Required Magic Items

By | June 28, 2014

Hello once again!

This weekend it’s time for Con Temporal in Raleigh, so if you have an interest in steampunk or Victorian-era gaming, you might want to check it out!

This week I’ve been preoccupied with looting, magic loot, gold values and the like.  This is in part because we have been making several editing passes and rewrites of the Talents and Equipment chapters for 1.03.  We were planning on releasing these this week, but my preoccupation has caused a delay in that because I’m no longer certain I like the design of what we’ve got.

Right now, arms and armor can be created very easily, and certain Properties and Masterwork Qualities can be applied to them at the time of creation.  After they’ve been created, only Enchantments can be added to these items to make them more powerful or give them different abilities.  This is a kind of “3rd Edition, expanded” way of crafting.  We’ve been careful not to make any such items “required” items wherein players have to get X item or they’re playing the game wrong.

Unfortunately, part of the problem with this is finding that balance between “this is cool and people will want it” and “this provides more sheer power and people will need it.”  For example, we had a type of Enchantment called “Energy” which allowed the weapon to deal 1d6 more damage of a specific elemental type chosen at the time of enchantment.  And that sounded great at the time to us, like it was a solid option but not too powerful.

But we were thinking in the “d20 mindspace” at the time, wherein there are many ways to increase a character’s damage.  As we refined the design of Forthright, this became one of very few ways for a character to deal additional damage.  As a result, this effectively became a necessary enchantment for characters who want to be effective in combat.

Part of our design intention is to reduce the vectors from which min-maxers can exploit the game engine in unintended ways.  Oftentimes, that is left to the GM to adjudicate and/or penalize.  Our approach, and what makes our approach difficult, is that we’re trying to make GM governance of that unnecessary by removing the potential issues before the GM and Players ever sit down to play.  That’s one of the reasons Sarah is so valuable (and so frustrating) on our design team – she is an optimizer through and through, and is quite effective at finding the holes we’ve let through the system.

So in the case of “Energy,” what’s happening with it is that it will now – instead of providing extra damage – simply change the nature of the damage of the weapon from physical damage to magical damage of the elemental type.  This preserves its intention (make a magical elemental sword) without making it explicitly necessary, because there are very few creatures that are elementally typed and which will take extra damage from their opposing element.

By structuring magic items in such a way, we also reduce the frustration of players at not having a “magic store” that they can shop at between levels (as many groups have chosen to handle magic items) and sore feelings from not having the magic item they explicitly were waiting for become available in their games.  This allows the Guide to control the flow of magic through the game more readily, and players are effectively “missing out” on less.

How do you make magic items feel “not required” in your games?  Do you just adjudicate at the table, or do you appreciate a game system that takes that task off you?  Let us know in the comments below!

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