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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


Your players are extravagant spendthrifts compared to mine. Why pay for a cheap inn, when you can just use a rope trick and get yourself 0.00001% closer to upgrading that cloak of resistance?

So in my campaigns I handwave subsistence costs as well. PCs don't pay for inns, meals or other mundane expenses. It makes things a lot easier.

I'd be very happy to run a "realistic, every gp counts" sort of game if my players wanted one, but Pathfinder really isn't suited for that sort of approach.
Agreed. I haven't seen players willingly spring for better living conditions since 3.x when it made a difference in what type of recovery speeds they could get. Through 5e I practically need to blackmail a lot of them into staying for free at an inn/village head/etc where something could happen without the ageis of things like "I have rustic hospitality, it will keep us safe>coolletscasttinyhuttoo cantbetoosafe"

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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.

This, this, a hundred times this.

The last d&d campaign I ran, the low level adventurers could buy one or two healing potions from the mid-sized town as they were all people were willing to spare against emergencies, but there was an alchemist who could make more...given time. So they would put in an order for the next batch of potions, with a caveat of if they don't pick it up in a month, the crafter will sell them and remake new as they didn't want to have much inventory, which could mean delays.

Recurring NPC established. All are happy.

When they came back a few quests later a few +1-ish items they didn't want, no one in town wanted the items but the alchemist told them to either go to capital city (far away) or to the annual fair that happens in a few weeks in the next county over. Alchemist gives them a letter of introduction and they head off to find an invitation-only auction run by the temple of the merchant god.

There they are allowed to be part of the private bidding auction, where they manage to get one or two things and sell most of their unwanted.

The priests are willing to act as brokers for disposing of their other unwanted items, making discreet inquiries and providing a degree of authentication.....for an honest price, of course.

For items like scrolls and potions the party seeks, the temple was willing to reach out to crafters they knew, like the party's first alchemist, to see if any would take a commission. Again, with an fee for the priests for their honest days of work.

During their adventures they established a network of known brokers (of various levels of honesty/trustworthiness).

More recurring NPCs of various backgrounds to act as adventure hooks. "Protect a shipment of potions", "find out what's destroying the forest that is source of healing-potion ingredients", "bodyguards to the Duke of Gribble to and from t Flan so he can buy a Lyre of Building to repair an aquaduct before the harvests are ruined"

Later, when they have a weird-powerful Mcguffin, they refuse to sell to anonymous randos and no one they could trust had the cash. One of their allies suggests they gift it to a noble they trusted and basically hope karma came back to them.

Off to Gribble they go. The Duke is grateful and gifts them some lands near the spooky woods. Because everyone knows adventurers aren't afraid of spooky woods. The PCs aren't displeased (not ecstatic about it, but not displeased) so they spend some money on hirelings to set up a small farm. Then, when the PCs inevitably fight off some threat from spooky woods, the Duke knights them. It's the bottom of the nobility, but it's still nobility and does come with a few perks like inferred respectability.

When someone comes to the Duke to try and buy said McGuffin and doesn't take no for an answer, the PCs are called on to hunt down the thieves.

The Duke directs one of his Barons to entrust the PCs with a very useful magic item to assist in their mission. It seems that rather than having some hard to secure vault of "emergency" magic items, the Duke distributes such things to his knights and nobles, who will naturally guard "their" loot and by being distributed there's no one high value target.

This also introduces a network of (mostly) trustworthy allies-of-allies where you might be able to borrow a powerful thing for a quest...or be asked to loan out one of your things for someone else's quest. (Think museums loaning each other relics, or one army sending weapons to an allied army)

So many recurring NPCs, plot hooks, opportunities for player engagement, rewards of all types (status, reknown, loot, items), and all from accepting that magic item commerce exists.

In my long running Greyhawk campaigns, I have two major magic dealers.

One owns a store in a city under the protection of the Mages Guild and sells only relatively low powered magic items - Scrolls up to about 3rd level, potions, +1 weapons or armor, and equivalent miscellaneous magic. I keep track of the inventory, which contains whatever the PC’s traded with him and occasionally gains or loses an item from a 3rd party. The total value of the inventory is ~ 20,000 gp, but it may be higher if he’s selling on consignment.

The other is a 17th level Wizard, a former PC turned NPC whose player wanted him to go into the teleportation and Magic dealing business. Prospective customers can get an LG cleric who knows him to do a Sending and he will Crystal Ball them, then Teleport in (with an invisible guardian) to take their orders or buy things. Nobody goes to his Wizard’s tower, where he stores his items, and much of his business is based on brokering and having items made to order rather than selling from inventory. He also does a Teleport Without Error travel service. His tower is in Rel Astra, with permission of the LE ruler thereof.

Both charge Mage’s Guild prices (DMG) and buy in the 50-70% range, depending on the item and their relationship with the sellers. Fast Moving Consumer Goods like healing potions or Fireball scrolls get the best prices.

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
With 5E no longer being dependent on the Christmas Tree, I no long have just generic +X weapons. They will always get a perk and possibly a flaw to make them unique.

For example, a Flamberge (longsword) +1 named The Pride of Kas. When held aloft, streams of blood seem to be drawn into the blade and the murmurs of praise can be heard fleetingly in its owner's ear.

Mechanically, it's just a +1 weapon, but with my playstyle I get to have a lot of RP fun with the wielder. I can use the murmurs to pass secret information or try to goad the player. Perhaps based on the foes the wielder faces, the streams of blood might strengthen or change color. Maybe, in the presence of undead the blood turns black, for example. In the presence of an enemy wizard, the streams might glow brightly "in anger".

I sometimes also do this to other items as well.
Which brings up another point. Invariably, someone starts arguing for "mass-produced" magical items, and I have come up with an argument against such a thing. For one, most of the guilds and mages are rarely open about the secrets of creation to those things that make them money. Guilds often swear apprentices to secrecy not to reveal the tricks of their trade and any training manuals tends to be written in code. Some use geas or other magics to enforce such oaths, and the more powerful ones aren't afraid to higher assassins, thugs, bounty hunters or extraplanar creatures to enforce their secrecy or hunt down rivals or renegades. Some have the ears of Kings and the likes through patents contracts or even magical bindings, legally allowing them to quash others from engaging in competitive trade. Likewise, wizards and other spellcasters are loathe to divulge the secrets of their trade, especially should the be used against them. Religions frown on sharing mystical secrets or relics with those not of the congregation and have been known to brand those who disobey as heritics, pariahs or worse. Some factions even restrict the creation of items to particular ranks, locations or methods, frowning on or admonishing those unwilling to follow tradition.

Lastly, there is the items themselves. There's limited ability to mass-produce items of even regular quality. Most of the people in my campaign world look down on mass-produced items as "junk" or vastly inferior to hand-crafted items. This is backed up by the fact that mass-produced items have no "soul" to them, and enchantments fail to simply bond with them. Mass-produced items simply cannot be enchanted; only one that is hand-made that the artisan has poured their attention (their "soul") into it are capable of being enchanted.

As always, PCs tend to be exceptions - but they very well may be fighting against bureaucracy, tradition or prejudices if they try to distribute (or acquire) items of power through illegal means. In short, it can be used as fodder for an adventure and keep the PCs from blowing up the economy with their antics.
I steal inspiration (or directly) from d4 caltrops' magic tables. I try to have as few (if any) "+1 sword/armor/shield" etc in my game as possible- if it were Eberron, maybe that'd be a different story since Cannith literally has magic "factories."

+1 sword? no, it's a +1 sword with the ability to cut projectiles out of the air 1/rest: "William's Telling"

Unfortunately a few +1's do slip through if I'm just pressed for time. This is one of the areas that VTTs are a little more of a pain, because I can't just tell the player "it's called this and does this." I have to make the item on the VTT, then give it to the character sheet.
Over time some of my players have elected to help with this part of the process though and make the item sheet themselves so I can keep running the game- love that <3


I have magic stores in my campaign. Common items (e.g. a cloak of billowing) are expensive by regular standards, but not for adventurers, and then stores will have a limited selection of more rare items. The bigger the city, the more extensive the section, and the more rare the item, the more expensive. You'll not find legendary items, and seldom even very rare ones, and the things that are in stock are expensive, but that gives the players something to spend their gold on. Also, I am quite chintzy with magic items as treasure, so players are as likely to get them by saving up and buying something.

The realism argument (they would just be a target for thieves!) doesn't sway me at all. In my campaign, shops selling magic items have powerful arcane wards, but even if they didn't, I would just hand-wave it. I mean, if magic and monsters were real, there would be so many things different from ye olde Renaissance faire that worrying about whether there is tight enough security on magic shops is a peculiar line to draw.

Also, I don't think magic items are nearly as much a balance problem in 5e as in other editions of D&D. Between bounded accuracy and attunement, magic items have far less impact on the game, so you don't have to worry too much about their rarity. My current main is level 10 and has three magic items attuned: a ring of protection (rare), bracers of defence (rare; purchased) and eldritch claw tattoos (uncommon; purchased). Then a couple potions, a cloak of billowing, and a feather token (tree). Oh, and joint ownership of a deck of illusions. That's it, after two years of play.
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I had a small arcanist store in a major city, much as others have said here, they dealt mostly in consumables. You could buy scrolls of levels 1 or 2 pretty freely, 3rd level were uncommon, higher would have to wait. Potions were the same, the common ones were generally available but uncommon and higher they might only have a handful in stock.

They'd also buy items the players didn't want, and they could take orders, basically it would take a few days or more to find common items, don't even bother asking for an epic or legendary item but they might be able to find a rare item.

I find this works quite well and adds a bit to the verisimilitude of the setting since, if items are still being made, there would be a market for them, but anything over common or uncommon are likely hard to find.


Victoria Rules
All well and good if the DM is on the ball about introducing powerful signature weapons for their martial PCs that fit both their fighting style and the campaign's story. That has... often not been the case IME. Either the DM throws in items without really understanding the PC's build and why they won't want to use it, or they get caught up in the story and what "makes sense" and I'm hoarding coins to buy an upgrade cause I'm still using a random +1 sword I got off a bandit.
Or, more common IME, is that the DM introduces a powerful signature weapon intended for a specific character and either a) that character drops dead at the next opportunity or b) for whatever reason the character and weapon don't end up together (e.g. the party decide to sell the weapon instead, and split the cash).

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Or, more common IME, is that the DM introduces a powerful signature weapon intended for a specific character and either a) that character drops dead at the next opportunity or b) for whatever reason the character and weapon don't end up together (e.g. the party decide to sell the weapon instead, and split the cash).
Actually my experience when a weapon/equipment comes up intended for one character, half the time it ends up going to a different character unless an NPC etc. specifically hands it to each character or I as the DM say "This is YOURS." Either that, or they don't care for it and they barter it away at the next opportunity for way less than I'd think it's worth.

Even something simple like Potion of Diminuition, not meant for any one character but not IMMEDIATELY of use. "When is being small ever gonna help us? How much can I sell it for?" Unless the offer is microscopic, it'll get sold.

Sometimes thoughtful magic items work, sometimes they don't 😅

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Or, more common IME, is that the DM introduces a powerful signature weapon intended for a specific character and either a) that character drops dead at the next opportunity or b) for whatever reason the character and weapon don't end up together (e.g. the party decide to sell the weapon instead, and split the cash).
Tangent: it took me a while to design this Flame Lance inspired by Moorcock's Hawkmoon series and they traded it away. Some things I make quickly, but this took some effort to try and balance but make appealing/useful. That was a blow. I'd thought someone would use it and bank inspiration for a d20 reroll if they rolled Overheat (we do the common reroll house-rule for inspiration). Nope. Sold it off!

Flame Lance
Weapon (lance), very rare (requires attunement)

This blackened steel lance has an inlay of bronze coils which run up the shaft to a ruby embedded in its tip. The haft is marked with runes which command the flame within the jewel. The lance's guard is emblazoned with a manticore's head wearing a bloody crown.

An action brings the ruby to life or makes it dormant. If you have extra attacks as part of an action, one can be use to activate or deactivate the lance.

Once activated, at the beginning of your next turn the lance is flame-ready and as an action can be used to launch flame in the following ways:

Ranged attack, 6d8 fire damage (100/400ft)
30ft line, 5ft wide; 4d8 fire damage, DC 15 Dex save for half
15ft cone; 4d8 fire damage, DC 15 Dex save for half

If you hit an enemy with a melee attack with the lance while it is flame-ready, it deals an additional 2d6 fire damage.

While the lance is flame-ready, roll a d20 at the end of your turn. On a 1-3, the lance begins to overheat; you take 10 ongoing fire damage as it sears you. If the lance is overheating and you roll another 1-3 it explodes, dealing 8d6 fire damage in a 20ft radius centered on the lance, DC 15 Dex save for half- the wielder has Disadvantage.
The overheat ends once the lance is deactivated.
Once deactivated, the lance cannot be activated for a minute.

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