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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


Gygax's 1e Temple of Elemental Evil in the village of Nulb has Mother Screng's Herb Shop "The shop has almost every known herb and spice, and even 3 jars of Keoghtom's ointment which Mother Screng sells to any adventurers of Good alignment who are in real need of the magic salve, after having proved themselves in expeditions to the Temple."

It is too bad we never got Gygax's detailed out Greyhawk to see an example of his vision of availability in a city. The 2e City of Greyhawk boxed set by Carl Sargent and Rik Rose is from well after Gygax was out of the picture. In the 2e version there is a Guild of Wizardry in the city and:

"The guild also accepts commissions for the production of customized magical items (they are currently working on thieves tools of opening for Org Nenshen, master of the Thieves' Guild)."


"Guildmembers wishing to sell (donate) or purchase either magical items or spell components will be directed to Kondradis Bubka. the person in charge of administering and recording such transactions."


"Kondradis will ordinarily pay no more than 75% of the standard price for a magical item, or 85% if buying from a member of the Guild of Wizardry. He takes a further 5% off his best offer for any charged item, due to the inherent uncertainty of knowing how many charges are present in the item (and the standard price should be adjusted for the number of charges present in any event). Kondradis will barter magical items (paying in kind) at this percentage, but anyone who wants to make an outright purchase will pay at least 115% of the standard price, (110% for a guild member). The DM is advised to be very careful about selling magical items. Minor items such as potions of healing and the like, and scrolls of spells of levels 1-3, are fairly readily available. Permanent items are rarely sold, almost always being retained for use in bartering for items the Guild of Wizardry wants for itself."

"Word has gotten around that if one wants a potion, Greyhawk is the place to get it"

2e did not have gp value for magic items the way 1e and 3e do, just xp ones so there is a little advice to make the cost based on the xp value so that similar xp items have similar costs but that the exact xp to gp ratio should vary based on the individual campaign's economy.
Read the Gord the Rogue series. He details a magic shop where Gord buys his magic dagger and there were others for sale.

Believe it was Leukesh in Duchy of Urnst.

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So people prefer that players spend a session shopping in character and talking to cagey NPCs like in Critical Role?
I have to tell you that my players love going to the Goblin Market at Fiddler's Green. Dealing with (mostly) fair and (usually) benevolent faeries is quite fun for everyone involved. Especially when the price is asked. "Yes, I will barter this with you for the memory of your first passionate encounter." Having then try to figure out the consequences of that bargain is quite interesting in of itself. Time being what it is in the Veil of Dreams, they don't even need to wait too long for the commisson to be completed.

For healing potions, blessed holy symbols, lucky charms, low level scrolls, &c. local hedge wizards and cunning women can supply such needs.


Havent even tried to read all this so just my view.

Magic shopping make for video game economies. The poorest town with no supplies can somehow buy the highests priced items with unlimited money?

That is how video games work. Not how TRPGs work.

I want to play a game but not if there is going to be something so jarring it can not be explained.

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I think the idea of magic trade becomes more prevalent if your world is lousy with adventurers, like say Faerun. And yeah, there has to be something to do with all those +1 long swords and +1 rings of protection that modules are equally lousy with, right?


Read the Gord the Rogue series. He details a magic shop where Gord buys his magic dagger and there were others for sale.

Believe it was Leukesh in Duchy of Urnst.
I did read them, but it also has a thief as a fantastic master swordsman, which we know the AD&D mechanics do not support at all. :)

Unless you have the majority of your monsters as unique beings that have never been encountered before by anyone (who lived to tell the tale
This is exactly what they are. There isn’t a monster round every corner, that makes no sense. Most people in the world will never see a monster, probably don’t believe monsters exist.

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