Friday, July 19, 2013

Rules Cyclopedia Oddities 1 (Damage to Magic Items)

Every now and then I take a random look into the Rules Cyclopedia. Sometimes I find one of those small rules that are part of the game and even good ideas, but not really in harmony with the rest. Here is one of them:

Damage to Magic Items (RC, p. 145)
"Any item may be damaged by rough treatment. Armor and weapons, however, are made to withstand a great amount of punishment. The DM should decide whether an item might be damaged, based on the item and the type of attack and then would make an item damage roll. 
Some breath weapons (acid, fire, cold) should require such checks. If the user makes his saving throw against the breath weapon, magical bonuses can be applied to the item's roll. 
Long falls (100' or more) should require checks. Pools of acid, rockslides, and other cases of extreme damage should require checks for items carried. A scroll normally need not be checked except against fire damage; you may also include water damage, if desired. 
To check for damage to items, roll 1d4 or 1d6 (using 1d6 if the chance of damage is high). If the result is greater than the item's Strength (number of "plusses"), the item is damaged
Items without plusses may be given ratings for this purpose. Consider:
  • any potion or scroll as a + 1 item;
  • any wand or staff as a + 2
  • and all permanent items (such as rods, rings and miscellaneous items) as +3.
This roll may be modified; for example, if a character is hit by a rockslide, Dexterity adjustments could be applied to the rolls. If a character tries to break something, Strength adjustments could be applied. No adjustment should be greater than +2. However, adjustments to the chance of survival can be any number of subtractions from the roll. A potion bottle dropped from a tabletop might require a check for breakage, but with a - 2 adjustment (thus, only a roll of 4 indicates breakage). 
If an item is damaged, it may either be partially damaged or completely destroyed. For items with magical bonuses, one or more points may be lost due to damage (DM's choice). Potions and scrolls should be completely destroyed by any severe damage."
Seems rather simple, but...

... to be honest, it sounds more like something ruled on the spot during play. It leaves a reader with more questions than answers. How are items affected, if damaged (not a sword or a shield, but the other permanent items)? Is it possible to repair that damage? Is it likely (Wizards being busy all the time and all that)? What would it cost?

It doesn't stop there, but instead has huge implications for the game. It makes magic items very fragile, just because it is convenient in the game. Suddenly erosion is a problem. What does time to a magic item? Say, a thousand years?Under the wrong circumstances, scrolls should be dust. Other items might be at least damaged (again with the question what that means) and most likely useless (if not outright dangerous...).

There is more. Reading the description of the eighths level spell Permanence, it's stated, that those items are easier to destroy than other enchanted magic items (and far easier produced, but that's for another post...). Really? A d8, maybe? Anyway, searching in the books section about enchanting magic items, there's nothing to be found about how to repair or destroy them.

Other than for the immediate effects in the game, this is a rather useless rule. And even then, further questions arise. What if the players, those sneaky basterds, nuked a high level NPC with some Fireballs and maybe a Lightning Bolt or two for good measure? Are all those items the NPC holds now (possibly) destroyed? A DM needs to check for everything, every time? Seems a bit fiddly, as soon as huge amounts of magic and damage are flying around.

Now I feel the urge to tackle the problem for my game and see what others did with it. As far as this rule goes? I just wouldn't use it. Item creation in the Rule Cyclopedia is a huge train wreck of unconnected rules and this is part of the problem.


I like the basic idea. 1d4 or 1d6 over the bonus of an item damages it. Ability modifiers and saves may apply, according to the situation. Very simple and fast, but not for magic items. I'd use it for mundane items, with the level of expertise (skill level of the craftsman, 1d10 (1-4 cheap 5-7 normal 8-9 expensive 10 exquisite)  for random determination of  the items level) as the threshold. Very fragile objects might even get a d8 or a d10.

See also the other parts of this series!

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