Content of the article: "Players want specific magic items. Do I just give them what they want?"
Iman, Bherno, Auden and Torloch, please leave.
TL:DR; Player wants specific items, doesn't get them, gets frustrated about it. See title.
I run a decidedly controlled campaign where magic items are doled out sparingly and at random. Shops in which magical items can be found are rare, artificers aren't allowed at the table (we play in the Forgotten Realms, so they are exceedingly rare), and most magic items mostly exist in the hands of private sellers, used by NPCs, or lie in waiting to be discovered. This is all done to make balancing encounters easier on my behalf, as well as to make magic items more like actual treasure, rather than baseball cards they can trade and sell.
My party just got to Neverwinter after finishing Lost Mines, which has a number of really powerful items, many of which they have obtained: 3 or 4 spell scrolls, potions of healing, a Cloak of Elvenkind (my own addition), Lightbringer (+1 mace), the Spider Staff, Boots of Springing and Striding. They just sold Dragonguard (+1 breastplate). As far as magic items, I think they are doing rather well for level 5 adventurers.
One of my players is a Forge Cleric. Using the downtime rules in Xanathar's Guide, he and another player (the warlock, ironically) researched the necessary plans to craft a homebrew magic item (a common amulet that absorbs 1d4 fire damage). I handwaved the ingredient requirement, as they already had a flavorful object in their possession (they used a piece of obsidian that was always warm from the trinket table I allowed all of them to roll on during player creation) and they used their downtime to craft the homebrew item itself.
So first downtime session, two of the players announced they wanted to go seeking out specific magic items.
The first player is a sharpshooter battlemaster who wanted a +1 ranged weapon. He is the primary damage dealer of the party. The fighter was wearing the +1 breastplate (and later sold it.)
The second player is a celestial warlock with pact of the tome. He is seeking out ritual scrolls and a Headband of Intellect. He is the mysterious caster with a patron guiding his path. The warlock is currently wielding the Spider Staff.
I used the rules in the DMG for purchasing items, which essentially has the players lay down a chunk of gold to wine and dine potential sellers, then roll a Persuasion check to see what items they were willing to part with. Since the players were looking for specific items, I reasoned that if they rolled well enough to land on the right table (or lower) they found the item they were looking for. Both players did not roll high enough, and I felt bad about having them spend 100g to not get what they wanted. In exchange, I did offer them other items for sale on the corresponding tables instead, but neither player seemed interested. I was not really impressed with these rules, so I resolved to give the players some more opportunities to purchase items.
In the next session, I added two shops, one that sold mechanical marvels (i.e. gnomish inventions) with a very few magical properties (i.e. collapsible pole, talking doll, some homebrew arrows, etc.) and another that was basically a knick knack shop that was basically a front for someone who procures and sells magic items. At both of these shops I presented a variety of magic items, potions and scrolls (most common or uncommon) but not the ones they were seeking.
My fighter gleefully bought up the arrows and some other items, and ended up selling Dragonguard for a profit. One of the sellers also offered several scrolls, but none were ritual spells (I rolled randomly) so the warlock was left unsatisfied. The player previously obtained a scroll of Augury which was added to their Book of Shadows, and they have used this several times throughout the adventure so far.
The Headband of Intellect, for whatever reason, is pretty high up on the treasure tables (table F), so neither seller had it. (Using the treasure horde tables, a CR 5-10 treasure horde only has a 10% chance to roll on table F.) Sensing the player's disappointment, I told them there may be a seller in Waterdeep but that it would take a tenday or more to check on it. Even if they did get their hands on it, the headband would likely be out of their price range (I was thinking 400-500g).
The warlock messaged me after the session and mentioned that they were frustrated about being "blocked" from getting the items they wanted.
I will be honest, I am a bit hesitant to give a level 5 player a second +4 statistic so early in the game. In addition, it seems like this player (who is also a DM) seems to expect that I custom tailor my magic item selection so there is something that will specifically benefit him at all of these shops. I thought that giving them access to a variety of other magic items would satisfy them, but alas this was not the case. For immersion reasons, I am much more in favor of presenting a large amount of neutral or random items rather than a miraculously tailored selection where each item is hand-picked.
Furthermore, I have presented the crafting rules to all the players, and if the player wanted to research the plans and subsequently craft the Headband themselves (with the help of a forge cleric, no less) then I would absolutely allow it, given they complete a quest to locate and obtain the ingredients and spend the necessary downtime and material costs to produce the item. As noted above, another player has already done this.
How do you all handle this? Do you just give your players whatever they want? Do you tailor all of your treasure to match the party? Am I being too stingy? Should I just encourage the player to research plans to create their own Headband?
- I made tables for magic item prices
- I made a Party Inventory Google Sheet, feel free to use! (includes DM Editing, basic sorting, “Favorites” and “Equipped” tags, automatic item descriptions from an attached, editable database, smartphone functionality) It’s janky and a work in progress, but it works well for my table!
- Vanilla D3 (do you remember?)
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