Creating your own potions and magic items can be a satisfying element of gameplay in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. General guidelines for crafting different rarity items are provided in the core books, but many gaps exist. Specifically, the details of how to learn to craft items, and how to collect ingredients is left vague. While I don’t think crafting needs to have a fully gamified system, having some central methodologies can keep things consistent. Notably, a set of rules that create proactive options for players can enhance their engagement with the setting. While, an understandable set of guidelines for item crafting can develop character goals and drive roleplay. Taken together, players who want to craft items can use gathering rules as a fun gameplay hook.
The question is, how to keep this from being a tedious affair?
Use Existing Guidelines
The Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (XGtE) published rules for crafting magic items, including potions. These rules present a time and gold value requirement for crafting an item. However, they can be confusing as the DMG and XGtE give different base values for these activities. Being that XGtE is newer, its values are generally accepted as the new default and I”ll assume that here too.
Item Rarity Time and Value
|Common||1||50 gp||100 gp|
|Uncommon||2||200 gp||400 gp|
|Rare||10||2,000 gp||4,000 gp|
|Very rare||25||20,000 gp||40,000 gp|
|Legendary||50||100,000 gp||200,000 gp|
* Halved for consumable items like potions
The rules specifies creation cost and time, but not skills or proficiencies in most cases. As a result, it’s left up to the DM to decide what the actual crafting requirements are. If there isn’t a benefit to the game from expressly defining this, the DM shouldn’t bother. However, a more defined system can provide rich character or world building opportunities for groups interested in that kind of play.
In my own games I adjust the level of detail to fit the interest of the player. I list some of those options below.
Cookbooks and Blueprints
There are no specific guidelines to understand what players know how to create. The easiest solution is to assume that an appropriate proficiency allows someone to craft any item listed in the book. In cases where players are only crafting simple healing potions or scrolls, this is the assumption I use. Alternatively when players want a more rich experience, they seem to enjoy a system that drives them toward research. This means characters have to actively find ways to recover lore, trade recipes, or research in libraries.
To encourage research or recovering lore, characters can craft any Common item with appropriate proficiency. Additionally, the character selects a number of Uncommon items equal to their primary attribute modifier they can create. Typically this is intelligence or wisdom, depending on the tradition and craft. Beyond this, knowledge to craft additional items needs to be obtain through active play. This means characters can find it during quests, learn it from fellow crafters, or uncover it as a part of library research. As a result, it creates opportunities during play through character actions or events, like any other game element.
The end result is a list of items a character can create on their sheet and a gameplay hook to acquire more. What follows next is, how to create interesting gameplay hooks to gather material and support the creation of items in a fun way.
As presented in the Summary of 5e Alchemy Rules, players can** forage or harvest ingredients for magic item creation. These rules are intended to be simple and fast, and leave it to the DM and player to work out description and flavor. In the end, the intention is that the player attempt some action and the DM sets a difficulty and asks for a roll. The **result is a value of ingredients in gold pieces that can be used for the creation of any magic item. Cases where more detail or context is required should be negotiated between players and the DM, but this general guide can serve for most items up through Rare.
Some enchanted flora or minerals may provide ingredients to create magical items. Characters proficient with an appropriate skill or tool kit may attempt a DC 15 check after spending 4 hours gathering. On a success they gather 1d6 GP worth of ingredients. This roll is made with advantage in rich or pristine environments, or disadvantage in sparse or depleted areas.
Also, characters with an appropriate proficiency may attempt to harvest ingredients from some mythic creatures. When appropriate, a player may roll a DC 15 check to harvest 1d10 gp of crafting material per creature CR rating. Alternatively, creatures lower than CR 1 may produce 1 gp of ingredients. These ingredients may be of general use or useful for only specific kinds of effects at the DMs discretion. Notably, these may be items collected from the environment around the creature and not necessarily parts of the creature itself.
Suggested Skills by Creature Type
These are some suggested skills for harvesting depending on the base creature type involved. This list is a slightly modified version of the one presented in Tasha’s Caldron of Everything.
|Creature Type||Suggested Skill|
|Beast||Animal Handling, Nature, or Survival|
|Celestial||Arcana or Religion|
|Dragon||Arcana, History, or Nature|
|Elemental||Arcana or Nature|
|Fey||Arcana or Nature|
|Fiend||Arcana or Religion|
|Giant||History or Medicine|
|Humanoid||History or Medicine|
|Monstrosity||Nature or Survival|
|Ooze||Arcana or Survival|
|Plant||Nature or Survival|
|Undead||Arcana or Religion|
When in doubt of a detail, ask the player to suggest an action. In this way you follow the simple guidelines of 5e where characters describe the action and DMs set the roll.
Sometimes a location or creature is powerful enough to provide the complete materials needed to craft an item. In these cases, the DM should establish potential lore or uses a character may be aware of. An easy rule of thumb is a particular rarity item might be crafted from materials recovered in an encounter or creature of appropriate CR for the item rarity. Additionally, the material should have some related theme to the core ability of the item being created.
A guide for how to estimate rarity based on CR is provided in Chapter 2 of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, under Crafting an Item.
These are lose guidelines of course, but more simple than it may initially seem. If an encounter or creature presents some theme, the player asks the DM if it’s possible to recover something to craft a particular item. Then, the DM decides if that’s reasonable and compares the CR to the rarity of the targeted item. If the request and CR fits the theme, either let the player recover material or ask them for a DC 15 check to do so. If successful, they have everything they need to craft the item.
Some creatures already provide guidelines for this kind of effect or item creation. For instance, Ice Trolls list some effects that can be achieved that are thematically tied to the setting and monster abilities. In a similar way, other creatures or locations may provide similar opportunities for item creation. In effect this just expands the treasure system, while engaging the player with active hooks.
A system of tracking recipes and searching for ingredients can be a great fit for players wanting active hooks to the world. These rules are better suited for collaborative play styles rather than transactional ones. So keep in mind these are rough guidelines to drive expectations and help promote negotiations and active participation. As with everything, the goal is to have fun. If you find these fun, drop me a note on Twitter. I would love to hear your thoughts.