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Help with handing out magic items

Ymdar

Explorer
Please help me with constructive criticism on a system I will use to hand out magic items over the course of a lvl1-20 game with around 3 or 4 campaigns.
The items will not magically appear in front of characters' doorsteps, instead they will find them at curio shops, in dungeons as loot and might be handed to them by friendly and/or powerful NPCs who had them maybe as a family heirloom or just something they were holding on to for some reason. The NPCs might not even know an item was magical or might not know the item's properties. Players will know each others' lists and are not the bickering type so we'll be fine if everyone is there when they find a new item.
I intend to use the following system to have some permanent magic in the game keeping the fantasy theme.
  • Every PC will have generally 4 items at level 16 (see below for more details).
  • Players can start sending a list of 4 desired items from level 3 and will get a magic item starting level 4 and every 4 level afterwards.
  • Items might not appear at the PCs doorsteps at the exact moment they hit the level threshold, the
  • At level 4 every PC can have one uncommon item
  • At level 8 every PC can have an additional rare item and 'upgrade' their uncommon item to a rare tier
  • At level 12 every PC can have an additional very rare item and upgrade all of their previous items to the next tier (rare to very rare)
  • At level 16 every PC can have an additional legendary item and upgrade all of their previous items to the next tier (very rare to legendary)
  • PCs cannot have two of the same items
  • PCs cannot have two items giving the same bonus (mainly to disallow a PC having a +3 full plate and a +3 shield, but also against a +3 bow and +3 arrows)
  • Selecting consumable items allows a PC to have carry a reasonable number of 'free' items with them (1 quiver of ammunition/arrows or 4 potions) before needing to return from the adventure location to a reasonably safe place with civilisation to replenish their stock
  • In place of one of the items a PC can have two lower tier items (or two uncommon in case of level 4) with mostly no direct combat impact (decanter of endless water maybe, Daern's instant fortress no)

Upgrades work in the following way:
  1. Level 4: PC selects Mithral armor
  2. Level 8 Mithral armor+1
  3. Level 12 Mithral Armor +2
  4. Level 16 Mithral Armor +3

If the PC does not select Mithral armor at level 4 but want a magic armor at level 8 they will not have the option to get a +1 Mithral armor anymore as selecting the non magical mithral armor earlier mechanically represents the PC making a less directly useful choice. For example a character getting a Mithral or Adamantite armor would get arguably less benefit than selecting a Gauntlet of Ogre Power. I would by the way allow a Gauntlet be a Belt instead and could be 'upgraded' to belt of giant strength.


With the current system at level 16ish, PCs are planed have 4 legendary items or more depending on their selections. Can this be too powerful for level appropriate combat? Should I change something in the list? Should wondorous figurines capable of fighting be considered as 'noncombat' just for the sake of someone actually selecting them for any reason? Any other comments?
 

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the Jester

Legend
Personally, I strongly dislike systems where the pcs get to decide what magic items they find. If you're using some kind of item creation system then I think it's justified, but just happening to find exactly the items that you want as you describe leaves me cold. But I prefer random treasure a la 1e, where you never know what kind of item you'll get. I don't want each pc to have exactly the right items; I find it much more interesting as both a player and a DM when the party ends up with a couple of items that don't fit anyone perfectly. I think that leads to far more interesting and fun play.

That's all just a matter of playstyle, of course. In many groups, not getting the item you want is unusual. For a group that prefers that kind of play, and prefers to have items come at fairly predictable intervals, your system sounds mechanically fine. But it still looks like it would feel very artificial in play. I don't like things that take me out of the world like that. For instance, it looks like everyone gets their items at pretty much the same time under this system, right? (Assuming that they level together, that is.) That just strikes me as something that would feel contrived. I dunno. If your group is used to that sort of thing, I suppose it's probably fine.
 

Ymdar

Explorer
Everyone would get their level appropriate items within 1-4 adventures after levelling which might be considered 'pretty much at the same time' I guess. Anyway we played 3.x and Pathfinder for a really long time and our group kind of got used to getting the 'right' magic items as those systems assumed you have them otherwise later challenges would be very difficult if not impossible to overcome.
I guess it is a question of playstyle; I for one never liked the idea that a group of neutral duelist PCs would have to contend with getting randomly rolled +5 Holy Avenger Pitchforks ;)
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Your proposal is much more generous then expected items in both power of items and also allowing choice. As such items will have a bigger impact then expected and characters will be a lot more powerful. (Which also leads to defeating more powerful foes and gaining more XP so advancing faster, etc.)

Here's how I would modify it to bring it in line with expectations.

First, here's a mathematical breakdown of the treasure tables over the course of levels 1-20:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...-of-quot-Typical-quot-Magic-Item-Distribution

It then takes that and tries to do an even distribution for each PC:

1 common consumable every level from 1 to 5.
1 uncommon consumable every level from 6 to 10.
1 rare consumable every level from 11 to 15.
1 very rare consumable every level from 16 to 19.
1 legendary consumable at level 20.
1 uncommon permanent item at level 4, and another at level 7.
1 rare permanent item at level 10 and another at level 13.
1 very rare permanent item at level 16.
1 legendary permanent item at level 19.

Your proposed system is a lot more generous than this, especially in giving out more powerful items faster.

Second, unlike 4e and to a lesser degree 3.x, 5e doesn't have magic items as a "stealth" part of character advancement and leveling math. So it doesn't expect PCs to have the "most efficient" items, or everyone have +X where needed, etc. Allowing player to pick will end up with combos that are force multipliers even with disabling +3 armor/+3 shield type of combos. Adn to fill in specific weaknesses or amplify specific strengths ("oh, I have -5/+10, let me make sure I have a highest plus weapon to offset the to-hit").

I wouldn't allow them to pick personally, but if you want to do that I'd go with delaying the mathematical distribution by 2-3 levels, though with putting legendary at 20 instead of moving it off the table.
 

jgsugden

Hero
This is how I do it: When a campaign begins, I talk with players about the PCs they are creating. One of the things I discuss with them is how they picture the PCs at higher levels. They are not committing to a path, but I try to get a feel fro where the PC is likely to go. I always ask a bit about the kinds of magic items they like.

Then I roll up all the treasure hordes they will find from level 1 to 20 using the DMG, but with the caveat that whenever I roll up a magic item, there is a 50% chance I'll make up an item rather than using something from the books (and I give 2d4-1 scrolls or potions whenever a spell scroll or potion is found). Rather than roll, I choose a few items from the DMG that are from the appropriate tables and place those in the hoards. If a player has mentioned an item by name that they wish to find, I often select to add it, but within reason. Sometimes I create a fun variation on it. There is a lot more that goes into this process, but I'm giving the simple version here with the big steps... It is one of my favorite things about starting a new campaign - peering into the future.

Then I make index cards for every magic item generated. They're stacked up behind my screen in the order they'll be found. Then I hand out the items as they find them. They 'karmaicly' appear when PCs have done cool things, or when it would be cool for a monster to have a particular treasure. I'm always looking at the top 3 or so items to look for the best story place for them. There are markers in the "deck" of items to indicate PC levels, so that I do not get too far ahead or behind of the level at which I think they should be found. Knowing what items will be found soon also influences campaign design - if I know the PCs are soon to encounter a crystal ball, I think about who might have it as I design a dungeon area and how they might use it.

If the PCs purchase an item, I make a card for it (or hand them a blank card and they make it). Also, if a PC dies and is replaces, I often tweak the "deck" to suit the new PC.

When I hand the index cards over to the PCs, they keep them in envelopes and each card has a place for them to fill a few details - like where they keep the item, how many charges it has, etc... they can put additional data on their character sheet about the items, but the envelopes stay with the DM. I also use cards for valuable non-magical things as well - like expensive armor, artwork, jewelry, etc...

We also use small chips (many colors representing a decimal system - copper, silver, gold, platinum, mithril, adamantine, Crysteel (my own magic metal - a translucent metal as hard as adamantine)) to represent GPs. They go in the envelopes, too. There are banks throughout my campaign worlds, so money changing for a very small fee prevents too many coins in the envelopes. When they find lots of coins (10,000 copper), I give them a card for those coins instead of the plastic chips until they change the funds.

Bags of holding and other extradimensional storage have a card and their own envelope as well. A player holding such a bag will have the card for the item (which they put in their PC's envelope), and have the envelope for the card.

I've been using (roughly) this system since the early 80s. It works well. No lost magic items. No arguing about who has what item. Organic placement of items that make sense for the story and players getting a nice blend of what they hope to find and surprises.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've varied how I've done this myself a couple of times, I don't think there's one answer. In fact, I'm tempted to run a campaign where magic items are extremely limited just to see how it would play out. I think I'd have to tweak a couple of rules (i.e. gargoyles can be hurt by adamantine weapons).

In any case, I have done the "open market" type concept in the past and while it was fun, it did increase the power of the PCs pretty significantly. As others have said, there's no expectation of n magic items at level x in 5E.

On the other hand I did find a chart a while back that shows average number of items and expected wealth by level if you use the rules from the DMG. It's not official and I'm not recommending it but it will give you an idea of a standard baseline. See the attached.
 

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Ymdar

Explorer
Thanks for giving ideas for me. Just the sort of feedback I was looking for. Now I see that compared to the 'typical' campaign, my system was vastly overpowered.
However I noticed that [MENTION=20564]Blue[/MENTION] 's and [MENTION=6801845]Oofta[/MENTION] 's tables are somewhat different. Why is this? Is that due to the number of average rerolls on the treasure tables and thus one representing a more average result than the other? I am looking for the typical number of items per campaign.
 

Coroc

Hero
Agree with [MENTION=1210]the Jester[/MENTION] you should leave out the wishlist but rather do the following:

If there is e.g. a GW - Fighter make sure he finds a Magic great weapon. It might not be the sword he wished for (or the heck it might be) but it should not be a short sword either. So especially for the fighter types give them appropriate stuff

Be super careful with heanding out Magic armor, especially when you got plate armor or you got a char with maxed out dex and light armor avoid making it better than +1 or maybe at Levels 16+ +2. Player AC 20+ is much more unbalancing than a great sword+1 which does 3d8+1 instead of 2d6 Standard one.

Same goes for shield +x ring/cloak etc of protection +x. If it has to be, do best not exceed +1. A plate mail +3 or studded leather +3 should be a gift from the gods, an artefact worth a kingdom. A weapon +3 is far less critical.

So as you can see from my previous two bullets i advise you to not alter the plusses of items. It is not needed, a +1 weapon is good Equipment at Level 5 and at Level 15, if you want to make it more interesting add some effects to the weapons instead (+1d4 Radiant/fire / shock etc) or improves crit range by 1 or whatever.

In 5e it is unnecessary to counter increased difficulty in higher Levels by adding plusses to weapons or armor. (In 3e it was required instead and unbalancing not to have it like that and in 1st / 2nd ed you needed the +x to be able to hit certain Mobs at all.) In 5 Bound accuracy will do the Job for you, and it is part of the System that even low Level Mobs in a sufficient number are a threat to the Party because unlike in other Edition they still are able to land a hit on the Players and they will survive a bit in melee because it is not granted the PC will hit them every time!

AC20 is AC 20 like it was in 3e and AC -10 for older Editions. But unlike 3e whare you would get +20 to hit at some Point you only get +11 (+5 from Attribute and +6 from proficiency) at a high Level. So AC 20 in 5e means a lot more than in 3e (or -10 in 2e)
 

Ymdar

Explorer
I don't really want to give up wish lists for players but I do want a balanced game with magic items. In light of this, would it make a fairly balanced game if I used either of Oofta's or Blue's tables for the number of items, increased rarity by one step for all armor and ditched all upgrading options?
Should I decrease rarity for magic weapons or the current rarity by balance is fine?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Thanks for giving ideas for me. Just the sort of feedback I was looking for. Now I see that compared to the 'typical' campaign, my system was vastly overpowered.
However I noticed that @Blue 's and @Oofta 's tables are somewhat different. Why is this? Is that due to the number of average rerolls on the treasure tables and thus one representing a more average result than the other? I am looking for the typical number of items per campaign.

There is no "official" list, these are lists that are derived from the existing rules. Modify a few assumptions and you get different results. I find the lists a useful ballpark guideline, but that's all. You can light up your PCs like Christmas trees if you want, you'll just have to make encounters more difficult to compensate for it (which you probably have to do if you have more than 4 PCs, use feats, etc).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
There is no "official" list, these are lists that are derived from the existing rules. Modify a few assumptions and you get different results. I find the lists a useful ballpark guideline, but that's all. You can light up your PCs like Christmas trees if you want, you'll just have to make encounters more difficult to compensate for it (which you probably have to do if you have more than 4 PCs, use feats, etc).
I agree with Oofta, [MENTION=24254]Ymdar[/MENTION] - changes in assumptions. These all make some choices about baselines.

Here's the assumptions for how many rolls on each table for the link I gave:

expected distribution of magic items that would be generated by what the DMG refers to as a "typical" campaign in the last paragraph of page 133, i.e. seven rolls on the Challenge 0-4 table, eighteen rolls on the Challenge 5-10 table, twelve rolls on the Challenge 11-16 table, and eight rolls on the Challenge 17+ table.
Next assumption is has to do with there are no per-PC rolls, it's per party. So changes in party size will impact the number of items. The link I did had a party size of 4 - different party sizes may have less per PC because it's spread more ways. This leads to this:

Over the course of a typical campaign, the party is expected to find [Note: there may be discrepancies from a simple summation of the above breakdown due to rounding]:
18 common consumables
20 uncommon consumables
19 rare consumables
18 very rare consumables
3 or 4 legendary consumables
9 or 10 uncommon permanent items
5 or 6 rare permanent items
5 very rare permanent items
4 legendary permanent items

Assuming a party of four PCs, each PC should obtain:
4 or 5 common consumables
5 uncommon consumables
5 rare consumables
4 or 5 very rare consumables
1 legendary consumable
2 or 3 uncommon permanent items
1 or 2 rare permanent items
1 very rare permanent item
1 legendary permanent item
And then finally the breakdown into what players get and what level was a manual "best fit". Since items are coming in as a party over a spread of levels, any individual PC has a spread of when they would be received. This was just an attempt at a theoretical good fit of what an average member of the party would get and at what levels. But there are a lot of assumptions to
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I don't really want to give up wish lists for players but I do want a balanced game with magic items. In light of this, would it make a fairly balanced game if I used either of Oofta's or Blue's tables for the number of items, increased rarity by one step for all armor and ditched all upgrading options?
Should I decrease rarity for magic weapons or the current rarity by balance is fine?
How about an alternate suggestion - tell the players to make up their wish-lists but they can't include any +X items. Half the items you give will be fully random and hopefully the party either has a use or can trade it, the other half from wish-lists.

Oh, one potential issue with wish lists that can be headed off with a little early communication - I had a DM that asked for wish lists but just to include the items in the treasure, and it was still up to the party on how to distribute. In that campaign that went up to 12th, every single item on my wishlist that showed up except one was given to another character because it made more sense for them. Some were just generally useful, some filled another party memeber's weakness or leveraged their strength, or just it was an even call and some members had less.
 

I don't really want to give up wish lists for players but I do want a balanced game with magic items. In light of this, would it make a fairly balanced game if I used either of Oofta's or Blue's tables for the number of items, increased rarity by one step for all armor and ditched all upgrading options?
Should I decrease rarity for magic weapons or the current rarity by balance is fine?
5e is 'balanced' around no magic items, but if you're careful giving out items, you should be able to create some balance among the PCs. They will, however, be 'just better' than without items, so encounters will have to be ratchetted up to create encounter balance.

That doesn't seem like it would be particularly harder than just establishing party & encounter balance in the first place. In theory, carefully-chosen items could go a way towards establishing intra-party balance, since you can channel the best items to the weakest characters....
 

smbakeresq

Explorer
First figure out what you NEED the players to find. Plot items that are also magic items, specific items needed to defeat or overcome a creature of obstacle.

Second, players like finding things, so magic items that are not directly useful but fun are ok to push. Murlynds spoon, the Cape that just billows in the wind, stuff like that. Alchemy Jug is great because mayonnaise is needed for all that bad fantasy food. A PC found a screaming monkey head alarm and carried it around forever.

Third, if you make a mistake, and give out something that seems a little unbalanced, you better have a good excuse to take it back or destroy it. Acid from some creature is a good way and relatable.

Fourth if you don’t want to take something back, a simple rule of “all ties go to the bad guys” works wonders to make the campaign a little harder and you can keep it behind the screen.

Fifth, and I recommend in every campaign, if you get the PC naked and afraid and in a situation where they have to succeed without any equipment but what they find will make players appreciate items more. See A4 in the Slavers series, players awake naked in a prison under a volcano that will explode if they don’t get out in time.
 

Quartz

Adventurer
I'm a big fan of items that scale with the character; I don't like PCs chucking their +1 item because they found a +2 item. In D&D terms that means, for example, that the sword that sheds light on command becomes a flaming sword, doing additional fire damage, then becomes a flaming and holy sword, doing additional fire and radiant damage. Or the magic staff gives an extra spell slot of the level of your proficiency bonus.

I'm also a big fan of items that scale on achievement, like the classic Rings of Elemental Command, or of finding extra bits, like the Rod of Seven Parts.

And then there are evil items. I'm not a fan of Zap! items or items that instantly change the PC, but items like a sword that encourages the fighter to kill, leading her down a dark path, are another matter. Contrariwise, you can give the PCs an item they know is evil and have them try to redeem it by showing it a better way.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'm a big fan of items that scale with the character; I don't like PCs chucking their +1 item because they found a +2 item. In D&D terms that means, for example, that the sword that sheds light on command becomes a flaming sword, doing additional fire damage, then becomes a flaming and holy sword, doing additional fire and radiant damage. Or the magic staff gives an extra spell slot of the level of your proficiency bonus.
I can completely commiserate with what you are saying, from AD&D up through 4e (Oh my god, the item grind in 4e). But I can't say that across all of the 5e campaigns I've played that we've *ever* gotten multiple +X weapons for all the characters. Maybe one would find an upgrade, or someone trade in the short sword +1 for a rapier +2, but usually people went most of the campaign with the same item, or same lack of time. +X isn't a hidden part of character advancement math anymore.

This includes both home games and also some AL, for an idea of item frequency.

So I don't think that's really a problem anymore unless a DM specifically makes it a problem.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
Personally I find choosing items to be uninteresting. They stop being items and are instead just character abilities. If the party finds random items in play then they will adapt to those items. It makes for interesting decisions and also interesting character development. Even just a +1 weapon can be character defining.

But if you are going to go the route of having player's choose their items. Just let them do it. Don't make it convoluted. For example, don't put them in dungeons as 'loot'. Because it's not really loot, it's what the player chose - and they will be getting it.
 

When I DM players get no say in the magic items they get. We cut out teeth on 2nd ed where magic items were rare and a +2 sword was a thing of wonder.

I don’t think having rules for how they are handed out or making magic items an expected part of character progression is a good thing but I understand many people think differently. I use the random tables and swap out anything I don’t like for the PCs to find (never to buy).

That said, 4 decent magic items at 16 seems a good place to be. I don’t let my PCs use their knowledge of magic items to plan what they want to turn up in the game. If they fancy a Sword of Sharpness they need to go on a specific quest after doing the research: matey out of Krull did not find the Glaive without a specific quest to get it- didn’t he have to climb a hill or something; and there was a spider?

Just my take: your method seems okay, just not my cup of tea.
 
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