So this isn’t just going to be a huge rant about D&D and Sage Advice, I promise.
I present – The issue:
A Sage Advice post from 2017 that was tweeted again this morning by @SageAdviceD&D, advises that in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, an adventuring party is assumed to get 100 magic items between levels 1 and 20. This does include consumables, so in a high combat campaign where you’re drinking healing potions like shots in the club on a saturday night, it’s more than achievable, even to exceed the advised number is doable. But for any other styles of game?
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever advised someone to completely disregard a Sage Advice or Errata ruling, my usual thing is: “read it, see what you think, if it works for your game implement it, if not, then don’t.” When it comes to this though, as both a player and someone with some limited DMing experience, I can’t state loud enough how bullshit this is. Please, just ignore it.
For a party of 5, that’s a Magic Item per level for each character. For a level 10 party that is 50 Magic Items. Granted, take a few off per character for consumables (working on my current game it was on average 3 used consumables per character at this stage) which would leave the party with 35 magic items in play. Even in a more heavily combat focused game where you’re using potions more frequently, that’s still going to leave you with 15-20 magic items in play.
So where do these characters find these 20-30 Magic items when even in a high magic world like Forgotten Realms, the ‘common’ magical items are said to be comparatively rare?
‘Dungeon crawls!’ I hear you say? Yeah, no.
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a loot dump at the end of a hard fought dungeon, but make it relevant (there are actually many things wrong with loot drops in dungeon crawls but now is not the time to open that can of worms). Don’t just put magic items there because ‘Crawford said they need 100 by level 20 and they’re 10 behind already!’. The issue with arbitrary goals is when numbers like this are thrown around it creates a false dichotomy – ‘You have to do it this way or you’re not doing it right!’ and it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s an archaic way of thinking, it’s gatekeeping, and with statements like this Crawford really isn’t helping the issue. Give your players magic items when they deserve it, give your players magical items for story reasons, for backstory reasons, you can give your players magic items for pretty much any reason you want, but that reason should never be “because Crawford said they needed X many by this level.” Make them important, make them mean something.
The use of magic items, especially for new DM’s is extremely daunting and it’s what put me off DMing for so long. When you put a goal of a magic item per character per level on the game, it adds a whole other level of pressure to what can already be an extremely nerve wracking experience. Even now, the idea of running a low level game with that many magic items is somewhat terrifying, it completely fucks with balance and it’s not like they’ve included tables on how to re-balance when items are involved.
At no point should a DM feel compelled to give magic items to their party, they’re not ‘essential’ mechanics.
Despite all this though, I wonder where the number ‘100’ comes from.
I was sent this link by @SilentAddle: https://www.enworld.org/threads/analysis-of-typical-magic-item-distribution.395770/ I’m going to trust the maths on this, because I don’t have the brain power to go through and figure it all out.
By the maths in the link above, as written in the DMG, between levels 1-20 the average adventuring party should get between 98 and 105 magic items, both consumable and permanent, of varying rarities:
“[with rounded figures = 104]
- 18 common consumables
- 20 uncommon consumables
- 19 rare consumables
- 18 very rare consumables
- 3 or 4 legendary consumables
- 9 or 10 uncommon permanent items
- 5 or 6 rare permanent items
- 5 very rare permanent items
- 4 legendary permanent items”
- 79 consumable items [across all rarities]
- 86 items above the ‘common’ rarity [both consumable and permanent]
- 8 legendary items [4 permanent, 4 consumable]
- 25 permanent items [none of the common rarity]
I’ve been playing 5e for years and I’ve never experienced anything near this level of consumable magic item spread.
And then Xanather’s Guide to Everything releases and we get given an abundance of really freaking awesome common permanent magic items, which goes and completely screws with all the above maths and adds more to the already 100(ish) items a party ‘should have’.
And that number of 100? announced 12 days before Xanather’s releases (though Sage Advice dates it as release day), and Crawford responds with this:
Without an actual explanation, the maths still doesn’t make sense Jeremy!!
So what is said in Xanather’s?
Okay, so disregard the stuff in the DMG and use this breakdown instead? Sure.
But wait, what’s this…?
Oh yeah, shit, magic items are meant to be rare aren’t they!? Let’s just chuck the word ‘sporadically’ in the sidebar and everything will be fine.
Level 1-20, by the daily xp max as written in the DMG is a year of adventuring. 100 items, over one year IS NOT SPORADIC!!!
If, as the sidebar suggests, magic items are not in fact necessary for the game, if they are not needed for balance purposes, if the game can be played without them, why on earth do you find it necessary to tell us how many the party should gain? If it’s not an integral part of the game, why the fuck does it matter?
If you want to do a table on item rarity/character level so DMs have a guide to work off to somewhat balance things if they do choose to give magic items out then go for it, it would actually be useful, but none of the rest has any relevance and it just gives people more shit to gatekeep and argue about. So why do it? Why add more fuel to the already raging fire?
So what is my point with all this?
DM’s should never have to worry about how many magic items their party has. The books themselves say so, there is no mechanical reason to need magic items.
“But what about enemies with an immunity to non-magical damage?” If you have a melee heavy party that doesn’t have a caster able to cast Magic Weapon or the ability to inflict magical damage, then don’t put them up against a monster with an immunity to non-magical damage. It’s that simple. It literally says so in the sidebar.
As long as everyone involved is having fun and enjoying themselves, the amount of magic items in play has absolutely no relevance. You want to run a campaign with little to no magic items? Go for it. You want your magic items to be story points? Go for it. You want to run a campaign in a world with high magic item availability? Then go for it!
It. Really. Doesn’t. Matter. It never should have mattered. It never should matter. They are a choice. They are an optional extra that can add more to your game. THEY. ARE. NOT. NECESSARY.