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D&D 5e makes magic items much less common than previous editions. Also, the Forgotten Realms are the assumed background even in the Core Rules.

One of the most interesting groups in Faerun are the Red Wizards of Thay, trying to gain money and influence by building enclaves all across Faerun where they produce and sell magic items.

Now these two concepts do not go together well. Still, as Faerun is the assumed background, magic items there are also supposed to be rare (i.e. Faerun is not a particularly high-magic setting).

I want to include the Red Wizards in my upcoming D&D 5e campaign, but I'm unsure how their strategies might work out. Would they rather demand favors and support than money for their magic items? Or are they an exception to the rule that magic items are not for sale, where the flip side of the coin is that every magic item bought supports a magocracy with overt slavery and oppression?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The core rules don't favor any game world. The adventurer's league does, and the published supplements focus on FR, but the core rules themselves are very balanced in their approach to the different game worlds. Not really an answer, just a comment on the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Aviose Apr 16 '15 at 14:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also note the Red Mages well predate the easy-crafting rules of 3e; it would be instructive to see what they were like in 1e/2e FR in terms of likely 5e depiction. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Apr 17 '15 at 16:11
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Officially the only events in 5e's storyline with the Thay have involved some necromantic debacles...

Two sundering related adventures happened between 4e's official end of publication and the release of the PHB. Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle kicked off the Sundering event which is a reboot of the Forgotten Realms lore and the Red Wizards were the antagonists in the Dead in Thay adventure which operated on the Playtest rules and not the official rules released later. In it, there were a fair bit of magic items, but everything hinged around a location of immense power, the doom vault which also served as sort of a magical creature menagerie and no wider look at teh Thay was given. As a result of the events of this adventure the Thay have essentially been displaced from their lands an while they still have enclaves around the world, their powerbase has been severely diminished.

5e's reduced magic item economy makes magic items out of the reach of individuals (usually), but they remain in the reach of organizations

As you state (and as I have interpreted from everything WOTC has said so far) you can't just buy and sell magic items in a shop, but they are still usable, desirable items. Naturally the five factions (and antagonistic NPC factions like the Cult of the Dragon) want these powerful objects to help further their goals. PCs may be rewarded or loaned these items when they rise in the ranks of the factions and/or be able to try to sell these to factions.

Treat the Red Wizards as a necessary evil that the factions allow to a degree because they desire the power and utility of the objects they can provide

Thayvian society is basically an oppressive mageocracy and the Thayvians themselves should be looking to trade rare magic items for large sums of money, rare luxuries, treaties, land, and most of all influence. A small group of adventurers is probably far below their notice as possible customers unless they can generate interest with something to offer Thay that can rival what the Lords Alliance or Zhentarim might.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, "large sums of money" is the most obvious resolution to the perceived incompatibility. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 16 '15 at 16:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ The (Second) Sundering did not reboot anything. The nature of magic changed for a while, then changed again. This took place over a long period of time. Thay's history is unchanged, but its modern capabilities are different from its historical ones. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. May 2 '17 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively, you could also consider Favors as a condition of sale. For example, the Thay may be unwilling to part with a powerful magical artifact except in exchange for some sort of action on part of a group, which would be very, very difficult for an individual to perform. You could even make this a campaign hook and story arc,with the Red Wizards offering an open Quest with some intensely magical or narratively-powerful item, and then throw in twists (the favor fast-tracks a plan for the Thay to conquer the world and the PCs must respond to this threat) as you desire. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Oct 18 at 16:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind even fairly common magic items would be well worth their cost to larger organizations, decanters of endless water alone could be sold in the thousands. they would let you set up satellite towns anywhere, keep fortresses supplied indefinitely, ect. Cost wise it is is not that much more expensive than building a proper well without any of the drawbacks. the difference would be items would be made to order, which was fairly common in the medieval real world. \$\endgroup\$ – John Oct 18 at 17:20
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I concur with Joshua in that for an individual making magic items is more expensive in terms of time and resource than previous editions. That for organizations it definitely within their means to produce magic item.

On page 129 we have this rule for crafting magic items.

Multiple characters can combine their efforts to create a magic item if each of them meets the level prerequisite. Each character can contribute spells, spell and components, as long as everyone participates in the entire crafting process. Each character can contribute 25 gp worth of effort for each day spent

This makes it plausible for organization like the Red Wizards of Thay to engage in the creation of magic items for power and profit.

I disagree that character will not be able to buy and sell magic items. It will be done as a luxury trade similar to other high end items were sold throughout history. There will be specialized agents who arrange for buyers and sellers to meet along with the occasional auctions to a select group of buyers who are known to be wealthy.

There may exist shops in the largest city with a selection of common and uncommon magic items for sale like there will be shops where you can buy jewelry. However one problem that D&D 5e has is that it lacks a variety of common magic items.

As for tailoring the rarity of magic items for your campaign, D&D 5e opted for broad categories rather than coming up with specific pricing for each items. This makes it easy to increase or decrease the rarity of magic items for sale. If you feel that magic items should be more common, then bump everything down a category. If you feel that magic items are too available with the default rules, bump everything up a category.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One can easily imagine a sweatshop of indentured level 1 Red Wizard apprentices cranking out several Common and Uncommon magic items each day. \$\endgroup\$ – Sebkha Apr 17 '15 at 9:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the idea of something like Sotheby's Auction House and auctions only for the very wealthy/famous/influential ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 11 '15 at 17:49
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You could make them peddle mostly lesser magical items, like charms and amulets. Some of those might not even be magical at all, or be of dubious use.

The same rules of magic creation need not apply exactly to players and NPCs. A NPC wizard may well have sacrificed all or most of their adventurer/combat potential in order to be able to produce lesser charms and potions.

I used this solution to quite good effect in a campaign I ran:

  • Make the majority of magic item vendors obvious charlatans ("Get your charm against aging here! Discount on Thursdays!")

  • Make real peddlers of magic also sell alcohols, poisons, medicinal herbs and salves, holy symbols and such - they are real - they have mundane effects, or minorly magical on a scale so low to be almost flavor only (except in that perfect situation - where a highly alcoholic potion of 'warmth' rescues a dying character from freezing to death).

  • Make real peddlers of magic to sometimes sell single-use items or enchantments with real magic - working like a scroll or a potion. Like a charm that when broken casts the cantrip Blade Ward, or an enchantment that makes a sword more useful against ghosts for a single battle, until sunrise or some such limit.

  • Make all these items regardless of quality unique. When the players encounter a rare real magic vendor they need to ask if there is anything in stock - not pick up a standard price-list. Maybe some NPCs can provide thematically ok minor items if given time to prepare (and incentive).

  • Regardless on what exactly the NPCs sell - the point to keep in mind in an low magic economy is that magic items (or items similar in effect) should be hard or impossible to hoard, and that it should not be possible to depend on their existence. The players don't return to village to resupply on loads of Blade Ward charms - when they encounter one it is a special event or a random fun flavor thing. The same merchant may only have a campfire-starter charm next time they go there.

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