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[4E, Basic] Hacking 4E magic items for a more Basic feel

Crazy Jerome

Retired User
This is about 95% ivory tower design, and some of it more brainstorming than well thought. You've been warned, but all kinds of critical comments doubly welcome. ;) Also, I'm aware that DMG 2 will be talking about this, but I doubt they are going for the same thing I am.

I've said before that one of the things I like best about 4E is that our group can finally play some of the D&D games we tried to do in Basic (mainly Red Box and Blue Box, but a bit of Cyclopedia later), but never could quite get to work right. 4E does an admirable job of handling what we wanted out of Basic while ignoring stuff we didn't care about, but without going into a ton of details, suffice it to say for this topic that the main place 4E fails in this regard is magic items. I'm starting to think that half the problem is careful balancing of magic items while the other half is too much mathematical detail in items, as a legacy of 1st ed. AD&D and all of its descendents. For my purposes, items should matter more than in 4E (in aggregate), but without reintroducing too much magic item dependence. If this is even possible. So possible changes:

1. Go with the oft-mentioned "Awesome" bonus on characters. +1 to all attacks and defenses at 3rd, 8th, etc, maxing at +6 at 28th.

2. Eliminate Weapon Expertise and related "math balancing" feats.

3. Weapons, armor, and neck slot items can still grant magic bonuses on top of the awesome bonuses, but are limited to +1 per tier. A "+1 sword," regardless of its other abilities, is a heroic tier weapon. Characters can expect to find the appropriate item somewhere around the mid-point of the tier, though probably earlier rather than later.

4. No more activation limits on how many daily powers on items can be used by a character. If you've got it, you can use it.

5. No more easy disenchant/enchant options. Still some there, to explain items coming into existence at all, but not easy. Basically, require some plot-related activities and or special substances so that motivated characters can get what they want, but most characters will use what they have. (See below, for what this does for players unhappy with their hauls.) Mainly, crafting items should take a lot of time and require feats that aren't that attractive to PCs, but will certainly be represented in the game world.

6. Items tend to have more properties and powers. Raid other, similar items for ideas. You might find a +1 dagger with 2 properties, an encounter power, and 3 dailys, for example. Extra powers are what differentiates the item you get at 12th from the item you get at 18th.

7. Hand out redundant items, as far as power is concerned, though different types and abilities. Each character can be expected to get a shot at three or four +1 weapons during their heroic exploits, and probably keep two or three to have a backup or two.

8. Items don't necessarily disappear like artifacts, but they do get stolen, lost, disintegrated, etc. Not often, but it happens. See backups above.

I think that makes items important, without being absolutely crucial, but what do you think?
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Southern Mane
RPGnet Member
Validated User
THis sounds interesting, some of it quite so.

Not sure I'd go so far, but I think I'd have an easier time crafting the game I want to run with your rules (even in their raw form) than the RAW.

I like the thought of eliminating the enchant/disenchant as an easy ritual -- I think it cheapens magical items and turns them into another resource to manage. I want magic items to feel more significant than, say, wondering if you have enough food for lunch or will have to forage.

I like the basic idea of the "Awesome!" bonus, as well as varying it by tier. I've been sorta looking for some cheap and easy method to have a magic item level up with a character, and this seems a cool and workable method.

Not so sure on multiple items -- how would things stack? If I have a +1 sword and a +1 ring, am I +2? Or just +1 to more things?

And I'm also not sure about all those dailies. I'd been thinking of some sort of 'attunement' thing, giving access to more powers when they'd had it for a while. A lot like the artifact concordance, sort of, though more concerned with level and less with Cosmic Mission.

Maybe have the item level up as a character, get utilities, at-wills, encounters and dailies as a character of that level? Hmm... I'm also still sorta waiting for the DMG II before choosing anything final. (Still have a bunch of history to tack into place -- I figured out why orcs hate Corellan, but I don't know when the Age of Dragons was, or what the Concord is, other than some sort of reptillian Monroe Doctrine.)

The Wyzard

An overwhelming surplus of diggity
Staff member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I like what you're saying - a lot - although I wouldn't attach quite as many powers to items as you're suggesting. I'd be cool with attaching more than standard, though. I think at the point where you're attaching two and three abilities to an item, that item should be MUCH rarer than finding several of them per tier. That sounds almost more like one of the Big Deals, like a staff of the magi or a holy avenger. Scoring one of those should be fairly character-defining.

Crazy Jerome

Retired User
You guys are definitely on the money with the items having many powers. I think in the back of my mind, I was shooting for piling on powers throughout the tier as a way of showing the items getting better. Instead of a +2 item at 8th, you get another +1 item with better/more powers than the +1 item you already had. But that would mushroom. So now I'm thinking several items straight out of the book, but about once per tier you get an item with lots of powers.

What should happen with this is that a player should never feel completely "blah" about an item they find. Even the ones that aren't a perfect fit still have a power or two that are at least situationally useful.

I also think I should drop the Weapon Focus feat. The +1 per tier comes from the item--whatever item you are using at the time. Feats specific to groups of weapons need to do more than just enhance attacks or damage. You get something where:

A. Awesome bonus is for making the math work.

B. Equipment gives you that +1 per tier, plus some exciting stuff. You can do without in a pinch, but you'd rather have it.

C. Feats give you some more exciting stuff that you don't want tied to equipment.

Ferrus Animus

Validated User
Well, I'm experimenting with multiple-power-items in my campaign, but it's more alternative powers instead of additional powers.
Like being able to reconfigure an item during a rest or similar.

For example a vicious longsword, that gets more abilities over the levels.
It got an additional property that it deals extra STR damage to prone enemies.
Sometime during the next adventure it'ss gain Inspirung or Vanguard as additional option. Then the player (a warlord) can decide to change the enchantment during a rest.


Sorcerer Supreme
Validated User
I also like your line of thinking. I think the people who have agreed with you in this thread demonstrate there is a population of D&D players who hunger for old school magic items, where they were precious treasures rather than power-ups which players expect to get on a strict schedule.

I personally dislike the "Awesome Bonus" because I don't like tacking math onto an otherwise elegant system. Even something this simple starts to spoil the design of 4E for me, but YMMV.

Similarly, I'm not certain you need to eliminate something like Weapon Expertise. My experience says that a group of players who enjoys playing a game where magic items are not standard power-ups is less likely to select feats with mercenary efficiency, so such feats don't offend me. But again, YMMV.

I particularly like your elimination of enchanting and disenchanting at the player level. Almost all fantasy, whether traditional or modern, treats magic items as far too rare a commodity to be so easily made or unmade. Games should hew closer to fiction in my opinion: it's makes for better stories.

On top of that, I would eliminate the notion of a vibrant magic item marketplace. A player enchanting an item at least has the possibility to make an interesting story. Buying one down at the corner mart lacks even that.

Finally, I would consider varying from the strict roles of magic items in 4E. Again, neck items always providing NAD makes for bland, samey items which fill the role of wargaming balance mechanism. This inhibits the ability to see them as precious treasures.

Crazy Jerome

Retired User
Thanks for all the comments. I think the biggest thing I'm after from the math/GM prep angle is to isolate magic items so that they aren't so fiddly or tied to the system--so that the GM doesn't need to worry about them all that much. And of course the players not needing to track daily activation limits ties into that same flavor.

Banning feats is more about reinforcing this flavor and/or removing excuses to zero in on particular items, than worrying about the math (though items with +1 per tier to hit and damage and banned feats do keep the math more or less in sync). If Joe the Fearless 12th level Fighter has a nice +1 long sword, but finds a +2 axe that isn't quite as nice (as far as powers go), I'd like him to want to keep both (other characters needing equipment not otherwise being an issue).

It occurred to me that one of the biggest remaining reasons for "gear preferences" in 4E are certain feats and that weapon/armor/neck enhancements having the relatively long range of +1 to +6 (not even including masterwork bonuses for armor). Narrow the equipment band of bonuses, and you are left largely with player preference for character style reasons. That is, I want to have no appreciable magic item market, not worry overly much about what treasure the characters find--and yet the players still be excited about what they find. Get that, and it's true that you don't even need to worry overmuch about slot restrictions, as there aren't that may stack abuse options left.

I remember when finding a +2 sword with some flavorful and interesting additional abilities and backstory was still pivotal but not game breaking. There is a fine line between making things rare enough to still invoke that interest, but often enough that the players expect them to happen. It was easier to do this in Basic than in 4E RAW. I think. :D


Registered User
Validated User
1. Go with the oft-mentioned "Awesome" bonus on characters. +1 to all attacks and defenses at 3rd, 8th, etc, maxing at +6 at 28th.
See, I understand this works -- but I think it sucks. It is the least awesome way to hand out the bonus.

Increase stat-ups. You gain +3 to 2 stats and +1 to the rest at 4/14/24, and +3 to 3 stats at 8/18/28.
instead of
which grants an extra +6 attribute bonus to 3 of your stats (hey, where did I see +6 before?)

Masterwork Armor Remains. Heavy armor wearers gotta find good armor.

Masterwork Weapons are added. They take the place of expertise feats. +1 to hit per tier, and they grant bonus critical damage.

Magic Amulets and Cloaks exist. They grant a +1 bonus to all Non-AC defences per tier.

You can add 1/2 your Str or Con bonus to your AC in Heavy Armor.

Your stats gain a secondary bonus equal to 1/2 the normal bonus (round up), plus 2. In general, when you add a stat bonus to a roll that doesn't pare up with a missing enhancement bonus, use this bonus instead. Similarly, if you push someone (stat) squares, you now push them (secondary stat bonus) squares.

In powers, this is everywhere, except in the basic Stat vs Defence and 3[W]+Str component.

In a few cases, you halve and halve again your stat bonus (like the fighter powers that add half your dex bonus to your to-hit roll in addition to your strength).


The side benefit of this is that your characters stats become really olympic at high levels.


Sorcerer Supreme
Validated User
This thread reminded me of Philotomy Jurament's notions on Magic Swords, as written in OD&D. Specifically, it reminded me of his Campaign Log for running B4 The Lost City. Here is an extract:

Magic Swords

In keeping with my desire for magic swords to be important items, imbued not only with magical dweomer, but also with spirit, personality, or even full-blown sentience, I'm using the OD&D approach that says all swords have Int and Alignment. Here are my changes to magic swords found in B4:

* #25 - Originally a sword +1. This is a Lawful short sword with Int 2 and no special powers. Its name is Thorn.
* #34 - Originally a sword +2. I'm changing this to a sword +1, flaming, +2 vs. trolls, +3 vs. undead. This sword has an Int of 6. It can't communicate, has no powers, and no ego. It is a neutral weapon, so it will inflict 1d6 damage each time a lawful or chaotic PC picks it up. Per OD&D rules, the sword's bonus applies "to hit" in all cases, but applies to damage only against the special creatures. Thus: vs. undead +3 to hit, +3 damage; vs. trolls +2 to hit, +2 damage; vs. everything else +1 to hit, +0 damage. This sword's name is Pyrsoglos.
* #51 - Originally a sword +1, casts light in 30' radius. I'm changing this to a spear +1, casts light in 30' radius.
* #79 - sword +1, +3 vs. dragons. This remains the same, but I rolled up the specifics on the weapon. It has an Int of 9 and an Ego of 1. It is Lawful, and can communincate using empathy. It has the power to detect traps with twice the normal range, and also the power to see invisible objects (both powers are passed on to the wielder). This is an enruned, dwarf-forged blade. It's name is Gheltönn.
* #88 - Originally a sword +2. I'm changing this to an axe +2.
The original article is on his page here (you have to click the "Show Spoilers" button at the top to see the part I quoted).

Something about the evocative nature of naming every sword and giving it personality, even if only rudimentary, makes them seem like much more interesting magic items.
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