The Nature of Magical Fabrication

The construction of magical items is a realm of the AD&D® rules open to broad DM interpretation. Just how the DM decides to approach it will affect the way magic is viewed in his game. There are two basic attitudes toward the making of magical items: The practical method and the fantastic method.

The practical method says that magical item manufacture is somehow tied to common sense; the materials needed to make the item reflect the properties of the item being constructed, and the steps required are fairly well-defined.

For example, a potion of climbing might require the hair of a climbing creature such as a giant spider or the legs of a giant insect. A wand of lightning bolts might have to be carved from the heart wood of an oak struck by lightning. Petrification might require the scales of a basilisk, a snake from a medusa, or a feather from a live cockatrice. Fear might require a drop of dragon sweat or the grave earth of a ghost. In each case, the relationship between the items needed and the object desired is relatively clear.

Furthermore, the component items themselves are physical and understandable. They may be rare, but they can't be gathered without special preparations (other than those required for normal adventuring). In essence, the DM creates a "grocery list'' that the player character must fill. The character goes out adventuring, seeking out the creatures or things that will provide him with the materials he needs.

This method has advantages, not the least being that it simplifies the DM's task. When confronted by a player who wants to create some bizarre magical item, the DM need only list materials that seem appropriate to the magical effect.

At the same time, however, the practical method can be abused by clever players. They may figure out that every monster encountered has a potential usefulness to wizards and so begin collecting tissue samples, blood, hair, organs, and more. They become walking butcher shops—not at all what is desired!

Furthermore, players expect to find shops specializing in magical materials, both to sell and buy their needed goods. This defeats the need to adventure for one's materials and ruins part of the role-playing involved in magical item creation.

The fantastical approach takes a drastically different view of magical item construction. Here, when the player says, "I want to create a rope of climbing," the DM provides a list of impossible ingredients. It then becomes the player's obligation to discover the means to collect each ingredient.

Thus, to make the rope of climbing, the DM could require a skein of unspun yarn, the voice of a spider, and the courage of a daring thief. The player would then have to discover the meaning of each ingredient or the means to produce it. This, in turn, could require more research and spells to accomplish the goal.

For the rope of climbing, the player might solve it by finding a magical sheep whose wool is so thick it needs no spinning. This he could form into a rope, casting spells to give a spider voice so it can say a few words over the cord. Finally, he could trick a renowned thief into using the unfinished rope on a dangerous mission. After all this, the wizard would cast the spells necessary to bind the various elements and, viola—a rope of climbing would be the result.

Folktales, myths, and legends are filled with instances of impossible tasks and impossible ingredients. To bind the Fenris Wolf of Norse mythology, the dwarves forged an unbreakable chain from such things as the roots of a mountain, the noise of a cat, and the breath of a fish. Folktales tell of heroes and heroines faced with impossible tasks—to plow the ocean or make a shirt without seams. Hercules was faced with Twelve Labors, deemed impossible by others. Cullhwch (of Celtic legend) had to produce sweet honey without bees. If the player characters aspire to such ranks of heroism and wonder, surely they can accomplish deeds such as these.

The fantastical method gives the campaign a high fantasy element, for such impossible tasks are part of the wonder and enchantment of such a world. Furthermore, it ensures that each ingredient or step will be an adventure. Wizards won't casually assemble their ingredients at the local magic supply warehouse. It also provides the DM with a means to control the time required (since assembling components can be quite a task) and a method for draining excess cash from the character's accounts.

At the same time, players can perceive this method as too difficult and too restrictive. They may become discouraged by the DM's demands. To alleviate this, at least partially, the DM should balance the requirements against the potency of the item being created.

Combining the practical with the fantastical is a workable alternative to either method. Not every magical item can be created by gathering the organs of creatures or the essences of rare plants, nor does each require the spellcaster to overcome the impossible.

Simple and common magical items (potions of healing, scrolls with various spells, wands of detection) could require only that the proper things be brought together and ensorcelled. Powerful, exotic, and highly useful items (such as a sword +1) might test the spellcaster's abilities and resourcefulness, requiring that he solve puzzles and riddles far beyond the normal ken.

The combination of the two philosophies can even be used to explain the fact that some magical items are so common and others so rare—potions are everywhere, but maces of disruption are hard to come by. Potions require simple ingredients; maces require the moving of mountains.

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