Magic Item Wishlists

It's probably just the orange light
bulb from the Pulp Fiction Briefcase.
In the last 2nd Edition campaign I played in, we rarely if ever found treasure. I remember getting a +1 two-handed sword (+2 versus undead!) at third level, and I think a suit of +1 chainmail went to the cleric at sixth. I don't recall how frequently it was assumed that players should find treasure, but I think we were getting hosed pretty badly, but at least it was something that everyone could use. Conversely, I remember running Age of Worms in 3rd Edition, which was fraught with numerous magical trinkets that did little except to serve as fanciful vendor trash, to be pawned off when the party got to a town that had a sufficiently high gp reserve.

4th Edition operates under a very different assumption: players are supposed to furnish wish lists to the DM, so that he/she can tailor valuable rewards in a more...appreciable manner. Wish lists are kind of a touchy subject with 4th Edition, as it's the first one that I recall explicitly telling the DM to ask for them. Some people take it to mean that the DM should only dole out the items that characters specifically ask for, which can be fine--especially if you are running one-shots, or games where the players cannot easily sell/disenchant/enchant their own loot--though I take a more relaxed stance.

See, as a DM it can be difficult for me to remember what each player has, what their character can use, and what the character wants. To me, a wish list is a way for me to quickly reference all of these things when I'm generating treasure rewards. I try to keep my treasure logical and thematic, so player's aren't always going to get the exact thing that they want, and my players know that. When I was running At The Mines Of Madness, one of the players wanted a specific kind of magical scimitar. I don't remember what it was now, but I ended up giving him a byeshk sword, which was A) a weapon he could use, and B) really useful considering that they were fighting wall-to-wall aberrants.

What he wanted? No. Useful? Hell yes. It's because 4th Edition is the first D&D edition that I've played where the players really don't need treasure in order to overcome obstacles, that this is something I feel a lot safer doing. In past editions, you might have needed a magical sword to overcome a creature's damage resistance, and if you went further back, some were immune to weapons without a sufficiently high enhancement bonus. In 3rd Edition, items with static bonuses to ability scores are virtually mandatory. Not so anymore, as characters are mostly defined by their class as opposed by their magic item suite.

Recently a fellow player and I decided that our group should post character information on Google Docs so that the DM would have an easy and convenient way of tracking our personalities, goals, journals, and...wish lists. As a player, this is something new for me. Unfortunately (fortunately?) there's a lot of items in the game, and I'm playing a class that I've never played before (cavalier). I've decided to meet the DM halfway, literally by filling out roughly half of my own wish list with a few items and leaving the rest blank, so that I can be better surprised (which is how I suspect a lot of players do it).

Anyway, that's my thoughts on wish lists: use them as guidelines, not set-in-stone instructions. Try to cater to the character's needs, but don't sacrifice the integrity of the game if it doesn't make sense.


  1. I don't recall 4E ever suggesting wish lists were mandatory. It's a possible option for a DM who doesn't read all the magic item books.

  2. While technically not mandatory, the DMG recommends using them, stating that you should have each player write down several items that they want.

    At any rate, even if I DID have an encyclopedic knowledge of each magic item, I would still want my players to tell me what they want, as opposed to guessing or giving what I think they should have.

  3. I'm not a huge fan of wishlists. In addition to the problems mentioned above, they make the game seem very artificial. I prefer the style of play where if you found something cool, you found a way to use it.

    I tend to hand out a fair amount of residuum and encourage people to upgrade their weapons through rituals. That way, they can get the items they want, by making them. However, as a DM, I'd much prefer to hand out random treasure and see what people can make of it.


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