D&D 5E The Role of Magic Items in early D&D (and today!)

Also, back before 3e, if you didn't have a weapon with a high enough +, you just straight up couldn't hurt some enemies. 3e mitigated this somewhat though until 3.5 the damage reduction was generally so high that it may as well have been immunity.
i feel people have forgotten
You need a +2 or better weapon to hit
 

log in or register to remove this ad

yes,

but you had rituals that transferred enchantments from one item to another?

What, we got some useless club, but it's +3 flaming? 8hrs later... Look my brand new +3 flaming greatbow.
and rituals like that SHOULD be in the current game.

"our bard died and he had +3 scimitar..." magic ritual later "The hexblade now has a +3 longsword"
 

Well in the original rules, you lost residuim when you disenchanted. So you went from a +3 greataxe to +2 greatbow.

Errata gave you 100% back but only for rare items.
The residuum you’d get out of disenchanting a magic item wasn’t enough to enchant another of the same rarity. It was functionally just a more flavorful version of buying and selling magic items in 3.Xe.
your talking about 2 different things...
I can disenchant and get X amount of residuum (to make a completely different item or use as a ritual)
or
I can transfer from 1 item directly exact to another with transfer
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
and rituals like that SHOULD be in the current game.

"our bard died and he had +3 scimitar..." magic ritual later "The hexblade now has a +3 longsword"
The only response to the DM with a randomness addiction who you can NEVER get a good upgrade to your primary weapon out of because the dice are the actual DM and they say you get a +4 flaming burst dart of brilliant energy and a scroll of waterbreathing in your City of Brass campaign.
 



James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Girdle of Many Pouches and Bucknard's Everfull Purse... man, I could use one of those today!
Well there's the Robe of Useful Items, that might have some money in it...

I miss my Paladin's Helm of Underwater Action, even though it was nothing but a diving helmet! The Wall Walkers from 4e are also a favorite, you can have a lot of fun being able to run on walls (or ceilings, with the daily power!).
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Complicated, bespoke magic items fit better in earlier editions because character growth was primarily numerical, and little was gained in terms of novel abilities. Essentially, gaining new magic items was the character growth.

Nowadays, characters are primarily built to fit a certain image or concept, and magic items became another axis of character definition. And since magic items acquisition has historically been the axis of character definition most outside of the player's control (although later 3e and 4e pushed away from that somewhat), it became marginalized when 5e decided to revert to the pre-WotC version of magic item gain and distribution.

Fundamentally, if you want magic items to matter more, you need to play in a manner in which player-facing character building decisions are less of a factor in character growth. Less feats, less level-by-level multiclassing, less class and subclass features that become active at higher levels.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Well in the original rules, you lost residuim when you disenchanted. So you went from a +3 greataxe to +2 greatbow.

Errata gave you 100% back but only for rare items.
I errata'd that on my own and if the item is 5 levels below yours you get 100% return... with a gradual down to 20 percent if its only at level. You get better at disenchanting or your contacts improve at getting you the real value. The rare/common ratings did not ummm make sense to me.
 
Last edited:

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Fundamentally, if you want magic items to matter more, you need to play in a manner in which player-facing character building decisions are less of a factor in character growth. Less feats, less level-by-level multiclassing, less class and subclass features that become active at higher levels.
Less identity not defined by DM fiat.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I find the 5e approach quite strange overall. On one hand they are interesting in DMG and important ways to customize the character, on the other, the official adventure paths have way too few magic items, especially weapons and armour. It really affects martial PCs - especially with respect to damaging creatures that require magic weapons to hit. My last two martial PCs did not have +1 magic weapons til they were about 8th and 11th level respectively. I joked with my DM- why does WOTC put them in the DMG if they are going to put them into their adventures?

I also feel that I am one of the few gamers who likes simple + on weapons and armour - I dont feel that every magic item has to be unique or have a backstory.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I find the 5e approach quite strange overall. On one hand they are interesting in DMG and important ways to customize the character, on the other, the official adventure paths have way too few magic items, especially weapons and armour. It really affects martial PCs - especially with respect to damaging creatures that require magic weapons to hit. My last two martial PCs did not have +1 magic weapons til they were about 8th and 11th level respectively. I joked with my DM- why does WOTC put them in the DMG if they are going to put them into their adventures?

I also feel that I am one of the few gamers who likes simple + on weapons and armour - I dont feel that every magic item has to be unique or have a backstory.
Because WotC assumes that DMs can make the choice to just add in more magic items if they feel the game is missing them (and the DM feels they have the skills to keep the game in balance by doing so.) As opposed to putting in too many and having some DMs (perhaps new or less-experienced) feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff the PCs can now start throwing around from all the ability and magic items they now have access to.

More advanced DMs know (or at least should know by now) that they are not beholden to what is written in these adventures. They can add and subtract to their heart's content to make these adventures what they want. And that's easier for WotC to imply to them, than it is easier to imply to newer or less-experienced DMs that (had they put in more magic items into the book) they are fine taking some out. Because those DMs might not have even realized the magic items put in the adventure could be too much until after they already gave them out and the players ran roughshod over everything.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
Because WotC assumes that DMs can make the choice to just add in more magic items if they feel the game is missing them (and the DM feels they have the skills to keep the game in balance by doing so.) As opposed to putting in too many and having some DMs (perhaps new or less-experienced) feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff the PCs can now start throwing around from all the ability and magic items they now have access to.

Yes, I can see that (and I think a similar point can be said of the number of monsters/difficulty of combats in WoTC adventures). I guess my reference point is my starting point of playing D&D in 1e where many magic items had a similar reference point of power to 5e but there so much more in quantity!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This really isn’t accurate. Magic items could be found in player-facing books, yes, but you didn’t automatically get them at fixed levels like with feats, and you didn’t really choose which ones you got. There was an expected progression like in 3e, sure, and if you wanted some particular item or items you could ask your DM to put it/them in the adventure. But that’s not really new. You’ve always been able to ask the DM to include something in the game if you wanted it, and they’ve always been able to say no.
True, but wasn't it 4e that somewhat built in the idea of players making item "wish lists" for their characters? Wish lists that the DM had the option of ignoring, sure, but to some extent at her own peril.
The only difference was that 4e actually encouraged (but did not mandate) the DM to accept such requests.
And with such encouragement made item selection far more player-facing than anything prior, or since.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
True, but wasn't it 4e that somewhat built in the idea of players making item "wish lists" for their characters? Wish lists that the DM had the option of ignoring, sure, but to some extent at her own peril.
Players have always had the ability to ask their DMs to include items they wanted in a campaign, and DMs have always had the option to accept or decline. 4e was no different, except perhaps in that it acknowledged that this sort of thing happens.
And with such encouragement made item selection far more player-facing than anything prior, or since.
Not really. You still got whatever the DM decided to give you. Your little brother putting a holy avenger on his “wish list” was no different in 4e than asking you if you could include one in the campaign in any other edition. It has always happened and will always happen, and DMs will always decide whether or not to grant those requests based on their own criteria and judgment, as they always have done.
 

Bupp

Adventurer
I've recently did a write up on my blog about how I've started doing magic items, taking some inspiration from Numenera's cyphers, but also as a way to use 3rd party spells (though you could use "official" spells as well). These items can be used by any class, so they are great for giving characters different "abilities".

Charms​

Charms are single use magic items and can be made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to destroy the item.

Charms are inspired by Numenera/Arcana of the Ancients cyphers. A Charms power can be chosen from spells of any level or school. Being single use you can give out items of higher level than the characters could currently cast. These are often good for fun, big, splashy effects.

One that I gave out recently was the Trampling Charm to the loxodon forge cleric. He busted it out in the middle of a big melee combat, and had a blast! It uses the spell Trampling Charge from Kobold Press.

Trampling Charm​

Single use item

unnamed.png

When you crush this ceramic elephant in your hand, you can attack with the fury of a charging elephant. For the next minute, when you move at least 20 feet straight toward a creature and then hit it with a melee weapon attack on the same turn, that target must succeed on a Strength saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your spellcasting ability modifier or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, you can make one melee attack against it as a bonus action.

Cantrip Items​

Cantrip Items are items that have cantrip level powers. They are made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to trigger its effects. Cantrip Items can be activated once per turn. The character’s level determines the damage that damaging cantrips.

Cantrip items are given out to allow characters to have thematic spammable powers. At higher levels you could give out Level 1, Level 2, or higher level spells.

In my World of Eska, the hobgoblin legions are armed with Shocklances, a magic staff that strikes with a Shocking Grasp.

Long Rest Items​

Long Rest Items can be used…wait for it…once per long rest. They are made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to trigger its effects. Long Rest items have 1 charge that recharges when characters take a long rest.

Long Rest Items are given out to give off themed, but fun items that can be slightly over powered, or even just a fun effect. The Trampling Charm was a hit, and at only 2nd level spell for a 5th level character, I would give the character a Long Rest item with the spell.

Upgrading Items​

If the effects prove popular they can be “upgraded”. Meaning you can have the characters find a cache of Charms of the same type, or make a favorite charm into a Long Rest Item. Long Rest Items can become Short Rest Items. Upgrades can be done by an currently undetermined crafting or magical ritual.

Instead of Upgrade, you can also allow a spellcaster to add the spell to their spell list or spellbook.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Players have always had the ability to ask their DMs to include items they wanted in a campaign, and DMs have always had the option to accept or decline. 4e was no different, except perhaps in that it acknowledged that this sort of thing happens.
4e was the first D&D that put it into print as a suggestion, however; and putting things like this into print tends to take it from "hope" to "expect" that the list will be used.
Not really. You still got whatever the DM decided to give you. Your little brother putting a holy avenger on his “wish list” was no different in 4e than asking you if you could include one in the campaign in any other edition. It has always happened and will always happen, and DMs will always decide whether or not to grant those requests based on their own criteria and judgment, as they always have done.
Ah, but my little brother (if I had one) could put whatever he wanted on a wish list in 1984 and I-as-DM could safely tell him he was out of luck with nothing anywhere in the rules to contradict me.

With 4e, however, my hypothetical little brother could - justifiably - come back with "But the book says...", because the book does say; which were I new to DMing at the time would serve to put me in something of a damned if I do damned if I don't straitjacket.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've recently did a write up on my blog about how I've started doing magic items, taking some inspiration from Numenera's cyphers, but also as a way to use 3rd party spells (though you could use "official" spells as well). These items can be used by any class, so they are great for giving characters different "abilities".

Charms​

Charms are single use magic items and can be made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to destroy the item.

Charms are inspired by Numenera/Arcana of the Ancients cyphers. A Charms power can be chosen from spells of any level or school. Being single use you can give out items of higher level than the characters could currently cast. These are often good for fun, big, splashy effects.

One that I gave out recently was the Trampling Charm to the loxodon forge cleric. He busted it out in the middle of a big melee combat, and had a blast! It uses the spell Trampling Charge from Kobold Press.

Trampling Charm​

Single use item

unnamed.png

When you crush this ceramic elephant in your hand, you can attack with the fury of a charging elephant. For the next minute, when you move at least 20 feet straight toward a creature and then hit it with a melee weapon attack on the same turn, that target must succeed on a Strength saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your spellcasting ability modifier or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, you can make one melee attack against it as a bonus action.

Cantrip Items​

Cantrip Items are items that have cantrip level powers. They are made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to trigger its effects. Cantrip Items can be activated once per turn. The character’s level determines the damage that damaging cantrips.

Cantrip items are given out to allow characters to have thematic spammable powers. At higher levels you could give out Level 1, Level 2, or higher level spells.

In my World of Eska, the hobgoblin legions are armed with Shocklances, a magic staff that strikes with a Shocking Grasp.

Long Rest Items​

Long Rest Items can be used…wait for it…once per long rest. They are made out of materials and designs that echo the powers of the items. Their power is activated by using an action to trigger its effects. Long Rest items have 1 charge that recharges when characters take a long rest.

Long Rest Items are given out to give off themed, but fun items that can be slightly over powered, or even just a fun effect. The Trampling Charm was a hit, and at only 2nd level spell for a 5th level character, I would give the character a Long Rest item with the spell.

Upgrading Items​

If the effects prove popular they can be “upgraded”. Meaning you can have the characters find a cache of Charms of the same type, or make a favorite charm into a Long Rest Item. Long Rest Items can become Short Rest Items. Upgrades can be done by an currently undetermined crafting or magical ritual.

Instead of Upgrade, you can also allow a spellcaster to add the spell to their spell list or spellbook.
Seems like a cool idea other than, going by this write-up, all any of these items seem to do is replicate existing spells, which seems very limiting.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
And with such encouragement made item selection far more player-facing than anything prior, or since.
In terms of D&D-type games, you're definitely right. 4e is diametrically opposed to TSR-era D&D in regards to magic items. TSR-era D&D is a much more random game than 4e. Finding random items and then dealing with those vagarities is a major part of the gameplay loop of earlier D&D. Allowing player choice (and really, even the DM weighting the choices instead of random rolling) violates the core gameplay loop.

4e, though, (and also 3e, although 3e is a less focused on it) is a game focused on character building and overcoming conflicts through the use of those player-made decisions. Magic items are intended to be another axis of player choice. The core gameplay loop of 4e is to face multiple conflicts, gain levels and currency, and then make more choices based on the new level and expending the currency. Random magic items fight against the 4e core gameplay loop, just as player-chosen magic items fight against the TSR D&D gameplay loop.

4e isn't a one-time aberration in this regard, 3e functions pretty similarly with item creation feats and every item having a listed market price and creation cost (not the mention the Magic Item Compendium). 4e just didn't obfuscate its intentions.

And sure, individual tables (and later supplements) can and did push TSR D&D into more character focused directions, and 4e and 3e into more random, explorative play, but I would definitely argue that style of play fights against the core gameplay of the editions.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
4e isn't a one-time aberration in this regard, 3e functions pretty similarly with item creation feats and every item having a listed market price and creation cost (not the mention the Magic Item Compendium). 4e just didn't obfuscate its intentions.
Kind of a backhand to 3e developers there. I'm not at all sure that 3e devs intended to obscure anything about magic items being intentional, player chosen, power-ups as much as it lived in an evolving space that incorporated easy magic item creation, magic item markets, and the metering of treasure acquisition. The first two reflect long-standing desires in the D&D community that, I suspect, the devs wanted to satisfy. The latter, along with the redesign of many items, reflected more the intention to produced metered power-ups, whether obtained randomly or by player choice, to the PCs rather than irregular spikes.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top