Wednesday, 11 November 2009

upgrading excalibur

This post at Musings of the Chatty DM got me thinking on my attitude to magic items and their receipt and use by PCs as they gain levels.  It's inevitable as characters advance that challenges are greater.  Yet do they need more powerful equipment to face those threats as well?  In some cases yes - you can't hurt certain monsters without the right weapons!

Previous editions of D&D introduced creatures that needed silver or magical weapons to hit them.  In 2E, this happened with Deities & Demigods, again with Monster Manual II and again with Ravenloft.  Yet 3E that codified the process, raising player expectations of  large quantities of magical items and if you compare things, the results can be jarring.

I've previously expressed my dislike of shopping for magical items.  Having player wishlists may be a case of campaign planning yet I feel this is meta-gaming.  Shopping for magical items are a subversion of form rather than a default condition.  Also the question of what happens to the originals. Plot helps prevent golf bags of magical swords but those without authority figures to redistribute their wealth may feel railroaded.

Do player wishlists really enable the game?  I have misgivings, having seen at least one player leverage an item combo into game-breaking with the justification of 'I wanted to see if it worked'.  Etiquette aside a moment, there is also the variation of balance within sourcebooks.  DM veto is always an option along with debates with players about the fairness of it all - this is one of the perks of the job.

Phil proposes that items are upgraded instead - a solution mentioned in 3.xE and 4E but the costs of doing so are intensive.  In 4E, using residuum to boost item power or finding item recipes or components is much better and offers plot (and skill challenge) options. Plus it gives people reason to hate rust monsters.  I prefer this option, even if gathering item components has it's own perils.

Some PCs may become monster charcutiers or host elf blood drives for potions of longevity.  This kind of unethical behaviour fits the frontier mentality and unsavoury reputations adventurers deserve.  There is always the matter of preservation as well.  These things can be done but I like the concept of exotic components and jars of pickled monster parts in a game.  Such ephemera lends an air of the grotesque which appeals to me.

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