5E How much power do magic items give?

Xeviat

Explorer
5E very famously does not have expected magic item allocation built into their encounter design math. Yet, the CR calculator values "resistant to nonmagical weapons" differently based on level, the DMG random item tables give out a fair amount of magic items, and the organized play rules and magic item allocation gives out a fair amount of magic items.

But let's assume the game designers mean what they say and that magic items aren't necessary. Even if they aren't, magic items are going to make your characters more powerful. But, how much more powerful will they be?

I think I've stumbled upon an interesting answer in the DMG's CR calculator. A creature's CR is largely based on their HP and their average damage per round. These are calculated separately, Defensive CR and Offensive CR, and averaged. But those CRs are modified by the attack bonus and AC of the monster; if it is 2 more than the expected amount, the effective CR is 1 higher.

This means giving a creature a flat +2 AC and +2 to Attack would increase it's CR by 1. Each plus could then be seen as +1/4th to CR.

A party of 4 facing off against a single enemy tracks reasonably against Party Level = Monster CR (with a few jumps at the tiers, based on the Encounter design rules in the DMG and Xanathar's).

A +1 weapon is a Uncommon, Major item. A +2 weapon or a +1 armor is a Rare, Major item. A +3 weapon or a +2 armor is a Very Rare, Major item. A +3 armor is a Major, Legendary item (let's pretend a theoretical +4 weapon would be Legendary).

Thus, a really simple way to adjust player level from their magic items would be to score the player's major items (half value for minor items), and adjust their effective level by 1 for every 4 item points they have.

Major Items
Uncommon - 1 pt
Rare - 2 pts
Very Rare - 3 pts
Legendary - 4 pts

Xanathar's magic item system, and analysis done here on EN world (http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?395770-Analysis-of-quot-Typical-quot-Magic-Item-Distribution) nets a fully decked out character the following magic items (I'm leaving the minor items out, as they're either consumables or don't really directly impact most combat):

2 or 3 uncommon permanent items - 2 to 3 pts
1 or 2 rare permanent items - 2 to 4 pts
1 very rare permanent item - 3 pts
1 legendary permanent item - 4 pts

So, I'm suggesting that a fully decked out 20th level character can handle challenges as if they were a level 23rd character.

This is really just to give DMs an idea on a starting point of how to challenge their players.

I'd be interested to hear what you think.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Xanathars has a common magic sword for 50gp.

The rules basically don't work/matter. More than a few classes can get magic damage via spell or ability.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Xanathars has a common magic sword for 50gp.

The rules basically don't work/matter. More than a few classes can get magic damage via spell or ability.
What common magic sword? The Veteran's Cane specifically says "and ceases to be magical". Am I missing one?

Getting around resistance or immunity to non-magical damage isn't an issue. Many classes/subclasses can do it by 6th level, and some way before that. But magic items still grant sizable combat bonuses. I'm offering a way to help gauge that difference.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
It's an interesting idea. I'm curious to see whether it works.

That said, I believe that the reason that resistance and immunity lose value at higher CRs is that players will almost certainly have fairly easy access to magic damage at those levels, be it from the magic weapon spell or something like fireball.
 

jgsugden

Adventurer
Considering the variation in monster abilities at each CR, the variation in DM tactics, the variation in character power based upon generation method and the variation in efficiency of characters in using their resources.... it is an irrelevant element. The attunement rules prevent PCs from getting too much magic. They work fine as long as they do not exceed those power levels.
 
Ultimately the trick is what magic items and at what times. For example, a cube of force in the right circumstance could be completely game winning....much stronger than any +3 sword. But in other circumstances not so much.

Basically WOTC realized that magic item balance just really isn't a thing, and kind of threw their hands up on it. And that's not a terrible notion, they've said "Dms….magic items are a special thing, use them when you want, and you'll need to tailor your encounters to factor htem in, just as you have always done.
 
Basically WOTC realized that magic item balance just really isn't a thing, and kind of threw their hands up on it.
That's not quite fair, IMHO. Magic items have been at least roughly balanced in other games, and even in one ed of D&D. So, it's a thing, just not a safe thing to put in a book with D&D on the cover if you don't want to touch off those tiny, but oh so loud segments of the Fan base that were so bad for PR c2008-12.

So items are back to their traditional status, and range from ribbon to plot device to campaign-wrecker, with little rhyme and less reason.
Those wanting to avoid PCs defined solely by their items, and general campaign-armaggeddon (staved off only with disenchanters and anti-magic fields)are given an out, with that polite fiction of items not being 'expected' (of course they're expected, its D&D!).

Of course, if you take that 'out' and run low-magic, the power of PC casters is just that much greater by comparison.

And, again, in fairness, 5e was up-front in its early discussion of magick. And, DM empowerment is not sacrificed at the altar of "feeling like magical," either - The DM can choose whether it's casting or magic items that will dominate play in his campaign.
;)
 
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aco175

Adventurer
The DM controls the amount of magic in play. If it becomes a problem, then the challenges need to become harder, and visa-versa. At low levels, not having a way to hit damage reduction monsters is figured into the CR, so a gargoyle at 2nd level is rather hard. If you give out magic swords at low level, the CR is lessened and you now need to 2 to make a threat.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
This is really just to give DMs an idea on a starting point of how to challenge their players.

I'd be interested to hear what you think.
I had never thought of using the DMG on monster balance to figure out the impact of magic items, but it is a pretty genuine idea to help feel out the level of power to throw at parties. We've recently been experimenting with an XP rule from a different game, where the difficulty of the encounter matters more than the monsters within it. The easier a party overcomes the challenge, regardless of what methods they use, the less XP they receive.

The idea of being able to quantify magic item impacts on effective level, especially temporary ones, would help us immensely in this endeavor - thanks for the inspiration, @Xeviat.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
I had never thought of using the DMG on monster balance to figure out the impact of magic items, but it is a pretty genuine idea to help feel out the level of power to throw at parties. We've recently been experimenting with an XP rule from a different game, where the difficulty of the encounter matters more than the monsters within it. The easier a party overcomes the challenge, regardless of what methods they use, the less XP they receive.

The idea of being able to quantify magic item impacts on effective level, especially temporary ones, would help us immensely in this endeavor - thanks for the inspiration, @Xeviat.
I'm starting on a big project to rewrite the Monster Manual and make it more like 4E, so I'm going to be doing a lot of testing. While I'm at it, I figured I'd might as well take a look at the PC balance. It's all just guidelines.

And yeah, not all magic items are created equal, but it's a starting point, rather than just saying "eh whatever rebalance the encounters yourself" without having a direction in mind.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
Please just say what you actually mean.

You say magic items.
But what you really mean is magic weapons.... Maybe with a passing consideration of magic armor.


And, whatever their rarity, there is no math that can account for the effects/power of many of the assorted non-weapon items. Yet many boost power/increase options.
 

Harzel

Adventurer
I had never thought of using the DMG on monster balance to figure out the impact of magic items, but it is a pretty genuine idea to help feel out the level of power to throw at parties. We've recently been experimenting with an XP rule from a different game, where the difficulty of the encounter matters more than the monsters within it. The easier a party overcomes the challenge, regardless of what methods they use, the less XP they receive.
With apologies for being off topic, this sort of sounds like clever play is punished. Of course, you probably didn't intend those two sentences as a complete description, so I may be opining on the basis of incomplete information.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
With apologies for being off topic, this sort of sounds like clever play is punished. Of course, you probably didn't intend those two sentences as a complete description, so I may be opining on the basis of incomplete information.
My group has been together for 20+ years now, so we play a bunch of different games, genres - hell, we even make our own. Right now we're using a repurposed version of Talislanta. In the long of it, we've just come to like the actual difficulty and tax on the characters determining the 'growth' as opposed to hard, itemized values. I'd in no way recommend it for everyone.

I'll give you the rundown of our decision.
If a fight is easier than intended, you scale down the XP based on expected resource consumption.
Clever play doesn't become penalized, but rather the reward becomes the resources saved.
We play very critical Dungeons and Dragons, and if characters aren't threatened constantly, it's often seen as a waste of time - it's just the way we play. Therefore, we drive our XP to be based on actual difficulty, not proposed difficulty. We all started with 2E (and a couple in my group with 1E), so with rare exception, we try to emulate this difficulty, and slow down the advancement scheme - this is the most 'feels'-oriented way to do it, for us.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Please just say what you actually mean.

You say magic items.
But what you really mean is magic weapons.... Maybe with a passing consideration of magic armor.


And, whatever their rarity, there is no math that can account for the effects/power of many of the assorted non-weapon items. Yet many boost power/increase options.
No. I'm trusting that the designers felt the value of various items within the tiers of items were somewhat balanced against each other. It's a long distance eyeballing saying: hey when your characters have 4 uncommon items or 2 rare items, they're about a level more powerful so go ahead and throw higher level challenges at them.

That's why I did it across the item tiers and not just looking at the enhancement bonuses.
 

muppetmuppet

Explorer
When you say rewrite the monsters to 4e, do you mean give them one two or 3 "powers" instead of a spell list so they are easier to run? if so it has been done by a guy who wanted monster stats on one sheet of paper with no need to look other stuff up.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
When you say rewrite the monsters to 4e, do you mean give them one two or 3 "powers" instead of a spell list so they are easier to run? if so it has been done by a guy who wanted monster stats on one sheet of paper with no need to look other stuff up.

I more mean presenting monsters as minions, standard, elite, and solo, and retooling them for 4 vs 4 baselines. And, yes, giving out more "powers".
 

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