Thoughts on Modifying Player Spells?

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Background:
So, our campaign has entered the paragon tier. We have a mage (tiefling pyromancer) who is obsessed with fire and would like to someday ascend into being a demon/fire god/phoenix/etc...Her primary spells are Summon Magma Beast and Summon Hell Hound...
Anyway, there is also a necromancer in the group who has that summon skeleton... Unlike the hell hounds/etc, the skeleton is his personal butler since it allows the skeleton to persist outside of combat. This makes the mage jealous.

Question:
The mage would now like to research and see if there is a way to have one of her 'pets' persist outside of combat. Walking into town with a hell hound or magma beast as your personal porter would be pretty funny. My question is, has anyone done this? What would the requirements be for the mage to learn this ability?

Also, what other paragon level things have you done to make the players more 'unique'? 
That would just require some reflavoring. He can have his hellhound "pet" around at all times, and when he wants it to serve effectively in combat the player ticks off the use of the power, and after that it becomes tired out or otherwise neutralized. Or not, if you're not worried about balance. There's no obligation for the DM to make the hellhound particularly obedient or useful outside of the spell, but it's a cool enough idea that some allowances should be made. If the player gets to taking too much advantage of it, talk to him. 4e's rules are nicely locked down so that the DM gets to be the person making allowances for the rules, rather than banning rules.

My players started out at paragon. We've stuck pretty close to the rules, but two are an eladrin nobleman and his wife. I gave the husband an item that we reflavored as his familiar. Another has a dynamic weapon that we play fast and loose with.

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

I like the idea of saying yes, but what I'd like to avoid is the whimsical requests that would come up if something was as easy as simply saying 'Sure you can do that'...it seems like this should be a process for them to 'earn' or 'pay for' or something like that...

basically:
1) Something that makes it a bit of a challenge, almost like a reward for hard work, so it makes it a bit more 'epic' in nature...but ultimately easy enought that it will be successful
2) Something that deters people from 'this week I'm going to make spell X do this, next week we'll make spell y do that' sort of thing


Ideas:

1) Allow them to spend XP points...this would slow their advancement, but say we determine that the spell takes 10,000 xp points, on their next quest, if they earn 1000xp, it goes towards that spell instead of their level? 
pros: it is their choice to do this, they get what they want
cons: they end up lower level than the rest of the group.

2) Allow them to spend money...
pros: money is something everyone has, and instead of buying a new shiny item with it, they get something else
cons: doesn't really seem in the 'reality' of how you'd go about researching a modification to a spell...

3) Shards of Ubtanium...this is a house item I've created as an alternative quest reward...long story short: they get these small shards and when they have enough of them, they can combine them and infuse an item with it...if they do (super easy arcana check), the item goes up +1...
pros: already implemented, these items take time to acquire (about 1 every 2 levels), hot commodity around the table
cons: none that I can see... 

I think option 3 would be my best option, but I'd be curious what others think 
I like the idea of saying yes, but what I'd like to avoid is the whimsical requests that would come up if something was as easy as simply saying 'Sure you can do that'...it seems like this should be a process for them to 'earn' or 'pay for' or something like that...

I can't exactly recommend that approach. What is it you think your players will want that you aren't going to want to allow?

basically:
1) Something that makes it a bit of a challenge, almost like a reward for hard work, so it makes it a bit more 'epic' in nature...but ultimately easy enought that it will be successful

If the intention is for them to succeed anyway, complicating seems counterintuitive. You're not really offering the player an advantage, necessarily, just some cool trappings, so there really is no "reward."

Last session, my player wanted to do something cool. I told him it would take 2 skill checks (which he always aces) and cost him a healing surge (which he never runs short of). He didn't bat an eye. I suppose I was trying to make what he was doing something of a challenge, but it that case it was because failure was potentially interesting.

You don't have an interesting failure in this scenario, so there's not much point to making it a challenge.

2) Something that deters people from 'this week I'm going to make spell X do this, next week we'll make spell y do that' sort of thing

What is your concern with that?

Ideas:

1) Allow them to spend XP points...this would slow their advancement, but say we determine that the spell takes 10,000 xp points, on their next quest, if they earn 1000xp, it goes towards that spell instead of their level?
pros: it is their choice to do this, they get what they want
cons: they end up lower level than the rest of the group.

Having them lower level than the rest of the group is to no one's advantage. Maybe I'm not clear on what you're proposing to grant this character, because it doesn't seem like it's worth any amount of challenge.

2) Allow them to spend money...
pros: money is something everyone has, and instead of buying a new shiny item with it, they get something else
cons: doesn't really seem in the 'reality' of how you'd go about researching a modification to a spell...

It seems exactly in the 'reality.' The money goes to pay for access to books, to bribery of secret-holders, toward equipment. But, unless you're planning to really give this player some major advantage, there's no point in making it cost money.

3) Shards of Ubtanium...this is a house item I've created as an alternative quest reward...long story short: they get these small shards and when they have enough of them, they can combine them and infuse an item with it...if they do (super easy arcana check), the item goes up +1...
pros: already implemented, these items take time to acquire (about 1 every 2 levels), hot commodity around the table
cons: none that I can see...

I gave one of my players an item that has effectively become his familiar. It counts toward his treasure allotment, but not his feats. Frankly, its of so little use that I might have given it to him without consideration of its monetary value, but I guess it goes to show that it's worth making interesting character flavor cost a little money.

In this case, though, I'm not seeing it. What's the player getting for their money. You've stated that you basically want to keep a damper on interesting ideas. Why is that? Because I don't think the restrictions you're suggesting will accomplish that, and you'll have to tamp down harder and harder.

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

I mainly am wanting a way that makes the players really think about what they want and not detract from the game...

the damper is simply to prevent abuse of the system / maintain control of the system so things don't get broken...I can see the potential for something like this getting out of hand quickly (i.e. they want to modify every spell they have, modify every power, incrase damage output, who knows, we have a creative group of powergamers) ...
we have a variety of players in our group, some who are thoughtful and this will work out well for, and others who are careless/impulsive and this could be a disaster for...

plus as a DM I like to avoid the 'Well you let player X do that, but I can't do this?! that's not fair' and I end up looking like the bad guy even though their request is so absurd that it's not even fair to compare what player x did to what they want to do...it's a fine line of managing expectations and keeping everyone happy...if that makes since. 

Ultimately, putting some sort of 'you gotta spend X or do X to get it' forces that player to think it through, commit to it, etc. Plus it takes the burden away from me saying no...I can say yes, and simply increase X if the request is absurd and I don't come out the villian....

hope that makes sense...it's all about balance in game as well as balancing egos/feelings out of game. 
I mainly am wanting a way that makes the players really think about what they want and not detract from the game...

If you can give the players what they want, and roll with it, you won't be detracting from the game. The trick is finding out what it is they're really after. If they, for instance, wanted ultimate power, maybe what they really want is creative control.

the damper is simply to prevent abuse of the system / maintain control of the system so things don't get broken...I can see the potential for something like this getting out of hand quickly (i.e. they want to modify every spell they have, modify every power, incrase damage output, who knows, we have a creative group of powergamers) ...

The only way to do this infallibly is to restrict everything to the rules as written.

And that's what I was actually advising originally. Don't change the rules, change their interpretation. Yes, he has a hellhound with him, it just doesn't give him any benefit outside what the spell allows.

plus as a DM I like to avoid the 'Well you let player X do that, but I can't do this?! that's not fair' and I end up looking like the bad guy even though their request is so absurd that it's not even fair to compare what player x did to what they want to do...it's a fine line of managing expectations and keeping everyone happy...if that makes since.

I understand, but it won't work to handle this with in-game restrictions. If something is too absurd, tell them, work with them, find a way to make something work that will make everyone happy. In-game restrictions don't keep people happy, people just find a way around them.

Ultimately, putting some sort of 'you gotta spend X or do X to get it' forces that player to think it through, commit to it, etc.

No, it doesn't. Look at magic item creation in 3.5. The gp and xp cost were supposed to keep a damper on that, but it rarely seemed to, unless a DM was willing to be a "villain." Same with metamagic, or really anything having to do with magic in that game. There were restrictions and costs, and they were, by and large, meaningless.

Plus it takes the burden away from me saying no...I can say yes, and simply increase X if the request is absurd and I don't come out the villian....

hope that makes sense...it's all about balance in game as well as balancing egos/feelings out of game.

You need to own up to what you're doing: You're saying no. That can work, but in the long run it's unstable and will lead to the very balance issues you're worried about, both in and out of game. Better to get out in front of it.

Fortunately, 4e makes reflavoring very easy. You don't really need to break any rules to give this player what he wants, and even if you do and you have to tell the player that it's not working out, the baseline rules are still perfectly useable.

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

Just let him learn that skeleton power, but call it a magma beast instead. Change some undead specific stuff out for fire specific stuff and call it a day.


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Another option.  Let the player take the Fey Beast Tamer theme, or switch to that theme if he already has one.  Pick any beast and refluff the description.  Optionally, add the fire keyword to the beast's attack powers, which would add effectively zero power to the beast.
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I think adding "flavor" that does not affect the mechanics of the game is perfectly fine.
An example from my game: a rogue wanted to fight with a scimitar, since he's from a desert culture.  But he only cares about it looking like a scimitar, and still wanted a light blade (since he's a rogue).  So I made up a weapon called "light scimitar" that looks like a smaller scimitar, but functions exactly like a rapier for any and all game mechanics, including it's exclusion from any scimitar feats or special uses.  He got the feat "Superior Melee Weapon Prof: Light Scimitar", and that was that. For game mechanics, it's a rapier; in-game, it looks like a small-ish scimitar.

So for this, allowing the hound to be a pet outside of combat, but does nothing except aid role-play while out of combat, and the player must still spent the normal requirements for summoning it in order to use it for any purpose besides role-play (i.e. combat), than I don't see the harm in that.

If you want to make him "pay" for it, I say make up a fun quest of investiging where the special rites and magic-tomes can be found to augment the spell.  Maybe it's deep within the temple of Asmodeus-worshipping hell cultists, and they must explore it and fight their way to the required tomes?

It's a role-playing game, and we're role-playing characters who's achievements and loses are important to us.  Making a quest for it with lots of twists and turns before the reward is a better way to make the player feel like he accomplished something to get what he wanted, as opposed to paying for it via game-mechanics alone.Cool 
Why does this wizard simply not get a familiar and use those rules?

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...
Centauri's got some good points.  Your goal isn't to thwart your player's desires so much as understand what they want and then let them earn it.  Item cost or money cost, perhaps a bit of both.  Malph's idea of going on a quest for it could be good, as long as the other players want to join him.  Otherwise it's a detour that the rest could find very annoying or boring.  

You could always take one of the wondrous Figurines such as Ebony Fly, Adamantine Horse of Xarn, Onyx hound, etc. Level it up and reflavor as the hellhound.  It's useful in combar only, and has little effect outside combat, except that it looks cool and maybe gives the player +2 to intimidation, or is rather off-putting to virtually everyone in town that sees it.

I like your idea of Unobtanium that helps power up items.  
Some people will say that it leaves players behind on items per level according to the DMG.  As both player and DM, I get annoyed by the number of magic items that are available and how virtually every melee character ends up taking Iron Armbands of Power because it adds to damage.
In my game, I'd like to basically give players artifacts, that level up with them and gain new abilities.  They'll still get items, but this way they don't need to toss the family heirloom +1 sword for a +2 sword just because.  I'd also stack item properties onto each other- within reason.  Always on properties are easier for me to manage than remembering item daily powers.   

I would suggest having a little side "quest" or event as a form of more powerful summons / creation and then using the PC companion rules of DMG2.


Or you can treat the summoning / creation as a excuse to have the PC(s) dump cash so that the new creature is analogue to a figurine of wonderous power - as has been offered above. You don't want to wave over that 8 hours a day thing, you can easily equate the pet to 2 figurines (in terms of price) and that should cover most issues of balance.


As a DM, I like PCs having "pets" and such and I've found the companion rules to make effective and valuable additions to the party. They also have the advantage of not eating all the PC's actions. On the other hand, they can make some other players feel cheated. Talk to your players about the kind of solution they are comfortable with.