Magic item distribution: Random wish lists

I have some good qualities as a dungeon master, and I feel like I’m completely competent in most areas of running a fun game. But I do have a major weakness: Magic items.

Somehow, picking out magic items for treasure troves is a task that I put off and put off and put off and sometimes entirely forget about. Last week, I took the time to pick out a bunch of magic items to give to my Friday night players in my online War of the Burning Sky campaign… only to find out that I’d done a lousy job. I picked chainmail that nobody wanted. I picked a +3 rod for the warlock in the party, thinking that she only had a +1; I’d forgotten that she’d gotten a +3 the last time I’d given out treasure. Sigh.

Another option is wish lists, but I’ve never liked wish lists. I once had a DM ask us to put wish lists together, and it just felt… wrong somehow. When you just tell the DM “I want these things” and the DM later says “Here you go,” there’s no magic in the magic items. You know what’s coming.

One of my Friday night players suggested another option that I plan to try: random wish lists. I’ve asked each player to give me a list of three magic items they’d like. They’re at 13th level, so I’ve asked them to list a 14th, 15th and 16th level item (downgrading any spots they like). That is, items of their character’s level +1, +2 and +3.

I have seven players, so if they all participate I’ll have a list of 21 magic items. I’ll pad that out with a few of my own ideas (maybe an artifact, maybe a booby prize, maybe some coins) and create a table. When it’s time to hand out treasure, I’ll roll on that table (openly, in front of the players).

This way, almost everything I give out will be something that somebody wants (except the booby prize, which is intentional), but there’s no certainty that any particular thing will come up at all. I’ll ask for new items at higher levels, so some items may never come up. And if one PC keeps getting lucky, the party might swap things around or turn a few items into residuum to make new stuff (but only new stuff with DM approval). If I roll for an item that’s already been given out, I might roll again or I might give nothing.

I’m going to give this a try and see how I like it. At the very least, I won’t be scrambling to look through the Compendium to find cool items at the last minute (or beyond the last minute).

Have any of you tried anything similar? How has it worked out? Do you have ideas about how to make it better?

4 thoughts on “Magic item distribution: Random wish lists

  1. The problem I’ve experienced is the lack of books. Players may have a players handbook or essentials equivalent (not all of them do), but they definitely don’t have an Adventurer’s Vault (1 or 2) or DMs guide or setting guide or any other book that they could use to find other items.

    The result is asking them to make a wish list comes back to them saying “I want a +3 sword”.

    Add to that, that we are using inherent bonuses on items (e.g. a sword is +1 until we hit level 7 (I think it’s level 7) and then it becomes a +2 and so on, see DMG2 for information). So the only benefit they are able to get will be from the additional properties of an item (e.g. a Lifedrinker weapon gives temp HP when an enemy is reduced to 0 HP), or its daily powers.

    As such, I have to know each character and class to determine what properties are interesting. The positive side of this is that I can use any magic item and its “level” doesnt’ really matter since the inherent bonus is based on character level. Thus if I find some armor that is augmentable using power points (for an Ardent), all I have to look at is whether the augmentable power is interesting enough for her to switch from the armer she is currently using. That makes it a lot easier than trying to remember what bonus each character has on their items.

    The down side is that there isn’t the big “wow” factor in getting a +2 sword for a level 5 character. The level 5 character cannot have a +2 item using the inherent system, instead, if they got a +2 item, it would be a +1 item until they reached level 7 and then it would become a +2 item (and a +3 at around 13-14 and so on).

    At first I thought that this would mean that treasure would be less interesting, but I’ve come to realize that it is still interesting because of the powers that are introduced with different items. That said, I’m not certain whether someone who has a lifedrinker weapon that automatically levels up will be interested in replacing it with something else if that were to come along.

    We’ll have to wait an see…

    — Jeff

    • I hear you. All of my players are DDI subscribers, so they COULD find stuff in the Compendium or Character Builder if they wished. But after talking it over with them at last night’s session, several of them really don’t like wish lists, even when randomized like this.

      Your point asking whether a PC with a cool item will be interested in replacing it with something else if the cool one leveled up automatically is a good question. I know that I have one PC with armor that she absolutely loves, and she would keep the +2 version of it over a +4 armor with a different power.

      I’m moving toward full-on randomness in magic items. It’s not easy to do with 4e, but I’ve found some tools to help.

  2. I have a text document that I use to track which magic items each PC has and what magic items they may get in the future. I find it handy, especially for situations like the one you described with the +3 rod. Also, it helps me notice if someone is behind the rest of the party when it comes to one of the important item slots.

    • I was great about doing exactly this when the campaign started; then I got less good about it. Since I run the game in MapTool, I note each character’s inventory on their character token, but I occasionally have forgotten to add something (hence the rod problem). Oops.

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