Rules of the Game12/07/2004

Making Magic Items (Part One)

The statement "I want to make a magic item" has the power to freeze a DM's blood. Players, too, can find the item creation process intimidating. Sometimes these fears are justified, especially when someone invents an entirely new item and then wants to sit down and make it. Many magic items, however, aren't so hard to make. This series of articles examines the magic item creation process in detail, beginning with fairly straightforward items and moving on to the more troublesome ones.

Some Key Terms

Take a look at a few terms you'll encounter in this article and in the rules when they discuss magic items.

Activation: Most items won't work until they are activated, usually with the activate magic item action.

All magic items in the core D&D game use one of four activation methods: spell completion, spell trigger, command word, and use. All of these are discussed on page 213 in the Dungeon Master's Guide and in Part Two of Using Magic Items. An item's activation method greatly affects its cost. In general, the easier an item is to use, the more it costs.

Base Price: A value used to determine how much it costs to make or buy an item. An item's base price depends on what the item does and how often it can do it. Table 7-33 in the Dungeon Master's Guide shows typical base prices for magic items.

Caster Level: Every magic item must have a caster level, which determines the item's own saving throw bonuses when the item must make a saving throw. If an item can produce a spell effect, its caster level determines any level-based variables the spell effect might have (such as range and damage). An item's caster level also determines how susceptible the item or the spell effects it produces are to dispel magic effects.

In general, the higher an item's caster level, the more it costs to buy or make.

When creating items, the creator's caster level must be at least as high as the item's caster level. Your caster level is your level in the class that gives you access to a particular spell needed for the item (see the section on prerequisites). In some cases, your caster level will be less than your class level; if so, the class description notes it. For example, a paladin's caster level is one-half her paladin level (a paladin of 3rd level or lower has no caster level at all).

If you are multiclassed, you may have different caster levels for the spells you have by virtue of your various classes. For example, a 4th-level paladin/5th-level sorcerer has a caster level of 2 for paladin spells and a caster level of 5 for sorcerer spells. If you have taken a prestige class, your levels in that class may stack with levels in another class to determine your caster level. Otherwise, your levels in your various spellcasting classes usually don't stack for purposes of determining your caster level.

If you draw on different classes to get access to different spells you need for an item, you must use the lowest of the various applicable caster levels.

Charge: A discrete unit of an item's power that is used up when someone activates the item. For example, a newly created wand has 50 charges. An item becomes nonmagical when all its charges are used up.

In general, a charged item cannot be recharged.

An item also might have a limited number of uses each day (such as a rod of enemy detection, which works three times a day). The rules sometimes refer to these limited daily uses as charges per day. When this article refers to a charge, however, it means something that is permanently used up.

Item Slot: A specific part of the user's body where an item must be worn before it can function. Sometimes it is simply called a slot.

For certain kinds of magic items, some item slots work better than others. For example, items related to movement are cheapest to make when they're made as boots. Items that don't require slots usually cost more to make (and thus to buy) than items that do not.

Market Price: The cost, in gold pieces, that an item brings on the open market. Sometimes this is simply called price. An item's market price is a retail price (or the price a character must pay when buying the item). Characters who sell used items can expect to get only half the market price.

An item's market price is its base price, plus the cost of any extra special materials the item requires, plus an increase for any additional experience the creator must expend when making the item (see Magic Item Creation Basics).

Spell Level: For purposes of creating magic items, a spell's level is the level where the spell appears on the item creator's class spell list. For example, hold person is a 2nd-level spell for a bard or cleric, but a 3rd-level spell for a wizard or sorcerer. In general, the lower the spell's level, the less it costs to make an item that stores or produces the spell. Items from the Dungeon Master's Guide usually are made by whatever character has the required spells available at the lowest possible spell level.

Whenever a 0-level spell is used in making a magic item, treat the spell's level as 1/2 when calculating the item's cost (see Magic Item Creation Basics).

Magic Item Creation Basics

Creating a magic item requires time, money, and experience, among other things. Chapter 7 in the Dungeon Master's Guide covers the process in detail. Here's an overview of what's involved, along with some additional notes:


Every item has a list of prerequisites, which are shown right after the item's caster level in the item's description. (If a character wants to make a new item, the item's description must include a list of prerequisites.) Typically, a list of prerequisites includes one feat and one or more spells; however, an item's prerequisites can include multiple feats, spells, and also miscellaneous requirements such as level, alignment, skills, and race or kind. When two spells at the end of a prerequisites list are separated by"or," only one of those spells is required in addition to every other spell mentioned prior to the last two. For example, the prerequisites for a ring of three wishes are the Forge Ring feat and wish or miracle, meaning that either the wish or miracle spellis required as well as the Forge Ring feat. In addition, the item's creator must have a caster level at least as high as the item's caster level (see page 215 in the Dungeon Master's Guide). Also, an item's creator must have a caster level high enough to cast any prerequisite spell the item has.

Two or more characters can work together to create an item, with each character providing one or more prerequisites. To provide a spell prerequisite, a character must have prepared the spell (or know the spell, in the case of a sorcerer or bard). The rules say you can use a spell completion or spell trigger magic item or a spell-like ability that produces the desired spell effect to provide a spell prerequisite. A command or use-activated item cannot provide a spell prerequisite.


Every magic item has a base price. Table 7-33 in the Dungeon Master's Guide gives formulas for estimating base prices. Whenever a formula includes a spell's level, treat a 0-level spell as 1/2 level. For example, a scroll that contains a 0-level spell has a base cost of 1/2 x caster level x 25 gp.

Someone, usually the item's creator, must pay half the base price in gold pieces for the supplies consumed while creating the item. The item's creator also must invest experience points. The experience cost is 1/25th the base price. Under the core D&D rules, no one but the item creator can pay this experience cost (but see the notes on cooperatively making an item in Part Seven).

According to the rules, you can never spend so much experience that you lose a level -- though you can delay gaining a level and instead keep your experience points available for item creation (or spellcasting). If you do so, you always can change your mind. That is, you can gain a new level anytime you have enough experience to do so, even after delaying awhile. See Rules of the Game: Reading Spell Descriptions for information on delaying level advancement.

Some items require additional materials, which entail extra costs (see the section on equipment and materials). The extra cost increases the item's market price, but not the experience the creator must expend.

Some items might also have an extra experience cost, which usually happens when they involve spells that have an experience cost of their own. An additional experience cost increases the item's market price by 5 gp per extra XP spent.

Table 7-32 in the Dungeon Master's Guide summarizes item creation costs.

If a character abandons an unfinished magic item to work on a second item (see the section on time), any money or experience spent on the first item is wasted. The supplies purchased for the abandoned item cannot be reused, and another character cannot pick up where the creator left off.

DMs might want make an exception for some kinds of special supplies, such as masterwork items. For example, if someone begins working on a +2 longsword and then abandons the project in favor of another item, the 4,000 gp and 320 XP (the sword's base price of 8,000 gp, take half of that to determine the cost of supplies and 1/25th of that to determine the experience cost) are wasted. However, the masterwork longsword purchased to make the item (at a cost of 315 gp) can be used for another magic sword.

When two or more characters cooperate to create an item, they must agree among themselves who will be considered the creator. Use the designated creator's caster level for any aspect of the item creation process that uses the creator's caster level. The designated creator pays the XP required to make the item. The rules don't say so, but it's best to assume that when a character provides a prerequisite spell that has an XP component he or she also pays the XP costs for that spell.


For every 1,000 gp in an item's base price (or fraction of 1,000 gp), the creator must spend one day working on the item. For example, an item with a base price of 1,000 gp or less takes one day to make. An item that costs more than 1,000 gp, but no more than 2,000 gp, takes two days to make. A potion always takes just one day to make, no matter what the base price (see page 286 Dungeon Master's Guide).

For purposes of item creation, a day of work is 8 hours. You cannot rush the process by working longer each day. The rules say that the days you spend working on an item need not be consecutive -- you can leave the project for as long as you like and return to work anytime. Likewise, interruptions during your working day don't affect the process. If an attack breaks your concentration, you can resume working after the danger has passed. As an optional rule, you might want to add 1 hour to the total time required that day for each interruption the creator suffers. In any case, if you can put 8 hours of effort into an item during a day (or 8 hours plus extra time for interruptions), that day counts as a day you've spent working on the item. If you can't put in 8 hours of work on an item, the whole day is lost, but there's no other ill effect on the creation process.

A character can work on only one magic item at a time. If a character starts working on a second item, the first item is automatically abandoned (see the section on costs).

Other than the loss of prerequisite spells (see the section on prerequisites), and the time requirement, item creation doesn't impose any restrictions on your activities during the days when you work on an item.

You must expend all the money and experience required to make an item when you begin the process. If an item has a spell (or spells) as a prerequisite, you must have the spell or spells available to you at the start of each day that you work on the item; the spell or spells are used up for that day when you begin working on the item. Since you're not actually casting the spell, you don't expend any extra experience or money for expensive material components each day. Instead these costs are added to the item's overall creation cost according to the kind of item (see Parts Two through Five). For example, a ring of invisibility has a base price of 20,000 gp (which happens to be the same as its market price), and it takes twenty days to make. A wizard making a ring of invisibility must prepare an invisibility spell each day spent working on the ring, and the spell is expended, just as if cast, each day as soon as work on the ring commences. A sorcerer working on a ring of invisibility need not prepare any spells, but he must know the invisibility spell. Each day the sorcerer works on the ring, one of the sorcerer's 2nd-level spells is expended as soon as work on the ring commences. A character relying on a scroll to provide the required invisibility spell would need at least 20 scrolls -- one for each day of working on the ring.


Creating an item requires peace, quiet, and comfort, just as preparing spells does (even when the item creator doesn't need to prepare spells). The surroundings need not be luxurious, but they must be free from overt distractions. Exposure to inclement weather prevents the necessary concentration, as does any injury or failed saving throw the character might experience while working (but see the section on time).

Any location a character uses for item creation also must have enough space to hold any special equipment and materials the item requires (see the Equipment and Materials below and in Parts Two through Five). If an item requires very little in the way of equipment and materials (for example, a scroll), the character may find a suitable creation environment almost anywhere.

Equipment and Materials

Chapter 7 in the Dungeon Master's Guide gives very brief descriptions of what's required to create various kinds of items. The details are pretty sketchy, but that helps keep things simple. At the very least, making an item requires supplies that cost one half the item's base price. Some items require additional supplies, such as a masterwork item for a magic weapon or suit of armor or special material components if the item requires spells that have costly components. Some items also require special equipment, such as metalworking tools. Supplies bought to make one magic item cannot be reused in another item, but tools usually can be. Parts Two through Six examine the required equipment and supplies in detail.

What's Next?

That pretty well covers the basics. Next week, we'll look at what's involved in creating potions and scrolls.

About the Author

Skip Williams keeps busy with freelance projects for several different game companies and was the Sage of Dragon Magazine for 18 years. Skip is a co-designer of the D&D 3rd Edition game and the chief architect of the Monster Manual. When not devising swift and cruel deaths for player characters, Skip putters in his kitchen or garden (rabbits and deer are not Skip's friends) or works on repairing and improving the century-old farmhouse that he shares with his wife, Penny, and a growing menagerie of pets.

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