Part2: Mastery Items
In the first part of this series I discussed the problems that result when magic items become disposable once better, more-powerful versions are acquired. For me, at least, the practice of churning magic items clashes jarringly with the magical-item tropes I grew to love in mythology and fantasy fiction.
I predict that item-churning will only be exacerbated in the new edition of the game by the mechanic of attunement, or more specifically, the arbitrary hard cap that it represents. (Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of attunement, but I think there’s room for revision.) I’ve discussed my own solution to allowing scalable attunement in a previous article, and I will even use my more flexible attunement rules as the foundation for a whole new type of legacy item in the final article in this series.
In the prior article I discussed Reconstructed items, magical items made up of disparate parts, each with minor powers, that can be assembled together to make a more powerful, single item. This time I’m going to discuss what I call Mastery items, magic items that reveal more powers and options as the owner gains power and ability.
Note: The description of Mastery Items and the examples below (Evolving Armor and Edrick’s Edifying Encomium of Evocation) are designated as Open Game Content. (Click here for the license.)
Mastery items take advantage of the wonderful proficiency mechanic of the new edition. The item begins with a basic magical property, usually a simple +1 if it is a weapon or armor, but does require attunement. The item then gains a new ability each time the character attuned to it gains a better proficiency bonus. This means that there are five levels of mastery for each item of this kind.
This concept works best when it’s applied to items initially acquired at lower levels, as it gives them scope and space to grow and become a fundamental part of a character’s identity.
Nevertheless, Mastery items can also be introduced later on in a character’s career. Since the power of the item is tied to the overall proficiency bonus of the character, a PC who gained a mastery item at 9th level would have immediate access to all of the first three powers of the item. If you prefer, of course, you could rule for some items that it will take a little while for a character to learn the item’s abilities, providing a sort of “getting to know you” phase for the item and its user. All you have to do is have the owner start out at the first level of mastery and then acquire the next level of mastery each time the character levels up while attuned to it, until the number of powers mastered equals the character’s proficiency bonus.
Below, I describe some examples.
This armor first appears as a heap of chains and plates made of fine steel. It is not at first evident how the armor fits together. A character must attune to the item to learn how to wear it. If you use the alternate attunement ritual rule, the armor can be attuned by either by making a DC 15 Insight Check or by being fitted to the character by someone proficient with Smith’s Tools, though this also requires a DC15 check to which the armorer can add proficiency and Wisdom. These checks can only be made once per short rest.
The armor is made of steel imbued by legendary dwarven smiths with the spirit of an iron elemental that slowly evolves, altering the armor over time. When first attuned the armor takes on the appearance of a somewhat unorthodox suit of chainmail, liberally reinforced with small plates of metal. Over time, and as the wearer gains experience, the armor adapts to its bearer’s body, movement and fighting style. The small plates and chains form into bands and eventually into full plate armor, but become less restrictive and even more flexible as the armor adapts.
Mastery Level 1: At this stage, after being attuned, the armor appears to be a suit of finely made chain mail with a few plates attached in strategic locations. It has a base AC of 16 and also provides an additional +1 magical bonus to AC, for a total of 17.
Mastery Level 2: The plates of the armor begin to fuse together and combine. The process is slow and not immediately apparent, but can be discerned with a DC 15 Perception check. When the character reaches 5th level and gains the next proficiency bonus the armor becomes equivalent to splint, having a base AC of 17, and retaining its magical bonus of +1 to provide a total AC of 18. Additionally, the armor becomes so attuned to the wearer’s body that it enables the wearer to add up to 1 point of his or her Dexterity bonus to armor class, if applicable.
Mastery Level 3: The plates of the armor continue to fuse together and combine. Again, the process is slow and not immediately apparent, but can be discerned with a DC 15 Perception check. When the character reaches 9th level and gains the next proficiency bonus, the armor becomes equivalent to plate, having a base AC of 18, and retaining its magical bonus of +1 to provide a total AC of 19, in addition to permitting 1 point of Dexterity bonus to AC. The armor is so attuned to the character and so comfortable that it can be worn while resting without any ill effects.
Mastery Level 4: When the character reaches 13th level and gains the next proficiency bonus, the armor adapts to the wearer’s fighting style and compensates for any weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Plates covering areas the wearer occasionally leaves exposed thicken, so that, while wearing it, any critical hit against the wearer becomes a normal hit. The armor becomes even more perfectly fitted to the wearer’s body and enables the wearer to add up to 2 points of his or her Dexterity bonus to armor class, if applicable.
Mastery Level 5: When the character reaches 17th level and gains his or her final increase to proficiency bonus, the armor’s basic enchantment increases to +2 for a base AC of 20. It still enables the wearer to add up to 2 points of his or her Dexterity bonus to AC, if applicable. Occasionally, the armor, now fully attuned to its wearer, can subtly shift its structure to provide a last-minute counter against an attack that might otherwise penetrate its defenses. When the wearer is hit by an attack that only succeeds by 2 or fewer points (for instance, the attack total is a 21 or 22 if the wearer’s AC is 21), the wearer may take a Reaction to force the attacker to reroll the attack roll and take the next result. Once this ability is activated it cannot be used again until the wearer has completed a long rest.
Edrick’s Edifying Encomium of Evocation
This surprisingly small book easily fits in the hand and can even be placed in a generous pocket. The cover appears to be made from the scaleless hide of a green dragon, possibly its wings. Embossed into the leather is a design depicting a long sword and a quill pen crossed, the sigil of Edrick the Evoker, a renowned combat wizard. Paper-thin sheets of mithril reinforce the inside of the covers, and are etched with mystic sigils not initially decipherable. The spine is reinforced with a single bar of admantium riddled with regular grooves to which the fine vellum pages of the book are sewn. These pages, numbering an even 200, are filled with very tiny but precise writing and diagrams discussing the finer points of combat spellcasting and evocation in particular.
The book is the theoretical journal of the eponymous warrior mage who penned it. Studying the book allows a wizard great insight into effectively casting spells while in combat and how to stay alive while doing so. The book is, however, more than just a repository of knowledge. It is made to link with its bearer’s subconscious and provide flashes of insight at critical moments. It takes time for the book to establish this link, and also for the bearer to learn how to interpret and use this inspiration. To begin this process, the character must attune to the Edifying Encomium. If you use the alternate attunement ritual rule, the book can be attuned by either by making a DC 15 Arcana Check or by casting the Identify spell on it. The more the reader is attuned, the more of the book’s pages seem to make a kind of sense, though at levels of abstraction the reader will be unable to express to others.
The Encomium also contains several evocation spells written in incredibly compact but very clear form, and acts as a spellbook for these spells. It contains the spells: Scorching Ray, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Ice Storm, and Chain Lightning.
Mastery Level 1: At this stage, after being attuned, the Encomium gives advice on how to maintain concentration in the midst of combat. It provides a +1 bonus on concentration checks.
Mastery Level 2: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves at 5th level, the Encomium provides direction on how to most effectively target opponents. It provides a +1 to any attack rolls made as part of a spell. The bonus on concentration checks increases to +2.
Mastery Level 3: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 9th level, the Encomium provides insight into effective spellcasting, raising the DC of the caster’s spells by +1. The bonus on concentration checks increases to +3.
Mastery Level 4: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 13th level, the Encomium provides instruction on how to make the most out of damaging spells. Any spell cast while attuned to the book deals +1 point of damage of the most prevalent type of damage the spell does. For instance, if a spell does 2d6 fire damage and 1d6 acid damage, then the extra point of damage would be fire. If the damage is divided equally, the caster may choose from among the types of damage the spell does. The bonus to spellcasting attacks increases to +2. All other abilities from earlier mastery levels are retained.
Mastery Level 5: When the character’s proficiency bonus improves again at 17th level, the Encomium grants awareness of how to make the most of evocation spells. Any evocation spell cast while attuned to the book is treated as if cast at one spell level higher than actual spell level used. The bonus to the DC of the caster’s spells increases to +2. All other abilities from earlier mastery levels are retained.
We hope you enjoyed these items and the Mastery mechanic. If you feel inspired to create your own mastery item we’d love to see it. Put your own versions of Mastery Items in the comments and we’ll create a database of new magic items!