Legends & Lore: Magic & Mystery

Sigh...I guess I'll just take it from the top...

What I can gather is that Cook wants to remove magic items from character advancement altogether,  rewarding characters with better loot for tackling harder shit, and "re-injecting the magic back into magic". While I can get behind this mission statement you can already resolve the first two "issues" using current rules in 4th Edition thanks to inherent bonuses, and a DM being able to place whichever monsters and magic items that she wants. Nothing he is saying is exactly new or innovative, and like many others makes me wonder if he has even read about the game that he is writing articles about. There is however a problem with how he wants to solve this problem:

His example cites a 4th-level character packing a +3 sword, with the understanding that if a character is smart and/or lucky enough, that she could feasibly get one and be better off for it. Since generally campaigns--whether adventure paths or episodic--involve the DM planning stuff with a rough challenge level and treasure already in mind, this is something that I guess I could see happening in a non-structured sandbox game where the players could hear about monsters and explore them at their leisure, though it does carry some problems:

The first is that if I am running a campaign and the characters hear about a dungeon or something with monsters consistently higher than they are, and still try to tackle it that they are most likely going to die. Maybe not in the first encounter, and maybe not in the second, but once they start running out of resources (or run into a bout of bad luck) if I do not start pulling punches then I could easily be out a party, or forced to find some contrived way to keep them alive.

The second is that if they succeed, then I either have to find some way to try and balance the encounters so that the guy with the good loot is challenged without making it impossible for anyone else to contribute, or run things business as usual, making things much easier for her (basically 3rd Edition Syndrome all over again). Here is a fun fact: if you want to reward your characters with better items than their level would indicate without drastically altering game balance, you can always use the rarity and artifact rules, which yet again already exist.

As for the mystery of magic items, he claims that this was lost in later editions--ie, 3rd and 4th--both because magic items are "expected" and because players can buy whatever the hell they want (though the rarity system introduced last year prevents you from buying uncommon and rare items).

This is one of many arguments that detractors of 4th Edition have made in the past, and it makes me wonder what version of D&D they played before: ever since 2nd Edition at least, magic items and spells have always had clearly defined effects, which more often than not could be gleaned through a simple identify spell (though 4th Edition made it easier with an Arcana check). However as one forum-goer put it, there are plenty of examples from mythology of clear-cut magic and magic items, so I am not sure they were ever very mysterious.

In a nutshell, everything that Cook proposes can be handled using the rules you already own, and if this was not disappointing enough he wraps up things with a very black and white poll: why does it have to be something that is decided by either the DM or the player? It does not. There is nothing wrong with players being able to buy some things and craft others, while still leaving the DM with some control.


  1. This is all good, but I think the impact of the "player expectation of loot" is a problem that 4e can't solve at this point. The Inherent Bonuses systems is a good alternative, *if* you can get your players to buy in. I'm planning a Heroic one-shot right now and decided to go with IB to keep things simple and my most active player good-naturedly complained that "shopping is fun". And this is coming from someone who agrees that magic in 4e is pedestrian.

    Oh, and I played AD&D as a kid and teenager and missed out on 2e, 3e, and 3.5e.

  2. I don't see how you couldn't get your players to go along with it, as it makes hybrid and multiclass builds easier (a fighter/wizard doesnt need both a magic weapon AND wand), and allows you to basically place whatever you want without worrying that the characters will fall behind the curve.

    I dont think this is a solution for all games, however. For example Eberron is very high magic and I can see magic item shops and artificers taking commissions. For the implied setting, I am not against having some items being sold in large cities, but players might not get exactly what they want (especially with item rarity).

  3. I agree with Antioch. I have always believed that a DM and a player can reach an agreement by simply communicating.

  4. "(a fighter/wizard doesnt need both a magic weapon AND wand)"

    Actually, not true as far as I can tell. He created a non-Hybrid warlock and ran into real issues with Weapon and Implement powers working properly. IB substitutes for magic items but not expertise feats. In order for him to get bonuses for both Weapon and Implement powers, he has to take two feats (Staff Expertise and Implement Expertise-Staff). He can't even take Versatile Expertise because it doesn't cover both. Since he's level 3 and non-human, he only gets two feats.

    Ack, tangent. 4e Implement rules are a different rant, sorry.

    I agree wholeheartedly that DM & players can/should work together. I just think these alternative systems in 4e (IB, rarity) are band-aids. They can "fix" magic items, but can't restore the sense of wonder.

  5. Its been a long time, but I really cant remember any distinct sense of wonder when it came to magic or magic items in 2nd Edition and onward. Everything was clear-cut and explained, right there in the book. I remember artifacts from Book of Artifacts having random powers that a DM could pick...I think?

    Mostly what got my players was when I created new spells and items that were NOT in the books. I think giving out magic item guidelines would better add mystery to the game, instead of having a massive library of items to choose from. I am sure a lot of DMs do this already (though CB's lack of houserule content makes it harder), but I think more groups would do it if it just said so in the DMG, or one of the item books.

  6. Yeah, sense of wonder comes more from rarity than mechanics. Rarity within the game but also in published materials. I know 2e-3.5e put items in the players' hands, but I skipped those editions. I miss the loot roll. Yes, the loot roll came back in Essentials, but IMO it's too late. I'm not an infant, I have object permanence. :-) Hiding the items now is just annoying and artificial.

    IMO, the only problem with the mechanics of 4e items is that Property-Power interactions (i.e., Lightning Weapon + Mark of Storm) make some items so valuable that no one ever looks at the other 600 weapons available. Character Building becomes a choice of which of three exploits you want to choose for your character. Yes, that's a min/max attitude, but D&D is a tactical boardgame.

  7. I have read the last two articles you have posted regarding Monte Cook's Legends & Lore column. It almost appears as though you are reading the articles from the perspective of "How is Monte going to destroy 4E D&D". Or, if not from that perspective, it does seem as though you are starting from a view that Monte has nothing valuable to add.

    I think this is unfortunate as it is clear from your writing that you are passionate about the game and very knowledgeable on the topics of D&D through many editions.

    I think that Monte's articles should not be taken as suggestions as to how to change the game, as much as philosophies of game play in D&D. It is possible that some of these philosophies will lead to game design decisions, however so much writing, development and testing would have to take place between these articles and a game feature as to render them nothing but initial considerations.

    I would very much like to see a blog post from you taking Monte's first article discussing Passive Perception and taking the design philosophies presented and from there, showing how you would develop and improve upon the system which currently exists in 4E.

    It's possible that you firmly believe that there is nothing of value in Monte's post. But perhaps, if viewed from a perspective of concept rather than design, you can find something to expand and improve upon.

  8. Sorry Gerald, but I think Antioch is right on the mark here. I saw no evidence that Monte had even a passing familiarity with 4E in either of his articles. He presented Passive Perception as if it were a revelation. Thanks Monte, but we've been doing that for a while now...

    I think it would be helpful that Monte at least familiarize himself with the current workings of the game before he starts proposing solutions.

  9. The inherent bonuses system and the item rarity system are both great ways to make magic items more rare and interesting, but does anyone actually use them? Default D&D seems to be players buying the items they want, at the levels they want. Item wish lists are very common, and the "item-a-level" mindset is pervasive. I don't really think that any of that is a problem, if that's the game you want to play. However, for those of us who'd like to play a more "old-school" style game, inherent bonuses, coupled with the item rarity rules are a great starting point. As a few other people have mentioned, though, the biggest obstacle to this style of play is overcoming player expectations. Most players have bought into the default mindset, and from my experience, are very resistant to change.

    My overall take on Monte's posts is that he's not coming off as familiar with the material he's posting about. Item rarity, and making magic items more special is something that's posted about ad nauseum on various blogs and forums. There's a lot of really deep analysis done on this topic. I would expect an experienced designer to know that and respond to it. Despite that, Monte's commentary reads like someone who's just been introduced to this aspect of D&D for the first time. That's a bit of a disappointment. He's a designer, and my impression is a lot of people were hoping for something deeper. Personally, I'd like to see him float out a new optional rule in each column. These optional rules wouldn't have to be fair or balanced or playtested or anything. Just throw out an interesting idea and see how the crowds react. Instead, it all feels half-baked, like he's teasing us with a few off-the-cuff thoughts.


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