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Chapter 2: Tools / Building Items

Item Effects

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 82
Next, use the item’s concept and role to decide its effects. This is where your creativity will bring the item to life. Make sure to have it do something exciting and roleplay‑inspiring. A magic item that does nothing more than deliver a bonus is far less interesting, even if the item does have a load‑bearing item bonus, like a magic weapon. To determine the item’s power, take into account the special abilities you give the item as well as the item bonus (if any) that it grants.

For specific advice for the type of magic item you are creating, check out Designing by Type on page 83.

Special Abilities

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 82
When deciding what special abilities are appropriate for what level, it’s best to look for similar spells to gauge the effect. For most consumables, the effect should be less powerful than the highest level spell a spellcaster of the item’s level could cast. Scrolls are about the most efficient you can get—they’re the same level the spellcaster would be—but they require a spellcaster that has the spell on their list, and take the same actions as casting the spell normally.

The most straightforward choice is a once-per-day ability. For this, the item’s level should be at least 2 levels higher than the minimum level a spellcaster could first cast that spell. For example, if your ability is about as powerful as a 3rd-level spell cast once per day (perhaps haste), then it should be at least a 7th-level item. A basic wand is a good example. However, a wand is flexible and can contain the most effective possible choice for its spell level (such as long‑lasting spells where once a day is effectively permanent), so a specific item that doesn’t grant such a spell could have additional powers or bonuses at the same price as a wand.

If the item can be activated multiple times per day, it should be at least 4 levels higher instead—9th level in our example. Frequency could range from twice per day to once per hour and anything in between. Choose whatever makes sense to allow the characters to use the item more frequently without being effectively constant or unlimited. The appropriate frequency, or whether it’s ever okay to have unlimited activations, varies wildly based on the spell. Unlimited castings of a cantrip is fine, but an effect akin to a non‑cantrip spell is rarely a good idea. Only attempt to build such an item when you’re certain of the consequences.

Items that can be activated less often than once per day don’t appear too often, and they usually fit best with abilities that make sense outside of encounters. It’s still best to stick to the guidelines for once-per-day abilities, but these items tend to have more properties—and often strange ones.

Constant Abilities

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 82
If you want an effect to be constant, set the level and Price accordingly. For instance, let’s say your group is 16th level and you want to give them an item themed around flying. A 7th-level fly spell lasts an hour already, so one casting covers a significant portion of the adventuring day. To keep it simpler, you decide to create a 16th-level cloak that lets the wearer constantly fly. Remember, some effects were never meant to be constant and could warp your game.

Activation Abilities

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 83
Watch out when picking the number of actions an activation takes! A 1-action activation that casts a spell with a 2-action casting time is drastically more powerful in an encounter than an item with a 2-action activation would be. An item like that is typically much higher level, and it works best with “helper” spells or ones with limited utility rather than offensive spells. The safest bet is to use the same number of actions the spell normally takes to cast.

Scaling out of Usefulness

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 83
Some spells aren’t appealing if their level is too low. For instance, an item that casts 1st-level burning hands three times per day might be 5th or 6th level. The problem is that spell scaling has the biggest impact at low levels, so the spell isn’t effective compared to other actions a character could take. Err on the side of fewer, more impressive activations.

Bonuses

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 83
If your item includes item bonuses, check the table below for the minimum item levels the game’s math expects permanent bonuses to be applied to. A lower-level item might give such a bonus temporarily, but keep track to make sure the item isn’t effectively permanent. If a character typically picks three or fewer locks a day, there’s no difference between a +2 item bonus to pick all locks and an activation that gives a +2 item bonus to Pick a Lock three times per day. For attack bonuses, AC, and saves, the minimums match magic weapons and magic armor. You can have other items with these bonuses (like handwraps of mighty blows), but keep in mind they compete with fundamental runes. Skill bonuses come on a wider range of items. Some are more broadly useful, so an Athletics item might be more expensive than an equivalent Society item. Gaining a bonus to Perception is especially valuable compared to gaining a bonus to a skill. Just because an item is the minimum level for its bonus doesn’t mean the bonus should be the item’s only power. The item can and should have an additional interesting power beyond the bonus. Likewise, an item can come at a higher level than the minimum, but if it’s much higher, its abilities start to compete with the next bonus.

Table 2–17: Levels for Permanent Item Bonuses

Statistic+1+2+3
Attack bonus21016
AC51118
Save (resilient rune)81420
Skill/Perception3917*
* This is also the minimum level for apex items.