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The Case for Magic Sword +0

Magical items and in particular magical weapons have been a feature of Dungeons and Dragons since the beginning of the game and are a beloved find for Players. In early editions magical weapons came with bonuses that ranged as far as +5 for iconic weapons such as the paladins Holy Avenger.

In the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons the target dice roll needed for success or failure is contained within a much tighter numerical spread than prior editions.

This tightness is reflected in player character proficiency bonuses ranging from +2 to +6 from level 1 to 20, and tiers of play being defined by an opportunity to increase an ability score by +1 if both attributes points are applied to a single attribute (such as Strength) when you reach level 4,8,12,16 or 20.

In this environment providing a character with a +1 weapon is similar to a character moving to the next tier of play.

As Dungeons and Dragons has moved away from the kick down the door kill the monster gameplay (now the realm of computer games) and moved towards a stronger focus on narrative entertainment, being continually successful on die rolls reduces the opportunity for failure, which can actually enhance the gameplay experience (noting failure should more often be a setback and not cataclysmic).

Whilst there are no doubt many Players relish the always win scenarios it’s often the setbacks followed by accomplishment and success that really creates long-term memories that resonate long after the adventure and/or campaign is finished.

For this reason Dungeon Masters should consider handing out magical weapons that do not provide a bonus to attack (i.e. a +0) but do provide a bonus for damage. This change should be supplemented with an additional ability or feature to make the acquisition of a magical weapon more interesting for a Player.

Consider a vanilla sword +1 verses these options:

  • Sword +0 attack +1 damage and the ability to cast Levitate once per day, and provide inspiration once per day when held.
  • Sword +0 attack +1 damage and the ability to cast Zone of Truth once per week, and provides the holder with proficiency in Infernal (the language of deception and contracts) when held.
  • Sword +0 attack +1 damage and the ability to cast Featherfall once per day and provides the holder with proficiency in Avian when held.

Suddenly an magical item becomes more interesting, it can now contribute to narrative gameplay and is less likely to be discarded and forgotten when you throw a new magic weapon their way. In addition there is a special kind of deliciousness when a weapon has the attunement property as the Player must now make a decision on which items their character will be attuned too.

The alternative of course is to have no magic weapons in the game. This is problematic as possession of a magical weapon is essential for rogues, fighters, barbarians, rangers and paladins as there are many monsters who are immune to non-magical weapon damage. A +0 magic weapon ensures these characters to be effective against these creatures without powering up the character.