D&D Custom Magic Item Guide

Posted by Andrew E. on

Table of Contents:

Enchanting Stuff for Dummies

Are you dreaming of magic weapons that slap, chop, slice and dice? Need a shiny bauble that doesn’t quite match what’s in the books? Maybe you’ve weaved a story around an all-powerful artifact and nothing you’ve found quite fits the bill. So, if you like many dungeon masters before you want to craft perfect magical items into your campaign but are worried about getting it just right, we’re here for you. Get some artificing supplies and prepare your best spells as we go through everything you need to know.

What’s Already Out There? 

The first thing you should double check is what items are already available, as you really don’t want to create just a slightly different version of something that already exists in the dungeon master's guide or something. We have a full handy magic item guide here that catalogs every officially released 5e magical item (currently). We’ve also done some statistical analysis and breakdowns of those dnd 5e items that you may find useful here.

Custom Magic Item Goals 

As a dungeon master you can make anything from a barely useful trinket to an apocalyptic doomsday machine, it just depends on what you’re going for. If you’re starting from scratch, it’ll be good to home in on the sort of power level and what role you expect this item to play. Are you trying to make loot for the end of a dungeon, and if so, what class levels are your players? Is this magic weapon something the players will be able to buy from an item shop? Is this item key to your story or is it just a fun reward? 5e ranks its items through a feature of every item called the item’s “rarity”, which loosely tells you what role that item should have in your adventures. Sadly, there aren’t many hard and fast rules, but we can at least give you some good guidelines.

You might come into this with a fully formed concept and now need to figure out what rarity it should be. Or you may have a goal in mind of say creating a rare weapon, or a fun common trinket, in either case knowing the correlation between rarity and ability is going to be fundamental to your build. Some of the best metrics for figuring out this correlation is with equivalent spell levels, and flat bonuses. There’re a LOT of spells in 5e and if your item is directly using them or producing effects similar to them the level of spell used and relative caster level can be a good measuring stick for figuring out what rarity level your item should be. And if your item is providing a flat enhancement bonus to a major statistic like AC or attack and damage rolls, you can gauge it that way. 

Common Magic Items

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: 1st
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: None
  • Appropriate For: Tier 1
  • Common items are the bottom of the barrel, the most basic items that usually produce something akin to a cantrip, maybe limited uses of a 1st level spell effect, or a bonus to specific skill checks. No “+1 weapons or armor” should ever get down this far. A lot of common items are single-use items, or are even purely cosmetic. These are the items you should have no problem providing at a magic shop that don't add much additional power. And while each common magic item doesn't need to be plentiful, your players shouldn’t have too much trouble acquiring one.

    Some notable common rarity items include: Speaking Stone, Feather Token, Breathing Bubble, Potion of Healing (basic), Potion of Climbing, Wand of Smiles

    Uncommon Magic Items

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: 3rd
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: +1 
  • Appropriate For: Tier 1, Tier 2
  • A LOT of items in 5e are uncommon, and it’s plain to see why. An uncommon item is appropriate for tier 1 and 2 play which are by far the most common tiers of play. None of them are TOO powerful and can usually be included safely in any campaign. All that and you have a bit of breathing room on the design space for an uncommon item, as you can start introducing mechanics and effects that have a real impact on combat like a flat enhancement bonus. These are the sort of items that you might not want at every magic shop but should have no problem plonking a couple down in the next dungeon. 

    Some notable uncommon rarity items include: +1 Weapons, Bag of Holding, Bag of Tricks, Broom of Flying, Cloak of Elvenkind, Hat of Disguise, Immovable Rod

    Rare Magic Items

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: 6th
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: +2
  • Appropriate For: Tier 2, Tier 3
  • There are almost as many rare items as there are uncommon items, and for almost exactly the same reasons just pushed forward a tad. They’re no longer really appropriate for tier 1 but fit snuggly into tier 2 and tier 3. Rare items can pack serious punch, and whatever they do it’s usually significant, powerful, or a combination of several lesser features made into one stronger item. If you’re aiming for an item to include as a major adventuring reward, this is usually where you want to be.

    Some notable rare rarity items include: +2 Weapons, Cape of the Mountebank, Elixir of Health, Flame Tongue, Necklace of Fireballs, Portable Hole, Belt of Giant Strength, Berserker Axe

    Very Rare Magic Items

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: 8th
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: +3
  • Appropriate For: Tier 3, Tier 4
  • If you’re aiming for extremely powerful, but still “loot” as opposed to a plot item, then very rare is about where you should land. You can run lower tier adventures in pursuit of these items, but players should only really be getting these once they hit tier 3. These are game-shifting items in most cases. A player with a very rare magic item is usually significantly stronger than a player without one. Be cautious and be aware that once you cross into this threshold the adventures in which it can really be used become limited. 

    Some notable very rare rarity items include: +3 Weapons, Ring of Regeneration, Staff of Fire, Wand of Polymorph, Oathbow, Manual of Bodily Health

    Legendary Magic Items

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: 9th
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: +4
  • Appropriate For: Tier 3, Tier 4, Plot Items
  • Legendary items vary from just really powerful stat boosts to items that could destroy an entire town. This is the category that the designers put anything that they weren’t too sure about, or that really shouldn’t occur in the lower tiers. Many of them even work well as the center of entire adventures, as the Mcguffin that the players or villains are after. These items need to be vetted carefully if you want to provide them as loot, and even then, only as major rewards in the top tiers of play. 

    Some notable legendary items include: Luxon Beacon, Gurt’s Greataxe, Wyrmskull Throne, +3 Armor, Cloak of Invisibility, Ring of Three Wishes, Sphere of Annihilation

    Artifacts

  • Maximum Level Spell Effects: Any
  • Maximum Flat Bonus: +5 (Potentially Higher)
  • Appropriate For: Plot Items
  • If a legendary item might destroy a town, artifacts are at the level of destroying the world. Artifacts are unique, often sentient, and almost always the focus of a campaign. These are the buttons that could destroy the universe, the doomsday devices, the masterworks of mad geniuses. If you’re looking to create an item to be the focal point of your adventures, this is where you should land. Artifacts should NEVER be considered loot. This is the stuff wars are fought over, kingdoms are destroyed with, and prophecies are foretold about.

    Some notable artifacts include: Book of Exalted Deeds, Book of Vile darkness, Eye and Hand of Vecna, Wand of Orcus, Ring of Winter, Sword of Zariel 

    What About Attunement? 

    5e’s main way of keeping magic items from becoming a problem for power balance is by limiting how many items a character can be attuned to. Each player can only be attuned to a maximum of 3 items at a time, meaning as a designer you’ll never have to worry about players with dozens of items going off at once.

    Your job when it comes to attunement is simply to figure out if your item should require it or not. Like many aspects of custom work, there’s no hard rules on what should or shouldn’t require attunement, but we do have some good guidelines and indicators.

    Un-Attuned Item Indicators

    Firstly, consumable items really don’t need attunement. An item that’s used once or a few times and is gone just doesn’t need an hour of attuning time tacked onto it. Potions and elixirs are the most common consumable items, but this also includes things like scrolls or feather tokens.

    Secondly, the less an item has to do with a character’s statistics, the more likely it is to be an un-attuned item. Consider the classic handy haversack. The item is doubtlessly useful, but it doesn’t actually interact with the character themselves mechanically. It’s not worn or used for checks or rolls of any kind, and fundamentally one character reaching into the bag functions the same way as another. If your item works in a similar way, where its use is not relegated to a specific person, then it should probably be an un-attuned item. Also, if your item has limited times per day, it can be used that are tied directly to the item without regard for who uses it, un-attuned is the way to go.

    Finally, if your item provides a very minor, situational, or cosmetic ability, it’s usually fine to make it un-attuned. Many common rarity items don’t require attunement simply because most characters wouldn’t waste an attunement slot on them. So long as the effect is minor, and non-numerical (if it provides +1 to something and is un-attuned, then a player could potentially stack up a million of them) it’s usually safe to make it un-attuned. 

    Attuned Item Indicators

    The primary mechanical purpose of attunement is to eliminate the problems that come with stacking a ton of numerical bonuses. So, if your item provides even a +1 bonus to a saving throw, an attack roll, or even a rare and situational check, it should really require attunement, as should any magic weapons and things like an ioun stone.

    The second goal of attunement is eliminating the game of “pass the magic stick” that can otherwise happen. Say your item grants a bonus to the jumping distance of the wielder and the party needs to cross a chasm. Without attunement, your one item would be used to jump the chasm, then tossed back for the next player to jump the chasm and so on. If your item could feasibly be passed around like this for some benefit from its magical properties, it should probably require attunement. Also, if your item has limited times per day a particular person can activate something, attuned is probably the way to go.

    Finally, from a pure power perspective the stronger an item is the more likely it should require attunement. If a creature is significantly more powerful with your item than without, attunement should at least be considered. Attunement is a power gauge that keeps the strongest items in check.

    Body Slots

    While 5e doesn’t do “body slots” items as strictly as other systems, you can see the remaining logic in the item categories. You can’t wear two different sets of magic boots, and without some begging and pleading to your DM you can’t really wear two different magic helmets. 5e uses these "body slots" to keep similar features from stacking up on each other. The following “slots” are loosely defined, but many of the same features can be found on the same type of item and you should try to stick with those item types if making similar features:

    Armor

    Magic armor is pretty self-explanatory, but if your item “sets” (as opposed to merely buffs) a player’s armor class it should probably be armor. 

    Waist Slot (Torso Slot)

    Magic belts are strangely rare in 5e but when you do find a magic belt it almost always deals with a character’s physical ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution). If your item deals with physical scores, consider making it a belt.

    Feet Slot

    Magic items that go on your feet almost always deal with your movement speed and mobility. If your item changes your player’s movement speed, consider making some magic shoes.

    Shoulders Slot

    Most cloaks either deal with stealth in some way, or alternate forms of movement. If your item provides stealth or a temporary form of movement, consider making it a cloak.

    Hand Slot

    Gloves are most often used when augmenting unarmed attacks or providing reaction-based defenses (stuff you’d use your hands to do). 

    Head Slot

    Head items have a lot of variety, but many items that augment a player’s mental abilities (Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma) or that allow them some form of control over other creatures tend to be helms. If your item does either of those things, consider putting it on their head. 

    Throat Slot

    Necklaces seem to be all over the place without rhyme or reason, but a good number of “warding” features fall into necklaces or an amulet.

    Ring Slot

    Rings have even more variety and are a good fallback if you can’t figure out what slot your item should fall under. You’ll also find a lot of “flat” bonuses in rings.

    Wondrous Item

    Wondrous items are the "everything else" category and are the default "slot-less" items. They can do everything from provide extra damage, a competence bonus, or they could even simply be exotic materials.

    Magic Item Gold Costs

    This is something I get asked about a lot, and not just for your own custom items. 5e tried very hard to disconnect its items from hard gold costs and it can be very frustrating when you try to set up your magic item shops and just how expensive your custom items should be.

    There is no official way to price out your item, but I can give you my own experimental system that I’ve used in the past to some good success. The numbers are squishy, and these “rules” are only general guidelines, but try using them as a baseline and adjust it until it feels right. Start from the baseline price using the rarity of your item, then apply modifiers to that price based on the listed criteria:

    Base Price Starting Points:

    Common: 25 gp

    Uncommon: 100 gp

    Rare: 2,000 gp

    Very Rare: 5,000 gp

    Legendary: 15,000 gp

    Price Modifiers:

    (Order of operation here is squishy, use the result that feels best)

    +2 bonus to an ability score: + 5,000 gp 

    Equivalent to a good feat/racial feature: + 5,000 gp 

    Equivalent to a bad feat/racial feature: + 2,500 gp

    Somewhat situational: - 20%

    VERY situational: - 50%

    Minor downside: - 25%

    MAJOR downside: - 50%

    Single use consumable: - 80%

    +1 AC: + 1,000 gp

    +2 AC: + 4,000 gp

    +3 AC: + 15,000 gp

    +1 Attack/damage rolls weapon: + 750 gp

    +2 Attack/damage rolls weapon: + 3,000 gp

    +3 Attack/damage rolls weapon: + 12,000 gp

    Advantage on check: + 1,200 gp

    Disadvantage on a check: - 600 gp

    Breaks a minor game rule for you: X 1.25

    Breaks a MAJOR game rule for you: X 2

    Finite but numerous (10 or more) uses: - 15%

    Limited-use item but rechargeable: - 10%

    Spell-like ability on an alternate destructive use: + (value of the spell level equivalent spell scroll X 5).

    Spell Slots or at will spell-like ability: + (value of the spell level equivalent spell scroll X 10).

    Can potentially break (on for example a rolled 1): - 15%

    Resistance to a rare damage type: + 500 gp

    Resistance to a common damage type: + 1,000 gp

    Resistance to poison (5e hands out poison resistance like candy): + 300 gp

    Resistance to a physical damage type: + 3,000 gp

    Resistance to ALL physical damage types: + 6,000 gp

    Vulnerability to a rare damage type: - 500 gp

    Vulnerability to a common damage type: - 1,000 gp

    Vulnerability to a physical damage type: - 1,500 gp

    Vulnerability to ALL physical damage types: - 3000 gp

    Weapon deals extra damage: X 1.5

    Weapon deals you damage when you hit with it: - 25%

    Some common mundane item utility: Meh, do not factor into price

    Indestructible or very hard to break: + 100 gp

    Additional situational ability: + 5%

    Permanent death effect: X 4

    Overcomes a rare resistance (silvered weapons and similar effects): + 5%

    Overcomes a common/major resistance (counts as magic): + 10%

    Passive bonus that doesn’t require attunement: + 20%

    Speak/read/understand a language: + 250 gp

    Custom Magic Item Template

    As a final note, keeping to 5e’s formatting and language goes a long way towards making your item easy to understand and professional. When in doubt, try copying the wording and terminology in similar items, and reference the “item” for un-attuned items, and reference “while using this item” for attuned items. The following simple template is a great way to get that formatting down pat:

    Item Name

    Item category, item rarity (requires attunement or not; cost XXX gp)

    An item name is a thing that physically looks interesting in several descriptive ways. When you do a thing while attuned to this item name, your something is increased by X.

    In addition, whenever a thing happens while you’re attuned to the item name, you gain a bonus related to that thing happening.

     

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