Putting the Magic into the Mundane: Tips for Magic Item Creation in D&D 5e

Text reads Creating Magic Items

A polished shortsword that glimmers faintly as danger draws near.  A gem-studded gauntlet that can unleash reality bending powers.  Some of our most beloved stories feature fantastical weapons or other items that take hold of our imaginations.  Creating unique and tailored magic items that fits the thematic narrative you’ve crafted is a great way to draw your players interest, and reward them for it.

Earlier this month, the Team at Variant Ventures and I put our heads together and created five holiday inspired magical items for use in Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  If you’ve ever wanted to make magic of your own but were unsure of where to begin, I will be sharing some tips I picked up throughout the process below.

Disclaimer: There isn’t a wrong way to create Magic Items.  Everything posted below is merely a suggestion of how to conceptualize magical equipment, but there are many other valid methods as well.

Why does this item exist?

The first thing we want to know when building a magic item is the reason the item came into existence.  Imbuing a mundane item with even what could be considered low level magical attributes is an arduous, expensive process.  What purpose is this item going to be put to?  Did the creator need a sword that could cut through any material?  Did they instead need a way to navigate the pitch-black, cavernous tunnels of the Underdark?  Knowing the answer to this question is sometimes all you need for inspiration to kick in.

How does this item complete its purpose?

Once we know the reason an item exists, the next fact we should determine is how it fulfills its intended purpose.  In an example above, we must now determine how a sword could cut through any material.  Perhaps it is made of the world strongest metal, mined from the highest peak of the highest mountain in the realm, blessed by the gods themselves and then forged in dragon fire.  Or maybe it’s just magically imbued to sever an object’s connection through the weave itself, leaving no wound or scar and cutting a perfect cleave.

How powerful should this item be?

Now that we’ve started to flesh out the magic item in question, we need to determine how powerful an item would need to be to fulfill its function.  If a sword is made of the world’s strongest metal, blessed by gods and forged in dragon fire exists, it has likely been strengthened by every step in the process.  The strong material means it is likely going to have a +2 or +3 attack and damage bonus when used in combat.  If the metal had been blessed by the gods, it may also have an additional bonus property, such as additional radiant damage on a hit, or it could confer a bonus to its wielder when held.  It was forged in the flaming breath of an ancient dragon, and that process may also confer a magical boon.  Perhaps the blade is always aflame when released from its scabbard and deals additional fire damage on a hit.  If we put it all together, it may look something like this.

Foe Splitter

Magic Longsword, Requires Attunement

This weapon is made of the strongest metal known to man.  It provides a +3 bonus to attack and damage when used in combat.

The sword was blessed by the elder gods during its crafting.  This sword has three charges.  When an attack is rolled using this weapon and the attack misses, you can use a charge and cause the attack to succeed instead.  It regains 1d4-1 charges daily at dawn.

The ancient dragon whose breath forged this blade conferred some of its magical essence onto it.  When drawn from its scabbard, this sword is always aflame.  The fire does not harm the wielder, and only harms targets or objects the wielder designates.  When an attack succeeds using this weapon, the creature or object takes an additional 2d6 fire damage.  Flammable objects, including those worn or carried by the target are ignited.

Pretty cool, right? I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of this sword.  Also remember, powerful magic items tend to require attunement.  If you are creating an item with the intent of a player acquiring it, it may be best to ensure they won’t have to juggle attunement items in order to use it.  Unless of course you enjoy watching them squirm as they try to determine what to bring to battle.

How rare is this magic item?

Now that we’ve completed creating the origin and mechanics of our magic item we need to determine how rare it should be.  For the most part, an item’s rarity depends on a couple of factors.  Typically the more powerful a magical weapon or item is when compared to other items, the rarer the item would be.  If you aren’t sure what rarity is appropriate for the item you’ve made, a good practice is to compare it with other items and their rarities contained within the Dungeon Masters Guide or a supplement book.

Keep in mind that a setting’s level of magic availability can affect an item’s rarity as well.  In a setting where even mundane chores are commonly completed with magical assistance, an otherwise rare magic item may be uncommon or even a commonplace object.  In a setting where arcane secrets have remained mere whispers for centuries, even a seemingly common healing potion could be an item of legend, worth a King’s ransom.

The sword we’ve created above would likely range somewhere in the “Very Rare” to “Legendary” range, depending on the level of magic available in the setting.

Conversely, all of the items we created for our Holiday Magic Items pack were uncommon wondrous items, conferring small boons to those who wielded them without requiring attunement.

Most TTRPG adventures include magic items of all descriptions, purposes, and rarities as rewards or even as plot hooks and quest motivations.  The acquisition of Legendary Artifacts can even itself be the purpose of entire campaigns.  There is nothing wrong with sticking with the items that the developers of D&D have supplied us.  But if you like adding your own special touch to the items that exist in your story, the tips above exist as a starting point on your journey to custom TTRPG content.

Take it from me, there are few greater moments than witnessing your players jump with excitement as they acquire a powerful item of your own design.

Check out our FREE Holiday 2020 Magic Items Collection available to download here!

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