In a recent Wizards’ blog, Peter gives an insight into the R&D of magic items. He says:
The achievement of this design goal makes the discovery of a magic item often a prosaic event: unless it’s a piece of the character-building puzzle you’d been seeking (in which case you probably already knew how you would get it), it’s not that exciting.
Translated by me… “magic items are intentionally boring.” Peter himself says that the items that they can publish (ones that don’t break the game) don’t feel magical and that they’re’s nothing that they can do about it.
This the same problem I had with Chatty DM’s post on 4e economy which is on the side of allowing players to just choose their items….
Where’s the magic?
Now that I’ve finally be able to put words to my discomfort, this is the first time I’ve really felt let down about 4th edition. The reason why I enjoy the fantasy setting is for the wonderment and magic (if I just wanted super-powered items I could play a superhero game). There’s something neat about coming up with creative uses for invisibility rings, glowing swords, ice bows, and exploding apples. And I do miss the old days of hunting down powerful wizards to get ahold of their spellbooks.
Peter’s solution to this problem is to have the DM house rule special items or to use artifacts for the cool items. I don’t like the artifact suggestion because I enjoy coolness/uniqueness of an item and not necessarily its powers. Putting the burden on the DM is slightly better because you can tweak the power and fun-factor of item without having to go through too much process. The downside is that this does create a burden for the DM; if she is trying to run a mathematically-balanced campaign, she will need to keep all the party loot in mind when crafting an encounter.
What’s the player to do?
Let’s say you have a Duelist’s Epee +1, a nice but uninteresting weapon? Well you can beef up it interesting factor with fluff:
- Create a back story. Perhaps it was awarded to great duelist Agamar by Queen Cordelia three centuries ago for winning the grand tournament at the feast of Bahamut. It came into your posession from your father who killed Agamar’s scion in a duel to the death.
- Add flair. The Epee has a blue ribbon tied around its hilt that snaps in the air when you deliver a quick strike. Perhaps it has red-enameled holster that was a gift from your character’s mother the day he set out adventuring.
- Add effects. The tip glimmers silvery in the light and whenever you make a critical hit it leaves behind a silver-covered wound. The effects would have to be cool and agreed upon in advance, so they would have no numerical consequences for the game or lasting effects (so much for vorpal).
Another thing you can do is level up your existing magic items. One of the challenges of 4e is coming up with meaningful treasure parcels that suit the characters. Instead of having the DM hand out a 7-level sword in a parcel, convince him to let you level up your 3rd-level sword to the 7th-level version at the appropriate time (plus a monetary treasure worth the sale value of the 3rd-level item). This way you can carry along the item’s back story and fluff throughout the whole campaign.
It would be interesting if there were ability charms one can place on arms an armor. Something like a frost charm that adds the equivalent power of a +1/Frost weapon to an existing weapon (and would stack with its powers). Once again this gives an existing item longer life but allows for some interesting customization and flair. I’d be interested in hearing about any rules that describe how to do this in a balanced way.