Remember that you can attune yourself to the weapon at the end of an extended rest.
Remember that you can attune yourself to the weapon at the end of an extended rest.
I make it a rule that something goes up here every week. Sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it’s just the chum thrown up from my weekly 4e game. In general, though, I’m happy with it. This week, I’m running very behind with work and life stuff, so I don’t have all that much.
The context of the items is that they belong to six exarchs that have issue with the PCs. When the exarchs confront the PCs, they propose a contest between the party and three of the exarchs, with one of the relics from the defeated exarchs as the prize if the PCs happen to win.
Enjoy and hopefully I’ll have something better next week.
The main maguffin for my Monday game is a series of “relic lites” that need to be collected, taken back to a special place significant for each item and destroyed. They’re intended to be cool, but have drawbacks.
I just knew that having Monte Cook having any part of D&D development was a terrible idea. This was the guy who thought it was good to include bad powers and feats so that players with systems mastery would have an edge over those that lack it. While he’s since recanted that as a theory, his most recent Legends and Lore article shows that he really longs for the days when the GMs had more power than the players.
I take specific issue with the last two paragraphs of his article:
There’s another aspect to magic items that doesn’t get talked about much. Magic items also provide an interesting way for the DM to have a role in customizing characters. A good DM can subtly influence the way characters act and deal with challenges by what items he or she puts in the treasure hoards they uncover. For example, if the DM thinks it might be fun if the PC wizard summoned more monsters, he could place a brazier of fire elementals in the dungeon for her to find. If the DM would like to see more planar adventures in the campaign, the drow priestess the PCs defeat might possess a cubic gate. And so on. This means that the DM could place treasure (where appropriate) that he wants the characters to have rather than what the game system tells him they’re supposed to have. And certainly not what the players are saying they’re supposed to have.
Players can play a role in what items they acquire, but it’s a story-based role, not a mechanical one. If a wizard player wants to have a robe of the archmagi, she can research where one might be, learn what challenges must be overcome to obtain it, and undertake that quest, hopefully with the help of her friends. Thus, whether it’s a decision to go to the deeper level of the dungeon to get the better loot in general or a quest for a specific item, magic items could return to their original role, which is to be a driving force behind adventures.
There are a couple of fundamental problems with this perspective on magic items.
The math behind the combat system needs to be balanced in a way that allows for meaningful choices. 4e currently does an above average job of this. When I sit down to create a character that heals for a ton, I have to sacrifice something else. Sometimes I have to let a character be more squishy so that it does more damage. This type of balance is very good for the game, as it prevents a single character from overshadowing all the others.
In my Monday campaign, last night, the party was fighting an elder blizzard dragon and two earthquake dragons. The Half-Orc Fighter/Cleric pulled one of the earthquake dragons off to the side so that its aura wouldn’t get anyone else. He doesn’t do much damage, but he’s very sturdy. The Tiefling Paladin/Warlock tried to do the same with the blizzard dragon, but had the problem that her Fort defense is her weak spot. It was a rough fight, but everyone had a chance to shine. In my book, that’s great encounter design.
In one of the comments below Monte’s post, someone waxes nostalgic over having to find a +2 weapon to go fight the barrow wight. What a load of manure. Let’s say that the party goes out and finds a +2 weapon, maybe even two of them. Grats. Now the other 2-4 people in the party get to be absolutely ineffective in the fight (unless, of course, you make “spells” be effective all the time, which opens up an entirely different set of problems). This is terrible storytelling and anyone who resorts to it is nothing more than a hack.
I’ve always found the “fetch” mechanic to be a particularly weak and ineffective plot. It’s basically the worst kind of MacGuffin. The characters either come across or hear about a monster they want to kill… but they can’t. And the reason they can’t isn’t because the monster is simply too big for them, it’s because the GM has placed an arbitrary cockblock in their way. To continue the example from above, there’s nothing about the wight that necessitates that sort of defense mechanic.
From the article:
The characters should know that there are easy challenges and hard challenges out there, and should have a choice of which to face. And, generally speaking, the harder the challenge, the greater the reward. One might think that a 4th-level character shouldn’t have a +3 sword, but if, through smart (and sure, probably lucky) play he legitimately overcame appropriate obstacles to get it, shouldn’t he get it? Likewise, if a 10th-level character is still fighting crippled kobolds and half-strength goblins, he should have very little in the way of treasure, right?
You have to love the false dilemma proposed here because it feels like it stems from the accusations that 4e is too much like a MMO. “Well, if Tommy is just going to go out and grind on low-level mobs, then he shouldn’t get the phat lewt!” Of course, if you were engaging Tommy with a story that made him do more than grind on low-level mobs…
“Magic items also provide an interesting way for the DM to have a role in customizing characters.” God, what an idiot. Guess what, jerkwad? It’s not your *^$%ing character! If I’m picking magic items as part of a build that’s too optimized for your game or creates an unfun corner case, then man up and come talk to me about it. We just got done with this in the Thursday game. Josh went to Dan and asked him to change up his character a bit. Dan said sure and we got back to the story, which might have been kind of the point.
Over the three years they’ve been playing in my campaign, the characters have received eleven magic items “over budget”that were all there for story purposes. It’s very possible to nudge the characters without resorting to “what I want is more important than what you want.” I guess the question that has to be asked is, in the absence of a mechanical reason, what is the purpose of saying no? Are my players suddenly going to go, “Thanks, Michael, I didn’t want that +2 sword”?
For those of you that are interested, here’s what I do:
I have a bunch of stuff coming down the pipe (if you could only see my drafts folder…), but I was talking with one of my players about something completely unrelated to D&D and had a flash of inspiration. What if you created a group of magic items that were much like immurements from Adventurer’s Vault 2, except that they transformed the character – both physically and mechanically – into a monster? It’s that second half that’s important here, because powers that “change you into something” already exist. They grant you new abilities and change certain stats, but very few of them limit your access to your everyday powers.
I think the real value of these items is when they’re used as one-offs and consumables, because then they don’t become part of the routine. The players should never say, “Oh, it’s a boss fight, I think I’ll turn into a dragon.” I also think that the monster should be custom fitted, because there are some monsters that shouldn’t be included and because it allows you to maintain theme more tightly.
Just as I mentioned in my article on replacement fights, there are some players who don’t like the idea of “wasting time” playing something other than their character. To their way of thinking, they put all that effort and investment into the character so they could, you know, actually play the character. These types of players are unlikely to need a “break” from their character and are unlikely to perceive much value in a replacement fight.
Transformation fights also have two weaknesses that a replacement fight does not. First, the PC monsters in a replacement fight don’t have to be tuned to the characters because none of the characters are present (I think this actually a strength of the replacement fight). When you transform one or more characters, you have to make sure that the PC monsters are neither overwhelming nor insignificant to the encounter. This can be challenging to achieve.
The other concern is monkey-wrenching party synergy. Let’s say that you add a magic item that transforms a character into a brute, which is most analogous to a melee striker. If the Barbarian uses the item, it’s not much of a swap, which might or might not be okay. If the Paladin uses the item, the party is suddenly less one defender, which might throw them out of whack a little bit. The transformation will generally be less jarring if the transformation makes the fight easier or is just thrown in for a bit of fun, rather than being the key to the fight. Put another way, giving the players access to transformation is almost always more fun if the transformation is on their terms.
While I think it’s better to have the item turn someone into a specific monster, doing it this way does introduce a certain amount of “freshness dating.” Becoming a level 13 angel is awesome when you’ve just hit the paragon tier. It’s much less so at 15 or 16.
Just as an aside, I don’t include the cost of rare items because I think they should never be for sale. Your mileage may vary.
I tried just making the items, but not having established rules made the cards cumbersome.
Most of the time, the player will be in complete control of the monster, though there are some circumstances in which limits are a good idea. If you look at the examples below, the player should have free rein with the golem, but the angel shouldn’t do anything “unangelic.” If you’re going to place these limits, let the player know in advance. The last thing you want is a return to the bad old days of “your character wouldn’t do that.”
 – This is done to prevent a situation where the character “superpads” himself by transforming into a monster with full hit points with only the item activation as an opportunity cost. You could, if you wanted, have the monster have the same hit points as the character it replaces and track hit points across transformations, but that enters the grey area where you’re blending character and monster stats.
 – While this has the potential for a small amount of abuse, it simplifies things. It’s also a natural byproduct of leaving and reentering play, but makes for a nice clarification.
 – This is done for simplification. Alternatively, you can have the monster’s bloodied value be equal to half the hit points it started with.
The Mask has been known by many names. It has been passed down from assassin to cutpurse to psychopath for generations. It has never been a force for good, rather the opposite.
Design Theory: This is an example of what I consider to be the least viable item of this type. I suppose I could have put a WARNING! icon on it, because I think it will distort your game, but you’re all big girls and boys. Unless and until it gets out of hand, I suppose this item could be a lot of fun. You could easily make a level 20 version for paragon tier humanoids and a level 30 version for epic, though those versions would have far fewer options available to them.
As a further warning, while I would feel comfortable making variants of this item that open up beasts, demons and the like, I would probably not make one that transforms someone into an undead creature. Those monsters are (ostensibly) balanced around the idea that at least one person in the party will have access to radiant damage and/or a power that specifically hurts undead. This is generally not true of NPCs.
I think this design is weak in a couple of ways. First, some players are going to always want to change into a monster of their level, something that may not always be available. Restricting them to monsters of their level or lower, however, is part of how you firewall against problems like the level 6 character who turns into a level 10 monster and wrecks an encounter. If your players are asking for modified versions of standard monsters to match their level, this will be more work for you.
Sanal Malysi is better known for having created the first Warforged. The apparatus was simply an early proof-of-concept. The battered hulk can still fight, despite having been in service for centuries.
Design Theory: I happen to think that the monster itself is a little vanilla, but it makes a decent starting point. Whether or not it feels exciting will depend largely on the circumstances in which it is deployed. Being able to spend up to three healing surges is intended to allow the apparatus to feel more like a “real” defender. Note that if Mailed Rebuke hits after being triggered by an attack, it will not cancel the attack (at least that’s my understanding of the interaction).
If I were going to include the apparatus in my game, I would probably have the PCs sneak into the enemy camp to steal it. Because the horses that pull the cart are elsewhere, someone has to get in the apparatus and walk it back to friendly lines.
Design Theory: I don’t know which way I would enjoy this item more. On the one hand, it could make for an amazing “oh yeah, well then I turn into an angel!!!!” moment when the party is fighting demons or undead. Sometimes the PCs just get to be cool. On the other hand, it might be fun to just give the characters one and wait to see when they use it.
Thinking about the ideas in this post has made me think about some of the things from older editions of D&D that might not have needed to go away. I don’t lament not having to keep track of arrows because that was never fun, but I think the game might benefit – both mechanically and in terms of story – from adding back in some fun consumables. My chief concern with alchemical consumables is that, once you make them part of the game, they become just another part of the PC’s kit and power creep sets in. This is already happening to a slight degree in my Monday campaign with the patches that boost healing. It hasn’t yet become a problem, but I’m keeping a close eye on it.
In my high school campaign, the omega treasure was the “golden mushroom,” which gave you ten levels when you ate it. Obviously, that’s not possible these days, but it did inspire me to create a series of consumables. I like the idea that mushrooms aren’t something that the characters can just make. I have control over how often they appear.
You might not want to include this if the characters are already “spiking” your hard encounters.
It can be fun to give them something like this when you’re planning a saving throw heavy encounter some distance down the road.
Yes, that includes friendly diseases, effects and conditions. Think before you eat, kids.
I would put a firm limit on the number of these you hand out, but they can be chaotic fun.
This is definitely one of those consumables that would add to power creep.
This one would also.