D&D 5e: Player Heirloom Magic Items –
Focal Points For Characters
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In many of my games, I like to use the idea of an heirloom-style item similar to World of Warcraft. An item that is tied to your character, either through background stories or something that is awarded during the early stages of a campaign that can continue to grow with you. Obviously, these items can pose an interesting challenge to balance and subsequently reduce the need to hunt for better weapons or armor, making treasure rewards feel less like major milestones. I wanted to talk about what lead me to use these items in many of my campaigns and why I really like the concept.
Random treasure is really boring – mechanically speaking.
How many times have you fought your way through a dungeon, killed endless hordes of horrors and destroyed the great evil only to receive an item that is so far removed from your character that you would rather have gold pieces? Selling 2 dozen shortswords for GP in town is time-consuming and boring. Selling a +2 battle hammer if your character is a samurai is boring. Selling hundreds of generic “art” pieces, scrolls, books, busts, statuettes etc is boring. Every DM knows this, but the second edge to that sword is that gold pieces are also boring. Generally, by the time characters are level 8, they have so much gold, treasure, or both that they could retire and never look back. Gold is boring, but it is the easiest and fastest reward you can give players without slowing the game to a crawl with minutia.
Players have unique visions for their characters, what weapons they will use, how they will use them, and they often link their backstory to the items they carry. Sure, it is easy to say those are just story elements and players may wish to change from a spiked chain to any other type of weapon, but generally, they only do so to improve their stats or abilities. This is where I like to inject heirloom items into my campaign. Items that are an integral focus of the characters personality and items that become part of the world they inhabit. A well-crafted heirloom item leads to extreme player attachment, and if there is one thing that will cause a D&D party to tear apart the very fabric of the universe, it is an item stolen or broken that has this type of special significance to the players.
Designing magic heirloom items in Dungeons and Dragons
In Dungeons and Dragons, there is a clear set of rules regarding tiers of play and power levels for items in that play level. This provides a pretty good starting place to create items that players will love and continue to use and enjoy until the very end of your campaign. Single sessions can be dedicated to enhancing these items, or even entire story arcs for the last tier of upgrades, bringing the players together to forge these items of destiny and empower each other and challenge the very gods. Let’s have a look at the tiers of items:
Levels 1-4: Normal quality weapon with minor spell abilities
Levels 5 – 9: +1 weapon with higher abilities or bonus damage types (+1d6 fire)
Levels 10 – 14: +2 weapons with additional modifiers or special abilities
Levels 15 – 19: +3 with some really nice power on top of the existing ones.
Levels 20+: Artifacts, seriously powerful weapons and spell-like abilities
Heirlooms must be unique and provide just as much roleplaying potential as mechanical advantage
Since we will be encouraging players to use the same item throughout the life of a character, they must have utility, they must have flavor, and most importantly, they must have serious bonuses to warrant investing time and effort into them. While the tiers we listed previously are balanced, it is generally expected that a weapon or armor will be replaced at a higher level, sometimes multiple times per level, if the treasure generator is feeling generous. This leads to bloated character sheets filled with weapons are armor the characters only keep around because they are cool. While this doesn’t solve the issue of a player carrying ten swords in their pack, it does reduce the need for constant juggling and adjustments to character sheets.
I want to share a few examples of heirloom-style items I have worked with my players to create over the years that have provided endless entertainment and became legendary at the table. I know that at first glance, many people might scream “OVERPOWERED!” or “WTF!” but please keep in mind that each group is different, each campaign is different, and each Dungeon Master has the right to shower his players in fabled gear. The rules as written often make better suggestions than concrete demands of a campaign. This is one of the points I make in our discussion on learning the rules as a new DM. This is a game that is meant to be fun, give people a chance to feel heroic, and strangely enough, flex their imaginations to create cool scenes, effects, and outcomes.
D&D5E Heirloom Item: Savage Tail Guard – Magic Item – Wondrous Item
One of my players was a tiefling warlock who really used her tail for roleplay and wanted it to be a focus for her character. We worked together on this concept and through the months of playing with it, re-balancing and changing the abilities, we settled on these stats for her item. This item was created from the heart of a creature in my campaign called a Black Flame Ember. She loved using it during non-combat encounters almost more than the benefits it provided during regular combat. She used her tail to threaten, cajole, and otherwise irritate NPC’s so often that she became known as the Flame Scorpion to her enemies.
“This item appears as a metal tube that when placed over the tail of a Tiefling, shrinks and becomes form fitted to the exact shape of the tail. This metal device grows a few razor like extrusions perfect for cutting and tearing. This device is in sync with the wielders emotions and will grow or shrink spikes, elongate to a spear-like point or take on simple words, rune shapes or markings as desired. Regardless of the number of spikes or shape of the tail guard, the damage does not change. ”
Level 0 attunement/Player level 1-4 – Functions as a tiefling melee weapon – 1d6 slashing +1d4 necrotic
Level 1 Attunement/Player Level 5-9 – +1 Savage Tail guard – 1d6+1 slashing +1d4 necrotic
Guardian Aura – The power of the ember surrounds you granting +1 to AC.
Power of the Black Flame – +1 to spell attack.
Level 2 Attunement/Player Level 10-14 – +2 Savage Tail Guard – 1d8+2 slashing +1d6 necrotic
Black Aura – Expend a level 3 spell slot to be surrounded by black flames that grant +2 AC and deal 6 fire damage to any creature that makes a melee attack against you. This effect lasts 10 minutes or until you end it
Savage Tail Whip – Damage of savage tail guard is increased to 1d8+2 slashing +1d6 necrotic
Level 3 Attunement/Player Level 15-19 – +3 Savage Tail Guard -1d8+3 slashing +1d6 necrotic
Black Flame Wave – Once per encounter, you can free the black flame and channel your energy into the Tail Guard. After 1 round of channeling, a wave of black flame erupts from your position in a 20-foot circle. Deals 10d6 damage to all targets, half on a successful Dex save.
Level 4 Attunement/Player Level 20+ – +3 Savage Tail Guard
Primordial Fire Transformation – You become a being of pure primordial fire, gaining fire immunity against magical fire, lava, or any other heat source. Any melee attackers take 2d10 fire damage when striking you. This effect lasts until you cancel it. You must channel arcane energy into the Tail Guard for 10 days before this power is available again.
2/transformation – Explosive teleport (move) – Teleport up to 100 ft. to a point you can see. Upon arrival, you explode in a 10-foot circle of black flames dealing 4d10 damage or half on a save
1/transformation – Black Flame Strike (full round action) – A vertical column of black fire roars up from the primordial plane in a location you specify. Each creature in a 20-foot-radius, 40-foot-high cylinder centered on a point within range must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 12d6 fire damage and 8d6 necrotic damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Feedback is always welcome
What do you think of my take on a scaling, heirloom style item in Dungeons and Dragons 5e? Would you be interested in seeing more of these items? (Full Disclaimer: I have too many of these to count, so be prepared regardless!)
Background unknown - it's a secret!
I am The Skree – One of the most visionary wizards in Vathis! Also, the drunkest. I have been called “A serious threat to people of Average Intelligence” by the authorities from Osept to Leyathar. A man of many talents, most of which are magic. Except for the one involving -EXPLETIVES DELETED- which is always popular.