Friday, June 10, 2016

5e D&D - Magical Forges: adding weapon and armor upgrades to your game

Skyrim, Diablo, Dark Souls, Path of Exile, Salt & Sanctuary, and many, many other games have some interesting mechanics to deal with the improvement of items. Sometimes using socketed gems, or the character's skill with a forge, or finding magic runes or using arcane enchantments, there are many ways a character can improve its items.

On this article, I will propose a special DM option to allow magical forge and item improvement in your campaigns in a way similar to these games.

1) The source of a magical forge

Games such as Dark Souls and Salt & Sanctuary have an in-world explanation for their magical forges. In Dark Souls, you use the souls you collect from defeated enemies to improve your equipment, infusing them with the soul's power. In Salt&Sanctuary, you use salt - which is similar to souls, where they are the last figments that remain from a defeated foe.

It is important that in your game you define what kind of resource is used to infuse items with magical power. In my games - in order to make things simple - I say that precious metals and gems are more than rare commodities used in commercial exchange. They are the best conduit for magic and also a reserve of magical energy. The purer and rarer the metal or gem, the more magical energy it has contained. This explains the whole idea behind the capacity of alchemists to turn common items into gold. And the reversal is also possible: you may turn a magic item back to gold.

In your game, you may create your own upgrade materials and resources that blacksmiths use to create magic items. For this article, I will use gold as the basis - feel free to adapt and change it as you see fit.

2) Item levels and improvement

The basic idea of this option is that equipment (weapons and armor) have levels, and that you can use upgrade materials to improve your equipment's levels. Each level costs an amount of materials and allows you to choose special upgrades for your equipment.

The value of upgrade materials (gold) is the same
of the experience points needed to advance. Level 1
improvements cost 100 gold
Using Gold as the basic material (as I said before), use the 5th edition character advancement XP table. Every item starts at level 0 (without any advancement). The only difference is that first level costs 100 gold. Then, follow the table. For example, if you invest 2.700 gold in an equipment, it becomes a 4th level item. You may choose 4 improvements for it from the lists below.

One important thing to note is that these improvements are both based on magic and skill. As a general rule, simple blacksmiths and forges can only do 1st level upgrades. If you go to a city where a well-seasoned blacksmith lives who has access to a good forge, you can improve to 5th level. Beyond that, it would need the work of very talented and famous blacksmiths and specially equipped magical forges to reach level 10. And to go even beyond that, just like in the Soul series of games, you'd need to find magic embers or ancient forges and legendary blacksmiths to smith such things.

Regarding time, each level of improvement takes one day at the forge. So, improving a 4th level item to a 6th level would take 2 days. Improving a 0 level to 3rd level would take 3 days.

Weapon improvements list (choose 1 per item level)

  • Lighter: Makes a weapon one stage lighter (a heavy weapon becomes a medium weapon, while a medium weapon becomes a light weapon. Does not work with light weapons). If you invest 3 improvements, it can make a heavy weapon become a light weapon.
  • Well balanced: Gives the weapon the Finesse tag. It must be a light weapon.
  • Greater Range: Gives a weapon the "Reach" tag or +50% range to the weapon. Use whichever is higher, or the second option if the weapon already has the "reach" descriptor.
  • Improved edge: Your critical margin increases in 1 (normally, going to a critical attack in a 19-20).
  • Massive critical: Gain one extra weapon die damage when you hit a critical strike.
  • Precise strike: Re-roll your attack if you roll a 1. You can only use this once per turn.
  • Bonus Damage: Gain +1 damage with your weapon. Investing 3 improvements gives you +2 damage. Investing 6 improvements gives you +3 damage. However, this bonus damage is not considered magical - so the weapon, unless it has other kinds of enchantment, is not considered a magical weapon for the purpose of hitting through a creature's defenses.
  • Bonus to attack: Gain +1 to your attacks with this weapon. Investing 3 improvements gives you +2 attack. Investing 6 improvements gives you +3 damage.
  • Mixed Damage:Your attack deals more than one kind of physical damage. Choose Slashing, Piercing or Bludgeoning to add to your weapon. When you hit a creature, the best damage type will have effect. If your weapon deals both Slashing and Bludgeoning damage and the creature is resistant to slashing and weak to bludgeoning, your weapon will hit it as bludgeoning damage. Investing 3 improvements make your weapon deal all three types of physical damage (bludg, pierc and slash).
Armor Improvement List (choose 1 per 2 item levels)

  • Bonus AC: +1 AC while using this armor. Investing 6 improvements gives you +2 AC. Investing 12 improvements gives you +3 AC. This bonus is not cumulative with other sources that also magically improve AC (like, for example, a magic shield that gives +1 AC).
  • Spikes: A creature that rolls a 1 making a melee attack against you receives 1d4 damage.
  • Critical protection: If someone scores a critical strike against you, they re-roll their attack. Use this only once per creature's attack turn. So, if a creature scores many critical strikes, only one will be re-rolled.
  • Well fit: You don't have disadvantage in stealth rolls with it.
  • Nimble: For the purposes of proficiency, consider the armor one stage lighter (Heavy armor becomes medium, medium armor becomes light, and light armor is considered no armor). This does not change the maximum Dexterity bonus os stealth penalty. Investing 6 improvements you may consider the armor 2 stages lighter, and with 12 improvements it is 3 stages lighter (a Heavy armor is considered no armor). You can also apply this option to a Shield. With that, a Shield can be worn by any class.
  • Extra protection: Creatures making opportunity attacks against you receive -2 penalty on their attack rolls.
  • Specialized plating: You may use your Intelligence bonus (up to a +2 maximum) in place of your Dexterity bonus for AC. This bonus does not work for heavy armor.
  • Damage Resistance: Choose one type of physical damage (bludgeoning, slashing or piercing). Your armor gives you resistance to that damage. For 6 improvements, choose another type. For 12 improvements, you have resistance to all physical damage. Magic damage ignores this resistance.
Obs: See how improvements cost doubled for armors. So, to have spikes on your armor, you need it to be at least level 2.

Simple examples: A fighter invest 14.000 gold to make its 0 lvl longsword goes to lvl 6 and then chooses 'Lighter', 'Precise Strike', 'Bonus Attack +1' and 'Damage +2'. The longsword now has +1 to attack, +2 to damage, has the "light" descriptor (and now can be dual wielded with no problems) and re-roll a critical failure once per round.

A wizard invests 300 gold into a leather armor, making it go to lvl 2, and use both improvement slots to make it Nimble. Now, the wizard may use the leather armor even without proficiency with it.

3) Regarding magic items

Using these rules, you will have to adapt magic items and stipulate their levels. Compare their effects to those described here. A +2 sword, for example, gives +2 to attack and damage. So it is a 6th level item.

However, many magical items have unique properties that are not covered here. For example, the same +2 sword, beside its raw bonus to attack and damage, is also considered to be magical. This feature I will approach on another article, discussing how to enchant items through alchemy. Basically, consider that those extra abilities are not related to an item's level and that you can improve a magic item's level to do other stuff.

Again using the example of the +2 sword, considering it to be a 6th level item, you could pay another 9.000 gold (the difference between 6th and 7th level) to advance it and gain 1 improvement. The fact that it is also enchanted with magic damage does not interfere with its levels.

Final words

Magic forge and item levels give players numerous options to adapt and improve their equipment. This is specially true for the reasoning behind the improvements. Some like to say that they add chains to their sword in order to give it Reach. Others say that their specialized plating in their leather armor are in fact gold psionic plates that focus their mind. I like to let them decide how exactly the improvements interfere with their items, and it is very fun.

One last thing to note is that this option might change many things in your campaign, allowing players to transform their items. You can control things getting out of hand by limiting access to powerful forges or items beyond lvl 5 or 10. You can make players go into quests searching for legendary embers or long lost blacksmiths of myth. You may also limit access to some improvements, like "Nimble" for armors. Maybe every blacksmith knows only a few of those improvements, and players must find the ones that they want. Nevertheless, it's been a feature that my players have enjoyed a lot. I'd like to hear y'all impressions on them.

Until next time,


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