Analyzing a Magic Item Stat Block
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Illustration by Damien Mammoliti
As Ryan Dancey, Clark Peterson, Neil Spicer, and I work our way through the last wondrous item submissions for RPG Superstar, I've come to realize two things. One, magic item stat blocks convey a lot of information, and two, many people don't understand what goes into a magic item stat block. In this blog, I'll dissect a magic item stat block and explain what goes where, and why.
Item Name: This section is self-evident. The magic item name header in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook looks like this is in all caps, but it's just a text style—don't type yours in all caps!
Aura: This section exists so the GM can quickly tell a player what schools of magic the item uses. This is noteworthy only if the PC fails the Spellcraft check to identify the item and needs an idea of what it may do. Auras are always written as "faint," "moderate," or "strong," plus the appropriate school or schools, and perhaps a subschool if relevant.
CL: The caster level tells you what caster level the item operates at. This means you don't have to specify a caster level in the item's description—if you find an orb that can create a fireball, it doesn't need to say "fireball (10d6)." Unless otherwise specified, the item uses this caster level for all of its abilities. The caster level should include the ordinal abbreviation for that number: "CL 1st" instead of just "CL 1," "CL 2nd" instead of just "CL 2," and so on.
Slot: This slot tells you which of the magic item "body slots" the item uses (Core Rulebook 459). If you have to hold the item in your hand (like a rod of wonder) or if it doesn't use a slot at all (like an ioun stone), it's listed slot is "none." (Paizo used to put a dash there for slotless items but no longer does it that way.)
Price: This is the item's market price—how much you'd pay for it if you bought it from an NPC. This is never expressed as a fraction or decimal; "12 gp, 5 sp" is correct, "12.5 gp" is not, nor is "12 1/2 gp." If the item costs more than 999 gp, put a comma in to separate the thousands ("20,000 gp" instead of "20000 gp" or "20.000 gp"). If your item costs more than 200,000 gp, it's probably an artifact rather than a regular magic item. If the item has several types (like a figurine of wondrous power) with different costs, each is listed here, separated by commas.
Weight: This is how much the item weighs, in pounds (abbreviated "lb." for 1 pound or less and "lbs." for 2 or more pounds). Most common items in the game have a specific weight, just for consistency. For example, boots weigh 1 lb., so players don't have to remember different boot weights. Some light items, like gems, headbands, and rings, have a standard weight of "—," which means individually their weight isn't important (though the GM can rule that a chest full of them has weight). When in doubt, find a similar item in the Core Rulebook and use the listed weight.
Description (Header): This is a text format we call a "breaker"—the all caps and lines above and below the text are just an applied style. Like the title, don't type this line in all caps, and don't add underlining.
Description (Paragraph): The paragraph description of a magic item should say (1) what it looks like, (2) what the item does, and (3) how often you can use the item.
Normally, using a magic item is a standard action. You shouldn't give an item a shorter activation time than that because it messes with the "action economy" of the combat round—a player who tries to create a faster item is trying to do more than one magical thing per round.
Whether or not using an item provokes an attack of opportunity is built into how it's activated (Core Rulebook 458). This means for command word items you don't need to say that it's a standard action to activate and that it doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity—that's assumed for all command word items. In fact, the assumption is if an item doesn't say how you activate it, it's a command word item.
Magic items that have effects requiring saving throws should include those saves in the item description. If it's duplicating a spell, the default save DC is the minimum for casting that spell: 10 + 1.5 x the spell's level.
If you refer to specific spells, italicize them, like fireball or pearl of power. If you refer to feats or skill names, capitalize them, like Power Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword), Perception, or Knowledge (local). There's very little else in the game that always requires capitalization—you don't capitalize class names (cleric), race names (dwarf), combat maneuvers (grapple, trip), or other specific rules (breath weapon, drowning, trample, poison).
Construction (Header): Like the Description header, this is not all caps and not manually underlined.
Requirements: This section is all the stuff a character needs to create the item using an item-crafting feat. List the crafting feat first (capitalized), followed by spell names (italicized), followed by any other requirements such as needing ranks in a skill (capitalized) or an ability like channel energy.
Cost: This is the item's sale cost—how much a PC could get for selling it to an NPC. This is always half the item's Price (with the exception of magic weapons, magic armor, and items with expensive material components or foci, because the extra cost is factored in differently). If your item's Cost isn't half its Price, you've done it wrong. All rules for the Price apply to the Cost (no decimals, no fractions, separate variants with commas).
Phew! That's a whole lot of nitpicking, but it can make the difference between a professional-looking item and an amateur-looking one, and between a reasonable item and an overpowered item.
Sean K Reynolds
Designer and RPG Superstar Judge