Campaign TrailD&D 5eMagic Items

Residuum and D&D 5th Edition – Enchanting and Disenchanting Magic Items

Oil, water, gems and metals are some of the most precious resources in our world – creating immense wealth for those who possess them. Crimes are committed, the environment is destroyed and even wars are fought to attain these resources at all costs. In most of  D&D’s fantasy settings, magic is the most important resource allowing those who possess the ability to control it to gain power, wealth and even the ability to conquer death. In some worlds, magical items can be converted into an immensely valuable magical powder called residuum. The powder can be traded as a commodity and used to enchant magical items.

residuum[ri-zij-oo-uh m]: the residue, remainder, or rest of something.

In my current campaign set in the Nentir Vale (D&Ds 4th edition default setting), I thought about introducing residuum – since it was used in 4th edition.Residuum can be a good or terrible thing to introduce to your game.

GOOD: It gives your players a way to take unwanted magical items and turn them into something they want during downtime.

BAD: It gives your players a way to take a bunch of common magical items you were fine with having in your game and turning them into potentially a more powerful game breaking magic item you didn’t plan for.

I ended up not adding the rules, since I decided to just handle magical items using the default 5th edition rules/suggestions. Here are my notes on residuum…

Ideas for Adding Residuum into your Game

  • Residuum is the byproduct left over when magical items are disenchanted
  • There’s a sidebar in the D&D 4th Edition PHB (p 225) that specifies residuum as being a golden or silvery powder, with 10,000 gp worth being just larger than a gold piece itself. A pound is called out as having a value around 500k gp.
  • Residuum could also be extracted from astral diamonds (essentially crystallized residuum) and produced from the bones of magical beings.
  • When upgrading a magic item, it should be up to the DM how close in the form the new upgrade needs to match the previous magic item.
  • It might be a good idea to only allow for upgrading magic item versus creating new magic items using the ritual.
  • If you want to put some risk in the ritual, you could add a d100 chance of failure and being left with nothing for higher level magic items.
  • I have even heard of residuum being used by DMs as:
    • a narcotic a person could inhale/ingest to get a type of magical high
    • a way to boost spellcasting (or other abilities) temporarily

My Homebrew Residuum Rituals

Here are a couple of rough first draft rituals to use residuum to enchant and disenchant magical items in your 5th edition game roughly converted from 4th edition. I think it’s a good idea to require certain caster levels to be required to enchant/disenchant powerful items. In 4th edition, magic items matched up with player levels from 1-30, so you that made matching items to level simple. for 5e, I matched up magic item rarity with the caster level for wizards of the level found on p.113 of the DMG with some adjustments up.


Enchant Magic Item

3rd-level transmutation (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 to 8 hours
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (residuum and/or coins)
Duration: Instantaneous

Magic drawn from the warp and weft of the universe infuses the item you hold in your hands. Casting this ritual allows you to create a magic item or upgrade an existing magic item using a quantity of gold or residuum equal to the cost of the magic item. To create a magical item, the component cost is the price of magical item. For an existing magical item that your are magically upgrading, the component cost is the difference in price between the existing item and the upgraded magical item.

A magic item can only be enchanted by magic users with a spell casting level that matches the rarity of the magic item according to the table below.

Rarity Spell Casting Level Casting Time
Common or Uncommon 3rd Level or Higher 1 Hour
Rare 5th Level or Higher 2 Hours
Very Rare 7th Level or Higher 4 Hours
Legendary 9th Level 8 Hours

Disenchant Magic Item

3rd-level transmutation (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 to 8 hours
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

Casting this ritual allows you to turn a magic item into residuum. When you touch an item after casting this ritual, you destroy it. The magic item ignites in a brief flash of brilliant light, then crumbles to silvery or golden dust in your hands, turning it into a quantity of residuum valued at 1/5 of the item’s price.

A magic item can only be disenchanted by magic users with a spell casting level that matches the rarity of the magic item according to the table below.

Rarity Spell Casting Level Casting Time
Common or Uncommon 3rd Level or Higher 1 Hour
Rare 5th Level or Higher 2 Hours
Very Rare 7th Level or Higher 4 Hours
Legendary 9th Level 8 Hours

Let me know what you think or residuum and if you have used it in your game before.

If you want some more ideas on D&D’s magic economy, check out Tribality author Brandes Stoddard’s thoughts in an article on his personal blog looking at this subject:
D&D 5e: Magic Item Economy

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  • Shawn E.

    Let me know what you think or residuum and if you have used it in your game before.

    • Alex Mitchell

      It might be interesting to have this mechanic tied to a specific artifact or place in a setting. I could imagine a hand-cranked residuum mill capable of destroying all but the most powerful magic items, or a divine forge of Moradin being the sole way that this exchange might take place.

    • Shawn E.

      A quest! Nice.

  • I’m against it, personally, because I don’t want magic items to become a fungible resource, and the PCs having an assortment of magic items they mostly don’t use doesn’t bother me in the least. I think that disenchanting and residuum undermine their nature as discrete objects in the fiction and push players to think about them in terms of their residuum values, which are in turn expressed as gold piece equivalents.

    I do occasionally give PCs chances to sell magic items, particularly when they need to raise a lot of cash in a hurry, as has sometimes been the case.

    • Shawn E.

      Agree. I did not include residuum in my 5e Nentir Vale campaign (even though it would have been a good fit for the setting). It is hard to use magic items as the focus of the story, when players can just create their own McGuffin.

  • Dirk

    During 3rd and 4th edition, Residuum was useful because it allowed customization of the character with hand-chosen magic items, and was a nice alternative to “Magic Item Costco” in every city. With 5e and magic items being unnecessary mechanically (a character can go 1-20 with zero magic items, but the expectation is about 1 every 5 levels, which do not necessarily have to increase any numbers), it is largely unnecessary.

    My recommendation for anyone wanting to use this, use magic item tables, and don’t be afraid to re-roll if several items that are useful to the party come up consecutively. Keep in mind the expectation of 4-5 useful magic items over the course of 20 levels on average. If your players have more than that, you’ll need to start beefing up your encounters to compensate.

    • Shawn E.

      This article is a thought experiment/note sharing. I really like 5e’s system as is and didn’t go with this. I’m excited to see the discussion so far and I hope we get some decent comments here. Thanks for sharing.

      I am not a fan of the player’s expecting a tiny farm village to have a magic item shop. Drives me nuts.

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      It annoys me to no end when players have a blase attitude to magic items. In a campaign I ran a few months ago, I created a sentient weapon. I “intended” it for the fighter, as they were the only one without a native magical attack. Instead, the fighter nonchalantly handed it to the blade pact warlock, saying he’d “get the next one.” This attitude annoyed me to no end, so I decided that the sentient weapon would be personally offended that the players didn’t fight over it. The weapon began to plot ways to trick the players, eventually trapping them in the Astral Plane. The players escaped, and vowed revenge.

      The rivalry between the players and the sentient weapon eventually became the centre of the entire campaign.

    • Shawn E.

      I love this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Alex Mitchell

    How you handle magic items is one of the bigger choices in developing a setting. If this is a setting where magic items are somewhat common, it makes sense to give player characters a way to make some use of them– I’m not crazy about the residuum method, in the ways that it ends up warping player perception of not just treasure, but even potentially taking away some of the sense of wonder in a fantastical world.

    That said, I also prefer to deal with an overabundance of unhelpful or uninteresting magic items using in-game mechanisms. Maybe there’s a mysterious traveling merchant willing to trade, or followers that might put them to better use, or a well that grants blessings depending on the value of the treasure you cast into it.

    I also like to include weird materials in treasure that suggest the possibility of PCs making magic items if they want to. A griffon feather, a bar of pure orichalchum, a flawless black pearl with something swimming in its depths. Finding the right wizard, or schematics, or what-have-you for an item they want is a compelling story hook!

    • Right now one of my players has been collecting dragon scales for 18 levels. He is finally getting to create a cloak of dragon scales. I think he earned it.

    • Alex Mitchell

      And it’s probably a lot more meaningful now than if you simply awarded in treasure at a similar level!

    • Shawn E.

      Yep! I’m making him work for it 🙂

    • Dave(s) 4 Goombella

      I’m wary of using “monster drops” as magic item components, lest it encourage a “grindy” attitude in players. Using the search for rare components as an adventure hook is great, but I don’t want to give my players any extra incentive to indiscriminately slaughter monsters by the dozen.

    • Shawn E.

      our campaign is heavy on dragons and he really wanted to do this… so it works. But I’m not playing monster hunter for magic ingredients in any game I run.

    • crimfan

      I don’t mind it as long as it doesn’t hijack the story, but a little monster hunting turns out to do a good job to make for some nice side treks. It also means that there are some nice random fluctuations when buying things like healing potions.

  • Shawn E.

    Someone named António was commenting on this article in the “Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition” Facebook group…

    “As
    for using Residuum to create Magic Items, I’d allow, using the rules
    from the DMG where a Common item takes 5 days to craft, an Uncommon Item
    takes 20 days, a Rare item almost a year (200days), Very Rare almost 5
    years and a half, and Legendary items taking almost 55 years. And not
    mentioning the time required to research the formulae to do so.”

    This got me thinking that Residuum would be a good way maybe to reduce the time to create a magic item. Creating magic items should take time, but campaigns are often shorter than the time to create the items. So instead of a ritual that just takes an hour, you could just cut down the days of downtime needed to craft magic items.

    Disenchanting could work as is. Easy to get the stuff, longer to use it.

  • Shawn E.

    I’m tempted to rewrite the rituals with At Higher Levels:… requiring a higher level slot and a longer casting time for magic items that are rare or higher.

  • Shawn E.

    Some good feedback over on Reddit. I think I might do a round 2 article next week.
    https://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/comments/6t2npf/residuum_and_dd_5e_enchanting_and_disenchanting/

  • Sporelord0179

    I’m not to fond of just allowing players to disenchant magic items into residuum and then reform them because it can cheapen magic items. My personal favourite magic items are the tools like driftglobes or immovable rods. The one magic item I remember from 4E was a box of 2d10 colours of chalk that would never, ever run out and couldn’t be washed away – they had to be scrubbed off by hand. My concern would be handing over these weird little items and the party just eating them and spitting out a +1 Maul for the barbarian.

    However, I do like residuum from a worldbuilding perspective. 4E had some great imagery regarding mining astral diamonds, turning the corpses of dead gods into mines – think Knowhere from Guardians of the Galaxy 1. With zero effort you can make it so wizards are combing the astral sea to create residuum refineries to create ancient items. Imagine a Githyanki raid led by an adult red dragon on the Ifrit Sultan’s residuum mine.
    I once had it so residuum was left behind by magical catastrophe and there were stretches of residuum sands like the tar sands in Canada which people would often fight over.

    It also answers an important question about making magic items in 5E “Who the hell spends 5 years making a Horn of Blasting?” or at least, who spends massive amounts of time and money to make the more dangerous/less useful items. Making these items doesn’t take half as much time and effort with a vial of residuum – or, alternatively, “dirty” residuum can cause imperfections in magical items leading to items that explode or demand blood to work or all these other weird and frustrating inconveniences.

    I may bring residuum to the world I’m making in 5th edition, just keep it out of the hands of players.

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