What Would It Take For You To Give Up Your Favourite Magic Item?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 6, 2014

If your DM asked you to either have their PC give up his favourite magic item or cut off his own leg I’m betting it would be a really tough choice. And I think most players would rather the PC lose the leg than their magic item. That’s how important magic items are to most players.

When a PC acquires a new magic item it often become a significant part of that character. Many of us define our PCs by the items they possess, especially the really cool or powerful items.

Magic items are often seen as a sort of status symbol at the gaming table. If your character has magic armor, a magic cloak, a magic weapon or two, and numerous other miscellaneous baubles in his inventory he’s going to be deemed “better” than other PCs in the party who have fewer items with lower plusses. It’s not usually talked about but it happens.

With everyone clamouring for more items the DM’s natural instinct is to award magic items every time the PCs complete a quest or defeat a really difficult encounter. That’s just how D&D works – you kill monsters and take their stuff. And if they don’t have anything useful you sell what they had and buy something you can actually use. The result is a party with a ridiculous amount of magic items in their combined inventory, especially at higher levels. Welcome to the world of Monty Haul gaming.

So what’s a DM to do when he realizes that the party has too much stuff? The simplest solution is to take it away. However, this is not going to go over well with the players. After all, they didn’t do anything wrong. In fact they did everything right. They killed the toughest monsters and rightly earned all of their best stuff. Just because the DM was too generous doesn’t mean the players should suffer. So what other options are there?

As an experienced player I understand that it is in fact possible to have too many magic items. When PCs cross that threshold the game starts to get really silly and the DM has to come up with increasingly ridiculous ways to challenge a party that has an item that will get them out of almost any conceivable situation. But just because I recognize the line exists doesn’t make me any more eager to give up my stuff… at least not without a really good reason.

The DM has to ask himself “What would it take for PCs to willingly give up their magical items?” The key word here is willingly. The DM needs to come up with a really compelling scenario whereby giving up magic items will solve the problem. It has to make sense and it has to be optional. The players have to have the freedom of choice. If they chose to do it then they won’t feel cheated or punished if they give up their best stuff.

I’ve faced this problem and here’s one option I’ve considered using in my home game. A powerful creature was awakened. It has the ability to destroy cities and ultimately the realm. The only way to stop it is to perform a special ritual. The ritual will weaken the creature allowing the PCs to face it in combat and have a prayer of defeating it. The more successful the ritual the weaker the monster becomes. The PCs can boost the ritual’s effectiveness by disenchanting items of power and using the residuum.

This kind of scenario rewards the PCs for giving up their best items. They can chose not to give up their items to the ritual but it will make the pending confrontation more difficult. Let them know or have them learn that the ritual will reduce the monster’s hit points, AC, damaging aura, regeneration, damage output or whatever factors you feel should be flexible.

An alternative is that the ritual doesn’t reduce the monster’s lethality, but temporarily powers up the PCs stuff. They can combine all of the magic from their little items to make their one or two good items even better; however, in doing so they risk destroying the good items permanently. The empowerment is a blessing that is keyed to the monster’s evil energy and when the evil is defeated the item will lose all power, or something like that.

If I were to use this kind of scenario I’d have the PCs travel across the realm to find special items that they can use to power up the ritual. Along the way they’d realize that the special items of power will work best, but that they can substitute items they don’t get with other similar items. That way when the forces of evil that awoke the creature in the first place destroy the items needed to stop the monster the PCs will be forced to make hard choices. Are they willing to use the magic wand, magic sword and magic ring in the party’s inventory to power the ritual?

By giving the PCs the parameters of the challenge they can decide how they want to handle it. They should always have a choice. If they chose not to give up their own items there should be consequences, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a TPK.

If the PCs decide to give up their own items for the sake of the adventure, should they be compensated? That’s up to the DM. Personally I don’t have a problem with a PC giving up six items to get one really cool item in the end. However, if the DM has no intention of providing replacement items when the task is completed that should also be at least hinted at in the beginning.

Looking ahead at D&D Next, at least at the versions released through the play test, there seems to be great pains taken to limit the amount of magic items available to PCs. That’s not to say that DMs won’t still hand out items like candy, but the magic-lite system they’re presenting seems to minimize that likelihood. We’ll see how it turns out in practice once the official rules are released. As for those of us playing older editions, it’s still a real concern so be mindful when awarding treasure.

As a DM how have you handled parties with too many magic items? Have you ever taken items away from PCs? Have you ever successfully had PCs give up items after they’ve acquired too many?

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1 Joe January 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

Also depends a bit on what system you’re in. 4e had a lot of combat-mechanics items that weren’t as “special” as we DMs may have liked, but gave the stat bonuses certain players craved. In those situations, the player might be more willing to part with the item if s/he knows that another similarly statted item can be found/bought/made. Artifacts also have a built-in mechanic for moving on, which can be helpful.

It seems like D&D Next is pushing for more character-defining items (or at least it did before the playtest stuff got pulled), but then if the fewer items really define the character, they may be less likely to give them up.

13th Age doesn’t have much in the way of super-powerful items, but I do like the personality tweaking that happens if you collect too many items for your level of power. If you were in a system like that, you could perhaps adjust things slightly to have the “personalities” of the items a character has come into conflict, prompting the player to make a choice about which one to be rid of.

I’ve thought about pulling something somewhat similar to Li Mu Bai’s mindset in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon… where an item comes to represent a particular part of a character’s adventuring career – maybe a part they’ve outgrown – so they need to put an item to rest before they can move on to whatever is next (some of the paragon/epic paths in 4e work really well for this: want to get into this elite order or awaken this eldritch energy? Here’s the price).

2 RPDM January 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

Another option is to cut the notion that magic items have permanent plusses or powers, and instead give them limited charges. In much the same way as the magic items in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, change magic items to only have a finite number of uses (charges) before their magic is used up. Characters may or may not be able to discover how many charges an item has (skill checks and such), and also may or may not discover ways to recharge items (through Rituals, short or long quests for enchanting reagents, etc.).

3 Brian Criswell January 6, 2014 at 11:52 am

Our previous DM let us hit a hoard in our Next game and he used an older editions rules off the top of his head to generate the treasure. All six of us rolled really well and we pulled out great items. Two of our mages had a +3 staff and +4 robes. The end result is we started killing off really big creatures (for our 4th level characters). But that is rectifying itself on its own for the most part. All but 3 of that party have died and lost their items. A fourth, my character is departing the party as I am taking over as DM. The fifth character is shipping out for the air force in May. From here on out, I will be following the playtest packet for handing out magic items, so the accumulation of stuff will be more measured.

As for story making characters give up magic items willingly, last week my players defeated a lich who placed his phylactery in a ring of protection on his finger. The characters used an identify ritual to identify the ring of protection but the phylactery’s nature was hidden. I am counting on a surprise when the lich appears next to them in the night in 7 days of game time.

4 Svafa January 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I approached the issue at the source in our current 4E game and am using inherent bonuses to remove the need for magic items, so I tend to rarely give them to the players. In fact I realized a few sessions back that I hadn’t given any loot for the previous half dozen, and quickly worked some in before the players noticed. This has worked pretty well, and all of the characters still have a few slots on their character sheet empty, but none are crying to have them filled. Instead, the most common requests tend to be how to add/change effects on their current items or turn a trophy or mundane item into something more interesting (a bow that gets bonuses against retreating targets and a cloak made from a blink dog hide for example).

On the other hand, I’ve convinced them to destroy a Deck of Many Things rather than use it. With my table at least, it seems the easiest way to get them to let an item go is to tie it into their character’s story. The Barbarian wants to be a Paladin, the Dragonborn wants all the gold and to be a Dragon, the Vampire wants to kill his creator, and the Sorceress wants to watch the world burn (and find her foster parent in the process). Give them a reason destroying or ditching an item aligns with their goals and they’ll be the ones asking how to destroy it.

5 B.J. January 6, 2014 at 6:24 pm

I just bought the 2e Dragon Mountain box set. I laughed when I got to the section where the players encounter a massive storm because it specifically said to allow this to be an opportunity to strip your characters of some if not all of their magic items. I’ll have to find it and quote it when I get home, but I thought that was pretty harsh and humorous. I wonder if any DM would survive the experience!

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