Author Archives: lackhand

About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City.

Nonstandard Prices for Uncommon Items

Continuing a theme from here and from a thread on enworld. Must be something in the water.

Like a poster there, I rigged up some evidence of diseased thinking; while I’m reasonably happy with the results they don’t actually indicate much. Still, I thought I’d share them.

Assumption 1: The frequency on the treasure tables factors into cost

There’s no reason this would be true, but I went with it. The DMG has some assumptions about how often over the lifetime of an adventurer they’ll find each broad challenge-band of hoard, and of course has tables for treasure table conditional on hoard and item conditional on treasure table. With that, I could figure out the notional average number of each item an adventurer would receive over their career or, even more valuably, the notional average number of each item a society of a mix of adventurers would receive over their careers.

Some items show up on more than one treasure table, of course (second level scrolls, I’m looking at you) and I further made some 3e-style the-rules-are-the-simulation-of-the-world assumptions, modeling the relative ratios in society of adventurers at each tier (so that I could have many, many more adventurers at the lowest levels than the highest levels). This makes sense, because without that, the wealth generated in the mid tiers produces a weird bulge where low level items are, in fact, rarer than mid level items because an adventurer is given more mid-level items over their career.

You can see the assumptions in the spreadsheet, but basically I assumed 500 tier 1 adventurers, 50 tier 2, 5 tier 3, and 1 tier 4.

Assumption 2: Pleasing curves about the log of the frequency of the items

Our society of adventurers gets an awful lot of healing potions over their career, and very few Apparatus of Kwalish drops. I normalized the items back into levels with fun curve fitting — this log base, that baseline, that curve. Even with that, potions of healing are STILL encountered in sufficient numbers to break the curve. But I assigned each item a “level” that tracks to their frequency in this assumption-laden global item ranking — rarer pulls are higher level.

This is not a good assumption. Level should, in D&D, mean power level, basically, challenge rating. The sovereign glue is just not that cool. And yet, based on only rarity and not better utility functions, my made-up-math shows it at level 20, along with the portable hole — because that’s the frequency you encounter them.

Assumption 3: The DMG pricing tiers are correct (with a proxy)

I gave up on data entry past a certain point, so I mapped the levels back to the hoard tiers, and called those rarity. That’s totally cheating, but basically I said that any item which, based on my magic order-preserving function from global frequency to “level”, was level 1-4 was uncommon, level 5-9 rare, level 10-16 very rare, 17-25 legendary, and 25+ artifact. And that each tier’s cost was 10* the previous cost. And that it was reasonable to price an item linearly between the low and high range for its tier.

I don’t feel too much shame over that, because my version of “common” is absolute; I might have classified some items on the wrong side of that divide, but any items which inverted (a designated-more-common item rarer than a designated-less-common item) are, on average and at the table, de facto more or less common than indicated*. So whatever, mine has made up stats behind it.

* Unless my “use the rules to simulate the world” thing comes back to bite me. When would that happen?!

I’m not sure I’ll use this thing as is; it still assumes permanent items are only twice the cost of consumables, and I have no idea how realistic its cost curves are. It’s possible the *right* thing to do is to map these item levels into challenge ratings and use a function of monster exp for cost, to reflect D&D’s love of exponential curves.

But even if my costs are crazy, surely an interesting fine-grained rarity-as-proxy-for-power system has some use? Wouldn’t you love to know which items are actually just-slightly-rarer than which other items? Now you can.


Standard Prices for some Common Magic Items

Okay, not a real economy. But a surprising number of useful rules are hidden across the books in strange corners. And in self-contradictory ways.

For instance, XGtE has pricing (at last!) for generically buying magical items as well as the adventurer’s league guidelines for specific adventurer scrolls and potions (p130, p174); the two strongly conflict:

Potion of…

  • Healing: 50gp
  • Climbing: 75gp
  • Animal friendship: 100gp
  • Greater healing: 100gp
  • Water breathing: 100gp
  • Superior healing: 500gp
  • Supreme healing: 5000gp
  • Invisibility: 5000gp

Scroll of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 25gp
  • 1st: 75gp
  • 2nd: 150gp
  • 3rd: 300gp
  • 4th: 500gp
  • 5th: 1000gp

For good measure, a one-time casting of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 1gp + materials
  • 1st: 10gp + materials
  • 2nd: 40gp + materials
  • 3rd: 90gp + materials
  • 4th: 160gp + materials
  • 5th: 250gp + materials

with “materials” = 2* consumed materials + 0.1 * non-consumed materials.

And, of course…

  • Mithral: 100gp + item cost
  • Adamantine: 500gp + item cost
  • Orium: 1000gp + item cost

Discussion: XGtE has generic rules for magical items, as well as specific rules for scrolls and potions of healing. And even with that, they don’t play well with the AL standard.

5e weapon damage types & thoughts

As previously discussed, in my current campaign I removed the “non-magical” from most monsters’ damage reductions. I did this mostly so I could hand out magical weapons like candy while leaving the campaign foes at their intended difficulty. I regret nothing.

The way DR is spelled is weird.

And by the way, how annoying is the standard damage resistance litany?

Resistances: Piercing and slashing from nonmagical weapons that aren’t adamantine. (Xorn)

Doesn’t that just make you sad? A convoluted exercise in syntax mapping? How much nicer would it have been to spell the rule:

Resistances: Weapon damage (Pierced by: magic, adamantine, or bludgeoning)

At the very least, the line should make parsing it easier; the three different spellings for exceptions are frequently mistaken by readers to be cases which must ALL apply, not ANY apply. Yes, the rules would have to change to support this phrasing (what is “weapon” damage? What does “magic” mean here?!), but wouldn’t that be better?

Of course, the text in question got errata’d with the third printing of the MM — it refers now to “nonmagical attacks” instead of “nonmagical weapons”, so that for instance damage from falling or from the hail in an ice storm is unresisted. And is a smite a magical attack covering the whole of the attack? It’s even less clear to me than ever.

So it’s a giant mess, is my point.

Every weapon has a damage type that never matters.

Moving on from the magic/nonmagic and snarled syntax, what about that exception for bludgeoning? Every weapon has a specific damage type, and they make no sense and make no difference to 99% of the game. I am not the first to have this thought.

Magic and Silver aren’t damage types but are everywhere in the MM; slashing doesn’t need to be a damage type. If you just unified it all to “weapon damage”, example adjustments to monsters:

  • Damage Vulnerability: Heavy weapons, versatile weapons. Example creature: Skeletons, Ice mephits.
  • Damage Vulnerability: Finesse or ranged weapons wielded by good creatures. Example creature: Rakshasa.
  • Damage Immunity: Weapons (pierced by: light or ranged weapons). Example creatures: Oozes, trolls’ loathsome limbs.
  • Damage Resistance: Weapons (pierced by: Axes). Example creature: Treant. They’re trees. No swords, yes axes.
  • Damage Resistance: Weapons (pierced by: Adamantine, Hammers or Picks). Example creature: Xorn. They’re boulders.

Further discussion:

Representing fragility (skeleton, ice mephit) is interesting. I ended up looking at it as a “gimmee” to the party, rewarding those who focus on weapons. To keep the flavor, though, you don’t want to give this handout to the rogue — they want a soft target, not a fragile one — and so it’s everyone EXCEPT for finesse/ranged keyword attacks. Contrast that with the blessed crossbow bolts of rakshasa slaying — perfect hit. I’d do the same for vampires with wooden stakes, by the by.

The treant vs the xorn is an interesting case. They’re both animated objects, in a way. So why doesn’t adamantine hurt treants? Because the rules didn’t think of it. Why does a greatsword harm a tree to the same degree as a greataxe? Because the rules gave them both slashing damage.

The ooze/troll thing is, I admit, a big weakness. I’m literally changing the rules. It used to be that they reacted to getting cut up, and I’m changing it to reactions to widespread mechanical failure. And yet, is it so bad? I have the visual of a maul knocking a trolls arm off and I love it. I have no way to imagine a spear splitting an ooze, but (unless they’re just sacs of ooze) I can’t imagine them harming an ooze much either. So: Attack them with small weapons and conquer, or big weapons and give them the chance to divide.

Leader stats/Mook stats

I wasn’t really using my old version of this very consistently at the table, and they don’t REALLY match the by-the-book stats. So in the spirit of retreading old ground…

If I need to toughen up a monster, I can estimate its CR+2 version by taking its stats and:

Leader Stats
CR +2
HP +40
Damage/Round + 15
d20 Rolls (including DCs, AC): +1

This tracks the monster manual averages which are easier to present as a chart than to outline the rules of thumb, to whit: surfarcher’s excellent work here.

It doesn’t work for low-CR monsters; they get specialized blocks as follows:

CR 0’s Leader (CR 1/4) — but… why…
HP +5
Damage/Round +1d4
d20 rolls +1

CR 1/8’s Leader (CR 1/2) (tough guard) 
HP +7
Damage/Round +1d4
d20 rolls +0

CR 1/4’s Leader (CR 1) (tough goblin or zombie)
HP +15
Damage/Round +1d6
d20 rolls +0

CR 1/2’s Leader (CR 2) (tough scout or orc)
HP +30
Damage/Round +2d6
d20 rolls +1

After advancing the base creature up to a “real” CR, you can apply the normal rule thereafter.




Bearded Devils, Swords of Wounding, Venoms

The bearded devil is a magical item.

The sword of wounding is a rare magical item that is weaker than a CR 3 creature.

Consider: After a round of combat with the bearded devil, you’ve made two DC 12 constitution saves; failing both, you’re poisoned for 1 minute and while poisoned cannot heal, save ends; you’re taking ongoing 5 untyped damage (stacking), which can be ended with a successful check as an action or magical healing (see previous point).

Consider: After a round of combat with a sword of wounding, you cannot heal its damage, are taking 1d4 necrotic damage (stacking), and get a DC 15 saving throw to end all such wounds, or a successful check as an action (but not magical healing).

They’re very very similar, except the sword of wounding gives more chances for the effect to end early — and the way magical healing is complex between the two, but both touch on it.

You could re-cast both damage types as a wounding-claw/bleeding-bite iterative attack.

You could raid the barbed devil for parts and pull it apart:

Bottled Imp

It would be completely reasonable to have a poison do the bearded devil’s effects, to whit:

Devil’s Beard (Injury, 200gp). Made from a tangled red moss with a bitter smell, this ointment inhibits healing. A creature wounded with a weapon coated in this poison must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned in this way, the target can’t regain hit points. The target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.

Wounding, as a property, would fit with the description of the barbed devil pretty well. Give them a variant polearm that does wounding, and you’ve recreated the barbed devil (for my purposes!) more than well enough.

The CR ~3 fiend slot can be occupied by the hell hound, nightmare, succubus (at 4), spined devil (at 2)…

Sneaky Imp

I continue to be annoyed by the variety of low-CR devils on offer.

Not the quasit. A little demon critter shapeshifter with scare and poison claws feels just right. It can keep this niche. But that overlaps with the toxic tail on the imp.

I think this is Zelda’s fault (specifically Wind Waker) — there’s a part where there’s some little devils who call out “Mee-mur!” in a delightful way and poke you with little tridents.

So rob them of their poison. What do we have to give them in return? Their expected damage is 1d4+3 piercing + 3d6 poison (DC 11 Con save for half). Figure they make the save 3/4 of the time, that’s around 13 damage per round from these guys. Well! That’s amazingly close to just calling it a 2d6 damage boost from sneak attack! Which (back to Wind Waker) is kind of great, since those little devils pop in from nowhere, behind your back. And then perforate it. Mee-mur!

Sneaky Imp

To make this change, give the imp the following trait:

Sneak Attack (1/Turn). The imp deals an extra 7 (2d6) damage when it hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 ft. of an ally of the imp that isn’t incapacitated and the imp doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

They lose their sting, but gain:

Fork (Bite in Beast Form). Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d4+3) piercing damage.

One More Change

Imps used to (1e) have suggestion 1/day. I think losing that is a great sadness; it’s an early entry into the duality of status effects between chaos and law, that the quasit gets fear and the imp gets charm.

But this version of them is optimized for packs, and wouldn’t that be terrible? So instead, another trait.

Master Manipulator. The imp has advantage on Wisdom (Insight) and Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion) checks while using its telepathy.


All-in-all, I’m very happy with this change. About the same amount of damage (even one point less!), a way to sneak in the manipulation thing devils should be good at, and tactics emphasizing stealth and sneakiness. They work well in packs. They work well in pacts.

This does undercut the fiendish association with poison, but the imp wasn’t doing a lot of lifting there anyway.

There’s a downside: 1e attested the poisoned sting (it made it save or die!). Unlike the ghoul and troll (whose gamey effects are littered all over the game), the imp’s sting never made a very wide impact. Great. Kill it.

Magical Weapons; Special Materials

I’m starting a new campaign (more on that later). It’s set in a city on the brink of Hell. Knowing that a variety of fiendish outsiders were going to be important soon, I wanted to talk a little bit about magical weapons.

I think that magical weapons in 5e are boring because they have really awesome powers saddled to the ability to deal full damage to every monster in the book. It means that werewolves are immune (!) to weapon damage so long as it is not silvered or magic. Characters reliant on weapon damage pick up magic weapons over time. As a result, you must be this tall to ride, and werewolves might as well have not mentioned silver.

So I put my foot down; the monstrous trait ((resistance|immunity) to (bludgeoning|piercing|slashing| )+ from nonmagical attacks(| that aren’t silvered)) is dead. In its place:

  • undead and fiends are harmed by silver and mithral (“spooky DR”)
    • “Mithral” because I don’t love “alchemical silver” or “carefully plated” as reasons to charge what we do for weapons. Make them of silver, or make them of silver with the strength of steel, please.
    • Side note, magic weapon, paladin blessings, etc makes it silver too.
  • constructs, elementals and dragons are harmed by adamantine (“hard DR”)
    • Side note, stoneskin gives you this kind of DR.
    • Side note, monks get the ability to pierce this when they get the ability to treat their attacks as magical.
  • others (particularly fey, monstrosities and aberrations) are harmed by magical weapons (“magic DR”).

All well and good. And as a reminder, mithral armor is so light it feels like clothes, and adamantine armor is so strong it negates critical hits (… actually, a little irritating, I’d’ve rather it granted 1-3 points of hard DR).

The campaign is set in a city which was published in 4e as having an “orium” refinery. I believe that to be a brand-establishing gloss on the mystical orichalcum. As silver is to mithral, orichalcum is to copper or gold. It’s high tech, being associated with Atlantis. In the setting material I’m parsing, it is super toxic to work with, requiring enormous energy and producing deadly waste.

So: What does it do?

The Devils want it. So something anti-fiend. But it can’t just pierce their “spooky DR” as per silver, because that would be boring. Way too close to the already-existing materials.

There isn’t anything on the board that helps with elemental damage. And, by the way, shouldn’t there be? So:

Definition: An Outsider is anyone affected by protection from evil and good, i.e. aberrations, celestials, elementals, fey, fiends, and undead.

Orium Weapon
Costs 1000+weapon cost.  On a hit, an outsider loses any resistance it may have to acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison until the end of its next turn. This has no effect on immunities.

Orium Armor
Considered magical (like mithral and adamantine before it). A wearer who rolls a 20 on a saving throw against acid, cold, fire, lightning, or poison damage takes no damage from the effect if they would otherwise have taken half damage.

Orium Shackles
A creature touching these shackles cannot cast spells, teleport, or use planar travel. A DC 15 Dexterity (acrobatics) check might allow an unobserved wearer to adjust them so that they were no longer in contact, and they can be escaped as per mundane shackles.