D&D 5E Can 5E bring the wonder and mystery back to Magic Items?

HardcoreDandDGirl

First Post
I have roleplayed in a dozen systems since 1981.

The only magical items which have stuck in my memory were basically artifacts.

Fourth Edition handles artifacts extremely well. They are still wondrous, exceptional, legendary and desirous.

Regular magical items like +1 swords and jars of Keotum's ointment have always been utilitarian in every edition and in every other roleplaying game. People have got to wake up from their dreamy stupor and stop comparing apples and oranges.


I agree in theory, but magic items still feel off...

Ok so I pulled out some of my old 2e characters and went over what I liked and didn’t like. (Fair disclosure I love 2e and still consider it the best DnD to date, even though I played 3 other edtions+pathfinder) and here is what I found magic items that still make me smile:

‘Sir’ Helena Delor Human fighter level 3 Paladin level 8. I used dual class rules to switch from fighter to paly when I found the magic bastard sword named “Scourge”. She was a fierce warrior who had bladesx3 (spend 3 weap slots to be proficient with dagger and all swords) she then took a specialty in long sword and could use a crossbow. In a dungeon under a large city she found the “scourge” sword that was +2 longsword that when used against undead, demons, or drow glowed in a white flame that shed light like a continual light spell and did +1d4 fire damage. It could cast protection from chaos 1 time a week. The sword would also ‘pull’ me toward chaotic evil creatures….the DM used that for plot hooks.

Skulk Halfling thief level 7 She had 2 awsomesauce items that defined her. 1) gloves of rings- these gloves magically merged magic rings into your hand so they were unseen, and it meant you could wear a number of rings up to half your con instead of 2 (she had a 9 con so it doubled her ring use). 2) 9 life stealer dagger. She also had a Elvin cloak, ring of protection, bracers of armor, ring of the ram, and a ring of spell storing. With her high dex she had an AC of -2

Ravager Human Wizard (necromancer) 13 had all the cool toys, a grimour (from mayfair games archmage stuff), a staff of bone, and a bunch of little trinkets. The real story item though was the Dragon skull. It was the skull of a baby black dragon, and it had the souls of 42 wizards in it when I got it. I could ask them for advice every night, and they could talk to me, but they each had different alignments and I could not trust all of them. I could ‘burn’ souls to make them cast there spells, I had 11 left when we stoped playing and I had notes saying 2 of them were not helpful

Then there was the Darkblade…I can’t find that stuff though.
I had an elf ranger that found a jet black shortsword, and it was “Pure anti magic” it had a 20% anti magic. So every time I rolled to hit I started with d100, on a 01-20 I ignored any magic (items, spells, anything) Any spell cast at me (even buffs and healing) had a 20% chance to not work, that only went away if I was without the blade for more than an hour. It also did d8 damage (instead of D6) to dragons and elementals. On a crit against spell casters or creatures with innate spell like abilities it did x3 damage instead of x2 (so since we use to roll extra dice back in the day on a 20 on a dragon I would roll 3d8). It took away my 90% resistance to sleep and charm though. It would randomly eat other magic items I carried, so I might wake up one morning and find my magic armor no longer magic.

All of the best items were not standard items, but cool artifacts and relics the DM put in. I wish the rules helped make more DMs like that, but I am not sure that I can blame the system for them not being there.
 

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Gort

Explorer
What 3e did right in this area:

Many magic items were very powerful, which made them feel good to own.

What 3e did wrong:

Many of the magic items became "standard equipment" which everyone ended up wearing, because they shored up terrible areas of rules deficiency. Ring of Freedom of Movement because you'll never beat a monster four size categories higher than you in a grapple? Soulfire armour because level drain was horrifically crippling? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Also the stat boost ones which nobody in their right mind would avoid taking.

What 4e did right in this area:

Almost got rid of "standard equipment" items. Certain combinations of items for maximising damage when you charge remained, as well as things like the Iron Armbands of Power which are just a flat bonus to damage. Step in the right direction, but take the last step please.

What 4e did wrong in this area:

Many of the magic items were extremely specific in their use - many would only benefit members of a single class, and even then not by that much. They were (mostly) well-balanced, but they just didn't have the same "oomph" that some items from 3e did.

Why I have hope:

The items from Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium felt a lot more powerful than the previous ones - a step in the right direction. Put me down for "I want to see fewer, more powerful magic items, without plusses on them".
 

Tallifer

Hero
All of the best items were not standard items, but cool artifacts and relics the DM put in. I wish the rules helped make more DMs like that, but I am not sure that I can blame the system for them not being there.

Indeed. Fourth Edition has no fewer and no more "magical" magic items than any other edition. The best items were always homebrewed artifacts which no player could know by reading the Dungeon Master's Guide.

My most memorable D&D item was a sword which kept revealing more and more wondrous powers: but only when I needed it most (and not always then). Finally I learned that a good witch had been trapped in the sword aeons ago by a wicked witch. As a paladin I found a way to release her: no more free saves for me, but what a tale to tell.

In another system, Powers and Perils, one character obtained a large bracer for his arm. It fused to his arm and caused all sorts of trouble. But it had immense powers in certain situations also. Again, it all revolved around quests and villains and a good bye to all that story.

I agree with you that there should be a book published which makes good and easy guidelines for dungeon masters to make such customized items whether weak and funny or powerful and tragic.
 

Gort

Explorer
Speaking of paying gold for magic items - did anyone ever run with the idea that gold was a magical metal, and gems were magical, and it was this that made them valuable in the first place?

I did, and it made a lot of sense. Gold was power, in a very literal sense, and it explained why dragons coveted it, because they were drawn to the magic as magical beasts themselves.

It also explained why you needed it to make magic items.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
One out-there answer is to make every single magic item custom. The DM writes the rules for the item, and the DMG gives him lots of help doing that (but not to the extent that he's picking from a menu that the players can look up or memorise).

Then any magic item could do anything. It would need some skill on the DM's part not to break his game with this, but if the DMG could help him enough that might not be such an issue.

Throw in some of the sacred cows as examples.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
One out-there answer is to make every single magic item custom. The DM writes the rules for the item, and the DMG gives him lots of help doing that (but not to the extent that he's picking from a menu that the players can look up or memorise).

Then any magic item could do anything. It would need some skill on the DM's part not to break his game with this, but if the DMG could help him enough that might not be such an issue.

Throw in some of the sacred cows as examples.
For a short-medium length campaign this is a fine idea. In a long campaign one risks the DM running out of new ideas and-or getting carried away trying to outdo herself.

I have lots of +x weapons etc. show up in my game but I also customize a fair bit of magic, enough that when they realize they've found something magical they know not to make metagame assumptions. :)

For weapons and for armour I have a list of extra properties that can apply to each, so a "strong magic" suit of plate mail might be a straight +3...or it might be +0 "Arcane Aid" (a wizard can cast spells in it at no penalty), or +1 "Fearless" (gives immunity to fear effects) or whatever. And it's amazing what they miss by not field-testing what they find! :)

Lanefan
 

Crazy Jerome

First Post
Speaking of paying gold for magic items - did anyone ever run with the idea that gold was a magical metal, and gems were magical, and it was this that made them valuable in the first place?

I did, and it made a lot of sense. Gold was power, in a very literal sense, and it explained why dragons coveted it, because they were drawn to the magic as magical beasts themselves.

It also explained why you needed it to make magic items.

Never thought of it that way. You've reminded me of an old conversation with another DM, though, that went the other way. His AD&D campaign was set up on the premise that you got experience from treasure because gold and gems and the rest became treasure by a dragon laying on it. The raw stuff of gold and gems was just rock. (Who needs eons and high pressure when you've got a dragon?) Magic (and gold jewelry and silver coins) were made from this raw material.

So in one sense, when a dragon burned down the dwarven hold and took all those gold coins they had made, he was just taking dragon property back. And if heroes got together and killed all the dragons, no more treasure would be created!
 

One out-there answer is to make every single magic item custom. The DM writes the rules for the item, and the DMG gives him lots of help doing that (but not to the extent that he's picking from a menu that the players can look up or memorise).

Then any magic item could do anything. It would need some skill on the DM's part not to break his game with this, but if the DMG could help him enough that might not be such an issue.

Throw in some of the sacred cows as examples.

It is out there, but it might work. At the very least that DMG section should exsist even if it is in addtion to ring of prot and +2 flame tounges
 

Wormwood

Adventurer
Regular magical items like +1 swords and jars of Keotum's ointment have always been utilitarian in every edition and in every other roleplaying game. People have got to wake up from their dreamy stupor and stop comparing apples and oranges.
Thank you!

I believe I was 12 when I figured out that a +1 sword (the kind Gygax littered his old modules with, by the way---so much for rare and wondrous) was just an extra 5% to hit.
 

GM Dave

First Post
The first step in returning the 'wonder' of magical items to the game is to attack the mechanics that makes magic items a requirement of play.

This means slaying the + monster. You need to remove the +x from magical items and feats and any other place designers will try to resurrect this demon from the deep.

It sounds wrong to do this.

A magical item or a superior made item has plenty of support in stories for suddenly turning a weak fighter into a genius. There is also plenty of support for the opposite view that magical items are only able to get so much good out of an item. Give an untrained person a magical sword and soon it will be in the hands of a skilled fighter.

There is story precedence for both the magical increasing weapon and the non-magical increasing item.

Let us start with why bonus items, feats, character benefits, and other such things tend to be a problem.

The major problem is that they tend to creep and multiply. A single item that grants a +2 bonus to hit sounds fine. That is a 10% better chance to hit and sounds like a reasonable reward.

Okay, the next reward that comes along to the player has to grant at least that +10% bonus or it will be tossed away as 'weak' unless it has something that is better in certain situations. This leads to creep as a player goes through five or ten levels then he will feel 'forgotten' if he doesn't get that better item. The player will claim a stingy GM or not providing 'useful' items.

The presentation of the first bonus +X item leads players to an expectation that better items lay ahead in their career. If a player gets a +1 bonus item at level 3 then they expect a +5 bonus item at level 18. This expectation is the first kill of wonder.

The second problem with +X bonuses is that they multiply. A person carrying a magic weapon that is +2 to hit is a slight +10% benefit. Then if the player has a good attribute that adds to the attack that can be a further +2 to hit for now a total of +20% to hit. You then add a feat that helps with swinging the weapon and that feat adds a further +2 bonus. Now you have +6 and are +30% to hit. A friend in your group gives you a magical boost of luck for another +2 and now you are +40% to hit. The trouble grows worse with every bonus that can be added and every magnitude of bonus. Five bonuses of +5 ( and in Pathfinder I did much more then this on a level 20 ) and you are now looking at +25 or +150% to hit on top of your benefit for being a particular level.

This all seems reasonable until you go back to the underlying theory of 3E and 4E which is that battles are built around basic 50% success to hit. A character of level 1 has a 50% to succeed against an opponent with no armour (even in THAC0 this was AC 10 and had 50% success chance at level 1).

If you stack up +8 on top of a particular level then you have gone to hitting 90% of the time.

The only defense is now to make the monster that much harder to hit by roughly that +8 to return things to the desired 50% balance I am not talking of the individual variance within a band of defenses. For example at level 1 a person with plate mail is usally AC 2 in THAC0 or AC 18 in 3e. They are still normally hit only 10% of the time but with the +8 added to the character then they are now being hit 50% of the time. This removal of the effect of plate mail (or monster equivalent) results in the GM having to add the bonus to the monster to keep it safe and 'restore' the balance.

Now this leads to the nature of monsters created as opponents to the players. If the designer of the monster assumes the +8 (or what ever is considered to be 'normal' level of bonus to hit) and sets the defenses appropriately then it works fine if the group with the assumed bonuses encounter the monster.

If the group for reasons of choice, GM providence, or other do not have the assummed bonus then the monster can suddenly become 'unhittable'. You are supposed to have +8 to hit something that has equivalent of chain protection (AC 4 or AC 16) and the players only have +3 to hit. They are now using +3 to hit something with an AC 24. They have now a 5% chance to hit instead of what was planned to be a 40% to hit. The combat is going to take longer and possibly be not winnable.

If the monster is not designed to assume the +8 bonus then the monster will be considered easy to hit and defeat. It will not be a 'challenge'.

The problem of the creep and multiply is that at every level this range of what player's have for bonus to hit grows creating a situation where a book of 'standard' monsters is either built with an assumption that the players have the items, feats, attributes, and buffs or there are problems with encounter balance (either easy or hard).

A rule that states the only bonus to defenses or hitting comes from level increase of the character (why else have level increase if not to do this thing).

or

Have a rule that no matter all the sources the player could get the bonus from magic, feats, attributes, bonuses from others that only the best bonus may be claimed. This will hopefully limit the range back down to the +1 to +5 which means that the creep and multiply effect is limited.

Players will then look for things other than bonus items as they will look for items that do something different then their current abilities provide. This will return wonder to the choice of magical items.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Also, a related problems of making +X items assumed by designers, is that every freakin' intelligent NPC in published adventures will have such items! I cannot count how many +1 ring of protection, +1 cloak of resistance, +1 weapons etc. our PCs have collected...
 

ferratus

Adventurer
If I had my way, I'd put the ingredients for crafting specific magical items in the Monster Manual instead of in the DMG. For example, under the entry for white dragons I'd mention that scaled armour from dragons grants frost resistance, and swords quenched in the dragon's breath weapon when being forged are weapons that do bonus frost damage. Sure that might lead to some squickiness (ie. gloves of dexterity made from quickling leather, amulet of poison resistance made from a unicorn's horn etc.) but I don't mind magic being a bit taboo.

I think this method allows players to crafting magical items (and gives a reason for wizards to go adventuring), but doesn't allow you to create whatever you want, when you want. The more basic the magical item, the more mundane the ingredients. The more the powerful or game-changing the magical item is, the more exotic ingredients that you need.

Plus, like spell components, it is one of those things that can be a modular option that most people are free to ignore, but is fairly immersive for those who want it. Also, like spell components, just because you don't use this rule it still adds immersion by having it. The fact that sleep uses rose petals and sand to cast the spell in the spell description made the magic seem more alive, even if you never asked your mage whether he had any sand on him.

I also approve of the idea that +1 to +5 be a matter of smithing rather than magic. It gives something for smiths to do that isn't invalidated by enchantments, and allows for magical items to be improved. So you find a sword of frost in a dungeon crypt. However, while well made, the balance can be improved and the blade tempered by a skilled smith. Heck, maybe dwarves as a racial ability can improve existing weapons in a way that doesn't really seem possible to us humans (ie. cannot happen in the real world) because we don't know their secret arts.
 

Epic Threats

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