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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Magic Shops - Do You Do Them?

Do you use shops that specialize in magic in your campaigns?

For me, I always seem them as one of the things that was wrong with the Forgotten Realms, especially in later editions of "the game." If magic is supposed to be rare and special, magic shops turn that on end and become a sort of magical "Walmart". I dislike such greatly.

I'm not saying magic should never be for sale, or else you'd have no way to remove excess magic (or excess funds) from the hands of your players, but I see it more along the specialist spectrum of buyers and sellers.

- Mages would probably specialize in scrolls with the occasional bauble and ever rarer permanent magic item. Maybe someone offered a Broach of Protection From Magic Missiles for that Fireball spell they had a hankering for.

- Apothecaries would sell potions, especially ones that aren't listed in the rules. These are the guys looking for rare ingredients which in turn sends the PCs all over the world looking to make some scratch.

- Specialized Pawn Brokers. Someone with enough firepower to not only have the money to purchase magic items from the PCs, but the ability to store that cash and magic away from thieves and other's that would do him harm. I see these as more of "the shop comes to you" with no set location, or at least none that is popularly known.

Remember, these folks will buy low and sell high. Probably giving 50% of book value and selling at 150% or more. It really is a sellers market (if doing trade, I'd change those numbers to 75-90% and 110-125%, especially if the NPC is really interested in what the players have to trade.)

So, how do you handle magic buyers and sellers in your campaign?


  1. There are traders for things like magic items, of course. In a population center (read: not a podunk village), the players might have a chance to find a common magic item (frex sword +1), though the prices vary wildly, and of course they buy low. The idea that someone buys and sells magic items doesn't bother me, since the players will do the same. It's the idea that there will be a shopping center-like spot where this happens in a pre-industrial society that gets me.

  2. I feel somewhat contractually obligated to provide a magic shop in my worlds. I do, but usually it is only one or two and they are quite infamous.

  3. I now want to include a Devil who is a magic broker. He'll sell you items very cheaply! Just sign right here. And never mind the fine print...

  4. Private collectors will buy magic items (and remove them from the campaign). No one will sell them.

  5. As soon as you have an NPC who buys magic items at a low price, a smart player will ask "Hey can we put out the word that we're buying at a slightly higher price and get some bargains?"

    You could take the easy way and say, "No, it doesn't work that way."

    Or you could decide that most NPC adventurers looking to off load an extra magic sword are only doing so because it's a mixed blessing or even a total fraud. "Yeah! The very next day there are three fellows with magic swords for sale." Try hard not to smile, and make sure your players can't hear the quotes around "magic swords" in your voice.

    1. Alternative, you could say "Sure... but do you want to play Dungeons & Dragons, or are you looking to play Merchants & Traders?"

      PCs could certainly set up their own shop, but that would mean retiring from adventuring. After all, they have to do enough trade to pay for rent, employees, protections against thieves, etc, etc... A magic shop would seem to me a way to drain money from PCs rather than them getting goods for cheap.

  6. I tend to have magic be very rare. Cults often end up searching them out for purchase or theft because the magic inevitable is claimed as godly.

    By cults i mean major eligions with power both political and physical.

  7. I no longer do. Having a shop with thousands of gp worth of valuable items screams for someone to try and steal them. Without a state of the art security system, and a society with SWAT capability (Special Wizardry And Tactics), I see a suspension of disbelief that I'm no longer willing to perform.

    Instead, most magical items are bought and sold much the same way as historical artifacts today. Sure, some common things can be found on ebay (arrowheads, for example, the equivalent of potions and such), but the good stuff, the swords from the Battle of Cercy and Van Gogh's works . . . a private market for wealthy collectors, auctions, etc. "On demand" sales don't exist except under something like double or triple regular market value.

    My days of running a high-magic campaign are done.

  8. Magic is never for sale. You may trade some magic item with some NPCs, but this is rare.

    I've NEVER included a magic shop in all my years of gaming.

  9. My last couple of fantasy campaigns have not had magic shops. Scrolls and potions are available for sale, but the best you can do on a magic item is travel to a big city and hope to find another adventurer to trade for something you need. My reasoning is that most people who have 'spare' magic items probably also have more gold than they'll ever use, so they'd rather trade for another magic item they could use.

    Next campaign, I'm also thinking of making every magic item unique (for example, only one Bag of Holding in the entire world...so if you want a Bag of Holding, you have to figure out where it is (or who already has it) and go get it).


  10. Back in the old AD&D days ('79-'83), my first gaming group used magic shops as a convenient way to horse-trade in magic items. The rules for magic item creation were, shall we say, a little clunky. Nowadays, using newer rules, magic item creation is much more understandable, so the need for "magic shops" is no longer there. Low-powered items (potions, wands, low-level scrolls) are available in bigger cities at alchemy shops and from arcane and divine power centers. If anything else is needed, the best option is for characters to make the stuff themselves. The few times we have had a "big" item to sell, it has always gone to some esoteric wizard or a collector of "antiquities."

  11. Never. I do have the occasional alchemist or apothecary or temple selling potions, and there was a collector and seller of magic weapons in one city. That city was overrun by an invading army, though, and all the goodies were lost. In one town there are two competing alchemists on opposite sides of the street who hate each other with a vengeance... good times. But no shop like in the 3rd D&D movie... it was there that I turned it off.

  12. It depends on the game, I can’t see running an AS&SH campaign with anything except potions, and perhaps scrolls, available from sages or the warlock/witch down the road. On the other hand I can’t imagine running a game based around the City of Bluffside without one. Magic shops are great sources of adventure leads (aka complications) in character’s lives and nothing gladdens my heart as hearing a player say they are going to seek one out.

  13. Back in the old days, one of the other players had a minor character who bought and sold magic items. That's the way my 1e ranger obtained pearl handled +1 long swords. I've followed the rules for availability by price for 3.x and Pathfinder, which sort of avoids the whole 'is there a physical shop, because we want to stick it up' question.

  14. NEVER! Magic is mysterious, scarce, and jealously guarded. You can't just walk into a shop and buy it.

  15. Well, I can handle an alchemist store which mostly produces "alchemist fire & acid flasks" from academic knowledge, still offers the potions a low-level wizard may produce to fund his or her study at "Cloak Tower" or similar. Many comments seem to forget that few spellcasters have any profession outside their arcane or divine existence at game start. So a wizard or sorcerer usually funds it not by kickstarting, but by selling scrolls or potions, as arcane artifacts are still too difficult to produce!

    Hm... plus Zombie Chickens:

  16. I've run the spectrum.

    Usually, no.

    Sometimes potions and scrolls can be obtained from alchemists, hedge witches, and the like. Sometimes magic dealers exist like a black market, for the rich and powerful. Sometimes for high magic worlds I've had the generic "magic shop".

    Sometimes I've dropped a magic shop into a world that wouldn't normally have one. This usually turns out to be a Bad Thing for the players, much like the shops that appeared in Leiber's Lankhmar and Thieves World's Sanctuary did.

    1. You talk about "refined" roleplays. D you really think a typical powergamer could make it in Sanctuary without cheating? Or that a monster-slayer is personality enough for Lankhmar? Such was still "high" roleplay, when even the grunts could at least roleplay a grunt. Nowadays it is a legion of therapist-couch-whiners who consider themselves too smart for anything anyway.

      Do you think that modern officials actually ever really roleplayed with real people? You know, like some of us got laid with real women, while others uhm... had the alternate real instead.

      Sure there is a spectrum, but you speak of games which were still quality, nowadays they try to kickstart the watered down, most shallow copies of RPGless RPG's.

    2. Was just thinking of the magic shop that showed up in lankhmar. Will have to try something like that with players

  17. In the sense of a place that sells spell components, scroll paper, even occasionally some of the more common potion or scroll ink ingredients (or even occasionally scrolls, scroll ink, and potions already made), yes I have those in my worlds. In the sense of a place with thousands of gold pieces to buy up magic items or even with items on offer for sale? Not hardly.

    Sure, a rich person (which is to say, a noble) might have the ready cash to pay the players for a magic item - but they are just as likely to point out that the players can have no clear legal title to the item and so its ownership naturally devolves to the nearest noble *cough*. My settings are feudal ones, at varying stages of development.

    It's also possible that the players may have the money to pay someone for an object that they claim is magical, but how do you test a Ring of Protection +1? Detect Magic can be fooled by a Wandering Wizard's Magic Aura spell. More flashy effects can be simulated by fraud.

  18. I actually just had a trading post show a PC a +2 2-handed sword. They completed a quest saved the inn at the town and earned the trust of the people. The cost was 8 to 10k in gold well outside the wealth of the PCs. Normally it don't just reagents and the like, maybe and alchemist or hedge wizard. But in this case it was in the Adventure and I went with it (used troll lord games Upon the Powder River). Other than using a Lankhmar type shop probably not.

    But here is a question do you all allow temple healing, blessings, etc? As that seems along a similar vein. I have typically for a donation.

  19. While I think WOTC has done it's share of damage to the Realms compared to what I loved about it way back when it was introduced, I do think the Realms get a lot more criticism for the "magic item shop" than other settings only because it was the most consistently detailed setting in 3rd/3.5 edition, and they had an "in game" change for 3rd edition to explain buying magic items, namely the Thayan Enclaves.

    The default assumption of any 3rd/3.5 setting was that you could buy/sell magic items so that you would have the proper amount of magical gear for your level, because your magic items were factored into your leveling up just like hit dice, saves, and feats.

    In retrospect, yeah, it kills a lot of the wonder, but it was assumed across the board if you were playing 3rd edition settings. And don't get me started on "the Realms has too many high level characters" when the default population statistics in 3rd edition actually mandated high priests and archmages in every major city.

  20. Speaking of specialty magic shops, I just recently put together an aquatically themed one :)

  21. There are different ways to handle this... but yes, I too would never have a "Famous Uncle Al's Fantastical Sword Emporium" that has shelves full of magic weapons and armor.

    Erik's suggestions are perfect -- apothecaries for magical potions and odd or rare spell components, hedge wizards for simple spell scrolls, etc...

    But, when the PCs want a specific powerful magic item, the only way I might allow them to "purchase" is if they brought together the appropriate "sub contractors" to put together the components...

    That means a master armorer or leatherworker to craft a masterwork item and mages powerful enough to cast the magic required for enchanting.

    Finding a skilled artisan may not be that hard, but finding a wizard with the skills to enchant (and willing to work for reasonable prices) might be exceptionally difficult.

  22. Often the way I handle this situation is to have a convenient travelling mage show up who is willing to make deals usually through barter, but also through straight up purchase. The catch being that there is no way to properly verify the quality of the goods, nor is there anyway to guarantee value for dollar... as they say, its a captive market in that situation and the players can not call foul.
    I believe I addressed this partially in an earlier answer, but I don't mind having dealers in large cities that trade in the lesser one shot items... potions, scrolls, maybe a magic reusable tanglefoot bag with 5 charges max. Especially in a large city with any sort of magically oriented university. If there is such an organization, then the students will be producing surplus goods as a side effect of their training. What better way to fund the college and prevent the local noble from gaining any control. Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind presents an excellent example of this.

    On the other hand, I have always disliked the idea that more powerful items could be purchased off the rack... that just defeats the purpose of Magic as the Mysterious and Arcane Power. When Walmart stocks +3 dragon slaying swords, then it is time to change the campaign. That is where the surplus magic items that are looted come in -- they are best bartered with the correct artisan to create the desired new item. Part of the cost is sacrificing current items to be used as raw materials in the new construction.

    But ultimately, it is also dependent upon how your world is arranged -- if magic is very rare, then magic items will not be readily available in any format. Whereas if you run a more steammagic world where magic has replaced science for duplicating most modern conveniences, then a magic shop is much more likely to be present.

    As an aside, I want to point out that the key thing that turned me off of 4th edition was the foolish attempt to state that magic had no true marketable quality... Trying to dictate that magic could not be sold for a profit demonstrated to me a complete failure to understand that supply and demand will always drive pricing, no matter what the rule books says... Just look at the collectible market IRL -- someone is always willing to pay much more we would expect for the right item just because it carries the right logo, and the buyer has a soft spot for it. So I will restate that magic shops are viable as long as they are correct for your setting... if you don't set expectations for them to be present, the players won't depend on them to make their lives easier.