I have been thinking about how much Magic Marts take me out of the game. I'm wondering if there's really a solid solution in 3rd Edition to prevent the acquisition of magic items from being too simple or too tedious. All the solutions that seem to rely on simply making the items more rare result in the non-casters falling further behind, and that also tends to draw out the already lengthy process of buying and selling items intrinsic to 3.5e's system.

Is there a good, solid method to make the purchasing go quickly without being too easy?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. This is an interesting question, and I look forward to answers, but I think the actual question may be occluded behind the other baggage your carrying about this game and DM. :-) I suggest leaving those other issues for separate questions. On the question of Is there a good, solid method to make the purchasing go quickly without being too easy? can you mention if the DM uses Table 5–2: Random Town Generation and associated info like the gp limit of towns? Thank you for participating and have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 4 '18 at 23:08

Table 5-2 in the DMG (page 137) gives rules for how this is suggested to work. Every settlement has a "gp limit"; items with prices above the limit are not available, and items with prices below the limit generally are.

The table doesn't really offer guidance about how much haggling can be expected.

We can notice that haggling has an effect on class balance: characters with good charisma stats will have improved access to magic items, and characters with bad charisma stats will have worse access. This is particularly bad for martial characters, who have the greatest need for magic items and also tend to not have great charisma. Martial characters are already frequently weaker than spellcasters, so this is likely to make that balance problem worse.

In the games I run, I avoid giving the players access to "magic marts" for a different reason: such stores are a huge concentration of wealth, and the players will feel tempted to rob them. Instead, when the group has downtime in a city, I just tell them the gp limit of the city and let them buy anything below that limit for the market price. (Sometimes I also tell them there is a "spell level limit": the magic item crafters in town only have access to spells of a certain level, and magic items that require higher spell levels are not available.)

Here's a bit more on the topic of robbing the magic shop:

DM: ...so, as you've discovered, the orcish horde attacks tomorrow. What's your plan for defending the town?

A: Let's go check out the magic shop and get some better weapons.

DM: You walk into the magic shop. What are you looking for? There's a rack of magic swords, a book full of scrolls, a jar of wands, a whole shelf full of magic armors...

B: Tell me more about the swords.

DM: Well, for basic longswords they have the usual +1 enchantment, +1 flaming, and +1 frost. More expensive varieties include the vorpal blade and the luck blade, scaling up to the sunsword which is a minor artifact.

A: This is awesome! We'll just arm the militia with all this stuff, and they'll have no trouble fighting off the orcs!

DM: The shopkeeper tells you it would cost... um, 1.4 million gold pieces to buy all the swords.

B: Uh, we really should get some armors and wands as well, actually.

A: Well, we don't have that much money, but surely he doesn't want the town to get pillaged by orcs tomorrow?

DM: The shopkeeper is really hoping you can defend the town from orcs, but he can't give away his magic weapons -- these are his livelihood.

A: Can we just borrow the magic items?

DM: No, you can't. The shopkeeper has a firm "no borrowing" policy after a bad incident with the last adventurers running off with merchandise.

C: How closely is the shopkeeper watching the sword rack? Can I palm that vorpal blade, slip it into my bag of holding?

DM: The shopkeeper is watching you like a hawk. He has +40 to Spot checks.

C: What if I just grab it and run off?

DM: I mean, this guy has millions of gp worth of stuff -- of course he has guards. He's got four guards, all of them level ten, equipped with the best weapons and armor in the shop. You guys are only level five, so it would be a bad idea to make them angry.

C: What if I grab it and turn invisible?

DM: The shopkeeper himself is a fifteenth-level wizard and you're pretty sure he has a counter to that.

A: Hmm. Can we just ask the shopkeeper and his guards to fight off the orcs?

B: Yeah, it sounds like our group is actually pretty useless here -- let's just let the shopkeeper do the battle.

C: And while they're defending the town, we'll loot the magic shop! And we'll blame it on the orcs!

DM: The shopkeeper refuses to defend the town. He's sworn a vow of nonviolence, except against shoplifters. His guards have sworn the same oath. You'll have to do this yourself.

A: Okay. So, our defense plan will be to funnel the orcish invasion through the town and into the magic shop, where they'll naturally start looting and then get killed by the shopkeeper's guards...

The problem is that I want (most DMs want) to tell a story where the player characters are important people and their actions matter. But if there's a merchant standing there who's much richer and more powerful than the player characters, and he's like "nope, I'm not going to help you", then we have to conclude that the player characters probably aren't actually that important. This leads to strained worldbuilding.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's interesting. In no game I've played in have any PCs attempted to rob any shopkeeper NPCs. \$\endgroup\$ – H. Zable Oct 4 '18 at 23:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @H.Zable Dude, seriously, that's amazing. That's usually the very first thing any players I get try to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 5 '18 at 0:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Can confirm. Just passed level 2, literally stole a bag of holding from a distracted wizard in my second session. It's 5E, but magic items are generally rarer in 5E. It turns out that theft is a lot easier than adventuring. Had I earned the money for it the "right" way, I wouldn't have afforded one until about level 8. \$\endgroup\$ – Man_Over_Game Oct 5 '18 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shopkeeper: Make it quick, because this afternoon I'm fleeing (teleporting?) town with my wares and bodyguards. \$\endgroup\$ – Roflo Oct 5 '18 at 22:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ O, interesting. I tend to stick hard to both demographics and GP Limits and figured your parenthetical was exactly what took place. If the town's GP Limit is high enough, even if no one in town can create a scroll of imprisonment, somebody in town has one for sale. I always assumed adventurers sold them to the townsfolk. I mean, for heaven's sakes, in a world populated by demons and orc hordes, those dummies pay full price for art objects! :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 8 '18 at 2:09

In my experience, games have actually roleplayed the shopping experience... once, maybe twice. To see how the characters go about it and so on. But as you say, it just takes vastly too much time, and more importantly, it isn’t fun after the first or second time. Because it becomes a chore: it sounds just like how I have to make up lists of things I need and shop around for the best price and make sure the people I go with are reputable (and that their price isn’t indicative of a lousy product or service). That isn’t fun in real life, but it’s important. It’s definitely not fun in a game, and it certainly isn’t important either. So I’m right there with you.

That said, others can have different opinions on what is fun. I haven’t run into anyone who really feels like this is what they want to focus a game of Dungeons & Dragons on, but they could be out there. But I would caution, then, that even if this is what you want, you still have a mismatch problem: Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t support this very well. I mean, usually you go, you roll Gather Information to find what you’re looking for and/or what’s out there. Then comes Appraise (itself an annoying tax that adds precious little to the game), and hope you roll high enough to know what the thing should be worth. Finally, you roll Diplomacy to try to convince the shopkeeper to actually sell it to you for something like that price. Again, hoping you roll high enough. Coming up with in-character statements to portray the roll. Having the DM make more-or-less ad hoc judgment calls on whether or not the roll plus whatever you said was good enough. Rinse and repeat for every item.

None of this really gets anywhere interesting. I mean, when you look at things that Dungeons & Dragons really focuses on—mostly combat, some on exploration—the scenario is different every time. Enemies have different attacks, different resistances and weaknesses, the terrain comes into play, and so on. Traps aren’t as fleshed out—a lot of it again just comes down to hoping your Search and Disable Device and Open Lock checks are good enough—but there’s still some going on.

But for haggling, there’s just Appraise, and Diplomacy. That’s all you get—because Dungeons & Dragons is not a game that focuses on this. It claims to be the be-all, end-all system for all games, but it really isn’t. It’s for dungeon-delving and dragon-slaying and it really isn’t designed for much beyond that. If your game isn’t focusing on those things, you are probably using the wrong system.

And if you are going to have to haggle for every single item, you are going to be playing a game that focuses on that. There won’t be time for anything else! That will be almost all of the game. Because D&D 3.5e characters demand an enormous number of items. There’s a ton of mundane gear they’ll need even from 1st level, and then as they level there are just tons of magic trinkets and gear they need. I mean, this is 3.5e’s depiction of the consummate adventurer:

Morgan Ironwolf, the adventurer depicted in Ecology of an Adventurer

(Dragon magazine vol. 342, Ecology of an Adventurer)

Just look at all the packs and gear he’s got strapped to him! This is what an adventurer looks like by mid-to-low levels.

Which brings me back around to your real question: how should this get handled?

The idealized magic mart with exactly what you’re looking for is the obvious answer, and in my experience most games will include something like one sooner or later just because it saves time and it wasn’t worth expending more effort than telling the players “deduct the appropriate number of gold pieces from your sheet and write in the item; now let’s get on with our next adventure.” Sure, it’s lazy, and sure, maybe it’s “easy,” but again, this isn’t where the focus of the game should be, in my opinion. This isn’t where the challenge is supposed to be found. Leave special effort in finding items for plot macguffins or truly special loot.

But if you wanted to avoid that, there are other ways to handle it. The game’s recommended system for this is “Wealth by Level.” In short, the game says that characters are expected to have accumulated a certain amount of wealth by the time they reach each level. “Wealth” here is defined by the sum total value of the stuff they own—which is not how much you paid for it. The game doesn’t suggest tracking income or expenditure per se—just the end result. So if you were at your wealth by level, and then overpay for some item, the game would now say you are now under your wealth by level. You gave up more gold pieces than the thing you bought was worth, so the total value of your gear and gold is less than it should be.

And what does the game say should happen then? The DM is supposed to fix it. You are supposed to collect more loot than you otherwise would in the future. Not immediately—overpaying can, and should, lead to a temporary shortfall of funds. But over the course of, say, the next level, it’s supposed to get fixed. And the DM does this behind the scenes by adjusting rewards and loot accordingly. It doesn’t have to be magic marts. It could just be loot piles. If you overpay on your belt of giant strength and now cannot afford your cloak of resistance, the DM can—should—include a cloak of resistance in the loot of the next dungeon or so.

In my experience, one of the best ways to handle that is wish lists. The DM knows what the players want—what the players consider to be worth their printed value—and so has options for adjusting loot to get them the items they need. It allows the game to work smoothly, and it eliminates the “metagaming” of magic marts.

And, as a final word, let me emphasize that I did not misspeak in the previous paragraph: we are talking about the characters’ needs here. The entire game is designed around having magic items, having a lot of them and having the specific ones you need. It does not function correctly if that doesn’t happen.

If all of this sounds like not what your DM wants from the game, again, he should very seriously consider running a different game. Many, many games handle this sort of thing better and allow the DM to get what they want from things without causing all these problems.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with all of this, but let me point out that the "Magic Mart" could readily be achieved by abstraction. I generally assume that my players can find almost any reasonable item they want when shopping with a couple of sentences of description about them dealing with numerous merchants and intermediaries to make it happen. We don't spend a lot of time on it, but we also don't totally ignore the story or assume there is a one-stop-shop. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Oct 4 '18 at 23:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman Correct; when I say that DMs say “deduct the appropriate number of gold pieces from your sheet and write in the item; now let’s get on with our next adventure,” what I mean is that they didn’t just go to one mega-store, but rather we’re just fast-forwarding through the whole usual process. Abstraction is the way to go; also covers concerns in other answers about trying to rob such a store—you can’t rob an abstraction. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 5 '18 at 0:57

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