4e PHB Readthrough – Chapter 7: Equipment

In this installment of our read through of the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition Player’s Handbook, we take a look at equipment. Every class starts with 100 gold to equip themselves, a welcome reduction in complexity from the class-based random roll that still persisted in 3e.

Armor has the first big changes. It’s divided into light or heavy. With light armor, you add your Int or Dex modifier, whichever’s higher, to your AC. With heavy armor, you don’t.

Even mages are proficient with cloth armor, which though it doesn’t give an armor bonus, can be made of special materials or gain enchantments that do. That’s pretty elegant.

They show leather (+2), hide (+3), chain (+6), scale (+7), and plate (+8). The chart is oddly cluttered with weird masterwork options that are only possible with enchantments of like +4 or more, limited to level 16 and above – “feyweave,” “elderhide,” etc.

Shields are nice – +1 or +2, with that applying both to AC and Reflex defense. Shields have always sucked in D&D way worse than their utility in real warfare has indicated, so this is a welcome boost.

Weapons are still kinda complex. Simple, military, superior, or “improvised”; melee or ranged; one or two handed; belonging to a weapon group; having any number of keywords like “versatile,” “reach,” or “high crit,” etc.

BIG CHANGE ALERT. Weapons have a “Prof.” rating that gives you a bonus to hit if you’re proficient with that weapon, and the bonuses are big, all +2 to +3. So if you are proficient with a longsword you are getting a +3 to hit with it!!!

Now, I don’t dislike this just because it’s new – but it seems like unnecessary overhead. They’re flipping around the nonproficiency penalty, and then making it variable. If it were more variable that would be one thing, but it literally is either +2 or +3 for each weapon.

And they again show they have the economic skills of feces-throwing monkeys in the “Selling Equipment” section – “You cannot sell mundane armor, weapons, or adventuring gear unless your DM allows, in which case you receive one-fifth of an item’s market price.” This kind of rule that is obviously specifically for PCs and not the way the rest of the world works is why 4e justly gets criticized as being a WoW derivative. “I want to sell a dozen swords I just made!” “Sorry, 20% of list.” “But why is that smith selling them for list then?” “He’s an NPC. All NPCs have unlimited amounts of money, and sell things at list.” I would like whichever designer was behind this (and the selling magic items at 20% rule) to step forward so I can publicly humiliate them for their douchebaggery.

Man, so far this chapter – one overwhelmingly good, two questionables, and one retard molester half-brother of a rule.

Adventuring gear – as it always is. A pretty short list, actually.

And then – magic items! Yep, magic items in the PHB. Odd. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, I always liked the D&D mystique of keeping magic separate from the player so it’d feel special and mysterious when doled out by the DM. On the other hand, no other RPG bothers with a player’s book and a GM’s book any more. If they only put the XP rules in the PHB, the DMG goes from being a core book to being an optional “advice on your game” guide. The only reason I’ve ever opened my 3.5e DMG is for the XP tables and the magic items. Maybe the time for a “core” DMG has gone. (Not that they would ever give up that revenue stream.)

Magic item pricing is fixed, X gp per level of the item. Items are described in levels, in terms of “about what level you’d be when using it.” Thankfully it’s not a WoW-like limitation; you can use items above/below your level freely.

Magic items are “slotted”. Armor gives AC bonuses, weapons give hit/damage bonuses, neck slots give For/Ref/Will bonuses, and mostly other items don’t give number bonuses. Which is good, avoids the power-stacking issues. Many items give some kind of power or other property, not just a plus.

You can disenchant magic items into magic dust, called residuum, that’s then used to make other magic items. Any designer saying they didn’t rip this off from World of Warcraft is an inveterate liar.

Armor. Armor generally gives some kind of minor property or daily, sometimes encounter, power. Example:

Shadowflow Armor
Property: Gain an item bonus to Stealth checks equal to the armor’s enhancement bonus.
Power (Encounter): Minor Action. Gain concealment until the start of your next turn.
Level 23 or 28: Gain invisibility until the start of your next turn.

Weapons. All thrown weapons are automatically returning, which I don’t mind. Most of the weapons are more familiar – flaming, dancing, vorpal…

Holy symbols. There’s a whole section for these, which give bonuses to divinity powers, have powers themselves, etc.

Orbs, wands, staves. Same deal for wizards, except that staves can be used as weapons by someone else (but no special powers). Powers are mostly daily – so a wand of ray of enfeeblement does one ray per day.

Rods. Same deal for warlocks.

Arms slot. These generally protect you or do damage when you’re hit. Or so they say, but really there’s ones that increase melee or ranged damage. There’s only three kinds of bracers, and some shields.

Feet slot. Movement related effects.

Hands slot. Gloves and the ever popular Gauntlets of Ogre Power! These actually suck now…

Gauntlets of Ogre Power
Property: Gain a +1 item bonus to Athletics checks and
Strength ability checks (but not Strength attacks).
Power (Daily): Free Action. Use this power when you hit
with a melee attack. Add a +5 power bonus to the damage

All this “once a day” stuff seems like it will encourage people to carry around like a dozen spare magic items to swap out once they’re used. In 3e I pretty much ignore “once a day” items as being more trouble than they’re worth, unless it really is a “save your life” kind of effect. +5 to damage on one of the 100 sword blows I’ll be dealing a day – not worth it. I am in favor of reducing dependence on magic items, but this is the wrong way to do it.

Head slot. Int/Wis skill boosts, damage increase (why?) and sense enhancers. They’ve avoided straight stat boosts, which is nice.

Neck slot. Amulets, cloaks. Add to defenses.

Rings. All kindsa stuff! Invisibility, flying, etc. These suck bad. Ring of invisibility – turn invisible once per day, for one round. many rings give some additional bonus if you’ve reached a “milestone” today. Like a save point?

Waist slots. These are split into heroic/paragon/epic, unlike the others. I’m not sure why – it doesn’t explicitly say you can’t use them at lower tiers… Is this a holdover typo?

Wondrous items. Only 13 of them, generally the most iconic. I hope there’s more coming, because the treasure rules as I recall them give away a fair amount of magic, and class builds being the same AND gearing being the same equals too much the same. In WoW, there’s a very limited number of char builds, but they compensate by having a billion different magic items in a dozen slots.

Potions. 4 of them! The potion of healing’s worthless – you have to spend a healing surge and get 10 hp rather than whatever you would have (oh, thanks). Or the 125,000 gp potion of life, which returns you to life and 50 hp if you drink it a round after you died. The potion costs are inflated.

And that’s the gear!


16 responses to “4e PHB Readthrough – Chapter 7: Equipment

  1. I’d hedge that liar comment a bit after looking at p32 of the Eberon sourcebook. Disenchant/save-for-later has been in D&D (albeit as a single class’s feature) since then, which is pre-WoW.

    As for swapping daily power items… the limit on daily powers is as much on the CHARACTER as on the item. Look at p226. Yes, there may be some degree of item-swapping, but the use of daily Item powers is strictly limited (1/2/3 per day by tier with an extra each Milestone). This avoids the odd 3.5 trick of items that don’t work fully until worn for 24 hours, though it isn’t that much less weird.

  2. The concept, yes, you can say artificers did that, but the implementation of it being in a permanent form of “magic dust,” no – that’s pure WoW.

    Oh, and I see the “limit clause” now. But… man! That’s not one use of a daily power per item, that’s one use of any daily power per day! Besides being completely and utterly gamist and helping destroy whatever sense of verisimilitude remains in D&D, it also makes these items, which kinda seem to suck anyway, even less powerful. Most of them have a daily power rather than an encounter power, so if you have stuff in all 7 slots you’ll only be able to use one of them in a given day. That’s not cool. Especially since most of the daily powers are only for one round anyway – all effects like fly, invisible, etc. have been turned into “until your next turn.”

    Once per day, reroll and Acrobatics check – if you haven’t used another daily power that is. $325,000 gp! I think most PCs would spend the cash on hookers and blow instead.

  3. Yes, residuum suffers from that. It also suffers from something I’ve gotten used to in D&D since 3.5, the “two fixes for one problem” issue. Here, the problem is a monetary system out of synch with high-level prices. And here, the two fixes are Astral Diamonds and Residuum, both of which are hyper-valuable and so allow the PCs to carry the amounts they need to buy high-level stuff in the rare locations where high-level stuff is actually sold. Residuum beats AD primarily because it can also be used “raw” to power rituals, wherease AD is just money.

    And I don’t mind the idea of PCs collecting (however they do it), carrying, and using “raw magic stuff”. I think I saw it first in FGU’s under-appreciated Swordbearer, it’s central in Ars Magica. If we start seeing new and different ways to use residuum, perhaps to enhance powers ala 3E style metamagic in the Arcane splatbook’s feat lists, I won’t be at all surprised.

    Until those appear, in essance, residuum is just a special kind of very light gold pieces you can exchange for magical effects away from a store. Not really a big deal.

    And yes, the item per day limit is rather gamist, though it can be seen as “the characters power the item, the item simply provides focus”. But that’s stretching a rather long way. I understand the goal and even agree with it… in the end, it should be character not equipment that matters (and D&D 1 and 2 were both terrible on that cound… 3E tried, but ultimately failed because of too many +5/+10 skill items and +1-+5 attribute items, among other matters). By limiting item’s power, you shift the focus. But again, they fixed the problem twice, since they also drastically increased the price of items (and with the 20% sale price rule, reduced the income of adventuring).

    But don’t miss-read Fly and Invisible so rapidly… they both have “sustain minor” options. That is, by giving up your minor action (which you frequently won’t be using anyway), you can keep them going for another round. I find that a better mechanic than the current countdown. And if you want two or three or even (briefly) four sustain effects going, you can give up your move or even standard action to sustant, then use an action point to cast out a fourth. Compared to the dogpile of duration counting we had in a 3.5 group with a buffing Cleric and a Bard working together, this limit is a blessing. (Which is not to say 4E doesn’t have far too many misc. modifiers to keep track of… just that most of them require no duration counting.)

  4. I was waiting for your rant on the potions. Only 4 WTF? I think this chapter best shows the combat over non-combat design in 4th Ed. Just look at the long list of armor and weapons and then the really short list of utility items.
    Only 20% from merchants, OK then the PC’s will want to start buying “used” equipment at 50% of book price.

  5. “Each time you reach a milestone (see page 259), you gain one additional use of a magic item daily power. This benefit can be used to activate any magic item daily power that you have not already used this day (even if you’ve already used a different daily power from that magic item).”

  6. Oh, Jack, on the Fly/Invis – there’s no “sustain minor” on the items that I can see. It’s one turn only, once daily, for around a hundred thousand gp.

  7. I like the armour change to light and heavy with the dex/int mod thing. That’s pretty kewl. What would have been better is DR for armour instead of AC but that’s me being realistic again.

    “I would like whichever designer was behind this (and the selling magic items at 20% rule) to step forward so I can publicly humiliate them for their douchebaggery.”


  8. As for the potion: it’s a way to let another character spend a healing surge when he’s down. *very* important to keep people alive 🙂

  9. Here’s what I want explained. On page 220 is the damage progression table for weapons sized larger than medium.

    The one handed weapon table goes


    But the two handed table goes


    There’s an extra step in between 1d8 and 1d10 for the two handed table.

    So a medium quarterstaff does more damage (1d8) than a medium handaxe (1d6). But a huge quarterstaff does the same damage as a huge handaxe (1d10).

    Also, isn’t that weapon damage progression rather slow? A gargantuan longsword does only 2d6 damage? It does 4d6 in 3e!

  10. wow… the things one learns. And here I thought I knew it all 🙂 lol. Thanks for sharing!

  11. There is absolutely no economic reason for any PC or NPC to make magic items for sale, as they always cost the book price. (However, it only takes an hour to create a magic item with the ritual)

  12. If you want to understand why someitems have a +2 proficency bonus, and som ehave a +3, take a careful look at which items have them, and which have things like High Crit or Versital, etc. There are usually no mre then two of the special qualities on any one weapon, and i don’t beleive any normal weapon has both a +3 bonus and a high crit. (There may be a superior weapon that does this, but you need a feat to use it.)

    The idea is to balance what aplayer wants to do. Do you want to hit more often, or do you want to hit harder when you crit? Both are a bonus that effects you 5% of the time, when you roll one lower then the AC you need to hit a monster, or when you roll a nat 20.

    It’s pretty balanced when you compare how the different bonuses interact, but untill you notice that it doesn’t make much sense.

  13. @Teiran – I understand that, and having some kind of weapon accuracy isn’t necessarily too fiddly for me, my problem is how it’s all +2 or +3. Why not +0 in the base case and +1 for the specially accurate ones? Having a +2 or a +3 mod on everything makes it an “overused” mechanic. They cleaned that up with the crits, instead of a listed crit range for every weapon, now they’re all the same except for high crit ones. But they replaced it with the Prof., when they could have just had another “Accurate: +1 to hit” descriptor.

  14. The “high crit” ones don’t have different ranges, they just do more damage when they do crit

  15. “Or the 125,000 gp potion of life, which returns you to life and 50 hp if you drink it a round after you died.” So much for verisimilitude.

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