October 26, 2012

Megadungeon: Equipment

I don't like the standard D&D system of equipment on multiple levels. In general, the equipment and magic item rules in 4E D&D are pointless and tedious.

In actual play, I find that the 4E magic item distribution rules encourage hoarding of consumable items, which essentially removes those items completely from play as the dungeoneers are always holding onto them for some non-existent "Final Need".

I don't like tracking encumbrance; at best it is tedious, at worst it is ignored. An ignored rule has no effect on the game and thus might as well not exist.

Additionally, I find that wealth and coinage in D&D is almost entirely pointless beyond magic item creation, a subject I'll be getting into at another time. Mundane equipment and almost all Rituals are laughably cheap. If everything can be bought with no trouble, why bother with wealth at all?

Finally, there is the 4E "Magic Item Arms Race", a subject I've spoken on before, which irks me to no end by removing the wonder and excitement from magic items.

Here's how I fixed these problems for my Fourthcore Megadungeon.


Months ago, I stumbled into this blog post in my Google+ feed and took to it whole-heartily. In summary, each dungeoneer has an Encumbrance Sheet which tracks the volume of their equipment, and not so much the actual weight, via doodling the size and shape of equipment in a limited physical area on a sheet. Extremely heavy objects are still a burden to carry, but are generally few and far between enough to simply be handled ad hoc by Dungeon Master fiat. Having blank spaces where players are tasked with doodling their dungeoneer's gear has promoted a small level of creativity in its own right, which I see as a pleasant by-product of my real goals.

With this system gold and other "coinage wealth" is simply not tracked at all, because it is largely worthless. While at camp, the only safe place to take an extended rest, the dungeoneers buy whatever mundane equipment that they want; they're limited only by what they're capable of carrying.

Hirelings add an extra Container (3 slots), and the "Backpack Container" provides a number of slots equal to 3 or the dungeoneer's Strength modifier; granting a small boon for most heavy armor wearers who normally have very little available Encumbrance. This places an additional point of value in keeping Hirelings alive, which is no easy task on its own, adds verisimilitude through the notion of a Hireling brought along simply to carry gear (a shield bearer, as it were); and gives a small break to high Strength, heavily armored dungeoneers who are otherwise totally screwed under this system.

Magic items, just like their mundane counterparts, all take up a certain amount of encumbrance, which is listed right on their card. With each new magic item found, the reward for using up a Consumable item and freeing up an Encumbrance slot becomes greater. Soon, the group will be forced to use their items or leave them in camp, creating a self-balancing mechanic.

Cards? Oh yes, cards. For treasure generation in dungeons, I use a huge stack of Treasure Cards and distribute them randomly, taking a nod to the style of treasure distribution found in C1: Crucible of the Gods and SND-02: Fane of the Heresiarch. With Vault of the Wyrm Prince now released, they represent almost every Fourthcore magic item ever published that isn't essential to a puzzle or plot of a dungeon (those are non-random Artifact Cards); something on the order of 150 cards. It's pretty impressive breaking that bad boy out.

All of the magic items have been normalized to fit the level range of the campaign (6th to 10th). This means +2 enhancement bonuses for the three principle item types (weapon/armor/neck), and a +3 bonus to rare, Artifact Cards. Gaining a magic item is unpredictable, sometimes getting an item that is subpar for the current dungeoneers, but held onto in hopes of its potential with future dungeoneers. It's creating quite an interesting mini-game within the game as the players are continually trying to optimize their gear, often to spectacular results.

Dungeoneers are not allowed to start with magic items at character creation. This serves to make magic items more valuable and special because they are now so rare (about 2/3 of Treasure Cards are either consumable items, Hirelings, or some Slot Item that doesn't provide traditional bonuses). Furthermore, dungeoneers gain inherent enhancement bonuses at a rate of +1 per Milestone, to a maximum of +3, and is independent of their level. This creates a scenario where dungeoneers are very cautious and vulnerable at the beginning of the campaign, but if they do well, solve puzzles, and find secret treasure caches then their character power greatly improves and the players feel a real sense of reward and accomplishment. They no longer see gaining a new magic item as a dull bookkeeping stat, something there just to keep up with enemies' attacks and defenses, but as a real boon.

Also, the growing inherent enhancement bonus is a huge impetus and driving force behind keeping the dungeoneers delving, and not constantly running back to camp to restock and refresh.


Lighting effects and penalties due to fighting in areas of low lighting rarely see the "light of day" during most 4E D&D games due to how pointless both the spoken and the unspoken rules have made them. A lot of this is due to sunrods are cheap, easy to get, and extend bright light to an overwhelmingly large are. Also, characters can be readily built with a free hand to hold a sunrod or simply with cantrips to regularly produce light on demand. In this encumbrance system lighting because a dynamic and interesting choice. One sunrod occupies one Encumbrance Slot, but 5 Torches can be crammed into the same place; each of which lasts for only a few minutes in-game. Dungeoneers are now forced to choose between the high encumbrance cost (but good lighting) of sunrods against the low encumbrance cost (but poor lighting) of torches. With our random Race/Class selection process, the party can no longer rely on having a Wizard ready to illuminate the room via cantrips. Again, an interesting mechanic and difficult choice emerge as the players must optimize their encumbrance load to account for torches and other utility items, the best permanent equipment they can find, and leave some space for hauling any potential new treasures found in a delving.

Rituals have now become easier to use and have a bit of interesting decision-making involved with them.. Each ritual can be used once per day with no thought to component cost, although rituals taking 1 hour or longer to cast are strictly forbidden. Each ritual book can only hold 5 rituals, making it take up a precious commodity of an encumbrance slot. In hindsight, 5 rituals per ritual book might have been overly generous, but I'm not concerned enough to go back and meddle with the now-established system.

The encumbrance rules also interact with the new Hirelings. Hirelings/Henchmen increase a dungeoneer's effective carrying capacity by an entire Container, three slots, meaning that they're very existence is beneficial to the party. Hirelings are awarded randomly and are thus placed in the Treasure Deck.

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