4E Points of Light, Dawn War, and Magic Item Economy (4e)

I was talking in another thread about the post-Dawn-War state of the Astral Sea in 4e's cosmology, and I'm reminded of a little issue with the whole Points of Light thing.

So, the PoL concept was a pretty bold, IMHO, often-ignored, attempt at creating a darker, more heroic, maybe more S&S mood for D&D. The idea being that (benevolent) civilization is the exception, that monster-haunted wilderness, ruins, evil empires and all manner of 'darkness' is the bulk of the campaign world. Lots of opportunity for adventure, lots of reasons the PCs have to solve serious problems all on their own.

And 4e, with The Plane Above, took that theme straight up to heaven and on to the afterlife, which struck me as overdoing it a bit.

But, there was one glaring exception to the whole PoL theme, and that was the magic item make/buy economy. 4e kept make/buy as a standard assumption from 3e, but removed the significant advantage of /making/ items, which required an implausibly vibrant and liquid market in magic items at all levels (albeit, for out-there sums of money - gp, pp, /astral diamonds/ at epic), which, in turn, implied lots of buyers/sellers - consumers, really - of high level magic items, which implied huge numbers of high level beings supplying and driving that market. Which, in no way aligns with the circumambient darkness and eternal desperation of the PoL conceit.

Other than flipping on inherent bonuses and forgetting about wealth/level & make/buy, entirely (maybe using boons &c) - which is legit, sure - did anyone reconcile that?
Make the ready availability of items at all levels with the scattered hold-outs of civilization setting?

Anyone just toss the PoL thing, instead, and run everything, I guess, FR/Sharn-style high-magic?
 

erachima

Explorer
The simple answer is 4e prices appear to have been normed for Eberron and look hilariously fake as you get closer to the Trojan War Greece/post-Roman Britain pseudo-historical sword and sorcery setting that the PHB pitches to you.

If I had to justify it to players though, I'd say to look at the post-Soviet economies where there was no functional civilian industry but you could have all the rusty AKs you wanted at fire sale prices: the war is over, the civilization consumed itself trying to win it, and farmers are going to be rooting +1 Flaming Longswords out of fallow fields for the next 10 generations.

This leaves you with a plausible setup for an economy where there's a glut of low-grade magical war items on the market (i.e. "within a few days of travel if you've got the leisure time to do that") even though the economy produces little for trade but clothes and food, which is a decent description of the magical item setup in the PHB.
 
If I had to justify it to players though, I'd say to look at the post-Soviet economies where there was no functional civilian industry but you could have all the rusty AKs you wanted at fire sale prices: the war is over, the civilization consumed itself trying to win it, and farmers are going to be rooting +1 Flaming Longswords out of fallow fields for the next 10 generations.
I can see how that'd have a glut of magic items floating (buried/whatever) around the world. But not so much a ready market where you could buy a specific item you wanted (or even know about a specific item you'd want). I think that conceit - which makes sense as a way to transition items fully to a player build resource without unduly overpowering the ability to /make/ items - is the disconnect. Not the items, but the market for them, if that makes sense?

This leaves you with a plausible setup for an economy where there's a glut of low-grade magical war items on the market (i.e. "within a few days of travel if you've got the leisure time to do that") even though the economy produces little for trade but clothes and food, which is a decent description of the magical item setup in the PHB.
I can see, that.
What about the way item prices balloon with level? Where's the clearing house for Paragon & Epic items?
City of Brass? Does Erathis run an Epic Amazon Fulfillment Center out of Hevestar? (Heh, I wouldn't put it past Her.)

There is the progression, not too firmly stated but fairly clear, from gp, to pp, to AD, that could make some sense of it, if whatever otherworldly market sold Epic items /only/ took Astral Diamonds, for instance.
 

erachima

Explorer
I'd assume regional market towns still exist, because they did even in Sub-Roman Britain. That's the place that the Dark Ages seem to have gotten the darkest, and if your PCs are starting somewhere less in the sticks than that it just gets easier. Of course, a city like Tintagel was no longer regularly offering trade goods all the way from Egypt like you could find during the imperial era, but it's exactly the sort of "Point of Light" a mid-Heroic game that's mostly about treasure hunting can be centered around, and it's a perfectly reasonable place to be able to purchase magic items. A couple of good resources for how to make that sort of social structure feel authentic are Patrick Wyman's Fall of Rome and Tides of History podcasts.

For knowledge of specific gear in-character I'd probably default to History. It's a long-standing personal annoyance of mine that they never added a "Soldiering" skill or similar.

By the time you get into paragon the writers appear to assume your characters will be moving to either capital-C Civilization (Llankhmar, Aquilonia, etc.) or The Planes, either of which is going to entail a significant subgenre shift even while staying within the broader confines of Sword and Sorcery. The Planes lets you still be a freelance treasure hunter rather than a professional kingdom-saver, but you're now basically a Sword & Planet character by another name and you solve all your logistical problems with magic.

If I cared about having realistic monetary units I'd basically stick to silver in Heroic and save gold for once your PCs are dealing with nobility on the regular.
 
Why do you believe that easy purchase of magic items is an inherent assumption built into 4e? I don't think it particularly is. I mean, you CAN your game that way, item purchase is outlined in the PHB (at a 10-40% higher cost than the 'book' value). This means, even if you allow for free flow of items, PCs will run out of money to buy them VERY quickly (and decimate their consumable/ritual funds to do so).
This is all, of course, not even considering the narrative situation. While GM's are encouraged to 'say yes' and the game certainly has some "let the player's build what they want" vibe to it, there is no reason to make it that easy, and it certainly isn't 'RAW' to do so.
However, I do think the idea that ITEMS aren't the thing that is really in super short supply in this PoL world is not a bad one. 'FallCrest' has a goodly number of magic items, but it lacks real heroes to wield them. If you dare to put yourself forward, grasp what is there, and take up the challenge, you can pretty quickly equip yourself, and you don't need to/cannot really do it with gold, you have to go find what you want.
 
Why do you believe that easy purchase of magic items is an inherent assumption built into 4e?
Items in the PH with price lists. Making an item being the same cost as buying, disenchanting giving the same yield as selling. Wish lists.
All points to items as a player facing build resource with not a lot of difference between making & buying.
Which would seem to require a large liquid market, at least for buying.

However, I do think the idea that ITEMS aren't the thing that is really in super short supply in this PoL world is not a bad one. 'FallCrest' has a goodly number of magic items, but it lacks real heroes to wield them. If you dare to put yourself forward, grasp what is there, and take up the challenge.
That is growing on me.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Why do you believe that easy purchase of magic items is an inherent assumption built into 4e? I don't think it particularly is. I mean, you CAN your game that way, item purchase is outlined in the PHB (at a 10-40% higher cost than the 'book' value). This means, even if you allow for free flow of items, PCs will run out of money to buy them VERY quickly (and decimate their consumable/ritual funds to do so).
This is all, of course, not even considering the narrative situation. While GM's are encouraged to 'say yes' and the game certainly has some "let the player's build what they want" vibe to it, there is no reason to make it that easy, and it certainly isn't 'RAW' to do so.
Very much this. 5e certainly encouraged DMs to provide players with the opportunity to acquire the magic items they wanted, it never specified that an active and widespread magic item market was the way these items should be acquired. The listed prices was the amount of treasure (in gp) that a given magic item was worth, so the DM could plan their treasure hordes according to what the players were interested in. If you actually wanted to buy a magic item, you’d have to find someone willing to sell (which could be very difficult) and then it would cost a good bit more than the listed price.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Why do you believe that easy purchase of magic items is an inherent assumption built into 4e?
I think it's a better assumption than the usual alternative of wish lists. When my character just so happens to find exactly the right item for their build every couple of adventures, the suspension of disbelief starts to strain -- at least for me, anyway. The best "third option" might be a questing model: when the player wants a ring of invisibility for their character, the character makes a knowledge check or does some research, finds out where a ring of invisibility is rumored to be, and then the party goes and gets it. This is how I try to run campaigns in lower-magic settings. The disadvantages, of course, are that it requires a lot of time investment both in and out of game, a measure of tolerance and cooperation on the part of all party members, and a looser campaign structure that allows for frequent side quests.

@erachima's "post-Soviet" setup seems to facilitate an easy questing model, too, alongside or instead of an abundant magic item market. It's not that hard to believe that there might be a fomorian lordling who holds a ring of invisibility just a few days' ride away when bad guys sitting on abandoned Dawn War materiel are basically everywhere.
 
@Tony Vargas I agree that 4e is best read as having the intent that magic items will, at least typically, be 'build elements'. I am just not sure it absolutely follows that PCs are intended to be able to easily trot down to the Magic Mart and pick up a Staff of Ruin. I think the 'quest model' is closer to what was intended. The idea of 'wish lists' sounds a LOT more like facilitating that than anything else. The players provide a list of items THEY think would be cool to have, and then GM is enabled to work relevant and interesting treasures into the story instead of just giving away whatever they feel like or whatever happened to be listed in some horde listing in Module X, Room 42.
4e actually does NOT encourage purchase or make that much at all. Yes, it is easy enough, in theory, to make items, but it requires residuum (basically gold) and then precludes all the ways to amass enough to do so! Only 10% of all treasure is money by RAW, barely enough to enchant a few less critical items. If you try to sell/disenchant, you get drastically less than the item is worth, and thus cut into your overall power (IE you can have 3 good items or one that is the perfect item for you, take your pick). Buying, as I said before, also has an ADDITIONAL 'overhead cost' of 10-40% by RAW, making it the worst way to acquire items.

You can definitely buy items by RAW, but you will do so maybe only a few times in your character's career, if at all, and that isn't even factoring in that the GM is not obliged to make any arbitrary item available or put the seller in some convenient location.
Finally, with the rarity addendum WotC pretty clearly put a LARGE swath of the more specific items out of bounds entirely.

EDIT: This is all solved in HoML by the 'boon system'. Basically when you acquire a major 'item' you gain a level. There need not be any separate treasure system, and all acquisition becomes highly organic. You can, of course, have quests, etc. and it could run in a range of styles from basically 'like 4e' to 'like AD&D' within that framework.
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
But, there was one glaring exception to the whole PoL theme, and that was the magic item make/buy economy.

<snip>

Which, in no way aligns with the circumambient darkness and eternal desperation of the PoL conceit.

Other than flipping on inherent bonuses and forgetting about wealth/level & make/buy, entirely (maybe using boons &c) - which is legit, sure - did anyone reconcile that?
I didn't use inherent bonuses, but I didn't use "item shoppes" either. As best I can recall not a single item was purchased in my 30 level 4e game. Items were sometimes found, mostly gifted (by NPCs, gods, etc), and then stepped up as the PCs levelled (using the approriate treasure parcel maths, and configuring the stepping up with appropriate in-fiction moments for divine boons, moments of self-realisation, etc).
 
I treat players buying magical items for their characters in 4e as an out of character decision similar to picking a new feat at level up.

In game there's no magical emporium with shelves and shelves of different magic items, but as a plot convenience there will be a traveling merchant who just happens to have exactly the items for sale that the players want their characters to buy, or a peasant who needs to sell a heirloom for fast cash, etc.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I didn't have magic marts in my 4e campaigns either. Treasure was almost always found via adventure. A major part of PoL is that the fallen empires that came before were mighty, and left behind vast treasures to be found by the daring.

The PCs might occasionally come across a rare being who had a few choice items that they'd be willing to part with, but that was the exception rather than the rule, and those guys certainly weren't hanging around Nowheresville. They were either traveling somewhere (in which case they were a rare but beneficial random encounter) or they could be found in some unusual place that the players would need to make an effort to discover (a Grove deep in the forest that is a crossroads to the Feywild, watched over by an ancient fey guardian).
 

Derren

Adventurer
It is often overlooked, and to be fair not many players care for it, but to keep a society as presented in the core books running you need quite an intensive trade network. You need so many different ressources that no single point of light could get them all by itself.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I didn't use inherent bonuses, but I didn't use "item shoppes" either. As best I can recall not a single item was purchased in my 30 level 4e game. Items were sometimes found, mostly gifted (by NPCs, gods, etc), and then stepped up as the PCs levelled (using the approriate treasure parcel maths, and configuring the stepping up with appropriate in-fiction moments for divine boons, moments of self-realisation, etc).
Didn't they call items with their own advancing - heirloom item. But yes I have always thought of it as the hero learning deeper secrets of the items and such (you can add powers related to items too)
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
@Tony Vargas I agree that 4e is best read as having the intent that magic items will, at least typically, be 'build elements'. I am just not sure it absolutely follows that PCs are intended to be able to easily trot down to the Magic Mart and pick up a Staff of Ruin. I think the 'quest model' is closer to what was intended. The idea of 'wish lists' sounds a LOT more like facilitating that than anything else. The players provide a list of items THEY think would be cool to have, and then GM is enabled to work relevant and interesting treasures into the story instead of just giving away whatever they feel like or whatever happened to be listed in some horde listing in Module X, Room 42.
4e actually does NOT encourage purchase or make that much at all. Yes, it is easy enough, in theory, to make items, but it requires residuum (basically gold) and then precludes all the ways to amass enough to do so! Only 10% of all treasure is money by RAW, barely enough to enchant a few less critical items. If you try to sell/disenchant, you get drastically less than the item is worth, and thus cut into your overall power (IE you can have 3 good items or one that is the perfect item for you, take your pick). Buying, as I said before, also has an ADDITIONAL 'overhead cost' of 10-40% by RAW, making it the worst way to acquire items.

You can definitely buy items by RAW, but you will do so maybe only a few times in your character's career, if at all, and that isn't even factoring in that the GM is not obliged to make any arbitrary item available or put the seller in some convenient location.
Finally, with the rarity addendum WotC pretty clearly put a LARGE swath of the more specific items out of bounds entirely.
Rarity was dumb but other than that... yeh all this exactly.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
4e actually does NOT encourage purchase or make that much at all. Yes, it is easy enough, in theory, to make items, but it requires residuum (basically gold) and then precludes all the ways to amass enough to do so!
In other words if a DM actually wants his players who are interested in making items they want there is a context for making story around it. You don't just stumble into the resources to accomplish it for the general case. Specific components are still an option where you make those the object of quest lines too.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
EDIT: This is all solved in HoML by the 'boon system'. Basically when you acquire a major 'item' you gain a level. There need not be any separate treasure system, and all acquisition becomes highly organic. You can, of course, have quests, etc. and it could run in a range of styles from basically 'like 4e' to 'like AD&D' within that framework.
Heavy emphasis on like AD&D though you collapsed well everything into the item economy... and effectively created a DM/Story gate on every item gained via advancement.

It was talked about in Adventurer's Vault, pp 197-98, under the headings Item Levels as Treasure and Empowering Events.
There is one I haven't purchased yet!
 
Rarity was dumb but other than that... yeh all this exactly.
I did not care for rarity - it was just a flimsy excuse to make some items of a given level more powerful/potentially-game-breaking than others, in lieu of making them simply cool or interesting.

But I /really/ didn't like dropping the milestone limit on item dailies, nor, before that, the rapid proliferation of item encounter powers. Milestones were a nice pacing counterweight to the 5MWD impulse of dailies, I'd rather they'd gotten more emphasis as time went on.

But, that's off my own topic. ;) which is fine, I feel my concerns have been adequately addressed.
 

Advertisement

Top