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View Full Version : "Most magic items in D&D are awful" -- WOTC



gdmcbride
03-07-2007, 08:57 AM
Wow ... I recently read a statement on WOTC's website that I thought I'd never see WOTC own up to.

The full article is here: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dd/20070302a

Let me quote an excerpt by Andy Collins, the author of the piece.

"Let me start this column off with an ugly confession.

Most magic items in D&D are awful.

I’m not talking about +1 swords or gauntlets of ogre power, mind you. I’m talking about the hundreds upon hundreds of never-used magic items littering sourcebooks throughout the last six-plus years of the game.

Almost every book has a few of these stinkers—and some of them are chock-full. Even the hallowed Dungeon Master’s Guide is no exception; when’s the last time your character thought seriously about shelling out 23,500 gp for a rod of enemy detection, or a whopping fifty-seven thousand gold pieces for a helm of underwater action?

Instead, the majority of a character’s item slots are spent on what I call the “Big Six”:

Magic weapon
Magic armor & shield
Ring of protection
Cloak of resistance
Amulet of natural armor
Ability-score boosters

Throw in a few more common items, such as the bag of holding, boots of striding and springing (though the “springing” part’s wasted on most folks), maybe a metamagic rod or two, a smattering of easily forgotten potions and scrolls, and of course the omnipresent wands of cure light wounds—and you’ve probably covered 80% or more of the average PC’s gear list."

I completely agree with the sentiment and would even take it farther. The big six -- the super useful items -- are also among the most flavorless and mechanical of items. Whenever 4th edition rears its ugly head, I really hope magic items get a huge redesign.

Gary

Moritz
03-07-2007, 02:38 PM
4th edition? Bah, I paid enough going from 3.0 to 3.5.

gdmcbride
03-07-2007, 03:58 PM
4th edition? Bah, I paid enough going from 3.0 to 3.5.

I will almost certainly be picking up 4th edition whenever it comes out (probably 2009 or later). After all, even if it's terrible, I'll want to see what the state of D&D is. Of course, if its bad enough, I'll read it, shrug and go back to playing any of the myriad great RPGs that currently exist.

Gary

gurusloth
03-08-2007, 12:37 AM
I had a conversation about this attitude towards magic items with a friend of mine. My arguement was that a lot of the magic items that get lumped into the 'never used' category should be thought of as 'never used by PCs'.

Every magic item has a purpose, even if that purpose is narrowly defined. For example, the Helmet of Underwater Action. Sure, most PCs aren't going to find a lot of times that they'll be needing this item. But if you give it to an ocean-dwelling NPC, then that's an item that they'll be using all the time. Now, if the PCs have to defeat this NPC and the helmet is used by the NPC to make a well-planned escape, is the helmet still useless?

My point is that, like the many, many different types of monsters that are available for DMs to use, the magic items are also there for the same purpose: to make the PC's encounters interesting and challenging. Just because the items themselves have no combat utility, that does not mean they have no merit.

gdmcbride
03-08-2007, 02:06 AM
I had a conversation about this attitude towards magic items with a friend of mine. My arguement was that a lot of the magic items that get lumped into the 'never used' category should be thought of as 'never used by PCs'.

Every magic item has a purpose, even if that purpose is narrowly defined. For example, the Helmet of Underwater Action. Sure, most PCs aren't going to find a lot of times that they'll be needing this item. But if you give it to an ocean-dwelling NPC, then that's an item that they'll be using all the time. Now, if the PCs have to defeat this NPC and the helmet is used by the NPC to make a well-planned escape, is the helmet still useless?

My point is that, like the many, many different types of monsters that are available for DMs to use, the magic items are also there for the same purpose: to make the PC's encounters interesting and challenging. Just because the items themselves have no combat utility, that does not mean they have no merit.

The problem is sale values. The HoUA blue books for a whopping 57K. That means you can dump it for 28.5K at a magic item store near you.

You can get a +2 bonus for each of the six stats for 4000 x 6 = 24K. So, you can either breathe underwater or get a +2 to every stat and a +1 weapon from the sale value. Uh, yeah. As soon as the underwater mission is over, that helm is gone. A flavorful interesting magic item is sold in a heartbeat and replaced by bland, mechanical but very effective stat boosting items.

Basically when the system says to a PC, you can either receive
+1 hit point per level
+1 bonus to all three saves
+1 to hit in both ranged and melee combat
+1 to all skills
+1 to AC (armor permitting)
+1 to initiative
increase to the amount of gear and treasure you can carry
perhaps a bonus to spells per day with change left over to buy a magic weapon or six potions of water breathing...

...or you can breathe and see underwater, that system is encouraging a certain magic item selection amongst the PCs.

Compare that with say a HERO 5.5 point buy system. Life Support: Expanded Breathing (Water) costs a mere 5 pts (the cost of a single skill or a very weak attack). With the focus disadvantage, you can also afford to increase your sense of sight underwater for that same cost.

What's the point? I want a system that more accurately weighs benefit versus cost in magic items. Its not impossible ... several other systems accomplish it quite handily. I was encouraged to see that even at least one of the designers at WOTC agrees. Of course hearing this from Andy Collins isn't the same as hearing it from Bill Slavicsek.

Gary

Moritz
03-08-2007, 08:23 AM
Every magic item has a purpose, even if that purpose is narrowly defined. For example, the Helmet of Underwater Action. Sure, most PCs aren't going to find a lot of times that they'll be needing this item. But if you give it to an ocean-dwelling NPC, then that's an item that they'll be using all the time. Now, if the PCs have to defeat this NPC and the helmet is used by the NPC to make a well-planned escape, is the helmet still useless?

As always, I apply the conversation to my own personal experiences.

When it comes to obscure or generally unused magic items I tend to put the players/party into positions where they have to actually use oddities and think. Hack and Slash can only go so far.
A helm of underwater action would definitely get used in my game; right alongside the deck of many things or deck of horrors. They'd come to an impasse where they'd have to resort to using something that may kill them but also may save them.

PS: I love cursed items.

Ed Zachary
03-08-2007, 02:26 PM
All characters wear some type of armor or cloak, so they need those as enchanted protection. Some of those "plus whatever garments" also have other magical abjuration, alteration or transmutation spells on them.

All characters carry some type of weapon, so they need those as enchanted tools of destruction. Some of those "plus whatever tools" also have other magical effects or spells on them.

Spell casters will always need to cast more spells than their allowance gives them, so they will carry Wands, Rods, Staffs and Scrolls. All characters may carry potions.

Most characters wear other devices such as Rings, Amulets, Brooches, etc that have various magical abjurations on them. Many will carry Gems (loose, or as an eye) with Divination spell ability.

There are alot of odd items out there that are very useful. My Wizard likes his Eversmoking Bottle. My Rogue/Sorcerer likes his Boots of Airwalking. My Evil Priest likes his Cube of Force (and fights with a Ranseur). My Fighter likes his Necklace of Adaptation, Ring of Free Action, Rope of Security, Scarab of Protection and Amulet of Silence. All odd items, but useful.

And of course everyone needs some type of item like a bag of Holding, it's hard to carry 10,000 gold pieces in your pocket.

Farcaster
03-08-2007, 05:34 PM
I completely agree with the sentiment and would even take it farther. The big six -- the super useful items -- are also among the most flavorless and mechanical of items. Whenever 4th edition rears its ugly head, I really hope magic items get a huge redesign.

The stat or ability boosting items can be made a bit more interesting by mixing it up a little and giving a theme. You're right, a +4 dex item, for instance, is pretty boring, while still very useful. What if we were to spice it up a bit and make an item like this one:

Ring of the Feline Spirit - This ring features a cats-eye agate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Cymophane.jpg) set on a golden band with slender feline silhouettes etched lightly along the outside. The wearer of the ring is infused with a feline spirit, granting the following abilities:

Feline Sight (+5 spot and lowlight vision)
Feline Agility (+4 dex)
Feline Mobility (+5 jump)And if you're like me and like to spice up your magic items with minor draw backs, you could also add:

Low Attention Span (-2 circumstance penalty to any prolonged skill checks, such as when the wearer takes-20, and -2 to all concentration checks)

Much more interesting, yes? I do think there is plenty of room for making magic items more interesting and still give the player the much desired ability boosters. It just takes some creativity.

Azuth
03-08-2007, 06:08 PM
The stat or ability boosting items can be made a bit more interesting by mixing it up a little and giving a theme. You're right, a +4 dex item, for instance, is pretty boring, while still very useful. What if we were to spice it up a bit and make an item like this one:

Ring of the Feline Spirit - This ring features a cats-eye agate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Cymophane.jpg) set on a golden band with slender feline silhouettes etched lightly along the outside. The wearer of the ring is infused with a feline spirit, granting the following abilities:
Feline Sight (+5 spot and lowlight vision)
Feline Agility (+4 dex)
Feline Mobility (+5 jump)And if you're like me and like to spice up your magic items with minor draw backs, you could also add:
Low Attention Span (-2 circumstance penalty to any prolonged skill checks, such as when the wearer takes-20, and -2 to all concentration checks)
Much more interesting, yes? I do think there is plenty of room for making magic items more interesting and still give the player the much desired ability boosters. It just takes some creativity.


Maybe throw on a -2 to all concentration checks when mice, string/yarn, or catnip are around.

fmitchell
03-08-2007, 07:26 PM
The big six -- the super useful items -- are also among the most flavorless and mechanical of items. Whenever 4th edition rears its ugly head, I really hope magic items get a huge redesign.

Granted, I'm Mr. I-Hate-RPG-Magic here, but I hate the current notion of magic items. I much prefer Midnight's Covenant Items, Earthdawn's Thread Items, and FATE's treatment of magical artifacts as aspects.

Did the Arthurian legends explain the exact powers of Excalibur or the Grail? Did Tolkien ever declare why Narsil/Anduril or Glamdring were special? Did Lovecraft specify the contents of the Necronomicon? Did Conan even need magic?

Here's my preferred interpretations of magic items:


As McGuffins that cause strange, unpredictable effects.

As extremely, even supernaturally good mundane tools for those with the skill to wield them. (A magic sword won't make a mediocre warrior good, but it might make a great warrior greater.)

As extraordinarily ancient artifacts whose supernatural abilities are intertwined with their history, and which might start wielding their user rather than the reverse.


In other words, I believe magic items, even more so than magic itself, should be mysterious and unreliable, not point-and-click pseudo-technology.

gurusloth
03-09-2007, 02:50 AM
The problem is sale values. The HoUA blue books for a whopping 57K....this [pricing] system is encouraging a certain magic item selection amongst the PCs...I want a system that more accurately weighs benefit versus cost in magic items.
I agree that the costs of many of D&Ds magic items is crap. Of course, I also have a problem with the concept of 'Ye Olde Magic Shoppe', but that's not really at issue here. I just don't like the total denouncement of the value of the lesser utilized magic items.

Moritz
03-09-2007, 07:41 AM
I would often give socketed items. So the players would have to go out and find a gemstone that could be put into the socket and thus give a bonus to the item. Thus giving the player his or her own historical significance to the magic item.

Think Diablo.

Ed Zachary
03-09-2007, 07:52 AM
In other words, I believe magic items, even more so than magic itself, should be mysterious and unreliable, not point-and-click pseudo-technology.

As a player or DM I would hate that.

As a player it would seem that my character's fate and survival was due half to DM intervention and charity, and half to fortunate dice rolls. It would take player skill out of the game, and we would all be role playing a bunch of wandering buffoons.

As a DM it would wreck just about every adventure that I ever created. I'd have to tone everything down to allow for the "American Car" effect by spells and magic items. Therefore many of the previously challenging adventures would've been cake walks if the characters rolled normally or well. Either that, or I'd have a very large character cemetery, no high level characters, and undeveloped story lines due to a lack of player commitment to their latest temporary character.

Moritz
03-09-2007, 08:08 AM
In other words, I believe magic items, even more so than magic itself, should be mysterious and unreliable, not point-and-click pseudo-technology.

It's one thing to fail your concentration check and blow your spell. I'd hate to make my concentration check and for some undetermined reason the spell fails anyway. That would definitely derail the campaign as well as take away what little faith the players have. They would either go no magic, or make temp characters for specific games thus not giving continuity or fleshing out their characters.

Now, I will note, in my world, there are 'dead magic zones'. Areas that have no magic; and if a player carrying a bag of holding walks into it, the bag will immediately barf up all contents, their magic armor fizzles out, spells cannot be cast, and if they're flying, they'd best be ready to go splat.
These areas apply to monsters as well as players, so they at least end up on a semi equal playing field.
And, if they walk out of the zone, their magic returns.

fmitchell
03-09-2007, 01:34 PM
It's one thing to fail your concentration check and blow your spell. I'd hate to make my concentration check and for some undetermined reason the spell fails anyway. That would definitely derail the campaign as well as take away what little faith the players have.

That's not quite what I had in mind. For starters, check out an article by John H. Kim on ways to make magic actually magical: http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/magic/antiscience.html

Having spells fizzle is one extreme of what he's talking about in suggestion #1, but it's more like your magic "dead zones" ... except some types of spells will work and others won't. For example, in the caves of the Sea God all fire spells might have half or zero effect, water spells would have double effect, and other spells would behave normally.

I particularly like suggestion #5, especially for magic items. Assume that each magic item embodies a fragment of its creator's will, that making it magical imbues it with a particular mindset and purpose. Therefore, the item will "act" according to its purpose. Maybe an elvish sword will refuse to strike elves, but take over the wielder's arm when fighting orcs. Perhaps a lawful good healing chalice will refuse to benefit murderers. Perhaps a ring will, through seeming happenstance, influence events so that it returns to its creator ... oh, wait, we've done that one.

Farcaster
03-16-2007, 03:04 PM
Here's another on-topic article from WotC:

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/dd/20070316a&dcmp=ILC-RSSDND

Moritz
03-19-2007, 10:12 AM
So, I made a few magic items. Figured if anyone can use them, feel free. I borrowed some ideas from NWN and Diablo - especially in slotting items. While other items are just stuff pulled from the aether. So, if this helps, use away. And it appears I'm going to have to give a link to it... link to follow

-Moritz

Moritz
03-19-2007, 10:12 AM
http://www.currentmarvel.mushpark.com/magic/newmagicitems.xls

it'll give you a pop-up to download or view. it's an excel spreadsheet for ease of viewing.