Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Magic Item Bloat

I know, I know, this topic has been beaten to death (even if not necessarily by me).  The basic problem is that there have been way too many magic items published in 4e, and only a very small subset of them see any actual use.  I probably just skip over 85-90% of everything in the Adventurer's Vaults, as it's gotten to the point where most characters that I create have the same go-to items.  For example, what character doesn't automatically go after Item bonuses to damage?  Anyone with melee attacks will probably pick up Iron Armbands of Power, and the vast majority of spellcasters gravitate to the Staff of Ruin (to the point where some specifically multiclass to gain proficiency with Staffs).  We've recently adopted a house rule in our Red Frogs campaign that fixes this (well, "recently" is an exaggeration, as for personal reasons we haven't played in over a month).  It was inspired by the inherent bonuses system, and it basically gives you an inherent bonus to damage that doesn't stack with item bonuses.  This virtually obsoletes certain auto-pick items, but as a consequence it allows players to branch out and pick up magic items with other neat effects that simply weren't worth losing out on damage before.  It also gives the DM more freedom to include such items as treasure, whereas before players would get resentful because the item interfered with their damage bonus (or they just sold it for reduced cost).  Perhaps most importantly, it evens the playing field for PCs who for whatever reason couldn't get that item bonus to damage (Shamans come to mind off the top of my head). 

Here's the progression: 

+1 at levels 1-5
+2 at levels 6-10
+3 at levels 11-15
+4 at levels 16-20
+5 at levels 21-25
+6 at levels 26-30

An alternative system would be to simply double the enhancement bonus of your weapon/implement when calculating your damage modifier (whether or not that bonus comes from the weapon/implement itself, or through the existing inherent bonus rules).  In any case, in my opinion any attempt to make PCs as independent of items as possible is a worthwhile endeavor.

On a semi-related note, I'd like to mention that Heroes of the Feywild (which I reviewed in a previous post) seems to indicate that this trend might be ending, or at the very least active contribution to the problem is dwindling.  The vast majority of gear in the book is flavorful out of combat stuff as opposed to a bunch of combat-relevant magic items with huge discrepancies in power between them.  The combat-items that are present are 3 new magic totems, all of which are pretty useful.  Besides, totems  have gotten notoriously sparse support, and this helps to alleviate that.  Case in point, with my inherent damage bonus house rule in place I'm most likely going to be using the new Shepherd's Totem when I roll up my first Protector Druid. 

The Fey Magic gifts in particular are things that I can see myself giving out as a DM, even if not necessarily in place of an actual magic item.  These all have mundane applications, but players immersed in their characters will appreciate such minor abilities.  Some examples include being able to pick up flames without needing fuel and without getting burned, sniffing out gold, silver, and gems, gaining the ability to talk with animals, and increasing the volume of your voice (which also grants a bonus to Intimidate checks).  There's plenty of roleplaying potential here, and it's also a good way to make a character seem a bit more magical or otherworldly.  After all, nobody comes back from the Feywild unchanged...

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