Scaling and Tailoring Magical Items to your Party

Magic items are the proverbial carrot on the stick to most players.  If you wave a bit of shiny in front of them and throw it down a dark, moldering staircase, they’ll bound off after it like a giddy puppy.  But when do magic items fall short?  Just how many +1 short swords do your players need?  Yes, everyone likes pretties to play with, but when you roll up treasure for a room and your wizard finds a bastard sword and the rogue finds a war-hammer, the glitter seems to flake off.

This is when your power-gamer instincts should take over.  Staves of fireball-flinging, ethereal bows that never run out of arrows, and vorpal swords for 1st level fighters.  This is not the way to go.  As DM’s a lot of us are players as well, and we know what we would want to get in their place.  The problem is, we can’t give it to them, but we can give them a taste.  Since we know what we would enjoy getting in their places, we have to distribute gifts of glory with a light hand.  We might not be able to, with a clear conscience, give the ranger an ever-full quiver at fifth level.  However a quiver that spawns half a dozen powerful arrows that deal extra damage once a day, that is a tasty treat for your ranger without feeding into the power-gaming side of it.

When scaling magic items to your party you have to use tact and a little imagination to brew up just what they might use over their current equipment.  It’s not very fun having that beautiful sword you dreamed up sold to fund the night’s revelries.  Impressive secondary abilities are a sure-fire winner, such as weapons that don’t deal extra damage, but can sunder an enemy’s armor and make it easier to hit them, or allow the wielder to teleport before or after the attack.  After that, focus on what your players want to do, and how they have built their character.  The Adventurer’s vault 1 and 2 have tons of ideas that work with feats and skills, so perhaps take those ideas and tweak them a bit to fit your players.  By working with your players personal builds you can lure them with some very tempting treasures.

Now comes the hard part, balancing awesome treasure with your game difficulty.  If your party is too strong, those monsters won’t stand a chance.  Sticking to skill and feat-based bonuses is great, but eventually it won’t draw your players anymore than gold, and you’ll have to up the ante with some heavy hitters.  I would suggest damage bonuses over attack and power bonuses, as this makes each hit seem harder, but doesn’t make your precious beasties easier to hit.  This even works for low level parties with non-magical weapons.

Anyone who’s played either Diablo game can name off at least two dozen names for a bladed weapon.  Add this to your game, and suddenly your rogue will be wielding a kriss and your fighter a lochaber, dealing more damage than a dagger or axe normally do, but making your party feel awesome without throwing off the balance too much. Do a little research and look up pictures of medieval and ancient weaponry so your players know what they’re holding and add some damage on the end of the roll, or even push it up a die-point.  If you make a kriss deal 1d6 vs 1d4, your player will be much more excited to get an envenomed kriss than an envenomed dagger.  Not only does this make your players deal more damage, it also lets them describe themselves in much cooler ways, since “I swing my flamberge mid-leap, striking at its head!” sounds better than “I jump and hit it with my two-handed sword.”

Find a nice balance with your players and the magical goodies bestow on them and they’ll be happy and so will you, since they’ve got shinies to play with and you’ve got a good hook to pull them into a story, or even out of their shell.  A big treasure can literally turn a character around.  Say your party is after an intelligent weapon that can talk, would you give it to the person who roleplays splendidly, or the person who couldn’t act their way out of a paper sack?  While the golden child of roleplaying would certainly appreciate another outlet to show their skill and depth of character, that talking sword or bow or bladed shield might just get the bad roleplayer talking.  To himself, but talking nonetheless, and practice makes perfect.

When all is said and done, just have fun with making magical items for your players, be they ridiculous, epic, awe-inspiring, or just plain lethal.

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~ by darkpatu on May 5, 2011.

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