Last week I looked at some issues I’ve been experiencing with magic items in 4th Edition D&D and some possible solutions. This week I’d like to talk about some other possible solutions as well as just some general concepts related to magic items that hopefully generate some interesting ideas for how to handle magic items in your D&D campaigns. There were some fantastic comments on last week’s post and I’m going to incorporate some of the topics or ideas brought up there into this post as well.
The biggest thing that I meant to mention last week but didn’t get to was the Inherent Bonus rules for 4th Edition that allow you to run a game without any magic items at all and the math will still work for the players. There are a few different ways to use these rules, but my preference is to give player’s the inherent bonuses and then allow them access to all common magic items, a few uncommon magic items, and then hand out one or two more powerful magic items per player. I prefer thinking about these more powerful magic items as simple +1 items, even though they will mechanically be one plus higher than the inherent bonus the player’s currently have. In this way the magic items are still incredibly good and give the character’s an advantage, but at any given level they will still only be +1 or at most +2 magic items.
Breaking the Rules in All the Right Ways
The first thing that I changed about magic items in my own campaign was leveling up player’s primary weapon and armor instead of handing out new parcels as they leveled up. This isn’t so much of a change as a different way of handling the parcel system. The second thing I did was allow the players to break the rules and combine two separate items in specific cases. For example, my players very quickly found themselves wanting to have +3 Dragonclaw armor that was also Summonable.
I’m a big fan of the “say yes” style of DMing, but I also happened to agree with my players on this point. Since Summonable armor is the same level and cost as basic magic armor, I decided it was no problem at all for my players to make any piece of armor also Summonable for a small additional cost for the special enchanting. We’ve been doing this for well over a year now and through an entire tier of play and so far, not surprisingly, it hasn’t broken the game in any way. The only thing it’s done is given my players armor they’re happier with and possibly given them access to one additional ability.
Making Magic Items Special Again
I’m a big fan of how magic items were designed in 4th Edition compared to previous editions of D&D, and I’m also a big fan of them being in the Player’s Handbook instead of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but I believe all of the issues that I’ve brought up in these posts come from the way those magic items are implemented in our games. This is actually not a bad problem to have, because the way items are implemented can be changed by every DM as they see fit whereas a deeper design issue would be a harder problem to fix.
By using the inherent bonus rules we are allowing the implementation of magic items to make them feel more special again. This shouldn’t be surprising because it takes them from being “must haves” to being a bonus that lets characters go above and beyond their normal capabilities again. With magic items becoming more of a bonus and less of a required part of the system, I feel it will also become easier to develop interesting and unique stories around those items much as several people suggested in the comments to my first post.
The other benefit to this implementation is that if a player already has the inherent bonuses, then giving them a magic item with multiple properties and one or two usable powers makes a lot more sense because those powers are the majority of what the item is providing them. I believe that if the 4th Edition PHB were re-released with inherent bonuses as an implied part of the system, then we would see these kinds of magic items throughout the paragon and epic tiers for the game.
Building Story by Building Items
As someone pointed out on the previous post, the image I’m using for this series if from the Wheel of Time series (which I highly recommend you read) and features a character creating an item. Unfortunately this kind of situation is not always an option in our D&D games, but if you do have the opportunity I can’t recommend it enough to let the players/characters create magic items.
Something that I have tried in my current campaign and wish I had implemented better because I really like the idea is having situational descriptions for character “finding” magic items. What I did in my game was describe how the wizard in the party found a magically infused bone from one chillborn zombie, then the party fought another chillborn zombie and he found another magic bone, and after three were found he managed to forge the bones together into a +3 Wand of Icy Rays. I loved this moment, but the problem in my game is that I believe I only described it all after the fact. If I’d presented it as written here I believe it would have been one of those quick but fun and memorable moments that we all love having in our D&D games.
Even if none of your players are natural tinkers, scavengers, or builders, I think this kind of solution can add a world of interest to magic items for any game. Maybe the wizard of the party is the only source of magic items as the other characters simply find mundane items that he mysteriously infuses with arcane energy. The wizard’s player doesn’t even need to know what’s going on, and you can even have this element of the game lead to any number of adventures as they search for answers to the mystery and gain new magic items in the process.
Click here for the rest of the Architect DM Series.