Variation: Graded Item Sets

A-Z 2016 "V"“Magic item sets” were an artifact (sorry) of the late D&D 3.x era. A small group of items related by their history and power, with a synergy between them that made them more powerful together than apart.

The regalia of the phoenix consisted of the raptor’s mask, the crown of flames, the talon scepter, and the phoenix cloak. Each was a magic item in its own right, often relatively minor (worth 3,500 gp, 8,500 gp, 10,305 gp, and 50,000 gp respectively). If you had and wore/wielded two or more of them you gained increasing power from their synergy: 5/day resistance to fire when you had two of the items, 5/day immunity to fire when you had three of the items, and 1/day heal when reduced to 0..-9 hit points when you had all four items.

What if you could do something similar with graded items?

One way to go about it — and I’m not entirely certain this is workable — is to have items that are part of the same set add their grades together for effect. Individually they are all still magic items, but together they act as a much more powerful item… albeit in multiple item slots.

The Lightning Harness

The lightning harness might be a suit of armor consisting of several pieces that are individually enchanted. The breastplate (armor slot), helm (head slot), gauntlets (wrists slot), and boots (feet slot) are each magic items that combine to make a more powerful whole. Let’s give them preliminary grades of 7, 6, 4, and 3 respectively — a total of 20.

In the first pass I’ll assign a single quality to each piece

Item Grade Qualities
stormplate 7 (4) +2 enhancement, (2) electricity resistance I (5 points), (1) lightweight
lightning helm 6 (2) +1 enhancement, (2) electricity resistance I (5 points), (1) enemy glow (elementals), (1) alert I (+2 Perception)
shock gauntlets 4 (2) shock I (+1d6 electricity damage), (1) hated foe (elementals), (1) sacred (god of storms)
wind boots 3 (2) dexterity I, (1) nimble I (+2 Acrobatics)

… well. This might be a bust. Of all the options above, only the enhancement bonuses and the electricity resistance can even stack. If one character wears both the stormplate and the lightning helm that character has what amounts to a grade 13 item with +3 enhancement (grade 6, within limits, 7 grades remaining), electricity resistance 10 (grade 4, within limits, 3 grades remaining), then the lightweightenemy glow, and alert qualities (each grade 1).

On the other hand, as a grade 13 item that would normally have a market price of 42,250 gp (13*13*500 gp = 84,500 gp, but halved because it’s all armor). As separate items they have a market price of only 21,250 gp (7*7*500 gp = 24,500 gp, halved to 12,250 gp; 6*6*500 gp= 18,000 gp, halved to 9,000 gp). This is just over half the normal price. If you can afford the slots, it costs a lot less gold to go this way. It does load the item down with more low-grade qualities than might otherwise happen.

All four items together would have the qualities of a grade 20 item, which has a market price of 100,000 gp (20*20*500 gp, halved for being armor… should actually be a bit more because the shock I quality is a weapon quality, but it’s tiny compared to the rest. As individual items the total comes to 27,500 gp, only a little more than a quarter.

I suspect we’ll find the most synergy when more of the items’ qualities match. Let’s see…

The Four-Part Elemental Staff

The four-part elemental staff is currently separated into four wands, one for each element. These wands to not all have the same grades. These wands can be fitted together in arbitrary order to combine their powers.

  • The wand of elemental air is a grade 6 wand and can cast stinking cloud (3), summon monster II (2, air elemental), feather fall (1)
  • The wand of elemental earth is a grade 4 wand and can cast summon monster II (2, earth elemental), detect secret doors (1), magic weapon (1)
  • The wand of elemental fire is a grade 6 wand and can cast fireball (3), summon monster II (2, earth elemental), burning hands (1)
  • The wand of elemental water is a grade 4 wand and can cast summon monster III (2, water elemental), grease (1), obscuring mist (1)

If the wand of elemental earth or the wand of elemental water is fitted together with any one other wand, the result is still a wand, otherwise the result is a staff.

In all cases, the resulting item has the summon monster levels ‘added together’ (two wands means the summon monster II is replaced by summon monster IV, three wands means the summon monster II is replaced by summon monster VI, and all four together allow the wielder to cast summon monster VIII). The charges are likewise added together, and the caster level increases to the sum of the wands’ levels.

The wand of elemental earth and fire (the two fitted together) is a grade 10 item with summon monster IV (4), fireball (3), burning hands (1), detect secret doors (1), and magic weapon (1) spells, and 10 charges that can be spent on any combination of these spells. You can separate the wands if you want a weaker summon monster II again, but it’ll be cast at a lower caster level.

The four-part elemental staff, when completely combined, is a grade 20 item with the following spells:

  • summon monster VIII (8 charges; air, earth, fire, or water elementals)
  • fireball (3 charges)
  • stinking cloud (3 charges)
  • burning hands (1 charge)
  • detect secret doors (1 charge)
  • feather fall (1 charge)
  • grease (1 charge)
  • magic weapon (1 charge)
  • obscuring mist (1 charge)

All spells are cast at 20th level.

As a grade 20 item the staff would be 20*20*500 gp = 200,000 gp. As the four wands the cost would be 6*6*500 gp = 18,000 gp for the air and fire wands, and 4*4*500 gp = 8,000 gp for the earth and water wands, for a total of 52,000 gp.

Clearly Some Adjustment is Needed

I very much wanted this to work, but it doesn’t look quite right to me. “Combining the item powers” doesn’t seem to do enough, and the market price implications can result in wildly cheaper power.

When I say combining the item powers doesn’t do enough, I mean it’s just basic aggregation, and being allowed to do it when you otherwise wouldn’t (the enhancement and energy resistance qualities in the lightning harness, and the summon monster spells in the four-part elemental staff). Boring, not cool.

At the same time, by splitting into four separate items of approximately equal power, the total cost is reduced to a little more than a quarter. For the lightning harness this isn’t horrible, since it also ties up four item slots (armor, helmet, wrists, feet), but for the four-part elemental staff it’s basically a non-issue.

I’ve considered some combination of quirks, flaws, and curses based on level of the wielder compared to the grade of the item, or increasing some element of unpleasantness based on the number of items, but nothing feels right yet.

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