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Want Happy Players? Ask For a Wish List

posted Tuesday, September 21st 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceFourth Edition

In D&D 4th edition, it’s important to give players at least some of items that they want, more so than in earlier editions of D&D.

Many items in 4E enhance the core competency of a certain character build, and do so in a very specific way. In AD&D, you had more items granting non-combat abilities, improved defences or new attack forms, and most items worked equally well in the hands of any character. In 3E, unwanted items could be sold for half, with the implication that you can spend the gold buying something you want. Since 4E reduced sale price to 20%, your party wealth will vary considerably depending on whether or not you got items you could use.

There are also an awful lot of magic items in D&D4E. At last count, the Compendium had 8,179 items, and this is only two years into the game’s run. That seriously reduces your chances of getting a particular item as a random drop, and it’s not like you can grind the same dungeon over and over as you would in a video game.

This means that even though there isn’t a tradition in D&D of DMs accepting item requests, 4th edition has made it important to begin one. You can always work it into the story that the characters came to the adventure site following rumours or divinations suggesting that the items they’re looking for are here, or just give them gold and let them buy or craft their own equipment.

Comments

  1. Asmor

    September 22nd, 2010

    I hate making wish lists when I play… In fact, I hate magic items in general. I’d rather just use the inherent bonuses and forgot about itemization at all.

    But that’s me.

  2. Lottel

    September 22nd, 2010

    I always use wishlists. Honestly, people have a pretty clear idea what they want their character to be like. Giving them a whishlist helps them achieve that, helps me get items for them, and gives some of the work to the players.

    It’s a good idea. And you don’t have to rely on them, if you don’t want.

  3. Brandan Landgraff

    September 22nd, 2010

    One of the problems I’ve had with wishlists (apart from the bookkeeping they require) is that my players tend to favor more mechanical items–weapons, armour, neck-slot stuff, and other items to increase their damage or defenses–over wondrous items or consumables.
    What I’ve taken to doing is including additional magic items or consumable items that they may not have asked for as part of the monetary rewards for each level, calculating based on the amount of gold they’d get for selling the magic item how much of the alloted treasure it counts as. That way I can chuck a Cask of Liquid Gold or Vagabond’s Die or something else similarly neat but not necessarily mechanically optimized at my party and they can decide whether to keep it for their own or sell it and buy something specific with the funds.

    It’s also worth noting that starting with Essentials and moving onward there are different sale prices for magic items. “Common” magic items sell at 20% of their value, “Uncommon” items, including most of the ones in existing books, at 50%, and “Rare” magic items, the most powerful ones, at full value. More details on that, obviously, over at Wizard’s site and in the relevant books.

  4. Philo Pharynx

    September 22nd, 2010

    My solution in the game I run is to occasionally bump up the time by a few months. I usually do this every three to four levels. During the off time, the characters are assumed to be researching or tending their lands and families or going on less-epic adventures and such. At the end of this I let them re-equip with the same total value as a starting character of their level. The player can come up with the in-game explanation – they made the items, traded with other adventurers, won them gambling, were given them by a monarch or church, etc. I pool the gold value of an item of level +1, level and 2x level -1. This helps the player who can’t find an item they want of level X, as well as those who are willing to have lower power items in order to have a larger variety of items. If they want to keep their existing items, they simply re-buy them (or upgrade them to a new level). If they aren’t happy with what they have, they can trade them out for new shiny things. On the player side, they have a lot of flexibility to get the items they want. On a GM side, it helps balance things so that I don’t feel that I’m always leaving the exact items the characters wanted without worrying about screwing a character over the long run. I try to choose items the characters will want, but that aren’t optimized. Sometimes they have to choose between their existing optimized item and a higher plus item that’s less optimized. But this is easier to take because they know eventually they’ll get exactly what they want.

  5. Links Roundup: 23rd November 2010 « Jonathan Drain’s D20 Source: Dungeons & Dragons Blog

    November 23rd, 2010

    [...] a writer he’s been for 4E, I agree with him. Surprisingly, he recommmends against the use of item wish lists: Magic items have become a character-building tool. Players regard their magic weapon as integral [...]

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