Magic Item Basics

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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. 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 Invocation
Bonus to ability score, skill check, etc. Transmutation


To use a magic item, it must be activated. Some items, once donned, function constantly. In most cases, using an item requires an activate magic item 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 indicates otherwise. However, the casting time of a spell is the time required to activate the same power in an item, whether it’s a scroll, a wand, or a pair of boots, unless the item description specifically states otherwise.

The four ways to activate magic items are:

Spell Completion

This is the activation method for scrolls. To use a spell completion item safely, a character must be 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 (see Scroll Mishaps for possible consequences). Activating a spell completion item is a standard action and provokes attacks of opportunity exactly as casting a spell does.

Spell Trigger

Anyone with a spell on his or her spell list knows how to use a spell trigger item that stores that spell. Activating a spell trigger item is a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Command Word

Command word activation means that a character speaks the word and the item activates. No other special knowledge is needed. Activating a command word magic item is a standard action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity.

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

The spells identify and analyze dweomer both reveal command words.

Use Activated

This type of item simply has to be used in order to activate it. Use activation is generally straightforward and self-explanatory.

Continually functioning items are practically always items that one wears. A few must simply be in the character’s possession. 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.

Activating a use-activated magic item is either a standard action or not even an action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity, unless the use involves committing 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 use and takes no extra time, use activation is usually not even an action.


When an article of magic clothing, jewelry, or armor 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. As a rule, size should not keep overweight characters, characters of various genders, or characters of various kinds from using magic items.


Only so many items of a certain kind can be worn and be effective at the same time. The limits include the following:

  • 1 Headband, hat, or helmet
  • 1 Pair of eye lenses or goggles
  • 1 Cloak, cape, or mantle
  • 1 Amulet, brooch, medallion, necklace, periapt, or scarab
  • 1 Suit of armor
  • 1 Robe
  • 1 Vest, vestment, or shirt
  • 1 Pair of bracers or bracelets
  • 1 Pair of gloves or gauntlets
  • 2 Rings
  • 1 Belt
  • 1 Pair of boots

This general rule applies to other attempts to “double up” on magic items—for instance, if a character puts on another magic cloak on top of the one he is already wearing, the second cloak’s power does not work.


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 always 10 + the level of the spell or effect + the ability bonus of the minimum ability score needed to cast that level of spell. Another way to figure this number is to multiply the spell’s level by 1.5 and add 10 to the result.

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).


Magic items should always get a saving throw against spells that might deal damage to them—even against attacks from which a mundane item would normally get no chance to save. Magic items use the same saving throw bonus for all saves, no matter what the type. 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 normal items of the same type. A damaged magic item continues to function, but if it is destroyed, all its magical power is lost.


Table: Bonuses from Magic Items

Bonus Type Improves
Armor AC
Circumstance Attacks, checks
Competence Attacks, saves, checks
Deflection AC
Dodge AC
Enhancement Armor’s bonus
Enhancement Attacks, damage
Enhancement Ability scores
Enlargement Str, Con
Haste AC
Inherent Ability scores
Insight Attacks, AC, saves, checks
Luck Attacks, weapon damage, AC, saves, checks
Morale Attacks, weapon damage, checks, saves
Natural armor AC
Profane AC, saves, checks
Resistance Saves
Sacred AC, saves, checks
Synergy Checks

Many magic items offer a bonus on attack rolls, damage rolls, saving throws, Armor Class, ability scores, or skill checks. Most items that add to saving throws, attack rolls, damage rolls, or AC are restricted to a maximum bonus of +5. (Bracers of armor are an exception.) Most items that add to ability scores are restricted to a maximum bonus of +6, and the bonus usually comes in multiples of 2 (+2, +4, or +6). Skill check bonuses do not have a maximum.

Bonuses of different types always stack. Identical types of bonuses do not stack.

Different named bonus types all stack, but usually a named bonus does not stack with another bonus of the same name (except for enhancement bonuses to armor and shields, enhancement bonuses to ranged weapons and their ammunition, dodge bonuses, synergy bonuses, and some circumstance bonuses).

Armor: This is the same type of bonus that mundane armor gives a character. A spell that gives an armor bonus typically creates an invisible, tangible field of force around the affected character.
Circumstance: A bonus or penalty based on situational factors, which may apply either to a check or the DC for that check. Circumstance modifiers stack with each other, unless they arise from essentially the same circumstance.
Competence: When a character has a competence bonus, he actually gets better at what he’s doing, such as with the spell guidance.
Deflection: A deflection bonus increases a character’s AC by making attacks veer off.
Dodge: An enhancement of a character’s ability to get out of the way quickly. Dodge bonuses do stack with other dodge bonuses. However, spells and magic items never grant dodge bonuses. Only feats and special abilities can do that.
Enhancement: An enhancement bonus represents an increase in the strength or effectiveness of a character’s armor or weapon, as with the spells magic vestment and magic weapon, or a general bonus to an ability score.
Enlargement: When a character gets bigger, his Strength increases (as might his Constitution). That’s an enlargement bonus.
Haste: A haste bonus improves a character’s AC because he is moving faster.
Inherent: An inherent bonus is a bonus to an ability score that results from powerful magic. A character is limited to a total inherent bonus of +5 to any ability score.
Insight: An insight bonus makes a character better at what he’s doing because he has an almost precognitive knowledge of factors pertinent to the activity.
Luck: A luck bonus is a general bonus that represents good fortune.
Morale: A morale bonus represents the effects of greater hope, courage, and determination.
Natural Armor: A natural armor bonus is the type of bonus that many monsters get because of their tough or scaly hides. A natural armor bonus bestowed by a spell indicates that the subject’s skin has become tougher.
Profane: A profane bonus represents the power of evil.
Resistance: A resistance bonus is a general bonus against magic or harm.
Sacred: The opposite of a profane bonus, a sacred bonus relates to the power of good.
Synergy: A bonus resulting from an unusually beneficial interaction between two related skills. Synergy bonuses are not granted by magic items.


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.

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 the has usefulness in addition to its charges, only part of the item’s value is based on the number of charges left (DM’s discretion).


General descriptions include notes on activation, random generation, and other material. The AC, hardness, hit points, and break DC are listed for typical examples of some types of 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. Simply 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, unless the character chooses to make it higher for some reason (which increases the cost of the item; see Table: Calculating Magic Item Gold Piece Values). The main reason to make it higher, of course, would be to increase the power of the spell.

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.

Caster Level

The power of the item (just as a spell’s caster level measures its 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.

For potions, scrolls, and wands, the creator can set the caster level of the 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 item itself. In this case, the creator’s caster level must be as high as the item’s caster level (and prerequisites may effectively put a higher minimum on the creator’s level).


The requirements that must be met in order for a character to create the item.

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, such as if one character knows some of the spells necessary to create an item and another character knows the rest.

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.

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

The going rate if a character wants to buy the item.

Cost to Create

The cost in gp and XP to create the item.


Wondrous items have their weight listed. An entry of “—” indicates an item that has no weight worth noting (for purposes of determining how much of a load a character can carry).