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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

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Magic items crafted on commission is usually the way I go. There's not much sense to keep magic items in stock under normal circumstances, but there is always the chance some bloke paid for a magic sword and never turned up to collect, so it sits laying around in stock. If the player is ok with not getting exactly what they want, maybe they can pick up something at a slight discount.

Back in 4e, there was the concept of magic "stuff", called residuum that you could use to power rituals and such. I ran with this by having an Artificer's Guild that would collect old magic items, break them down into residuum, and use those to make new items on commission (the players eventually discovered the Guild's secret- they would feed metal items to a pet Rust Monster, who would consume the metal, and leave behind the residuum!).


Something I never considered until just now is the background of White Plume Mountain. The players are hired to retrieve three legendary weapons that were stolen by a Wizard.

The weapons were owned by "magic item collectors". The idea that there's this cabal of wealthy guys who collect rare magic items not to use them, but simply admire them like objects d'art is very interesting. Many magic items have so much value no one could afford to buy them, making them effectively priceless- so maybe there's some guy like Kivas Fajo hoarding all the world's Holy Avenger swords!

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It all comes down to the math. If you go raw and use the magic item prices from the DMG or Xanathar and use the random treasure tables, a character will approximately find the same ratity class of magic items that they can find in an adventure.
So the moment a character who finds a +1 sword can probably buy a 1+ sword, too.

The benefit of that is, that balancing the party is easier. The character that doesn't get a magic item in an adventure can just buyban equally strong one.

The disadvantage is, that fibding magic items becomes less fulfilling. Because you can just find them.


I feel this article is now out of time. As in no longer relevant to modern gaming systems. In early systems, such as 1E/2E, etc., absolutely, the OP has a good point. But what is not addressed at all is the largest change in 3E and later where PCs are given the ability to make their own magic items. This major change has completely revamped how characters are created and managed by their players. No longer are they making generalists that have to make due with the limited items they find along the way, but now they can plan to have the items they specifically want as they go along. A second issue that is not addressed is the impact that computer RPGs has had on how players see magic items (or items in general) bought and sold in such games. These games are often named and use the same rule sets as our favorite RPGs. At this point, it has become accepted practice for players to gather all items from an opposing group, not just the magical or highly valuable ones, for resale later. This plays into the first point where players are now able to repurpose their gold to create the items they want. It seems to be a mini game within the game itself. There are several good ideas already presented by responses on how to address this. But all of them should be influenced by the system, version, and campaign world involved. There cannot be a one size fits all solution to the idea of magic items for sale any more.


A suffusion of yellow
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).

Which is why I love Legacy Weapons. As I indicated above I like my legendary weapons to be empowered by 'Legend'. and rather than designing it myself I let the PC tell their own legend. As far as me as GM is concerned the PC gets a normal masterfully wrought weapon, then the player adds the narrative for each tier customising the weapon that they want - GM gets veto and can define the mechanics (gains smite giant +1d8).

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Which is why I love Legacy Weapons. As I indicated above I like my legendary weapons to be empowered by 'Legend'. and rather than designing it myself I let the PC tell their own legend. As far as me as GM is concerned the PC gets a normal masterfully wrought weapon, then the player adds the narrative for each tier customising the weapon that they want - GM gets veto and can define the mechanics (gains smite giant +1d8).
Just as long as you don't use the rules in "Weapons of Legacy". "Ah, my weapon now gives a +1 to hit....and my class that powers up my Legacy Weapon gives me a -1 penalty to hit at the same level to pay for it."


At this point, it has become accepted practice for players to gather all items from an opposing group, not just the magical or highly valuable ones, for resale later. This plays into the first point where players are now able to repurpose their gold to create the items they want.
If by this point you mean in 1974 I think you'd be right. Looting the dead for fun and profit has been a part of D&D for as long as I can remember.


The best way to do magi marts is to have them only selling equipment the average adventurer would have no use for. They're all out of +1 swords and potions of healing, but they have a 200 pound stone obelisk that magically folds your underwear. Great if you're a hausfrau, not so much if you're a dragonslayer.
My players just recently bought the vaunted and powerful.... Stone of Cleaning! It's an Ebberon item, 1-foot diameter stone (ruled it at 30 pounds), touching it cleans your body and all the gear/items you are carrying. "removes grime and dirt". They leave it on their horse, then get cleaned up when they come back to camp for the evening. One player bought another, and had it sent home to his parents!


I think a "compromise" situation is the best solution. As many others have posted - commoners can't afford even the cheapest thing, so it can't be a 7-11. Nobles and wealthy merchants will purchase magical items that make their lives easier - or highlight their wealth in an obvious fashion. ("Why yes, all the lights are Smokeless Torches! (tm)") But they generally don't want or need the things adventurers want: warfare and instant healing. They might keep a potion of healing on hand for the unexpected, or gift a valued employee (best gear for the bodyguard!) with enchanted arms and armor.

So, in my world, I did things this way:
1) Most potions are made with Herbalism. They cost about 1/12 the normal price, but last only 3-ish days. "Preserved" herbal versions cost five times that (so, about 80% "normal"), and lost 1-3 months. Alchemists make the list price versions, and generally have contracts with the official military for everything they can make... but occasionally something "falls off the truck" for adventurers and ne'er-do-wells to buy.

2) All "+1" weapons and armor are nonmagical, and have their bonuses due to crafter skill and/or special materials. There are lots of other benefits that skill and material can provide as well. Bloodsteel edged weapons, as a "side effect", for example requires far less maintenance and sharpening, while bloodsteel armor is 10% lighter and doesn't rust. These items are between 4 and 20 times the normal price of a weapon or armor, with specialization being a thing. The best polearms are made in Mariha; bloodsteel gear can only be purchased in Klathos.

3) Wizard Towers exist in or near major cities (there is one in the campaign's starting area, an easy week-long journey east of the starting town). In the associated city, there is a Sapphire Agent who represents the Tower. This agent will have a small handful of example items, but exists to take orders that will be crafted by the Tower. Magic arms and armor are always at least +2, and are always "interesting" - the wizards aren't cranking out a dozen +2 longswords, each is a "work of art and Art". And usually are built upon a weapon that already was "+1" from craft and/or material. Captain Tannril's silverblade is a +2 longsword made of argentium (always considered magic against undead and aberrations, inflicts an extra +2 damage against them), made by Gargik the Mute (his blades are always "keen" [crit on 19 and 20], but require maintenance [short rest] to keep this heightened edge), and enchanted by Master Kalivar. The magic woven into the blade flares with blinding light to defend the wielder (3/day, when "hit exactly", cause the incoming attack to instead "miss by 1"), and sear his foes (on a crit, inflict +1d6 radiant damage after all other effects of the crit are determined).

4) If you bypass the Sapphire Agent in town and go directly to the Wizard Tower, and you have some sort of "in", you can sometimes hook up with enterprising apprentices who need to make some cash "for reasons". You can buy a wide variety of lesser items, but can't order anything; these are mistakes, "senior projects", cast offs that "disappear" rather than being rendered back into their parts for re-use. In this way you might acquire a "normal +1" weapon - a random iron dagger that some apprentice enchanted to "magical +1" with no special effects as part of his training. Most of these items tend to have side effects, and/or are not permanent; that +1 dagger you just got should be good for a year (longer than most campaigns), but might lose its power unexpectedly when subjected to stress (like being in a dispel magic field, or striking a powerful creature).

5) Everything else... this is the private collection / shady agent / noble auction situation. Captain Tannril died on a mission for the Baron; perhaps adventurers are hired to retireve the silverblade. Perhaps someone did retrieve it, and now the silverblade is being auctioned for sale by the Baron's heir (the Baron having also died on the mission). "What, you wanted a magic warhammer? Okay, we'll keep an eye out for one; today though, we are selling this magnificent silverblade... Hmm, hang on... have you checked with Bromnum Burrowfound? Dwarf prince out of Kagh Da'ruhm? I heard he found the legendary spiritslayer Dran Trik, a dwarven-crafted warhammer, inlaid with jade, or so I hear. Supposedly can call down lightning bolts out of a storm, and rips apart the vile creations of those goblin shamen. I could perhaps make inquiries on your behalf? No need to get the dwarves all riled up or worried about threats, just a subtle feeling out, see if he's open to a sale or trade? Maybe Prince Bromnum might be interested in, I don't know, an enchanted argentium longsword? Hmmmmm?"

6) And of course... lost items in old ruins! A major reason to go adventuring! [And these items don't have to obey any of the "rules" of #1-5. The party acquired an old iron javelin made by goblins, found lodged in the knee of a golem (surrounded by the skeletons of the slain goblins that previously owned the javelin!). Its enchantments had degraded over time, and the iron wasn't "special material" or "mastercrafted". Now the weapon is just a magical +1 javelin, but it does still inflict +2d6 damage to fey...


So people prefer that players spend a session shopping in character and talking to cagey NPCs like in Critical Role?
I personally prefer a sword and sorcery feel of rare magic items and most of the trading being within the party.

I try and cut out shopping entirely in general.

4e inherent bonuses were right up my alley.

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