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If playing a character with a family sword or a particular set of armour that they wish to use throughout the game (from level 1 to level 20), can it start out unenchanted, then undergo a process to gain some kind of Magic Item property, and then much later, be re-enchanted with a more powerful Magic Item property?

I've read through the 'crafting magic items' section in the DMG but found nothing which mentions whether an existing item can be used for the process, nor whether the item in question can re-undergo the process to change its enchantment.

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This is a case where you need to work with your DM

As other answers point out: no specific rule on magical weapons, making or upgrading.

Just to make sure our terminology is aligned with the current edition, in 5e, Enchantment is a school of magic that is about influencing behavior. (Basic, p 80).

Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a puppet.

In arriving at "how" you apply the guidance in the DMG (p. 128), a different school of magic looks like the basis for crafting or modifying magical things.

Transmutation.

"Transmutation spells change the properties of a creature, object, or environment."

Changing the properties of an object logically fits the school of magic background that leads to someone making an object magical, making one unmagical, or changing the nature of its magical features. (Again, how is very much up to the DM).

Supporting point in RAW:

In the PHB there is a class ability gained at sixth level for a Wizard specializing in the Transmutation school. He can can imbue a stone with magical properties. (Darkvision 60' being one; PHB, p. 119). While that particular magical object is limited to one per wizard, the Transmutation School of Magic fits into what older editions covered in "enchant an item" and other magical item creation schemes.

Chance of Failure

A chance of failure has been part of the "player character makes new magic item" since the original Spell Research rules in O D&D (p. 34, Men and Magic). This basic task a player could do, introducing new magic, and included a chance of failure. That system was gold based, and you could apply enough gold to get to 100% chance of success.

In 5e, the DM running the campaign has a more elegant tool: a DC assigned to any attempt to change the nature of the object. Having a chance of failure fits into D&D 5e's general theme of a reduced availability of magical items.

I could end up ruining Grandpa's sword if I try to make it a +2 blade

What a crafter could do to drive a DC toward a lower number depends on the DM's judgment and the suggestions / ingenuity of the player in coming up with risk mitigation strategies. Get assistance of a Transmutation specialist NPC? Find a scroll with a particular forumula for such an upgrade? (DM would need to provide this formula ...)


Historical note

The above approach, wherein one could try and either succeed or fail, is consistent with older editions. The AD&D 1e "Enchant an Item" spell had guidelines on purity of materials, time, cost, etcetera. And the attempt could still fail. The casting of a Permanency spell (8th level) spell was usually required to make the magic item work. (This spell typically cost a wizard the loss of a constitution point forever, so it was rare to find).

In the DMG of AD&D 1e (p. 116), the method indicates that magic users can make magic swords, but druids and clerics can only make items related to their class. A consistent theme in that rule set carried over from the OD&D; the provision that "it can go wrong." It has been said that 5e tries to restore some of the original feel. "It can go wrong" was part of that.

Real world analogy: you can put a lot of money into drilling a well for oil and still end up with a dry hole.

D & D's origin included published fiction in magical stories, speculative fiction, and swords and sorcery genres. Sources of this sort can help a DM flesh out / add depth to how his magic crafting requirements are built. A good example of fiction that illustrates how hard it is to make a magical item is a book by Avram Davidson called "The Phoenix and the Mirror."

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer provides some useful historical details about how this was handled in earlier editions, but it also includes speculation, original ideas, and some off-topic discussion on the way "enchantment" as used in D&D 5e to mean something different to what it does in earlier editions and common parlance. Could it perhaps be pared down to the relevant points? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 12 '15 at 0:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gmjoe: Tightened up. I disagree about the distinction between enchantment and transmutation being off topic. The question asks about enchanting. In 5e, that school of magic has been directed towards a particular family of spells, which do not appear to include crafting. He also asked about risks of failure. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12 '15 at 13:10
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The DMG (p.128) says (my emphasis):

Magic items are the DM's purview, so you decide how they fall into the party's possession. As an option, you can allow player characters to craft magic items.

...

You can decide that certain items also require special materials or locations to be created.

So, can the item in question re-undergo the process to change its enchantment?

You decide

For other editions: 1st & 2nd adopted a similar stance to magic item creation (DM fiat), 3rd & 3.5 specifically allowed additional properties to be overlaid, I have no knowledge of 0 and 4th.

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There is no rule in the core rulebooks which allows for crafting a magic item out of a mundane item, nor any rules regarding enchantments. Therefore, any process your table uses to do this would have to be homebrewed, and the same for as any reversal process. That is, it's up to you how to reverse an enchantment, because (under 5e rules) there is no such thing as an enchantment.

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Yes, if you use Artificer Infusions.

The Artificer has the ability to create temporary magic items with their Infuse Item class ability.

The relevant text reads as follows:

Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch a nonmagical object and imbue it with one of your artificer infusions, turning it into a magic item.

...

Your infusion remains in an item indefinitely, but when you die, the infusion vanishes after a number of days have passed equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1 day). The infusion also vanishes if you give up your knowledge of the infusion for another one.

...

If you try to exceed your maximum number of infusions, the oldest infusion immediately ends, and then the new infusion applies.

As a result, it is possible to enchant an item with an infusion, then to later disenchant it by swapping out your knowledge of that infusion for a different one, or applying new infusions until it becomes your oldest active infusion and then applying a new infusion to a different item. Once the infusion has ended, it is once again a non-magical item, and can then be the target of a new infusion.

For instance, an Artificer could use the Enhance Defenses infusion to improve a shield to give a +1 bonus, then at level 6 learn the Repulsion Shield infusion to give that +1 bonus as well as a special ability. Once they reached level 10, they could then end the Repulsion Shield infusion and reapply the Enhance Defenses infusion to give it a +2 bonus, instead.

Note that since infusions can only be applied to non-magical items, it isn't possible to use them to improve already-existing magical items.

Additionally, since NPCs don't necessarily follow the same rules as PCs, and there are, as far as I am aware, currently no NPC artificer stat blocks, if a player wished to have their gear enchanted this way, either they or another player would need to play an Artificer to make sure this option is available.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Btw, We have CommonMark \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jul 14 '20 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast NPCs don't use PC rules, so whether or not an Artificer NPC would be able to use Infusions is ambiguous since as far as I know there aren't any NPC Artificer stat blocks. As a result, I'm suggesting either the player in question playing an Artificer, or another player doing so. \$\endgroup\$
    – nick012000
    Jul 19 '20 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see that clear recommendation anywhere in the answer, FWIW, but this is a sound answer providing there is an artificer in the party. Perhaps edit that recommendation in? (And it does bring the Q&A up to date if E:RftLW is available at that table ...) \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19 '20 at 13:13
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I've personally been DMing a game using 5e as an extremely loose guideline and in certain towns they have an enchanter who is able to place enchantments on a mundane item at a price + materials.

How good the enchantment is is decided by a d100 roll:

  • 1-5 fails and breaks the item and materials.

  • 6-25 fails and breaks the material but the item is intact.

  • 26-50 fails but the material and item are intact.

  • 51-75 is a lower enchantment being +1 to attack rolls.

  • 76- 95 is slightly better maybe adding an element to the damage.

  • 95-100 makes a pretty good enchantment which might add an additional d4 of elemental damage.

I pretty much have kept it pretty balanced for my group. I try not to make enchantments OP.

Aside from that I also have 1 player who is a Saladin using a cursed weapon with the option to banish the vengeful spirit from the blade making it basically a +1 longsword, or I have a side quest where he learns the history of the spirit trapped in the sword and can calm the vengeful spirit giving it a better property suited for his character. Then again as I said I am a DM who runs 5e very loosely homebrewing many aspects to make the game more enjoyable for my specific players who definitely prefer challenge over ease while playing.

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There are rules for enchanting mundane items with magical effects on page 129 of Xanathar's Guide to Everything.

They don't say anything about whether or not you can enchant items more than once, but I'd rule that you can enchant an item with up to three separate enchantments, only one of which can require attunement.

So for instance, say I have a scimitar that I'm going to enchant over the course of the campaign. The enchantments I choose would be, just for example, the Dragon Slayer enchantment, the Flame Tongue enchantment which would be this weapons single attunement enchant, and just an additional +3 enchantment to top it off.

These enchantments alone would cost roughly 24,000 gp and take around 225 in game days to complete, so I think it's fair to allow up to three on one item as long as only one of the three requires attunement.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Cirrus, welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. Have you used this rule in a game? If so, can you tell us how it worked out? Can you provide this basis for why you think this is a balanced rule? Currently this seems a bit like speculation without much support from the rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jul 19 '20 at 7:29

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