Friday, July 10, 2009

This is treasure?

With a mighty slash of the warrior's heavy blade the great wyrm finally falls. There, before the surviving members of the party lay a veritable mountain of treasure. Gems and gold coins as far as the eye can see, but the choicest plums are the trove wonderous magic items scattered within.

Such as the fabled Gauntlets of Destruction. Sounds awesome. Level 18 and worth 85,000gp so they must be good. Oh wait. They only allow you to re-roll any 1s you get on damage dice. Ummm... okay. That's not too bad. You can still roll a 2 but at least it works all the time.

Not like the Boots of Infinite Stride. Those are only once a day. But, they do let you teleport up to a mile. Provided you have clear line of sight and effect. Okay. Still handy, and the +1 to movement is always in effect so that's good. Level 28 and 2,125,000gp worth of good? Well... maybe.

The magic items section in the PHB is full of entries like those. Stuff that sounds super awesome but ends up being a bit of a let down.

Here's another convenient example. The "Stowaway Stone". A "level 12" magic item with a market value of 13,000 gp. That's a little more than walking around money and something that shouldn't show up in one's backpack until he/she is nearing (or in) the Paragon Tier. So, one would expect that it does some pretty kick ass shit.

You'd be disappointed.

Unless you consider +1d6 damage to one arcane power once per encounter to be "kick ass". Factor in the effect of being knocked prone if you miss (and considering that most attacks miss more often than they hit, unless your DM habitually faces you off against naked kobolds tied to chairs) and this item loses what little luster it might have had. Even the Daily force a re-roll give a re-roll power is underwhelming.

Yet it's this kind of trinket that our characters risk their lives for. I wouldn't even get out of bed for some of that crap.

Not to say that every magic item in 4E is useless junk. Every player knows that even a modest +1 can be the difference between victory and a TPK.

I'm also aware that there were plenty of lame or useless magic items in 3.5. I give you Sustaining Spoon as Exhibit A.

However, the difference is that the spoon only cost 5,400gp. Not exactly a pitance but less than half the cost of a certain stone that'll knock you on your ass more than half the time.

My ultimate point is that there is nothing in the list of magic items in the 4E PHB that my character would actively quest for. If he should find some Fireburst Armor or a Thundwave Staff he'll be suitably pleased. There are also a number of other items like Gauntlets of Ogre Power and Amulets of Protection that are always nice to have, but by and large it's an uninspiring list.

I understand that WotC wanted to move away from what they saw as 3.5's reliance on magical gear. It pushes the focus on characters getting by on their own inate heroics (read: powers). It also cuts down on the time players have to spend pouring over their inventories to see if they have something that gives a bonus to a saving throw or what have you. Both are admirable goals but I think they went too far.

Items that were once "must haves", like the Ring of True Seeing, have now been nerfed to mere paperweights. A +2 to Perception checks and a Daily use of True Seeing that lasts until the end of your next turn doesn't strike me as worth 105,000gp or something a nearly epic 19th level character would swoon over. They wouldn't likely use it to tip the next barmaid or hawk it at Ye Olde Pawnshop, but it's not something worth risking life and limb for either.

Besides the perceived imbalance of suggested level and price of these items, too many give a bonus to saves against specific and rarely seen effects. Others give larger bonuses to skills like Athletics and Str Ability checks but not to plain old Str checks. I'd rather see more of the class or build specific items give significant boosts to powers. Add a prone effect whenever my thunderwave pushes an enemy. Let me follow a successful Daily power with an At-Will as a minor action. Things like that would give me something to aim for, save for, fight for.

As it is, there's very little to motivate the average adventurer. In taking away the reliance on magic gear they've also taken away one of the central motivators for adventuring in the first place. Sure, there's always for the righteous cause or for the service of one's god. There's even doing it for the pure glory or honor. But what about simple, unabashed greed?


boro said...

Funnily enough, I went through the exact same realisation not so long ago. A group that I play with semi-regularly were converting from 3.5 to 4e and so we were rolling up some high level characters with a significant amount of money. We had our pick of items up to around level 23 I think but even with 10 million (okay i exaggerate) books to look through there was still very little worth actually buying. Most of us ended up with identical items and most of those items had very little persistent in-game effect bar the weapons/armour/resistance items.

Underwhelming really. I know there are many motivations to adventuring but finding 'cool' stuff has always been a pretty big one!

Oh and those gauntlets are pretty good actually, especially with a low damage dice weapon.

Francis Bousho said...

Not even I can defend forth edition on this front. Sure, there are some great items out there, Iron Armbands of Power for instance (lvl 6, +2 on melee damage rolls) but most are quite pathetic really, and the idea balance between items and other items of the same level is often questionable.

So, that having been said, I'd like to see more property items, or at least more encounter items. Daily items are a waste of money, hit points, and more importantly a player's time. I don't know what WotC was or is thinking, but having my players slug through a solo battle for daily items, and then having to decide which daily item they want because they can only use one per tier a's enough to make even the stoutest dwarf cry a few tears.

Phil said...

This is so true, which I realized as I was making a new character for a campaign a few days ago. What happened to the good old days of 3.5 when the periapt of wisdom +5, for example, meant an actual +5 bonus to your character's wisdom? WotC definitely went a little overboard here... but I will say it does cause the game to focus more on a story line outside of simply questing for magical items. And with a warmage that uses physical attacks and spells a blade with a high bonus is still a very powerful artifact worth embarking on an epic journey for :)

Rich said...

Personally I agree with the new innate hero power concept. Its nice to see that you don't need item b to defeat monster c, like you might have needed in 3.5.

The ACs being to high on monsters for your level is a problem only if your dm habitually slams you with monsters that are solo party murderers. I think the encounter design tools in place are just right for solving this problem. DMs should be able to figure out how to make the heavy hitters in the party hit with some math skills in place.

Francis Bousho said...

Although it is only related to a comment left by Rich. I agree that a monster's high AC isn't a real issue in gameplay, but the reason why is that 4E D&D thrives on teamwork. Getting a +2 from flanking, the cleric hits with Gaze of Defiance for an additional +1 to hit, and you use a rogue power to decrease the enemies AC, leading up to the barbarian's mighty daily.

Teamwork is how you hit the monsters in 4E. I love seeing my player's strive for bonuses against a hard hitting soldier.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I like 4E, but it takes a bit of getting used to. The power curve is much flatter than it was. I mean, wizards have to wait till 16th level to get "Fly" for example. It's no wonder that the magic items seem so much less interesting.

Fortunately, Adventurer's Vault 2 provides a few options to spice things up, including item sets and more "property" and "encounter" items.