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5E Frustrated with 5E magic items

Xeviat

Adventurer
Kind of looking for some assistance with how to handle magic items in my 5E games. Right now, I'm converting "Red Hand of Doom" from 3E to 5E, trying to whittle down the magic items from the 3E assumptions. Even with doing treasure 5E style, I find my players having a lot of money and not much to spend it on. There's magic item buying rules in Xanathar's, but those require more downtime than the players are going to get in this adventure.

I'm finding myself missing the 3E DMG city detail, with max gold for items that could be found there. Magic item pricing that followed some sort of scale. A reason to have +1 half-plate over +2 scalemail or whatever when they have the same AC.

I'm curious how other people have made the transition from more structured magic item and treasure editions like 3E and 4E over to a looser system like 5E.
 

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Eltab

Hero
If the PCs aren't otherwise feeling like defending the big city in RHoD, tell them there is a Craftsman there who can put magic abilities on their gear. When a Masterwork sword comes back as a +1 EnemyBane Sword they will have more motive to energetically defend the city with their lives. Blow off the normal downtime schedule "because of the present emergency" - he foresaw the siege in a crystal ball (and the gear the PCs will eventually request 😉 ) plus has Divination spells at hand, and he has been motivated to work hard to save the town. Travel time for messages and requests still applies to the messenger but he only needs an overnight to get the item(s). He also gives the PCs a doodad ("GPS") so the messenger can find them even while travelling. Explain early on that they will probably get to keep one "signature item" / Item of Legacy, not everything he makes for their use.
 


jgsugden

Legend
When I build a town I determine what Magic Items are available there. There is often one broker in an area that can connect PCs with magic items. There is a fairly common magic book that describes every item in the DMG, so PCs are allowed to ask for those items. I also always include a stock of homebrew items that keep the world feeling unique and created rather than store bought. If the PCs have enough resources, and time, anything they want can eventually be theirs with work.
 

I have magic items be tradeable rather than buyable (always at a disadvantage to the players), allowing players to get rid of items they have no use for in exchange for something they might. I've personally detested the notion of a magic item economy, because it breaks the real world economy, as many powerful magic items are enough to retire on a wealthy lifestyle for most races lifespan.

As for coin, I've seldom come across a situation where the players had too much, even playing up to level 18. It can buy information, standard equipment (including potions of healing), copying scrolls for wizards, expensive material components, etc. Unless on an epic quest type campaign, where downtime is nonexistent, it can be used to tool/language training, as well as holding, like fortresses, temples, or even just inns. The use for money is only as limited as the player's imagination.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Kind of looking for some assistance with how to handle magic items in my 5E games. Right now, I'm converting "Red Hand of Doom" from 3E to 5E, trying to whittle down the magic items from the 3E assumptions. Even with doing treasure 5E style, I find my players having a lot of money and not much to spend it on. There's magic item buying rules in Xanathar's, but those require more downtime than the players are going to get in this adventure.

I'm finding myself missing the 3E DMG city detail, with max gold for items that could be found there. Magic item pricing that followed some sort of scale. A reason to have +1 half-plate over +2 scalemail or whatever when they have the same AC.

I'm curious how other people have made the transition from more structured magic item and treasure editions like 3E and 4E over to a looser system like 5E.
Happily. I made the transition happily.

As you note, the biggest issue in 5e regarding treasure is what to spend it on. Adding magic item selling is pretty setting/preference dependent. I've had no magic item market in some games due to setting, and very robust markets in others (my current game is a Sigil/Planescape game, so everything is available, provided you know the right contacts and have the right price).

I've found that if you leverage downtime, and introduce social interactions that trigger on lifestyle, how money gets spent is pretty easy to deal with. If you want to save money a live a poor lifestyle because you, as a player, do not suffer for it, that's fine, you can do that. But, you'll be treated as a peasant in general. If there is a magic item market, you'll be shooed out because you're riff-raff. You want to be treated well, like you can afford magic items and should be catered to, well, better shell out for an appropriate lifestyle. Pair this with setting a few weeks of downtime between adventures and you'll burn through money pretty well.
 

Undrave

Hero
Happily. I made the transition happily.

As you note, the biggest issue in 5e regarding treasure is what to spend it on. Adding magic item selling is pretty setting/preference dependent. I've had no magic item market in some games due to setting, and very robust markets in others (my current game is a Sigil/Planescape game, so everything is available, provided you know the right contacts and have the right price).

I've found that if you leverage downtime, and introduce social interactions that trigger on lifestyle, how money gets spent is pretty easy to deal with. If you want to save money a live a poor lifestyle because you, as a player, do not suffer for it, that's fine, you can do that. But, you'll be treated as a peasant in general. If there is a magic item market, you'll be shooed out because you're riff-raff. You want to be treated well, like you can afford magic items and should be catered to, well, better shell out for an appropriate lifestyle. Pair this with setting a few weeks of downtime between adventures and you'll burn through money pretty well.
You don't really need the lifestyle to LOOK as wealthy as you are, just the fancy clothes and time at the bathouse :p
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
In my long term games I pre-select the magic items (including scrolls and potions) that I want to make available for the stretch of levels I’m preparing for. (1-2, 3-5, 5-8, etc.).

I put these on a treasure parcel table and assign rarity. Essentially a d20 roll with nothing to be found on numbers 1-4, cash and consumables in numbers 5-15, gear in 15-18, and gems and magic items in 19-20.

Whenever players search for stuff (and I haven’t specifically placed something), I just consult the chart to see what’s available. The parcel list itself is about a page long and separated by the categories I mentioned. It takes me about an hour to prepare but I keep it through 3 levels of play so it’s good time value for me. If the players want to buy magic items, they can only find what’s available (meaning, whatever I put on the list).

The players can use their cash to commission magic items from NPCs they’ve met but they tend to get that stuff between adventures. (In my world, the space between adventures is a month on average - so downtime usually fits in there). So you’d commission your item, pay the cost, but you won’t get the item until the start of the next adventure, basically.
 

S'mon

Legend
Kind of looking for some assistance with how to handle magic items in my 5E games. Right now, I'm converting "Red Hand of Doom" from 3E to 5E, trying to whittle down the magic items from the 3E assumptions. Even with doing treasure 5E style, I find my players having a lot of money and not much to spend it on. There's magic item buying rules in Xanathar's, but those require more downtime than the players are going to get in this adventure.

I'm finding myself missing the 3E DMG city detail, with max gold for items that could be found there. Magic item pricing that followed some sort of scale. A reason to have +1 half-plate over +2 scalemail or whatever when they have the same AC.

I'm curious how other people have made the transition from more structured magic item and treasure editions like 3E and 4E over to a looser system like 5E.
My 5e Red Hand of Doom campaign page - FR - Red Hand of Doom

Item purchase rules:
PCs begin at 5th level, and may progress to around level 10 during the campaign. Use the standard 5e D&D rules point buy or default array, 15 14 13 12 10 8 in any order. WoTC level 5 pregenerated PCs are available for use.
Sources: PHB and XGTE are permitted.
Gear: Newly created characters begin with normal PHB starting equipment plus 500gp plus 1d10x25gp (or +125gp), and may spend starting cash on items from this list:

Common items
Cloak of Billowing: 200gp
Moon-touched Blade (magic +0 weapon, sheds light on command): 200gp
Perfume of Bewitchment (gives advantage on Persuasion checks for 1 hour): 50gp/dose
Potion of Climbing 50gp/potion
Potion of Healing 50gp/potion
Spell Scroll, 3 cantrips: 50gp
Spell Scroll, 1 1st level spell: 50gp
Uncommon items
+1 weapon (any) - 500gp
+1 shield - 500gp
+1 wand of the war mage - 500gp
Potion of Greater Healing (4d4+4 hp) - 125gp
Potion of hill giant strength (STR 21) - 125gp
Potion of water breathing - 125gp

PCs with the Noble background may begin with standard full plate armour in addition to the above.


Basically, for 5e I give the players a curated list of purchasable items; other stuff needs to be found in play. With Red Hand of Doom I curated the monster gear somewhat, knocking off a lot of the 'buff' potions especially, but I kept stuff like the +1 shortswords used by the Hobgoblin Bladebearers - they don't unbalance the game and they give a strong sign these guys are serious.

Teyani Sura became a major NPC IMC before she fell at the Battle of Brindol. Her stat block:

Teyani Sura, a Lion of Brindol - fell at Brindol
Ftr-5/Bbn-1 AC 17 (half plate) HP 53 ST 16 (+3) DE 14 (+2) CO 14 (+2) IN 8 (-1) WI 12 (+1) CH 10 (+0)
Saves STR +6 CON +5
skills: Athletics, Insight, Intimidate, Perception, Survival
Feats: Sharpshooter, Greatweapon Master
Fighting Style: archery
Second Wind (d10+5) 1/SR
Action Surge 1/SR
Champion - critical hit 19-20
Extra Attack
Unarmoured Defence (AC 14)
Rage 2/Long Rest - +2 melee damage & resistance to B/P/S; advantage on STR saves & checks
+1 Great Axe Att +7 dam 1d12+4 (Rage 1d12+6); Greatweapon Attack +2 dam 1d12+14 (rage 1d12+16)
critical hit 19-20. Bonus action attack on crit or kill
Longbow Att +7 dam 1d8+2; Sharpshooter Attack +2 dam 1d8+12


NPC Item '+' conversion.
3e +1 > 5e +1
3e +2 & +3 > 5e +2
3e +4 +5 > 5e +3.

I don't care if the PCs do acquire more cash than they can spend within the limited time frame of RHoD, but I've not seen that being an issue. PCs die, stuff gets lost, stuff gets forgotten about, gets wasted. I'm more likely to have the good guys handing out free healing potions & such to the Defenders of Brindol anyway. The adventure itself says that it assumes most gear will come from fallen enemies, not from crafting & purchase.

Remember that 5e PCs don't actually need magic gear to function, except perhaps some magic weapons at higher level.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Cracking open my copy of RHoD to see how I equipped the mooks with magic...

Blackspawn Raider: +0 magic weapon
Blood Ghost Berserker: potion of healing
Blue Abishai: nil
Bluespawn Thunderlizard: nil
Doom Fist Monk: Used the VGTM hobgoblin Monk.
Doom Hand Cleric: 2 potions of healing.
Doom Hand Warpriest: full plate armour, +1 mace, scroll of flame strike
Goblin Worg Rider: nil
Greenspawn Razorfiend: nil
Hobgoblin Bladebearer: 2 +1 shortswords
Hobgoblin Regular: nil
Hobgoblin Sergeant: nil
Hobgoblin Veteran: nil
Kulkor Zhul Mindbender: Heward's handy haversack, 1 elixir of truth, 1 elixir of love.
Kulkor Zhul War Adept: Used the VGTM hobgoblin War Mage
 

Bacon Bits

Adventurer
I'm running Age of Worms right now. My campaign is on COVID hiatus, but the party is currently level 4. What I did:

For gold, you can leave it as-is or divide rewards by 2-5. I wouldn't really sweat it, however. Once the party has bought the best armor they can for everyone who wants it, gold is mostly a narrative device until they get really stupid amounts of it (i.e., 50,000 gp or so).

If it's a potion or scroll, leave it or drop it entirely or turn it into a potion of healing. IMX, you'll know what to do.

Is it a wand or staff? Then remove it unless it's a major item. I don't out good wands or staves until the PCs are at roughly level 6 to 8, however. Currently my party has a wand that lets an attuned user cast mage hand at will, and spend 1 of 3 charges to cast unseen servant.

Is it a magical weapon? If it was +1, +2, or +3, then make it a +0 item. If it was +4, make it +1. If it was +5, make it +2. That's the actual enhancement bonus, not the wonky abilities. However, I would never give out a plain weapon that only has an enhancement bonus. I think they're very boring. Currently the party has a +0 short sword that, when thrust into the ground during a long rest, anyone resting within 30 feet of the sword regains all spent hit dice instead of half. The party is without any healer and the campaign is pretty dungeon-crawly. So I wanted to make long rests a bit more efficient and spending hit dice during short rests a bit better.

Is it magical armor? Drop it, or make it a +0 item that does something minor. I've given out armor that lets the wearer spend a reaction to gain resistance to a critical hit, armor that can be donned and removed with a command word, armor that disguises itself, elven chain, mithril shirts, etc. If it was a really cool item, keep it. My PCs just don't need armor at the moment, however -- there's a naked barbarian, a wizard, and a warlock -- so I've just ignored most of the armor they might've found otherwise.

For wonderous items, I remove or replace most of them with something unique or interesting. Even if they're not that good, giving the players something fun and new is very enjoyable. I typically make sure they have a bag of holding or equivalent, and then I just have fun making new items that do strange things or fit the character who had them. It's particularly fun when the PCs come up with uses for them that I didn't envision.

For the most part I took items in the game as an opportunity to create my own items and give them out. I don't really care about the number of items, however. Attunement is quite a difficult restriction to overcome. Overall, it's made me an opponent of the 5e community's "don't give out magic" argument. What's the use of having all those cool items in the books and in my head if the players never get to use them? I'm using milestone experience. I'll just increase encounter difficulty if I really need to. Oh, no, combat got more swingy. Heaven forbid combat get more dangerous as players get higher in level.

I just think that finding things is one of the most fun aspects of the game, especially when you find things that you know you'll never find again in another campaign.
 

Coroc

Hero
First make a silver instead of gold standard, to make everything more believable.
Just alter any gold tags in the pub to silver and silver to copper. Then give any humanoid a couple of coins. Adjust some items in their prices upward e.g plate, horses for war and such. Have the pcs pay for their lifestyle.
in major cities make mage scrolls available for a steep price, if there is a mage guild.
make curative potions available for a hefty sum at temples for those pcs who are faithful. If you got many resistant to nonmagic weapons mobs make it that for an even steeper price +1 weapons are available at a master smithy. Everything beyond that should be treasure only.
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

If your Player's Character's are walking around with tens of thousands of GP's (in various forms) and "don't know what to spend them on", well, imnsho the problem isn't that THEY don't know what to spend them on...but YOU (the DM) don't know what to spend them on.

PC's stagger back to town, wounded, depleted of equipment, and ready for a rest...
Guards: "Ho ho...! Looks like adventurers have returned...barely! Congratulations! You look like you all need a good sleep and some food and wine in your bellies, no? Well, we'll make this quick then. Standard adventuring treasure recovery tax is a nice, flat 20% here in our fine, prosperous country! Be glad you didn't go to Yonderville, it's in Uthercountry...they're on rough times...heard their adventuring treasure recovery tax is at 50%! Heh...probably know that, huh? Probably why you came here. Anyway...lets get this done. Gotta keep the tax man happy, right?"
..
PC's get to the Golden Horn Inn:
Proprietor: "My Stars! You folks look downright disheveled! Here, let us get you the finest rooms...in fact, it's an entire floor, all to your selves. Four bedrooms, a spare one you can use as another bedroom or for storing gear, two private bathrooms, full hot-bath services and laundry, food, two sitting rooms and a large room with a large fireplace...even get a healer to come help you guys if you want. No no no....don't worry about the price! I'm sure you fine adventurers can easily pay the meager fees! You won't regret it! Finest service in the city!"
..
PC's are having Brunch at Golden Horn Inn after a nice nights rest:
Proprietor: "Good sir's and madam's, sorry to intrude, but I have been inundated with messages from some of your...friends? Favoured shopkeeps and artisans? Here's the list of them...14 to be exact! Busy...and popular you are! And don't worry about paying for brunch. I've managed to get some good deals on that Sweet-Honey-Wine that Mistress Beatrice was sipping on last night! You staying here has brought in new customers, for sure! In fact, I have two free bottles of that Sweet-Honey-Wine for you from the local winery...'Teebles Brews and Distilleries'...best alcoholic craftsman...er...crafts-halfling...in the country I'd bet! ...I believe he's number 3 on your list there..."
..
...and so, the PC's pay taxes, pay for room and board, get requests from other patrons/businesses offering "deals" on their wares, and I'd fully expect various religious people to come a'knocking, as well as artists, bards, torchbearers, porters, etc...etc. The PC's should have no trouble at all finding things to spend their money on....because others will help them. (or at least try!)

If your Players are anything like mine, they'll be out of coin in a matter of days. Spending it on food, wine, parties, new equipment, hirelings, fancy new clothes, getting their various pieces of equipment "fancified" (coated in silver, gilded, gem-encrusted, carved/engraved, etc). Oh, sure, they have have a few thousand left, but that won't last either.

If you want to really make your Players "get into" the world...you need to provide them the means to, uh, 'invest' in it. The best way to do that, in my experience, is to offer them opportunities to spend it on 'the world' in stead of a boring new magic item. You can always find a +2 Dagger in a dungeon...you can't find a good carpenter who is willing to help build your new house for 25% off! ;) The dagger won't help develop "ties" to your campaign setting or it's NPC's...that potential friendship with a good carpenter will. And, IMVNSHO, the later is infinitely more desirable than the former!
(in other words, "Ye Old Magic Shoppe" is a cop-out if you ask me...which is why there are almost none in any of my campaigns...ever...).

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
You characterize moving from tighter 3ed / 4e to looser 5e, but that's not really the right comparison because you're talking about symptoms, not root cause. Restating it as root cause would be:

How did I move from Magic-Items-as-part-of-character-leveling-math to Magic-items-not-as-part-of-character-leveling-math.

Well, the first thing is that I realized that characters don't need any +X weapons ro armor. I can go a whole campaign with interesting items but not those. But that also means that the whole churn of items to keep the pluses up with level is gone. Gold is no longer an (unofficial/official) part of the level process to keep the "item portion" of the character on-par. So there doesn't need to be any magic item shops. I can have them if I want, but even then I don't need to ensure a supply of "the next plus".

So, I accepted the base truth that gold is not longer needed for the magic item part of leveling and am free to have characters spend it as they want. Tithes, bribes, massive parties, funding orphanages, carousing and debauchery, building a fortress. Basically, whatever the character actually goes adventuring for, as opposed to the effective "reinvest in the business" of required magic items.

Do I have magic items for sale? Some. Often potions and consumables are made because they are within the price range that it's a good investment by a temple or somesuch. Maybe I'll have a high-end auction event where there are three items. Maybe the characters can chase down rumors of the retired warrior with her magical maul and try to convince her to part with it.

And you can have whatever level fits your campaign. Just remember that they don't need the +X grind (and if they all have it, they are probably fighting above their weight class), and that if you make items for sale plentiful they will horde gold instead of spending in on things the characters would spend it on in RL. (Yes, a gold rush miner would invest in better tools, but also in all the chunks of civilization they missed.)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You don't really need the lifestyle to LOOK as wealthy as you are, just the fancy clothes and time at the bathouse :p
That might work once, but if you aren't hosting and attending social functions or being seen on the town, it will quickly wear thin. Plus, after your bath and new clothes buying, how do you possibly keep them clean?

In other words, it's not what you look like that gets you access, it's your reputation and contacts, both of which require more than a bath and new clothes (all of which are bespoke at that level). It's a matter of what matters.

But, yeah, if you're playing wandering heroes and structure your game so it doesnt matter, it doesn't matter.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
I'm finding myself missing the 3E DMG city detail, with max gold for items that could be found there. Magic item pricing that followed some sort of scale. A reason to have +1 half-plate over +2 scalemail or whatever when they have the same AC.
If that's what you want, why don't you just use those 3E DMG rules for wealth-by-level, magic item prices and city limits?

The strength of 5E rules is that they make no assumptions on these kind of things to make the game work, but it doesn't prevent you from adding your own.
 

Depending on the campaign and the availability of high level NPCs in the campaign and the general alignments of the PCs, the tax rate might not be such a good idea.

Here is what my mainly neutral group would say (Greyhawk, not that much high level NPCs)
Dear captain, are you really sure you want us to pay such a tax? We did kill that ancient dragon you know? Do you really make us angry, go away, and spend our treasures in an other city. Are you aware that the lich Narzuk has awakened and that your lordship wants us to take care of it? Maybe we should pass on this mission for now...

At low level, it would be easy to enforce such a tax. But adventuring is not a revenue in itself and it would be very hard to tax a high level adventurer that does not want to pay such a tax. Income tax was not really a thing. It was usually a fixed amount of money based on the live stock and the properties that you owned. Barring money, a lot of taxes were paid through working for the liege or in live stocks or in fabricated goods instead of money. Treasure would hardly be taxable as you could not prove it was not previously taxed.

As I see things, adventurers are providing a service to the crown by removing threaths fromthe country. The best way to get the money they make is by letting them spend their cash in your city/country and to tax the commoners/artisans. It is less risky, it makes adventurers happy. Your artisans gets money from them and so do you. If there are common fee to enter a city, most characters will pay the fee but they might not return to that city. And a city entry fee is usually a few copper per persons and live stocks anyways.

The tax shennanigan would only work a few times then the characters would quickly either change the zone in which they are adventuring, start hiding their treasures to avoid taxes or simply start to slay the soldiers trying to tax them. Especially high level non good PCs.

There are zones of ways to separate players from their money. Tax is the least appealing of them.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I handle it by just not handing out much gold. Add in other expenses - whether that's bribing officials, starting side businesses or whatever it hasn't become an issue. Instead of GP I try to reward with alliances, improving relationships and other non-treasure related rewards.

May not work for everyone or every campaign of course. But this is hardly a new issue, unless you do a 3.5/4 style campaign where you need the money to continually upgrade there's not a reason to hand out thousands of gold pieces.
 

jsaving

Adventurer
Even with doing treasure 5E style, I find my players having a lot of money and not much to spend it on. There's magic item buying rules in Xanathar's, but those require more downtime than the players are going to get in this adventure.
If your players have a lot of money and not much to spend it on, then either they are not being creative enough in how to use their funds or you are not being creative enough in how they can use them (or possibly both). Is it important that you limit player downtime during this adventure or is that something on which you can bend? Can you introduce traveling salesmen who have a limited but interesting selection of items based on what you believe players could use, wouldn't break your game, but are unlikely to be found on their current adventure? Can you introduce items into your campaign that require gold to properly function (a very old idea that has been reintroduced to some players by some of Jim Ward's EnWorld columns)? Or to go in a totally different direction, can you introduce factions or charities in your game who will gladly take an endless amount of funding from player characters in exchange for providing rank/stat/renown along with roleplay-rich opportunities down the road as your players interact with friends or enemies of those factions?
 

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