Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Magic Item Reset (XIX): Character Wealth and Rarity

Magic Item Reset: Index

In testing the new set of magic items, one problem I have come across is that of equipping new characters of a level above the first. Not owning the Rules Compendium, I consulted the guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (p.143), finding them rather inadequate for my purposes. The DMG suggests that characters starting at higher level should get three items (of character level, level +1, and level -1) and gold equal to the value of an item of level -1. This wasn’t a bad approximation under the default treasure rules, but with the introduction of item rarity, it leads to inaccurate results.

With item rarity, as a character gains levels he not only acquires more and higher level items, but also more rare ones. Since uncommon and rare items cannot be bought with gold, a character starting with less such items than expected for his level will never recover from this disadvantage, unless the DM somehow compensates for it. The table in this article is intended to give DMs a more accurate guideline for handing out starting gear in campaigns using rarity, as well as for knowing when a party has too little (or too much) treasure for its level.

This table shows how many magic items a newly created character of a given level should have, along with their rarity: common (C), uncommon (U), or rare (R). Assign item levels in the following way: the highest level item can have up to the character’s level +1. The next item can have a level equal to the character’s. For each subsequent item, the maximum level is one less than the previous one. For example, a 15th level character could have items of levels 16,15,14,13,12,11,10,9. A player can assign item rarities to each item level as he prefers. For a given level slot, a player can choose to have a lower level item instead, though no compensation is given. Any item slot can be traded by the sell value of the item in gold pieces (usually 20% for common items), though selling uncommon or rare items is extremely discouraged, since there is no way to regain these slots.

Variant Rule: Catching Up

An interesting alternate rule I have been experimenting with consists in having high level characters start out with little or no gear (barring plain magic weapons/armor/amulets of the appropriate enhancement bonus), but hand out treasure at an accelerated rate until they catch up with the expected wealth. I like doing this because higher level PCs, particularly those at paragon tier or above, can be quite complex, requiring players several sessions in order to grow accustomed to their abilities. Since magic gear is yet another layer of complexity, I find that delaying the access to magic items for a while provides players with a smoother learning curve, rather than an overwhelming set of options right from the start.


  1. My main concern with giving players as many items as they would have otherwise gotten from leveling up to that level is that, I do not believe that post-essentials, it's assumed that every item is precisely what the player may have wanted. Having less items, but items under direct player control, more closely models the treasure distribution process. Maybe.

  2. Hi there Perico!

    Love what you're designing on the blog. I would like to invite you to a community-based design initiative for supporting 4e that's just starting up.

    Sorry to send this to you in a comment, but I couldn't locate your contact info. All the best, and keep up the great work!

  3. Thanks for the invitation! It looks like a great initiative, and I'd love to join and contribute as soon as I have the time. Unfortunately, I've been quite busy as of late, but I hope this will change at some point...