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We’ve recently written many articles on crafting magic items and developing formulas for popular magic items, as well as homebrew magic item formulas. We’ve even developed a homebrew Druid subclass, the Circle of Vitality, for players who want to focus on herbalism, which can assist in gathering components and materials for crafting magic items. With the debut of the Artificer class in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, crafting magic items has never been more available.
Helping your players develop magic items can either take the front stage or be an ongoing pastime activity, for an individual or the entire party. We will explore methods for each of these options and give tips on how to incorporate magic item creation into your Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Prerequisites for Crafting Magic Items
According to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, all that is required to craft a magic item is a formula, a quest to acquire material components, a gold cost for tools and general expenditures, and any skills required by the formula or Dungeon Master. This means that an entire party could participate in the magic item creation adventure, and multiple party members may contribute their skills to craft an item. Let’s discover ways to sprinkle these elements into your campaign.
Characters need instructions on creating a magic item, including required materials, skills, and steps to take. How could you introduce formulas to players? Here are some of our ideas:
- Your player translates an ancient book and discovers a few formulas detailed in a chapter.
- A character reconnects with an old mentor she apprenticed under who recognizes that she is ready for the formula.
- While rifling through some old books in a study or library, a loose piece of parchment with a quickly scribbled formula glides to the floor.
- The party’s Artificer has been experimenting on his own to develop formulas. This should take much trial and error, multiple types of materials expended, and a careful amount of money used.
- A character steals a Wizard’s spell book and finds his research on various magic items, including a few partial or near-complete formulas.
- For his own purposes in your campaign, an NPC with perhaps nefarious or wicked intentions whispers the formula to a player who is most sympathetic to him. Perhaps he wishes to take the item for himself or win your player’s affection.
- Your players have saved a burning village from a dragon. The blacksmith, grateful for their special attention to preserve her shop, reveals a formula for a magic weapon to one of the players she connected with.
- A player’s deity has explained the creation of an item. This could be as a reward or as a warning about things to come.
- Players may steal formulas from NPC’s notes.
- A nobleman gives your players a formula and a task to create the item and give it to him.
- A careless merchant may unknowingly sell a formula for a few pieces of gold.
- Elven clans may connect spiritually with your party’s elf and decide to share their knowledge.
- Players may spend a few days in an ancient library discovering methods to create items.
- A Druid NPC travels with your party and teaches the party’s Druid a few things, including some formulas she can jot down.
- A local inventor on his deathbed confides in your player where he hid his research.
Challenges to Include in Formulas
If you wish to make magic item crafting the flagship of an adventure, you may choose to include some challenges players must overcome. Xanathar’s Guide suggests six challenges that may involve rivals:
- Rumors spread that your item is unstable and threatens the community
- Tools are stolen
- A local wizard takes interest in your project and insists on observing
- A noble insists on buying your item and won’t take no for an answer
- A dwarf clan accuses you of stealing their lore
- A competitor spreads rumors that your work is shoddy.
Other challenges players may face come from our Guide to Crafting Magic Items article:
- Construction: Some elements of creation are more difficult to execute (varying methods for smithing, assembling small pieces, Ikea-like instructions, etc). Players must use their own intelligence to fix or work around these construction challenges.
- Incomplete Instructions: A formula is either incomplete, partially missing, or unclear if described methods will actually work. Have your players do skill checks, particularly Arcana, and perhaps include a quirk in the item once it is created.
- Cross-References: A formula is not trustworthy, or the author admits he ran into stumbling blocks he couldn’t overcome, and requires looking into outside sources. Players may look into outside references to make sure it is accurate, research in books for help, look for knowledgable NPCs, or make history checks to determine authenticity.
- Mental Components: Players must harness raw emotional energy in creating an item. Perhaps a player needs to discover how this is done or expend a few tries before accomplishing this.
- Riddles: The formula is a series of riddles or unexplained lines of poetry. Throughout the adventure, players are clued in to what the riddles mean by reaching regular campaign plot points.
- Specific Locations: Formulas may require action be taken in specific locations or at particular times, such as in catacombs or in light of the eclipsed moon.
- Translation: Players may need to decipher or discover additional codexes to complete certain parts of the formula.
- Ancient Materials: Formulas require materials, such as extinct plant components, or tools that can no longer be found and must find a substitute or way to develop the ancient materials.
- Race or Class Requirements: Some items may require certain races to perform ceremonies or discover lost locations, as is the case with our Boots of Elvenkind formula.
Quests to Obtain Formulas and Components
Players may acquire material components required for crafting during a quest. XGtE includes the following table with Challenge Ratings required dependent on the rarity of the magic item:
|Item Rarity||Material CR Range||Cost||Workweeks|
Though materials may come from monsters with sufficient CR, the encounter may not necessarily relate directly to gathering the material components. For example, while gathering Devil’s Bloodleaf for the rare Amulet of Health in the swamp, your party may be ambushed by a green hag (CR 3). Another ingredient includes fur from a werebear (CR 5), but players need not kill the werebear. Perhaps the werebear will trade some of his fur if the party provides a favor that adds to CR, like protecting a birthing doe or driving out a rambunctious goblin party.
The cumulative CR for all encounters—combat or otherwise—that provide materials or are a part of the process of developing a magic item may contribute to the required Material CR Range.
Your campaign need not divert from the plan to assist players in creating magic items. Crafting magic items may take place in downtime. The workweeks in the table above are fulfilled by working 5 days per week, 8 hours per day, and they need not be consecutive days or hours. As your players take short or long rests, or as you skip days in your adventure with travel or unscheduled occasions, players may take this time to work toward crafting their item.
In downtime, players will be gathering components and tools not explicitly mentioned in the formula. For instance, if a player needs to smith a sword, as is the case with the rare Flame Tongue, a player will expend a portion of downtime acquiring smithing tools like hammers, finding access to an anvil (or paying to use one), a quenching bucket, and such. This will count toward the workweeks and cost of the item.
So what about the explicit items in the formulas? This is where careful DM planning comes into play. Because formulas are non-canonical, and Wizards of the Coast has not officially released formulas for crafting magic items, DM’s may tweak or alter any formula they find, or develop their own, to fit their campaign.
Let’s discuss the Flame Tongue again. A DM will want players to discover this formula before taking the adventure into the Elemental Plane of Fire, which is where players must craft the sword. While players are chasing the main plotline, they may also gather supplies and materials according to the formula: Fyrite ore, four leaves of sumac, a small bag of sulfur, a small ball of bat guano, one flask of Alchemist’s Fire. Smithing proficiencies and tools are also required.
All of these components, except the Fyrite ore, must be gathered on the material plane with some planning and can be bought at simple shops. However, Fyrite ore is only found on the Elemental Plane of Fire, and must be forged in its extremely hot flames.
As the DM, you can construct your plot such that players follow a lead into the Plane of Fire for a purpose other than crafting the sword. If they already have this formula, they can work toward crafting the sword in 10 workweeks and 2,000 gp and then follow the plot to the Plane of Fire.
With other magic items, plan to give or help players discover and develop a formula, then integrate creatures and landscapes into your main plot such that players can passively gather materials. Crafting that requires specific locations and seasons will just take planning to incorporate.
Choosing to center an adventure around the creation of a magic item allows for immersive lore inclusion and extensive world-building opportunities. One example we can give for making a magic item the focus of your plot is our formula for Boots of Elvenkind. In the Dungeon Master Notes section, you can read our second-and third-edition references, as well as the canonical Neverwinter Nights Atari game that helped us build this formula, as well as lore to include.
A DM including this formula would engross his players with wood Elves, who have the formula but would be reluctant to share it, lest it falls into the wrong hands. Perhaps these boots are necessary for the entire party in the next adventure, and they were hoping to buy some from the elves, who protectively decline their request. An elvish player who befriends and gains the trust of the elves may eventually find himself rewarded with the formula after a brave deed, but challenges will arise in developing the item.
Your adventure will take the party to the nightmare-inducing sentient mists of Semberholme, detectable only by elves, and menacing to all others. You may weave in lore about the Fall of Myth Drannor from Semberholme (Part 1) Legend and Mystery Realmslore. Plant the seeds of future plot points in this adventure as players craft the boots.
How to Get Your Entire Party Involved
When one person is interested in a magic item, it may take time focused on them away from the other players. Done too frequently and this becomes tiresome for the other players. Certainly, this is why XGtE requires a quest to gather materials so each member can be involved in encounters that result in materials for the magic item. Done correctly, each player benefits from magic item creation. Here are some additional ideas for helping each player feel involved and engaged:
- Allow each player to create the item for themselves, if they all gather and pay for supplies (not collectively, though. Each person should have their own cost and workweeks). Scale up encounters to reach a CR Range multiplied by the number of players. Remember that this does not have to be in one single encounter, but spread over the workweeks. This works well for things like consumable potions; capes, boots, and rings with specific effects needed for the adventure; and weapons effective against a specific type of big bad boss.
- Encourage each member to contribute their skills to the creation of an item. This is especially useful for items that require a short period of time or are required for the campaign.
- Intertwine the campaign plot around creating the item such that other players will find value in playing while the crafter gathers components on the side.
- Give specific information about the magic item creation to other players to reconcile the challenges involved with creating the item. They could have visions about where to find missing parts of the formula, or they could possess knowledge of and lead the expedition to finding key ingredients.
- Allow players to role play their interactions around the magic item, such as assisting in creating, or concerns they may have about the item, or ideas on how to best create or find components.
Adding Depth to Magic Item Creation
You can make crafting magic items even more meaningful by adding role play elements to the job. By adding character-based challenges, a Dungeon Master can enrich her players’ experience in crafting magic items. Here are our examples of challenges that players may face:
- Moral Crisis: A lawful-good character such as a Cleric or Paladin may find their deity unhappy with the creation of the item, or the item may be discordant with their alignment. Perhaps the methods for creating the item are morally ambiguous. This will allow for some rich role play and character development. Other players in the party may also experience these crises.
- Danger during Downtime: While your player is working on part of the formula, an unexpected attack alters or damages part of the item, resulting in a quirk, or requiring them to find a workaround to that section.
- Outside Help: Based on rumors of your players’ item creation, an NPC has additional knowledge that they wish to sell to your players to speed up the process or make the item more potent. This can result in a quirk or flaw, or completely change the nature of the item.
- Internal Struggles: Sorcerers derive their magic from within. Though creating a magic item no longer requires magic, perhaps a Sorcerer unintentionally imbues some magic into the item he’s creating while he’s in an emotional state of turmoil, perhaps resulting from an NPC death or a resurfacing backstory-related challenge.
- Interfering with the Weave: A player crafting a magic item may disrupt the weave and have dreams or visions of potential destruction related to the item.
- Tampering: A Warlock’s patron meddles with the item, or an other-worldly force introduces a quirk.
- Sacrifice: In order to complete the magic item, a player must sacrifice something dear, such as his alignment, a physical element, a permanent spell slot, a skill modifier, her relationship to an NPC from her backstory, or entrance to a city. A player might also have to accept a vice, such as having whispers from an unknown source infiltrate his mind, a heavy emotional shift, or becoming forsaken by his deity.
Additionally, a Dungeon Master can introduce personality-rich NPCs into her campaign through the crafting adventures. A player might look for mentors, living resources, terrain-specific guides, or skillful craftsmen to assist in creating the item. An item might require blessing by interesting priests, materials known only by particular clans, or components from captivating lands with peculiar people. Or, others may be interested in the item, such as demons, deities, patrons, or villainous NPCs.
Whether you allow players to craft items in downtime or incorporate the adventure into your story, crafting magic items can add character development, role-play opportunities, and intriguing lore into your campaign. With deliberate planning and the right formula, a Dungeon Master can make crafting magic items a legendary memory for his players.