D&D 5E Analysis of "Typical" Magic Item Distribution

FireLance

Legend
The number of rolls on the table are a very bad estimate and I'd ignore it. They don't come close to matching how many monsters you will be killing, and thus hordes you will come across, based on the XP requirements to level. For instance it's quite likely you'll be killing over 60 legendary monsters from 17 to 20, many of which are dragons and should each have a horde and you only end up with 8 rolls. This is why the treasure the published adventures is handing out is higher.
I think the distribution of monsters and treasure is definitely going to vary from campaign to campaign. That said, it is not entirely clear to me that high-level (levels 17-20) PCs have to fight legendary dragons. There are are other types of high-level monsters, such as demons and devils, and the DM could also choose to use large numbers of lower-level monsters instead.

In any case, regardless of the monsters he uses, a DM could choose to be as generous or stingy with treasure as he wishes. It even says so in the rules: "You can hand out as much or as little treasure as you want." (DMG, p. 133, first sentence of last paragraph, just before describing the treasure found in a "typical" campaign.)
 

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Blackwarder

Adventurer
On a related note, does anyone know how much I need to roll to determine treasure? Is there a guideline somewhere?

For example, I got a mini dungeon for 1st level group (a prison break scenario) where the main enemies are goblins and a bugbear, and the lair/prison is a small laboratory of a blood mage, what should I roll no how many times?

Warder
 

Chocolategravy

First Post
No.

Magic weapon yes; +3 weapon no, not a given at all.

You have been repeatedly told not to assume that the character is having a +3 sword. ANY magic sword will overcome magic resistance.

Simply stop it, Choc. If you feel the game breaks if you hand out +3 items, then don't.

You're the only one mentioning +3 weapons.

The post I responded to made no mention of it, neither did I. This seems overly personal.

As for not handing them out... the magic weapons being handed out in the published adventures and in official play are BETTER than +3. YOU are welcome to not hand them out at your personal table, but WotC tables DO. Obviously the people that WROTE the game think they're fine, and as I was pointing out in my post, the RATE they're handed out at is GREATER than the rate the DMG says is typical, meaning it's a bad estimate not in line with the previous paragraphs or how WotC is doing it.
 


It is built into the math of the game and it does assume the players will have this stuff. Monsters requiring magic weapons for full damage are very common but they receive no penalty from having such a potentially powerful ability due to the fact that parties are assumed to be carrying the magic weapons to bypass it and only things like pets and NPCs will be losing damage.

What the math of the game doesn't account for is how much more powerful, even completely without magic items, a higher level party is, and doesn't work for them.

No, it's not included in the math of the game, and it does not assume the players will have this stuff. In fact, quite the opposite! The math assumes that there won't be any magic items in the party, which is evidenced by the higher level CR monsters have magic resistance, but not immunity. Resistance gives them the CR that they have, and if the developers had assumed that there were magic items in the party at all times, then that CR modifier would be worthless. I'm having this problem after converting people from 4th and 3rd edition to 5th, as they have way too many magic items and thereby pass the magic resistance all the time. This was clearly not intended.

I'm assuming you've played other editions that did have the magic included in the math of the game, and it should be obvious to you that this edition does not do that.
 

Kraydak

First Post
No, it's not included in the math of the game, and it does not assume the players will have this stuff….

I'm assuming you've played other editions that did have the magic included in the math of the game, and it should be obvious to you that this edition does not do that.

All editions have magic items included in the math of the game. Whether or not there is a table of "should have X magic items at level Y" or a table of "should have about Z GP value in total magic items at level Y" included in the DMG has absolutely no effect on the game math (a +2 sword is a +2 sword, whether or not the table exists). The only sense in which magic items can "not be included in the math" is if the designers never settled on an appropriate level of magic gear (which is sadly plausible). In that case magic items are still part of the math, just poorly defined, and things like caster/non-caster balance and setting monster CRs get even more problematic than normal.
 

All editions have magic items included in the math of the game. Whether or not there is a table of "should have X magic items at level Y" or a table of "should have about Z GP value in total magic items at level Y" included in the DMG has absolutely no effect on the game math (a +2 sword is a +2 sword, whether or not the table exists). The only sense in which magic items can "not be included in the math" is if the designers never settled on an appropriate level of magic gear (which is sadly plausible). In that case magic items are still part of the math, just poorly defined, and things like caster/non-caster balance and setting monster CRs get even more problematic than normal.

That's not what part of the math means. It means that when designing monsters and abilities, the designers did not anticipate the PCs having magic items. I.E. In fourth edition, the enemies damage, AC, and to hit scaled with the knowledge that PCs would be getting certain magic items at certain levels. Fifth edition assumes for monster design that the PCs won't have any magic items when facing them, which was a decision made to make monsters more viable across all levels, low and high. In turn, this makes magic items more magical as well, as they are a complete advantage, and not something you need just to keep up with monster scaling.
 

FireLance

Legend
That's not what part of the math means. It means that when designing monsters and abilities, the designers did not anticipate the PCs having magic items. I.E. In fourth edition, the enemies damage, AC, and to hit scaled with the knowledge that PCs would be getting certain magic items at certain levels. Fifth edition assumes for monster design that the PCs won't have any magic items when facing them, which was a decision made to make monsters more viable across all levels, low and high. In turn, this makes magic items more magical as well, as they are a complete advantage, and not something you need just to keep up with monster scaling.
All this means is that in 5e, once you hand out your first magic item to the PCs, the suggested encounter guidelines become that little bit less useful. The more magic items you hand out, the less and less useful they become. It is the reverse of the problem you would encounter if you decide not to hand out magic items in 4e: instead of the PCs finding it harder to "keep up" with the monsters, the monsters now find it harder to "keep up" with the PCs.

The difference between 4e and 5e is that in 4e, a DM can easily adjust for PCs not having the magic items the game assumes they do by using monsters of lower CR. If the PCs don't have any magic items, and the game assumes that they have +3 magic items, the DM just needs to use monsters with CR 3 less than party level. Since the monsters' AC, defenses and attack bonuses increase by about one point per level, a fight between a level 15 party that has no magic items and CR 12 monsters should play out similarly to a fight between a level 15 party with +3 magic items and CR 15 monsters.

5e, on the other hand, does not provide any guidelines on how to adjust encounter difficulty for magic items. So, assuming a CR 17, 18,000 xp Adult Red Dragon is a Medium difficulty, moderately challenging encounter for a party of four 17th-level PCs with no magic items, how would it change if the PCs have, between them, 9 uncommon, 4 or 5 rare, 3 very rare and 1 legendary permanent magic items? Would the encounter difficulty remain Moderate, or would it now be Easy? If the encounter difficulty does change, and the DM wanted to adjust the encounter difficulty to make it Moderate again, how much more xp worth of monsters should he add? Would another Adult Red Dragon be enough? Would it be too much? It really isn't clear to me.
 

All this means is that in 5e, once you hand out your first magic item to the PCs, the suggested encounter guidelines become that little bit less useful. The more magic items you hand out, the less and less useful they become. It is the reverse of the problem you would encounter if you decide not to hand out magic items in 4e: instead of the PCs finding it harder to "keep up" with the monsters, the monsters now find it harder to "keep up" with the PCs.

I don't see how this is a problem. We aren't playing a tactical video game here, where every encounter must be perfectly balanced in order to provide an adequate challenge curve for the player over the course of the game. This is an RPG, where monsters exist not where they would be the most balanced challenge wise, but where they would be most likely to exist. Yes, there should be some sort of balance so there isn't a TPK every encounter, but the reason a lot of people didn't like 4th edition was because it was too clean and perfect. There was none of the messiness of real life, and you always knew what you were getting when you reached a certain level because that happened to be the balanced monster at that level. This mindset is what made magic items in 4E, if not useless, than completely meaningless. "Congrats, you found a +1 Sword! Well, unfortunately at this level, all of the monsters have had their AC raised by 1 to compensate for your magic item, so we can keep it balanced. Yes, this means even the 1 hit point minions will have 22 AC."

The difference between 4e and 5e is that in 4e, a DM can easily adjust for PCs not having the magic items the game assumes they do by using monsters of lower CR. If the PCs don't have any magic items, and the game assumes that they have +3 magic items, the DM just needs to use monsters with CR 3 less than party level. Since the monsters' AC, defenses and attack bonuses increase by about one point per level, a fight between a level 15 party that has no magic items and CR 12 monsters should play out similarly to a fight between a level 15 party with +3 magic items and CR 15 monsters.

As above, this effectively makes magic items meaningless. Magic items should provide you an advantage, and make you feel more powerful, not make you feel like you're just keeping up with the monsters. The wonderful thing about 5E is that it's flexible. You don't have to throw the exact CR monster at a party to challenge them, you just have to make sure not to throw one so much more powerful it becomes a TPK.

5e, on the other hand, does not provide any guidelines on how to adjust encounter difficulty for magic items. So, assuming a CR 17, 18,000 xp Adult Red Dragon is a Medium difficulty, moderately challenging encounter for a party of four 17th-level PCs with no magic items, how would it change if the PCs have, between them, 9 uncommon, 4 or 5 rare, 3 very rare and 1 legendary permanent magic items? Would the encounter difficulty remain Moderate, or would it now be Easy? If the encounter difficulty does change, and the DM wanted to adjust the encounter difficulty to make it Moderate again, how much more xp worth of monsters should he add? Would another Adult Red Dragon be enough? Would it be too much? It really isn't clear to me.

Because 5E doesn't care to provide guidelines on encounters with magic items. In my mind, the encounter guidelines are there to do just as they describe, add lines to guide the DM into making an encounter. They are not there to provide perfectly balanced challenge. They are there to make sure you don't destroy everyone with an ultra powerful monster. Easy vs Moderate vs Hard is meaningless in my opinion, and is impossible to dictate anyway. Consider a brand new group to a tactically minded group that's been adventuring for 20 years. How do you compensate for their knowledge base changing the difficulty of the encounter? I've seen both of these, and a group that knows the ins and outs of the system swings the difficulty into their favor much more heavily than any magic item can. Heck, a string of 20's on a d20 is far more powerful than any magic item in the game, and a string of 1s is worse than the most powerful dragon. But those situations are impossible for a rules system to anticipate. All you can hope is that new DMs won't kill everyone, which is why they are considered guidelines, and why to me, the Deadly guideline is the only one that truly matters.
 

FireLance

Legend
I don't see how this is a problem. We aren't playing a tactical video game here, where every encounter must be perfectly balanced in order to provide an adequate challenge curve for the player over the course of the game. This is an RPG, where monsters exist not where they would be the most balanced challenge wise, but where they would be most likely to exist.
Apart from the usual caveat of "it depends on the game", this is a false dichotomy. The monsters encountered by the party can be selected both to present a good challenge and based on where they should exist logically (within the context of the game world). That said, the DM can always come up with some explanation for, say, why a manticore could be encountered somewhere other than its favored terrain (if the game even defines this in the first place).

Yes, there should be some sort of balance so there isn't a TPK every encounter, but the reason a lot of people didn't like 4th edition was because it was too clean and perfect. There was none of the messiness of real life, and you always knew what you were getting when you reached a certain level because that happened to be the balanced monster at that level.
I realize that it is apparently not a popular opinion, but I did enjoy the greater precision and predictability of 4e. Not total predictability, of course - even I would find that dull, but a smaller range of potential outcomes. To me, it changed the gameplay by increasing the importance of tactical and strategic decision-making and reducing the importance of luck. It's probably fair to say that my ideal game would be one in which your decisions determine if you win, and luck determines how you win.

This mindset is what made magic items in 4E, if not useless, than completely meaningless. "Congrats, you found a +1 Sword! Well, unfortunately at this level, all of the monsters have had their AC raised by 1 to compensate for your magic item, so we can keep it balanced. Yes, this means even the 1 hit point minions will have 22 AC."

As above, this effectively makes magic items meaningless. Magic items should provide you an advantage, and make you feel more powerful, not make you feel like you're just keeping up with the monsters.
Frankly, I think that whether or not magic items appear to be "meaningless" is a matter of how they are presented. The difference is psychological, not mathematical. If I were to change the 4e CR guidelines based on 5e's philosophy, I would simply define CR as the level the PCs need to be to defeat the monsters without magic items. So, the previously-mentioned CR 12 monsters would now be CR 15 and a suitable challenge for a party of 15th-level PCs without magic items. Then, if the PCs happen to have +3 magic items, they are actually able to take on CR 18 monsters! (CR 15 under the old system.) This would make the magic items seem like they are making the PCs more powerful and providing them with an advantage, right?

The wonderful thing about 5E is that it's flexible. You don't have to throw the exact CR monster at a party to challenge them, you just have to make sure not to throw one so much more powerful it becomes a TPK.

Because 5E doesn't care to provide guidelines on encounters with magic items. In my mind, the encounter guidelines are there to do just as they describe, add lines to guide the DM into making an encounter. They are not there to provide perfectly balanced challenge. They are there to make sure you don't destroy everyone with an ultra powerful monster. Easy vs Moderate vs Hard is meaningless in my opinion, and is impossible to dictate anyway. Consider a brand new group to a tactically minded group that's been adventuring for 20 years. How do you compensate for their knowledge base changing the difficulty of the encounter? I've seen both of these, and a group that knows the ins and outs of the system swings the difficulty into their favor much more heavily than any magic item can. Heck, a string of 20's on a d20 is far more powerful than any magic item in the game, and a string of 1s is worse than the most powerful dragon. But those situations are impossible for a rules system to anticipate. All you can hope is that new DMs won't kill everyone, which is why they are considered guidelines, and why to me, the Deadly guideline is the only one that truly matters.
If that is your philosophy, then I am sure that the 5e encounter guidelines are exactly what you deserve.
 

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