For those who know me, or have been reading this blog since its inception, it comes as no surprise that I'm less than satisfied with the crafting rules of 5e. The good side of them is that even magic items don't cost XP (because charging XP turns it into something like an in-character currency, and that's weird), and you don't have to spend character-build currency (skill proficiencies, feat slots, whatever) on improving a downtime action before you know if the DM will give you time to use those abilities. The bad side... well, there's nothing to interact with in the system other than ticking one number down and another number up, for what may be an incredibly long time.
To understand where I'm coming from on this, read this post. Back when I wrote it, I had no idea that 5e was... relatively speaking... just around the corner. Well, okay, almost four years off, but whatever.
Let's look at what's there in the 5e crafting system, understanding that here I'm only interested in magic item crafting.
Items have a creation cost, in gold pieces. This is incidentally the same as their sale price. Creation cost scales based on the item's rarity.
That's kind of a problem, as the d100 roll to determine negotiated sale price is usually less than 100% of the sale price itself. There are World Logic issues here that the game asks you to simply ignore. The game would pay an unacceptable cost in usability and tone if they had attempted to implement a fully consistent magic item economy - 3.x tries, and the results are mixed at best.
It isn't explicit here, but I assume that you should halve creation costs for one-shot items like potions and scrolls. I can't find a rule like that right now, but I think it's somewhere in the DMG... selling price or something, I dunno.
Items have a minimum level. Minimum level scales based on the item's rarity. This is your minimum character level, not your minimum class level in a spellcasting class.
A little weird, but they kind of address the spellcasting minimum with...
If the item produces a particular spell effect, it has to come from the spellcaster(s) creating the item. You're not going to find a lot of items producing spell effects of 6th level or above, other than spell scrolls, but that's fine. Anyway, this produces a minimum class level requirement.
If there are spell components for that spell, you pay those either once ever, or once per day of crafting, depending on whether the magic item produces that effect once or more regularly.
At the DM's discretion, the crafter may need a formula specific to the item in question.
This is a lot more data to track, but it's also a lot more loot to hand out. If you can make PCs happy that they've found a formula (along with other loot, presumably), you're doing well - and this is one of the things that MMOs such as World of Warcraft get very right.
At the DM's discretion, there may be additional requirements such as crafting in a particular place.
I recommend not doing this for the majority of items, because it results in one character's decision to create a magic item taking over the whole story. If it's a plot-important magic item, that's another matter entirely... but then the rest of the magic item creation rules may not be well-suited to that situation.
The PC(s) work their way from 0 to the item's creation cost, at 25 gp per person per day.
The book mentions that you could speed this up if you wanted, just like you could retune the prices for each rarity of item. If you're at all friendly to the idea of PCs making the more powerful magic items, I'd suggest that you increase the crafting rate, lower the creation costs, or both, because spending 365 days a year for almost five and a half years of in-game time to make a Very Rare item is probably not fun for anyone who isn't involved in that project... and it's only fun for those who are because you can fast-forward to the end.
Multiple characters can work together, but you can only contribute if you meet the prerequisites. If there are no specific spell requirements, the traditional four-character team has two characters who can contribute. The others need to be out there bringing in money to cover living expenses and item-creation expenses.
For this particular idea, I wanted to change as little as possible. Everything in the above breakdown remains true, but also:
There is a list of component items, which have the same rarity levels as magic items.
I've skipped Common, though, because there's not much need to add interest to the four-or-so Common items in the game.
Component items are not required for crafting. Instead, they alter the crafting process in one of two ways:
by replacing gold piece cost (for example, this hanged man's tongue - an uncommon component - replaces 150 gp of the creation cost of an amulet of proof against detection and location), or
by accelerating the daily progress (for example, this eagle stone triples daily progress for three days on bracers of archery).
Replacing gold piece cost does not, in itself, accelerate progress. It generally takes five to ten components to replace 100% of the cost.
Each item has one component that replaces a large amount of cost, one component that replaces about half that amount of cost, and one component that accelerates progress by (multiplier) for (number of days).
A component's effect is idiosyncratic to the magic item you're making. That is, an eagle stone might accelerate progress on one item, replace gold piece cost on another, and replace a different amount of cost on a third.
The point of this is to muddy the waters when it comes to pricing the components. I specifically don't want players to look at it as a molecule-thin mask on the existing creation cost - I'm trying to accomplish something else here.
The primary way to obtain components is from the same adventuring activities you're otherwise performing. The thing I'm changing to bring this about is the randomized treasure tables.
If components are replacing a magic item you would otherwise receive, you get a decent number of components of the same rarity as the item you would have received. Probably 3-5 components.
If components are in addition to receiving magic items and cash, you gain fewer of them, but they're a pure bonus, so who cares?
There is also a treasure table for when you're handing out loot that isn't otherwise randomized.
The point here is that if the DM chooses the components PCs receive (other than times when you've gone out of your way to seek whatever-it-is), it influences their choices of what to make, or seems to indicate that the DM wants them to make one thing or another. This is one of the few areas of the game where I think it's best to remove DM agency.
You can sometimes buy components in the open market. There's a treasure table for that, too, giving you both the specific items available for sale and what the merchants want for them. There may be some directives on how long it takes the merchants to cycle out their stock.
Some components can be transmuted or refined into other components, to make sure that lower-grade components remain interesting and to add another layer of player influence over what they make. If at first you don't get the right components to make what you want, you can either keep trying your luck (on adventures, traveling to distant markets, and maybe other means), or you can use a spot of alchemy.
The downside of this is that it does add a certain amount of bookkeeping - lists of components you've acquired, notes on what you can do with them, and notes on how where things are in consuming them to make magic items.
This is all a work in progress; the data-generation alone is about 5% complete, to say nothing of ironing out bugs. I'm hoping that when it's done, I can publish a PDF that adds incentives to use the crafting system and gives the players intriguing pieces of treasure along the way - so that DMs can hand out rewards that feel like rewards, but aren't ever-larger piles of currency or new magic items. Comments welcome!