Magic items are supposed to be the most exciting treasure you find. But what happens when your characters out-level their wish list items? Do they still want those “old” and lower level wish list items? Are they still worth including as treasure? Are there some classic and helpful magic items which should always be part of treasure, regardless of item level?
How to Aquire Lower Level Magic Items?
I had this conversation with one of my playgroups recently (the group I DM every two weeks, currently in a primal power source-themed Frostfell campaign), and this discussion came up. One of the things that happens as characters level is that they outgrow or out-level some of their wish list items per the treasure rules. This always naturally happened to some degree since 4e’s release, depending on the total number all players’ wish list items in any given level range. That is, sometimes there was a glut at item levels 8-10 for example, and per the treasure rules, you weren’t able to award all of those items to the party as they continued past that item level range.
Now mix in the new magic item rarity rules, and the aforementioned gap in magic item treasure is even more pronounced. How else do you get those older and lower level wish list items now? The majority of magic items in the game are uncommon, and with uncommon and rare items only found as treasure, kiss many of those items goodbye if you out-level them! (Sometimes, however, the Enchant Magic Item ritual can help you – so long as you already have that item from your wish list, have plenty of gold for the ritual component cost, and simply want to upgrade the magic item’s level per the ritual’s rules.)
Well, when I asked my playgroup whether they’d still like to see some of those ”older” magic items as part of the monetary wealth they find, similar to how potions or consumables can replace some monetary wealth, they told me indeed they would. After all, it was on their wish list for a reason – they like those items, and once again, with item rarity, how else would they find or acquire them? There would be plenty of times where even Enchant Magic Item wouldn’t help, such as not even acquiring an item in the “chain” to begin with, or when the upgrade version is more than five item levels higher.
This topic of discussion actually came up as an extension of my recent personal effort to include more classic and useful consumables and supplies-oriented magic items in treasure as well – cool magical things every adventuring party would appreciate, regardless of level. I’ve found that including interesting storage, supplies, and mount-oriented minor magic items are a great way to truly round out treasure for adventurers.
It began with identifying more major potions and consumables besides the classic healing potion chain which fit the same thematic bill of healing and defense, in The Big 3 Potions. From there, I recently began to see the consistent value of other minor magic items as well, specifically supplies or storage and even mount-oriented ones.
Classic Solutions: Magical Storage Items & Consumables
In the modern classic Dragon Age fantasy RPG video game, backpacks are prized because they significantly expand what you can carry. As adventurers in any RPG, you tend to pack a lot of stuff over your adventuring careers! As you adventure deeper into paragon tier in D&D, you begin to pick up thousands upon thousands of gold pieces as well. At some point, the Character Builder starts to tell you you’re lugging around a heavy load. Now speed 2 isn’t much fun, is it?
So to remedy that, the magical “backpacks” of D&D have a significant presence - similar to the the Big 3 or 5 potions and consumables – in my game’s treasure. You’ll find some Bags of Holding, Handy Haversacks and a Pouch of Platinum somewhere along the way. What about mounts, rations, water and ale – fantastic ones befitting the enchanted lives of heroic adventurers? Bridles of Conjuration, Everlasting Provisions, Stonemeal or Feybread Biscuits, Astral Mead, and Flagons of Ale Procurement make for both curious and helpful magic items for any adventurer. If it magically reduces tedious administrative tasks like tracking certain supplies or encumbrance, and does so in a fantastic and flavorful way that might even inspire a short conversation over a meal or during camp or travel, why not include these cool little magic treasures in your game?
Scattering in more consumables, supplies or storage-oriented magic items, and lower level magic items also makes the treasure hordes more colorful, compelling and believable. It’s strange sometimes, especially in smaller groups, to find truly small treasure hordes, as far as total magical items, such as in a dragon’s horde for instance. Wouldn’t you naturally expect more magic items here beyond the standard handful?
Sure, you’ll replace some monetary wealth or otherwise include some healing potions per the DMG rules, but after that, it’s murkier on how much monetary wealth you should replace with mundane gear (i.e. kits, rations, simple tools, weapons or implements, etc.), ritual books, ritual scrolls, ritual components, other consumable or alchemical items, and other proper magic items. How much is too much? Which ones are most worth including? Are there any game balance concerns?
Hopefully you’ve gained some insight already on a few of those questions so far. Which leaves us with…
Game Balance Considerations
From a game balance perspective, a lower level item shouldn’t unbalance the game much at all, especially when it’s about or is a whole tier of play lower, and especially when before Item Rarity, you could Walmart your way to buy whatever lower level magic items you wanted, any time, as long as you had the gold.
And did I ever hate that Walmart system! It made magic items feel decidedly less magical since all you had to do was show up in any settlement with a pile of cash and purchase whatever magic item you could afford. Adventurers should be out actually adventuring for their favorite magic treasure, not shopping for it! Recapturing the wonder and excitment of discovering new magic items is the best draw of the new item rarity rules, despite the current mechanical gaps.
Ultimately, as a player, talk to your DM about your “old” wish list items – let him or her know you’d still like to see some of the ones you’ve out-leveled, because chances are, he or she is going to assume you’re not interested as the treasure rules focus mainly on the inclusion of magic items higher than your level. And whatever your stance is on this, be kind and give those wish lists an update at least once in a while. Wish lists are a new way to cooperatively generate exciting magical treasure in D&D, so it needs both players and the DM to really make them shine.
As a DM, make an effort to round out your treasure hordes with more flavorful items any adventurering party would appreciate, like those suggested above. From more easily carrying and storing their thousands of coins, to filling out some characters’ magical gear with some older wish list items, to adding in a few additional consumable options to their bag of tricks, doing so adds spice to treasure and makes the party’s lives a little easier – both as characters and players!
What other classic and helpful “Adventurers’ Most Wanted” magic items would you add to the ones above? Which minor yet flavorful and useful enchanted items make great treasure at just about any level?