Background Information on Autoscaling Magic Items

A-Z 2015 "B"Yesterday I started discussing the idea of magic items that automatically scale with wielder level.

I’d like to explore the idea a bit further and how it might be implemented. To start, I’ll look at some existing approaches to this idea.

Prior Art

This is not a new idea. I can think of at least three implementations in the third edition and later era.

Each model the idea of magic items that scale with level, but in different ways.

Most magic items tend to be described in a paragraph or two, providing just a ‘practical description’ of the item. In all three cases below the items are more deeply described, including specific history and relationships to other entities in the implied setting of the books.

The Game Mechanics’ Legendary Weapons

Legendary weapons in this model each scale with levels taken in a specialized (usually ten-level) class. There are four somewhat generic classes (battle scion, faith scion, spell scion, and swift scion) that govern access to the powers of legendary items. Each item starts with baseline abilities, and each item uses one of the scion classes as a template for a prestige class. Taking levels in the prestige class grants increased access to the powers of the legendary item.

Weapons of Legacy

Late in the Third Edition era Wizards of the Coast released Weapons of Legacy. Legacy items provide access to baseline abilities. Starting at fifth level characters that meet certain requirements can start to gain additional access to the powers of their legacy items. Increasing power requires investment on several levels. The legacy wielder can perform rituals to gain feats that activate the powers of the legacy item. Other investments include skill points, base attack bonus, hit points…

The reaction to this was fairly predictable among players. The mechanism was quite complicated and the costs involved could run directly counter to the purpose of the item.

Purple Duck Legendary Items

Purple Duck’s legendary items find a middle ground between these. Each item starts with baseline abilities. Meeting certain criteria (varying by item) by fourth level attunes the wielder to the item, and the attunement (and associated power) grows as the wielder continues to wield the item (new or increased ability every couple of levels).

The Legendary Items line consists of nine products (PDFs) available through DriveThruRPG and other sources.

Closing Comments

None of the approaches described above quite matches what I’m looking for.

  • The Green Ronin/Unearthed Arcana approach involves deep investment in a semi-generic prestige class specific to the item (which seems all sorts of weird to me).
  • The Weapons of Legacy approach is just ugly. It’s awkward in the first place, with the number of different forms of investment, and having to spend abilities (hit points, skill points, base attack bonus) to improve abilities with the item.
  • The Purple Duck approach is closest, with items attuning best to characters meeting certain requirements and growing over time.

In fact, the Purple Duck is quite close. I think it will take only a small expansion to the Purple Duck model to meet most of my goals.

I will explore this in another post soon.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Z-A Challenge 2015 Index | In My Campaign - Thoughts on RPG design and play

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