Year of 4E: Item Sets
This month I am continuing the theme of rewards that existed in the 4th Edition. Last time we covered Boons, which are an awesome idea that make a sort-of-appearance in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Today we are going to talk about item sets, because they are freaking cool and deserve a spot in modern D&D.
Item Sets…’Nuff Said
So what are item sets you probably aren’t asking? Well don’t worry I will tell you anyways. They are exactly what they sound like: a set of magical items that go together. Sounds simple right? The concept itself is fairly simple. There are 3-6 items in the sets and they all center around a certain play style or class, enhancing certain powers or helping to give you more opportunities to do what you do best. Best of all, the more pieces you get the better the bonuses get!
This is done incredibly simply. Any given item has magical properties and usefulness for many characters. Things like armor and weapons still have level scales, just in case you power them up later or introduce a level 5 set to level 20 characters. Each set comes with its own table that states what you get with X number of pieces (say 2 or 4). Their is no specifics as to which 2 pieces you need, you just need 2!
Now, the naysayers will point out how this is taken straight out of the MMO playbook. Sets with set bonuses? My response is so what? These things help you play the character you want to play and give you goals beyond the normal. Instead of just looking for a magical leather you are looking for the shipboard armor. If you can get past the mechanical mirror there is a lot to get out of item sets.
Okay, I will say it again for the people in the back (despite my repetitions thus far): 4E has 1000 times more story than anyone tends to give it credit for. These sets are just another example. Each one comes with a name and each item within that named set comes with its own name. And what comes with fancy names? A fancy backstory!
Each entry from Marjam’s Dream to the Tools of Zane’s Vengeance comes with a brief use description to provide guidance to what roles and styles would benefit from it more. After that is the obligatory 4E lore role entries. They all have 2-3 entries with scaling difficulties to provide as deep a back story as you might need or want. This is all on top of the flavor text for each item’s entry that is also normal in this edition. Honestly, how can people claim that fourth edition isn’t steeped in narrative???
Where Are They Now?!
There are no set items in 4th Edition and I cannot for the life of me understand why. Let’s break it down. In 4E magical items were equippable in a similar manner to 3.X with a specific number of slots (arms, 2 rings, head, etc.). Now who is talking about video game rip offs?? Insert extreme eye roll. Anyways, the only limit was in the number of item daily powers you could use: 1 per tier.
This limit, to me, was a bit silly and makes very little sense. Using the magic of your, say, boots should not take away your ring’s magic for the day. Especially given the mechanical predilection of the game to encourage endurance and continuing through a day of encounters. But I am getting side-tracked.
In 5th Edition our limits are in the form of charges for some items (which may or may not come back) and in the attunement mechanic which limits 3 attuned items to be used at any one time. In many ways I find this limit a bit silly as well, but really I think it is my preference for high-powered wild-ass campaigns more than anything. This leaves the magical useage of an item down to its own rules and places the limits of magic onto how stretched you can make your soul when it comes to magical links.
So again, where the hells are the item sets!? First of the narrative benefits of names item sets are extensive. Mechanically? These things don’t have to get complicated. First off, I like the idea of allowing attunement beyond 3 provided all the items are from the set. This, of course, assumes 4+ items which all require it but I think that is a beneficial mechanic. It encourages you to seek out the set and, though style might be limiting, hold benefits for doing so.
Another easy mechanic which can easily be tacked on is the set bonuses. This can be done just like 4E, with an extra ability or stat bonus based on the number of items you have. Alternatively, you can do what I did with a monk set the Untamed Scribe and I made. Each item of the set has individual improvements based on the number you have. Things like a weapon going from +2 to +3 once you get the 3rd item or a beaded necklace with more uses for each additional set piece you have.
As you can see there is no reason not to have these items and various ways we can make them noteworthy. More than that they are fun! The thing is, this type of reward is beneficial on another level. It’s efficient. It reduces the number of sources of power players have to keep track of as well as the number of items you need to give away to reward players. By rewarding a third item to a set, a character can get the equivalent of a fourth item without as much extra tracking. I gotta say, one thing I would love to do at some point is update or make some sets that work in the 5th Edition.