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

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
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.
It's not intended as such. 3e just wasn't as big as letting its design guts hang out, I think that transparency just became more normal as game design progressed in the '00s.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
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.
Hope in one hand and expect in the other, see which one fills up faster.
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.
Also true in 4e.
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.
The book absolutely does not say you have to give the players the items on their wishlist. There is no straight jacket. There is only the suggestion that if players want something specific, they can ask for it. The DM is under no obligation whatsoever to grant those requests.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Well put; and IMO this item randomness is an aspect of play that never should have been lost.
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.
The ascendence of the character-build side of the game, most prevalent in 3e, was/is IMO another negative development. Players' focus moves away from the party as a whole and what it is doing and toward their own specific character(s) and their continued acquisition of character building blocks.
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.
In the case of 1e 2e and 3e I'd posit that the push-back isn't too severe. We played 3e as if it was 1e for a long time without too much trouble; and our 1e games sometimes go character-focused without issue (though absent the 'build' focus). And even 1e had item prices in the DMG, but didn't have hard-coded formulae for item creation costs etc. which nicely left it up to each DM whether or not item creation would be a thing in a given campaign, and how it would work.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hope in one hand and expect in the other, see which one fills up faster.

Also true in 4e.

The book absolutely does not say you have to give the players the items on their wishlist. There is no straight jacket. There is only the suggestion that if players want something specific, they can ask for it. The DM is under no obligation whatsoever to grant those requests.
It's quite some time since I read the 4e DMG but isn't there something in there (strongly?) encouraging DMs to use their players' wish lists when placing treasure?
 

cbwjm

Legend
It's quite some time since I read the 4e DMG but isn't there something in there (strongly?) encouraging DMs to use their players' wish lists when placing treasure?
I recall that as well, though it has been a long time since I read about the wish lists. Even then, if you didn't get what you wanted from a dungeon there were rituals that let you break down the unwanted items and recreate what you want. Not 100% sure if it was a 1:1 exchange though.
 

Bupp

Adventurer
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.
I use 3rd party spells when I hand these out, so it's usually not an effect the players are familiar with.
 

The Weather Outside Is Frightful!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top