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I had always assumed that there was a similar requirement to creating higher tiers of rings of protection (and magic items in general), just like you need to be at least three times the enhancement bonus in caster level for magic weapon- and armor enhancement.

However, a player pointed out that the rules do not say so, and frankly I haven't found anything contradicting in the DMG.

Is it actually the case that you could theoretically forge a ring of protection +5 at caster level 5th given that you have a high enough level to get the appropriate feat - or am I missing something?

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Caster level 15.

Per d20srd.org:

Protection This ring offers continual magical protection in the form of a deflection bonus of +1 to +5 to AC.

Faint abjuration; CL 5th; Forge Ring, shield of faith, caster must be of a level at least three times greater than the bonus of the ring; Price 2,000 gp (ring +1); 8,000 gp (ring +2); 18,000 gp (ring +3); 32,000 gp (ring +4); 50,000 gp (ring +5).

(emphasis added)

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    \$\begingroup\$ The wording "at least three times greater than the bonus of the ring" should mean level 20, no? What if it was "at least 1 greater than the bonus" -- that would mean level 6. In other words, the amount greater than the bonus is in addition to the bonus, so "three times greater than" means take the bonus, multiply it by 3, and then add to the bonus. Otherwise it would just be "greater than three times the bonus". Right? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 '21 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dbx no, “three times greater” means multiply by three. It’s not a sneaky way of saying multiply by four. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Mar 23 '21 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dbx: It took me a while to understand the confusing phrasing, but I think the way to parse it is "your level must be greater than the bonus by a factor of 3x, at least". I would have written "of a level at least three times the bonus of the ring". This is by no means obvious and really should be explained by an answer. (Your suggested phrasing, "greater than 3x the bonus", would mean 16, because 15 is only equal, not greater.) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23 '21 at 14:16
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Bottom line up front: CL 15th

The creator of a ring of protection +5 must have CL 15th; the description of ring of protection itself says so. But it is worth diving into the details a little here to get why your player may have thought they could create one at a lower caster level, and to clarify how items’ caster levels work.

For most items, your player is right,

Caster level requirements on magic items are rare, and the player is correct that the listed caster level for a given magic item is not a requirement—not only don’t the rules say so, various commentary and examples demonstrate that they really aren’t.

Rather than caster level requirements, most magic items simply require certain spells, which imply a certain required caster level because you can’t cast that spell without having that caster level. Some rules even refer to this as the item’s “minimum caster level,” such as those for pricing wands, since these items’ cost scale with caster level and often characters would prefer to make them have as low a caster level as possible to keep the cost down. You cannot create a CL 3rd wand of fireball,¹ because all the classes that can cast fireball do so as a 3rd-level spell,² and require CL 5th or 6th to do so.³

—but a ring of protection is one of the exceptions.

However, while rare, sometimes items do have explicit caster level requirements. You can tell the difference because they are listed under the “requirements” section of the item description, and usually use language like “creator must...” to indicate them. This is as opposed to the “CL Xth;” notation found on every magic item, which is not a requirement—it’s just a useful tip for DMs who include the item in loot or whatever and aren’t piecing together the item’s entire history back to its original creation and the stats of whoever created it.

So then, looking at ring of protection, we see examples of both:

Faint abjuration; CL 5th; Forge Ring, shield of faith, caster must be of a level at least three times greater than the bonus of the ring; Price 2,000 gp (ring +1); 8,000 gp (ring +2); 18,000 gp (ring +3); 32,000 gp (ring +4); 50,000 gp (ring +5).

(Ring of protection description, emphasis mine)

The first bolded section, “CL 5th;” is the ring’s caster level when found in loot, when the DM doesn’t feel like deciding something else. This is the ring’s defense against dispel magic, for example.

The second bolded section, “caster must be of a level at least three times greater than the bonus of the ring;” is part of the requirements to create the ring, along with the Forge Ring feat and the shield of faith spell. Since shield of faith is a 1st-level spell, usually you wouldn’t really need a caster level any higher than 1st—even though the item says “CL 5th;” earlier—but since we have this special requirement, yes, your CL needs to be 3× the bonus. Note that for a ring of protection +1, this requirement is lower than the “CL 5th” listed for a typical ring, so you could have a CL-3rd ring of protection +1. On the other hand, that “typical” CL isn’t terribly useful for larger bonuses: a CL-5th ring of protection +2 (or higher) is impossible,⁴ so it’d be weird for the “typical” case to be something that should be “impossible.” I probably wouldn’t use CL-5th for higher-bonus rings of protection myself.

Finally, note that a ring of protection +5 is a pretty poor investment

A ring of protection +5 offers a +5 deflection bonus to AC. That’s fairly nice, as far as it goes, since deflection bonuses apply against touch attacks, and touch attacks can be nasty and it can be difficult to improve your touch AC. However, because it is so difficult to improve your touch AC, most of the time, a touch attack is an all-but-guaranteed hit—and a ring of protection +5 doesn’t really change that very much.

Meanwhile, compared to armored AC, a +5 bonus is paltry. A basic +1 chain shirt grants the same bonus.

And ultimately, AC is a poor defense. It’s too expensive to get, too ineffective at what it does, and too easily ignored by tons of threats. Someone with literally-infinite AC is still a vulnerable because there are so many things that don’t care about AC at all. And even if you put tons and tons of stuff into AC, you’re still probably gonna get hit a good portion of the time. When you do, you have hp to soak up most of that effect most of the time.

And crucially, there are so many superior defenses you could get with the same money. Miss chances, which don’t care how skilled your opponent is. Immunities, which really don’t care how skilled your opponent is. And so on. These things are much, much more cost-effective than a ring of protection +5. Optimally speaking, PCs should never make one, and if they find one, they should sell it for a ton of cash and then buy better defenses.

  1. Well, artificers from Eberron Campaign Setting can, but that’s an explicit special class feature that also explicitly prevents such lower-CL items from getting a discount. So an artificer can create a CL-3rd wand of fireball, but it still costs just as much as a CL-5th wand of fireball. The key thing is that the artificer can do it at a lower level.

  2. Well, the shugenja from Oriental Adventures can cast fireball as a 4th-level spell.

  3. Well, again, there is that shugenja; they’d need CL 7th since they cast it as a 4th-level spell. But I was mostly thinking of wizards for CL 5th and sorcerers for CL 6th. For completeness, wu jen, both Complete Arcane and Oriental Adventures versions, can cast fireball at CL 5th just as a wizard can.

  4. Well, there is that artificer again. But even an artificer can’t create a CL-5th ring of protection +3 or higher.

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