Legacy Items: Magic Items that Scale

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De items I har nu er statiske. De vil ikke ændre sig, De er så seje som et magisk item kan blive. I ved stadig ikke hvad det er, (andet end hans) men det ændrer ikke ved at det er toppen af popen.

Det her giver muligheden for at et item ikke behøver være stærkt for at blive ved med at være interessant.

Ja jeg gav de items, velvidende at I ville være under level i forhold til item, men det var et forsøg mod selvmord, som vi har set et par gange fra spilleres side når de er trætte af helten.

Der var ingen mulighed for at få et nyt af disse items, ved mindre man er high level..

Resultatet var ikke som forventet, så det misløkkes, John begik selvmord og masse mord, så ja det gav ikke den ønskede effekt.

I tænkte jer heller ikke mere  om for at sikre at jeres char ikke døde. Hans og Jimmi der løb hovedløst ind i byen som I flygtede fra for et par spilgangssiden. Der var det å så farligt, denne gang var det ligegyldigt. Om det er manglende indlevelsesevne i forhold til situationen, manglede beskrivelse fra GM, eller fordi vi sidder i fredlige danmark og derfor har problemer med at se at det her er fucking farligt. Ligegyldig hvad så har disse items ikke hjulpet på sagen.

Så i stedet for items som bliver ligegyldige efter et par levels, og skal skiftes ud, eller endnu værre, hans får en økse i dette level og må vente 6 levels før han får et nyt item, for alle skal lige nå at have en tur. Så bliver magisk items meget sparsomme og mindre vigtige som mål. Af selve itemet bliver mere værd er så noget andet, og kan være en ønsket effekt, men ser ikke at nedenstående sætter en stopper for det.

Short and Sweet Overview: If the Attunement limit of 3 items in 5th edition seems arbitrary, one solution might be to tie a character’s number of attunements  to the already existing mechanic of proficiency. You would then be able to attune to a number of items equal to your proficiency bonus. Both for flavor and to balance against possible abuses, consider making attunement a more interesting process in which characters use specialized rituals or achievements to gain access to the item’s additional abilities.

One of the more laudable achievements of the new edition of the D&D game is its success in making the game more scalable and playable at higher levels. Finally, we have a version of the game that doesn’t tend to spiral out of control into a power-fueled slogfest of headache-inducing number-crunching, yet still feels like the game we all know and love. In tandem with this shift in design philosophy, the role of magic items in the game has been toned down significantly, as have the prevalence and power of the items in general.

While I think this is a good design decision overall, one part of the whole magic item approach really bothers me, and that is attunement. I don’t hate the idea of attunement; in fact, I like it quite a bit. But the implementation of it in the game is, in a word, inelegant.

That’s a shame, because I think attunement could have been a fantastic new feature of the game rather than just an essentially arbitrary power cap. Let me put it this way. As a DM I never want to be in the following situation:
DM: “You find a bright golden ring on the rapidly cooling finger of the orcish champion. It is engraved with subtle designs that seem to represent shields and castle walls.”
Player: “Cool, I’ll bet it’s a ring of protection! I could use the AC boost. I put it on.”
DM: “Uh, don’t you already have three attuned items on you?”
Player: “Well, yeah, I guess so. But all I have are my boots, my armor, and my sword. Why can’t I wear the ring?”
DM: “Because you can only attune to three items and all three of those items you already have require attunement.”
Player: “But why three items?”
DM: “Uh, well, I guess it’s a balance thing.”
Player: “But what’s it based on? Is there any way to get more attunements? Is that even a word?”
DM: “Well, it’s just a rule. And no, not really. And finally, I think so, but I’m not sure.”

The first problem here is that the number of attunements is not connected to anything other than itself. It is an absolutely arbitrary, artificial limitation with no discernible rationale outside of game balance. It is, in short, inelegant, which is unfortunate, because it doesn’t have to be.

An Elegant Solution

Inelegance can often be cured by connecting the new rule to some other, already existing core mechanic–in this case the proficiency bonus, which is also a new mechanic, but which is already fairly elegant. Under such a house rule, a character would be able to attune a number of magic items equal to his or her bonus to proficiency. This means attunement scales with level (I’ll talk about ways to balance that below), connects the idea to an existing mechanic, and suggests an inherent and internal logic: As you become more experienced, you become better able to handle the power of magic items in your possession, getting more out of them.

As an alternative interpretation, we might think of attunement as being related to magic item Ego from 1st-edition, similar to the “will” that the One Ring of in Lord of the Rings appears to have: The ring wants to be found by particular people. Earlier editions of D&D have made the point that divine power tends to be attracted to human beings who take the greatest risks, which is why adventuring clerics are more likely to wield that power than the typical cloistered cleric is. Similarly, the attuned item might have a kind of will of its own–a reluctance to display its full potential unless it thinks the wearer/wielder is suitable. The proficiency mechanic offers a simple “program” or rule for achieving this effect, one similar in a way to natural selection: Weak characters won’t be likely to fully awaken the items they have and may not really know what they can do, and because of this fact (and their weakness), they won’t hold onto those items for very long. Meanwhile, powerful characters will tend to keep and fully utilize such items once they find them.

Proficiency-based attunement is, in other words, an elegant solution.

Digression: Many discussion post threads have proposed other possible benchmarks for attunement, most notably tying it to a character’s bonus to the Charisma score. Originally, I had thought to tie it to whatever the character’s highest mental stat (Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma) was, but a player who often plays fighter types made an equally convincing case for Constitution and pointed out the fact that the mental stat bias negatively affected a number of classes. Graham Scott suggested the proficiency option and it immediately struck me as a much better idea. It is incredibly simple and easy to determine the number of attunement slots from the proficiency bonus. Everyone already knows what their proficiency bonus is since it is such an essential mechanic. It scales throughout character progression. Those are all great reasons to use proficiency.

For the early levels, players will only be able to attune 2 items, so it actually reduces the danger of early magic-item bloat. I could argue that magic items are more unbalancing at the lower levels than at the higher ones in this edition, but that would be its own article. Nevertheless, low-level games are less likely to be overwhelmed if the DM gets a bit of the old Monty Haul disease. Players don’t actually come up to the limit of the regular three attunement slots until they reach 5th level, and only start gaining extra slots starting at ninth. The bonus peaks at 6 attunements at 17th level, admittedly double the arbitrary cap (though at that point in the game I don’t think I mind the possibility of that many items being used).

Players can easily grasp the logic of this attunement cap as it follows the progression of their characters and their generally increasing level of ability. It makes sense as a rule, and that is important, as odd as it may seem, in a fantasy role-playing game. The logic of the rules is something we all care about or we wouldn’t spend so much time arguing about them. Most importantly, it doesn’t just limit and thus annoy the players as there is an internal and coherent consistency and a way to develop more attunement possibilities. It has other advantages as well, but most significantly of all, it just works better.

But attunement has even more potential.

Better Magic Items

Many magic items have been, for lack of a better term,nerfed in the new edition. That’s a good impulse, as the general trend toward simplification should also help alleviate unintended and weird synergies, like the olddart fighter of early editions. Even more welcome is the general reduction of pluses. Most weapons and armor are now simply +1 items, which significantly alleviates the credibility- and market-straining equipment upgrade cycle that was such a part of earlier editions. Higher-level items still exist, but mostly peak at +3. The previous gamut of pluses has been replaced with mostly interesting minor, and sometimes major, powers. Some items give resistance to a type of damage, or do an extra bit of damage. More interesting ones give a special ability or advantage.

This development is fine, but I still think an opportunity has been lost to diversify the magic item catalog and to make attunement something really interesting and exciting rather than just an arbitrary and flavorless cap. Why not turn a potential negative into a positive? Again, that’s good design.

Moreover, the suggestion below offers DMs a way to have the above proficiency-bonus rule without worrying too much about it leading to gross abuses or imbalances.

Here is my proposition. In general, all magic items that have a “plus,” like most weapons and armor, are just +1 until they are attuned. This, of course, doesn’t work for all the odd items that have only a special use or ability, but it does work for armor, weapons, and a surprising number of other goodies. The catch is, many of these items also have an attunement ritual that unlocks their extra power. If you don’t attune the item, it just stays a boring old +1 whatever. But if you do attune it, then it becomes something special and interesting.

The Attunement Ritual

Currently, the process of attuning to an item consists of sitting around for a nice rest and — staring at it.

It is hard to imagine a more boring scene to role-play.

The dullness of the attunement scene is quite surprising for a game based on fantasy literature that is bursting with tropes and scenes involving magical rituals that awaken the power of magical artifacts. Attuning items should require more than napping in their general proximity. To attune an item, a character should have to do something cool, like

take it to the peak of a nearby mountain (perhaps teeming with ferocious yetis),

defeat an enemy in single combat (it’s a staple of the genre),

or perform the rite of Shil-Ben-Nur while juggling flaming torches and riding on an unbroken stallion (start rolling those skill checks!).

The attunement ritual should have some kind of internal consistency, and make sense in the context of the item’s powers and provenance. Most importantly, it should involve some sort of challenge that has to be overcome. This is, after all, a game of heroic fantasy.

There is an even more significant reason to use this form of attunement from a game-design perspective: Attunement rituals are the perfect MacGuffin, enabling the DM to channel PCs toward particular parts of the story while still allowing them agency. Attunement rituals can be used as brief interludes in an ongoing plot, or they can become the focus of a major storyline all on their own.

Why wouldn’t I want to use story-oriented attunement rituals as a DM?

If you are creating your own magic items or new attunement powers for existing magic items, you can use the ritual as a guide to the kind of extra power you want to ascribe to the item, or you can flip that, building from the power to the ritual.


  • A suit of +1 studded leather taken from the tomb of an ancient wight grants advantage on Stealth checks against the undead. But it only does this after the character slays another undead creature with a CR of at least 3 and sprinkles its ashes on the armor while performing the attunement ritual.
  • +1 sword might become a +1 flametongue after being bathed in the exhalations of a red dragon.
  • A +1 short sword wielded by the party’s rogue is designed to attune after being used to kill a shambling mound. The rogue, upon learning this (see below), tries to find out where shambling mounds might be found and thus heads right into the very swamp the DM wants him to enter.
  • ring of protection might offer a more limited benefit until attuned, and that benefit would be retained after attunement. Perhaps for one turn per rest its wearer is treated as though he or she is wearing a shield, with proficiency, as long as the wearer doesn’t already have a shield. After the wearer returns a relic of a god of protection to the god’s temple, it gains its +1 protection property in addition to the shield property.

You can require attunement rituals to activate other, non +1 items as well, if you wish. Frankly, many of the items in the DMG that require attunement really need an extra boost to be worth using an attunement slot. (I’m looking at you, ring of warmth.) Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of characters wandering around with loads of magic items that just aren’t worth using an attunement slot for.

Having some sort of brief adventure to activate an item will certainly make it less mundane, but it does run the risk of becoming annoying if overused. I believe the attunement ritual option will work best with items that are significantly more powerful when attuned, but are still useful if not, as is the case especially with weapons and armor.

Identify at Last

I have one last point here that I think is worthwhile to mention. Using attunement rituals could also be a great boon for the much maligned and underutilized identifyspell. It seems that this spell is rarely actually used to identify the qualities of an item, as it’s a bit of a pain and often not necessary for items with fairly obvious descriptors. However, it you do use attunement rituals, then the identify spell should be the key to finding out what is required to make the item into something truly extraordinary. If you want to keep some investigative mystery, the spell could at least reveal the item’s potential power and indicate where the ritual can be found or researched.†


Part2: Mastery Items

In the first part of this series I discussed the problems that result when magic items become disposable once better, more-powerful versions are acquired. For me, at least, the practice of churning magic items clashes jarringly with the magical-item tropes I grew to love in mythology and fantasy fiction.

I predict that item-churning will only be exacerbated in the new edition of the game by the mechanic of attunement, or more specifically, the arbitrary hard cap that it represents. (Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of attunement, but I think there’s room for revision.) I’ve discussed my own solution to allowing scalable attunement in a previous article, and I will even use my moreflexible attunement rules as the foundation for a whole new type of legacy item in the final article in this series.

In the prior article I discussed Reconstructed items, magical items made up of disparate parts, each with minor powers, that can be assembled together to make a more powerful, single item. This time I’m going to discuss what I call Mastery items, magic items that reveal more powers and options as the owner gains power and ability.

Mastery Items

Mastery items take advantage of the wonderful proficiency mechanic of the new edition. The item begins with a basic magical property, usually a simple +1 if it is a weapon or armor, but does require attunement. The item then gains a new ability each time the character attuned to it gains a better proficiency bonus. This means that there are five levels of mastery for each item of this kind.

This concept works best when it’s applied to items initially acquired at lower levels, as it gives them scope and space to grow and become a fundamental part of a character’s identity.

Nevertheless, Mastery items can also be introduced later on in a character’s career. Since the power of the item is tied to the overall proficiency bonus of the character, a PC who gained a mastery item at 9th level would have immediate access to all of the first three powers of the item. If you prefer, of course, you could rule for some items that it will take a little while for a character to learn the item’s abilities, providing a sort of “getting to know you” phase for the item and its user. All you have to do is have the owner start out at the first level of mastery and then acquire the next level of mastery each time the character levels up while attuned to it, until the number of powers mastered equals the character’s proficiency bonus.

Below, I describe some examples.

Evolving Armor

This armor first appears as a heap of chains and plates made of fine steel. It is not at first evident how the armor fits together. A character must attune to the item to learn how to wear it. If you use the alternate attunement ritual rule, the armor can be attuned by either by making a DC 15 Insight Check or by being fitted to the character by someone proficient with Smith’s Tools, though this also requires a DC15 check to which the armorer can add proficiency and Wisdom. These checks can only be made once per short rest.

The armor is made of steel imbued by legendary dwarven smiths with the spirit of an iron elemental that slowly evolves, altering the armor over time. When first attuned the armor takes on the appearance of a somewhat unorthodox suit of chainmail, liberally reinforced with small plates of metal. Over time, and as the wearer gains experience, the armor adapts to its bearer’s body, movement and fighting style. The small plates and chains form into bands and eventually into full plate armor, but become less restrictive and even more flexible as the armor adapts.

Mastery Level 1: At this stage, after being attuned, the armor appears to be a suit of finely made chain mail with a few plates attached in strategic locations. It has a base AC of 16 and also provides an additional +1 magical bonus to AC, for a total of 17.

Mastery Level 2: The plates of the armor begin to fuse together and combine. The process is slow and not immediately apparent, but can be discerned with a DC 15 Perception check. When the character reaches 5th level and gains the next proficiency bonus the armor becomes equivalent to splint, having a base AC of 17, and retaining its magical bonus of +1 to provide a total AC of 18. Additionally, the armor becomes so attuned to the wearer’s body that it enables the wearer to add up to 1 point of his or her Dexterity bonus to armor class, if applicable.

Mastery Level 3: The plates of the armor continue to fuse together and combine. Again, the process is slow and not immediately apparent, but can be discerned with a DC 15 Perception check. When the character reaches 9th level and gains the next proficiency bonus, the armor becomes equivalent to plate, having a base AC of 18, and retaining its magical bonus of +1 to provide a total AC of 19, in addition to permitting 1 point of Dexterity bonus to AC. The armor is so attuned to the character and so comfortable that it can be worn while resting without any ill effects.

Mastery Level 4: When the character reaches 13th level and gains the next proficiency bonus, the armor adapts to the wearer’s fighting style and compensates for any weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Plates covering areas the wearer occasionally leaves exposed thicken, so that, while wearing it, any critical hit against the wearer becomes a normal hit. The armor becomes even more perfectly fitted to the wearer’s body and enables the wearer to add up to 2 points of his or her Dexterity bonus to armor class, if applicable.

Mastery Level 5: When the character reaches 17th level and gains his or her final increase to proficiency bonus, the armor’s basic enchantment increases to +2 for a base AC of 20. It still enables the wearer to add up to 2 points of his or her Dexterity bonus to AC, if applicable. Occasionally, the armor, now fully attuned to its wearer, can subtly shift its structure to provide a last-minute counter against an attack that might otherwise penetrate its defenses. When the wearer is hit by an attack that only succeeds by 2 or fewer points (for instance, the attack total is a 21 or 22 if the wearer’s AC is 21), the wearer may take a Reaction to force the attacker to reroll the attack roll and take the next result. Once this ability is activated it cannot be used again until the wearer has completed a long rest.

Edrick’s Edifying Encomium of Evocation

This surprisingly small book easily fits in the hand and can even be placed in a generous pocket. The cover appears to be made from the scaleless hide of a green dragon, possibly its wings. Embossed into the leather is a design depicting a long sword and a quill pen crossed, the sigil of Edrick the Evoker, a renowned combat wizard. Paper-thin sheets of mithril reinforce the inside of the covers, and are etched with mystic sigils not initially decipherable. The spine is reinforced with a single bar of admantium riddled with regular grooves to which the fine vellum pages of the book are sewn. These pages, numbering an even 200, are filled with very tiny but precise writing and diagrams discussing the finer points of combat spellcasting and evocation in particular.

The book is actually the theoretical journal of the eponymous warrior mage who penned it. Studying the book allows a wizard great insight into effectively casting spells while in combat and how to stay alive while doing so. The book is, however, more than just a repository of knowledge. It is made to link with its bearer’s subconscious and provide flashes of insight at critical moments. It takes time for the book to establish this link, and also for the bearer to learn how to interpret and use this inspiration. To begin this process, the character must attune to the Edifying Encomium. If you use the alternate attunement ritual rule, the book can be attuned by either by making a DC 15 Arcana Check or by casting the Identify spell on it.

The Encomium also contains several evocation spells written in incredibly compact but very clear form, and acts as a spellbook for these spells. It contains the spells: Scorching Ray, Fireball,Lightning Bolt, Ice Storm, and Chain Lightning.

Mastery Level 1: At this stage, after being attuned, theEncomium gives advice on how to maintain concentration in the midst of combat. It provides a +1 bonus on concentration checks.

Mastery Level 2: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves at 5th level, the Encomium provides direction on how to most effectively target opponents. It provides a +1 to any attack rolls made as part of a spell. The bonus on concentration checks increases to +2.

Mastery Level 3: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 9th level, the Encomium provides insight into effective spellcasting, raising the DC of the caster’s spells by +1. The bonus on concentration checks increases to +3.

Mastery Level 4: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 13th level, the Encomium provides instruction on how to make the most out of damaging spells. Any spell cast while attuned to the book deals +1 point of damage of the most prevalent type of damage the spell does. For instance, if a spell does 2d6 fire damage and 1d6 acid damage, then the extra point of damage would be fire. If the damage is divided equally, the caster may choose from among the types of damage the spell does. The bonus to spellcasting attacks increases to +2.

Mastery Level 5: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 17th level, the Encomium grants awareness of how to make the most of evocation spells. Any evocation spell cast while attuned to the book is treated as if cast at one spell level higher than actual spell level used. The bonus to the DC of the caster’s spells increases to +2.†

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