Magic items in Dungeons and Dragons started off as one of many, many tropes that got added to the game to emulate all the various sources that inspired the game. Everything from classic mythology and folklore to pulp stories describe various items, which got stats and could show up across the board.
In early D&D, this meant people could randomly find a thing that was kind of cool sometimes, to something amazingly awesome all the time, but until 3rd edition, the design of the game didn’t assume that magic items were part of what every adventurer should have. In 3rd edition, characters had a wealth “budget” to show how much player characters were assumed to have available to them.
Towards the end of 3rd edition, several supplementary rules tried to address the idea that these amazing, wonderful items eventually were underpowered, and characters would trade in their super special +1 magic item for a super special +3 magic item, because math. Two means of addressing this came from Weapons of Legacy and the Magic Item Compendium.
Weapons of Legacy allowed a weapon to become more powerful over time, so that characters weren’t constantly selling or trading off old magic items to get something more appropriate for their level. The Magic Item Compendium introduced runestones, which allowed a player character to acquire other magic items that could be slotted into an existing item to make it better.
Implementation: Third Edition and Beyond
Weapons of Legacy had a harder time fitting into the 3rd edition paradigm, because they were designed to assume sacrifice on the part of the player, in the form of investing experience points to unlock greater abilities. This created a weird calibration between the assumed gold piece value of magic items and what the Legacy Weapon could do. A little more calibrated to 3e’s paradigm were runestones, where the different tiers of runestone powers could be mapped to a gp value.
Fourth edition had both a similar and very different idea about magic items, in that they were assumed as part of the player character’s power level, but the paradigm of how player characters changed and upgraded their weapons had brand new rules. Finally, we reach 5e, which doesn’t assume that characters have any particular magic items, but where you may still notice the difference between that +1 sword you find at 5th level versus the vorpal sword you pick up at 15th level. Can you really put aside Doomchopper, Survivor of Rust Monsters, just because you found a vorpal sword? I mean, you probably should, but you named it and everything, even if it isn’t codified in the rules.
Wow, that was a long preamble. What I really meant to say is, I’m going to look at the Dungeon Masters Guild product, Armaments of Legacy.
Details of the Artifact
This product is 19 pages long, including a cover, a title page with legal text, and a credits page which also includes the author’s introduction. Rich Lescouflair, the author, is one of the go-to people for layout among the Guild Adepts, and the product shows his talent for formatting. It looks great and uses the art assets available extremely well.
What’s in the PDF
As with a lot of my reviews of smaller products, I’m doing more of a flyby of the book than I do in larger products, lest my review ends up being as long as the product itself. The product describes how the concept works, then dives into the actual magic items rather quickly.
The main body of the work is detailing the weapons, armor, shields, and foci, and the powers that they gain over time. At the end of the book, there is a short discussion about requiring specific events to trigger upgrades instead of just being triggered when the character levels up. It finishes up with the idea of using runestones as items that can trigger the upgrades in a weapon, or the alternate idea of sacrificing spell scrolls to etch upgrades into an existing weapon.
Using Legacy Items
As someone that is a fan of the origins and quirks that magic items can have, as detailed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, I like how this section includes suggested bonds for the weapons to the campaign, and to the characters that gain them. This section also outlines some of the rules and terminology surrounding the concepts. The upgrade points are “close” to the way tiers are detailed in Dungeons and Dragons, but not exact, with the upgrade points being at 5th/10th/15th level.
The general concept here is that various magic items are structured with a base level power, then upgrades that trigger when a character reaches the higher “tiers” of class levels. Many of the magic items feel very similar to iconic magic items, often building to the more well-known powers, but adding some more utilitarian powers at lower levels.
There are a range of items, including weapons, armor, shields, and caster foci. There are a few discernable patterns with the progressions. For example, weapons that do extra damage often scale from 3/7/10 additional damage over the tiers. Caster foci often scale from 7/10/20 charges to power the focus’ secondary powers. Some of the magic items break from this pattern, but I like that it feels like there was an established baseline, and when the concept calls for it, that’s when the product experiments with the structure.
I suspect that these rules represent some of the ideas that may go into Rich Lescouflair’s work in the 5e space opera game Esper Genesis, mainly because the Charger Weapon grants a bonus to “burst saves,” which I’m not sure are a thing in Dungeons and Dragons, but are a thing in Esper Genesis, regarding auto-fired weapons.
Even though all the items have the same upgrade points, some of them feel more specialized than others, so how well they compare to one another is going to depend on the events of the campaign. For example, an elemental weapon is going to be more broadly useful in combat than a demolisher weapon, which is effective against structures and gets benefits when attacking constructs.
The level curve feels smoother for some of the items than others. For example, the battle focus levels from a +1/+2/+3 bonus to spell attacks, finally allowing a once per long rest recovery of a spell slot at the highest upgrade level. On the other hand, the healing focus goes from allowing you to cast cure wounds, to lesser restoration, to heal, to having the option to cast resurrection or true resurrection depending on how many charges you want to spend. While we’re talking about foci, the legacy items retain the odd dichotomy of having general implement bonuses being limited to spell attacks, but giving the warlock specific focus bonuses to the spell DCs as well.
I am especially interested to see how the more powerful items, with upgrades split across levels, feel in a game, compared to similar, non-scaling items. As an example, I currently have a character with a vorpal sword in my game, with the characters around 11th level. This can cause some swingy fights. On the other hand, the sundering weapon adds an escalating damage bonus to critical hits, with a secondary roll at higher levels to trigger the ability to cut off heads and other important protrusions. I have a feeling that at 10th level, this weapon would “feel” like it could have the same impact, but wouldn’t potentially have that impact earlier in the campaign.
Variant Rules and Runic Legacy Weapons
The variant rules provide some brief advice on a range of topics, like sentient legacy items, legacy items becoming artifacts in the campaign when players reach epic levels and do great deeds with them, and how to address characters losing their legacy items after they have invested their personal development in the item.
Runic legacy weapons and the rules around them confused me a bit at first. Essentially, it’s not a separate set of rules, it’s a set of rules meant to replace a legacy weapon automatically gaining its powers. Instead, the weapons are presented as simple magic items with slots, which can upgrade when new runestones are added to the slots.
Runestones can either be used long term to upgrade an item, or they can be used to cast a specific spell, like casting a spell from a scroll. As an alternative to the alternative, there is also a set of rules that details sacrificing a spell scroll to etch runes into an existing weapon to upgrade the weapon, for an additional cost (since the weapon doesn’t already have runic upgrade slots).
I’ll be honest, when I started reading this section, I thought it was going to be more of a freeform “rune X provides power X, and can be mixed and matched with various tiers to custom build an upgraded weapon,” instead of changing the story of how the upgrades work, while keeping the same structure. I would actually be really interested to see a set of “build your own” upgrade runes that allow for a more freeform combination of superior, master, and epic runes from different sources, possibly with some notes on some absolute “rune X will not work with rune Y” notes, but that would take a bit more room to unpack.
Just What I Wanted
I really like the concept of these items, and I adore how you can scale access to some of the more iconic magic items in Dungeons and Dragons by using some of the rules. I also really like the amount of effort put into providing more interesting foci. I like that by framing these as foci, and not just as random wands or staves, it feels like it’s something the player is actively engaged in utilizing, instead of being whoever can spend the charges from the item.
What Am I Going to Do With an Apparatus of Kwalish?
I would love a little more discussion of integrating these items into a campaign, like discussing the broad category of legacy item that players might want if they find them later in the campaign, suggested limits on how many legacy items characters should have, and more details on the expanded rules hinted at towards the end of the book. There are also a few either “uneven” expressions or artifacts of other game rules that I think snuck in. For example, most weapons do specific extra damage, but at least one starts off doing 1d6, but then shifts into the traditional 7/10 damage upgrades.
Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I’m an easy mark for products that manage to reintroduce older game rules into 5e, but manage to do so in a manner that feels consistent with how 5th edition has been expressed. I think this product clearly falls into this category.
Some of the issues I would bring up about this product, like the uneven distribution of power for different items of power for different rarities, isn’t really a problem with this product, because the magic items, as presented, are pretty consistent with how 5e magic items already appear.
Magic items are more art than science.
If you are likely to be running a campaign with even a few “tiers” that the player characters are likely to progress through, you may want to take a look at this for your player characters, so they can love and cherish their special items over the long term.