on how the item was created.  The more powerful the Item, the stronger the Consequence.

As part of the Creation Guide, add backgrounds and themes which can be used to increase an (N)PC’s ability to craft items.  As an (N)PC gained skill, they would become better at crafting; able to make stronger items, use materials and/or spells more effectively, at less of a personal cost, with ameliorated Consequences.  Though at no point should any of those components be trivialized.
He says--"Wow! That sure is an amazing dagger! Give you 20 gold for it!"

Now there's a collision between the mystical close-your-eyes world of magic items and an adventurer with a paperweight he really wants to convert into gold.

Theres no collision.

At the moment of mundane transaction, the dagger ceases to be magic.

Or perhaps more specifically, the transactors become unable to wield its magic.

Magic operates by different rules.
I play D&D Online and like how they have separated much of the cost of item creation.

Effects (both prefixes and suffixes) and bonuses (+1 - +5) are all independent of each other.

I think that such could well be applied to paper versions as well.

In 3.5 we had the effects and bonuses adding together in such a way that applying flaming to a +1 sword or a +4 sword was vastly different in cost.

doing this might help alleviate the ludicrous rise in logarithmic costs that was happening with magic items and scrolls and rituals.  Making a linear progression might help control this better I think.           
I guess here's the thing: if you play in a specific campaign setting where buying a magic item strips its enchantments then the question of gold price doesn't apply to your game--which is fine, hence the modular nature of the game. It seems a little weird that magic responds to being bought and sold by 'becoming mundane'. It certainly isn't the D&D setting as I play it and I really don't favor the setting as a whole going that way--but in your game what you say goes (so long as your players dig it).

Likewise in my games I'm not a big fan of anything being a "plot point" and just existing--having come from nowhere and going nowhere. I agree with the idea that there's no magic foundry's out there banging out figurines of wonderous power or horns of blasting on big assembly lines--but the things likewise didn't crystalize out of nothingness in the dragon's horde either. Magic items have stories.

My personal desire for magic items is that they gain their enchantments largely from magical impressions formed from their exposure to significant events. The shield used to block the gates of Thormargin against the orcish hordes of the King of Blood began to bear itself aloft once the great king of Thormargin could no longer lift it. The sling of Hamrich was weilded by a halfling of the same name who used it to secure the escape of his friends by drawing an ettin away from his hometown and into the Maneater Bogs where it was lost until found by adventurers a generation later. That sorta' thing. I could see mages studying such artifacts and attempting through magic ritual to create similar dweomers the same way pharmacorps study amazon plant bark and try to make medicines that do the same thing. In some ways I'd like to see these natural dweomers to be the forerunners of produced magic items--and in the same way natural alchemy be the forerunner of potion brewing.

But that said, when there's a magic item out there--I see it as a real thing in the world. It's something that is unique in it's formation possibly, or created by an artificer from careful study, but even being unique is not the only one of its kind (yes, the Dancing Shield of Thormargin is unique, but it's not the only dancing shield). Likewise just because something is unique does it mean that the market will bear an infinite price cost for it--or that even in the case of something that might that any given adventurer would be able to find the absolute demand for it that would garner it's full value (for example there may be a scholar of Thormargin, last of a bloodline, who would sell his entire house into slavery and all he owned for the original Dancing Shield of Thormargin--but in El Paso, you can sell a dancing shield, original or not for 250 gold--you still wanna' try to find the one scholar who wants the heirloom of his bloodline? Good luck!)

So that said, for middle of the road D&D what I'd like to see as a rubrick would look like this:

A magic item that functions in a similar manner to a mundane item might cost in gold what the mundane item costs in silver (basically up to 10x) or best offer (in other words--if ain't no one ever going to pay the price, the price becomes what the seller can get). If it confers a benefit beyond the mundane, then depending on the quality it might cost an additional +50 gold for additional properties. Amazing legendary items that can turn the tide of battles might rise into the high to mid thousands--like say 5000 gold for a ring of meteor storm. 10,000 for a ring of three wishes with all three wishing stones intact--but that'd be the absolute max ever.

Something like that seems like a nice blanket price guide that I'd feel gut-level comfy with. Again though, if your specific setting makes magic items into mudane items once they're bought, well then your setting rules may still apply. Ain't rules modules grand!
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My personal desire for magic items is that they gain their enchantments largely from magical impressions formed from their exposure to significant events.

Exactly. It is the *story* of the item, that is the source of its magic.

A magic item is like a piece of a dream. If you take it out of context, it becomes meaningless and worthless.

Magic is dreamlike. If you lose the connection to the dream, it loses its meaning and its potency.

If a magic item becomes routine ... if it is used in a mundane way ... then it becomes mundane.

Nothing in this universe is more mundane than money. Money is the opposite of magic.

The only way to transfer the possession of a magic item, is by making the new owner further the meaning and intent of the magic item. It must be a terms of exchange.

ALL magic items are “artifacts” and “relics”.

Magic is priceless.

A magic item that functions in a similar manner to a mundane item might cost in gold ... or best offer ... 10,000 for a ring of three wishes ...

There are all kinds of problems when letting players “buy” and “sell” magic items.

Most importantly, flavorwise, commodities are mundane and kill the numinous strangeness of magic.

Mechanically, buying magic will destroy the D&D game.

D&D Next intentionally refuses to balance gaming stats based on the assumption of magic items. Buying magic items simply breaks the math of the game.

In Next, mechanically, all magic items are artifacts. These are items that completely override the rules of the game. The DM intentionally introduces a magic item for narrative reasons, carefully monitors it, and balances the game against the magic item by means of difficult adhoc judgment calls.

If players CAN buy magic items, then they WILL, and will destroy the math of game.

Also, it is stupid to use money to “balance” the game. Because it doesnt work. Money is part of the adventure setting. Wilderness or apocalyptic settings have less money, imperial or utopian settings have more money. The swingy-ness of money will break the mechanics of the game.

The only way to balance magic items is by making heroes mechanically unable to abuse them, whether the setting has lots magic items or few magic items.

Again, all magic items are artifacts.
On one hand, yes the gold mechanic for balancing characters is dumb and weird. No argument there.

That said magic items are hardly the numinous wonders of dream and strangeness. Most aren't game breaking. They aren't even that exciting. Magic +1 leather armor is leather armor, but as tough as a chain shirt--hardly a wonder of the legendary age. Gauntlets of ogre power (depending on edition) give you a +2 to strength, which adds a whole whopping +1 to die rolls.

Should magic items be more meaty and hefty? I for one would love it. Do they need to be so amazingly game breaking that they need to be kept in a hermetically sealed plot vault so they don't disintegrate the universe? Certainly not--especially not the weak sauce magic items that fill the game. Seriously a +2 to your acrobatics score and once per day you can climb at your normal movement rate? I think the universe is fine from that.

Is the wonder of magic such that buying and selling them will destroy D&D? Not really. They are part of the setting and having them exist as a fleshed out part of the setting makes the setting stronger, not worse.

Is money diametrically opposed to the wonder of magic? I'm not seeing it. Maybe in your own niche setting but not in mainstream D&D. Paying for something doesn't make it's magic go poof--not in my games. That seems a little silly to me--and kind of like a cludge. Money isn't any more mundane than dirt or clothing or wood--having money disenchant them seems like an arbitrary way to handwave magic items to be plot McGuffins, and that kind of heavy handedness is something I don't want to see in my D&D.

All magic items aren't artifacts. Artifacts are cool--but even they aren't THAT cool. The Axe of the Dwarvish Lords is, in most ways, just kind of an axe. The kind of magic I think you think is in D&D just isn't. Magic is a lot more practical than that.
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I think the major contributor to the whole "magic is mundane" issue is flat bonus items. Which also are a big contributor to making a game hard to balance.

+1 armor is the boring equivalent of slightly heavier armor, while simultaeneously shifting the balance of a combat in ways which are hard for a DM to compensate for. When the party get a +2 armor, they'll throw the boring +1 armor away if they can't sell it. In that situation "magic is priceless" rules are themselves making magic less magical. I'd be happy to see every numerical bonus item go. Even conditional ones.

OTOH, a flaming sword (assuming there isn't a variety of swords dealing more and less damage), or a magic carpet or a bag of holding are all magic items that you may well never part with - they're all going to retain their usefulness no matter what else you find, and their nature will make them easy to balance, because the effect they will have on a combat is readily apparent.

Furthermore, they present opportunities for more interesting encounters to a DM. An item that gives a numerical bonus just means you can take on a bigger X, whether X is a pit or monster or social challenge. An item that changes the rules means that you can have a different variety of encounters. Magic carpet? Now you don't get pit traps, but you can have high speed chases and fights in clouds and aerial drive-by rescues. Flaming sword? Goodbye "roll to start a fire in the bad weather", hello "can I start a fire mid-fight?

and so on.
If a wizard or cleric has to be say 12th level to make a one shot item or something more useful but it takes weeks to make them then the price of a single plus on a weapon is going to be very high. If the spell or ritual that places a permanent dweomer on an item is an 8th level spell that can only be cast at 16th level then that item is really going to cost you. 

If the game assumes that any old jerk who casts spells can make even weak magic items before 10th level then the get what they deserve. There will be people abusing cure wands and other such items regularly. If the game assumes that low level casters can make magical items then I would hope that they don't cost much more than the mundane versions since that is all they really are anyway.

Actually I think the game's designers are already headed in the magic is cheap direction if you concider that a first level character can already brew a potion of healing if they take the right theme. 

I would have assumed that the crafting of magic would be something relegated to a module but I really think this is a core issue that needs addressing sooner than later. If the core assumption reguarding item creation is that anyone can do it then it neesd to be done quickly. if it's not then those potions of cure light wounds need to disappear until they turn their attention to the details of magical creation. 

Personally I like the idea that nearly all magic is rare and very rare. I want the ability to create these things to be very far off in a player's future. I'd love for those rules to be burried in my DMG where the average joe doesn't see them and has to ask whether he can actually create these things or not.  I like being in control of what goes on in my game world.
I've never bought the idea that magic is beyond price.  Even back in 1e and 2e it seemed like a dodge.
I oppose the Herbalist feature to make potions of healing because it uses the unreliability of money costs to balance gaming mechanics.

Only gaming mechanics can regulate gaming mechanics.

The avaibility of money - whether rich aristocrats in a utopia or impoverished survivors in a disaster - is an adventure setting decision - not a gaming mechanic decision.

If the brewing of healing potions are balanced with a more mechanical mechanic, then I feel ok with it.

Its ok if low-level characters can create a limited amount of magic items that are consumable or chargeable.

But a permanent magic item would require high level, at least level 10 when the heroes become a “master” of their chosen field.
I decided I agree with those who say: A magic item that is only an enhancement bonus to attack or to AC, shouldnt exist. All magic items should have interesting abilities, and not be part of the weapon/armor “treadmill”.

I feel the enhancement bonuses should be +1 at levels 0-9, +2 at levels 10-19, +3 at levels 20-29, and so on. Flatter math. Magic items remain good longer.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />I feel the enhancement bonuses should be +1 at levels 0-9, +2 at levels 10-19, +3 at levels 20-29, and so on. Flatter math. Magic items remain good longer.

Why not simply not have those flat bonuses at all? Keeping them keeps the problem: that you have a +x weapon that is worse than your +x-1 weapon, and instead of being hoarded for a day where it's property might have a neat niche, it is hocked for gold or thrown in the trash, because even IF you someday meet the perfect niche for it, chances are that +1 to hit and damage would still be better in that specific scenario.

And that's what stops magic from being magical. It's not a magic sword - it's a +1 to a couple of stats.
it al depends on suply and demend.

so to me this seems a subject for a campaign setting not somthing set in the core rules, so the core rules can go with it is bond price and not list any prices.

look at lord of the rings it has magic but magic items are still very rare.
 Gandalf mentions that Thorin gave Bilbo a chain shirt made of mithril, a 'kingly gift" worth more than the value of the whol e Shire.

but in campaigns with high availability of magic like eberon magic might be somthing you can just buy.

so on my opinion magic item pricing is somthing campaign dependent and need not be adressed in the core rules.