In short, I think magic item creation is, in general, boring and unheroic. There are times I could see fusing some magic together to create some powerful artifact capable of withstanding/defeating some other great evil – but for everyday adventuring purposes, the idea is to adventure to find wonderous things.
But if adventurers can’t craft magic items, where do these magic items come from? For one, I like the idea of magic being more than academic incantations. Magic sometimes occurs. Spontaneously. In the game that I run, magic often occurs at the height of emotion, or at the tipping point of a battle. You just critted the giant as the last man standing with 1 hp to save the party? That axe you used is tingling with magic.
So what if a player really wants to craft an item? They better be prepared to adventure for the components. If they aren’t, they at least need to be ready to explain how they’re going to arrange for the strange and magical things needed to put it together. It’s going to cost them game time to accomplish this. If they’re not interested enough to spend gametime on it, and the rest of the group isn’t interested enough to spend their gametime on it, then I don’t want to spend my time on it. I’ve actually considered placing loot that has a ‘secret formula’ for some kind of magic item creation, and then have a series of adventures to solve the riddles of the formula and figure out what components would be needed. The main issue I have with it is that I worry about the “mass production” impact. The formula would need to be set up so that it’d be terribly hard to create them over and over. Maybe the ‘bloom of the shrouded flower carressed by the last light of autumn’ would be an ingrediant, and they find out that the ‘shrouded flower’ is a unique, sacred plant, that blooms once a year – 3 days before the end of autumn.
I’ve already expressed my distaste for magic item slots that you fill up with generic magic that does nothing interesting other than adjust the math of the game. When the math of the game assumes these adjustments, they become necessary and boring. Players crafting items really flips the switch to overdrive, so that now they want to custom build every magic item slot with just the right combinations of math adjustments and special powers. The problem with this is that it’s a puzzle that’s only interesting once, while you’re solving it. Once solved, it has the opposite effect – it kills the mood of the game and causes some characters to have major advantages over others who didn’t have the time or interest in solving that puzzle.
So, magic items are created in two ways:
1. Purposeful creation that requires adventuring for rare materials and possibly finding loot that provides formulas of ancient “recipes.”
2. Spontaneous creation of items that have been through extraordinary circumstances. That way, Lancelot’s sword might be magical, if for no other reason than it belonged to Lancelot and had been through strange and epic circumstances.
(Art by Random223 on deviantart)