5e: Itemization

I want to talk about itemization: where it was, where it is, and where it can go.

Itemization in 4th edition is streamlined, balanced, but cumbersome. Previous editions used magic items as cool extras, without well-thought implementation. Items would be cool, but there were no DM guidelines on appropriate levels to introduce them, or how many they should have (what level is it appropriate to have a deck of many things?). This created disparities between different D&D groups as far as party power (more so than just usual variation).

4th Edition tackled this well. Items were defined to have a specific gp value, and the treasure parcels were clearly defined, removing guesswork of how you distributed items and kept them balanced with monster challenge. This was a good step forward.

The emerging problem now is the bulkiness of the system. For instance, let's say my 1st level PC's complete a level 2 encounter (625xp). So for each PC, that is 125 xp, which is 1/8 of the way to level 2. Well, the parcels are divided into 1/10 portions. So as a DM I either have to sum all parcels and divide by 8 (gp value) and determine from that, or give the PC's 1 parcel and note for next time that I only gave them one more parcel. In the former, I have to do extra work that could be eliminated with some simplification, and in the latter, the DM has to do extra book-keeping.

The other issue is that this adds more character power options, possibly (depending on who you ask) too many. Originally the milestone system allowed only 1/2/3 uses of magic item abilities, but this kind of seemed to be forgotten and not really used. The WotC fix was to add common/uncommon/rare items allowing DM's to limit the number of items with complicated powers. This also brings a problem similar to the one listed above: DM burden. For a 5-PC party, if I want to know my PC's items, I would have to keep up with 15 items, 5 of which swap out every level. If the party is on the power-gaming side, they would be discovering new exploits at least once a level that I would have to build encounters around. From the PC side, the extra power choices from items could be exciting, but it eventually results in overwhelming choices. I recently had a new to D&D player try to make a level 3 character, and when looking at the items, he didn't know where to start and I just had to choose his items.

OK, so I pointed out the problem which means I need a solution.

In both my campaigns I've switched to inherent bonuses for no other reason than lowering DM burden. I told my PC's to give me 1 item they want up to level 6. This does 2 things: it reduces my burden of having to keep the PC's appropriately itemized, and it makes magic items more exciting. It is a fine balance of making sure you give perks at the right time interval. Too often and they are seen as mundane, too seldom and you have frustration and boredom. Also, as a story-driven DM, I can incorporate the "special item" into story. I simply can't write a good story reason for every 5 magic items the PC's discover at each level, but I can do it for 1 every level. If a player wants a flaming longsword, then I can find a fire genasi or fire elemental he/she wants to obtain it from. The items, much like a fine dessert, become more exciting when rewarded more seldomly.

So for future editions what does this mean? I like the inherent bonus idea for 3 reasons aside from the ones listed above.

Reason #1: The PC's are more than their items. Think of fantasy books/movies where the character is separated from their weapon or special tool, then still kicked ass. Mechanically this can be represented with inherent bonuses. If a genasi steals the warrior's icy longsword, he wrestles 1 from an enemy and still slaughters them sans the fiery explosions of his/her sword.

Reason #2: This can unite editions. In previous editions, the items were far sparser, and this would mitigate that power gap. Sure, a player decked out with items will have more power than one with mundane items, but it will be much less of a gap.

Reason #3: Gold can be spent on flavor/consumables. As it stands, there are not alot of consumables presented nor used. The reason is because it's almost always better to get the "core" items upgraded (weapon, armor, neck), because those are needed to keep up with the pacing of stats. Because of loss aversion (the psychological principle, look it up, it's cool), the player is much more likely to spend gold keeping up with the joneses than gaining a cool exploding potion or portable boat.
Previous editions used magic items as cool extras, without well-thought implementation. Items would be cool, but there were no DM guidelines on appropriate levels to introduce them, or how many they should have (what level is it appropriate to have a deck of many things?). This created disparities between different D&D groups as far as party power (more so than just usual variation).



Well, actually there were guidelines: each BECMI box had its own set of magic items, considered appropriate for PCs of that level range.

Also, disparities between different groups aren't that much of a problem: why should I care about how many magic items another DM gives out? Trying to solve non-issues such as this is more likely to introduce further (and generalized) problems, like the item inflation discussed in the rest of the post, where none was before.

That said, I do agree that magic items need to be detached from level progression, but this will likely result from a general slowing down of level-based bonuses -- thus, just like a monster remains viable at a greater range of levels in D&D Next, so should magic items.

GP

@Castlemaster

The game designers are way ahead of you. They're planning on removing/altering the way those plus items work so that they are not mandatory like in 4th edition.

They also said something about wanting flatter math so that your orcs and ogres can be used for more than one level.

My guess is that you won't have inherent bonuses at all and magic weapons and armors will not significantly affect your attack bonus, AC and saving throws.     

Honestly I'm kind of neutral on the whole question of inherent bonuses versus bonuses on gear versus no level or item bonuses at all. I guess if I were to pick the one that might be my favorite it would be to eliminate the level bonuses to attacks and ability rolls entirely and eliminate attack and damage bonuses on most gear, saving things like +1 attack for only a handful of items and harder to get things like feats. That would address the problems associated with attack bonuses creeping up constantly as the party gains levels and monster defenses creeping up in lock step. Just keep attack bonuses and defenses all right around roughly the same point that started at, more at less, possibly giving some "tier bonus" every ten levels or something if you want to have a big differentiation between tiers.


The one thing I would like to see 5e keep, though, is that I'd like to still have it present a coherent system for figuring out roughly what treasure to hand out to players over the course of time. I really like the 4e treasure parcel system for this, it's nicely organized and easy to understand and works well with how I put encounters together. (I make encounters on one set of index cards, put treasure parcels on another set, then mix and match however I like.) Regardless of what changes are made to magic items and skills and inherent bonuses in 5e I would love to still have it include something skin to the 4e parcel system to help manage giving rewards to the players.


Oh yeah, and on a related tangent, include a random treasure generation system in DDi. I never understood why they don't have a button in the Compendium that you click that rolls a random magic item that matches the search filters. I love using random treasure generation to help me pick items, it often comes up with things I wouldn't have considered normally.

So please, Wotc, if you're reading this, add a random treasure button to DDi, at least for 5e if not also for 4e. Thanks! (I don't think they ever added one for 4e last I checked, but I haven't DM'd in a little while so if I'm wrong and they have it now that's great!)

This might be useful for you. ;)
Are you interested in an online 4E game on Sunday? Contact me with a PM!
Show
Reflavoring: the change of flavor without changing any mechanical part of the game, no matter how small, in order to fit the mechanics to an otherwise unsupported concept. Retexturing: the change of flavor (with at most minor mechanical adaptations) in order to effortlessly create support for a concept without inventing anything new. Houseruling: the change, either minor or major, of the mechanics in order to better reflect a certain aspect of the game, including adapting the rules to fit an otherwise unsupported concept. Homebrewing: the complete invention of something new that fits within the system in order to reflect an unsupported concept.
Ideas for 5E
I like your style theMormegil even if we don't agree on a lot.  Smile
This might be useful for you. ;)



That's a great link! I made my own random generator at home in Excel for personal use but this is slicker. Thanks for the tip. Laughing


P.S. I still think the DDi Compendium should have a random treasure button too. Still not sure why they didn't put one in.
Previous editions used magic items as cool extras, without well-thought implementation. Items would be cool, but there were no DM guidelines on appropriate levels to introduce them, or how many they should have (what level is it appropriate to have a deck of many things?). This created disparities between different D&D groups as far as party power (more so than just usual variation).



Well, actually there were guidelines: each BECMI box had its own set of magic items, considered appropriate for PCs of that level range.

Also, disparities between different groups aren't that much of a problem: why should I care about how many magic items another DM gives out? Trying to solve non-issues such as this is more likely to introduce further (and generalized) problems, like the item inflation discussed in the rest of the post, where none was before.

That said, I do agree that magic items need to be detached from level progression, but this will likely result from a general slowing down of level-based bonuses -- thus, just like a monster remains viable at a greater range of levels in D&D Next, so should magic items.

GP



This all the way.  What business is it of mine if someother DM doesn't do treasure "right."

Honestly, I thought magic items were the worst aspect of 4e by far.  The system did I have things I liked, such as the simplification of skills, but the magic item system was by far the worst I've ever seen.  Giving out magic items is common sense.  I know that my 3rd level characters shouldn't have a +5 Vorpal Greatsword of Soul Sucking.  Yes, maybe giving a 1st level Wizard a Ring of Three Wishes is a bad idea.  The math of DMing 4e is what drove me away from running the system.  I managed to work with CR in Pathfinder, but I still run fine games in OSRIC/C&C without destroying power levels.

The 4E approach was in response to the problems of 3E-and-earlier where items were, in practice, required (sometimes even more so than in 4E) without it actually being spelled out. Sure, experienced players implicitly understood this (and pretty much HAD to metagame with it), but newer players didn't, leading to all kinds of grief.

TBH, my feeling is that 4E didn't go far enough. It wanted to reduce the importance of items (and to some degree, did so), but gear still remained too big a factor in character power/ability. Reducing most items to granters of feeble daily powers while the "big three" remained an outright required part of the game math wasn't a particularly good approach, either.

Another part of the problem is the sheer number of 'slots' that remain in the system. While fewer than old-E, there are still too many, and that exacerbates the various problems with item necessity/item power/character definition.