Excerpts Archive | 10/15/2010
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Magic Items
DM Kit Excerpts

Experience points, treasure, action points, and intangible rewards keep characters moving on from encounter to encounter, level to level, and adventure to adventure. Small rewards come frequently, while large rewards provide a big boost once in a while. Both are important.

The Dungeon Master's Kit provides information all kinds of rewards for players. In today’s preview, we wanted to detail what new information the kit has to say about magic items—in particular, their level of rarity.

Magic Items

Magic items fall into several broad categories: armor, weapons, implements, clothing and jewelry, wondrous items, and potions. Items in a particular category tend to have similar effects. For example, magic weapons give bonuses when a character attacks with them, and magic boots typically have powers or properties related to movement. Aside from those generalities, magic items have a wide variety of powers and properties. Aside from those generalities, magic items have a wide variety of powers and properties. Wondrous items in particular provide a wide variety of useful tools, from a bag of holding to a flying carpet. Whatever an item’s effects, the item’s description indicates how a character accesses them.

As adventurers gain levels, the mundane equipment they use at the start of their careers is quickly overshadowed by the magic items they acquire on their adventures. Magic armor that can cloak them in shadow, magic weapons that burst into flame, magic rings that turn them invisible, or Ioun stones that orbit their heads to grant them great capabilities—these items enhance and supplement the powers they gain from their classes and enhance their attacks and defenses.

Two aspects of a magic item control when it is likely to become available to adventurers: its level and its rarity.

Level: A magic item’s level is a general measure of its power and translates to the average level of character using that item. An item’s level doesn’t limit who can acquire or use the item, though it’s unusual for an adventurer to find magic items more than a few levels above his or her own level.

Rarity: A magic item’s rarity indicates how easy it is to obtain in the Dungeons & Dragons world.

Common magic items are the sort that the most advanced dwarf smiths and elf weavers create in their workshops. These items are generally simple, often having only a single special property. This might take the form of a bonus to certain skill checks or attacks, enhanced effects on a critical hit, and so on.

Adventurers can purchase these common items just as they can buy mundane equipment, though it’s rare to find a shop or bazaar that routinely sells them. Some fantastic places, such as the legendary City of Brass in the heart of the Elemental Chaos, have such markets, but those are the exception rather than the rule. Rather, characters must seek out the artisans who create common magic items, but they are not especially difficult to find. In most situations—particularly with a little free time—characters can buy any common magic item they can afford without the shopping trip becoming an adventure in its own right.

Uncommon and rare magic items are not normally created in the current age of the world. These items were created in the distant past, some even during the Dawn War, but the techniques for crafting them have been lost to the ravages of time. Now these items are found only as part of treasure hoards in ancient ruins and dangerous dungeons. Uncommon items are more complicated and potent than common items, though they usually carry only a single property or power. Rare magic items are even more complex and wondrous, frequently having multiple properties or powers and often helping to define a character’s identity.

On average, about half of the items that characters find as treasure are common items. The other half are uncommon magic items. About one magic item in eight is rare, so these items show up only about once every other level the adventurers gain. On average, that means that any given character will acquire one rare item per tier of play, and will rarely own more than three.

If the adventurers find a magic item they don’t want to keep, or they find an item that replaces an item they already have, they might end up trying to sell the item. This usually isn’t a favorable transaction for the adventurers—the sale price of a common magic item is only one-fifth the normal price of the item while uncommon magic items sell for one-half the normal price. Only rare magic items fetch their full normal price when sold by adventurers.

The trickiest part of awarding treasure is determining what magic items to give out. Tailor these items to your party of characters. Remember that these are supposed to be items that excite the characters, items they want to use rather than sell. If none of the characters in your 6th-level party uses a longbow, don’t put a 10th-level longbow in your dungeon as treasure.

One way to make sure you give players magic items they’ll be excited about is to ask them for wish lists. At the start of each level, have each player write down a list of three to five uncommon items that they are intrigued by that are no more than four levels above their own level. You can choose treasure from those lists (making sure to place an item from a different character’s list each time), crossing the items off as the characters find them.

Don’t use wish lists for rare items. These items are completely in your purview, and should advance the story of your campaign and provide unexpected delights to the players.

Here’s a sample rare magic item, the holy avenger weapon.

Holy Avenger
Level 25+ Rare
The most prized weapon of any paladin.
Lvl 25 +5 625,000 gp Lvl 30 +6 3,125,000 gp
Weapon: Axe, hammer, heavy blade
Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
Critical: +1d6 radiant damage per point of enhancement bonus, and you can spend a healing surge
Property: Your radiant powers deal 1d10 extra radiant damage when used through the weapon.
Power (Daily): Minor Action. You and each ally within 10 squares of you gain a +5 power bonus to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will until the end of your next turn.
Special: A holy avenger can be used as a holy symbol. It adds its enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls and the extra damage granted by its property (if applicable) when used in this manner. You do not gain your weapon proficiency bonus to an attack roll when using a holy avenger as an implement.

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