Magic Item Basics

Magic items are divided into categories: armor, weapons, potions, rings, rods, scrolls, staffs, wands, and wondrous items. In addition, some magic items are cursed or intelligent. Finally, a few magic items are of such rarity and power that they are considered to belong to a category of their own: artifacts. Artifacts are classified in turn as minor (extremely rare but not one-of-a-kind items) or major (each one unique and extremely potent).

Armor and shields

Magic armor (including shields) offers improved, magical protection to the wearer. Some of these items confer abilities beyond a benefit to Armor Class.


Magic weapons are created with a variety of combat powers and almost always improve the attack and damage rolls of the wielder as well.


A potion is an elixir concocted with a spell-like effect that affects only the drinker.


A ring is a circular metal band worn on the finger (no more than two rings per wearer) that has a spell-like power (often a constant effect that affects the wearer).


A rod is a scepter-like item with a special power unlike that of any known spell.


A scroll is a spell magically inscribed onto paper or parchment so that it can be used later.


A staff has a number of different (but often related) spell effects. A newly created staff has 50 charges, and each use of the staff depletes one or more of those charges.


A wand is a short stick imbued with the power to cast a specific spell. A newly created wand has 50 charges, and each use of the wand depletes one of those charges.

Wondrous Items

These objects include magic jewelry, tools, books, clothing, and much more.

Magic Items and Detect Magic

When detect magic identifies a magic item’s school of magic, this information refers to the school of the spell placed within the potion, scroll, or wand, or the prerequisite given for the item. The description of each item provides its aura strength and the school it belongs to.

If more than one spell is given as a prerequisite, use the highest-level spell. If no spells are included in the prerequisites, use the following default guidelines.

Item Nature School
Armor and protection items Abjuration
Weapons or offensive items Evocation
Bonus to ability score, on skill check, etc. Transmutation

Using Items

To use a magic item, it must be activated, although sometimes activation simply means putting a ring on your finger. Some items, once donned, function constantly. In most cases, using an item requires a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. By contrast, spell completion items are treated like spells in combat and do provoke attacks of opportunity.

Activating a magic item is a standard action unless the item description indicates otherwise. However, the casting time of a spell is the time required to activate the same power in an item, regardless of the type of magic item, unless the item description specifically states otherwise.

The four ways to activate magic items are described below.

Spell Completion

This is the activation method for scrolls. A scroll is a spell that is mostly finished. The preparation is done for the caster, so no preparation time is needed beforehand as with normal spellcasting. All that’s left to do is perform the finishing parts of the spellcasting (the final gestures, words, and so on). To use a spell completion item safely, a character must be of high enough level in the right class to cast the spell already. If he can’t already cast the spell, there’s a chance he’ll make a mistake. Activating a spell completion item is a standard action and provokes attacks of opportunity exactly as casting a spell does.

Spell Trigger

Spell trigger activation is similar to paladin.) The user must still determine what spell is stored in the item before she can activate it. Activating a spell trigger item is a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Command Word

If no activation method is suggested either in the magic item description or by the nature of the item, assume that a command word is needed to activate it. Command word activation means that a character speaks the word and the item activates. No other special knowledge is needed.

A command word can be a real word, but when this is the case, the holder of the item runs the risk of activating the item accidentally by speaking the word in normal conversation. More often, the command word is some seemingly nonsensical word, or a word or phrase from an ancient language no longer in common use. Activating a command word magic item is a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Sometimes the command word to activate an item is written right on the item. Occasionally, it might be hidden within a pattern or design engraved on, carved into, or built into the item, or the item might bear a clue to the command word.

The Knowledge (arcana) and Knowledge (history) skills might be useful in helping to identify command words or deciphering clues regarding them. A successful check against DC 30 is needed to come up with the word itself. If that check is failed, succeeding on a second check (DC 25) might provide some insight into a clue.

The spells identify and analyze dweomer both reveal command words.


This type of item simply has to be used in order to activate it. A character has to drink a potion, swing a sword, interpose a shield to deflect a blow in combat, look through a lens, sprinkle dust, wear a ring, or don a hat. Use activation is generally straightforward and self-explanatory.

Many use-activated items are objects that a character wears. Continually functioning items are practically always items that one wears. A few must simply be in the character’s possession (on his person). However, some items made for wearing must still be activated. Although this activation sometimes requires a command word, usually it means mentally willing the activation to happen. The description of an item states whether a command word is needed in such a case.

Unless stated otherwise, activating a use-activated magic item is either a standard action or not an action at all and does not provoke attacks of opportunity, unless the use involves performing an action that provokes an attack of opportunity in itself. If the use of the item takes time before a magical effect occurs, then use activation is a standard action. If the item’s activation is subsumed in its use and takes no extra time use activation is not an action at all.

Use activation doesn’t mean that if you use an item, you automatically know what it can do. You must know (or at least guess) what the item can do and then use the item in order to activate it, unless the benefit of the item comes automatically, such from drinking a potion or swinging a sword.

Size And Magic Items

When an article of magic clothing or jewelry is discovered, most of the time size shouldn’t be an issue. Many magic garments are made to be easily adjustable, or they adjust themselves magically to the wearer. Size should not keep characters of various kinds from using magic items.

There may be rare exceptions, especially with racial specific items.

Armor and Weapon Sizes

Armor and weapons that are found at random have a 30% chance of being Small (01-30), a 60% chance of being Medium (31-90), and a 10% chance of being any other size (91-100).

Magic Items On The Body

Many magic items need to be donned by a character who wants to employ them or benefit from their abilities. It’s possible for a creature with a humanoid-shaped body to wear as many as twelve magic items at the same time. However, each of those items must be worn on (or over) a particular part of the body.

A humanoid-shaped body can be decked out in magic gear consisting of one item from each of the following groups, keyed to which place on the body the item is worn.

  • One headband, hat, helmet, or phylactery on the head
  • One pair of eye lenses or goggles on or over the eyes
  • One amulet, brooch, medallion, necklace, periapt, or scarab around the neck
  • One vest, vestment, or shirt on the torso
  • One robe or suit of armor on the body (over a vest, vestment, or shirt)
  • One belt around the waist (over a robe or suit of armor)
  • One cloak, cape, or mantle around the shoulders (over a robe or suit of armor)
  • One pair of bracers or bracelets on the arms or wrists
  • One glove, pair of gloves, or pair of gauntlets on the hands
  • One ring on each hand (or two rings on one hand)
  • One pair of boots or shoes on the feet

Of course, a character may carry or possess as many items of the same type as he wishes. However, additional items beyond those listed above have no effect.

Some items can be worn or carried without taking up space on a character’s body. The description of an item indicates when an item has this property.

Saving Throws Against Magic Item Powers

Magic items produce spells or spell-like effects. For a saving throw against a spell or spell-like effect from a magic item, the DC is 10 + the level of the spell or effect + the ability modifier of the minimum ability score needed to cast that level of spell.

Staffs are an exception to the rule. Treat the saving throw as if the wielder cast the spell, including caster level and all modifiers to save DC.

Most item descriptions give saving throw DCs for various effects, particularly when the effect has no exact spell equivalent (making its level otherwise difficult to determine quickly).

Damaging Magic Items

A magic item doesn’t need to make a saving throw unless it is unattended, it is specifically targeted by the effect, or its wielder rolls a natural 1 on his save. Magic items should always get a saving throw against spells that might deal damage to them— even against attacks from which a nonmagical item would normally get no chance to save. Magic items use the same saving throw bonus for all saves, no matter what the type (Fortitude, Reflex, or Will). A magic item’s saving throw bonus equals 2 + one-half its caster level (round down). The only exceptions to this are intelligent magic items, which make Will saves based on their own Wisdom scores.

Magic items, unless otherwise noted, take damage as nonmagical items of the same sort. A damaged magic item continues to function, but if it is destroyed, all its magical power is lost.

Repairing Magic Items

Some magic items take damage over the course of an adventure. It costs no more to repair a magic item with the Craft skill than it does to repair its nonmagical counterpart. The make whole spell also repairs a damaged—but not completely broken—magic item.

Intelligent Items

Some magic items, particularly weapons, have an intelligence all their own. Only permanent magic items (as opposed to those with a single use or those with charges) can be intelligent. (This means that potions, scrolls, and wands, among other items, are never intelligent.)

In general, less than 1% of magic items have intelligence.

Cursed Items

Some items are cursed—incorrectly made, or corrupted by outside forces. Cursed items might be particularly dangerous to the user, or they might be normal items with a minor flaw, an inconvenient requirement, or an unpredictable nature. Randomly generated items are cursed 5% of the time.

Charges, Doses, And Multiple Uses

Many items, particularly wands and staffs, are limited in power by the number of charges they hold. Normally, charged items have 50 charges at most. If such an item is found as a random part of a treasure, roll d% and divide by 2 to determine the number of charges left (round down, minimum 1). If the item has a maximum number of charges other than 50, roll randomly to determine how many charges are left.

Prices listed are always for fully charged items. (When an item is created, it is fully charged.) For an item that’s worthless when its charges run out (which is the case for almost all charged items), the value of the partially used item is proportional to the number of charges left. For an item that has usefulness in addition to its charges, only part of the item’s value is based on the number of charges left.

Table: Random Magic Item Generation
Minor Medium Major Item
01-04 01-10 01-10 Armor and shields
05-09 11-20 11-20 Weapons
10-44 21-30 21-25 Potions
45-46 31-40 26-35 Rings
41-50 36-45 Rods
47-81 51-65 46-55 Scrolls
66-68 56-75 Staffs
82-91 69-83 76-80 Wands
92-100 84-100 81-100 Wondrous items

Magic Item Descriptions

Each general type of magic item gets an overall description, followed by descriptions of specific items.

General descriptions include notes on activation, random generation, and other material. The AC, hardness, hit points, and break DC are given for typical examples of some magic items. The AC assumes that the item is unattended and includes a -5 penalty for the item’s effective Dexterity of 0. If a creature holds the item, use the creature’s Dexterity modifier in place of the -5 penalty.

Some individual items, notably those that simply store spells and nothing else, don’t get full-blown descriptions. Reference the spell’s description for details, modified by the form of the item (potion, scroll, wand, and so on). Assume that the spell is cast at the minimum level required to cast it

Items with full descriptions have their powers detailed, and each of the following topics is covered in notational form at the end of the description.


Most of the time, a detect magic spell will reveal the school of magic associated with a magic item and the strength of the aura an item emits. This information (when applicable) is given at the beginning of the item’s notational entry. See the detect magic spell description for details.

Caster Level

The next item in a notational entry gives the caster level of the item, indicating its relative power. The caster level determines the item’s saving throw bonus, as well as range or other level-dependent aspects of the powers of the item (if variable). It also determines the level that must be contended with should the item come under the effect of a dispel magic spell or similar situation. This information is given in the form "CL x," where "CL" is an abbreviation for caster level and "x" is an ordinal number representing the caster level itself.

For potions, scrolls, and wands, the creator can set the caster level of an item at any number high enough to cast the stored spell and not higher than her own caster level. For other magic items, the caster level is determined by the creator. The minimum caster level is that which is needed to meet the prerequisites given.


Certain requirements must be met in order for a character to create a magic item. These include feats, spells, and miscellaneous requirements such as level, alignment, and race or kind. The prerequisites for creation of an item are given immediately following the item’s caster level.

A spell prerequisite may be provided by a character who has prepared the spell (or who knows the spell, in the case of a sorcerer or bard), or through the use of a spell-like ability that produces the desired spell effect. For each day that passes in the creation process, the creator must expend one spell completion item or one charge from a spell trigger item if either of those objects is used to supply a prerequisite.

It is possible for more than one character to cooperate in the creation of an item, with each participant providing one or more of the prerequisites. In some cases, cooperation may even be necessary.

If two or more characters cooperate to create an item, they must agree among themselves who will be considered the creator for the purpose of determinations where the creator’s level must be known. The character designated as the creator pays the XP required to make the item.

Typically, a list of prerequisites includes one feat and one or more spells (or some other requirement in addition to the feat).

When two spells at the end of a list are separated by "or," one of those spells is required in addition to every other spell mentioned prior to the last two.

Market Price

This gold piece value, given following the word "Price," represents the price someone should expect to pay to buy the item. The market price for an item that can be constructed with an item creation feat is usually equal to the base price plus the price for any components (material or XP).

Cost to Create

The next part of a notational entry is the cost in gp and XP to create the item, given following the word "Cost." This information appears only for items with components (material or XP), which make their market prices higher than their base prices. The cost to create includes the costs derived from the base cost plus the costs of the components.

Items without components do not have a "Cost" entry. For them, the market price and the base price are the same. The cost in gp is ½ the market price, and the cost in XP is 1/25 the market price.


The notational entry for many wondrous items ends with a value for the item’s weight. When a weight figure is not given, the item has no weight worth noting (for purposes of determining how much of a load a character can carry).