I stopped allowing PC crafting of permanent magic items in my last few campaigns. In general, I found that the system made it very easy to sell off quirky, interesting items and use the proceeds to craft laser-focused upgrades of doom. That is, why keep an item that’s not exactly what you wanted when you can sell it for half value and craft for half value, essentially transforming anything into a more desirable item of the same value? Sure, you can patch the problem from a different angle by just making it much harder to sell magic items, but creating was the fix that I found more interesting.
But one solid consequence is the inability to get the bare minimum magic that the system expects. Being able to get a +1 weapon/armor or +2 stat booster in what you actually wanted was never really at issue, it was items completely, blandly optimized to be useful against the widest variety of situations for the lowest possible cost (e.g., a Composite Shocking, Holy, Longbow +1… you know what you did). In my current campaign, I feel very sad every time the mighty, heavily armored paladin whips out his fancy rapier because he hasn’t actually found a magic longsword yet.
I’ve also always liked the cultural assumptions of magic item creation. That is, wouldn’t it be cool if Cloaks and Boots of Elvenkind were the natural output of the great elven artisans rather than something any Wizard could knock out when the Rogue wants an upgrade?
All of that leads to the following system (for 3.5/Pathfinder):
Exceptional Craft Skill is Magical
A character can use the Craft skill to make permanent magic items without needing an item creation feat. These items must be:
- Relevant to the particular crafting discipline (e.g., magic weapons for a Weaponsmith, magic cloaks and clothing for a Tailor, etc.)
- Of the minimum value for the Minor examples of that class of item (e.g., you can only make +1 weapons or armor, +2 ability bonus items, +5 skill bonus items, etc.)
- From a single type appropriate to the character’s culture/race (e.g., elves make Boots of Elvenkind while an arctic culture makes Boots of the Winterlands)
That last point may cause the GM to need to invent some new variations of similar value for different cultures, or just declare that a culture can’t make magic items of that type (e.g., dwarves have no particular interest in magical footware). In general, the goal is to make sure that PCs that want to craft items have some cool things they can make with any given Craft skill type, and that items from the core item lists have clear places or peoples you have to visit to reliably acquire them. If you want an Efficient Quiver, you have to visit the elves, but a Handy Haversack can only be purchased from the dwarves.
Once you’ve determined the item you’re making, use the Craft rules normally, except that the output per roll is in GP instead of SP. The DC is 30 for all such items.
To unpack that a bit, it means that technically you could get a magic item by paying only 1/3 of the value instead of 1/2, but until you have a +24 bonus to your skill there’s always a chance that you’ll fail a roll by 5 or more and ruin half the raw materials (which should push the average cost of creation back up toward 1/2). The change to GP does have some weird cases where the Masterwork component of an item would take longer than the magic component, but in general it keeps the system from taking months of downtime to output an item (you’re welcome to switch it back to SP if you want magic creation to take months).
Not-So-Minor Magic Items
Now the new Craft system has output some minor items. What if you’d like to have a method for determining whether and how more powerful items enter the world? I’d suggest one of the following options:
All of the powerful items in the world are leftover from fallen societies whose secrets are lost to time. Adventurers sometimes find them in ruins, and they tend to pass from owner to owner once found (until they are destroyed or once again entombed).
Very rarely, adventurers happen upon strange items of power that can improve an existing magic item, granting it new functions (of the GM’s devising).
Items of greater power are still created in the modern world, but to do so requires immense artifacts, which can only be found in the greatest of palaces, cathedrals, or academies. Their creation is an expense that could pauper empires, and the realm’s greatest powers are quite likely to wage war to claim any they think they can capture and hold.
These forges can only produce a single item at a time, and only the most powerful and most trusted crafters are allowed to work them, so the number of powerful items in the world remains small. Sometimes, as a rare honor for great service, adventurers may be allowed to use the forge for a particular project (using the above Craft rules, a time limit set by the owner, and whatever other limits on what types of items are available to make that the GM thinks is reasonable).
World’s Greatest Artisans
Just as great artisans can make items so well that they are magical, the greatest artisans can turn out even more awesome feats of craft. (Medium items can be made at DC 40 and Major items can be made at DC 50. The GM is encouraged to come up with cultural limits on which options are available just as with Minor items.)
All powerful items are named regalia of former heroes. When an item is integral to the deeds of a hero, it sometimes takes on new powers or changes them entirely in accordance with the role it now plays in that hero’s legend. This can happen at any time a great deed is accomplished, and is especially likely if the hero dies in the course of the deed (i.e., the GM can upgrade items whenever desired and with whatever powers make sense to the deed in question; existing non-minor items that enter the world should have a name and history to explain how they came to be so potent).