Sunday, March 5, 2023

Buying Magic Items

Magic items are staples of fantasy fiction and roleplaying games.

After all, they boost the individual or group using them, they are fun in their own right, and they allow a DM to loredump without inflicting reading homework on the players.  

They are such a staple that many DMs include Magic Item Shoppes in their game worlds, and then spend hours stocking them, and then spend more hours determining how such a store does not get robbed/burgled/looted by transient PCs or NPCs.

There are several common recommendations.

From somewhere on the internet.  Not my work, though.

1. Such shops don't exist.  If that is the case, make sure your players know in session 0.  Various rulesets and player plans are item-based, and not being able to easily acquire such items is frustrating.

2. The shopkeeper is a retired high-level adventurer of sorts, using magical alarms, illusions, traps, extradimensional spaces, and other things to safeguard the product.  Probably extraplanar guard-things.

3. The shopkeeper is a retired low-level adventurer who has powerful friends (because regular folk cannot afford magic items).  Adventurers and world leaders call upon this person to keep them supplied.  They will come looking for the thieves, doubly so if the shopkeeper - their friend and source - was murdered in the process.

4. The shopkeeper pays protection to the local thieves' guild, who will assuredly come seeking to make an example of whomever made them lose face.  

5. It is a specialty store that only crafts items on commission, which is never an overnight affair.

6.  Some combination of 2-5.

7.  DM fiat.  The players automatically fail, regardless of what they do.  Don't do this.  This is terrible.

On top of all this is the need to determine an inventory.  If the store is Magical WalMart, it may have anything, and lots of it - then dice are used, and PCs end up with items that make the campaign ... difficult for the DM.  Alternatively, the DM painstakingly handpicks or even handcrafts the inventory, and is stuck describing everything multiple times to indifferent players.

All of which is a poor investment of DM time that makes me twitchy just thinking about.


While magic item auctions are a possibility, they can be difficult to pull off at the table, unless you can score some guest players to run the NPC competition.  Then an auction can be awesome.  

My preferred method is to use a magic item broker or agent.  These are merchants that traffic in magic items, but do not keep their wares with them, instead procuring things as needed by wealthy customers.  Granted, such transactions are expensive and time-consuming, requiring a nonrefundable payment up front and the remainder upon delivery. 

These payments may not even be entirely in coin, but instead cost other items, goods, favors, or the like.  No doubt the contracts are signed under the watchful eye of the local deity of contracts and justice, who will (or its clergy will) ensure bad things happen to whichever party reneges on the deal.

Of course, whatever the customer wants may not be available.  Something similar may be found, or items can be commissioned, but these all take time.  Time measured in months, years, or even decades (depending on how crafting works in your game world).  I like this method because it allows PCs to have items they (mostly) want at a rate that doesn't suddenly break the table. 

Note this method means that items provided by such a broker or agent may not be exactly what the players/PCs want.  The item may have quirks or flaws, it might be a scimitar rather than a longsword, or it might be outright cursed. This is all part of the negotiations with the broker. Once a deal is struck, though, to quote what my children learned in preschool, you get what you get and you don't fuss a bit.  

Luckily, DnD even has such beings in place, at least to a degree.  The Arcane.

from the 2e Monstrous Manual

Or the Mercane, if your preferred ruleset is from a later edition.  This Deep Dive on the Mercane/Arcane is worth the time to skim read if you want extraplanar merchants that just appear as needed by PC request or DM plot.

A second species to consider as a broker is the Arcanaloth.  Granted, smart PCs should be wary of these denizens of the lower planes, because fiends historically do not have the best intentions for anything not themselves.  

A third species for a broker is the Rakshasa.  These lion-headed, backwards-handed shapeshifters are just as devious as Arcanaloths and only marginally more trustworthy.

For myself, though, I prefer brokers of standard species.  Given that my homebrew world is humanocentric, that means the main item brokers are/were human (with a few half-elves among them... and a shape-shifted dragon), with Grandfather Favarro and the rest of his family being my favorite examples from my campaign world.

Regardless of what species the broker is, these item brokers are terribly useful, both as procurers of wares and as patrons of adventurers.  After all, the magical items scattered across the lands and planes have to be recovered by someone, and who better to brave the dangers inherent in this than adventurers?

An item broker may not be all that potent, mechanics-wise, though will lean towards higher Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores and skills.  They may not be spellcasters at all, merely keeping one or more spellcasters on staff, or at least on retainer.

One thing for certain is that magic item brokers do not keep much - if any - inventory on hand.  The items they may have are for their use alone.  Any additional items lying about have been paid for and are awaiting pick up - stealing these items from the vault makes the thieves powerful enemies.

What the brokers do have on-hand are contacts: they know sages and bards to research specific items, they know mages and other casters to commission items from, and they know adventurers to go fetch the items from their last known locations/owners. 

Related to these contacts are the broker's customer base.  The sorts of people that do business with an item broker tend towards the powerful, politically and mechanically.  People robbing the broker make enemies of these customers, at least some of whom will come gunning for the thieves.


Some players may want to skip all this and Wish for an item instead, which is completely doable.

Just decide during session 0 - and tell the players, not that they'll pay attention - that Wishes, including those from the Deck of Many Things or other items (and beings) - are inherently lazy and will not create something wholesale, but rather take something that already exists and bring it to the wisher.  

In the case of magic items, the former owner WILL want it back, but the DM doesn't have to even create said former owner until needed.  Unless the source of the Wish is fiendish, then perhaps the owner appears with the item.  This is extra amusing when said owner is a dragon.

Perhaps more amusing is when the Wish transports the PC to the item's location, with or without friends and companions.

Monkey pawing even shows up in Magic the Gathering.  Wishclaw Talisman.

This messing with wishes is often called monkey-pawing (from this short story which all gamers should be familiar with), and is definitely NOT for all tables, so be careful when doing this.  Or at least be up front about it in session 0. 

Monkey-pawing wishes and my session 0 both sound like other posts, so I will close here.

No comments: