D&D 5E Magic Item Stacking

Li Shenron

Legend
For 5e, I really hope the "few big(ger) items" is more viable than the "many small items" favoured by 3e.

This got me thinking a bit further...

I definitely prefer a game where magic items are few and important ("magic as wonder"), over a game where they are many but mere trinkets (aka "magic as technology").

But what about those who actually like playing in settings with "magic as technology"? I certainly don't want their gamestyle to be unsupported. The question is, how much can the stacking rules ruin a game with "magic as wonder" or with "magic as technology"?

Actually, perhaps it's not that critical...

In a "magic as wonder" you expect each PC to have but a few magic items maximum, so the chances that they boost the same thing may be low (also because you are more likely to have larger bonuses). When they do stack, probably a non-stacking rule is a little bit disappointing. But IMXP it is more typical of these games to have ad-hoc DM's rules on how magic items interact, so the DM is more likely to handwave that limitation.

Example: Bob the 20th level Fighter has found the Armor of Ancient Awesomeness that grants a +10 AC plus Haste, Fly and Improved Invisibility 1/day (but every time there's a 5% chance the armor takes over his will and force him to attack a friend). He then acquires the Shield of Sheer Superiority, which grants another +5 AC, Improved Evasion and immunity to Magic Missiles. Not stacking the AC bonus to +15 may reduce the fun in such an over-the-top game, but since this gamestyle is mostly based on DM's custom magic items, the DM can just say they stack (after all, she could have just made either be +15 since the start).

In a "magic as technology" the PCs instead will probably have many items each, but they will all have proportionally smaller benefits. It's not automatic, but IMXP most of the times this gamestyle goes together with having easy buying/selling of items. If they stack, this encourages min-maxers to boost a target feature of their PC as much as possible, while other players are not affected much. A (hard) non-stacking rule is probably just going to force min-maxers to be like everybody else. A keyword-based system only has the effect of making min-maxers feel more rewarded by exploiting it. (Remains to be seen if min-maxers behaviour spoils the fun of the rest of your group... if they are all min-maxers then it's ok!)

Example: Bob the 20th level Fighter has bought a +3 armor, a +1 amulet of natural armor, a +2 ring of protection, a +2 shield, a +1 defending weapon, a +2 bracers of deflection, a +2 cloak of concealment, a +1 boots of dodging, a +2 helm of ucanttouchme, a +1 skirt of missage, a +2 goggles of cantbehit, and a +1 pearl of noway hidden in a secret recess of his body. +20 AC if stacking, +3 if not, but the point being that in the latter case Bob would simply have bought something else besides the armor.

BTW what's this about attunement? I though that c**p went out with MERP.

Currently it does help against stacking, but I would not count on the attunement rules to provide a safe setup... I have the feeling that they will be treated as optional or house ruled regularly.

So for example, a mountain dwarf fighter in +1 plate armor carrying a shield would get an AC benefit from his race (+1), armor (+8), shield (+1) and magic (+1 on plate). If he put on a +1 ring of protection, his AC would remain the same; if the party druid cast barkskin on him his AC would go temproarily go up by 1, since the +2 bonus from magic would not tack with the existing +1 magic bonus from his armor. If he took cover, he'd get the additional +4 bonus, since that's a circumstance.

I think this is simple enough to keep track of in practice, since most bonus sources are not situational, and still leaves room for creativity in character choices, but keeps down synergistic bloat from stacking of bonuses from multiple magic sources or multiple feats.

This is also what I wish for. "No stacking" for spells and magic items bonuses, a little bit as if there was also one keyword "magic" (for both of them) and only bonuses with such keyword overlap, while everything else stacks.

There can still be occasional exceptions in the form of e.g. a spell which actually creates a physical cover.
 
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Starfox

Hero
I'd prefer to delete the term "type" for bonuses altogether, and only refer to the bonus source. So "no stacking" means "bonuses from the same source do not stack." Sources are equipment (armor, shield base capability), ability score, race feature, class feature, feat, magic, and circumstance (this last to give the DM the ability to "adjust on the fly", and account for things like cover).

One thing this would do is keep buffs relevant. In a rather high-item-budget 3E game I played a cleric, and felt my buffs got nearly worthless because they had to compete with bonuses from items, which were mostly a lot higher. My character concept (buffer) was overwhelmed by bonuses from magic items. Making spells and gear different sources/keywords would fix this.

I tought 4E would fix this, but items very quickly gained "power" bonuses as well, so the problem persisted.
 

delericho

Legend
One thing this would do is keep buffs relevant. In a rather high-item-budget 3E game I played a cleric, and felt my buffs got nearly worthless because they had to compete with bonuses from items, which were mostly a lot higher. My character concept (buffer) was overwhelmed by bonuses from magic items. Making spells and gear different sources/keywords would fix this.

I would agree. If nothing else, this would make the maths much easier - no need to determine just how that Str bonus from the belt of giant strength stacks with the Str bonus from bull's strength. Just add the 'permanent' bonus from the item straight on the character sheet, and add the 'temporary' bonus from the spell straight on top.

(And yes, I know 5e changed the way the belt worked. But since it was an example that actually came up in my 3e game, it was the first one that came to mind.)
 

delericho

Legend
This got me thinking a bit further...

I definitely prefer a game where magic items are few and important ("magic as wonder"), over a game where they are many but mere trinkets (aka "magic as technology").

That's a good point.

Sadly, I wonder how much a single game could support both in a robust fashion, even allowing for modules - that's a pretty fundamental design issue. But perhaps you're right about "magic as wonder" favouring DMs using their homebrew items...
 

Quartz

Hero
I definitely prefer a game where magic items are few and important ("magic as wonder"), over a game where they are many but mere trinkets (aka "magic as technology").

But what about those who actually like playing in settings with "magic as technology"? I certainly don't want their gamestyle to be unsupported. The question is, how much can the stacking rules ruin a game with "magic as wonder" or with "magic as technology"?

That's very astute; I agree. I also think I think this is a continuum: in 3E terms, how much magic the PCs expect to loot vs how much PCs expect to have to - and are allowed to - manufacture. Now, for 3E, I've written before that I'd positively encourage spellcasters to take item creation feats. It helps avoid the 'nova' phenomenon and keeps them a few levels behind the non-spellcasters. Yes, your party's 6th level wizard is toting fully-charged wands of Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and Magic Missile, has umpteen scrolls and potions, and assorted +2 items but the combat types are 8th or 9th level (perhaps Ftr 4 / Rog 5), and have assorted items of the wizard's manufacture. And, at higher levels, you can encourage this with use of Disjunction.

But everyone's got to be clear on it from the start.
 

Falling Icicle

Adventurer
In 3rd edition, players needed +AC items because attack bonuses increased naturally with levels but AC did not, so the only way to keep your AC up to par was with magic items. In Next, attack bonuses only increase by +5 (starting at +1 and going up to +6), and maybe a couple more points from ability score increases. Another thing is, the range of AC scores just from mundane items is quite large. You could have, on one hand, an 8 Dex unarmored mage with an AC of 9, and on the other hand, a mountain dwarf or warforged in full plate and a shield with an AC of 20. So while there's potentially a 6 point gap between starting attack bonuses (comparing an 8 ability score [-1] to a 20 [+5]), there's an 11 point gap in non-magical AC scores. When most low level monsters have only a +1 or +2 to hit, an AC of 20 makes a character almost un-hittable. They say they don't want magic items to be necessary parts of the math like before, and that's a good thing, but they haven't even addressed the balance problems with the game's base math that doesn't even include magic item bonuses.
 

ccooke

Adventurer
I think 5th edition can actually facilitate magic-as-technology better than 3rd and 4th edition, at least.

Because the game assumes that you have no magic items, having a magic item is a big thing. But that means that if you have a lot of items, you could end up breaking the game.
However, that's only if you think about items as they were in 3rd and 4th edition.

Let's imagine magical items in a set of categories.

At the top end of the power scale, you have Artefacts.
Most campaigns won't have one of these - and if you do, it'll probably be the centrepiece of the story.

On the next step down, you have the old standard legendary items - Vorpal swords, the Holy Avenger.
There's an expectation that you won't see many of these - maybe one or two at the end of a long campaign.

Below that are major magical items. In this, I'd include all the +X armour and weapons.
These are your standard magical items from 3e and 4e. In 5th edition, having *one* of these is going to make a big difference to your character, and they will remain good for the entire game.
If you follow the default guidelines, you'll probably pick up one item like this somewhere in the first third to half of a campaign.

And then there are minor magical items. These don't have a +X bonus, and they might be more limited in their effect.
Items in this category should concentrate on capabilities and focus. These are the bread and butter of your magic-as-technology settings.
We live in world of technology. But we don't have items that make us better at fighting. We have *tools* and *conveniences*. Even in a fantasy world with a lot of fighting most of the magical items aren't going to be about fighting. They'll be the things that everyone uses, or everyone wants to need.
Examples of the sort of things that PCs might keep from this category:
* A quiver that can make an arrow five times a day. Each one vanishes if it isn't used within 10 minutes.
* A suit of armour that grows spikes when the wearer is grappled
* A ring that allows you to set mundane objects on fire (they have to have fuel to burn, though) or put out small fires
* A cloak that keeps everything you wear under it spotlessly clean
* Anything generated by the random magical item rules in the playtest, but without any +X or greater features added.

In this category you can also add some much more powerful effects that can come about with a magic-as-tech environment. For instance, how's about an entire set of ear studs that give everyone the Message cantrip? Giving the entire party the ability to communicate silently is a big game changer, but it's something that can be given to intelligent enemies, too... and it provides new tactical options without actually making the party stronger.

For the games I'm running, I plan to think about magic items based upon the relative frequency of each of these four classes.

In a low magic game, I'd probably only have major magical items, and only a very few of those. Magic will be special and rare, and the item quirks in the playtest will help to give it character
In a medium magic game, I'd allow maybe a legendary item if it fits the plot, roughly the same number of major items and a few minor items.
In a high magic, or magic-as-tech game, the streets will be full of vendors selling minor items. Every character will be able to deck themselves out with dozens* of items. But I'll make sure they provide only new tactical opportunities or narrow but flavourful uses. And I'll make sure their enemies are fully able to use those tactical opportunities and narrow use cases to their advantage, too.




... Something about this thread seems to make me write too much.

* Okay, maybe *a* dozen, if they really want to look like a walking "Come mug me" advert. Which as a GM I feel it would be churlish to ignore
 

I think 5th edition can actually facilitate magic-as-technology better than 3rd and 4th edition, at least.

Because the game assumes that you have no magic items, having a magic item is a big thing. But that means that if you have a lot of items, you could end up breaking the game.
However, that's only if you think about items as they were in 3rd and 4th edition.

Only if there's good DM advice, and there isn't. Since the game doesn't expect magic items, introducing anything raises the power level.
 

ccooke

Adventurer
Only if there's good DM advice, and there isn't. Since the game doesn't expect magic items, introducing anything raises the power level.

The game, as it exists in the very limited playtest, does not include such advice.

The full game should, and the chassis of 5e provides the tools for it.

This doesn't mean that WotC will actually follow through on this and DTRT. It just means they've built a system that provides an easy way for me to facilitate lots of different levels of magic.

The playtest is a limited subset of the game that will come out. There will be more classes, more subclasses, more races, more backgrounds, more feats... more everything. We should be judging 5e by the strength of the system and the flexibility that the playtest engenders, not by the things that aren't and can't be in it yet. Well, I shouldn't. You can do whatever you like, but I reserve the right to try to convince you otherwise :)
 

I've done playtesting for WotC before, and that attitude irritates me. I didn't playtest core material though (until D&DN, and then only a little) and there wasn't enough time, nor was there a "complete" ruleset, for the splats, so naturally I was surprised if/when something poorly-written or broken popped up.

This late in the playtest for D&DN core rules, the document should be getting close to final. DMs should already have that advice and be testing it out, so they can advise WotC if the guidelines are good, need improvement, or what have you. We're left to rely on WotC to internally playtest guidelines (if any!), on top of a system where

Falling Icicle said:
they haven't even addressed the balance problems with the game's base math that doesn't even include magic item bonuses.

I would be quite happy if numeric item bonuses were removed from the game. Flaming swords and such items could remain, but no bonuses. This would result in a lesser requirement for guidance.
 

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