Magical & Psionic Item Creation in Athas 2E

So, I have some issues concerning magical item creation in 2nd edition AD&D. Any magical items created require a permanency spell (8th level) to create - and every time permanency is cast it burns one point of Constitution from the caster. That’s an issue. Why would +1 swords exist? And in Dark Sun, even worse… who would sacrifice a point of constitution to make a magical stone dagger or wooden spear? What sane high level wizard would ever enchant anything? So after some rumination and rereading the Will and the Way, it came to me to treat item enchantment similar to how new psionic disciplines or sciences are created… by spending time. The new magical theory - and this goes for clerics as well - will require the enchanter to have generally peaceful, safe downtime to craft items as they slowly draw power from the environment or elemental planes to empower such creations. Defilers of course will be able to expedite this process at the cost of environmental burn or appropriate living sacrifices. This would explain why defilers seek out Sorcerer Kings and Queens as patrons, either to make their own artifacts or to build ones for their patron… thus ensuring a small flow of magical goodies into the various City States. Heck, now druids and clerics have a reason to build a shrine and spend time lambasting themselves before the generally silent elemental lords.

I have not yet worked out a time table for this procedure… perhaps treating it on a case-by-case basis and the desired end result. I might even throw a few random effects or quirks that such items would manifest depending on the item crafting roll and the enchanter’s level.

[I posted this in the forum my PbP game uses. Here are some responses and return comments. Note not all of this is me.]

Off-the-cuff recommendation (see 2nd edition DMG p. 88 for the normal way vs. this idea):

  • You must learn the formula and process necessary to enchant the kind of item that you want to make (e.g. if you want to make a +1 sword, you must learn the formula for “+1 weapon.”) This may take research, consulting other magicians/clerics in your field, deconstructing an existing item to see how it works, etc. If you are lucky you might find ancient notes that you can follow as treasure. Otherwise you either do this via research (downtime + expenses = one Spellcraft proficiency check; -5 penalty if you do not have the proficiency) or you learn the formula from someone else who knows it (downtime + however much they charge, which is probably 1,000+ cp and/or favors).

  • Formulas include:
    ** +x weapon (can enchant any weapon with that +)
    ** +x armor (can enchant any armor with that +)
    ** Each wondrous/miscellaneous item is its own formula (“bag of holding” is different from “bag of tricks” is different from “bracers of defense” is different from “cloak of resistance”)
    ** Each “special effect” kind of weapon or armor (e.g. flame tongue sword) is its own formula
    ** Each ring is its own formula

  • Learning a more powerful formula requires you to know the lesser versions (you must learn “+1 weapon” before you learn “+2 weapon”).

  • You can only learn a formula for an item whose + value is no more than 1/4 of your level, rounded down (so you must be level 4 to learn to make a +1 weapon and level 20 to make a +5 weapon). For items with no + value, the item must have an XP Value (per the DMG tables) no more than 1% of your XP total in your spellcasting class. For instance, a bag of holding has an XP Value of 5,000 XP (DMG p. 138), so you must have at least 500,000 XP to be able to learn the formula to make a bag of holding (which would mean minimum wizard level 11 or cleric level 10).
    ** You must still use Enchant an Item to make any magic item, which means that even with a formula, you cannot make a typical magic item (other than a potion fruit or scroll) below level 9 wizard.

  • You must still use an appropriate spell to make a magic item, so you need to know Enchanted Weapon in order to make magical weapons, fireball to make a necklace of fireballs, etc.

  • The costs and percentage chances to create an item are not changed, so you must still supply an item with a value of 100 cp or more, and your base chance for a successful enchantment is 60% + caster level + 1% per each spell, unique item, or special process used. Failure results in a cursed item.

  • The permanency spell is not required but serves only to create permanent person-affecting or place enchantments.

  • The time required to make the item is however long it takes to cast Enchant an Item (2 days + 1d8 days per casting) and the ancillary enchantments (2d4 hours per spell level, no more than 8 hours of work per day, all must be cast within 24 hours of each other).

  • The time required for research/learning a formula is 1 week per + value. For items without a + value, it is 1 week per 1,000 XP Value of the item.

  • Clerics and druids do not use the Enchant an Item process, but instead appeal to the elementals for their item powers, as described in the DMG. They still require formulas and still must spend the appropriate time and money, but instead their chance of success is the simple 1% cumulative per day (e.g. 2% chance on the second day of prayer, 3% on the third, and so on, to a maximum of 100 days, AFTER the minimum necessary requirement of two weeks of purification, one week of fasting, and one day of item preparation). The drawback is that you can only enchant an item that the elementals can empower - you can’t make a decanter of endless water using the power of Fire, for instance.

The system above means that you can make permanent magic items and weapons and armor starting at level 9, but the quality of the items is still limited and the character must put in research work. This allows the DM to limit what you can make based on what you’ve found in treasure (“ancient notes on how to enchant armor”) or learned from NPCs (“the wizard is a pretty awful dude but he promises to teach you to make bracers of defense if you give him sloppy kisses every day”). It means extra downtime, because you have to figure out how to make stuff, then spend time making it.

Some possible variants:

  • Do away with the Enchant an Item spell. The requirement to make an item is just the requirement to learn the formula. Under this system, a wizard could make a magic sword or armor (+1) at level 4. The major time sink is then research and construction. Time for enchanting should probably be the same (2 days + 1d8 days +2d4 hours per level of spell placed in the item) but without needing the Enchant an Item spell explicitly. This also gets rid of the Enchant an Item saving throws, which are a big failure point - forcing you to start over any time your item fails a save during the process.

  • Do away with the research component: You can just make any item if you meet the requirements. This means that people will be trying to make a wide range of desirable magic items as soon as possible, so the DM has less opportunity to limit what you can make, or to make interesting treasures/goals/NPC interactions on the basis of a character’s desire to learn a particular formula.

  • Remove the failure chance: This means there’s less frustration from “I spent a whole month and thousands of cp on this and you’re telling me I got a cursed item out of it?!?” But it means that there is no apparent vector for how cursed items happen. It also means that the only real advancement for getting above level 11-12 is opening up access to make higher-bonus weapons and armor, because most miscellaneous items will become available at that point; having a higher level gives you a better success chance. (Optionally you might decide that the failure chance is like the psionic research failure, where it just means you have to spend more time and keep rolling until you succeed or quit, and each time you fail you have some small % chance of getting a cursed item instead.)

[At this point, I interjected with:]

Maybe a compromise. If Enchant an Item is used - there is no failure chance. But if it isn’t, there will be… so the original method works the same, but the time burning new version will have a greater chance of failure.

From here we got into Empower and psionic items. It seems odd that all psionic items have a personality. My idea for this is that multiple psionically empowered items might combine egos and have a chance to possess the owner/user. Which would keep PCs from having 6 split personalities in their inventory as the threat of being mentally subdued goes up. Maybe the dom ego gets a plus one for each other empowered item… +2 if there’s another matching highest ego score. And if the wearer is fatigued or unconscious a chance for possession can occur.

All that being said, has anyone got any cool magical item quirk tables that work well with Dark Sun? I’d love to get a d100 table going.

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About the item creation… I suggest that instead of trying to improve magical enhancement, instead focus on a psionic crafting system. Magic is hated in Athas. It doesn’t need any boosts. But Athas does need a complete crafting system that is psionics only.

Perhaps group crafting, where the strain is split among multiple manifesters, so that instead of CON loss, it becomes temporary ability damage instead.

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Group or multiple class enchantment/enhancement is possible in my game - especially with with multiclass PCs. But the underlying elephant in the room is that magic isn’t uncommon, it’s just hidden. There are also very high level casting NPCs and epic level wizards. Item enchantment is also not uncommon, at the very least it wasn’t in the past. I think the Con loss was the worst non-creative solution to magic item production in 2E. I think having players spend a lot of time makes more sense, as you need to be safe and uninterrupted to do so, meaning you have to have found a point in your adventuring career where you’re relatively protected. That is not the early levels in Athas for sure. It also gives you a valid reason to have your players activate tree characters… so-and-so needs X months time to work this out, so play one of your other dudes for a bit.

Ah, maybe it’s a difference in play style. I always had dark sun be supremely anti magic, the way it’s described in certain passages.

The dragons and the templars were about the only ones who practiced magic. The druids and elementals I actually changed to psionic versions so as to heighten the divide between evil magic and good psionics.

In the dark sun I envisage, magic is evil in the public opinion, no if and or buts about it… and anyone or anything saying otherwise is highly suspect, regardless of actions. I actively discourage any player choice involving magic, and if they persist they will naturally face all the persecution and suspicion they ought to.

Further use of magic, regardless of defiling or so called preserving, will inevitably accelerate the death of the planet, “preserving” will simply do it more slowly. Psionics is the only cure.

However, I’m a known psionics fan and vancian magic system anti-fan. I’ve long despised the magic system in D&D, and always preferred the psionics system, even the quirky versions in original D&D or 1st and 2nd, with all their faults are preferable to the magic system.

So take my views with a grain of salt, or even a teaspoon. I can be relied upon to oppose the magic system and anything that will improve it (since they are already too powerful), and to champion the psionics system and anything that will improve it.

I like your point about trading the damage for taking a lot longer to craft items, regardless of my opinions on magic. ^^

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@nijineko if it weren’t for there being a decent amount of canon describing defiler elves running tribes, details on how the Veil exists in every City-State and other major settlements like Altaruk, and the avangions existing (even if briefly in some cases) I’d probably be more inclined to balance more towards psionic. The issue is psionics as written aren’t that powerful. You don’t get better die rolls as you get into the higher levels, unless you’re pretty much doing the same thing as I suggest with magic item creation - spending time like mentioned in the Will and the Way to attempt to better your power scores or develop new sciences and devotions.

There was also no limiting of magic items until 4E’s handbook. Both the OG boxed set and revised set had magical items running around with a commonality akin to any one of the other published AD&D settings, albeit with the unwritten concept that most of the metal ones were from ages past. I really enjoy having magic items in game though, especially since it’s so much less common for the PCs to have identify spells (or know history if you use all the 2E spells). You can get away with a lot of quirks if you tailor them personally, kind of like cursed with benefits or modified to be more Athasian in style.

I’m also toying around with the concept of bonded weapons or items in game, like a gladiator with the spider touch wild talent that always uses a certain war club in the arena forms a bond where there eventually the weapon is harder to disarm, much akin to the power of the talent. It could give you a chance to work some of the lesser used wild talents into the game over time, maybe based on levels gained, etc…

The other issue I have in game with wizards is the fact that they don’t scale well in power over much of the other builds. Half giants with double HD, high strength & constitution. Kreen with the crazy number of attacks possible. Bards with the problem of long term poison production. Clerics with the wisdom bonus for additional spells and even immunity to certain spells with a high enough score. Giving the preserver the ability to construct items without an ability drain just makes it so your group is encouraged to branch out class-wise. And it gives you the DM, the chance to have defilers enslaved by the SKs just to produce items to benefit their rule.

I’m aware of those, and they still exist, but I’ve remoulded the rest of dark sun to align with the ideal of feared and hated magic. Other than the dragons that rule through sheer fear and might, the templars that rely upon the dragons, all the rest are hunted and hated by the general populace, unless forcibly curbed by powerful or secretive elements, like the veil. But I don’t feel any of that changes the anti magic aspects of dark sun.

It is supposed to be psionics central and foremost, magic is supposed to be feared and hated and shunned, so that’s how I spin it.

But, that’s me. ^^ I’ll chime in on psionics stuff, perhaps, but I’ll not trouble the magic discussions.

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@nijineko don’t feel that I’m browbeating you. :slight_smile: I enjoy the discussion. I had a weird gap of gaming in Athas. I started when the first boxed set was released and then never played a version past 2E. I worked as a fine dining cook/chef until my first son was born and came back to running a Dark Sun game again. There was like an 18-20 year gap in there, so while I’m a passionate DM, I feel at times that I’m trying to capture a moment and want to pick up where I left off. I wish that psionics were better developed. It’s honestly where I’m the weakest in the rules. I’ve had at least three revisions to my house rules so far this campaign and it’d be nice to feel confident running them.

Oh, I don’t feel negative about your comments at all! I likewise didn’t want to go too far, or cause you to feel negative because of my comments, especially since I’m so strongly opinionated about the whole psionic magic thing. ^^

I fully agree that I wish psionics were better developed, and I’ve even complained that there is too much magic support in the material on Athas.org. Oh well.

Since Athas has the power to canonize, I wish they would make more use of it.

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Since we’re on the level now… don’t hold back. A little fire in the belly makes for good content.

Of course DS has an anti-magic aspect, but I do not see it as a reason to forfeit preserving magic. On the contrary, IMO defiling vs preserving dilemma is one of the things that provides great drama to the storyline. Players generally shy away from playing wizards since they know that magic is hated and shunned, but I encourage that there is at least one wizard in the party. Furthermore, I make defiling more attractive by some houserules to lure them to defile in dire situations… with unpleasant consequences of course.

For preserving and defiling, I too don’t prefer Vancian magic and use spell point system from PO:S&M with some modifications. I allow free magick (not memorized spells) cast with fixed magick costs if the caster choses to defile.

Since we use PO character point system, it’s also easier to advance Psionic powers. Players can increase the power score of a devotion paying 2 cp and PS of a science for 3 cp when they advance a level.

For quirks of magical items, I choose one appropriate for the function of the item, and try to make it annoying and/or somewhat inconvenient but not that hard. I’ll post some examples when I’m in front of my PC.

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I couldn’t find the text I wrote for the items in my games, but I found some links I archived on the subject. It’s a d20 list rather than a d100 one, I guess you may find this one interesting:

And this one is a document I downloaded about magical item reation a while ago but haven’t read. Thee maybe some good ideas in it.
https://www.dragonsfoot.org/php4/archive.php?sectioninit=SE&fileid=346

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@lykos Ha! @JesseHeinig runs a character in my game. He wrote that top one - in fact a good chunk of the discussion in my original post was he and I conversing.

That second one has a great list for gold piece and experience value on 2E items. I’ve been looking for that for ages. Sweet!

haha, I didn’t know that :slight_smile: There is great stuff in that live journal.

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I couldn’t still find the descriptions of the quirky items I use in my games, so I wrote some of them again. It’s not a list with several quirks that can be utilised easily to generate several items on the run, but I would like to get opinions on those.

The Marvelous Magic Wonders of Molox and Worox

The items marked with a stylized W (or an M according to how you handle the item) are manufactured by one or both of the infamous twins Molox and Worox. The twins, who are known to very few, are said to be lived at least a millennium ago. They were quite industrious when it comes to magical items, but all their items had defects or quirks, and nobody knows if these are intentional or not. Another trait they shared that those who are well-versed in the lore may recall is that they are extremely fond of alliterations and word-plays.

Although the runes on the magical items look identical at first sight, they have a slight difference in the way they are inscribed which can be used to differentiate between the items. One of the two different styles of inscription has slightly softer strikes when compared to the other. It can be deduced that either the different types of runes are used by each of the brothers, or the runes or used to differentiate between two types of items. Whatever the reason is, there is a rather important difference: items that have runes with softer strikes on them have only some annoying quirks, whereas the ones bearing the more angular runes have more malevolent or harmful curses that show their true face in time. As well as the quirks and curses, the maker of the item and the nature of the runes cannot be understood by an Identify spell. The stylized runes with subtle differentiating details must be shown to the players rather than telling it is a letter M and W in order to let them solve the mystery.

Diadem of Disgusting Disguises (M/W rune)- This diadem works as a hat of disguise and changes the appearance as desired, except that it gives the wearer disgusting facial characteristics, decreasing his/her Charisma score to 1d4+3. Roll d6:

1- Hair on awkward places (extra -1 to Charisma for dwarves and muls)

2- Big green warts all over the face

3- Saggy skin

4- Scars and burns

5- Missing … with an awful scar in place (Roll d4: 1- eye, 2- nose, 3- chin, 4- left/right half of the face.

6- Roll twice until two different results except 6 are rolled (extra -1 to Charisma)

Mourningstar of Moroxo- (M/W rune)- This +2 iron morningstar is not an intelligent weapon per se, but it has a quality that would make most people otherwise. The weapon speaks, but only on a certain occasion, and only the wielder can hear it speak. When the wielder kills an opponent using the weapon, it mourns with grief and woe. This mourns only the wielder can hear naturally has a negative impact on morale: after every kill, there’s a 10% chance that the wielder suffers a breakdown, suffering a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls until the end of the combat.

Whinehammer of Woloxo- (M/W rune)- This +2 iron warhammer is not an intelligent weapon per se, but it has a quality that would make most people otherwise. The weapon speaks, but only on a certain occasion, and only the wielder can hear it speak. When the wielder fails to hit an opponent using the weapon, it whines about how the wielder is impotent in battle. This whining only the wielder can hear is highly irritating: after every miss, there’s a 10% chance that the wielder flies into a rage, gaining a +2 bonus to damage rolls as well as suffering a -2 penalty to AC and saving throws until the end of the combat.

(pardon the copy-paste :slight_smile: )

Talisman of Teleportation with Terror (M/W rune) - A character wearing this talisman may teleport once per day, like the wizard spell except it has a curse that cannot be detected by identifying the item. Because of the structure of the Astral Plane and the Gray, arcane teleportation is, by its very nature, very problematic in Athas. When this talisman is used, this problem manifests as horrible visions and hallucinations seen by the wear of the item. Since the visions generally contain death, such as dead friends and relatives as well as the wearer or his/her acquaintances dying in horrible ways, it may be inferred that these are an effect of the Gray itself. As a result of the vision seen, the wearer must toll a Fear check, and face the consequences if the check is failed. After two Fear check is failed, Horror checks are rolled instead, and after two failed Horror checks, Madness checks must be rolled (see TSR 1108 - Ravenloft Campaign Setting). A Remove Curse spell resets the effects of past failed checks, but to allow the wearer to get rid of the item, the spell must be cast by a caster of 12th level or more.

Ring of Stable Mind - This ring with a very strong divine enchantment on it locks the mind of the wearer, making him/her immune to all forms of enchantment and telepathy type effects no matter arcane, divine or psionic. As a downside, it also avoids the user to cast or manifest such spells and powers. For example, the wearer cannot communicate by a Message spell, even if the caster is somebody else, since his/her mind is unreachable by spells and psionic powers. To remove the item, a Remove Curse spell must be cast by a caster of 14th level or more. The item is found on the body of a comatose necromancer laying in a sarcophagus in a mausoleum carved in a rock that surfaced after the earthquakes. It was used by a group of clerics to avoid the captured necromancer practice such spells or power to escape the mausoleum.

Amulet of Restful Soul - This amulet with a very strong divine enchantment on it traps the life force of the wearer to his/her body, avoiding the death of a comatose wearer unless severe bleeding is present. It also makes the user immune to necromantic effects that allow controlling another body such as Magic Jar . One of the downsides of the items is, it also avoids the user to cast such spells. Another downside is, the wearer cannot heal by natural means while wearing the amulet if his/her HP is 0 or lower. To remove the item, a Remove Curse spell must be cast by a caster of 14th level or more. The item is found on the body of a comatose necromancer laying in a sarcophagus in a mausoleum carved in a rock that surfaced after the earthquakes. It was used by a group of clerics to avoid the captured necromancer practice necromancy to escape the mausoleum, or die in his comatose state and become undead.

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I like the idea of metal weapons with drawbacks. I feel that I should share some then as well… most of mine are less drawback prone. Spoiler alert for @JesseHeinig concerning some items in game.

Lady Tahk’s War Club - Tahk has been on the gladiatorial circuit for years. It is well known that it extremely hard to disarm her. Little does the populace know that this is due to her psionic power - one that used to kick in uncontrollably in the past. Perhaps these mental energies found a suitable anchor in her main weapon as well. A mighty goliath’s war club, while it has no damage or attack bonuses - it has two particular properties. One, it does not easily fall from the wielder’s hand. Any attempt to disarm the club suffers a -6 penalty. Two, it rarely shows damage from opposing weapons, perhaps strengthened by the same psionic residues. It needs not roll to break or shatter in normal combat, but this may not take precedence if the opposing weapon striking it has a dweomer that particularly damages weapons (such as Stonebreakers or other such specific spells, however a bonus to save may be applied at the DM’s discretion).

Stonebreakers - Stone mace, magical. No bonus to hit, but no chance of breakage on a critical hit. Also, has a 25% chance every time a successful blow is landed of shattering a weapon in hand of the opponent. May hit creatures only hit by metal weapons. Still affected by a -2 to hit and a -1 to damage however.

Mardaluion’s Armor of the Fire Drake, Leather Armor +1 - Mardaluion was a marauder that led a band of miscreant heroes in the Tyr region. He and his friends lost their lives fighting the scrab queen in the wastes between Tyr and Raam. He had the armor personally crafted after stumbling upon a drake carcass in his youth and then ensorcelled by a defiler that owed him a favor. Weighs half the weight of a standard suit of leather. While conferring no additional saves to fire to the wearer, the suit itself saves vs magical and normal fire at a +4. AC: 4 as suggested by the Burnt World of Athas net project. No Dex bonus loss. 15 pounds, feels like 10 due to enchantment.

Dunder’s Cap - This cursed cap was found in the lair of the magma drake, Griknar. Griknar found it precious as it did not immediately burn and was deep red, like the gems it so coveted. Dunder was a red cap, an evil fey that preyed on children and humans. He would soak this cap in the blood of his victims after a kill. His evil spirit possesses this cap as he constantly goads the wearer to commit evil acts. Benefits: Gives the wielder proficiency in: Spears, sickles and short blades. If already proficient, the wearer gains a +1 bonus to hit and a +2 bonus to damage with said weapon. If the cap is soaked in the blood of a sentient kill, the wearer’s AC and saves get a +1 bonus. This lasts for the next 48 hours. Any time the hat is soaked in blood there is a 3% cumulative chance for the wearer to become possessed by the spirit of Dunder permanently becoming an NPC under the DM’s control. Can only be removed by a remove curse or better removal spell.

Ring of the Kirre - Stolen from a nobless in Tyr’s arena during Kalak’s fall by Sachet the Old, this jade ring with a kirre’s head face offers protection from poison… allowing a +2 to any saves of the type. Nobles, always afraid of the poisonin’.

Lotulis, “Greyswandyr” - This dull grey iron lotulis was enchanted by the wizard Ninguable as a boon for Gracus the Half Giant. It has a solid agafari wood shaft wrapped in crimson thread for grip and the crescent blades have runes carved upon the face. If translated they read, “I buried my worries once, hoping they would not find me.” While magical and able to affect creatures that can only be affected by such, Greyswandyr’s primary ability is to always eventually make it back to it’s master if lost, dropped or stolen. This can only be changed if it’s current master perishes. It has no added bonuses to attack or damage however.

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