Magical weapons - when should PCs get them?

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I am about to start a campaign with 4-8 players, intented to run for at least 20 game sessions (possibly forever). There's a lot of back story and events-

So when is it prudent to introduce for example +1 swords? At what level would you recommend that players have access to magical items/weapons - from lvl 1 or lvl 5?

I want the players to feel powerful, but I also want to stretch the power trip for as long as I can - meaning, I need to find the balance between a long campaign and players being satisfied with their increase in power.

The players are in a isolated area for a few game sessions, so they will have to rely on request from a caravan coming once a week. What would a +1 sword cost in gp? Are there any guide lines for magical weapons/items?

Generally, I would like advice on how to make the players feel powerful without them being lvl 10 in 2 sessions and wielding +3 swords. How quickly should I give them XP, considering we're talking about a long campaign?


I'm having to assume you are running a 3.5 game because 4th Ed has a clearly defined set of costs and level shown in the equipment section.

In 4E D&D a magical suite of armour +1 costs 360gp and is a level 1 item so it can be made available to PC's in their treasure from 1st level, the +2 version costs 1800gp and will be available during levels 3 - 5 (magical equipment is generally 1-4 levels higher than the PC's when found).

In 3.5 there is no particular level that magical items can be handed out but is really dependant on creatures that have DR vs magical weapons of a particular plus. If your throwing enemies that have DR\+1 then you might need to drop 1 or 2 magical items into the hands of the PC's. 

You have to judge how you think the game is going. Magic weapons and items are never "necessary," even in 4th Edition, but the DM must keep a careful eye on the game and the challenges and how much fun the players are having. Generally speaking, if you can make encounters fun whether or not the PCs kill all the monsters, then you will have to worry much less about staying on any kind of schedule with weapons, and can dole them out when you feel it's appropriate. On the other hand, if death or something equally boring is the only possible result of failure in your encounters then you'll probably want to make sure the players always feel like they at least have a fighting chance, and therefore err on the side of giving them too much power.

If the PCs are having too easy or too difficult a time, you can always increase or decrease the difficulty of encounters, and I don't just mean by making monsters harder or easier to kill.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Thank you for the quick replies.

I am running a 4e campaign, so I should probably read the section about equipment again...

But since the players are cut off from cities and therefore rarely have access to new weaponry and equipment, that would increase the price of everything, yes? They have good connections in a large city down south, but the caravan mentioned only comes once a week. This is of course another way of limiting the players in what they can buy.

I guess my DMi style is focused on "delaying of gratification", and making the players vulnerable, but never weak. I guess a +1 weapon won't make that much of a difference, right? Once it's given, you can't really take it back without risking angry players...So I think I'll have to hold on to the +2 and up weapons in the beginning.

Any and all advice is graviously accepted
But since the players are cut off from cities and therefore rarely have access to new weaponry and equipment, that would increase the price of everything, yes?

If you want it to, but there are no rules covering that. The gold piece price is actually rather abstract and doesn't need to represent actual gold changing hands with the actual seller, or in a single transaction.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Dark Sun in particular makes a point about the limited availability of magical items so one suggestion is to give the inherant bonus's to the PC's.
This way they will have the standard ability to face the challenges given without handing out many magical items over the levels.

When I first ran 4E, I was rather tight on the magical items and found that some PC's defences or attack bonus's were pretty inhibited (the PC was either getting hit all the time due to a poor AC, Reflex/Will/Fort or missing constantly(more than expected) due to a low attack bonus. The inherant option helps to keep that from happening and would be fitting to a campaign where the players will have little chance of getting magical items.
You should bear in mind that it's not a common aspect of many campaigns for the PC's to walk into Ye Olde Magic Shop and buy a +3 Magic Weapon, unless you want it that way I guess.
As Centauri suggests, don't look to more monsters and traps to make encounters harder. Build non-combat or "semi"-combat goals into the encounters to make them harder and to give the impression of vulnerability. Then a lot of these little mechanical issues won't make a lick of difference, really.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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You should bear in mind that it's not a common aspect of many campaigns for the PC's to walk into Ye Olde Magic Shop and buy a +3 Magic Weapon, unless you want it that way I guess.

No, but that doesn't mean there's not a market, and that PCs can't obtain anything they have the money for, which, remember must be at their level or below.

Maybe there's not a shop, but a rogue can grease the right palms and buy drinks for the right people until a carefully wrapped package finds its way to him. Perhaps a paladin donates a princely sum to a local church and they place an ancient relic in to his safekeeping. Et cetera.

Also, just because something has an enhancement bonus doesn't mean that it's necessarily magical in the Hogwarts sense. In Tolkien's books, there are blades and other items that are clearly superior, but that are not necessarily magical, just very finely made, or crafted in ways now forgotten. That's the approach I might take in Dark Sun, in which objects from another time are occassionally uncovered from desert ruins.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Perhaps a paladin donates a princely sum to a local church and they place an ancient relic in to his safekeeping. Et cetera..

 I often have magical item made for the heroes of an adventure as a mark of appreciation by a local lord or wealthy merchant, rather than just found on the body of a dead ogre.

 
 Also, just because something has an enhancement bonus doesn't mean that it's necessarily magical in the Hogwarts sense. In Tolkien's books, there are blades and other items that are clearly superior, but that are not necessarily magical, just very finely made, or crafted in ways now forgotten. That's the approach I might take in Dark Sun, in which objects from another time are occassionally uncovered from desert ruins.

I also love this approach, something that I've used but not often enough. I think the overall approach to magical items is "whatever fits your idea of the campaign setting".
Thank you for the quick replies.

I am running a 4e campaign, so I should probably read the section about equipment again...

But since the players are cut off from cities and therefore rarely have access to new weaponry and equipment, that would increase the price of everything, yes? They have good connections in a large city down south, but the caravan mentioned only comes once a week. This is of course another way of limiting the players in what they can buy.

I guess my DMi style is focused on "delaying of gratification", and making the players vulnerable, but never weak. I guess a +1 weapon won't make that much of a difference, right? Once it's given, you can't really take it back without risking angry players...So I think I'll have to hold on to the +2 and up weapons in the beginning.

Any and all advice is graviously accepted



I believe the game expects the players to have certain modifiers for the math to work.  As long as you keep the players in the general ballpark of that range, everything should work.  The easiest way to do so is to turn on inherent bonuses if you're using the character builder.  I'm not sure how that would work if you mix in magic items.
The easiest way to do so is to turn on inherent bonuses if you're using the character builder.  I'm not sure how that would work if you mix in magic items.

The player get's the best of the 2 bonus's but often the inherant bonus's are superceded by any magical bonus's, so if you have +2 inherant bonus and a +2 weapon then the +2 weapon bonus's are used. However if you have a +2 inherant bonus and a +1 weapon then the inherant bonus is used as it's the better number but you still get any magical benefits like if the weapon could do fire damage, if the weapon's critical Die were 1D10 then I'd guess that you'd get 1D10 from the magical weapon and 1D6 from the inherant bonus on a critical.
I believe the game expects the players to have certain modifiers for the math to work.  As long as you keep the players in the general ballpark of that range, everything should work.

It works even if you don't, but it requires a little more care and attention from the DM. The "math" is just so one can run a game without putting in extra effort to balance things. Nothing goes wrong quickly if you're a few levels behind or ahead of "schedule."

The easiest way to do so is to turn on inherent bonuses if you're using the character builder.  I'm not sure how that would work if you mix in magic items.

The items simply don't have their enhancement, or perhaps it's better to say the enhancements don't stack. The enhancements do still matter for the critical damage, however.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

if the weapon's critical Die were 1D10 then I'd guess that you'd get 1D10 from the magical weapon and 1D6 from the inherant bonus on a critical.

That does not sound right. For one thing, I didn't think the inherent bonuses provide critical dice. But you certainly wouldn't add it in if it did. You'd just use the better one.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I'm not sure how that would work if you mix in magic items.



After inherent bonuses came out, I used them for every campaign going forward, including Eberron, where magic is pretty "common." What I found was that the players would buy low-level weapon/armor/neck slot items with properties or powers that scaled well and choose higher-level items for other slots. Wondrous items certainly came into play a lot more. To me, this was a good thing. In a lot of ways, an awesome magical hat or a weird trinket makes for a more memorable character than the next higher-plus amulet or even a sword.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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if the weapon's critical Die were 1D10 then I'd guess that you'd get 1D10 from the magical weapon and 1D6 from the inherant bonus on a critical.

That does not sound right. For one thing, I didn't think the inherent bonuses provide critical dice. But you certainly wouldn't add it in if it did. You'd just use the better one.


The inherant bonus's presented in Dark Sun definitely provide 1D6 per plus, but I remember that how I described the critical dice for the inherant bonus and the magical bonus were the way we did it in Dark Sun.

Its not very clear really but that's a DM decision I guess. However going on my example of a +1 magical item along with a +2 inherant bonus and Centauri's opinion on the subject then what's better 1D10 or 2D6 theoretically 2D6. 
I don't know if it's a rule or not, but I always ruled it as either/or. You either take any crit dice from your weapon or straight-up d6 per inherent bonus. In other words, much like inherent bonuses and enhancements bonuses, they don't stack.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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The problem for the players is: The standard game with standard rules assumes the characters are at a certain gear level.  A character who lacks a weapon, neck, or armor is going to be underperforming.  An entire party that is not given gear is going to have a much tougher time at adventuring.  Especially if any of them are new at the game.

So I think I'll have to hold on to the +2 and up weapons in the beginning.


This is a concern of mine.  You didn't know that there were loot tables.  This tells me you are inexperienced with 4e.  At this stage of the game, you probably should not be holding back just because you feel like it.  You haven't the experience for the assumption.
Thanks for all the replies, some really good points being made here.

I have to ask; what do you mean by "inherent bonuses"? I gather it's from the Dark Sun-setting and available through the character builder here, but, uh, I still have no idea what it is, precisely. Why are they given? What's "inherent" about them?

I get that they don't stack with other gear - but I don't know why. Guess it's related to my question above..

Another thing: What I am hearing is that new players with a basic 22 point abilities array will have trouble with a normal difficulty campaign? Is this simply a result of using 4e rules, or is it from your own experiences with the same situation?

Maybe it would help me if you could mention what your players are running around with in your campaign (or rather, what they ran around with at level 1-5). Also, when did you introduce better weapons/items?



I have to ask; what do you mean by "inherent bonuses"? I gather it's from the Dark Sun-setting and available through the character builder here, but, uh, I still have no idea what it is, precisely. Why are they given? What's "inherent" about them?



The game's math assumes that PCs will have appropriately plussed magic gear as they increase in level.  The Inherent Bonus system (also in the DMG2 in a more truncated form) gives the PCs those plusses without needing actual magic items.  The PCs get a +1 to attack rolls, and +1d6 critical damage, at level 2, and a +1 to all defenses at level 4, each of those increasing by 1 every 5 levels (so, attack at 2, 7, 12, etc, defenses at 4, 9, 14, etc).  The bonus is an enhancement bonus, so it won't stack with any magic items that the characters do get (so a level 2 character with a +2 weapon only has a +2 bonus, not a +3).

They are typically given in low-magic-item games to account for the game's relatively tight math, but that's not a requirement; I use them all the time.

Another thing: What I am hearing is that new players with a basic 22 point abilities array will have trouble with a normal difficulty campaign? Is this simply a result of using 4e rules, or is it from your own experiences with the same situation?



As stated above, it's part of the game's mathematical progression.  By level 5 (give or take), without +1 gear, the PCs will be 5% less accurate and get hit 5% more often than the game challenges expect.  At higher levels, the difference just gets worse.
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The character builder also has an option to turn on inherent bonuses.

Every group I play with now uses those so we can get more iconic weapons that fit our PCs and don't ever need to upgrade to a high + if we don't want to. 

Or the DM can not give us any and the math still works fine.

The character builder also has an option to turn on inherent bonuses.

Every group I play with now uses those so we can get more iconic weapons that fit our PCs and don't ever need to upgrade to a high + if we don't want to. 

Or the DM can not give us any and the math still works fine.




It's worth noting that the inherent bonuses provide their updates several levels later than the "base math" expects - it's like waiting until you level up enough to upgrade a preferred item with cash, rather than the generally-better items you're expected to find by default.

And yes, it has the advantage of being perfectly usable with normal items - the stuff your characters find in the normal course of events, and purchase with found treasure, will still generally be better.
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