House Rules: Putting the Bite Back Into Magic Weapons
There are some things about old editions of Dungeons and Dragons I don’t like, such as the low number of hit points player characters start out with and imbalances between wizardly type characters and non-wizardly types. On the other hand, there are many things I do like, including how earlier editions portray magic items. As a whole, magic items in these early editions have a lot more “bite” to them. This makes them more important to character development and campaign story lines. It also makes them more exciting to use and own.
How I miss those days!
There are several reasons early edition magic weapons are more potent and exciting than they are now.
One: Monsters and player characters don’t have nearly as many hit points in earlier editions of D&D as they do in fourth edition. In fourth edition, monsters and PCs typically start out with 25 hit points or more; after gaining several more levels they can easily exceed 50 hit points or more, and monsters tend to have even more hit points than PCs.
Three: Some monsters in early editions are completely immune to normal damage; if you don’t have a magic weapon or spells, you can’t harm them. Additionally, if a weapon’s magic bonus does not exceed a monster’s immunity threshold, it still fails to harm it. This, by itself, makes magic weapons more highly desired and sought after.
Four: Because of all the special powers and feats available in fourth edition, damage expressions are much higher now than they were in earlier editions. This has had the unintended (or intended?) result of making magic weapons proportionately less valuable than they were in earlier editions. For instance, in first and second editions, a long sword cannot cause more than 1D8 damage plus a character’s strength bonus in damage when used against a medium-sized creature unless that weapon also has a magic bonus. Comparatively, in fourth edition, it is not uncommon for a character to cause 2D8+5 or 3D8+5 damage, even at low levels, or triple to four times the amount of damage caused in earlier editions.
Looking at these scenarios, it is not hard to see that a +1 damage modifier for a magic weapon in fourth edition is much more trivial than it was in earlier editions. The only exception is critical hits (because of the extra damage dice). Even so, the number of times you score a critical hit in battle are usually few and far between.
Weapons in early editions drastically affect a PC’s chance to hit. Even more drastically, they affect a PC’s ability to cause damage, and in some cases, even determine whether or not a PC can harm a creature at all. Even a +1 sword is a big deal in first edition.
One point of bonus damage for a magic long sword, for instance, in first edition, is equal to one-eighth of the damage normally caused by that weapon if wielded by someone with no strength bonus. In fourth, though, because of the significantly larger amounts of damage caused by adding in feats and powers, this same bonus seems to fall much more flat, to as little as 1/24 of the possible damage that can be inflicted with a normal weapon.
So, after delving through first-edition books again and reminiscing on this, I began to wonder how I can spice up the feel of magic weapons.
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1) Add the weapon magic bonus to each die of damage caused with a weapon or implement instead of to just the entire attack. So if a PC has a power that causes 3[W] damage, add the magic bonus to the damage three times instead of once. Also add it to each damage die rolled for a critical hit. This, by itself, makes magic weapons way more potent; it also has the added benefit of speeding up combat, a complaint among some players of fourth edition.
2) Increase the damage expressions of monsters to make up for the fact that PCs now typically have more potent magical items. This is done by using a bonus equal to the typical magic weapon bonus of a PC of that level (+1 for monsters of levels 1-5, and +2 for monsters of levels 6-10, etc.) . Or, alternatively, give a monster or monsters magical weapons or implements with all the same benefits the PCs have for magic weapons. Not doing this means the game will become unbalanced in the players' favor, especially if the PCs have numerous magic weapons or powerful magic weapons. Again, this added damage bonus has the bonus of speeding up combat.
3) Bring back the same rule found in earlier editions for some creatures having immunities to normal damage (i.e. demons and vampires). Or, if you feel this rule is too harsh, tone it down somewhat by implementing the following house rules: allow players trained in religion or arcana to use a new at-will power called bless mundane weapons. Anyone trained in religion or arcana can use a standard action to “bless” one weapon or ammunition for that encounter (lasts 5 minutes), turning it into a temporary “magical” weapon that does half damage to creatures otherwise immune to normal weapons (with no magical bonuses to hit or damage). Again, this is only for the duration of that encounter. Such blessings can be done as often as the characters like, so long as a PC is willing to pay the cost of one standard action per blessing.
How about you? Have you done anything to make magic items more potent in your campaigns, or are you happy with the way fourth edition treats them?