We all love magic items – but when it comes to buying and selling magic items in 5E D&D, the official rules leaves it almost entirely up to the DM to figure out how magic items are sold and what they should cost.
In our series on dealing with magic items in 5E, we’ve tried to solve that by first covering how to price magic items in 5E followed by a guide on making buying (and selling!) magic items can play out as a fun encounter at the table.
This time, we’re giving you the tools for creating your own magic shop in 5E with a flavorful merchant and an exciting inventory of magic items – without having to spend hours of preparation!
Wanderer’s Guide to Merchant & Magic has 166 pages of magic shops and new magic items, including price lists for all magic items in the 5E SRD and rules for buying and selling magic items!
Running a Magic Shop
A magic shop – as the name indicates – is supposed to feel magical, so the first thing you need to think about when running a magic shop is how to convey that the shop is extraordinary.
To break things down, your main components for creating a magic shop in 5E are 1) the shopkeeper, 2) the shop itself, and 3) the shop’s inventory – including, of course, how you present those to the characters!
Let’s follow these three simple steps, starting with the shopkeeper.
Creating a Shopkeeper
While anyone can stumble upon the deed of a dusty old tavern or be employed at the local city guard, the business of running a shop filled with magical loot isn’t for everyone. So, when creating a shopkeeper, the first thing you should ask yourself is how that NPC ended up running a magic shop.
Aside from a colorful background that would justify how the shopkeeper came to own various magical treasures, designing the merchant doesn’t need to take long time. Fundamentally, the approach isn’t far away from how you’d design any other NPC and could be boiled down to the following (and even fewer) bullet points:
• Race/Creature Type
Wanderer’s Guide to Merchant & Magic provides tables for quickly rolling up a merchant.
Going from A-Z on that list, let’s use a quick example to illustrate how easy it would be: Let’s go with an ettin (because two heads are always better than one!) and let’s call it Reshin – I’ll let you decide on the gender, it doesn’t really matter.
Rolling again, we discover that Reshin used to be a mercenary (although they always dreamed of becoming an art collector!) and ended up being so successful that they settled down to sell off the loot they had acquired from a dragon’s lair. Reshin is pompous and philosophical and has a wooden leg. And the merchant’s quirk is that it… stutters and forgets names!
Biases? Well, I guess Reshin in particular has a crush on elves and would also be fond of characters who share their love for art. However, due to childhood trauma, Reshin isn’t a big fan of orcs.
Since Reshin is an ettin (a two-headed giant), you could (and probably should!) add different characteristics and motivations to its second head, but for the sake of making this a quick example, I’ll resist the urge.
The point here is, that within a minute or two, you’ll have the baseline for a unique merchant that is bound to make the characters’ visit to a magic shop into a fun and memorable encounter instead of the few and boring dice rolls the official rules reduces it to.
With a merchant prepared, let’s take a look at the shop it runs!
Creating a Magic Shop in 5E
The checklist you want to consider when creating a magic shop in 5E can be boiled down to:
The first three things should be rather easy. The location can be anywhere – but in reality, you should always just decide on somewhere that fits well into your campaign!
For the sake of making my examples generic, let’s say Reshin’s Shop is basically a regular shop located on a street in a larger town that has lots of other shops.
The shop appears cluttered and messy. And it smells like rotten eggs.
That’s the first three things off the list.
Wanderer’s Guide to Merchant & Magic also provides tables for quickly rolling up a magic shop.
The shop’s security is also very important.
Unlike a town’s tavern – whose biggest value is the overpriced elven wine that only interests the party’s overindulgent bard – a merchant who’s dealing in exotic artifacts and rare magical treasures has much more reason to be well-protected. Because if it isn’t, the characters may decide that slaying dragons and fighting beholders for gold and treasure just isn’t worth the risk when they can just rob poor Reshin’s shop. Well, they can try that, but it shouldn’t be easy!
There are several ways a merchant can protect its shop; it can be powerful itself, it can have a strong companion (or multiple of those), and it can have other powerful defenses. Such defenses could be anything from the items on display being mere illusions of the actual wares, which are kept in an extradimensional space, or perhaps the items make a loud noise when they’re touched by the customers, thus alerting the shopkeeper and potential companions of any attempts of theft!
In Reshin’s case, we can just say that mercenaries are sent out to catch any thieves, as that fits the ettin’s background of being a mercenary, but the point is that you can easily create quite powerful magical defenses that will surely protect the shop’s wares.
It is a magical shop after all, and stuff like having an antimagic field preventing spells from being cast in the shop would, in my opinion, only help to convey to the characters that the shop is something special. Double win.
Creating an Inventory
The third, final, and probably most important step in creating a magic shop is the inventory!
Unfortunately, figuring out what’s for sale in your magic shop can also be one of the most time-consuming parts of creating it.
To break it into a few steps, the things you need to consider are 1) What items do the characters want – and what items would it make sense for the merchant to have? 2) How can I describe these items? 3) What should these items cost?
Select the Items
The first step sounds easy, but often entails flipping through pages after pages of the Dungeon Master’s Guide while carefully selecting each item based on what magic items you think would interest your players want and what items would make sense for the merchant to own.
If you don’t have an idea of what you’re looking for, you’ll quickly find yourself caught in a rabbit hole spending hours putting together the perfect inventory – preparation time you could’ve spent on many other and arguably more important things.
Each shop in Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic comes with a premade inventory.
Even if you don’t have a premade inventory at hand, there are other ways to save time here!
An obvious solution is to just cut down on the number of magical items for sale in the shop, but that isn’t really a solution when creating a magic shop! Of course, your magic shop doesn’t need 100 or 20 magic items, but it should at least have more items than the heroes are carrying, in my opinion.
If you know what kind of items you want to be in the shop, a good start is to put your dusty Dungeon Master’s Guide back on the shelf and use a website such as D&D Beyond to narrow down your search with various filters.
An even more efficient way of creating your shop’s inventory is to use a magic item generator.
Generating a bunch of magic items in a single click might not get you exactly what you want on the first try – but since you can easily discard the items you don’t like and keep the ones you like, you’ll be able to generate a unique inventory for your magic shop in no time.
Just keep in mind what kind of items the merchant would own and what would entice your players (without breaking the balance of the game)!
Our own free magic item generator even allows you to use various filters (such as rarity, item type, etc.) when generating your inventory and save your collections for later use. And as an added bonus you can download the magic items as cool printable handouts!
Making your shop’s inventory becomes easy with this magic item generator.
Describe the Items
This sounds like a no-brainer – and perhaps it’s not something every DM needs to worry about – but you should also prepare yourself to describe the various wares on display. Trust me, the PCs will ask.
There is, of course, the uninspired but easy route of just saying to the characters that they’re looking at a plain old “wand of magic missile“, but letting them know they’re looking at a carved ebony wand with a jagged purple crystal at its tip is just way more cool and immersive – and really helps bring your shop to life while retaining the mystique and uniqueness of the marvels the PCs are buying!
However, being able to tell how an item looks rather than what it is, takes time and consideration, for most DMs at least.
This is the reason why the premade inventory for the magic shops in Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic also comes with a short description of each item that the DM can read aloud for their curious players.
You don’t actually need to go this far – but preparing to describe just a small handful of the shop’s items doesn’t take a lot of time and will make the encounter an even cooler experience for the PCs.
Price the Items
Finally, you need to decide what each of these items should cost – or you’ll risk selling a way too powerful item way too cheaply and thereby skewer the balance of the adventure ahead (or just the balance amongst the party members!).
Pricing magic items in 5E D&D isn’t easy. The pitfalls are numerous and the official rules are extremely lacking in this area, which leaves it almost entirely up to the DM to figure out the fair price for each item.
In Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic we went through the hassle of pricing each item individually while also providing rules that allow the characters to bargain for a better (or worse!) deal.
So, check those out if you haven’t already!
Drafting up a cool and unique magic shop takes time and effort, but by following a few simple steps while avoiding the usual pitfalls and using the tools at your disposal, you’ll end up saving lots of time:
- Create a shopkeeper that includes its race/creature type, name, background, personality, appearance, quirks, and possible biases!
- Create a magic shop by deciding on its location, appearance, quirk, and security measures!
- Create a unique inventory by considering what the merchant would own and what entices the characters – and use a premade inventory or a magic item generator to speed things up!
I think that covers the basics of creating and running a magic shop in your own 5E D&D campaign! If you want a more comprehensive guide, including ready-to-play magic shops and roll tables for easily creating your own, be sure to check out Wanderer’s Guide to Merchants & Magic!
S. K. Valeur