In Ye Olde Worlde Magic Item Shop I highlighted how magic items had ceased being special in 3.0 onwards. Here is my solution to the problem.
Magic Items have a Story
If you think of the magic items in literature, from Excalibur to Frodo’ s ring, they all have a story associated with them. In Excalibur’ case, it was the watery tart throwing a sword at King Arthur* where as the One True Ring was made and lost by Sauron. There is not a single book or film where the hero walks down to shop and buys a magic item fresh off the production line.
The problem is that the D&D rules allows and even encourages this to happen. Removing all magic items from a campaign or just making them extremely scarce is not the solution. Magic items are an inherent part of the fantasy genre and fantasy RPGs. They help define a character and make NPCs / monsters more interesting and challenging. Of course, once a monster is killed, the body is looted and the PCs now have a pile of equipment they want to sell
The Non-Transferable Magic Item
The solution for my Rome campaign was to make magic items personal to the character. If a character passes his +6 Vorpal longsword to a fellow adventurer, it becomes a simple, non-magical longsword. Now characters cannot buy and sell items, which is great, but neither can they pick them up from their vanquished foes. So how does a character get a magic item?
Magic Points (MP) is the answer. Whenever a character earns an experience point he earns a magic point as well. When they have enough MPs they can trade them in for magic items at their GP price. So it costs 1000 MP for a character to imbue their trusty sword with a +1 bonus. When they have more MP to spend, they can upgrade the sword to a +2 or maybe a +1 with Disruption.
The logic behind this is that the characters, the heroes of the story, imbue the items with magic through their great deeds.
With MP, a player can to choose their own magic items, tailoring them specifically for how they see their character. The magic items help to define the character, growing with them in power as the character goes up levels. In short, the characters create the story behind their items. To further encourage the role-playing, discounts on the purchase of items can be granted if they player puts some effort into process. Rather than saying “OK, I trade in 1000MP for a +1 bonus” the players say “I take my trusty but worn sword to the best blacksmith I can find to be sharped. Then I go to the temple and have it blessed”. This earns them a 5% or 10% discount on the MP cost.
The Magic Point approach works reasonable well because D&D 3.5 is set up so that a level X character or NPC should have Y amount of treasure. Up until about 8th level, the amount of treasure a character is expected to have is about the same as the amount of experience points. After 8th level, an MP based character will be left behind but for Rome this is not a problem as the campaign was aimed to finish with 9th or 10th level characters.
An important note is that when a character upgrades an item, they should only pay the difference in the price. Even when an item is being given two similar abilities that would normally incur a surcharge under the standard “creating an item” rules. This allows the character to have a truly unique and character defining item.
Items with charges and other consumables such as potions or scrolls can be purchased using the same system though characters do seem reluctant to spend hard earned MP on these type of temporary items.
Magic Point For All
The MP system does achieve the aim of stopping magic item shopping whilst allowing the players to define their character through items but it is not without its problems. I’ve not defined what would happen if the character lost the physical item. Is it the item that is magical or is it the character? As noted, MPs do not scale well passed 8th level and a player who makes a poor choice of magic item is stuck with it.
Despite these flaws, the system has worked perfectly over the last 6+ months of play. While it may not suit your campaign exactly, it is a good starting point for your own solution to the Ye Olde Worlde Magic Item Shop problem.
*Apologies for the gratuitous Monty Python reference.