Magic Item Creation

Crafting Magic Items

Or: Why would anyone make a +1 dagger?
Okay, the mechanics of crafting magic items and more importantly, lesser items. Some hard rules for how player characters can make items and a discussion about anomalies in the magic item tables.
But, to answer the question, why would anyone make a +1 anything? According to the basic discussion of making magic items, the spells are the most expensive part of the enchantment process, whether it’s a +1 or a +5 item. So there are two possibilities, both of which I’m going to consider. The first possibility is decay*. That +1 sword your 2nd level fighter found in an old cave may have once been a mighty +4, but over the centuries, the enchantment has waned and it is now a shadow of its former power. It’s one explanation, but not one I am fond of. However, it isn’t a bad justification. The other choice is to make the creation process easier and cheaper, so that lower level casters can craft magic items. Now, there are two problems with that. The first is there is no official way to do so (which I will address later) and that doing so may allow for a flood of player crafted magic items, upsetting play balance and campaigns. If a PC can turn out and sell magic weapons regularly, they’ll be rolling in gold (I would suggest making them THE target of every thief around to discourage them, but that’s another subject).
Various editions try to curtail mass manufacture of items by requiring high levels, expending your XP or risking ability score damage. Since my world is fairly low magic, mages are relatively rare and don’t spend all their time churning out items. Also, relatively speaking, magic item crafting is expensive in my world, but I run a low magic/low cash treasure game in general.

Making Items
Okay, the basic requirement is for an item of superior construction, basically equivalent to an item of Quality, but even more so. A lot of times there is a minimum cost requirement, reflecting that the item be engraved, inlaid with precious metals or gems or be made from superior materials. For weapons and armor, the materials are usually:
Item Bonus Material Cost modifier
+1 Wood, cloth, leather/hide, metal (iron, copper, bronze, etc) x10
+2 Same, but of higher quality (steel instead of iron, spider silk, dragon hide, etc) x20
+3 Nickel alloy steel x40
+4 Mithril alloy x80
+5 Mithril, adamantium alloy x160
+6 Adamantium x320

Now, you can get around these for miscellaneous items because there are such things like +5 Cloak of Protection which is obviously not made of mithril. As long as you pay the cost, you can come up with whatever justification you want (phase spider silk, dragon hide, wood from a dead treant, etc). Getting the material may be an adventure in itself, or even a mini campaign. The mage needs to research a design (Spellcraft check). Then a crafter (usually an NPC) has to make it (proficiency check). If either fails, the item will not be enchanted properly and the item is wasted. Failed rolls may result in a magic item, but not one that works the way it was intended. If both rolls failed, the enchanter only finds out after Enchant an Item has been cast. If only one roll failed, the enchanter doesn’t find out until ALL spells have been cast.
Instead of rolling a spell check, a player may instead submit an idea, and if I feel it is appropriate, I will count it as a success (“My mage wants to use a piece of an oak tree, struck by lightning, the ends capped in copper engraved with storm clouds and lightning bolts and set with sapphires”).

Minimum cost is 100gp per +1. Also, bear in mind that obtaining the item may be difficult. Not every town or city is going to have a smith capable of forging an item that can be enchanted to +5. And it can take weeks or months for the construction. Charged items or permanent items with spells added, such as a +3 shield with Protection from Normal Missiles have a minimum material cost of 200gp times the level of the strongest spell added to the item (a wand to be used to make a Wand of Fireballs would cost 600gp; level 3 spell x 200gp) PLUS 100gp per each additional spell level. So an item with one 3rd level spell and two 2nd level spells would have a cost of 1,000gp (200gp x 3rd lvl = 600gp + [100gp x 2 x 2nd lvl= 400gp] = 1,000gp).

EDIT: In many cases, the item has a mundane appearance or even is an actual mundane item. In The Misenchanted Sword, an archmage turns a used sword into a weapon of incredible power. But it was flawed. You can use lesser quality items, but that will result in penalties to construction and enchantment rolls and possibly diminished effects.

The spell casting traditionally involves Enchant an Item to prepare the item, followed by whatever spells are appropriate. If it’s a one shot item like arrows or a charged item like a wand, that’s sufficient. But, permanent items require the spells to be “sealed” and made permanent with Permanency. And that means you need at least an 11th level mage for charged items and a 17th level one for normal items! Is a 17th level mage going to waste their time making a +1 item? The “by the book” fee to have a mage cast those 2 spells is more than the minimum material cost for a +5 sword!
Okay, so a few changes. First, Lesser Enchant an Item, a 3rd level spell which is suitable for making charged and one shot items and permanent items of +3 bonus or less. Second, Lesser Permanency, a 6th level spell for sealing those items which are +3 or lower. So a 5th level mage can make arrows and wands, an 11th level mage can make permanent items up to +3. There is also 3rd level spell Minor Permanency for making trinket items
This all assumes they can cast the spells required. A Luck blade with Wish on it requires a 17th level mage to cast the Wish spells for example. Basic weapons and armor simply require some variety of the Enchant an Item and Permanency spell and one casting of Enchanted Weapon or Enchanted Armor for each plus the item has. A Sword of Life Stealing would require those spells plus Energy Drain for example. Items with non-standard abilities (like Vorpal swords, for example) would require at least Limited Wish, possibly Wish spells. Intelligent swords would definitely require additional powerful spells.

Charged items require some version of Enchant an Item (depending on the level of the strongest spell being added), then one casting of each spell to be loaded, then the creator needs to expend one spell point per charge they wish the item to have. The charging must be done within 24 hours and takes one turn per point. So, a Wand of Frost would need a wand of no less than 1,900gp cost, then Enchant an Item, Ice Storm, Wall of Ice and Cone of Cold cast on it, and then the creator would have 24 hours to charge it with their spell points. You can spend up to 8 hours charging it, sleep to recover points and then charge it for another 8 hours, but no more. Maximum of 95 points, 1 point per turn.

Frequency of use- If you’re making a charged item, the spell casting limit is the number of charges. For a permanent item, each additional daily use of a spell function increases the cost. Each additional daily use is equal to the spell’s level x 100gp. So a Ring of Fireballs that can shoot the Fireball spell three times daily would have a material cost of 1200gp (3rd level x 200gp + 3rd level x 100gp for the 2nd daily use, + 3rd level x 100gp for the 3rd daily use). Items that activate on a combat roll (such as a Sword of Lifestealing) normally activate on a natural 20. Each additional casting (and added cost) adds one to the activation number (2 castings is 19-20, 3 castings is 18-20, etc).

Permanent items that can cast the same spell more than once per day have an additional cost as if they were additional spells. So a ring that shoots Melf’s Minute Meteors four times per day would cost 1,500 gp. (3rd x 200gp +3rd x 100gp +3rd x 100gp + 3rd x 100gp)

Clerical Items
Clerical items are a little different. You still have to have the item made, but the actual enchantment involves prayers and sacrifice of additional materials to the god involved. And clerical items can only be used by worshipers of that deity or closely aligned ones. AND, player characters absolutely will NEVER be able to make a Holy Avenger without some phenomenal holy quest.

Multiple mages can work on an item. They have to stay together during the casting of the Enchant an Item spell and one of them always has to be holding the item. They can both cast spells on the item when it is ready and both pour spell points into charged items. One caster is the leader and will make the success roll. Only one caster can charge an item at a time.

One shots
When making single shot items like arrows and bolts, the caster can enchant one item per level. So a 10th level mage could cast one Enchant an Item spell on 10 arrows. But, each item would then need follow up spells like Magic Weapon, cast individually on each one. Or, a higher level caster could use the 4th level spell Enchanted Weapon, which affects multiple projectiles.

Item creation requirement examples
One shot items +1 to +3 (arrows, etc) or charged items with spells of 3rd level or less:
5th level or higher mage, Lesser Enchant an Item, specific spells

One shot items +4 or +5 (arrows, etc) or charged items with spells of 4th level or higher:
11th level or higher mage, Enchant an Item, specific spells

Permanent item with spells of 3rd level or less or bonus of +1 to +3:
11th level or higher mage, Enchant an Item, specific spells, Lesser Permanency

Permanent item with spells of 4th level or higher or bonus of +4 or +5:
15th level or higher mage, Enchant an Item, specific spells, Permanency

Trinket Items with Cantrips, 1st or 2nd level spells:
3rd level or higher mage, Minor Enchant an Item, specific spells, Minor Permanency

New Item Creation Spells
Magic Weapon, the 1st level spell from 3rd edition, gives a +1 bonus/3 levels of the caster to one item for 2 rounds per level. Maximum of +3.

Magic Armor, A version of Magic Weapon, it gives one piece of armor or a shield a +1 bonus/3 levels of the caster for 1 turn per level. Maximum of +3.

Enchanted Armor, A version of the 1st edition spell Enchanted Weapon, it gives one piece of armor or two shields a +1 bonus/3 levels of the caster for 1 turn per level.

Lesser Enchant an Item, 3rd Level- As Enchant an Item, but can only be used to make items with 1st to 3rd level spells, bonus of +1 to +3.

Lesser Permanency, 6th level- As Permanency, but can only be used to make items with 1st to 3rd level spells, bonus of +1 to +3. No risk of Constitution loss if cast on an item. Items made with Lesser Permanency must make a saving throw every 50 years or lose potency (+3 becomes +2, 5 dice damage becomes 4 dice, or lose 20% of charges)

// Minor Enchant an Item, 2nd level- As //Enchant an Item, but can only be used to make items with Cantrips, 1st and 2nd level spells, no combat bonus.

Minor Permanency, 2nd level- As Permanency, but can only be used to make items with Cantrips, 1st and 2nd level spells, no combat bonus. No risk of Constitution loss. Items made with Minor Permanency must make a saving throw every 5 years or lose all potency.

Example of item creation: Magic Shield
A mage wishes to make a standard magic shield. That requires the spells Enchant an Item, Magic Armor and Lesser Permanency and that the mage be 11th level or higher. The caster is 12th level, which means the Magic Armor spell will max out at +3. The material components and making the shield will cost 300gp (+3 x 100gp minimum per +1). The player needs to make a Spellcraft proficiency check to research the components of the shield, or they can make something up. Then the DM needs to make a proficiency check for the shield’s crafter. And finally, at the end of casting Enchant an Item, the mage makes a saving throw to see if it was successful. At this point the DM reveals whether or not the item was properly prepared for casting.
A +5 shield would have needed a 15th level caster with the spells Enchant an Item, Enchanted Armor and Permanency and a material components cost of 1,600gp (160x cost for a +5 item is more than the 500gp minimum cost of 100gp per +1).

Decay revisited
An item that was made with Lesser Permanency will decay, maybe one plus per hundred years. So a 200 year old +3 sword is only +1 now. Or maybe it’s from damage and wear and tear. You can damage a magic item by abusing it, for example, using a magic axe to cut off the head of an iron golem. One shots (arrows, bolts) also decay.

5E Notes

Considering how powerful cantrips are in 5E, I may have to make adjustments, or possibly consider them as 1st level spells for price. And I just did some number crunching on cost. A weapon that can be enchanted to +1 is a minimum cost of 100gp, and the spells would be 760gp. So the minimum for a +1 magic weapon is about 800-1,300gp.
A potion generally costs 5x what it costs for the spell. A scroll costs 200gp per level or spell slots. High material costs may be added to the final cost.

Spell casting costs, 5E. Minimum is {(Spell level or spell slot level squared) x10} + double the cost of expended material cost or 10% of cost of re-useable materials. So a 3rd level spell or spell cast using a 3rd level spell slot is 3 x 3 x 10 = 90gp. If it required a 1gp material cost, that would add 2gp (2x 1gp). If it required a re-useable item of say 10gp, then that would add 1 gp (10% of 10gp.
Cantrips that do damage are priced as one spell slot or level per damage (ie, Firebolt cast by a 1st-4th level caster does 1d10 and is 10gp. Cast by a 5th-10th level caster doing 2d10 is 20gp, etc). Non-combat cantrips (Prestidigitation, for example) are 5gp, or 10gp by a 5th-10th level caster, etc.
Since magic weapons in 5E only go +1 to +3, weapons of +1 or +2 use the Lesser Enchant an Item spells, +3 or better uses the higher level spells.
A non-combat cantrip trinket's material cost is 50gp for the first cantrip usage, +25gp per each additional (ie, a trinket that can cast a cantrip three times a day is 100gp; 50+25+25gp)