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In our current campaign our DM is allowing us to get a single non epic item as a reward. One of the players wanted to get a Cowl of Warding, it's a very powerful item that's described in Magic of Faerun. The item costs 200,800 gp but is not listed as an epic magic item (I'm not even sure epic magic items rule existed when Magic of Faerun came out).

Now, the epic magic items page on the SRD says this (emphasis mine):

While not truly an artifact, the epic magic item is a creation of such power that it surpasses other magic items. Epic magic items are objects of great power and value. The following are typical characteristics of an epic magic item. In general, an item with even one of these characteristics is an epic magic item.

  • Grants a bonus on attacks or damage greater than +5.
  • Grants an enhancement bonus to armor higher than +5.
  • Has a special ability with a market price modifier greater than +5.
  • Grants an armor bonus of greater than +10 (not including magic armor’s enhancement bonus).
  • Grants a natural armor, deflection, or resistance bonus greater than +5.ù
  • Grants an enhancement bonus to an ability score greater than +6.
  • Grants an enhancement bonus on a skill check greater than +30.
  • Mimics a spell of an effective level higher than 9th.
  • Has a caster level above 20th.
  • Has a market price above 200,000 gp, not including material costs for armor or weapons, material component- or experience point-based costs, or additional value for intelligent items.

While the conditions are clear, it also says that these characteristics describe make a magic item "epic" only "in general" (which I interpret as "not always").

I used to consider magic items as epic (at least those from the manuals, not the ones made by the players/DM) only those that were described under "epic magic items" (excluding weapons and armors that got enhancements) and so were explicitly labeled as epic but now the discovery of this item is making me wonder.

But cutting to the chase, these are my questions:

  1. Is there a surefire way to tell whether an item is considered epic or not?
  2. Is the cowl of warding an epic item?
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would strongly recommend talking to your GM and the rest of the party about how best to accept the reward: regardless of whether the Cowl of Warding itself is acceptable within the terms of the agreement, as a player, I'd likely feel some frustration if another player found an awesome item like that and all I could think of was a boring +1 sword. I think, further, that the existence of this questions suggests that that might be happening, but I don't want to read too far into the question. \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Nov 18 '19 at 17:55
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This DM wouldn't adjust the cowl of warding

While the Epic Level Handbook on Epic Magic Items does provide a list of "typical characteristics of an epic magic item," and the cowl of warding (Magic of Faerûn 156) (200,800 gp; 0 lbs.) possesses at least one of those characteristics—a market price of just barely greater than 200,000 gp—, on Market Price later says

Use the guidelines for nonepic magic items to determine the market price of an epic magic item, with one addition: If the item gives a bonus beyond the limit allowed in for normal, nonepic magic items, multiply the portion of the market price derived from that characteristic by 10. Some epic characteristics, such as caster level, don’t trigger this multiplier. (124 but emphasis mine)

(For more on epic magic item pricing, see this question and this question.) The cowl doesn't grant a bonus beyond the limit allowed for normal, nonepic magic items. Further, multiple ways exist prior to having access to epic magic items to get freedom of movement, mind blank, and spell turning effects like or better than those provided by the cowl. (How to do that is beyond this answer's scope; you may also be interested in this question and this question.) The cowl, one could argue, simply doesn't meet the guidelines for an epic magic item according to that section on Market Price, despite the cowl's actual, for-reals market price being one of the characteristics typical of an epic magic item.

However, the cowl was published about a year before the Handbook and well before the 3.5 revision, so it's ultimately up to the DM to adjust things if he wants to: The 3.5 revision "is compatible with existing products [like Magic of Faerûn], and these [older] products can be used with the [3.5] revision [of the rules] with only minor adjustments" (Dungeon Master's Guide (2003) 4), and one minor adjustment the DM may want to make may be something like It's epic if its market price is over 200,000 gp.

Before doing that, though, the DM should be aware that the Magic Item Compendium doesn't mention a 200,000 gp market price maximum for magic items other than for armor and shields (6) and for weapons (28), making that guideline unique to (but, to be sure, it really exists in) the Epic Level Handbook. (And it may be time to establish with the group what constitutes a primary source.)

Further, the DM should be aware that in the core rules—that, by the way, electronically includes the epic rules—there's a nonepic magic item that possesses a market price higher than the cowl's market price: the staff of power (DMG 245) (211,000; 4 lbs.). And, outside of core, the staff isn't alone: other high-priced nonepic magic items include the eyes of the spider (City of the Spider Queen 129) (212,000 gp; 0 lbs.); and Keryvian (Player's Guide to Faerûn 121) (207,070 gp; 6 lbs.), the last of the baneblades of Demron; Heartcleaver (ibid.) (314,320 gp; 12 lbs.); the mantle stone of Vhyridaan (123) (232,560 gp; 0 lbs.); and the weirdstone (124–5) (250,000 gp; 0 lbs.). To be clear, these magic items weren't subject to errata and were published after the Handbook then after the 3.5 revision, respectively. Doubtless there are more. (I only made a cursory search.)

With all this in mind and armed with the staff of power and other examples, were this DM to have offered each PC in his campaign any one nonepic magic item, this DM would be fine with a PC getting the cowl as printed in Magic, opting not to make a minor adjustment like adding to its creation prerequisites the feat Craft Epic Wondrous Item.1

Finally, keep in mind that the cowl of warding, although seemingly epic (at least in market price), provides defenses in its freedom of movement and mind blank effects that are pretty much expected of high-level adventurers. High-level adventurers without such defenses tend to find themselves crushed to death or enslaved. In other words, if the campaign continues into high levels, the cowl is potentially among the least abusive magic items available to the PCs because every PC will end up having something like it eventually anyway.


1 The answer to What determines whether an item's epic? is The presence in the magic item's creation prerequisites of at least two item creation feats, the nonepic one and the epic one. (Also see Epic Magic Items on Prerequisites (EL 124).) However, that answer, while accurate, fails to address the date-of-publication issues involved therefore neglects what I think is the underlying question: Should the DM rule that high-priced magic items are actually epic magic items? I'd advise that, based on evidence and experience, the typical DM not to rule that way, but a DM should take into account the players and the campaign before making any ruling.

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Almost certainly, but I suppose you’ll have to ask your DM.

The list you have quoted is the list. The “in general” appears to be a near-throwaway nod to the fact that DMs are free to create non-epic items costing that much if they wanted. It’s never expanded upon or detailed. And while some of the points on that list are otherwise backed up—magic weapons and armor really are limited to +5 enhancement bonus pre-epic—the cap of 200,000 gp is not otherwise mentioned for a wondrous item like the cowl of warding (it is actually mentioned explicitly for magic weapons and armor, at least in Magic Item Compendium).

And the epic rules did in fact exist for Magic of Faerûn—it just didn’t bother to describe the cowl of warding as such because for a wondrous item, it does not matter if it’s “epic” or not. That designation only really has any inherent significance for weapons and spell-mimicking items, and then “epic weapon” is rigorously defined with respect to DR/epic and items mimicking epic spells are clearly themselves epic. Which is why “epic” / “non-epic” is not really a great distinction to use, at least by itself.

If this were to be a bigger part of the game, and the “how about this?” back-and-forth would be too onerous for the DM, setting a gp limit—probably at 200,000 gp—makes the most sense. This should probably be combined with the “non-epic” restriction, considering its significance for epic weapons and items mimicking epic spells.

But since this is a special reward, I recommend the DM just make ad hoc rulings on each thing the players are interested in. Is the cowl of warding too much? I dunno; it’s very strong but I don’t know that it’s “too much” compared to things that are 200,000 gp. Better for the DM to just make a ruling on it, and any other items players come up with—whether they’re 200,000 gp or not. But I wouldn’t rule the cowl of warding out solely because of its gp cost.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "how to tell if an unmarked item is part of that “general case” or is in fact one of the implied exceptions." under my answer you commented that answer should include that, but your own doesn't either... \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Nov 16 '19 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Sure, because there is no way to do so—but mine says that there is no way to do so, while yours ignored the “in general” bit entirely and focused on being over 200,000 gp, which the OP already acknowledged. Your answer didn’t add any information not already found in the question. It isn’t really plausible that the mundane hood that the cowl is made from would cost 8,000 gp. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 16 '19 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your answer! Just a clarification, which makes the answer still correct: the offer was any non epic item \$\endgroup\$ – valepu Nov 16 '19 at 22:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @valepu Corrected and addressed. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 17 '19 at 18:11

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