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first question here. Also very new to RPGs - I've played in two small adventures total. This seems like a basic question to me, but I couldn't find an answer here or on google or on any SRDs.

My question is, as a player, if I want my character to have some particular magic item, how do I go about getting it? Should I just request to the GM to make it available in loot or at a shop somehow? Obviously I could create the item myself if I was a magic user, but what if I'm not? Or is the wrong attitude to have entirely - perhaps my character should be created by his experiences, and should depend on what's available in shops/loot? It seems unlikely that the exact item I'm looking for would happen to show up in a randomly generated list of wares.

The particular instance I'm thinking of is a ranger getting a Cape of the Mountebank.

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There are a number of good ways to do this. Both of the non-crafting ways you mentioned are actually perfectly good ways of going about this if approached properly. I will detail them in the order you should attempt them below:

Buy it in the store

By the book

If you want something and don't have it, the normal way of procuring it for most people in modern societies is to buy it. If the item you want is more commonly available than normal in your GM's campaign (I'm guessing capes of the mountebank aren't unless all items under a certain price are), you might be able to pick it up from just about anywhere. In both D&D 3.5 and pathfinder, there are guidelines for the kinds of magic items normally available in a settlement based off of an item's price and its classification and minor, medium, or major. A cape of the mountebank costs 10800 gp and is a Medium Wondrous Item in both D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder.

In Pathfinder, that means you can theoretically buy it in a village if you're lucky enough to roll it as one of the 1d4 random medium magic items for sale (or travel through a lot of villages). Bigger cities will have more items of the right level, but there are a huge number of items so it's somewhat unlikely that yours will be randomly rolled. Otherwise, you'll need to find a metropolis to be sure you can purchase your cape, as only settlements of that size have a base value over the price of your cape. The cape has a 75% chance of being available in such situations, which you can roll once each week. There are various traits (like dealmaker) and other character options that can effect this, but it is unlikely you have any.

In D&D 3.5, things are simpler as the 'GP limit' of a settlement applies both to buying and selling of goods and things are always available below the limit and never available above it (unless GM shenanigans are afoot!). Consulting pg. 137 of the DMG you can pick up your cape from the nearest small city or larger settlement.

Working like a team

You really should talk to your GM, though. The best way to do this is in character: ask around town about the item your looking for and maybe put an offer up on the tavern's quest board or other place to post desired items. When a merchant says he can't get you that item, ask if he'd be able to special order it (maybe offering a 10% bonus for his help) and, if he declines, ask to be directed to someone who can. Make sure you put your postings up in every town you visit so that word gets around you're looking rather than staying in one place, and be sure to leave directions as to how to contact you or some agent of yours capable of making the deal. Generally, if you have the money, you can acquire the item you want after a few months of time in worlds modeled after old-school D&D, while in newer worlds items are easier to acquire unless forbidden by GM fiat. Often, especially with new-school GMs, the GM will be excited that you are hiring an NPC merchant to do cool merchant-y things (even more especially if the NPC was an ally from a quest you completed. If you recently saved a caravan, getting them to do this for you during their travels is very likely to be successful even with GMs who rarely allow magic items) and pay off your role-playing with faster service, an exceptionally high-quality item, or a discount. Be sure to use divination and communication magic if you or a party member has access to any, that is what it's for after all.

Make it or have it made

Flying Solo

If you can't buy the things you want, presumably because they're not for sale anywhere you can find and you've already tried the above suggestions, making some yourself or having some made for you becomes a good option. As a ranger, you ARE a spellcaster, though you almost certainly lack the feats you'd need to craft a wondrous item and taking them would be prohibitive unless you want to craft lots of items. Crafting also takes a time; your cape will take a base time of 11 days in both systems. In D&D 3.5 you will also lose 403 XP if you craft the item. It is more GP efficient, though, and you will be able to get the item for half of what you would otherwise pay.

Like a Vampire Bat: Reciprocal Altruism at Work

Probably, then, you don't want to craft the item yourself. Instead, find an appropriately leveled bard, wizard, sorcerer, witch, magus, travel domain cleric, or summoner (pathfinder), or an assassin, bard, travel domain cleric, sorcerer, or wizard (D&D 3.5) willing to craft the item for you and pay them to do so. You should be able to find such a person by asking around and advertising just as you did for the item, though you want want to frequent different places and social networks as appropriate.

"Talk to the GM" aka Goin' on an Adventure

Library, Ho!

At this point, you've tried buying the things you want only to find that not only are none currently for sale, no one alive today can produce one. Your Cape of the Mountebank must be pretty special. Luckily for you, you live in a medieval fantasy world, where the past is often more advanced than the present and Indiana Jones style archaeology produces most of the GDP in most of the world. It's time to crawl some dungeons, but first you need to find the right dungeon to crawl. Talk to sages, diviners of epic power, and your local bartender to find the location of a long-lost Cape of the Mountebank, or, at least, a library or other place you could find such information. At this point, Legend Lore is your best friend and, if you have it, you can probably get your next adventure to net you your cape.

Don't Damage the Goods

While Nuclear Fireball, Summon Sphere of Annihilation, and Mordenkainen's Permanent Destruction all sound like fun spells (disclaimer: they may not exist) you should not use them, or any spell or effect that sounds like them, while crawling for your now legendary Cape of the Mountebank. Massively destructive effects, especially those which target magic or magic items in specific, might destroy the very thing you've spent so long tracking down. Stick to single target or non-object-damaging effects (or your weapons in your case, ranger) to avoid an unfortunate accident.

Of course, if all else fails, you could use a Wish... (but it's above the listed ok price in 3.5 and Wishing for magic items was removed from the safe list in Pathfinder so you'll probably end up dead or otherwise screwed over if you do)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although the spell sphere of ultimate destruction [conj] (Spell Compendium 200) creates an effect like a sphere of annihilation, it takes the spell annihilation [evoc] (Dragon #294 33) to create the real thing. O, you were kidding. Never mind. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 6 '14 at 8:49
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To start with, tell your DM that you want the Cape of the Mountebank, and ask him how he would prefer that you get it. Here's a few ways that your character can find it:

Hire an NPC Wizard to make one for you.

The world contains more people than just your party and the Big Bad Evil Guy (usually). If you can convince a (in the case of the Cape of the Mountebank) 7th or greater level full caster to make one, then you're golden. You can even do a quest for him, in order to find the raw materials required for your cape. You'll also have to find a way to make him think that the XP loss is still worth his while.

Hire an NPC Wizard to perform the spell.

Alright, so let's say that you are a spellcaster, but you're a Druid, and can't cast dimension door in order to make the cloak. You still have three caster levels though, so you decided to take Craft Wondrous Item. In this case, you can create the item, you just need to hire a Wizard/Sorcerer/Bard to stand over your shoulder and cast Dimension Door for you. This should be cheaper than convincing one to make it for you, but it will cost you some XP.

Convince your party that Craft is worthwhile

If you have a Wizard, Sorcerer or Bard in your party that knows Dimension Door and took the feat Craft Wondrous Item, then if you can convince him that this is such a great idea, and it benefits him, he could make one for you.

Ask Around

Some NPC might have seen the item in the cellar of that one shop with the secret entrance in the middle of the poorest part of town. Or perhaps they heard that something like what you described was seen upon the shoulders of a local monster?

Steal It

If you aren't Lawful, you could always hire a Rogue to find and steal one for you, or steal it yourself.

Ask for it from an NPC

You could have an NPC promise the cape in return for some quest or another.

Just ask the DM for it

Yes, you can just request the GM to make it available in loot or at the next magic item shop you visit.

Something I haven't thought of

This list is pretty long, but if you can think of a way that your character could conceivably end up with this item that I haven't thought of, and convince your DM that this is a cool idea, there's nothing to stop you. This list is all that I can think of, but if you think of something better, don't let me stop you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, stealing it is an interesting extra option (except not for me, my character is lawful), and I appreciate the note that I can just use my imagination to come up with my own ways of finding it \$\endgroup\$ – Nacht Oct 6 '14 at 22:39
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Here's a short rules-based answer to get you started in the systems you're familiar with.

Most Role-Playing games have a system by which you can find the item you're looking for. In 3.5, you'd use "Gather Information" to learn the whereabouts of a Cape of Mounteback - which at your GM's discretion could be sold in a shop, or hidden away somewhere that requires a bit of hunting-down. In Pathfinder, you'd use Diplomacy to achieve the same effect.

It'll be up to your GM to decide if you can find it with a given check, and how hard it is to buy it or find it wherever it might be. And, if it IS for sale somewhee, it'll be up to your character to barter for it, or to find out if they're getting ripped off.

Addendum

If you want this item very badly as a specific item for your character, let your GM know ahead of time outside the campaign that you'd really like it. That way, he can spend some time before your next session working something into the campaign.

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Out of Character: Let your DM know you want it

Your DM should be aware of stuff you want, and should be working such things (or comparable things) into the storyline one way or another. It is important, within the d20 System, that you get the equipment you need, more or less on time.

In-Character: Listen to your DM

Your DM may tell you tha the item can be found, that someone capable of making it could be hired, that a question might be performed, or none of the above. Skill checks may be involved in discovering this information. Or your DM may say there is no way to get it – in-character. Even if this is the case, however, the DM should be sneaking said item into the loot you find in your journeys.

Crafting: Not actually meant for this

You take crafting skills and feats for character reasons and/or for money-saving purposes. For the most part, they should not be required to get a particular item, however. They may, however, allow you to get an item earlier than you would have otherwise – either because the reduced cost makes it more reasonable, or because there simply is no other in-character opportunity to get the item. But for the most part, crafting should not be a requirement for getting the correct items.

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It's an adventure game; go and adventure. Research - pay sages, buy drinks, hire bards. Find out where the item might be and go there and get it, by hook or by crook.

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