Deep D&D Gamehacking pt. 2

November 18, 2007

A long post, for crunchier issues…

Magic Items

1.  Any character can possess up to 3 permanent magic items and 3 charge-based magic items.

2.  Magic items are attuned to a person- anyone else using them gets no magical benefit- your +5 sword in the hands of another is just a sword, a magic potion is just some fizzy soda, etc.  It takes an hour to attune to an item, once attuned, no one else can attune to it.  If you choose something new after your 3, the one you drop from your list either becomes non-magical or disappears.

3.  If a character dies, the items either lose their charge or disappear completely.  (Raise dead? Items return to normal/come back, another reason for necromancy!).


Magic items are the biggest loophole in D&D.  By stumbling across the correct items,  you can instantly pump up your character’s abilities, add new spells, break the upper ceiling of spells you can cast per day (“Look ma, I’ve got 50 healing spells in a stick!”), destroy the need to ever memorize a particular spell, or ever have to use a particular set of skills (“My boots give me +10 to Stealth, why bother putting points there, right?”).

Magic items are instant effectiveness, mostly transferable, and they carry over the gap of character death.  Eventually, they become a form of cure-all for so many problems like Batman’s utility belt.

So what’s up with all those limitations?  Well, first when you have to limit how many permanent items you can carry, you can’t be super awesome everywhere with stealthy boots, bracers of armor, magic rings, cloaks, hats, necklaces, weapons, etc.  You get three things, which focuses players on making choices between maximizing their strengths or covering their weaknesses.

Attunement stops some pretty slippery cop-outs players can pull.  “Hey, throw the boots of jumping back across the chasm.  Thanks man!” etc.  It also stops the whole problem of bad guys’ magic items existing mostly as loot for the PCs.

Versimilitude- “But realistically…”

Realistically, magic items work however you choose to define them in your game world.  In mine, they’re magical concepts pulled from the aether and given form.  You can have 3 permanent and 3 temporary items because that’s the laws of magic, and when you die they disappear because your soul is what anchors them to you.

For you and your game, maybe you want want to pump up that number, or come up with a different reason for it to work the way it does, but basically the limitations are based in gamist concerns and years of watching magic items wreck havok on challenges.  There’s a reason so many editions of D&D have a section warning DMs against giving out magic items and advice on how to remove them from play.  Fuck that mess.  You shouldn’t have to play 10 years to try to develop it through some kind of zen luck.

Awesome Tokens

Awesome tokens are a reward that makes characters more effective immediately, without messing with the XP system.   Awesome tokens come in three colors:

White (spend before you roll)

Spend to roll 2D20s for any kind of D20 roll your character makes and take the higher roll.


Spend instead of rolling to automatically succeed at any single D20 roll your character makes.  The success is as if you’ve rolled -just- enough to succeed.  Alternately, spend the token to force anyone to reroll a die roll (friend, foe, yourself, D20, damage roll, whatever).


Spend to automatically change any roll to the maximum or minimum possible.  If you maximize an attack roll, it’s an automatic critical, and it’s confirmed.

 How do you get these?

The DM can reward you a white token for:

– Good dialogue, neat color, add to the game world in an interesting way

– Playing according to your alignment in a solid way

A white token can be transformed into a blue token whenever the DM wants to reward you for:

– Showing comraderie and friendship amongst the party

– Alignment angst- your hero either questions their alignment stances or stands strong in the face of real turmoil

A blue token can be transformed into a red token whenever the DM wants to reward you for:

– Heroism, undertaking great risks for the good of others

– Glory, doing things which are great and will be remembered


This lets you apply some simulationist ideas to your game without necessarily overriding or ignoring the larger gamist aspect of it.  You’re giving players rewards for adding color, for talking awesome dwarven lines, for playing the party as a party, for not playing black and white alignment, for being heroes and undertaking dangerous things.  But they still have to fight monsters and overcome challenges and get xp to level up.

You’ll notice this is the bastard child of Mike Sugarbaker’s “Fuck You I’m Awesome” tokens idea and Burning Wheel’s Artha rules (both in reward and the execution of multiple types of reward).

You’ll also notice that the tokens work like a funnel- you need white tokens to get blue tokens, blue tokens to get red tokens- you can’t just skip up and get red tokens straight out the bat.  It also sets up some interesting decisions- do you spend that token now because you could use it, or do you hold on hoping to upgrade it?

Initially I had this set up with the idea of trying to find some way to get full Narrativist leanings to work under a Gamist game, but the way D&D sets up characters with a super narrow range of competence doesn’t lend itself well to players being able to make a full range of choices nor a good system for building scenes and choices.  Though you could spend tokens to open up your range of actions (“I auto-succeed a Move Silently check!”) it’s not really a solid reward system if it requires you to spend your resource to get the same resource.

You’ll also notice that the Tokens are pretty set on messing with dice.  That’s because I wanted them to be useful for both mage types and fighter types- getting an auto-critical is just as useful as getting maximum damage on a 12d6 fireball.

What about challenge?  Doesn’t this all make it a lot easier for players?

Certainly, provided they’re working with the system and gaming it to get the tokens along the way.  On the other hand, it means I can pull out monsters I would normally avoid.  It basically lets me go straight to the “Sweet Spot” of challenge that has been spoken about by the WOTC designers, the lower-mid-level challenges and up.  I don’t have to sit there and coddle the eggshells of heroes with rats and goblins.

In total

So, should everyone play with these rules?  By no means.  These are rules I would use, for the kind of game I would want.  But look at how much thought I had to put into them to get there, and then, I’d have to play with them to make sure they gelled correctly (the armor rules, for example, might break some things).

You notice that some of the rules deal with things I feel are longer term issues in D&D  throughout its various editions (alignment destroys parties, magic items wreck challenge), some are about color and heroic fantasy, and some are just personal pet peeves of play.

People change rules all the time, but do you really think about why and what it’s supposed to do?

If so, you’re a designer.  Welcome to the club.

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