D&D General Magic item traders, cursed items, and hapless buyers or shoplifters

greg kaye

Explorer
... I always assume most magic item sales happen due to:

--- private individuals who have made contact through word-of-mouth or go-betweens
--- adventuring parties returning to town and unloading items they don't need or want
--- estate sales of the collections of retired adventurers or nobility who have died either without a will or without descendants
--- someone selling off a lesser version of an item they now have a better one of
--- an artisan or artificer has made something on spec, without a specific pre-order
right, and this leaves situations in which there may be magic items up for sale or trade --- within the same worlds where there are ~murder hobos and thieves who often might like to acquire such items.

At a minimum, I'd imagine that a shop with a sign saying ~"magic items here" might keep those items in a safe location beyond detection while still leaving out something detectably magical but of low relative usefulness. Such an item could be a cursed (or faulty) or just something that's just been given a daily addition of Nysul's Magic Aura. Either way, it might stop that potential customer with Detect Magic running from walking straight out.

If the item was then stolen, I guess it wouldn't be of such great bother to the shop keep although that item would still have been notable enough to the shop keep to facilitate potential use of locate object in attempts to address the crime.
 

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When I'm worldbuilding, I usually model magic item sales after fine art trade rather than standard retail - there are galleries in large cities, but they're not just shops where you walk in, pick up stuff on a shelf, and put down some pocket change. You sit down with a broker, drink some fie wine, and discuss what you're looking for. The broker then makes arrangements (for a small commission) and the trade takes place. There's also stuff like auction houses (which are some of the best-guarded locations in the city) and private sales (which are still generally managed by brokers), plus appraisals and taxes and so on.

In actual play, though, running all of the at the table can be dull so we skip it and either use magic item shops or have a broad "no buying magic items policy" than can be violated in special cases, in which case a story is made up to explain how the sale works. I might use a broker, but getting it from a church (while totally incidentally making a big donation) is actually more common.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I made a device that connects to a strong box that generates a realistic illusion of each item inside the box that can be moved around and interacted with within the range of the box. Walk out of range of the box, the illusion degrades to nothing.

The strong box can then be magically/mechanically locked and trapped and guarded as needed.

For higher end items, that's a box with a remote beacon so the box can be in another location.

Plus, magic is common enough that it's not really a rare or boutique item.
 

Celebrim

Legend
There's a very obvious exception to that, based on just the short summary you give here, and that's all the items commissioned over the years through said artisans and then never picked up on completion because the customer has gone adventuring and died in the meantime. Eventually those unclaimed items accumulate.....

Other than this, however, I always assume most magic item sales happen due to:

--- private individuals who have made contact through word-of-mouth or go-betweens
--- adventuring parties returning to town and unloading items they don't need or want
--- estate sales of the collections of retired adventurers or nobility who have died either without a will or without descendants
--- someone selling off a lesser version of an item they now have a better one of
--- an artisan or artificer has made something on spec, without a specific pre-order

The assumption of the setting is that the demand for magic items vastly exceeds the available supply. Thus, it's almost always possible to sell magic items, but rarely possible to buy them. Any excess magic items in the local market are very quickly snatched up by the buyers with the highest demand and resources - cults, merchant princes, high ranking nobles, royalty, etc. - who would always like more magic items. There are also a few dealers with high status who acquire any magic items that are surplus in the market, whisk them off to wherever there is currently high demand, and auction them off in private auctions to the highest bidders.

A hedge magician might have a variety of relatively inexpensive items available, geared toward things with high economic value rather than high military value, but it's not going to look very much like Magic Mart.

However, if it does look like a Magic Mart because magic is ubiquitous, then it's easy enough to hide everything in Leomund's Secret Chest or a Bag of Holding other extra-dimensional space and then put the magical container in a scry proof box that has a permenent Obscure Object on it and then the whole scrying to find out what is in inventory or even where the inventory is solved.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The assumption of the setting is that the demand for magic items vastly exceeds the available supply. Thus, it's almost always possible to sell magic items, but rarely possible to buy them. Any excess magic items in the local market are very quickly snatched up by the buyers with the highest demand and resources - cults, merchant princes, high ranking nobles, royalty, etc. - who would always like more magic items. There are also a few dealers with high status who acquire any magic items that are surplus in the market, whisk them off to wherever there is currently high demand, and auction them off in private auctions to the highest bidders.
Were I to introduce the bolded to my setting, it would be nanoseconds at the longest before players started having their characters replace those dealers and do exactly this as a moneymaking scheme; and I just ain't interested in DMing that. So, magic pricing is pretty much the same everywhere - if a +1 longsword costs 1800 here, it's gonna cost 1800 almost everywhere else you look for it.

I should note, I suppose, that one assumption I universally make is that there are many other adventurers in the setting; the PCs are not the only ones. And sometimes those other adventurers come back to town with excess magic...
A hedge magician might have a variety of relatively inexpensive items available, geared toward things with high economic value rather than high military value, but it's not going to look very much like Magic Mart.

However, if it does look like a Magic Mart because magic is ubiquitous, then it's easy enough to hide everything in Leomund's Secret Chest or a Bag of Holding other extra-dimensional space and then put the magical container in a scry proof box that has a permenent Obscure Object on it and then the whole scrying to find out what is in inventory or even where the inventory is solved.
While at the table it very much comes across looking like a Magic Mart - when someone asks me what magic is currently on the market in town I get my spreadsheet to randomly generate a "shopping list" of what happens to be out there at the moment - in the fiction that translates to the sum total of what the PCs hear about through hunting around, talking to contacts and guilds, checking on what other adventurers have, and so forth; all taking several days or longer. The shopping list at the table might have 20 items on it but those items are never all in the same place, and are likely being sold by ten different people or groups.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Were I to introduce the bolded to my setting, it would be nanoseconds at the longest before players started having their characters replace those dealers and do exactly this as a moneymaking scheme; and I just ain't interested in DMing that. So, magic pricing is pretty much the same everywhere - if a +1 longsword costs 1800 here, it's gonna cost 1800 almost everywhere else you look for it.

I've never had PC's that either had the status as reputable merchants or the status as reputable buyers to participate in the market for magic items. Generally speaking, PCs find their magic items or are gifted to them by patrons in return for their service.

If I had players really want to get in on the market for selling magic items, they certainly could make that the focus of play if they wanted to, but they might be better off not being fighters, wizards, and that sort of thing if their goal was to be merchant princes.

As far as prices go, the standard prices are the prices the PC's can expect to sell an item at if they lack contacts and a reputation as reputable dealers. They are not the prices that PC's can expect to buy at. You can't buy, but if you could there be no expectation that sellers sell goods at exactly the same prices that they buy them at.

I should note, I suppose, that one assumption I universally make is that there are many other adventurers in the setting; the PCs are not the only ones. And sometimes those other adventurers come back to town with excess magic...

Adventurers are so not a thing in my setting that if you were to tell an NPC you were an adventurer, they would understand the term to mean "wealthy tourist without a lot of common sense". They would not understand it to mean "heroic mercenary troubleshooter".

"Adventuring parties" in the sense "for hire heroes" as D&D traditionally uses the term are vanishingly rare. It's presumed there are others out there, but they are rare enough any two of them probably will never meet. Often the PCs are the first such group in an area in generations. They may hear the tale of legendary heroes or villains that did something in the past, but they are unlikely to just find other groups of mercenaries out there. The closest to a traditional adventuring party that the PC's are ever likely to interact with is if the PC's make powerful enemies, those enemies are likely to task a group of vassals to hunt down the PC's. There are also undead slayers or other monster slayers out there for hire, but they work more like 'Witchers' in that setting than they do like D&D adventuring parties - one or two central persons plus their retainers and apprentices as opposed to a large group of diverse peers.

(In fact, a group of highly talented young people of different backgrounds working together is so rare and so momentous, that almost as soon as that group develops a reputation, rumors start flying about the gods playing with destiny, strange fates, and saints being among us.)

In any event, magic dug up out of dungeons or something doesn't happen a lot. This is a necessity of the setting. If adventuring parties are active and numerous, then no dungeon should be unexplored and the idea of dungeons that haven't been disturbed for decades or even centuries makes absolutely no sense. If there are great deeds to be done in an area, it's almost a certainty that the PC's are the only ones available to do them. There will never be a situation like 'The Village of Homlet' where there is a deed to be done, and an entire town full of NPCs with more ability, more motive, and more opportunity to do the deed than the PC's.

While at the table it very much comes across looking like a Magic Mart - when someone asks me what magic is currently on the market in town I get my spreadsheet to randomly generate a "shopping list" of what happens to be out there at the moment - in the fiction that translates to the sum total of what the PCs hear about through hunting around, talking to contacts and guilds, checking on what other adventurers have, and so forth; all taking several days or longer. The shopping list at the table might have 20 items on it but those items are never all in the same place, and are likely being sold by ten different people or groups.

Aside from low level potions and scrolls - which are available from temples, alchemists, and hedge mages in everything big enough to be called a town - the total of items would be exactly zero pretty much anywhere in my setting. There just wouldn't be things available to buy. And even if someone were selling, it wouldn't be to the PC's unless the PC's were already well known to that person. Buying a magic item is like trying to buy something that is a cross between a Van Gogh painting and an F-16 fighter. They aren't up for sell very often, and not just anyone can do it. I mean imagine going into Middle Earth and going shopping for a dwarven mithril coat, Durin's axe, the ring of Barahir, and an Elven Ring of Power. It just doesn't happen.

For that matter, I can't remember the last time a PC tried to sell a magic item. Even if you find an upgrade to your sword +1, it's vastly better to hang on to that weapon to give to a retainer or hang on to as a gift for a powerful noble to whom you need to make a good impression.

Magic items are just not fungible assets. As soon as you make them fungible assets, they lose all sense of being magical.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've never had PC's that either had the status as reputable merchants or the status as reputable buyers to participate in the market for magic items. Generally speaking, PCs find their magic items or are gifted to them by patrons in return for their service.

If I had players really want to get in on the market for selling magic items, they certainly could make that the focus of play if they wanted to, but they might be better off not being fighters, wizards, and that sort of thing if their goal was to be merchant princes.

As far as prices go, the standard prices are the prices the PC's can expect to sell an item at if they lack contacts and a reputation as reputable dealers. They are not the prices that PC's can expect to buy at. You can't buy, but if you could there be no expectation that sellers sell goods at exactly the same prices that they buy them at.
The way I do it, buy and sell prices are the same; for two reasons:

1. It avoids any thought of buy-low sell-high
2. More importantly, a single-value system makes party treasury division immensely easier. We divide shares by actual total value (and personally, having seen some alternative methods completely crash and burn, I'd never play in a game that did it any other way) including magic, and having an item's value change based on whether or not someone claims it was a real PITA when we did it that way.
Adventurers are so not a thing in my setting that if you were to tell an NPC you were an adventurer, they would understand the term to mean "wealthy tourist without a lot of common sense". They would not understand it to mean "heroic mercenary troubleshooter".
Ah, they are in mine. Not quite to the point of "Kings of the Wyld" (a fun Nicholas Eamon book), but certainly a thing.
In any event, magic dug up out of dungeons or something doesn't happen a lot. This is a necessity of the setting. If adventuring parties are active and numerous, then no dungeon should be unexplored and the idea of dungeons that haven't been disturbed for decades or even centuries makes absolutely no sense.
I just take it as a setting conceit that BBEGs and monsters are busy building or re-inhabiting these dungeons as fast as adventurers can clear them out. Otherwise yes, the PCs are gonna get mighty bored as all the real adventuring got done centuries ago. :)
If there are great deeds to be done in an area, it's almost a certainty that the PC's are the only ones available to do them. There will never be a situation like 'The Village of Homlet' where there is a deed to be done, and an entire town full of NPCs with more ability, more motive, and more opportunity to do the deed than the PC's.
Where that Hommlet-like situation is almost exactly what I want. Yes, you're capable; but so are all these other people and if you don't do it, someone else will. Maybe someone else is already on their way to do it and you've gotta get there first. And the high-level NPCs are still alive because they're wise enough to send expendable schlubs like the PCs out to do the dirty work. :)

If the PCs are the only adventurers, it's all too easy to fall into the PCs-are-special-snowflakes trap.
Aside from low level potions and scrolls - which are available from temples, alchemists, and hedge mages in everything big enough to be called a town - the total of items would be exactly zero pretty much anywhere in my setting. There just wouldn't be things available to buy. And even if someone were selling, it wouldn't be to the PC's unless the PC's were already well known to that person. Buying a magic item is like trying to buy something that is a cross between a Van Gogh painting and an F-16 fighter.
Given that the PCs will, after some successful adventuring, tend to each have more than enough funds to buy such things on a whim, expense generally isn't an issue.
They aren't up for sell very often, and not just anyone can do it. I mean imagine going into Middle Earth and going shopping for a dwarven mithril coat, Durin's axe, the ring of Barahir, and an Elven Ring of Power. It just doesn't happen.
Middle Earth is a much - much! - lower-magic setting than are most typical D&D settings; and many of its key items e.g. the Rings of Power are bespoke to individuals. But someone with immense wealth (i.e. a typical PC) could, I'd think, go to the Dwarves and wave around enough money to convince them to part with a suit of mithril mail.
For that matter, I can't remember the last time a PC tried to sell a magic item. Even if you find an upgrade to your sword +1, it's vastly better to hang on to that weapon to give to a retainer or hang on to as a gift for a powerful noble to whom you need to make a good impression.

Magic items are just not fungible assets
. As soon as you make them fungible assets, they lose all sense of being magical.
The two bolded pieces here clash with each other. If a magic item has no (real or perceived) value, then giving one to a noble won't get you anywhere. But if it does have (real or perceived) value then, like it or not, that value can be quantified; and the item then can be traded, bartered, or sold based on that value.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The two bolded pieces here clash with each other. If a magic item has no (real or perceived) value, then giving one to a noble won't get you anywhere. But if it does have (real or perceived) value then, like it or not, that value can be quantified; and the item then can be traded, bartered, or sold based on that value.

I mean fungible in the sense of a form of wealth that is readily convertible into other forms of wealth. The magic mart economy prevalent in some varieties of 3e and on is that you can buy an item, resell it for the same price later and convert that stored wealth immediately into some new and better item. This is not the situation that prevails in my game world.

Items have perceived value and you can cash in on that value in some fashion, but it's not then possible to convert that wealth freely into a different item. Items can't be transformed into other items - they are non-fungible. If in the unlikely event you did buy an item, it's resale value would be lower than its selling price. Sellers of magic items, even if they exist, are trying to operate at a profit and have considerable costs and considerable investments and considerable knowledge and skill in their industry and as such expectation of commiserate profits. It's not at all clear that it's an easy business to get into and make money in.

I mean that while magic items are valuable, their value is often closer to priceless than being a commodity like copper, sides of beef, or frozen concentrated orange juice. As such, you can just expect to find or have a particular item. You very much can't count on the ideal items for your build. I had a player design a two-weapon fighter, but then found a two-handed weapon that was so good and so worked for his skills that his feats and early investment in two-weapon fighting stance went largely unused. He had no ability to turn that weapon into something he wanted more, and even selling the item for anything like a fair price would have proved pretty tough. Heck, neither he nor I had any real idea what that fair price would be, but it was more than any town merchant was likely to have.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I mean fungible in the sense of a form of wealth that is readily convertible into other forms of wealth. The magic mart economy prevalent in some varieties of 3e and on is that you can buy an item, resell it for the same price later and convert that stored wealth immediately into some new and better item. This is not the situation that prevails in my game world.

Items have perceived value and you can cash in on that value in some fashion, but it's not then possible to convert that wealth freely into a different item. Items can't be transformed into other items - they are non-fungible. If in the unlikely event you did buy an item, it's resale value would be lower than its selling price. Sellers of magic items, even if they exist, are trying to operate at a profit and have considerable costs and considerable investments and considerable knowledge and skill in their industry and as such expectation of commiserate profits. It's not at all clear that it's an easy business to get into and make money in.
This is where I run aground - you're assuming the sellers are always static for-profit businesses: as in, actual "Magic Shops". They're often not. Most of the time the sellers are either private individuals or other adventurers just like the PCs; and adventurers are as often as not looking to trade rather than sell outright.

The peg point for an item's value is "what does it cost to have an artificer make you one?". Why? With the exception of charged items such as wands, magic (in any setting I've ever seen) doesn't tend to age or wear out or corrode, thus a +2 longsword straight out of the artificer's forge and a +2 longsword made centuries ago are probably indistinguishable when laid side by side, assuming they've both been recently cleaned up.

And thus, magic doesn't inherently lose value with age. If anything, it might gain value - for example a sword might acquire a name, a reputation, and some legends and lore around itself, all serving to increase its perceived value. So, if you commission a +2 longsword for 4000 g.p. and collect it once it's made, there's no reason in the world you can't expect to get 4000 g.p. for it if and when you later decide to sell it. And so, my single-value system is justified. :)

Which reminds me: another obvious, if rather intermittent, source of major items coming on to the market would be long-time adventurers getting out of the trade and cashing in, selling their items in order to fund strongholds or temples or whatever other retirement plans they might have.
I mean that while magic items are valuable, their value is often closer to priceless than being a commodity like copper, sides of beef, or frozen concentrated orange juice. As such, you can just expect to find or have a particular item. You very much can't count on the ideal items for your build.
I fully agree with the bolded. What's on the market at any given moment is a) very random and b) changes constantly, but there's still magic items being bought and sold. For example, in the adventure I'm running right now the party have already found two very magical tridents. That crew o' characters between them wouldn't know a trident from a teapot, so once they get back to town it's ironclad guaranteed those things are going straight on the market. Which means, by random chance (or so it appears to anyone else) one day there'll suddenly be two magic tridents for sale that weren't available last week and might not be next week.
I had a player design a two-weapon fighter, but then found a two-handed weapon that was so good and so worked for his skills that his feats and early investment in two-weapon fighting stance went largely unused. He had no ability to turn that weapon into something he wanted more, and even selling the item for anything like a fair price would have proved pretty tough. Heck, neither he nor I had any real idea what that fair price would be, but it was more than any town merchant was likely to have.
There's enough item pricing guides out there (look no further than the 1e DMG for one) that surely you could have found something, if only just a base point to extrapolate from. And again, if you're selling a big-ticket item you're not selling it to some town merchant, you're selling it to another adventurer (to use, probably) or a noble (for whatever reason) or a guild (who will resell it at cost later, or use it, whichever) or a temple (who might offer it up in sacrifice).
 

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