Design Diary 9

Magic Items, Pt I - Weapons and Armor

Ah, magic items. The favorite part of any player's D&D game - when you get to see what new and exciting things the DM's decided to hand you.

Some of you may have noticed that I've been tweaking the mastercrafting and materials sections lately. That's because I've started working on the magic weapons and armor sections. When I was repricing the masterwork weapons tables, I finally realized that the old mastercrafting price scheme just wouldn't work. I'd always thought a flat modifier (+300 for weapons, +150 for armor) was goofy (especially since weapons had a higher modifier than armor), so I played around a bit with some things and came up with a multiplier. It worked great for armor, more or less, but not so well for weapons. But, given that I couldn't come up with anything better, I let it sit.

Then I had a flash of inspiration. Why not use a flat modifier AND a multiplier? In other words… a longsword costs 15 gp. A well-made longsword (mastercraft +1) costs 15 + (50 * 2) = 115 gp. I came up with modifiers for different weapon types (because a greatsword should cost a good deal more than a dagger) and shields, tested it out and tweaked some numbers, and… voila. A workable mastercraft pricing system.

Part of the inspiration for this idea came from the materials section. Materials have cost multipliers - a suit of adamantine full plate would cost 16,000 gp - but again, there were some issues (namely with weapons; an adamantine dagger cost only 20 gp, which was way too low). So… enter the modifier. Suddenly an adamantine dagger costs 2 + (25 * 10) = 272 gp. That was more like it! Mastercraft items are even more fun - a well-made adamantine dagger is 272 + (25 * 10 * 2) = 524 gp. With the exponential increase in mastercraft modifiers, it ensures that most PCs won't have much above +5 or so - a divinely crafted (+10) adamantine greatsword, for instance, is around 525,000 gp.

Any discussion of variant weapon materials inevitably leads into a discussion of damage reduction. 3E's DR system was such that even a piddling +1 weapon bypassed any kind of material DR. The folks who designed 3.5, in an effort to move the focus away from plusses and toward additional enchantments, introduced the "golf bag o' weapons" syndrome. Monte Cook, not long after, posited a rather popular variant on his site. My version uses a bit of all three.

Basically, a magic weapon can bypass a certain type of DR depending on its bonus - silver, cold iron, alignment, and adamantine (in that order). A +1 weapon can't bypass anything except DR /magic. And, to prevent DR /magic from remaining worthless, a magic weapon only bypasses 5 points per plus of enchantment. So, a +2 longsword bypasses 10 points of DR 15/magic. The same principle applies for magic weapons bypassing material or alignment DR, except that they're effectively one plus lower. So now, plusses are valuable, but you don't have to sacrifice extra goodies (<i>flaming, keen</i>, etc.) to still be effective in combat.

And finally… magic weapons and armor. I'm using the consolidated pricing system for magic items, which means that a few items will cost a bit more than normal. None of the existing weapons or armor are affected, thankfully, though a few were repriced due to changes in spells (like the luck blade). At this point, some of you might want to scroll down a bit - this will be a bit math-heavy and probably make just about everyone's eyes cross, but I think it's important (I need to toot my horn a bit. Sue me.).

Why, you ask? Because the wealth progression climbs too quickly. By L40, PCs start with 13.6 million gold. Hell, by L30 you can pretty much toss out the wealth charts and let the players pick whatever they want, because gold ceases to mean much at that point. Still, it's a useful guide for what they should have at their level (the level guidelines from the MIC, oddly enough) - you can create formulae using expected values and use those to design monsters and adventures that assume a set of parameters. As opposed to now, where there are none at all, and designing anything for PCs beyond L20 is a game of "by guess and by golly".

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