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The Magic Item Shop: Creative Expression Through Capitalism

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I've got a slightly longer write-up over here, but here's the crux of the argument:


I think that it takes more than power gaming to explain why players like magic item shops. Looking at the magic item lists like a Sears Catalog might not be especially interesting in RP terms, but it does represent an effort by players to have a demonstrable impact on the world. By contrast, building a temple or owning your own inn might be solid RP, but if it doesn't have mechanical consequences, it's going to feel a bit hollow.


This leads to a bit of a conundrum. If you want to include some kind of gold / power exchange rate in your game (read: a magic item shop), how do you balance that with gold-as-RP? In other words, if you can pay for magic items, new powers, or powerful minions who are willing to fight at your side, how do you balance those hard mechanical benefits against the guy that wants to build a city wall for the town?
 
In short, I don't think you do. I think however that good RPing by the GM requires the world to respond to the PC's for lack of a better word "realistically", which is something that for example the 2e Forgotten Realms adventures infamously set bad examples with respect to - PCs were treated in one moment like heroes that had saved the world and with no real reflection in the next moment were treated like petty criminals. I think that GMs should go out of their way to make real the changes in the social standing of the PCs, even if its hard to put an exact finger on what the mechanical consequences of that is. Simply having NPCs treat them differently as their status evolves over time is enough. You could actually track social status in some sort of rigorous way, but what I tend to find is that such systems are vastly too simplistic to really capture all the nuances of social standing and reputation.

I'm not a fan of magic item shops, and I feel like by introducing them you've created your own problem you now need to solve. For example, what if there were no magic item shops, but one of the more common ways magic items were introduced into the game was as gifts by powerful NPCs that either felt indebted to the players, or who wanted to induce them to be allies or vassals? I mean, thinking back on my own experiences as a high level PC, one of the main things we did with spare magic items was give them to henchmen. As far as mechanical reinforcement goes, by the rules that vastly increased henchmen loyalty! So one way to think of this is that there are magic item shops out there, but the coin that they take isn't gold or isn't just gold.

In my current campaign, the party cleric was invited by a high priest of her cult to undergo a rite that would confirm the cleric as a full priest in the priesthood. We RPed out that rite, and afterwards the high priestess revealed to the PC that it was the will of the deity that she would eventually succeed her as the new high priestess. To that end, the temple has been providing the PC with 'loans' from the temples stock of sacred vestments, including a spiffy suit of shiny mithril armor. No gold changed hands here. We were just confirming the PC's rising status in the world and particularly within her cult. Demonstrable impact on the world.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
The thing me and my players like, isn't magic shoppes per se.

The thing we like is adding another layer of character customization.

Just like the "feats layer", the "skills layer", and the "multiclass layer", the "item layer" is the most fun when it provides the player with choices.

That items represent a money sink that players really are motivated to use (as opposed to downtime activities such as building a church etc) is a nice bonus (since there must a point to collecting all the gold or you can just leave it once you have 100 gold or so, enough for all the beer in the entire tavern).

But just like for feats or class abilities, the game falls apart if you're allowed completely free reign. Just as you probably shouldn't allow players to design their own skills, you better not allow them to create just any item.

That's where the Sears Catalog comes in, the magic shoppe. Just like you might get a choice between six different class abilities when you level up, you gain the choice between a large but ultimately finite number of items, limited by available gold (and particulars, like you can't wear two hats, or Attunement in 5E).
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
That's where the Sears Catalog comes in, the magic shoppe. Just like you might get a choice between six different class abilities when you level up, you gain the choice between a large but ultimately finite number of items, limited by available gold (and particulars, like you can't wear two hats, or Attunement in 5E).
My approach is to have a travelling merchant. Dude has maybe 15 things at any given time, three of which the PCs can't afford and another two of which are inappropriate to their classes. That leaves ten real items to sort through. In other words, my magic merchant is a Sears Catalog on wheels.
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
My feeling on magic item shops is "if it fits the genre". Final Fantasy CRPG? Sure! World Tree? Absolutely, but they're mostly going to be selling lowish complexity household or professional spells, easy enchantments a first year magical student could do for a term project. D&D or general fantasy tabletop RPG? Depends where you are. I'd prefer to have the armor and weapon merchants have a small stock of minor magic items, like in Might & Magic VI where if you went into a shop and selected their "Special" items, they had five magic items . . . that week, excluding the ones you already bought.

As I have said in a previous thread, or at least hopefully alluded to is "if there's a price for it in the book, I can buy it in a shop, in any town we happen to be in". While I have not seen that happen in play, it seems to me the way a lot of people here handle magic item shops.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
CapnZapp said:
The thing me and my players like, isn't magic shoppes per se.

The thing we like is adding another layer of character customization.
And that's just the sort of thinking that dooms magic shops for the rest of us: that it just becomes one more level of gamist character building without any basis in the reality of the game world.

Magic items should be available to purchase, of that there's no debate. But what's available at any given time should be completely* random (both in quantity and in selection) and not in any way tailored to the PCs. Even the biggest city isn't likely to have more than 15-25 items on the market at once, other than basic scrolls and potions. Sure, sometimes a PC will get lucky and find exactly the item she wants - but that's all it is: luck.

* - with allowances made for in-fiction goings-on e.g. if there's a war coming and magic weapons and armour are being snapped up then fewer of these would be on the open market at any given time in that region.

Regarding custom-to-PC items: the way in-game to achieve this is to commission the item's construction, pay up front, and then be prepared to wait an in-game year or two while it's being made...with the known risk that by the time it's completed you might not need it any more because you've found better, or your adventuring career has ended, or you're dead. (unclaimed commissions are a valid source of items coming on the open market)
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Magic items should be available to purchase, of that there's no debate.
Hey, Lowkey, what are you arguing against?

Whaddya got?


I dispute this premise. I will certainly argue against having magic items available to purchase in my campaigns. Not only will I argue against it, as the authority for such things in my campaigns, I will strike down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers with their magic shoppes.

For crying out loud, shoppes only exist in pretentious suburban strip malls.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I dispute this premise. I will certainly argue against having magic items available to purchase in my campaigns. Not only will I argue against it, as the authority for such things in my campaigns, I will strike down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers with their magic shoppes.

For crying out loud, shoppes only exist in pretentious suburban strip malls.
Why oh why do people so quickly assume the ability to buy-sell magic items always represents the silly 3e extreme, that being fully stocked 'magic shoppes'?

Have your PC parties never come back from an adventure with a few magic items that none of them want, or can use? Have said parties never then tried to convert those items into something more useful - be it coin, other more useful items, or whatever?

Because if they have then boom you've got the germination of a magic item economy.

And if one then realizes there's almost certainly going to be items coming onto the market now and then from one or more of these other sources:

1 - other adventurers out there (a very reasonable assumption, or else where do replacement mid-high-level characters come from when needed?) who also occasionally come back from the field with things they don't need
2 - sales and transfers from current owners e.g. retired adventurers who don't need the items any more, or who have died without a will or family
3 - items commissioned (could even be by a PC) from an artificer or guild and then for whatever reason never picked up on completion
4 - items made by a PC with the specific intent of being sold, either to someone else within the party or "on spec" to whoever is willing to pay (and if a PC can do this, so can anyone else with the skill)

Then there's quite realistically going to be a) some trade in those items, b) little or no choice in what happens to be available at any given time, and c) no single 'magic shoppe' where those items may all be found at once.

And the (was it 4e? 3e? I forget now) idea of turning unwanted items into 'residuum' is almost laughable: who in their right mind would melt a perfectly good item down for slag when there's almost certainly someone out there who could a) put it to good use and b) is willing to pay to buy it from you.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
The only silly thing is buying WotC's spiel about gold and treasure.

No, downtime isn't enough to motivate players to risk their characters lives for gold.

Purchasing magic items is fun.

The 3E notion isn't silly at all. It's maybe not for everyone, but it is a perfectly reasonable way to run your game. Just look at Pathfinder 2, where you by default can purchase 90% of listed items in the core rulebook.

Instead it is WotC's stance that is the fundamentalist and exclusionary.
 
This leads to a bit of a conundrum. If you want to include some kind of gold / power exchange rate in your game (read: a magic item shop), how do you balance that with gold-as-RP? In other words, if you can pay for magic items, new powers, or powerful minions who are willing to fight at your side, how do you balance those hard mechanical benefits against the guy that wants to build a city wall for the town?
Ah, but does it have to be a conundrum - why not give mechanical benefits to the guy who builds the city wall for the town?

Matt Colville's Strongholds & Followers rules includes a whole system for doing this.
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
I've got a slightly longer write-up over here, but here's the crux of the argument:


I think that it takes more than power gaming to explain why players like magic item shops. Looking at the magic item lists like a Sears Catalog might not be especially interesting in RP terms, but it does represent an effort by players to have a demonstrable impact on the world. By contrast, building a temple or owning your own inn might be solid RP, but if it doesn't have mechanical consequences, it's going to feel a bit hollow.


This leads to a bit of a conundrum. If you want to include some kind of gold / power exchange rate in your game (read: a magic item shop), how do you balance that with gold-as-RP? In other words, if you can pay for magic items, new powers, or powerful minions who are willing to fight at your side, how do you balance those hard mechanical benefits against the guy that wants to build a city wall for the town?
Give the gold expenditure tangible rewards.

If they want build a wall for a town, that town will probably reward them later, if not immediately. Maybe the blacksmith has some oricalcum in a chest in his basement that he's never had a commision significant enough to use, and the mayor has a ceremonial sword of a single piece of pure obsidian that was the property of the local lord when the area had a local lord, and he has no use for it because it isn't magical so it's a terrible weapon (too brittle to risk ever using, no matter how sharp), and the town guard captain is a bronze dragonborn with a little divine training from his time as a Knight of Bahamut before losing a leg in the last big war, and the town comes together to pay an artificer to help them craft an oricalcum bracelet that holds Absorb Elements and Protection From Evil and Good in it, and a sword that you can look through "sight beyond sight" style and see invisible things, that never chips or breaks, and has a +1 attack and damage from how razor sharp it is.

Or maybe the captain is willing to train someone in a new skill or ability, ala the alternate rewards optional rule in the DMG.

Or they build that Inn using Matt Collville's stronghold rules, or some of your own homebrew rules that give bonuses to resting in your own stronghold, and give you increased access to information from around the region, as well as a trickle of income that covers stuff like spell components, travel expenses, etc.

Maybe someone builds a mercantile company, and as a result gets free passage through it's operating area, and easier access to crafting materials.

It's DnD. You can do whatever you want.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Give the gold expenditure tangible rewards.

If they want build a wall for a town, that town will probably reward them later, if not immediately. Maybe the blacksmith has some oricalcum in a chest in his basement that he's never had a commision significant enough to use, and the mayor has a ceremonial sword of a single piece of pure obsidian that was the property of the local lord when the area had a local lord, and he has no use for it because it isn't magical so it's a terrible weapon (too brittle to risk ever using, no matter how sharp), and the town guard captain is a bronze dragonborn with a little divine training from his time as a Knight of Bahamut before losing a leg in the last big war, and the town comes together to pay an artificer to help them craft an oricalcum bracelet that holds Absorb Elements and Protection From Evil and Good in it, and a sword that you can look through "sight beyond sight" style and see invisible things, that never chips or breaks, and has a +1 attack and damage from how razor sharp it is.

Or maybe the captain is willing to train someone in a new skill or ability, ala the alternate rewards optional rule in the DMG.

Or they build that Inn using Matt Collville's stronghold rules, or some of your own homebrew rules that give bonuses to resting in your own stronghold, and give you increased access to information from around the region, as well as a trickle of income that covers stuff like spell components, travel expenses, etc.

Maybe someone builds a mercantile company, and as a result gets free passage through it's operating area, and easier access to crafting materials.

It's DnD. You can do whatever you want.
What I want is the chance to use all the gold I've looted on things that make a better adventurer - better at surviving, better at killing monsters, better at overcoming dungeon traps, better at saving princesses.

In other words, all those things you list are fine.

Leaving magic items off the list is NOT fine.

It's as if you're somehow projecting generosity in the wealth of options. It's as if one is supposed to feel ungrateful for not choosing one of all those options.

But if you want chocolate, you're not interested in a wide selection of other flavors. You can offer vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, cookie dough or pistachio all you want.

It still does not excuse not serving chocolate.
 
I would put forward that if players only care about acquiring magic items, then it's because you the DM have taught them that. A player's ambitions are going to be shaped by what you as the DM have provided for. If pretty much every problem needs to be solved through violence, then your players are only going to care for things that make them better at violence. If the characters are seeing the game as a pretty simplistic game of kill or be killed, and valuing everything in the world accordingly, then it's probably because the world is a simplistic game of kill or be killed. If you created a world were everyone is a munchkin that only cares about how much +'s a thing gives, you probably created that world.

It's not (necessarily) the player's fault that they don't care how NPC's perceive them, so that honor, fame, friendship, and the like aren't valuable things to collect. If NPC's never gave any respect to PC's on account of honor, fame, or friendship and never made that worthwhile and never were liked enough by the players to make them care what those imaginary figures thought of them, then either you did that or your players really are sociopaths. If the players never care about how "cool" their PC is and don't perceive any of that coolness in terms of the trappings of wealth and luxury, and don't care to imagine the PC as having those sorts of possessions, is it because you've made it clear how little you care for anything that doesn't give +'s.

In the real world, people pursue all sorts of things from philanthropy to greed, based in part on intangible values. My perception of the original post is still that the OP is themselves unintentionally communicating to the player that only +'s matter, in that we're looking for some sort of theoretical balance that all comes down to mechanical modifiers.

Why would you buy a castle instead of a +5 sword? Because you want to be the sort of character that owns a castle?

I guess I would say if your players really do only care about getting more +'s, because tactical combat and winning big is the part of the game they find emotionally fulfilling, then don't fight that too much. Not everyone wants to play a game with landed lords, politics, low and high melodrama, and scenes that could be part of Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies?). Some people really do want to just kick down the doors, kill things, and take the stuff. Don't force them to play a way they aren't really into. But on the other hand, don't default to that just because no one has considered any other options. And there are plenty of example mini-games out there that do give the +'s for things other than swords, if you are looking for inspiration.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The only silly thing is buying WotC's spiel about gold and treasure.

No, downtime isn't enough to motivate players to risk their characters lives for gold.

Purchasing magic items is fun.

The 3E notion isn't silly at all. It's maybe not for everyone, but it is a perfectly reasonable way to run your game. Just look at Pathfinder 2, where you by default can purchase 90% of listed items in the core rulebook.

Instead it is WotC's stance that is the fundamentalist and exclusionary.
The whole game is exclusionary. Being exclusionary isn't in and of itself, bad. I will agree that having fully stocked magic item shops is a reasonable way to play for some people, it is also an extremely unreasonable way to play for others. Myself for example.
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
What I want is the chance to use all the gold I've looted on things that make a better adventurer - better at surviving, better at killing monsters, better at overcoming dungeon traps, better at saving princesses.

In other words, all those things you list are fine.

Leaving magic items off the list is NOT fine.

It's as if you're somehow projecting generosity in the wealth of options. It's as if one is supposed to feel ungrateful for not choosing one of all those options.

But if you want chocolate, you're not interested in a wide selection of other flavors. You can offer vanilla, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, cookie dough or pistachio all you want.

It still does not excuse not serving chocolate.
Tell it to someone that opposes magic items as something you can spend your gold on, man. I'm answering the OP's request.

But beyond that, what I'm offering is "the chance to use all the gold I've looted on things that make a better adventurer". Is that your "chocolate", or is only "literally magic items, as such" chocolate? Because at that point, you're getting mad at the ice cream vendor for not offering the specific variety of chocolate you want, even though he's got 6 chocolate ice creams on offer. I love dark chocolate mint with as little sugar as possible, but I'm not mad every time a creamery or frozen yogurt shop doesn't have it. I just get one of the several other chocolate options. They certainly aren't doing something that requires any sort of "excuse" by not offering it.

The DMG's alternate rewards are equivalent to magic items. One of the rewards I listed was literally magic items.

If you're going to hyperbolically rant at me as if I've personally tried to take your fun away when I wasn't even talking to you, at least fully read the post of mine that you're quoting.

edit: Sacred Night! I just reread my own post, and literally the majority of my suggestions for rewards other than magic items are things that give tangible benefits to adventuring.

Even if we ignore the fact that information and free travel do make you better at adventuring and saving princesses, getting easier access to crafting materials literally increases your ability to turn gold into magic items.

Many of the Extended Rest benefits in Matt Collvile's Stronghold rules are mechanical benefits that increase your efficacy in combat and exploration!

Every single suggestion I made includes mechanically beneficial rewards that make the PCs better at overcoming challenges in an adventure.


On top of all that, leaving magic items off the list is absolutely fine. You are not entitled to anyone catering to your preference. You can build your own campaigns however you want, and you can talk to your own DMs. The game absolutely, objectively, does not have any obligation whatsoever to make the basic core, default, rules cater to your playstyle. Period. You are one person in a community of millions, and they have weighed the preferences of as much of the community as they could get feedback from, and concluded that the best course of action was the one they chose.

If you can't deal with that, it isn't my damn problem, so don't come into a thread and reply to my post answering the OPs question acting like I've kicked your dog.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Explorer
I dispute this premise. I will certainly argue against having magic items available to purchase in my campaigns. Not only will I argue against it, as the authority for such things in my campaigns, I will strike down with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers with their magic shoppes.

For crying out loud, shoppes only exist in pretentious suburban strip malls.
LOL Yes. This is why I simply allow characters to craft magic items, and generally reduce the crafting time from the wildly restrictive DMG times. I also don't require them to be spellcasters with the right spells known, and instead use a variant of the Xanathar's rules on magic item crafting.

or, they can commission an item, find a collector, etc. I also like custom items, especially when it's commissioned or crafted by the PCs, and prefer upgrading items over replacing them.

But in a world like Eberron, you can go to the Cannith foundry or the local licensed Artificer and get most uncommon items (either in stock there or they know where you can get it), and a decent selection of rare items.

I can imagine a world with full magic item shop style availability, but it certainly wouldn't look like any of the published dnd worlds, not even Eberron. It's fun to run or play in a fantasy equivalent of the futuristic sci-fi world, where you can buy an airship on credit, hack your gloves of blasting to make a trap, and the big city looks like fantasy Coruscant, but that isn't for everyone.

Also, man, I love giving enemies magic items. Maybe they aren't of use to the party, and all they can do with it is either break down the enchantment into residuum or sell/trade it, or maybe it's just what they're looking for, but either way they're gonna have to survive it being used against them in order to get it.
 

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