Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thoughts on Magic Shops...

Good Morning, All:

One of the most common elements that typically varies from campaign to campaign is the concept of the magic shop. As GMs and Referees, we have to decide how prevalent magic will be in our campaigns, and how accessible it will be to the average player-character. There are those that feel that magic should only be created by the PC themselves or discovered while adventuring, and can be found nowhere else in the campaign. On the other end of the spectrum, there are published settings where entire magocratic nations make their living and spread their power through magic shops in every major city and township in the setting, and you can buy anything magical from potions to magic swords to pacifiers that cast sleep on babies when the mother is tired of dealing with a fussy child. For the most part, the average campaign likely falls somewhere in between.

The prevalence of magic shops, or businesses where PCs can purchase magical goods in exchange for treasure plundered from local tombs and ancient vaults, is primarily determined by the flavor of the campaign itself. Low Fantasy games, where magic is rare and often dangerous to use, does not even support the concept of a magic shop within the context of the setting. Most Sword & Sorcery style games probably fall under that heading. High Fantasy campaigns, on the other hand, typically include the premise that magic is plentiful and easily available. Such campaigns would provide magic shops for the purchase of items and so forth. Because my players have gone through 3E and the heavier presence and dependence on magic items, I feel that, for my games, I should make such things available, but not to the extent that they were present in 3E. The following reflect my thoughts on the matter.

My first core concept is that only about one person in 250 are magic-using wizards or arcanists, and one person in 100 are clerics or divine casters. These numbers were inspired by an old Dragon magazine article I'd read. In regards to their character level, I use the table I'd previously posted for determining NPC level, capped based on the local population.

My second assumption is that most spellcasters already work for an organization. Priests work for the temples or perhaps a noble that follows the same patron deity, while mages work for either an academic institution, a guild, or a noble. Maybe one in ten actually work independently, either as adventurers or as magic shop owners. This means that there's a divine magic shop for every 1000 people, usually as part of a shrine or local temple; and an arcane magic shop for every 2500 people.

My third assumption is that it is easier to make temporary magic items than it is to make permanent ones. Items such as potions, scrolls and wands cost less to make, take less time to create, and once used up, require customers to come back for more purchases in the future. Permanent items do not create return customers. Simply put, it makes more financial sense for magic shop owners to create temporary magic items than it does to create permanent ones. Potions and scrolls will also be more profitable for magic shop owners than wands, since it takes longer for wands to run out of power, meaning that there are less frequent returns for future purchases with wands. Simply put, potions and scrolls lead to a more steady income for the magic shop owner.

My fourth assumption is that, since more people can use potions than can use scrolls or wands, there is a broader market for potions than for either scrolls or wands. Therefore, most magic shop owners sell potions, instead of scrolls or wands.

Taking these assumptions as a whole, the average magic shop in my campaign worlds will tend to sell mostly potions, some scrolls, very few wands and no permanent magic items. In addition, they will offer basic services like detecting magic on treasures and identifying the magical properties of items. They may or may not purchase magic items from adventurers, and are much more likely to arrange deals with prospective buyers for a small fee (usually ten percent of the final sale price). Magic shop owners will not likely create permanent magic items except on commission and even then, the money will need to make up for the lost income from not creating temporary items for sale. Again, they may instead serve as intermediaries, making arrangements with those rare individuals that make permanent items, in exchange for a small fee (the usual being ten percent).

There's roughly a 10% chance that a village will have an arcane magic shop, owned by a wizard of up to 4th level, and a 20% chance that there will be a divine magic shop, owned by a cleric of up to 4th level.

Townships will almost always have one divine magic shop, and a 50% chance of an arcane magic shop. The proprietor of such a shop is likely to be up to 7th level.

Cities will typically have 8+d4 divine magic shops, and 2+d4 arcane magic shops, and the owners range from 1st level to 10th level.

The average metropolis, of which there are likely to be only one or two in the entire region, if they exist at all, will have almost a hundred different divine magic shops and around forty arcane magic shops, with owners that could reach 13th level.

These are my thoughts, anyway. Yours may likely be different. What do you think about magic shops in your campaigns? As a player? As a GM? I look forward to reading your thoughts, either in the comments below or perhaps in your own blog, should you have one.

With Regards,

1 comment:

Robert Fisher said...

In my world, mages are generally rare and are a secretive lot. They are interested in sharing their knowledge or power with anyone. They generally only make magic items for themselves.

Non-adventuring NPCs with enough money to buy magic items from the PCs are generally people who don’t really have a use for magic items. (At least, the adventuring-oriented kind that are most often found in D&D.)

Still, you can find an apothecary/alchemist who will sell some potions. You’ll find the rare store of magic curios, but these items are rarely the kind of stuff adventurers are looking for. There may be a mage who sells his services, but he’s eccentric and a pain to deal with.