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Here’s a typical D&D magic shop: Wulfstan’s Wondrous Whatsits. Don’t let the whimsical name and gaudy façade fool you; much of its merchandise is meant for violent situations—and that’s okay. Adventurers in need of magically vicious blades, potions of healing, and other such tools of the trade are good at finding them. Besides, the folk coming in for minor enchantments and cantrip-trifles add some color to old Wulfstan’s days between visits of his reckless big-spenders.
Magic shops are a long-standing trope of D&D that often clash with the worldbuilding around it. Their existence, distribution, and stocks inform the player experience with what they imply about magic in your setting and what the players can buy from as mundane a fashion as commerce.
There are those who bemoan the idea of the magic shop for cheapening magic, stripping it of its mystery and thus, making it feel less special than it should. Regardless, it has its uses, and deciding to use them or not (and in what capacity) depends on the type of story you want to tell with your players.
In this article, we’ll cover the worldbuilding implications of magic shops, how to set prices when Player Characters (PCs) are buying and selling magic items and services, as well as some sample magic shops to add to your game and more. Let’s get into it.
Flavors of Fantasy: High and Low Magic
Magic is a defining feature of any D&D world, and the role it plays in yours should be reflected in your magic shops.
The default assumption of 5E, as per page 135 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) is:
“[…]most magic items are so rare that they aren’t available for purchase. Common items, such as a potion of healing, can be procured from an alchemist, herbalist, or spellcaster. Doing so is rarely as simple as walking into a shop and selecting an item from a shelf. The seller might ask for a service rather than coin.
In a large city with an academy of magic or a major temple, buying and selling magic items might be possible at your discretion.”DMG, pg 135
I’m not sure that’s how most people play it, however. Stories abound of DMs who let their players buy their way into having overpowered characters and don’t know how to rebalance the game, for instance. Videogame RPGs have likely influenced how magic shops are done in D&D, leading to a trend of readily accessible magical goodies that are often priced below their real value.
If you’re going for a high-magic approach, with floating cities, skyships, arcane automata crowding the streets of the big cities, inns using magic boxes to keep the beer cold, and so on, not having a bunch of magic stores around would be odd.
Conversely, if your style is more like a grimdark iron age where most folks don’t know the difference between their superstitions and real magic, which most have never witnessed, then magic is too big a deal to be haggled over the counter. Indeed, any access to magic is a key to power in such a world.
Considerations for Developing Magic Shops
Then there’s everything in between. Still, the prevalence of magic is not the only factor to keep in mind when deciding the if and how of magic shops in your game. Here are some useful questions to ask of yourself when developing this:
- Up to what level of the spell is readily available to most people? Just because magic is abundant and somewhat mundane doesn’t mean every corner shop wizard can routinely break and remake reality on a whim or live indefinitely by reincarnating into one of their multiple clones. So, what degree of magical prowess can people pay for in gold?
- In some campaigns, you might be able to get a friend unpetrified with Greater Restoration for an obscene amount of money, while in others the one priest within reach who can do it might instead have you do (or owe) them one hell of a favor because money is beneath them.
- Is the commerce of magical items and services regulated by any authority? A guild might lead to standardized prices and limited competition, for instance. Strict governmental regulations to keep the best magic equipment in the military might make magic weapons incredibly hard to acquire at shops. If the rules drive prices up, is there a riskier—but cheaper—black market?
- How do purveyors of magical wonders protect their stocks? Valuable things need protecting. If magic is commonplace, magical thieves abound as well. If it’s scarce, but not to the point of not being merchandise at all, a good haul from an unsuspecting enchanter’s stock might set you up for a lifetime. Which leads us to…
- How do the owners of magic shops make sure that whatever wonders exit their doors are duly paid for? They might have suits of animated armor rigged to beat up anyone who tried anything funny in the shop. Maybe they hire mercenary security or set traps meant to be triggered by lockpicking, smashing glass, and so on. We’ve all known some chaos monkey players who want to steal from every shop. As a DM, you should make it dangerous; the people who own these shops are certainly capable of protecting them!
- What’s the availability of the necessary resources for a magic shop to thrive? Plenty of spells and alchemical concoctions require expensive, hard-to-get materials. The people using these to create magical merchandise likely buy them from somewhere. Maybe the expertise is readily available but not the requisite components to create items beyond a certain threshold.
- The previous aspect can also be explored to flesh out quests and factional relationships:
- Do enchanters’ and alchemists’ guilds compete for the best components from the local monster-hunting company?
- How much of a discount can you get on a powerful item in exchange for acquiring a rare material for the magic shop owner?
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Types of Magic shop
Not all magic shops are equal. You can deploy different kinds of them depending on what makes sense for your worldbuilding arrangement and what you are okay with the PCs in your campaign being able to buy. Whatever the case, visiting a magic shop is inherently more of an occasion than regular shopping, so if you want to put the time into a fun shopkeep NPC, that’s likely the best place to put them.
You can have a full-blown magic emporium that caters to the party’s every need, complete with a loveable shopkeep to befriend, seduce, and even fight doomsday cults with. But you can also enforce some separation depending on your campaign’s needs: perhaps alchemy shops are easily accessible, but you can only get enchantments if you’re on good terms with the guy.
Magics that heal the body, raise the dead, and cure conditions might be exclusive to temples. Do these temples discriminate based on the PCs’ faiths or require some sort of service? Your call.
To contrast two well-loved examples from the realm of actual play: In Critical Role, enchanter Pumat Sol’s Invulnerable Vagrant shop is right there in the streets of Zadash, impervious to the elements, and anyone can walk in. In his shop, one can acquire various potions, bags with extradimensional spaces inside (more on those here), a Periapt of Wound Closure, spellcasting components, among other things.
The Permanent Transient (shop) in MCDM’s The Chain (campaign), however, is both a magic shop and a private club for the elites of Capital. To legally buy magic items there, you must be sponsored by a member. This establishment operates with a focus on commissioned work from its select clientele.
You can even have shops that cater to the needs of spellcasters but don’t provide the magical expertise. Wizards need a lot of expensive paper and ink, all casters eventually require material components with a gold cost, but the seller doesn’t need to actually have the knowledge or ability to use them.
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Magic Shop Prices: Buying and Selling
This section is likely the meat of the article for a lot of you reading, and it concerns itself with three things:
- Finding buyers and sellers.
- Getting discounts.
Let’s go in order.
Finding Buyers and Sellers
If we’re working with the default assumption of the DMG about the availability of magic items and services, there are readymade rules for finding people to buy from or sell to in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGE, pg 126):
“Finding magic items to purchase requires at least one workweek of effort and 100 gp in expenses. Spending more time and money increases your chance of finding a high-quality item.
A character seeking to buy a magic item makes a Charisma (Persuasion) check to determine the quality of the seller found. The character gains a +1 bonus on the check for every workweek beyond the first that is spent seeking a seller and a +1 bonus for every additional 100 gp spent on the search, up to a maximum bonus of +10.”XGE, pg 126
If the character has a specific item in mind, you include it among the items they find for sale, with the following DCs (Persuasion, again) to beat, depending on the rarity of the item.
- 10-14 if the item is common.
- 15-19 if it is uncommon.
- 20-24 if it is rare.
- 25-29 if it is very rare.
- 30 or higher if it is legendary.
If the PC is selling, the workweek they spend looking for buyers only costs them 25 gp. They also have to make Persuasion checks to determine the quality of the offers they get and can always choose not to sell if said offers are not to their liking.
Finally, both buying and selling magic items come with possible complications in XGE (pgs 126 and 134).
D12 Buying Magic Items Complications
|1||The item is a fake, planted by an enemy.|
|2||The item is stolen by the party’s enemies.|
|3||The item is cursed by a god.|
|4||The item’s original owner will kill to reclaim it; the party’s enemies spread news of its sale.|
|5||The item is at the center of a dark prophecy.|
|6||The seller is murdered before the sale.|
|7||The seller is a devil looking to make a bargain.|
|8||The item is the key to freeing an evil entity.|
|9||A third party bids on the item, doubling its price.|
|10||The item is an enslaved, intelligent entity.|
|11||The item is tied to a cult.|
|12||The party’s enemies spread rumors that the item is an artifact of evil.|
D6 Selling Magic Items Complications
|1||Your enemy secretly arranges to buy the item to use it against you.|
|2||A thieves’ guild, alerted to the sale, attempts to steal your item.|
|3||A foe circulates rumors that your item is a fake.|
|4||A sorcerer claims your item as a birthright and demands that you hand it over.|
|5||Your item’s previous owner, or surviving allies of the owner, vow to retake the item by force.|
|6||The buyer is murdered before the sale is finalized.|
How do we DMs price magic items and services? There are some tables that can help us out. First, the DMG (pg 135) provides the following to determine the gold value of magic items according to their rarity and guidelines about when PCs should have access to them:
|Common||1st or higher||50-100 gp|
|Uncommon||1st or higher||101-500 gp|
|Rare||5th or higher||501 -5,000 gp|
|Very rare||11th or higher||5,001 – 50,000 gp|
|Legendary||17th or higher||50,001+ gp|
Note that this puts something like a +1 anything (rare) beyond the first tier of play, which is when the PCs should be starting to make good money. XGE (pgs 135-140) contains a whole section on awarding magic items that can be useful when you’re determining what’s available when and where.
XGE (pg 126) also provides an alternative way to determine prices :
|Common||(1d6 + 1) x 10 gp|
|Uncommon||1d6x 100 gp|
|Rare||2d10 x 1,000 gp|
|Very rare||(1d4 + 1) x 10,000 gp|
|Legendary||2d6 x 25,000 gp|
When reading both the DMG and XGE tables, keep in mind that the prices are halved for consumable items like potions, or scrolls, which wizards are bound to find handy, as they can copy spells from scrolls.
Note the enormous gold piece numbers for very rare and legendary magic items. Despite these pricing tools including them, it stands to reason that objects of such power probably don’t belong in a shop, exclusive though they may be.
The acquisition of a very rare or legendary anything is the stuff of late-game quests, as spoils from dangerous delves and foes slain, or gifts from kings, archwizards, and angels. If you still want to turn it into a sort of trade, one’s soul is a much more adequate currency than gold at this point.
Back to more mundane acquisitions, however: in what ways can PCs get discounts other than some killer social checks?
Most players will try to pay as little as they can for this stuff, and they are right to. Unless every magic shop owner in your world is a sullen dwarf who drives a hard bargain, they should occasionally succeed. Being told “no” repeatedly when you’re doing something perfectly natural and within the rules is no fun.
How do you make the discounts feel earned other than the party face is rolling a 19 + a billion on a Persuasion check? Remember that Persuasion is not a spell that overrides reality, and people might not be available to be persuaded. Some other things that might enable the party to pay a friendlier price for a given magic item or service are:
- Providing the raw materials, sparing the enchanter of depleting their stores, or spending time going after said materials. The pricier or riskier to acquire the materials are, the bigger the discount.
- Completing a mission for them, effectively reducing the price of the magic item by what the justifiable reward for such a mission would be.
- Aiding in the process with their own spellcasting capabilities, if it’s a commission.
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Sample Magic Shops for Different Campaign Flavors
As promised, here are a couple of magic shops (or almost) that you can plop on your campaign!
The Invincible Rambler (high-magic)
This establishment specializes in magical arms and armor and is located in a big, bustling city. It’s owned and run by dwarf quadruplets, Alsop, Tulsop, Salpum, and Molstap, who used to be an adventuring party. They make fierce things of metal, lightning, and steel, and their only concession to alchemy is a selection of healing potions of varying potency, some with an alcoholic kick.
Tulsop is a smith and forges many of the weapons; Alsop and Molstap enchant. Salpum is the one who’s good with numbers, and when you go there, you hope any of the other ones is tending the shop.
Sachiko’s Sweet Dreams (medium magic)
A charming cottage on a flowering hill surrounded by farms, not too far from a provincial capital. The young (by young, I mean around 200 years old) elven woman who lives and works here, Sachiko, deals in potions and perfectly safe recreational concoctions, as well as nonviolent enchantments and restorative magic.
When visiting her, you are likely to walk by some peasant coming back from her cottage after delivering a gift, like fresh cheese or dandelion wine, that they heap on her for the many lives she has saved over the years for basically nothing. You have to pay full price for her magic, though. Her cat familiar, Dumbass, is actually pretty smart and helps out by casting some simple cantrips himself.
Black Brida’s Bower (low magic)
Not a shop, but it will do for a low magic campaign. The hag that lives here scorns gold and trades in things like memory, youth, luck, firstborn children, feelings, and the organs of powerful creatures.
The locals only come here as a last resort, and some people foolish or desperate enough to trade with Brida travel from afar for her remedies, prophecies, and items of power (mostly common and uncommon, which are still hard to get in a low magic campaign, and a rare one will cost you dearly).
Thus concludes our guide to magic shops. Hopefully, this has shed some light on the worldbuilding side of things and has helped you to think more clearly about the commerce of magic items and services. As usual, here’s a TL,DR:
- Whether or not there are magic shops, and what types of merchandise you can get in one, depends on what sort of world your campaign is set in.
- The default assumption of 5e is that “most magic items are so rare that they aren’t available for purchase”. Often, services are the currency of magic, not gold.
- The overall availability of magic in your world should determine the ifs and hows of magic shops. Consider also how organizations can play a role, and how such shops protect their stocks.
- That said, there are tables to decide the gold piece value of magic items based on rarity in the DMG (Pg 135) and XGE (pg 126).
- Not every type of magic shop offers all types of magic items and services.
- XGE has rules for finding buyers (pg 133) and sellers (pg 126) for magic items, as well as complication tables (pgs 126 and 134).
- You can get discounts by helping enchant the items or make the potions, by providing raw materials for your commission, or some sort of service to the shop owner.