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View Full Version : New Abilities in Place of Magic Items



jinjitsu
2018-03-22, 08:54 PM
I watched a video a while back where a GM (Matt Colville, I think) mentioned that he likes to give his characters special abilities as quest rewards sometimes rather than just handing out magic items - if I remember right, his example was giving a 5e dragonborn a shorter cooldown on its breath weapon. On the one hand, I like the idea, because it feels like more of a personal triumph than a magic item and it can't be slotted in or out for other equipment; on the other hand, part of me feels like the class features a character gains as they level up are more or less the same thing. I'm curious what, if anything, you all think about this sort of thing, as it's something I've been pondering including in my current game and I'd like to have some outside input before I set the precedent.

Satinavian
2018-03-23, 02:52 AM
I don't really like it because character development should be based on player decisions, not GM decision.

You could trade magic items in a group or with NPCs or even sell them if they are not to your taste. But you can't do that with special abilities you don't like.

hymer
2018-03-23, 04:05 AM
I love it. In fantasy games, the christmas tree effect is a nuissance, and this helps reduce it. And it also makes the character feel more accomplished and capable, rather than simply having cool tools. The character is cool rather than the stuff.

Anonymouswizard
2018-03-23, 05:05 AM
It really depends.

On the one hand, I prefer the status where you're not gaining new equipment as you go along, because characters beginning with their father's sword and using that to take down the final villain is a big aspect of many stories. On the other hand, being defined by an item you find is also a part of a story.

I tend to do a mixture in fantasy. Characters will tend to find magic items (normally not weapons or armour), and get new abilities. As characters progress they might go on a quest to awaken their father's sword or mother's axe, turning into a weapon with special powers, while on other adventures also picking up a cloak of disguise (changes your look at long as the hood is up), a knife of unsealing (separates anything connected via an adhesive), and a decanter of endless wine (unfortunately it's the really cheap 2 a bottle kind). At the same time they might gain an increase to an ability or learn special skills and powers.

However I tend to run science fiction. There I tend to hand out items and gadgets almost exclusively, with most 'adventure rewards' being in currency. I fully expect most of this stuff to be cashed in to upgrade character's equipment or bodies, with only a handful of interesting gizmos being kept. Plus I tend to like characters having a starship, which allows me to give cool advanced ship components as a reward. Players like being the only ship in space with inertia suppression machinery or force fields.

Darth Ultron
2018-03-23, 07:42 AM
I like it, and do it often.

I never really like the ''x-mas tree pile of items'' .

Sometimes I will give a new spell or add an ability to an existing item.

In a general sense, I as the DM, will pick the ability. But sometimes, for some players, it works to let them pick the ability. Sadly, this does not work too often as way too many players want overly powerful and game breaking abilities.

But, what does work is letting the player pick from an already made ability. For example: Give the character the ability to animate fire with in ten feet a level with set mechanics. Then the player tries something like 'can I make a fire lasso and then the DM makes that the next 'power upgrade'.

Cespenar
2018-03-23, 07:51 AM
Since the ability can't be traded or given away, maybe present them 3 options to pick from?

For example, your dragonborn instance:

a) Shorter cooldown on breath weapon
b) Longer range on breath weapon
c) Increased dice on breath weapon

Or introduce some grandmaster NPCs who teach some feats/techniques/spells in return for time and money.

Or do both.

Nifft
2018-03-23, 07:55 AM
I like giving & getting abilities instead of magic items.

As mentioned, the player & DM need to be on the same page -- but really, they had already needed to be on the same page for magic items to be useful, so that's not specific to the abilities thing.

Chauncymancer
2018-03-24, 12:53 PM
My preferred way to get around the customization issue is to make the acquisition an in universe choice.

It is a known fact that people who bathe in the waters of the Lost Shrine gain resistance to bladed weapons.
The Fae Queen promises to kiss you on the cheek if you find her missing daughter. This will allow you to talk to trees.
If you willingly spill blood on the monolith of vampires, you gain the lich-loved feat.

So then your character picks the quest he wants to go on, gets the reward he wants, if he wants something specific, there's the library.

Jay R
2018-03-24, 01:15 PM
Coming up with a cool new thing to give your players is a fun idea.

In my latest game, after they had reached a certain goal, I asked them each what their weapon of choice was.

I bought them each a 22-sided die which they would use with that weapon only. The roll needed to hit doesn't change, but there are two more numbers that will do it. With that die, a one always misses, and a 21 or 22 always hits.

This has several advantages. It's a much better increase when the opponents are hard to hit than when they are easy to hit, it scales with level, and it helps the melee fighters more than the casters.

And it's unique to these players in this game.

goto124
2018-03-24, 01:27 PM
I've always viewed magic items to be a special type of new ability. This is assuming the magic item isn't a +1 sword, but something that's unique and often grants its owner a way to essentially have a new ability, by casting it from the item.

Items are different from abilities in that they interact differently with the world and with people. Items can be lost, stolen, transferred between people, or even destroyed. Some settings allow that to happen with abilities, but not all.

Mastikator
2018-03-24, 01:46 PM
The benefit of treasure is that you can sell it if you don't like what you get. With an ability it would just be there. So be certain you're handing out something that will be appreciated.

Also consider that static improvements and abilities stack more than items since items can more easily be taken away so don't give out anything overpowered.

FreddyNoNose
2018-03-24, 03:08 PM
DMs have been doing this for 40 years. It is a good idea in some respects. If you give something that is too powerful, you might have a problem. I like expendables as a test of concept before I give it out as a reward.

ross
2018-03-24, 07:16 PM
christmas tree pile, all day every day

Jay R
2018-03-25, 11:32 AM
Items are different from abilities in that they interact differently with the world and with people. Items can be lost, stolen, transferred between people, or even destroyed. Some settings allow that to happen with abilities, but not all.

Yup. Batman can sell his batplane and try to buy an indestructible shield. Superman can't sell his flight, since it's an ability.

Knaight
2018-03-25, 01:18 PM
I've used this before. Most systems have new abilities come from character growth, so it tends to work best when there's a class of abilities distinct from those that makes more sense coming directly from in setting aspects.

This made this sort of setup perfect for my "discovery of magic"/"magitek" game*, here using the two topics players wanted me to build a game around. Magic being widely available if you can just physically access the right places sets up both a discovery focus for the campaign, and a method for a technological base once discoveries have been made and access eased.

The implementation also left a lot of room for both discovery and player choice. It was based on a noun-verb magic system with fairly specific nouns and verbs, and each site had three words attached, two of one and one of the other, all of which fit with the magic site. The rules were largely hidden (to better fit the players' preferred genre inputs), so the investigation of those rules, development of signature spells, and enchantment of items left a lot of personalization.

*Elsewhere referred to as Nomads' Gift.

ross
2018-03-29, 02:13 PM
I give my players tons of magic items and allow them to equip as many as they can physically wear or hold (there are no discrete gear slots)

redwizard007
2018-03-29, 07:53 PM
If character enhancements are random or DM inspired, then a big NO. If they reflect the desires of the PC, wether through OOG conversations, or in game expressed desires, then they can be FAR more rewarding than a random wonderous item. However, the same can be done with magic items.

The most balanced approach would probably be to ask the players periodically what they would like their character to be able to do, and facilitate that while also sprinkling in some wacky items to spark creativity.

Jay R
2018-03-30, 11:46 AM
If character enhancements are random or DM inspired, then a big NO.

Like everything else, that depends on the competency of the DM. Giving the players gills right before their underwater adventure, or immunity to fire before they meet a family of red dragons, is a perfectly good idea - especially if the players would never buy those abilities themselves.

Quite often, the DM knows what they will need next adventure better than the players do.

Honest Tiefling
2018-03-30, 11:55 AM
My preferred way to get around the customization issue is to make the acquisition an in universe choice.

It is a known fact that people who bathe in the waters of the Lost Shrine gain resistance to bladed weapons.
The Fae Queen promises to kiss you on the cheek if you find her missing daughter. This will allow you to talk to trees.
If you willingly spill blood on the monolith of vampires, you gain the lich-loved feat.

So then your character picks the quest he wants to go on, gets the reward he wants, if he wants something specific, there's the library.

I quite like this idea. It also gives nature/religion/history and other nerdy skills a very handy use. Yoink!