The limiting drawback of character customization

Sacrosanct

Legend
We tend to agree that more customization is a good thing. More choices. Well, I’ve noticed one area where it’s actually more limiting: treasure. Which is no small part of the game

Back in the day, if you were a fighter, it didn’t matter what magic item you found. Axe? Mace? Pole arm? You used it without a second thought because you were equally skilled in all weapons and armor

since 3e however, I’ve seen a lot of players over the years complain that the magic item they found didn’t fit what they specialized in (started in 1e with UA, but really started seeing it in 3e as a frequent complaint vs a rare one). It seems a strong correlation that the more specialized you could become, the more this became an issue. The common answer seems to be “as the DM, just change the magic item type to what the PC wants”. I get it, but that never sat right with me. It counters the living world concept. I.e., the world and everything in it doesn’t cater or change to player desires, but acts independently.

so do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants, or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc? As mentioned, I keep them as is. I find it also as a way to balance against specializations. After all, the point of a specialization is to better at a few things, but take the drawbacks of not being as good all around. If you cater to the specialized player, essentially removing the drawbacks, that leads to feeling like the PC is OP, or too good compared to the players who chose not to specialize. IMO anyway.
 

Doc_Klueless

Doors and Corners
So do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants, or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc?
I tend to customize items to fit the group. BUT (I... like big BUTs and cannot lie... er... back to the topic.)

But I also like to throw in items that I know they can't use or use well so that they will try to sell or trade them when they get to town. Thus opening up avenues for introducing further adventuring hooks.

I also tend to give out a plethora of one use items for funsies. These are always aimed at the group or as hints for the adventure ahead. Sort of like the Q scenes in James Bond.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think the way to go in these situations is to just use the specific magic weapon as a draw to take the quest. I can give the villain the same weapon as the PC (but magical!) and write some compelling lore around that. Or drop it into the ruins of some dungeon and have legends point to its existence. (Most magical treasure in my game is found via exploration rather than combat anyway.)

Ideally the player has a set a goal for the character to find a magical version of the weapon at some point and takes steps to do exactly that.
 

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
We tend to agree that more customization is a good thing. More choices. Well, I’ve noticed one area where it’s actually more limiting: treasure. Which is no small part of the game

Back in the day, if you were a fighter, it didn’t matter what magic item you found. Axe? Mace? Pole arm? You used it without a second thought because you were equally skilled in all weapons and armor

since 3e however, I’ve seen a lot of players over the years complain that the magic item they found didn’t fit what they specialized in (started in 1e with UA, but really started seeing it in 3e as a frequent complaint vs a rare one). It seems a strong correlation that the more specialized you could become, the more this became an issue. The common answer seems to be “as the DM, just change the magic item type to what the PC wants”. I get it, but that never sat right with me. It counters the living world concept. I.e., the world and everything in it doesn’t cater or change to player desires, but acts independently.

so do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants, or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc? As mentioned, I keep them as is. I find it also as a way to balance against specializations. After all, the point of a specialization is to better at a few things, but take the drawbacks of not being as good all around. If you cater to the specialized player, essentially removing the drawbacks, that leads to feeling like the PC is OP, or too good compared to the players who chose not to specialize. IMO anyway.
I mean even as far back as 2e AD&D with Weapon Specialization, I started to have the issues that magic weapons didn't fit my concept, so I wouldn't say this is a newer issue.

I definitely do a mix of random items and items that are tailored to the party.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Ideally the player has a set a goal for the character to find a magical version of the weapon at some point and takes steps to do exactly that.
Yah. I thank 5e for this - bounded accuracy means that a character doesn't need to find particular weapons or equipment to be effective. So, such things can either be included as dramatically appropriate, rather than as needed by level.
 
We tend to agree that more customization is a good thing. More choices. Well, I’ve noticed one area where it’s actually more limiting: treasure. Which is no small part of the game

Back in the day, if you were a fighter, it didn’t matter what magic item you found. Axe? Mace? Pole arm? You used it without a second thought because you were equally skilled in all weapons and armor
What? You were likely -2 until you got a new weapon proficiency in a couple of levels. Plus, Weapon Specialization was locking fighters into a single weapon even before it saw official hardbound print in 1e UA.

...you say the darndest things 'bout "back in the day," sometimes.... ;) ...guess we really did all have very different experiences, and regional differences, and whatnot, back in the day, before the internet 'Borg'd the lot of us.

Besides, that mace is goin' to the cleric, and all the really good magic weapons that the cleric couldn't use were probably swords, longswords, at that.
And, armor? +1 something else, was at best, the same AC as platemail, and most lesser armors didn't go very high in bonuses, anyway.

That came later, with 3e, IIRC.

since 3e however, I’ve seen a lot of players over the years complain that the magic item they found didn’t fit what they specialized in (started in 1e with UA, but I really started seeing it in 3e as a frequent complaint vs a rare one).
Perhaps it was just that, prior to 3e, players didn't dare complain...?
"Hey, this +2 'hamurparaddi'ian shamshir' doesn't count as a longsword does it? I'm specialized in Longsword, it wouldn't even be worth..."
"You see a rust monster."
"Nevermind! I think it's really cool that we're not getting boring old weapons off the random table! Really!"

It seems a strong correlation that the more specialized you could become, the more this became an issue. The common answer seems to be “as the DM, just change the magic item type to what the PC wants”. I get it, but that never sat right with me. It counters the living world concept.
And, considering that the fighter depended, on the one hand, on getting just the right gear to be able to take on encounters as he leveled, and, on the other, upon the "living world" unpredictability/pacing to be remotely balanced with the Tier 1 casters (through the sweet spot, anyway), in 3e, that was quite the conundrum.

Of course, in 3e, you could, if you had a caster with Forge Arms & Armor feat, sell off items you couldn't make best use of, and use the proceeds to make the 'right' item, losing only whatever you shelled out to compensate him for the small XP cost.

so do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants, or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc? As mentioned, I keep them as is.
Another thing you can allow is more retraining. Instead of locking in any sort of specialization early, give the player more time to get into the world and the character's story, and then specialize in what he actually ends up gravitating towards.

I find it also as a way to balance against specializations. After all, the point of a specialization is to better at a few things, but take the drawbacks of not being as good all around. If you cater to the specialized player, essentially removing the drawbacks, that leads to feeling like the PC is OP, or too good compared to the players who chose not to specialize.
Anyway, not so much of an issue in 5e. Combat Styles each work with a fair range of different weapons, so if your GWM finds a maul instead of a greatsword, he's still wallop'n away. And, school specialties no longer carry opposed schools, so there's literally no drawback, there.
 

Hriston

Adventurer
I don’t know to which day you’re referring, but in AD&D 1E, a fighter starts proficient in only four weapons, adding one every four levels, if I remember correctly, so by 10th-level, that’s still only six weapons. If you found a magic weapon that wasn’t one of those six, for example, you were SOL until you gained a few levels and had another proficiency slot open up.

Edit: Ninja’d by @Tony Vargas !
 
Last edited:

NotAYakk

Explorer
You can make D&D game with "specialization" that doesn't fall into this trap.

1. Presume competence. Your stats and other "immutables" should have a limited effect on how good you are at your class.
2. For fighting classes, your level determines how "complex" a fighting style you can have.
3. For mage classes, your level determines how "complex" a spell you can cast.
4. Changing your spells or changing your fighting style takes about as much work. Downtime/practice can be measured in common units.

Under such a system, you can be specialized to use (say) polearms, but if you run into an awesome greatsword you can spend, say, a week setting up a greatsword style.

Similarly, a wizard can have a build specialized around fire spells, but can spend a week changing their load out to be cold magic based.

This is still customization, because two different fighters can be quite different in play. You can have your sword-and-board and polearm fighter who play very differently; except, given a week+ downtime, they could swap their styles (instead of having to reroll).

Now not all wizards will know all spells, and not all fighters will know all combat techniques. Picking up new spells and techniques would be part of adventuring. And just like how wizards don't have every spell prepared, fighters won't have every technique incorporated into a style.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
I keep the items as is, and that includes randomly rolling things

5e is great in this, because there is very little specialization beyond one-handed, two-handed, or finesse. Unless you are actually going with Crossbow Expert (poor you), you shouldn't have a problem.

I think it adds a lot to the experience to have characters pick up and use what they find. In our current campaign we have a bard who has been taking advantage of this to add ongoing development to his character concept--letting the items he finds define part of while he becomes.

We don't have anyone who uses a shield, yet we've found 2 already. One if them had a property that keeps you cool in hot weather, so a character who wields a longsword and keeps a hand open for spellcasting had been narratively carrying it around on the Isle of Dread to stay cool. If he really thought the AC would be worth the "drop and grab" spellcasting that might leave him disarmed at the wrong moment, he could use it in a fight, but that hasn't been something compelling yet.

It will likely be disappointing if we come across a nice set of heavy armor (no one is proficient). And if we find a maul or something, it will likely be the longsword guy using it.

When it comes to character options, I don't think one should have to sacrifice theme for effectiveness...but once the game has started, I think 5e does a good enough job of balancing that choosing how important being "a sword guy" rather than "the guy with the dwarven thrower" until you find a better sword is to you is a feature.
 
I don’t know to which day you’re referring, but in AD&D 1E, a fighter starts proficient in only four weapons, adding one every four levels, if I remember correctly, so by 10th-level, that’s still only six weapons. If you found a magic weapon that wasn’t one of those six, for example, you were SOL until you gained a few levels and had another proficiency slot open up.

Edit: Ninja’d by @Tony Vargas !
Heh. But I prefer "pirate." ;)

One oddity of 1e proficiency & magic item tables: at high level (like, y'know, 9th), it was pretty darn likely that the best magic weapon you'd've found was a longsword, so, really, at that point you hardly needed much variety in weapons of proficiency, but, you had a number of 'em.
At lower levels, you just might encounter a +1 what-the-heck-is-that-anyway-looks-like-a-giant-can-opener-on-the-end-of-a-10'-pole, because +1 was about all that was on the table, and a +1 just about anything was possible. Also, you DM mightn't've gotten sick of weapon v armor adjustments, yet (and your foes might still be humanoids in armor other than plate) so you might get a bonus for using just the right weapon. So, being proficient in more than just longsword and made-for-your-STR longbow would've been nice.
 
Last edited:

Mistwell

Hero
Every time you create an ability for a specific class or a specific feat, you are limiting the ability of others to try and do that same kind of thing without having taken that ability or feat.

So before a player could say "I try to mimic the speech of that guard we met earlier to this other guard" and a DM might say, "OK make a Charisma (Deception) check against his Wisdom (Insight) check to see if he can tell it's a fake" However, once you make the Actor feat, which has that exact language as an aspect of the feat, a DM is far less likely to allow you to try that or at least try it in that way. Because what was the point of spending a highly limited resource like a feat slot to get that ability if anyone could just try it without the feat in the same way?

And this applies to most "customization" options in the game. The more "options" provided to "customize" characters, the less free choice people have to try something on the fly which isn't an option they chose.

Which is why people who play OD&D say it's the game with the most ability to freely play. It lacks the restraints that come with customization options in a massive tome of rules, which has the unintended consequence of limiting those without those options.
 
Last edited:

Shiroiken

Adventurer
Yah. I thank 5e for this - bounded accuracy means that a character doesn't need to find particular weapons or equipment to be effective. So, such things can either be included as dramatically appropriate, rather than as needed by level.
In my first 5E campaign, I had a player with a GWM PAM Paladin that was really badass. Once we started getting higher level, he asked if they were ever going to find a magic glaive, since many party members had magic weapons already (even the sorcerer had a dagger +1). I responded that I randomly rolled the magic weapon and armor from the old 1E DMG table, and that his odds of getting a polearm was about 2%. Less than thrilled, he asked about downtime rules for creating magic items, and we worked things out so that he (eventually) was able to craft one for himself.

It wasn't necessary, since with Improved Smite and periodically using smite, he was able to deal magical damage, but having a magical weapon made things much easier for him towards the end of the campaign. Because he was using an odd weapon choice (which he got a ton of benefit for) it took much longer for him to get a magic one. Had we not being playing as long of a campaign (levels 3-18) he probably wouldn't have gotten one. To me this was a decent balancing factor to PAM, and the same logic applies to any form of specialization.
 

the Jester

Legend
The common answer seems to be “as the DM, just change the magic item type to what the PC wants”. I get it, but that never sat right with me. It counters the living world concept. I.e., the world and everything in it doesn’t cater or change to player desires, but acts independently.

so do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants, or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc?
Leave 'em as is. In fact, I roll almost all the treasure I give out randomly. I've even gone so far as to give all monsters in the MM individual treasure types, and I've made 1e-style random magic item charts that include the hundreds of items I have converted.

The thing about using random treasure is that you're defeating the purpose if you don't stick to the rolls. So I've had low-level pcs get armor of etherealness, and gone with it.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Players can take an item to town and get it tailored to suit their taste. A magical hammer can transfer to a longsword. And so on. They can even do it themselves if they have a high Arcana necessary equipment.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I don’t know to which day you’re referring, but in AD&D 1E, a fighter starts proficient in only four weapons, adding one every four levels, if I remember correctly, so by 10th-level, that’s still only six weapons. If you found a magic weapon that wasn’t one of those six, for example, you were SOL until you gained a few levels and had another proficiency slot open up.

Edit: Ninja’d by @Tony Vargas !
well, for us old people, back in the day means OD&D and basic, where there aren’t any weapon proficiency rules
 

ccs

39th lv DM
so do you as a DM change items to be what the player wants,
Nope.
  • If I'm running a module you'll find whatever's listed. Assuming you find it. If you miss it, it won't magically shift in front of you. Not even if it's a plot device.
  • If I'm rolling things randomly, then that's what you'll find. Sometimes this has led to some really wild twists &/or what would set others screeching about "OVERPOWERED! BROKEN! BUT BALANCE!". If I couldn't handle that possibility I wouldn't be rolling the dice.
  • If I'm purpose building an NPC? Then NPC will be geared to best suite them, not the PCs.
  • If I'm placing something for plot purposes....


or do you keep them as is and the players decide what to do with them, sell them, use them, etc?
This.
Look, I did MY job. I put treasure into the game. What exactly the players do with it is what generates more story.

If a player wants their character to acquire something specific? Great. Sounds like thy're selecting their own next quest. :)
 

Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
I do not adjust the item(s) to match the player(s)/group.

Magical items are rare.

Finding one your PC can use without serious hit/damage modifiers, even rarer.


And since my groups/campaigns all use the Encyclopedia Magica, a player getting a magical item they can't use is high.

And they can trade it/selling it on the open market or in my version of the black market.

For example:
Table R "Armor & Shields": has 5 main catagories (armor, barding, bonnet, caparison, shield) plus special table.
Each main catagory has -1, +1, +2, +3, +4, +5.

Armour itself comes in 4 makes: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Gnome/Halfling.
Each make comes in 4 sizes: 5'0"-6'8", 4'0"-5'6", 3'6"-4'6", 2'6"-4'0".
Types of armour: 42 which includes banded, chain, coin, gallic armour, lamellar, spike leather, plate...

One can roll an Elven made chain armor +2 made for 2'6"-4'0" human body.

Even if one can wear chain armor, one might be too big to wear it.

Your 6'3" cleric might not be able to wear it, but they can sure trade it for something your PC could use (if available), or sell it and later buy what the PC wants/needs.

If the item you want is not available on the open market, and your PC is willing to pay 10x its value, then you can get it via the other market.

So saying only classes that can use certain magical items are allowed to take them in my games is BS.

Magical items have GP value which a PC can use to purchase the items THEY can use.


PS: My 2e group always use weapon and non-weapon proficiency(s). So we do get lots of magical items the PC's would rather sell/trade for something magical they can use.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Nope.
  • If I'm running a module you'll find whatever's listed. Assuming you find it. If you miss it, it won't magically shift in front of you. Not even if it's a plot device.
  • If I'm rolling things randomly, then that's what you'll find. Sometimes this has led to some really wild twists &/or what would set others screeching about "OVERPOWERED! BROKEN! BUT BALANCE!". If I couldn't handle that possibility I wouldn't be rolling the dice.
  • If I'm purpose building an NPC? Then NPC will be geared to best suite them, not the PCs.
  • If I'm placing something for plot purposes....




This.
Look, I did MY job. I put treasure into the game. What exactly the players do with it is what generates more story.

If a player wants their character to acquire something specific? Great. Sounds like thy're selecting their own next quest. :)
heh. I was running ToEE in 1e, and the Paladin wanted a holy sword. But of course. So how did I handle it? His god gave him a quest to retrieve Blackrazor from white plume mountain, take it to an ancient white dragons lair and have it breathe on it, and immediately smash it to pieces with whelm. Then take the pieces and find a lost temple of his god (another complete adventure module) and have it reforged into a holy sword.

That’s how I roll 😂
 

Hriston

Adventurer
well, for us old people, back in the day means OD&D and basic, where there aren’t any weapon proficiency rules
If you’re talking about the original game, sure, but considering that the Basic line ran concurrently with Advanced for 23 years, I don’t think relative age has anything to do with it.
 

Coroc

Adventurer
I even sometimes distribute treasure this way:

"Character x you "find" this on the dead mob A, Character y you "find" that in the treasure chest" etc.

Means it is "bind on pickup" :p treasure.

This has some reasons e.g. to provide a character with a useful magic item which would make this character well rounded, but another one would break balance if he got it.

E.g. a ring of protection for the AC 12 Mage is no prob, but I do not want to have it on the AC 20 fighter.

Sometimes the party can decide among themselves e.g. I let them find two magic gems which can enhance existing magic weapons. One deals 1 point of radiant damage each hit and can produce light, the other one is a heartseeker providing 1d10 extra damage on a crit. None of these would make any char out of balance so they get to chose who gets what..
 

Advertisement

Top