I Hate Magic Items

Alright, so I’ve already ranted about encumbrance rules and how much I don’t like them. (Then, I had all my annoyances about them repeated in Dragon Age: Origins.)

Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: I don’t like magic items, period. Sure, they are a staple of fantasy literature. And I have a soft spot for certain classes of magical items, like the strange artifact or consumable item that has to be used at just the right time. +1 Swords? Fiery Platemail? Rings of Jumping? Never a fan. 

Let’s walk backward through the three editions of D&D I played the most so I can complain some more:

4th Edition: As a DM, I pick treasure parcels by level. I don’t know what to pick for most characters. Even the ones with wishlists can only get the next best weapon so many times. As a player, I don’t want to scour all the books (or compendium) for every slot, making it difficult for me to pick a wishlist.

3rd Edition: Random treasure often resulted in items that were useless to the party. Expected wealth (and corresponding power level) always ended up way off no matter how closely I tried to stick to the rules. Item creation could be punishing to the user, but was pretty important.

2nd Edition: Even more random. Very spikey: for example, Paladins sometimes getting their hands on Holy Avengers and outclassing everyone else. Complaints about the wild imbalance in things like “Monty Haul” vs. “Stingy.”

I know that in a lot of more “old school” games all magic items are rare, treasured, and given out by the DM, but I still think I would be annoyed by that because so much of it is DM whim, and can create some real overshadowing problems within the party. (In fact, I recall specifically being annoyed by it when playing in a Rules Cyclopedia game.)

What have I liked? Well, Iron Heroes was a game that tossed out magic items as a base assumption but still felt like D&D, so I’m good with that. The inherent bonuses rules of DMG2 are another good solution that, were I to start a new D&D campaign, I would definitely use.

Really though, at the same time I’m tossing out all the boring magic items, I want to bring in more of those that I do like. Consumable magic items that must be used carefully but can be helpful to a wide variety of party members. And artifact (and artifact-style) items. In my current campaign, the PCs are about to get a hold of an artifact, which is something I’m excited about. (And- spoiler for my players- there’s already an artitifact in the party that only one or two of them know about.) I even introduced a Deck of Many Things- which ended up in the hands of an excitable gnome NPC. I’m also thinking about giving away more ritual scrolls.

My conclusion? The +1 weapons and Tridents of Underwater Command and Gauntlets of Ogre Power are sacred cows of D&D. Many love them. I do not. I would rather get items that have to be weighed carefully on their use, but are still balanced and give interesting options to the players. Now somebody make it happen.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. I get where you’re coming from. When +1 swords are a dime a dozen do they really feel magical anymore?

    I think you can do a few things to maybe make them feel neater.
    • Make them plot devices – the bearer of this +2 sword is the rightful ruler of ______.
    • Break items. If breaking is harsh require maintenance when it’s elegant to do so that requires characters to harvest other (lesser?) magic items to keep the one they’re using operational.
    • Have the world setting react to them more openly. What is a +3 sword? It’s a weapon carried around by a guy who can very easily kill any 3 normal folks before the guard can even put down their doughnuts. Something akin to a guy walking around with an M-60 strapped to his back… Consider that even in militant areas of Africa, that stands out because it’s not an AK.

    You’ve probably been and done most of those things already, but on the off chance there’s an idea there that helps I figured I’d speak up.
    .-= Helmsman´s last blog ..The Power of Aesthetics =-.

  2. I’ve discovered that I don’t really like magic items either. I like items when they are plot-centered (ex: the magic sword that can be used to slay the demon, the ancestral axe the dwarf carries around). I’m fine with some flavored magic items (ex: the paladin’s sword that can burst into holy flame), but again only really when they help define a character’s appearance/flavor/plot–not as game mechanics.

    I’ve actually found this puts me in conflict with some of my players–people who enjoy the minutia of magic items, with lots of random rings and necklaces and scrolls and potions. We just have different play styles. So the question is–how can we both have a good time? I don’t want to focus on giving out magic items, but the player wants to be able to collect all kinds of magical trinkets. What to do?

    I think my solution will be to use inherent bonuses (as you suggest) to deal with the numbers issue in 4e. I’ll also probably do something like where the items the PCs have automatically jump tiers with them–so that flaming longsword can keep getting better if the player wants that. I’d also give out lots of ritual scrolls to try and encourage their use (encouraging ritual use is a different problem as well). But I’m not sure what to do about the guy who really wants to get random magical bracelets all the time…

  3. You hate magic items as DM, a player, or both?

    Coming from a player’s standpoint, I feel they can create a certain amount of thrill. Even you must admit that they can help increase the funfactor for your players. For example, look what became of that orb of sanquinary repercussions you gave me early in your campaign.

  4. Like you, I’m incapable of knowing all of the possible magic items out there. There’s just too many of them. Players are in a better position to sort through items at any given level and determine what they want. Unfortunately, this just feeds into min-maxing which I also don’t like. So I have some hybrid methods to determine loot these days which break up into the following categories:

    1. Plot items – these are pretty cut and dry.

    2. Random loot – I’ll just use Asmor’s Quartermaster script to generate parcels, write them down on 3×5 cards, and pass them out.

    3. Primordial Gems – these are tokens that can be traded in for a certain level of loot. A level 21 Primordial Sapphire, for example, can be traded in for a level 21 or below piece of armor.

    4. Group Storytelling – As a DM, I place a sword in a pile of loot but it is up to the players to determine what it is. I might even force a sentence of background and a name if it’s a weapon. This can help me get my players to better roleplay.

    Those are all of the systems I’m using at the moment and I mix and match. It’s not perfect, mainly because of the min-maxing, but my players love to tinker so why get in the way.
    .-= Mike Shea´s last blog ..James Bond Encounter Design =-.

  5. As a DM what I don’t like is thinking up what magic items to include as treasure – so I don’t.

    The LazyGM in me cuts in and I just say “…. and a 6th level magic item of your choosing.” Then I sit back and enjoy the players fight a War of Most Needy where they pour over the PHBs and Adventurer’s Vaults and squabble, bicker, bargain and haggle with each other before finally deciding which PC gets what this time around.

    This means that the players get what they want (if they can convince the other players, that is), I don’t need to worry about treasure placement, the game continues and everyone is happy.

    It also means that when I DO place a magic item as treasure, it’s a Significant Thing and the players tend to take a lot of care over it, just in case it’s a Plot Device (not that it is very often, but I ain’t telling them that now, am I?).

    Oh, and I always give Healing Potions as a part of the treasure as required. Players never remember about those. Silly peeps.
    .-= greywulf´s last blog ..Clockwork Barbarian =-.

  6. As a player, I like oddball magic items that you need to be creative to use effectively. The immovable rod is great. I had a PC once whose schtick centered on having a belt of many pouches that he used like a utility belt.

    +X swords? Not so exciting. Trident of Underwater Whatever? Mostly makes you annoyed that you can’t use it.
    .-= Stuart´s last blog ..Limits on Magic Use =-.

  7. I quite agree. In fact, I’m doing a blog series on one tactic that could theoretically be used to replace weapon/armor/neck slot magic items in 4th Edition, although I’m not sure how well it balances. Check my blog and search “Christmas Tree” for the articles. Essentially, players train in one consistent “fighting style” which gives them inherent boosts and a side effect too. I could easily see a similar approach towards wizards, etc.

    What I really do dislike is that magic items no longer have a flavor other than “magic item”. Instead, they’re simply another kind of technology, essentially. I don’t like the idea of attaching plus bonuses to magic items. What I think would be super-cool is to have magic items which gave no bonuses to stats, but instead had funky effects or powers.

    So instead of a +3 Flaming Longsword, which boosts your attack/damage and adds on extra fire damage, you have the attack/damage boost inherently (or the monster math doesn’t boost defenses so quickly), and you can pick up a Flaming Longsword, which tacks on extra fire damage. It’s a cool little extra power that doesn’t overshadow the character, which IMHO is my biggest problem with +whatever magic items.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..A Modest Proposal, Part I =-.

  8. TheMainEvent says:

    @The Game: I’d happily give up all magic items and go with the DMG2 bonuses, Dave. In fact, I think it might be wise to put it up to a vote for the next tier of play, with the understanding that the fluff can be whatever (IE an ever increasingly powerful magic tome).

    I really find that picking is tedious. Treasure rolls were fun, I made them part of the game, PCs would roll and could use good play to reroll results during the process. It became a sort of zany crapshoot, but they always seemed to take away from the Epic Fantasy atmosphere I sought to evoke.

  9. We actually fixed this somewhat in a recent Pathfinder game: PCs had points to spend starting at 3rd level on static enhancement bonuses to weapon atacks, AC, saves, and skills, making them less dependent on these fundamental magic bonuses to stay valid. It seemed to work pretty well, and freed up those slots for actually interesting and niche magic items that didn’t define the character.

    There are things I like about the 4e magic items (early onset, making them less ‘special’ and more generally available while turning down the power level) and things I don’t like (they’re not special anymore, shopping list)

  10. I know that in a lot of more “old school” games all magic items are rare, treasured, and given out by the DM, but I still think I would be annoyed by that because so much of it is DM whim, and can create some real overshadowing problems within the party. (In fact, I recall specifically being annoyed by it when playing in a Rules Cyclopedia game.)

    This is what Random Treasure Tables were created to avoid. There are reams of them in the older DMGs!

    I agree with you entirely about how run-of-the-mill most D&D magic items are, though. It’s one of the core problems with D&D itself – on the one hand it’s trying to be game about magic and wonder, but on the other it is forever pulling the curtain back and revealing its own internal mechanics. So instead of the players going, “Ooh, wow, the Sword of Mehataboth! I wonder what it does?”, you get, “Ooh, the Sword of Mehataboth, now where’s my Identify spell? Hmm, that’s a +2 sword” and the whole effect is ruined.

    I think if the players are up for it it’s probably much more fun to throw any form of treasure-identification out of the window. Detect Magic is okay, but otherwise there’s just no way of knowing what that sword/ring/potion does until you try it in action…
    .-= noisms´s last blog ..The Circle of Life, is a Wheel of Blah Blah =-.

  11. Worried about what item to pick? Get all your players to give you copies of their characters from DDI and then bring up the character generator load them and see what’s available by slot and level. Takes be about 10 minutes per character per adventure to parcel out what will fit.

    It will feel less min-maxy and you the DM will be making the choice. DDI is a life saver.

  12. I love Iron Heroes.

    I try to make magic items special in my (4e) game. They’re rare, and they’re never just what’s in the book. That’s not just a belt that adds to your healing surges, that’s a belt that the local healer and the blacksmith worked together to make as a personal thank you to you.

  13. Lots of great comments here. A few common ones I want to address:

    -Plot item is similar to what I think of as “Artifacts.” Any item that functions not as a game mechanic but as something to drive the story (and may have associated game mechanics, but that’s not it’s primary purpose) is great… though I want that to be the exception, not the rule.
    -That also ties them to a story, but I don’t want to come up with a story for every item they come across in a standard D&D game. Most of the time, it would boil down to “yeah yeah, but what does it DO?”
    -I like the quirky items that do interesting things too. Except, when you can use them every adventure, they lose their quirk. That’s why I prefer consumables.
    -I’m starting to do the whole “here’s a level 15 item” kinda thing with my current campaign and it has worked well.
    -Random treasure tables, of any edition, still have problems to me.

    To The O: while I enjoy when my character gets more powerful and gets more options, it just loses its feel as a reward a lot of the time. (I say that when my Warforged Fighter just got a cool new item that I’m looking forward to using, but that seems more like the exception.) Finding an item that the characters really enjoy is an aspect I like about the whole thing, I just wish I could do that more often and have to pick less often.

  14. Over the last month or so I’ve been lamenting my growing distaste for how magic items were done in 4E, but I’ve already started fixing it a bit in my game by letting Josh and my other players start mixing magic items. I see no reason he can’t have Dragonclaw armor that is also Summonable.

    The “not special” and “shopping list” issues are at the forefront for me, but also I dislike envisioning the characters in my game like the weirdest looking World of Warcraft avatars with a full set of items none of which match and each does something small but different. I think in the end my ideal D&D party ends up having roughly one magic item of each type (helmet, gloves, etc) so that one character has the magic helmet, the rest have normal head gear, one has magic gloves and the rest have normal gloves, giving each character a different sense of identity in the group – this of course would probably exclude weapons and armor, though perhaps giving out the flat bonuses per the DMG2 and then handing out a magic sword on top of that would make it that much more special.

    I’m sure we can come up with the sweet spot of magic items in 4E, it will just take some messing around with to see how they work.

  15. I’ve been playing and DM:ing since D&D boxes with a blue paperback rulebook, and magic items has always been an issue, to give or not to give, that’s the question.

    During AD&D (1.0 as some call it), random treasure was working pretty well, as there were no specializations for weapons, so anyone could pick up the weapon found and use it, same for most magic items.

    I never played 2.0or 3.0, real life came between, but when my son grow up, we started out with 3.5, and I DM:ed a lot of adventure modules (time savers), but found that 90% of the items found was never usable by the PCs, as no one cared for the +2 Glaive of Thunderstriking.

    In 4E, when making adventures, I try to have plot items, they are locked (like a demon slaying sword), but for other items, I always give a list of items to pick from, and the parcel says one item of type A, one of type B, and DM can pick what suits the party best.

    We’ve played a little low-magic 4E, and I will be a player in one soon, and the DMG2 rules seems to work well for that. With low-magic, I mean that magic items exists, are very rare, and are more like artifacts. I D&D, I’ve always looked at +1 swords as steel swords, and +2 swords as alloyed steel swords, much like D20 Modern did with weapons and master craft. Magic items are fun and add flavor to the game, but I agree that +1 swords doesn’t, they are just a little sharper.
    .-= Totte Alm´s last blog ..Pimp your market – part one =-.

  16. You could always do what Dragon Age: Origins does; create bonuses and flaws for items.

    So that “Flaming Longsword +2” is great against monsters who have Vulnerability: Fire but confer personal penalties to other stats. Maybe it attracts undue attention from Cold-based monsters, conferring bonuses to-hit or initiave for them?

    “To me brothers! Kill the bearer of the flame!”

  17. I think the 4e Dark Sun campaign will have ways to get rid of the over-saturation of magic items.

  18. My RPG life goes back to the BECMI days, but I never really played until 4e, so I really don’t know how things felt in previous editions. I’ve read all core D&D books for every edition since the Red Box though, so I do understand a little bit of an underwhelming feeling coming from random item tables.

    In the interim between my childhood and now having played 4e regularly for 8 months and DMing for a few months, I have been a big fan of CRPGs, especially those based on D&D worlds.

    Between a general lack of desire to work with treasure parcels and my huge obsession with Dragon Age: Origins, I’ve taken a different route for magic item treasure in my current campaign (that I’ve been running for about 1.5 months now.)

    As the PCs adventure they come across small amounts of coin. Enough to buy mundane items like supplies, but not enough to buy even the cheapest magic items. In addition, I’m giving them residuum “points” (RP) as a GP value that they can add up. In their first adventure I also gave each PC a special +1 weapon/implement as a story-based reward and advised them that they may then “upgrade” those items with their RP.

    I’m going to ignore the cost of the Create Magic Item ritual. When they have enough RP equal to the GP value of the item they desire to upgrade to, they’ll be allowed to create a “rune” (thanks Dragon Age!) which they can then bond with the weapon, resulting in the item of their desire. (It’s going to take the Paladin forever to forge his Holy Avenger.)

    They’ll be allowed to purchase +1 armor or other “masterwork” items in the future (eg. bracers or capes) which they’ll then be allowed to imbue with runes as well. (I still haven’t decided if I should give away these masterwork items as story rewards. We’ll have to see.)

    So far they seem to like this system, and I do as well. It takes away the work from me, eliminates random treasure generation, and forces the players to create their own wishlists (which I’ve read many DMs have a problem getting.) If they don’t do the leg work, they just have a big stockpile of residuum (which I’m dying to call lyrium – thanks again Dragon Age!) that they can’t do anything with. At the same time, there is still the excitement that results for the players when they hear that they just received a new magic item (plus I don’t have to hear any bickering over who gets what.)

    I simply divide the total of the level’s parcel magic item values by the number of PCs, and then award it in chunks that they all get an equal share of, just like XP. Same with GP.

    For the first time this past week I actually also awarded them with 2 healing potions, mostly because I killed off their Companion Character healbot and they’re still in the dungeon.

    Sorry for the long post. Hope it makes some sense and maybe sparks someone else’s creativity!

  19. I personally just don’t have that big of a problem with the 4e Magic Item distribution system. After reading a recommendation on an EN World board, I have gone to a randomized system (and I use Asmor’s Website as a generator), and allow characters to sell back useless magic items at 50% of their value, and purchase/enchant whatever they can afford.

    I still do a some minor editing of the parcel list – if an item was generated that seems completely bizarre or something I don’t want in the campaign, I re-roll. But beyond that, I take a very laidback attitude toward enchanted items – at least in the heroic tier.

    I may feel differently once my campaigns reach Paragon or Epic tier, but for now, I’m happy to allow chaos to reign supreme in my random item generator.
    .-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Review: Beyond the Black Door by Black Death Publishing =-.

  20. Joe Hall-Reppen says:

    In my game, we don’t usually get magic items from loot. That’s not to say we don’t have any magic items. We simply find whatever the enemy had, including armor and weapons and then sell them in towns for money. We then use the money to buy whatever we want, as long as it’s available or we have the time to wait for it to be created.

    If we do find anything magical, it’s nothing more than a +1 weapon (and we rarely find those), or a cure potion or wand. Usually it’s something that most people in the party can use or can benefit everyone. There’s not often conflicts about who gets what item, especially because most are sold off.

  21. HartThorn says:

    I think my biggest wish for Magic Items would be for a system of leveling items that was both nuanced and varied but also not a massive headache. It always bothered me when I saw a player go around for the first 3 sessions going on and on about how his sword belonged to his father and he would bring honor to the family with it, then just toss it aside the first time a +1 Greatsword dropped in our laps. 3rd Edition had some classes that had item leveling abilities, but none of them were at all elegant.

    I once tried creating a system and part of character creation was actually making your equipment. Part of this was about magic items, and part was about allowing characters to have those weird, one-of-a-kind weapons you see in anime and CRPGs (Sword-guns or massive four ft wide bladed hoola-hoops). Thought this would be an interesting balance, and would open up the character types of the young nobody with not a skill to his name who’s one claim to fame is the super-powerful intelligent sword that decided it would be funny to let him use it.

    I am also (especially in 3rd edition) a huge fan of the odd wondrous item. I very fondly remember my Rod of Ropes, and who doesn’t have a fun or humorous story about an Immovable Rod? I think if we saw more magic items with narrow applications but deep potential, or that required a bit of thought into their use, it would definitely work better.

    @highbulp: For your player that seems to love having a bag full of trinkets, you could suggest the Artificer class, or really any Arcane class and just edit the flavor text that it’s not really HIM doing these things, but his “Necklace of 1,000 Shiny Talismans” (I should totally make that magic item).

  22. As a player, what I like about magic items is that they give me an extra level of customizability. It’s great when I can find the item with abilities that match my character design.

    What I don’t like is that many magic items are a required part of level advancement in D&D (e.g. bonus to hit). In 4e, the DMG2 guidelines clear that up a lot but there are still a lot of problems (aside from extra cash, magic weapons still cycle through every 5 levels limiting choice).

  23. My games are much more like Joe Hall-Reppen describes.

    Normally the group finds an item because what they were fighting was using it. So magical items, rare and special, are normally what would make sense for the opponent they are fighting to have.

    Sometimes they find one or 2 in a trove, but it is still very carefully placed based on what makes logical sense (within the framework of the game) to be there. My PCs, some of them with me for decades, are still often filled with that wonderful glow of awe and curiousity.

    Many of them are of the single or charged use variety, as I prefer magic that caster’s recognize as versions of what they use, so it is internally consistent.

    The day I place a ‘level x’ item somewhere becasue it is the right power level or base what my players find on some chart or formula is probably the day I hang these 33 year old spurs up. When the players can’t use setting internal logic to figure what they found but instead can assume it is the right power level based on the rules, I feel i’m asking them to metagame instead of roleplay.

    But everyone likes different things, and different players are turned on by different experiences.
    .-= LordVreeg´s last blog ..added Map of the underworld under the temple ST isle =-.

  24. OriginalSultan says:

    One ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ would be to have the built-in bonuses of the DMG 2, in addition to letting each player choose one item that is part of their character concept, and have it advance in levels / get better as the campaign progressed, similar to what highbulp suggests.

    The built-in bonuses deal with the numbers problem, while letting each character have their one item not only makes the item feel more special, it helps build the overall character. So for instance if one character wants a flaming sword, that’s what he gets – and it improves as the character advances in level. Another character might want some special armor, or a ring, a helm, etc.

    You could also give out magic items that help the whole party – bags of holding, flying carpets, potions, everlasting provisions, etc.

  25. I have to agree. All magic, but especially magic items, in D&D really feel like they have been subject to severe inflation (although weirdly they have -always- felt like this).

    My preference is for low-magic campaigns where every magical item is a big deal; with a few consumable exceptions to enhance the fantasy feel and solve problems of how the society functions. When I do give out an item it is never a flat bonus – it will always have a secondary power or effect and a description that highlights this.

    Rather than increase the PCs defence and damage as suggested in DMG2, I am tempted to try reducing the same for enemies. This should have the effect of making combat much more deadly for everyone involved – suitable for a slightly grittier low-magic campaign.

    But I’m going to be reading the DMG2 looking for other ideas too.

  26. I agree with you whole-heartedly. And I feel like players new to D&D are relatively uninterested in receiving magic items. I get a lot of “why do these goblins have a magic sword, aren’t magic swords really rare and expensive?”

    Totally agree with you on Iron Heroes. One of my favorite systems, because the characters are the ones stressed completely. Epic 3.5E games completely got out of hand when min-maxers started wielding +5 wounding keen scimitars of haste…
    .-= Keith´s last blog ..Meta Monday 13: A Foundation of Air =-.

  27. As a player and a couch DM, I actually agree that the magic system needs some work. I’ve come back to this problem time and time again and here are some ideas which I’ve borrowed or combined from other games, genres, etc:

    As it pertains to 4e, there are 3 types of items which have to essentially “grow” with the character:
    1) Implement/Weapon (ToHit)
    2) Armor (AC)
    3) Necks (Saving Throws)

    All other items (I think) are mostly exactly what people are describing and typically love: Cool wondrous items that either have a daily power, some passive effect, or are consumable.

    By far, these are the types of items that add the most meaningful and memorable fun to campaigns. In fact, I’d argue it is THESE types of items that really separate the core of table-top RPG mechanics from videogame RPG mechanics. You can’t “code” wondrous items into a videogame in a meaningful and unpredictable manner because their use is really left to the imagination of the players and the DM and can’t be bounded by “if/else” statements.

    That being said, how do you tackle this problem in 4e?

    1) Plot items are a no-brainer. Having to use a specific dagger on a demon when he is bloodied to remove his “god-mode death protection” is awesome fun… especially when its a weapon or device that no one is really “proficient” with. This introduces RP elements.

    2) Pro/Con items should be introduced. One of my fondest memories as a child was having to deal with “cursed” items in Wizardry. What do you mean I can’t unequip it?!? When powerful items have subtle drawbacks, it causes players to use them more sparingly or only in certain circumstances. At the same time, it allows players to specialize their characters but at the sacrifice of other things.

    3) Intelligent Items/Artifacts – these are always fun, but again, these are rare and also require quite a bit of work on the part of the DM.

    Okay, those things are great, but they aren’t solutions you can do on a regular basis… so here are some more normal ideas:

    1) Remove all items which add passive benefits to things like damage, resistances, movement, etc. These are the items that min-maxers go after – I should know because I’m one of the biggest min-maxers on the planet. Bracers that add +1d6 damage to all AtWill attacks is an example.

    2) Magic Currency. Whether it be Mithra (Final Fantasy), Lyrium (Dragon Age), Gems, Sockets, etc… players need some way to lessen the burden of DMs, avoid sudden bursts of power when receiving a brand new item, and have a guaranteed way to eventually save up and acquire the items they hold most dear to their cause. World of Warcraft kind of perfected this mechanic and I think there is room for it in 4e. DMs could introduce a new class of merchants who specialize in this enchanting business/currency, or better yet, offer it as a class feature to certain types of classes, offer it as a feat, etc. Of course, this primarily has to do with the 3 item types I mentioned in the beginning (AC, Hit, Saves). The rest of items are kind of wondrous items by nature and don’t directly impact the power of a character… if you throw the ones out with passive/permanent bonuses.

    3) Assign items by “type” instead of being specific. Light Blades, Tomes, Staff, Light Armor, Heavy Armor, Shield, etc. This is a good way to assign some slightly upgraded armor to non-defender types.

    Hmm… I might take some time during my unemployed job-hunting days to flesh this out a bit 🙂

  28. I see the problem with choosing magic items, but I like to have them around. Whether I give out magic items or inherent boni and divine boons, tatoos or whatever doesn’t matter to me. If I do not give out magic items, I’ll have to end up changing encounters all the time, which I definitely don’t want.

    Usually I have quite some characters which have a wish-list and I pick about 50-60% if my items per level from a wishlist and add in my own ideas, which I stumble over when browsing through the character builder. Usually those are general purpose items, sometimes artifacts and sometimes plot-relevant items.

    And every few levels (every 5 maybe) there’ll be no classical treasuere parcels, but “pick what you want” – the maximum level of such items will be lower than what is “allowed” via treasure parcels, but in return everyone gets what they need.

    As long as encounters in D&D 4 in the standard range end up with monsters, that hit 90% of the time and deal a lot of damage, I don’t have a problem with the standard treasure parcels.

    Personally I dislike consumable items for D&D 4 for the most time, because they are quite often too expensive, either in direct cost (that is gold) or in effectiveness (needing to spend a minor action to get the item out, another action to use it, for an effect that has only a chance of benefitting another effect or whose impact itself is too low. Exceptions are consumables, which work for a complete encounter. That’s at least something.
    .-= Hawkgirl´s last blog ..Toying around with random backgrounds =-.

  29. Similar to Totte Alm, I went straight from playing AD&D in the early 80s to 4th Edition. When my DM asked me for a wish list of magic items I wanted I was horrified. I’m not even supposed to KNOW what magic items are out there, much less ask for specific ones! Where’s the mystery, the surprise?

    I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the 4E approach to magic items by imagining a setting where magic is as common as electricity is now. In such a setting, surprise and mystery could be introduced when the characters start to discover genuinely weird items that don’t match any type of magic they’re familiar with, and can’t be figured out with just a few minutes of handling. This could launch a long-running subplot as the characters try to figure out where these items came from, and who made them.
    .-= Wade Rockett´s last blog ..Pepsi Throwback =-.

  30. @Wade Rockett: That’s cool. Although I still don’t like the commonality of magic items, that sounds like it would be a good compromise, to return the mystique of such artifacts.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..A Bit of News… =-.

  31. I think I’d reserve the subplot to discover what a magical item does for the really important magical items – artifacts or other devices which are more plot-relevant than catchy enhancers for the players. But the idea is good – actually I think I shall use it! At the moment my group has a stone in its posession of which they so far only know, that it reacts to chaotic magic or primordial influences in the world. But there is more I could do with that!

    If all players hand out wishlists, I also don’t see the problem of no surprises. After all only about half of the players get something from a wishlist (and you never know which player character will benefit), and they don’t know what they can get. The rest of the items are still random to the group.
    The way I see it, that balances “determinability” and surprise. You can’t rely on what you’ll get, but you also can be sure, you’re not stuck with stuff you don’t like.

    If handling out items I like (be they or be they not custom tailored to the group) I have to be prepared for sad faces and disappointment, because not everything I imagine to be awesome for a group is what the players want. Now that by itself wouldn’t be a problem, of not the selling and buying would be at such a great cost. Even with D&D before 4, you’re in for a bad surprise if you want to sell your stuff for something you can actually need. (also: Not a problem if the encounters are designed for that. But then I, as a GM have double or triple work: Choosing magic items, and custom-tailoring encounters, so that they fit the lowered “output” of a group – or even more horrible: Fiddling with the economy!)
    .-= Hawkgirl´s last blog ..Punjar – Escape from the jungle =-.

  32. I don’t like magic items because
    1) (as a DM or player) I prefer the special abilities to come from the PCs, not the items they carry
    2) (as a DM or player) Some people obsess over them which just turns me off
    3) (as a DM or player) It can lead to player conflict in some groups as they argue over who gets what
    4) (As a DM) No matter how cool a background and name you give it to make it unique, after a session or two the PCs and players often relegate it to just its base stats and think of it as just another tool/magic item rather than the special thing you worked so hard to make it.

    But, that’s just my random rambling on the topic…

  33. I missed this one being all busy the past few weeks but I really like 3.5 where the PCs make their own magic items. I give them basic stuff in the dungeon, but I really expect the heroes to build their own dragon-bane blades or whatever if they plan to go fight a dragon. If they build something that breaks the game well, cool good for them. groups that made their own gear seemed to play the longest together in my home games and I liked that they put thought into how and what they did in the game.

    I had one group upset, because they said there was not enough magic in my game. I said they should build their own stuff. They said they used all their skills for other things. I was like, ok, not a big deal, because the monsters don’t have too many magic items either so you are more even. That group didn’t play long together.

    I am also a big fan of cool unique items and usually place them in scary dungeons for the players find.
    .-= Jon´s last blog ..Village of Kingleaf =-.

  34. fba: I agree on all your points! #4 especially resonates based on the rest of the conversation.

    Jon: 3rd ed also punished magic item makers by having them sacrifice XP, so they trailed behind in levels. But that’s another discussion. It wasn’t a solution for me.

  35. @fba

    I see your points, though I don’t see the difference between being obsessed over a special item or a special ability a character possesses.

    What I don’t like about (poorly designed) special abilities is, how they become irrelevant over the course of a game, when you rise in levels. Some of the races with Level Adjustment suffer from that: You get a cool ability at the start and pay for that with levels. But as all of the group rises in levels, your abilities matter less and less. Still you pay in levels. Now, I am not gonna rant about Level Adjustment, this is about the design of special abilities versus items. When an item gets too weak for the character … you can replace it. With a special ability I don’t imagine that being so easy. You might be stuck with it.

    And about point 4 – the background of an item – well: It is often so, that the background doesn’t matter anymore after a time (can happen to items, NPCs and even PCs). When the adventure hook has been used, the cool sword that was forged from the heart of a demon (exaggerating on purpose here) to break through a demonic barrier, that’s it. Or when you’ve used it to prove your place in a story (like being accepted into a special society), that’s done. Then it is just another +3 bastard sword or whatever. If you want to keep the background playing a role, the story has to enforce that, too.
    That, however, is not an item background problem. Did you ever have that player, whose character was part of a “lost bloodline” looking to restore his place? Or a character that was craving for vengeance? The danger here: Once that is achieved, that character could be just another fighter (or whatever) – unless the player (and maybe the GM) put a continuing effort into making that character matter.
    .-= Hawkgirl´s last blog ..Chaos-Archonts: Cast =-.

  36. @Hawkgirl: the major difference between obsession over a magic item vs. obsession over a special ability is mechanically not different, but does reflect a storytelling philosophy. Many people don’t like the idea that a character must rely on their equipment as their primary source of strength (considering that any commoner with a +5 sword could pretty much attack as efficiently as a hero without such a sword a number of levels above them), as opposed to their own abilities fueling their own strength.

    It’s quite true that whatever you say about magic items could just as easily be said about characters. In all honesty, the focus should be very strongly attached to characters. The problem is, in the D&D system, that’s quite hard to manage, because magic items have been made into a necessity of the game, to the point where they overshadow the characters and demand to be made into characters of their own, which nobody wants to do. I mean, seriously.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..A Bit of News… =-.

  37. You’re right. And I think with D&D 4 there actually is a way out of this dilemma through powers and abilities, since every character gets tons of them. And you’re not even stuck with a bad choice (bad not necessarily referring to a weaker choice rules-wise).

    With 3.5 and before …. things can be difficult. Without the magic items you’re stuck with what your characters gets via race and class (and maybe, if you have a creative GM, boons). Depending on the class however, the progress is very boring and linear or the choices you have don’t appear as being as important as you’d like them to be.

    As a wizard you get quite a few skill points every level, but that doesn’t seem special to everyone (doesn’t to me) and likewise the addition of spells doesn’t seem really special. And I think that is only due to the presentation of them in the game, because picking powers in D&D 4 is not that different, but, oh, how am I tied to such a choice?
    The same goes for feats. Maybe other players share my feeling, or maybe you don’t get it at all.

    I don’t quite understand know why that is myself. I always have the feeling, that in 3.5 it’s “just a normal choice” I make. Maybe, because some choices have very little impact on how the game plays and feels. IF a level gives me a choice. For example the Dodge-Feat: Though it makes a character harder to hit, the general feeling at the game table for a character with this, is no different from a character without this feat.
    .-= Hawkgirl´s last blog ..Chaos-Archonts: Cast =-.

  38. I don’t really get the problem with magic items compared to a character’s powers alone. When I think of King Arthur, I invariably think of Excalibur. When I think of Batman I consider his utility belt. When I think of Jedi, they’d be much less heroic minus a lightsaber. Peter Parker built web shooters to allow him to swing from buildings. Steve Rogers is at the peak of normal human performance, but Captain America’s shield pushes him just over the brink.

    I just see it as heroic personalities accepting that their special items both boost their already great abilities and help to define them.

    Of course, if you’re more of a Superman, or Incredible Hulk, or Robin Hood fan, I guess it makes sense.

  39. I’ve started thinking about this topic in the context of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. In the course of his adventure, Bilbo [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE ONE GUY WHO’S NEVER READ THE HOBBIT] acquires a magic dagger from a troll hoard, a ring of invisibility from Gollum, and mithril armor from a dragon’s hoard.

    Frodo starts his adventure with all of these items. Halfway through he meets Elves who give him a magic cloak and a magic phial. That’s five magic items for one character — and if I remember correctly, he’s the only person in the party with magic items. (Sam got some seeds?) But I don’t recall thinking that they detracted from the character or the story. Maybe because they weren’t very showy? And they were clearly presented as being rare and wonderful? Hm.

  40. @Alio: “Arthur” isn’t synonymous with “Excalibur”, though. Even though they are linked, there’s a marked delineation. In fact, Excalibur derives much of its mythic meaning (if not all) from the fact that it belongs to Arthurian legend. It’s clear that the focus is not on Excalibur but on Arthur. (Besides which, even in the Arthurian legend, Arthur is berated for preferring Excalibur to its scabbard) Same goes for the rest. Chris Nolan’s Batman hardly touched on the utility belt, because it was all about who Batman was, not what he could do. A Jedi is hardly less “heroic” without a lightsaber. After all, Yoda didn’t pick one up until the prequels. And if the web shooters made Parker into Spiderman, what exactly was he first?

    Even what you said belies this: that these superheroes boost their already existing abilities. The focus is not on the items, but on the characters. The items don’t do most of the work. In D&D, the opposite is true. The items do practically all of the work. It’s technology, not power.

    @Wade: It’s because those “magic items” were more like “artifacts”. They had symbolical significance, which was far more important than their actual power. Thus, they weren’t continuously invoked for their “inherent abilities”, either. The magic of LOTR to the magic of D&D is apples to oranges.

  41. @Andy I would believe it’s safe to say we view the characters I mentioned quite differently.

    As I said, I never think about King Arthur without thinking about Excalibur, as I’m sure most people do. If you know more of the legends from reading, then I can see having a different viewpoint. (Personally, I was never able to read too much Arthurian legend. I just go on what’s generally accepted about it.)

    As for Batman, he has always been about his gadgets. Even if you argue that Nolan’s version doesn’t touch his utility belt, the entire movie franchise is based on the tech he works with, coupled with his brains. As is the entire premise of Batman all along.

    As for Jedi, I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t find a Jedi less of a Jedi minus the lightsaber. It’s part of their training to build one!

    As for Spider-Man, you misunderstood what I was trying to say. He was already Spider-Man, but he was enhanced via Parker’s construction of his web shooters.

    And that’s the point I was trying to make. D&D takes the approach that characters are enhanced by the gadgets they utilize. I wouldn’t say that they are defined by them, but the items they use do help to define them.

    This is part of my reasoning for introducing crafting in my campaign. I want my players to feel like they’ve grown with their special equipment.

  42. I’m going to have to side with Alio on this one.

    Superman – cape and crystals
    Thor – Mjollnir
    King Arthur – Excalibur
    Cpt America – shield
    Iron Man – suit
    Bilbo / Frodo – ring definitely, then the lesser items
    Witches – brooms
    Green Latern – ring
    Batman – gadgets
    James Bond – gadgets
    Rogues – daggers
    Ninjas – throwing stars, smoke bombs, cowls
    Just about any fantasy-related movie – armor/shield made from dragon scales
    Hercules – club
    Perseus – Sword of Hermes, Shield of Athena, Helm of Hades (invis)
    Achilles – Shield of Achilles and the Pelican Spear (I think that was the name)
    Poseidon – his trident

    Hell, you could go on and on when it comes to Greek mythology – Nemean Lion hide for Heracles, the hide of the Leviathan, Zeus’ lightning bolts crafted by the cyclops, the sickle of Cronus, The Aegis, etc (sorry, I did study greek mythology quite a bit).

    And in Arthurian legend, didn’t Lancelot have a shield which made him stronger?

    Beowulf had magical armor and a shield as well.

    I don’t know when or where or why but the genre of Role Playing Games has always been synonymous with “phat loot”. Magic items and artifacts aiding Gods and mortals alike (usually as gifts from Gods) dates back to the earliest stories ever told.

    I know much of the argument is about the mechanics of magic items and how they should be handled, but going along with mythology and literature, it seems that most heroes are somehow linked to some sort of item of great power which serves as a conduit (implement) for their power. The glasses of Cyclops are another example.

    Based on this… it seems magic items kind of due fit into a couple of categories:

    1) Items which are somehow bound to the character – are actually a part of them and their background. In 4e, these are the types of items that would have to “grow” with the player… their implement of course and somehow also their armor.

    2) Rare and wondrous items which add a subtle power but often times not without a drawback. The Helm of Hades (invisibility), The One Ring (invisibility), etc. Something that has the potential to turn the tide but at what cost? A cost which isn’t devastating but high enough to ensure it isn’t used often enough to nullify its wondrously rare and powerful nature.

    3) The generic and expected items associated with D&D – a +1 longsword, potions of healing, etc.

    I think some key solutions are:

    1) Make players really put some thought into the backstory and direction of their characters… especially with regards to their combat implements. DMs need to work with players to find meaningful ways to foster those decisions throughout a campaign – weave into the story and plot. Use the theft of them to create side adventures and introduce a sense of unknown for a little delve.

    These are the items that should get blessed to make them more powerful, smelted and retooled, broken and then using a shard to forge a new one, etc as players level… essentially getting new “versions” as the game goes on.

    With the way powers are handled, it doesn’t matter where all the +’s come from, it just matters what the total is. Whether you wrap it up into a player’s level or through an item which levels up… who cares?

    2) Wondrous / Cursed Items: I really feel that re-usable items should have some sort of drawback to using them. Immobilize a player for 2 rounds, blind everyone in a burst 1, weaken, etc. Wondrous items should remain wondrous. Overuse of wondrous items makes them not-so-wondrous. And, consumables gives items a sense of commonness to them (like potions of healing)… as if they are expected at regular intervals. What about a rod of healing which does the usual healing surge bit but also causes the wielder to fall unconscious for a round? Hell, what about having a table of random side-effects? You could even have mechanics built-in for Wild Mages which can somehow influence the outcome of the table? In the end, the goal is to limit their use without limiting their power and without making everything a consumable.

    3) Passive item effects – I think these are really like #1. If anything should be based on a wish-list, items like this should. Bracers of Striking, certain shields, boots, etc. Weave them into the story, make them parts of a player’s “Set Armor” that must be collected. This would feed very well into certain Paragon/Epic paths as a test to pass onto the Paragon/Epic levels.

    4) The boring stuff. This is the stuff players should be able to craft and/or buy fairly easily after saving up.

    In my opinion, you can’t have fantasy or role playing without loot.

  43. There is a lot to respond to here.

    And as a response to the OP and title…I love magic items.

    @Alio and Tonester, I think you are grappling with a specific and important issue, and that is the intended power level of the game vs the power of the magic items.

    To a large extent, the more mortal/gritty the game and PC’s are, the more magic items change the game for them. The more powerful and enhanced the PCs, the game, and the rate of growth, the less important magic items are, and the shorter their useful lifespan.
    .-= LordVreeg´s last blog ..added The Steel Libram of steel sile =-.

  44. 4ED players write a wish list of magic items? The devolution continues.

  45. Probably already been mentioned, but my group has started using “signature items” that level with us. Simple version: Items that are a fundamental part of your character (your father’s sacred sword) go up in power with you. Using the item’s leveling chart when you reach the item’s [next level -2] the item levels up. The DM reduces “parcels” accordingly. It’s worked fairly well so far…

  46. Why not just use the Magic Itemless option from the DMG 2? Sure, you have to increase the attack bonus every 5 levels and rely on masterwork armor (maybe even having to make some up), but now your players can get bonus from magic items through divine intervention through piety (brown-nosing to God), training and discipline from those who have/seek the way to a greater path (kicking the shit out of someone bigger) or through legendary deeds, such as defeating the greatest of monsters or finding areas that hold strange power (kicking the ass out of a dragon being a particular dick or showing up GoogleEarth).

  47. David Silverman says:

    I like the 4e magic items because they’re far more subdued than prior editions. Still, WoTC made the combat math dependent on them. My campaign uses the DMG2 inherent bonuses, and I have a house rule for magic items called “bonded items” that gives players 3 slots to play with: lvl+1, lvl, lvl-1

    players can essentially self-enchant items during a short rest, into these slots. Enchanting new items disenchants previously enchanted items. Items enchanted in this way don’t exhibit magical abilities for others. This gives players a lot of flexibility for prepping for encounters if they want, but doesn’t allow them to be gamed in an unhealthy way (DM retains veto rights on things that would be imbalances or abusive, as usual)

    Most people won’t change their loadout much at all. Those who do will find they have something for all occasions.

    As the DM, I still have the lvl-1 treasure value to dole out as rewards.

    The idea of items w/ pros and cons fits with artifacts.


  1. […] Hits hates magic items. Pretty much so do I. I mean, I like the idea of magic items, from a storytelling perspective. I […]

  2. […] the rest at Critical Hits Share and […]

  3. […] the rest at Critical Hits Share and […]

  4. […] Categories: Uncategorized Tags: loot, magic items, rewards, treasure Recently, Critical Hits’ Dave Chalker posted about magic items in D&D, complaining that while they are a staple of fantasy literature, their necessary ubiquity within the […]