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Worlds of Design: The Problem with Magimarts

I dislike magic item stores ("magimarts") in my games. Here's why.

I dislike magic item stores. Here's why.


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Magic items are a part of every fantasy role-playing game, and wherever player characters meet, someone will want to buy or sell such items. What the players do among themselves is their business, in most cases; but when non-player characters (NPC) are involved the GM must know where magic items come from, how rare they are, and how hard it is to produce them. [Quoting myself from 40+ years ago]

Magimart: Still a Bad Idea​

I don't like the idea of "Magimarts" -- something like a bookstore or small department store, often with a public storefront, where adventurers can come and purchase (or sell) magic items. I said as much over 40 years ago in an article titled “Magimart: Buying and Selling Magic Items” in White Dwarf magazine. My point then still stands: at least for me and in my games, magic-selling stores don’t make sense.

They don’t make sense from a design point of view, as they may unbalance a campaign or cause power-creep. From an adventure point of view such stores partly eliminates the need to quest for specific powerful magic items. From a realistic point of view they would only provide targets for those who are happy to steal.

The Design Point of View​

From a game design point of view, how experience points, gold, and magic fit together makes a big difference. For example, if you get experience points for selling a magic item (even to NPCs), as well as for the gold you get, adventurers will sell magic items more often. If adventurers acquire scads of treasure and have nothing (such as taxes or “training”) to significantly reduce their fortunes, then big-time magic items are going to cost an awful lot of money, but some will be bought. If gold is in short supply (as you’d expect in anything approaching a real world) then anyone with a whole lot of gold might be able to buy big-time magic items.

Long campaigns need a way for magic items to change ownership, other than theft. As an RPG player I like to trade magic items to other characters in return for other magic items. But there are no “magic stores.” Usability is a big part of it: if my magic user has a magic sword that a fighter wants, he might trade me an item that I could use as a magic user. (Some campaigns allocate found magic items only to characters who can use them. We just dice for selecting the things (a sort of draft) and let trading sort it out, much simpler and less likely to lead to argument about who can use/who needs what.)

The Adventure Point of Views​

Will magic stores promote enjoyable adventuring? It depends on the style of play, but for players primarily interested in challenging adventures, they may not want to be able to go into a somehow-invulnerable magic store and buy or trade for what they want.

Magic-selling stores remind me of the question “why do dungeons exist”. A common excuse (not reason) is “some mad (and very powerful) wizard made it.” Yeah, sure. Excuses for magic-selling stores need to be even wilder than that!

I think of magic-item trading and selling amongst characters as a kind of secretive black market. Yes, it may happen, but each transaction is fraught with opportunities for deceit. Perhaps like a black market for stolen diamonds? This is not something you’re likely to do out in the open, nor on a regular mass basis.

The Realistic Point of View​

“Why do you rob banks?” the thief is asked. “’Cause that’s where the money is.”
Realistically, what do you think will happen if someone maintains a location containing magic items on a regular basis? Magimarts are a major flashpoint in the the dichotomy between believability (given initial assumptions of magic and spell-casting) and "Rule of Cool" ("if it's cool, it's OK").

In most campaigns, magic items will be quite rare. Or magic items that do commonplace things (such as a magic self-heating cast iron pan) may be common but the items that are useful in conflict will be rare. After all, if combat-useful magic items are commonplace, why would anyone take the risk of going into a “dungeon” full of dangers to find some? (Would dungeon-delving become purely a non-magical treasure-hunting activity if magic items are commonplace?)

And for the villains, magimarts seem like an easy score. If someone is kind enough to gather a lot of magic items in a convenient, known place, why not steal those rather than go to a lot of time and effort, risk and chance, to explore dungeons and ruins for items? There may be lots of money there as well!

When Magimarts Make Sense​

If your campaign is one where magic is very common, then magic shops may make sense - though only for common stuff, not for rare/powerful items. And magic-selling stores can provide reasons for adventures:
  • Find the kidnapped proprietor who is the only one who can access all that magic.
  • Be the guards for a magic store.
  • Chase down the crooks who stole some or all of the magic from the store.
Maybe a clever proprietor has figured out a way to make the items accessible only to him or her. But some spells let a caster take over the mind of the victim, and can use the victim to access the items. And if someone is so powerful that he or she can protect a magic store against those who want to raid it, won't they likely have better/more interesting things to do with their time? (As an aside, my wife points out that a powerful character might gather a collection of magic items in the same way that a rich person might gather a collection of artworks. But these won’t be available to “the public” in most cases. Still just as some people rob art museums, some might rob magic collections.)

Of course, any kind of magic trading offers lots of opportunities for deception. You might find out that the sword you bought has a curse, or that the potion isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Many GMs ignore this kind of opportunity and let players buy and sell items at standard prices without possibility of being bilked. Fair enough, it’s not part of the core adventure/story purposes of RPGs. And magic stores are a cheap way for a GM to allow trade in magic items.

Your Turn: What part do magic-selling stores play in your games?

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio


I have magic item brokers in my Greyhawk campaign. Instead of buying or selling magic items, however, it's a completely barter economy. This allows the players to dispose of magic items they don't want/need for items that are more useful. Of course, the broker takes a fee in gp and the players typically downgrade in value (e.g. a rare item might be traded for an uncommon).


It depends on how you look at magic items.

are they something really rare or just slightly uncommon(read; more expensive)

If magic items are only as a result of some cosmic event(Time of troubles or similar), then yeah, magic marts have no sense at all, but some guilds/groups might want to amass them all or most.

but if magic items are just seen as tools, or just lower end of magic items, common, uncommon and rare, while keeping very rare, epic legendary and artifacts in somewhat exclusive category, then you can just see a common sword and +2 sword as variant of modern day comparison of old semi-rusty M14 that your granddad used in Vietnam vs. a brand new M4 with laser dot, thermal sight, 40mm grenade launcher and match grade ammo.

both are used for mostly the same work, but clearly one is better and more expensive.

If a magic item can be produced without waiting for some cosmic catastrophe, then they will be made if there is need for it.
Then it's just an expensive commodity.

a limited edition Ferrari is commodity, an old VW will still drive you where you need to go, but it is no Ferrari.
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I have magic item brokers in my Greyhawk campaign. Instead of buying or selling magic items, however, it's a completely barter economy. This allows the players to dispose of magic items they don't want/need for items that are more useful. Of course, the broker takes a fee in gp and the players typically downgrade in value (e.g. a rare item might be traded for an uncommon).
I like the idea of brokers. A more or less shady NPC with all the right connections, who can locate a particular magic item for a fee, and broker a deal between the owner and the PCs.


Reeks of Jedi
Low level stuff might be sold. +1 items at best. Anything beyond that requires seeking out a Wizard in his tower (who makes them) or a noble (rich enough to own one) to barter for if they even will.

But yes, magic items should mostly be found during adventure not at a 2 for 1 at the local 7-11.


When "magic item" runs the gamut from a 50 gp potion of healing (only the cheapest gemstones and art objects are less valuable) to a legendary holy avenger, it seems even less realistic to me (as an economist) that there is no trade in "magic items" at all.

I think a more sensible question may be: what type of "magic items" would be commonly traded? How valuable? What rarity? Would it make a difference if the item is permanent or consumable? Where would such trade take place?

What type of "magic items" might be sold at occasional auctions?
What type of "magic items" might brokers be able to help you find?
What type of "magic items" might you be able to commission the creation?
What type of "magic items" might you need to personally seek out the owner and negotiate to purchase, trade, or earn?
What type of "magic items" might you have no option but to go on adventures to find?

It seems to me that it would be a more interesting and realistic world if the answers to all these questions were different.


Sounds like a bunch of badwrongfun.

I don't use magicmarts in the sense that characters can walk into a walmart-like shop, grab a hat of disguise and go pay for it at the counter.

I do, however, have the smith who has a +1 longsword in his stock, either perhaps because some hard-on-his luck adventurer hocked it, the smith's skilled enough to have made it, or perhaps someone commissioned it and never returned to claimed it. Maybe there's some magical armor stuffed back in there somewhere as well, or he's got a stock of components to fashion something for the players - or is at least open that if the PCs bring him the components, he can make it.

There might be the alchemist's shop, who deals in a variety of herbs, spell components, the odd scroll and potions. And if you know the secret sign, he'll take you to his store of specialty poisons for sale.

There might be a local monastery or church that has a stock of low-level scrolls, healing potions and perhaps a relic of some power that adventurers might be able to access or purchase, for a small donation, of course.

I've had several town or noble wizards who, with the proper audience and deference, might cast spells or commission the creation of an object in return for gold and/or the acquisition of magical components. Maybe they've got "just the thing" stuffed in their laboratory that the PCs might be able wheedle out of the old wizard's hands or off his trophy wall.

I could see using a group of vagabonds or a panhandler whose pack or cart is loaded with magical trinkets made or acquired (possibly even under dubious circumstances) for purchase in return for coin. Some may actually even do what the seller purports they do!

And finally, in my homebrew campaign, there is a trade house who deals exclusively in the commission of magical wares. They are difficult to track down though, and the creation takes time. It's relatively a safe bet to purchase from them, and they are experienced enough to protect their wares from theft or malice. But they don't have a storefront you walk into to just grab what you want and pay for it.

For that, you'd have to go to DoonAsk.


Follower of the Way
Most of these arguments only make sense if you presuppose several additional elements that are not universally true. Balance, for example, is perfectly capable of tolerating a magic item economy; it is only if there are unbalanced items that such a concern is warranted. Socially, it presumes that play rarely if ever goes to large cities where magic services would be commonly traded; IRL, jewelers and pharmacists still exist even though their stuff COULD be stolen, so that whole like of thinking is frankly ridiculous.

I have magic items available for purchase in my Dungeon World game, because the PCs live in and work with the largest city on their continent, which has a heavily mercantile culture, and where small magic is commonplace but big magic is rare. As an example, a friend of the party is a Wizard and artificer who has become independently wealthy by devising a form of self-heating crockery, so that people can eat warm food at any hour. That sort of stuff sells big bucks. Basic magic weapons are not generally worth large scale production, they're too involved and expensive; instead, they're the kind of thing you give to officers or prized assets. Magic tools are more common, but still not something every Tom, Dick, and Harry would need or even want necessarily, just as you wouldn't expect every Renaissance violinist to have a Stradivarius, even though instrument-making is involved and expensive.

If you want to go past basic stuff though, if you want fancy magic items? Those things are too rare to be just bought and sold. Most of them would be snapped up by collectors, museums, or (most commonly) Waziri mages who will destroy them in order to find out even just some part of how they function. Because that aforementioned self-heating crockery? Yeah that came from reverse-engineering the magic in an Efreeti-wrought sword, something a foolish group of mercenaries allowed to fall into others' hands.

But where there is desire, there is opportunity. Ambitious players may find they can get what they want...if they're willing to collect rare or volatile materials from isolated, hazardous places. Or perhaps they can get on the good side of a Jinnistani noble, since that never has unintended consequences. Or...etc.

By the time the party becomes wealthy enough to buy up whatever they might have wanted from a magic shop when they were level 1...they no longer have the wants and interests of level 1 characters. At which point, the magic item shop is no longer a free pass to fantastic power. It is, at worst, a way to fill in a gap that adventuring has, by coincidence, failed to fill up.

Ready access to magic items is a fundamental part of Pathfinder 1e. Challenge ratings are based on PCs having the appropriate "wealth" for their level - and that doesn't mean throwing gold pieces at the monsters.

In my games, whenever the PCs are in town, they can buy and sell magic items to their hearts' content, so long as they do it "off camera" and don't take up any game time. (I'm not running a shopping simulator.) As to who is the other party to these transactions, I don't know and I don't care. Even upgrading existing magic items can happen instantly, if they are under time-pressure due to campaign events.

It's completely "unrealistic", and ignores Pathfinder's own rules for magic item availability, but it works for us.

It also sidesteps the whole question of robbing magic item shops - although I'd happily write an adventure around that if the players wanted one.

When "magic item" runs the gamut from a 50 gp potion of healing (only the cheapest gemstones and art objects are less valuable) to a legendary holy avenger, it seems even less realistic to me (as an economist) that there is no trade in "magic items" at all.
Reminds me of the good old days of 1st / 2nd edition.

Player: I ask around town to see if anyone is interested in buying a +1 longsword
DM: Magic items are rare and precious. They aren't a commodity to be bought and sold. That +1 longsword is the result of a long and tortuous creation process by a powerful mage, who poured his very life-force into making it. No one here could possibly afford to buy it; maybe the lord of the manor, but he'd have to mortgage his entire estate to do so
Player: Then how come I have a dozen of the (expletive deleted) things, and every random bandit chief we meet on the road seems to have another one?
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