Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making Magic Magical Again

So I just acquired a copy of Adventurer's Vault 2 (a completely redundant buy, considering all the items are in the DDI online Compendium, but still...) and as I peruse its contents, and that of the first Adventurer's Vault, and the magic items in the various Player's Handbooks and supplements, I find myself completely underwhelmed. 

I blame the statblocks. 

I recall being 12 years old and having this amazing sense of wonder as I paged through the back of my AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, having found the magic items. Simple, one or two paragraph descriptions was all that was needed to inspire my imagination. So much was left to be a judgment call on the part of the DM, and the items were ripe for customization. Hell, even the finding of a magical item or weapon was cause for cheering from the players. 

In 4th Edition, magical items are an integral part of the game, and are key to maintaining balance between the PCs and the encounters they face as they level up. Items all have specific levels, prices, and stat-blocks. Magic items, weapons, armor, everything are so common that several are found in every adventure. This definitely has the effect of causing magical items to become mundane. 

So the question becomes how to keep the game balanced while making magical items the wondrous, rare items (I feel) they should be. It's tricky. The DMG 2 has guidelines for using boons to boost PC stats in place of magic items, but a DM has to be crafty to provide in-game story reasons for why these boons exist in the first place. Ideally, what we need are better guidelines for where the bonuses need to be applied as characters level, and then they can be house-ruled into the existing leveling scheme. I have been unable to find such guidelines. Anyone got any pointers here? I was contemplating replacing the 1/2 Level mechanic with a straight 1Level mechanic, but I worry it will become too overpowered, especially at higher levels. Maybe I'm worrying too much about balance. Not sure. Any tips out there in the interwebs? 


  1. This is precisely why you need to heed the siren song of the OSR ... 4E has stripped D&D of all of its mystery and danger.

  2. Lol, I hear the siren's call for sure, but it's not enough to lure me (except for the all-too-infrequent Dragonquest session). I actually really like 95% of what 4th Edition has to offer. The sense of mystery and danger has to come through the DM running the game, not the system. It is very possible to run an old-school type of game under the 4e ruleset, you just gotta want it.