Jun 072010

Tired of characters lugging around magic items as if they were mundane pieces of gear?  This article will fix that, assuming you adopt the Classic Fantasy setting and apply it to your campaign.  In this article, you’ll see how different types of characters gain the benefits of a normally 4e magic-equipped character, without actually carrying around all those magic items.  Now, magic items are truly powerful tools that help define your character, as opposed to numerous pieces of mundane gear.

Your character concept defines your character in a more broad way than simply by race and class.  It is especially important for this project because it determines how the character gains the benefits that normal 4e magic items instill.

In D&D 4e, PCs gain magic items almost every level, and are constantly swapping them for new and better ones.  With Classic Fantasy, those magic items are few and far between (or non-existent), but the PCs still need the benefits that 4e magic items provide in order to maintain the power level matching the encounters, as well as the “larger-than-life” feel.

Here is a list of possible character concepts, and the explanations as to why your character gains the benefits of magic items, even if he doesn’t have any items.  Take whatever fits your version of Classic Fantasy, use it, modify it, or come up with your own.  Further down the page, you’ll find out how your character gains magic item benefits as he gains levels.

  • The Everyman – The everyman is normal in every way, except for the single magic item that is bestowed upon him.  Think Excalibur, or the ring from Lord of the Rings.  This one item is responsible for all of the the PC’s magical item benefits.  It could be a magical necklace, but instill the benefits of a magical weapon, Boots of Speed, Belt of Giant Strength, and so on.  This is the family heirloom, the shield handed down by the gods, or the cursed crown.  Yes, it’s a magical item, and it can be stolen, but most people would be afraid to touch something of so much power.  Should your character somehow be separated from it for a short time, go with it.  It should make for a better story.  Seeing as this is a major part of your character, your DM will not screw your character over.  For the greatest impact with this character, make a backstory for this item.  After all, it is a rare and powerful, literally priceless, real magic item.
  • The Destined – The individual has been destined since before birth to become something great. Think Conan, or Aragorn. His fate has been laid out in legends, prophesies, and scriptures, and the common man may or may not know of him.  The deeds of this character will be told for centuries to come, perhaps even thousands of years.  This individual does not benefit from magic items, since fate has already made him special.  For the greatest impact with this character concept, choose magic item benefits that are not flashy or too mystical, ones that could simply be explained as natural abilities.  That way it’s fate, destiny, and his inner character making him great, not ‘magical’ powers.
  • The Offspring – Gods, deities, demons, and devils can’t seem to leave mortals alone.  This is the character with one normal parent, while the other is somehow supernatural.  For reasons left to the player and/or DM, this PC is born out of lust, greed, boredom, or design.  His reasons for being could be numerous, or non-existent.  Does his supernatural parent have plans for him, is he considered an abomination, or do they even know he exists?  Most likely, he does not have any magic items, rather, his magic item benefits are natural powers that he is born with, or granted.
  • The Lucky – This character is simply lucky.  He has no innate magical talent, just blind luck.  Make sure that all of the magic item benefits are as non-flashy as possible (remember, aside from his extreme luck, he is completely normal).
  • The Mystic – The mystic is easy to integrate into this game, as he is already flowing with magic.  The wizard, cleric, druid, psion, warlock (and so on) all have mystical powers to begin with, so magic item benefits are simply additions to his natural powers.  He might have a “magical wand, staff, or focus,” but really, it doesn’t matter.
  • The Chosen – Some powerful being, church, cult, item, or place has chosen this character to champion their cause, however broad or specific it is.  Perhaps he has been brought back from the dead, resurrected with new unnatural powers?  Perhaps he has been cursed?  Who knows?  The character’s magic item benefits can come from within, or perhaps some token item, like an amulet, or perhaps a tatoo.
  • The Champion – This character is so much larger than life, he naturally has talents that carry him to excellence.  He doesn’t have any magical items, he’s just that damn good.  Any powers/abilities granted by his magic item benefits are simply attributed to skill.  Yes, he has a far-reaching reputation, and may even be considered a celebrity, but by no means is he destined for anything.  Again, try to make his magic item benefits as non-magical as possible, to better account for his ‘natural skills.’

Below is the method for which magic item benefits are attained in this Classic Fantasy setting, regardless of the character concept.

  • At 2nd level, every PC gains one benefit as if he had just gained a magic item with a level of between 1 and 5.  The magic item must be something that the character is normally allowed to benefit from in a normal 4e game.  For all game mechanical purposes, and as far as the character builder is concerned, the PC is equipped with that item.  However, depending on your character concept, the actual item might be something entirely different, or perhaps there’s no item at all (see the character concepts above).
  • At 3rd level, every PC gains another magic item benefit, again as if they are actually (legally) equipping that item.  The item may have a level of between 1 and 6.  In other words, at this point the PC is allowed to have two magic item benefits “equipped,” one of them may be 3 levels higher than the PC.  If the player wishes, his first magic item may be switched to something entirely different, or he may keep it.
  • At 4th level, the process continues.  Now the PC has three magic item benefits.  One of them may be 7th level, another 6th level, and the third may be 5th level.  Or, his magic item benefit levels may be less, of course.
  • This process continues every new level until all of the character’s magic item slots are legally filled (head, neck, waist, hand, etc.).
  • Now, at any point in time, he may only ever have three different magic item benefits of a level higher than his character level (level +1, level +2, and level +3).  All other items must be equal to his level, or less.
  • To sum it up: at the beginning of every new level (starting at 2nd level), you get to add one new magic item (up to your full allotment of legally allowed magic items).  You can also change around all of the magic items as you like, as long as you are legally allowed to use them, and you follow the level rules: all of the “magic items” may be equal to your level, or less.  -Or, three of those items may be of higher level (level +1, level +2, and level +3).
  • As an example, let’s say that your 2nd level character is bestowed a magic ring, and that magic ring will soon start to unlock benefits for your character.  Let’s say you choose a magical item “slot” of 5th level that requires a light blade.  The benefit will only apply when you attack with a light blade.  Next level, should you choose a magical item slot of 6th level that normally requires a wand, you gain the benefits of the wand only when your hand is free (when it would normally be wielding the wand – and of course, you could actually wield a wand for visual effect).  Also, you must be able to use a wand.  At 4th level, should you choose a magical item slot of 7th level that normally requires heavy armor, you only gain the benefits while wearing heavy armor.  Get it?  You can’t use these rules to cheat the system; equip your character legally and then reflavor the magical items how you like.

Remember, while your character sheet may have several different magic items listed and equipped, they are all not really separate items.  All of their bonuses, powers, benefits, etc. are all lumped into your character concept.  These benefits come from either a single powerful magic item, a curse, a blessing, his own personal magic ability, or simply his place with fate and destiny – making him larger-than-life.  Really, it’s up to you to decide.  This is in no way a method to limit the character; it is simply a way to explain how your character is larger-than-life, without having all PCs lug around 10 different magic items as if they were mundane gear.

On paper (and according to the character builder),  your character carries magic items like any other 4e game – it’s just that we are reflavoring all those magic items into a single item or power.  We are changing the flavor of the game, not the mechanics.

More awesomeness...

Chris Stevens

In Chris's opinion, the very best vices are dirt bikes, rock music, and gaming, while the very best medicine is fatherhood. If he could just learn to balance them all, he'd live forever. He's much more creative than intelligent, often wakes up belligerent, and ponders many things insignificant. Lastly, in an effort to transform his well-fed body, P90X, Roller Blades, and Food are all laughing at him. And the pain continues.

  2 Responses to “Classic Fantasy – Character Concepts and 4e Magic items”

  1. I don’t remember exactly where I saw it, but in the early 4E hype, it was mentioned that it was “about the character, not the equipment.” However, I noticed right away that there was a lot of items that were to be given to the PCs.


    I think you’ve hit on a fantastic way for people to flavor any campaign. What if in my game with default assumptions my monk is the only character that uses this variant; what does that say about him…

    Great job providing the different concepts/approaches and for helping make the mechanics of the game a little more transparent for people interested in this topic.

  2. MORE! 🙂

    Great job Tourq, you may well win me back to 4e yet…

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>