There are a number of spells and abilities with effects that depend upon the factors outside the level of the caster or the level of the spell as cast.

Most commonly, the D.C. of a spell check can vary based upon the casters spell ability. Somewhat less common is something like metamagic that allows you to do something x times, where x is the ability bonus of the caster. Often the cost of doing so is effectively the same as increasing the level of the spell

If an item was enchanted with a spell cast at a higher slot (ring of level 5 magic missile) we would expect it to behave as the higher level spell (and have 5 darts). Hypothetically, one would expect an item imbued with a metamagic'd spell to operate the same way (ring of Ennervated Eldritch Blast). When a magic item possesses one of these variable metamagic factors, do we use the relevant ability score of the creator/caster or those of the user?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Changed the example of a metamagic'd spell in an item to a better hypothetical. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 3:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you give an example of the metamagic you mean? I can't think of any like that. Concrete tends to work better here than hypothetical. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan you might be right for 3.5e. I found a couple feats that boost DC, but the only ones that cause ability score based affects (that I recall) were 5e metamagics. Would modifying the tags to make this a 5e question be appropriate? Iirc magic item creation in 5e is significantly less fleshed out... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 7:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacKotlicky um. 3.5 and 5e are completely different games. Almost anything from one will be radically incompatible with the other. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 7:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacKotlicky If your example is homebrew 3.5 material, that's fine. Your example doesn't need to use official material. The answer to the question in 3.5 and in 5e will be different, though, and you should ask based on which one you want to learn the answer to. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 8:08

2 Answers 2


Magic items are assumed use the minimum ability score necessary to meet the prerequisites for their creation. That is, according to Magic Items, while…

A creator can create an item at a lower caster level than her own, but never lower than the minimum level needed to cast the needed spell. For example, a 15th-level wizard could craft a wand of fireball at 10th caster level, or even as low as 5th level (the minimum caster level for fireball, a 3rd-level spell), but no lower. (Dungeon Master's Guide 282)

…usually a magic item doesn't need an ability score except to determine the saving throw DC needed to resist its 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. For example, a 2nd-level spell’s save DC would be 10 + 2 (for the spell being 2nd level) + 1 (for needing at least a 12 in the relevant ability score to cast a 2nd-level spell), or a total of 13. (214)

(These quotations—sans examples—are also in the SRD on Creating Magic Items and on Saving Throws against Magic Item Powers, respectively) Of course, there exist exceptions: staffs use the wielder's ability scores, this DM gravitates toward using the higher of the ability score necessary to create the intelligent magic item and the intelligent magic item's own ability scores, and some magic items indicate an ability score because they must like the shield of Prator (DMG 282) (major artifact; 15 lbs.).1

The only time typical magic items use their creators' ability scores instead of this default is if a magic item's creator possessed the feat Enhance Item, the benefit of which is

Choose any item creation feat you already know. When you create an item with that feat, adjust the DC for saving throws required by the magic item, if any, by your key ability modifier. (Epic Level Handbook 114)

While it appears in the Epic Level Handbook, the feat Enhance Item doesn't possess the epic type. It's only prerequisite is another item creation feat, but, as indicated, the feat only applies to one item creation the creature already possesses. The feat Enhance Item can be taken multiple times, though, once for each item creation feat. Despite the feat's restrictions, it's still one of the game's most powerful feats, often ignored even in optimization circles because so rare is the DM that allows the feat Enhance Item into his campaign.

So far as I'm aware, in official Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 material there are no metamagic feats that are limited in their uses by—or otherwise affected by—the metamagic feat's possessor's ability scores.

1 Untouched by the 3.5 revision, the shield of Prator (or, to eliminate product identity, the shield of the sun) remains described in the Dungeon Master's Guide (2003) as a 3e-style large shield. It's a heavy steel shield according to the premium edition Dungeon Master's Guide (2012).

  • \$\begingroup\$ So... what confuses me with your answer is "use the minimum ability score necessary" vs. the capacity to craft at a given level of spell. For our purposes, does this mean that it's assumed that the user/caster has a relevant ability score of 10+ the effective level of the spell (or metamagic ability requirement, whichever is higher)? So my INT 5 barbarian using a "boom stick" would operate it as an assumed INT 13 for the 3rd level spell, and a dc of 15 for the minimum caster level? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or for example the burning hands spell cast as a 9th level slot requires an INT of 19 and with the D.C. of a 17th level wizard? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacKotlicky First, take the item user out of the equation. Unless it's a staff, who uses the item won't matter. Then, figure out the spell in the magic item: usually, it's a wizard or cleric spell (I prioritize as per MM 315). Then figure out what the caster would need to cast that spell. Then determine that caster's ability score from there. Also, a wizard can't just prepare a burning hands spell in a 9th-level spell slot and have that be a 9th-level spell; he needs to use Heighten Spell to make that a 9th-level spell or else it's just a 1st-level spell in a 9th-level slot. (con't.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IsaacKotlicky So a wizard that wants a wand of burning hands that's heightened (by the feat) to a 4th-level spell at caster level 20 must garner (375)(4)(20) gp in raw materials to create it. The resulting wand will produce an effect as if the wand's Int were 14 (the minimum needed to cast a 4th-level wizard spell). The wizard's caster level doesn't matter when computing the spell's save DC; the spell's spell level does. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 14:22

You'd use the minimum required

The magic items section says:

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.

So if a scroll of a spell that allows the use of 1 bolt per point of [casting stat mod] were used, the minimum stat required to cast that spell would be used, rather than either the creator's or the user's.

Also, crafting a metamagic version of a spell into a scroll increases the save DC if the spell level increase from the metamagic is high enough so that the spell level required to cast the spell needs a casting stat that has a higher bonus.

Unless that metamagic spell were heightened, however, the higher spell level would not itself increase the save DC, as the spell level doesn't actually change.

This still means that items use the minimum casting stat required, rather than the creator's stat, to produce the spell effect.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your claim does not follow from the quote used to support it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 7:56

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