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In the D&D 3.5 DMG rules are given for the pricing of partially charged wands, which one may explicitly purchase during character creation or sell during play. So long as the wand's final adjusted price is under the magic item gp limit for a town, is one entitled to purchase them via the RAW without DM approval? There appears to be widespread agreement one cannot, here, but I don't understand why this would not be possible.

In particular, the PHB states:

All the items described in this chapter are assumed to be available to PCs with the wherewithal to buy them. Many of these items are very expensive and rare. You won’t find them on the rack at a store in a town. But a character with the coin to buy an expensive item can usually connect with a seller and get a desired item. If you want to buy something not described in this chapter, the general rule is that you can buy anything that costs as much as 3,000 gp.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For one, there seems to be no reason to buy a Scroll if you could buy a Wand with one charge for less. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jul 14 '15 at 19:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik You can't record a wand in your spellbook. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 15 '15 at 0:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel Weirdly, a Wiz1 (therefore having the feat Scribe Scroll) can use the wand to scribe a scroll of that spell then, using the scroll, transfer the spell into his spellbook. Somebody'd have to do the math, but that, too, might end up being in many cases less expensive than just buying the scroll outright. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 15 '15 at 1:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan no, it ends up 10% more expensive than just buying the scroll. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 15 '15 at 1:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Assuming he can scribe the scroll in a single day (and I think he can of anything that can be in a wand) you're right. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 15 '15 at 2:52
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For the purposes of this answer, I am assuming that the DM is running everything just as given in the book, even when they are just recommendations or suggestions and the rules explicitly acknowledge the possibility of exceptions.

The rules don’t really entitle you to anything

You are affirming the consequent, unfortunately. The rules state that if an item costs more than the town’s limit, you definitely won’t find it. The converse, that if it does not cost more, you definitely will find it, is not necessarily true.

I personally think they should...

Now, generally speaking, I think this is a problem and that the rules more-or-less should also guarantee that items within such limits are available. Many classes are utterly dependent on magic items, and not just on the general concept, but on getting certain specific magic items, to function on anything like a level-appropriate level. Failure to get them results in a character significantly less powerful than his or her level would otherwise indicate, and the exact degree to which his or her power has been reduced is rather difficult to judge. (Of course, this would matter a lot more if CR was at all reliable to begin with, which of course it is not; encounters were judgment calls anyway. But exacerbating that unreliability by moving away from the assumptions baked into the system only makes such judgment calls harder.)

...but would make partially-charged wands an exception to that anyway

But in the case of partially-charged wands, those are particularly problematic. A 1-charge wand costs 60% what a scroll of the same spell at the same caster level costs, but is more durable, more easily kept accessible, and easier to use (both for spellcasters and those making Use Magic Device checks). There is therefore absolutely no reason to ever have a scroll if you could get a 1-charge wand instead.

Furthermore, you cannot make partially-charged wands: new wands always have 50 charges. They only become partially-charged through using up charges. Therefore, no one can make a business crafting and selling partially-charged wands: the only place you could hope to find them is in a pawn shop. This gives a rather significant reason why you should not expect them to be regularly available.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not reasonable to expect every item under the limit--you're not going to have a hard line where nothing above the fence and everything below it exists in any real-world market. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 15 '15 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel Every item doesn’t have to be available – just the ones that players actually want. The vast majority of items not available at a given location, can also just happen to be some of the even-vaster majority of items that none of the players are interested in. At times, it can be worthwhile to have something require a little more leg-work to get – side-quests can be fun – but ultimately everything should be available, one way or the other, or things quickly get wonky. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 15 '15 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ In a big place I have no problem with most anything under the limit being available. Small places, though--the amount of magic around is totally out of line with the economy of the town. Small places will have the most common items but the odds are they won't have anything oddball. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 15 '15 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel The rules already cover that with the wealth limits based on town population size. Also, bear in mind, I did say “more-or-less;” even in my own musing on my own personal preferences I gave the DM room to play around with it. It’s just an observation on what I think makes the game run best, and yields the most fun at the table. It’s largely tangential but informs the context in which I’m making the following statements. It’s not really worth arguing about, and here certainly isn’t the place to do it. If you’d like to chat about it, feel free to start a chat room. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 15 '15 at 3:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LorenPechtel but real-world analogies aren't relevant to a discussion of the RAW. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 17 '15 at 20:14
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Ultimately, a character can't do anything unless the DM approves

There's no game without both the DM and the players. I'm really not trying to state the obvious here, but it's true. Characters don't exist until a setting's been provided, and many choices that influence character creation and development come from the setting the DM supplies, and that includes details like what's for sale. If a character's created in a setting vacuum as a mechanical or narrative exercise, there's no rule that says the DM must allow that character—as it exists and without alteration—into the DM's setting even if the character's been created using the Player's Handbook exactly as written.

To make sure of this, I reread the opening pages of the Dungeon Master's Guide for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and it says

Every Dungeon Master is the creator of his or her own campaign world. (6)

and

Good DMs know not to change or overturn a published rule without a good, logical justification so that the players don’t rebel... (6)

So if the world the DM creates doesn't follow the all the rules, then the DM's overturned one or several published rules, and let's hope he has a good, logical reason for it. As a potential player in such a campaign, your choices become play, negotiate, or walk.

That means if the DM says, for example, No elves because the DM's created a world and overturned the rule that elves are an allowed race for PCs, you either don't play an elf, try to talk the DM into letting you play an elf anyway, or leave the table.

Note that overturning the rule that allows characters to purchase any item priced at 3,000 gp or less, and, instead, mandating players seek the DM's approval for non-Player's Handbook purchases isn't particularly onerous as house rules go. That's not the DM being a controlling jerk; that's the players being courteous.

I'm pretty sure this isn't the answer you're looking for. You might want a hard, fast list of what, specifically, must be approved by the DM and what need not be approved by the DM. Unfortunately, there is no such list nor can there be. The game contains multitudes, and each DM will have an individual list.

Used wands are specifically addressed

The Magic Item Compendium on Used Wands says

Particularly when equipping an NPC, affording a fully charged wand can be difficult. Since the typical NPC won’t have a chance to use more than a few wand charges in any combat, consider equipping such characters with partially used wands—that is, wands with fewer than full charges. This is also a good way to put a cheap wand into a treasure hoard, and you can even allow PCs to select a wand or two this way as well. (227)

Emphasis mine. So, while this is mainly about equipping an incoming NPC, there remains the option for the DM to allow PCs access to partially-charged wands, albeit to a limited degree, and, arguably, such PCs should also be new to the campaign.


Why limit used wands?

I recommend keeping with the Magic Item Compendiums suggestion of "a wand or two." That's because it's difficult to justify the existence of a marketplace containing the partially-charged wands the PCs want, and, from experience, the game is unbalanced by making partially-charged wands readily available.

They're unlikely

A creature can, using a rather obscure method, create a 1-charge wand, but, whether because of the level 11 minimum or because the DM disallows Web material, such items probably won't be available in most campaigns.

Creating 1-charge wands
A creature that wants to create a 1-charge wand acquires a staff of the spell then casts repeatedly on that staff the obscure 6th-level Sor/Wiz spell The Hamagess' staffsprout [trans] (Mintiper's Chapbook Web column "Part 10: Chronicler's Compendium"), each casting creating a lone 1-charge wand but, likewise, depleting the staff of 1 charge.

One-charge wands created in this fashion have at least a caster level of 8. Further, unless the staff's creator was or had help from an appropriate creature with unusual casting (e.g. a guardian naga, a blue dragon), all such 1-charge wands will be exclusively of common arcane spells. Finally, to cast a 6th-level spell a Wiz11 typically charges 660 gp, and that amount should be added to the cost of any 1-charge wand manufactured in such a manner.

Were there a valid non-adventuring use for the first 49 charges of a wand, 1-charge wands could become available. For example, in a campaign setting wherein a vast organization of creatures is constantly feeding the planet spell energy to keep the planet alive, servants might swipe nearly exhausted wands and sell them for beer money, knowing their masters weren't going to miss that last charge. But, as can be seen, that's a huge conceit to justify the existence of one kind of not normally available magic item.

Were a creature to develop a cheap, efficient, reliable way to make partially-charged wands, as KRyan points out in his answer, the market for many potions and over 1/3 of scrolls would dry up overnight. There're a handful of reasons to use either kind of now-obsolete item—just as one can still use an adding machine, pager, or typewriter—but partially-charged wands would displace most of those difficult-to-use magic items like the mobile telephone's replacing the landline. This isn't a bad thing—and could form the spine of an interesting magical-industrial revolution campaign—, but for most campaigns, verisimilitude will suffer if the DM fills shops with 1-charge wands yet determines treasure randomly or uses published adventures, the game still expecting and providing a mix of magic items.

Also, if you're playing in an extremely optimized campaign—like, for example, wherein at level 5 you mortgage all your gear for a candle of invocation so you can chain bind efreet for infinite wishes—, the existence of partially-charged wands likely isn't an issue.

They're unbalancing

Let me be clear here: I don't mean the presence of 1-charge wands is unbalancing in that one PC will outshine another. I mean that the presence of 1-charge wands is unbalancing in favor of the DM. They are, bluntly, too inexpensive and too easy to use.

Most of what Team Antagonist does it does off-screen. The presence of 1-charge wands in the campaign means that the DM can say that any spell that fits into a wand is currently active on any NPC who has just become obvious to the PCs.

This is a lot of brainpower to devote to each NPC, especially in the standard, high-magic Dungeons and Dragons campaign. The list of spells an NPC could have on via 1-charge wands from the core rules alone is vast, and NPCs will, if they're smart (and many are smart because the DM is not a goldfish), have already used those 1-charge wands before encountering the PCs because the PCs are dangerous, cast spells, and may also be using 1-charge wands. The presence of 1-charge wands creates a really fragile, ambush-heavy environment that emulates poorly what many consider typical heroic fantasy adventure stories.

War Story
I read what I quoted above from the Magic Item Compendium and started equipping NPCs with 1-charge wands. Team Antagonist's power stacks up incredibly fast for a tiny fraction of what's considered the normal price. A few sessions of ambushes by such foes, and I couldn't do it anymore. The PCs had seen powerful opponents with seemingly inexplicable abilities yet possessed of little treasure, and it felt like cheating even though the MIC said it was okay. The presence of 1-charge wands tilted the game unfairly in the DM's favor. Your experience, of course, would probably vary, and note that I am—shock!—prone to excessive self-analysis.

The presence of ubiquitous 1-charge wands in the campaign makes it far too easy for the DM to say things that many players hate, like The bad guy escaped but you don't know how or You don't know why your attack missed but it did.

A few used wands are fine

If, for example, a PC wants to buy a wand of knock with 6 charges or whatever, that's probably not a big deal. However, I suggest such items only be available for purchase in towns that usually carry the same full-charged item. Thus a wand of knock—whether it has 50 charges or but 1 charge—wouldn't be available in any town smaller than a large city (DMG 137), the idea being that folks who transact in wands of knock reside in such places, no matter how many charges remain in their wands. Alternatively, I suppose, in a campaign wherein thorps and hamlets are boomtowns catering to dungeon explorers, small towns might have a plethora of appropriately-priced partially-charged wands scavenged from the corpses of fallen adventurers.

Either way, partially-charged wands shouldn't be the norm, buying a wand with the exact amount of desired charges should be difficult, and make it an adventure to find, for example, a level 5 trapsmith with the feat Craft Wand before allowing the PCs to go off the usual list and buy wands of clairaudience/clairvoyance [div] (PH 209-10) (1st-level spell at caster level 1) (750 gp; 0 lbs.). Wands of spells the DM thought far beyond the PCs' reach may be within their grasp using specialized spell lists.

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    \$\begingroup\$ See, if your DM says 'no elves' than you can't play an elf, sure, but your DM doesn't have to say "oh, btw, you can play a human if you want. Or an elf. Or a gnome. Or (etc)"; the default assumption is that these things are allowed, and the DM has to explicitly change things in order to disallow that. These races, then, can be chosen without the DM authorizing them (but not over the DM banning them), as opposed to, say, a Half-White-Dragon Pyrohydra which is disallowed until the DM explicitly allows it. My question is as to the default state of purchasability of partially filled wands. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 15 '15 at 1:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ (The rest of this answer is excellent, though, and provides super thorough coverage, so I'm not removing my +1. Just I think your criticism is addressing something other than what I mean to be asking) \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Jul 15 '15 at 2:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer wands, like all gear, are part of the world, not part of your character. You can't buy a normal horse in a place in the world there's no horse either. Just because it's in the book (or in this case, "is possible by the book") doesn't mean you are entitled to buy it. One some level D&D is still meant to simulate an authentic world, and the exact charge-to-gp-minmax-doodad isn't always lying around. You can always commission them to be made and at the cost of a couple days' time stop a GM from taking a dislike to you by demanding to buy the exact gear you want off the rack. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jul 15 '15 at 3:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer You're assuming that there is such a thing as a “default state of purchasability”, and the answer is saying that you cannot make that assumption. That might be a point you disagree on, fair, but it's a valid response to your question and quite relevant to say “what you're looking for doesn't exist.” \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 15 '15 at 16:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ In our own world, nearly every small town in the USA has, or is convenient to, a used car dealer. This does not mean that an average traveler can just stop in Podunk and pick up whatever brand, model, year, and features they want off the lot - maybe they stop in a town and all they have are a 2007 Camry, 2010 Focus, and 2009 Silverado. If a traveler wants a specific car, they would do much better going to a major city where there are dozens of dealers and an extensive population to haggle with. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia May 8 '17 at 12:45
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If you find a Magic shop, there's a chance that the owner of the shop might have purchased a used wand from an adventurer after using identify to check the effect and the number of charges, so I would say that..

Yes, It would be possible to purchase a used wand.

To determine the cost of such a wand, divide the cost of the wand by 50 to determine the cost of each individual charge, then roll 1d100 and divide the result of the die by two to determine how many charges remain in the wand. Once you have the number of charges multiply the number you get by the cost per charge to get the cost of the wand.

Because of the nature of wand usage and the linear value of wands, it would be more common for someone to sell a wand with more charges than a wand with less charges. Though it wouldn't be uncommon to find wands with 35-50 charges available, it would be rare to find wands with 1-10 charges remaining.

However... Sadly Not Generally Purchasable..

If you're trying to purchase a wand with a specific amount of charges its unlikely that such a wand will be available. So it will require some form of DM collusion to determine what stock is actually available, so I'd say in the long run that it wouldn't be possible to do so without speaking to your DM to verify what is available at the shops you're visiting during the game or without DM assistance in determining so. You would have to ask him directly if its okay if you purchase a used wand without his say-so before you'd be able to do so.

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