Part 3: Enhanced Attunement Items
I’ve now written about Reconstructed Items, portions of a larger item that carry minor powers and that have to be reassembled to reach their full potential, and about Mastery Items, which grow in power as the character using them develops. For the final two installments in my series on Legacy items, I’m introducing two different kinds of more powerful items that take up multiple attunement slots:
- Set-Piece Items. A Set-Piece comprises individual items, each requiring individual attunement. However, they gain additional Synergy Bonuses (extra powers from being attuned to more than one item in a set) as the pieces are brought together. I’ll address Set-Piece Items below.
- Apotheosis Items. These items grow in power, and may even change in shape or size, as additional attunement slots are used to empower them. I’ll address Apotheosis Items in my next article.
I refer to both of these types, collectively, as Enhanced Attunement Items.
However, before we get to Set-Piece Items, it is important to understand how attunement works in relation to the power balance of the game, and to explore how allowing levels of attunement in general might be a significant asset for those concerned with the potential for magic items to disrupt the system.
Levels of Attunement
The official attunement limit is unwavering for any character, regardless of level, ability or any other characteristic. I’ve suggested elsewhere that I prefer allowing characters a number of attunements corresponding to their proficiency bonus. The Enhanced Attunement options described below work best when coupled with such a slightly more liberal attunement policy.
As Graham Scott suggested in response to my earlier post on the attunement mechanism in general, it is also quite straightforward to simply have a more powerful item require the expenditure of more attunement slots. This works fairly well if you simply use the rarity of a magic item to determine the number of attunement slots as follows:
Common, Uncommon: 1 slot
Rare: 2 slots
Very rare: 3 slots
Legendary: 4 slots
Graham notes, “This means, incidentally, that a character below 10th level cannot use a vorpal blade, even if he or she finds one. Being legendary, a vorpal blade would require more attunement slots than the character has. At 20th level, though, a character could attune to a vorpal blade plus two uncommon items, resulting in the same item limit that the rules as written call for.” I think that helps put in context how such a system might work, and it is quite appealing.
That said, I still don’t think the attunement cap is quite the sacred cow both the official guidance and many of the folks I’ve discussed this with on message boards think it is. Let me explain my reasoning on this a bit since it is directly related to the magic item rarity chart above and to the game balance of the Legacy Items I have been developing. Essentially, the three-item attunement cap works as a power regulation method about as well as any of the previous incarnations of similar rules, such as 3rd edition’s stacking rule. It’s still incredibly easy to “break” if the GM gives out too many items or too many of a particular type. Having a Legendary sword, a very rare suit of armor and a very rare something else may make a character far more overpowered than having a half dozen rare or uncommon items. Attunement doesn’t really help stem power-gaming effectively if the GM is handing out lots of party favors.
This isn’t to say attunement isn’t useful. It is. There’s a reason I’ve written several articles on the subject: I like the idea. But I like it more for its thematic and story potential than for its game balance.
The truth is, it’s tough to maintain game-balance through restrictions on what characters can do. It’s almost always more effective to give the GM more options instead. It’s always what the GM does or doesn’t do that fosters imbalance, and restricting the GM’s options encourages situations in which the GMs end up in a corner. Giving them options, on the other hand, enables them to adjust in response to existing imbalances.
Suppose, for instance, a GM is using the usual item cap. The party realizes that by giving one armored, already tankish PC the maximum number of attuned items, they can build someone nearly invulnerable to nearly anything that’s CR-appropriate. (If you don’t think something like this is possible, you clearly aren’t reading the same character optimization boards that we’re seeing.) So an imbalance exists in that GM’s campaign. The GM can go the cheesy route by having hordes of orcs attack, each armed with rods of cancellation, in an effort to destroy what the PCs have already earned through blood and sweat. That’s not good for game morale, though.
A better route is to give the players incentives to split up that triptych. If the GM is using an array of special attunement options like those described in this series here, here, or below, she can arrange for the PCs to discover that one of those abused, stacked items has special properties that can only be fully unlocked by the party if it redistributes its items among party members. For instance, what if that apparently humble +1 ring of protection that the tank is wearing as part of his ensemble belongs to a Set-Piece like the one described below, but the other items in that Set-Piece are better-suited for a wizard?
That’s one possible attraction to the Set-Piece Item option. It embraces this philosophy of game balance by requiring attunement for each piece in the set. But it also allows the GM to more effectively check the power of those items by being able to distribute them along the timeline of the campaign where they are appropriate.
Set-Piece Items are really just grander versions of the Reconstructed Items that I began this series with. The main differences are that
- Set Piece Items are each potent objects on their own, easily able to be and worthy of being used independently,
- and that each piece requires its own attunement.
The primary advantage of Set Piece Items is that they gain additional powers when combined together as part of a set. We call this kind of bonus a Synergy Bonus, and Set Piece Items only gain these additionally abilities when multiple pieces of the set are attuned to the same character. These effects vary considerably from item to item, but generally increase the inherent or thematic abilities of the pieces rather than add entirely new powers.
Pieces of equipment that are thematically or functionally linked are particularly appropriate for Set Piece Items. Pieces of clothing, such as cloaks, boots, and belts are excellent candidates, as are sets of jewelry, say a circlet, a medallion, a ring, and a brooch, all with a similar set of designs or made from the same materials.
Items such as a suit of armor, which in reality comprises many individual pieces, can be a bit more challenging as D&D treats armor as a singular item. Still, it’s easy enough o develop a main, central item that acts as a suit of armor, such as a chain shirt, and then create additional pieces, such as a helm or shoulder plates, that do not provide additional armor benefits but do give additional abilities.
It is even possible, with a little creativity, to construct a suit of armor that becomes functionally a higher form of armor as additional pieces are added on. For instance, the chain shirt, when combined with arm guards, a nasal helm, and chain leggings might become a full suit of chain mail. The example Set-Piece Item below is an example of one such suit of armor, based around a breastplate and incorporating an elemental theme.
Note: The Armor of the Elements and all of its component pieces described below are designated as Open Game Content. (Click here for the license.)
Armor of the Elements
This suit of armor was once gifted to a mortal warrior who served as a proxy for the Elemental Lords in several notable conflicts with the outer planes. Each of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, provided a portion of the armor and granted it magical qualities.
Unfortunately, the disparate pieces, though created in a rare spirit of harmony among the four elements, still contain a hint of the natural animosity among those primal forces. Upon the death of someone attuned to the item, the different portions of the Armor of the Elements teleport away to the nearest location closely associated with their representative elements. For instance, the helm might appear in a smith’s furnace, the breastplate might be found in a pile of mine tailings, the greaves at the bottom of a well, and the vambraces in the top of a very tall tree.
Each part of the armor can be worn independently and each piece requires attunement. This makes it impossible to complete the set and attune all four pieces unless you use the alternate attunement rules linked to a character’s proficiency bonus instead of the hard cap of three attunements. If you still want to use the whole set but don’t want to change the attunement rule, you can instead house rule that there is an extra synergy bonus that allows a character to consider the fourth piece of the armor as attuned if three pieces are already attuned.
If you use the alternative attunement ritual rule we have described elsewhere, each piece of armor can be attuned by either defeating, subduing, or magically commanding a creature of the associated elemental type (CR 3 or higher) while wearing the piece of armor, or by taking it to a location closely associated with the appropriate element, such as a lava field, a deep mine, the bottom of a lake, or the peak of the tallest mountain in the region.
Whenever two parts of the armor are worn together, and attuned, the wearer is able to sense the direction in which the next nearest piece of the armor is located.
The Egis of Earth (Breastplate): Grants resistance to acid damage and acts as a +1 breastplate, providing a base AC of 15 + Dex modifier (max 2). In addition, it makes the wearer immune to critical hits. This breastplate is a made of a combination of different rare metals, including adamantium and mithral, forged in geometric patterns that give it an almost crystalline appearance. It is incredibly dense though also quite thin, so as not to be too heavy. It is so solid and strong that no force less puissant than major artifacts or godly intervention can pierce, bend, or deform it.
The Blazing Bascinet (Helm): Grants resistance to fire damage and advantage on initiative checks. The helm has a pointed peak that is forged to resemble wisps of flame, crafted of reddish steel with red gold rivets and joins. The movable visor is sculpted in the shape of a phoenix out of a filigree of fine copper mesh that is somehow hardened and as tough as fine steel. Despite being a full helm, the bascinet provides a surprisingly clear field of vision and even seems to enhance the senses of the wearer, making it harder for him or her to be surprised or taken off guard. It also conveys some resistance to heat and to open flames.
The Vambraces of Vapor (Arm Guards): Grants resistance to lightning damage. While falling, the wearer of the armor descends at a rate of 60 feet per round and takes no damage from falling. The vambraces are made of almost paper-thin sheets of bluish mithral, carved with many filigreed openings in patterns that suggest gusting winds. Despite their fragile appearance, they are quite resilient. They seem to weigh nothing when worn and make the wearer’s entire body feel light and free.
The Gushing Greaves (Leg Armor): Provides a +1 bonus to saving throws. The wearer does not suffer penalties to movement for crossing difficult terrain. Furthermore, the wearer can breathe underwater, has a swimming speed equal to at his or her walking speed and suffers no penalties to performing actions or attacking underwater. These greaves appear to be made of bronze with a light turquoise patina. They are etched with a slight pattern suggesting rolling waves, rimmed with bluish mithral. They grant the wearer’s legs a fluid motion that allows him or her to flow over debris and obstacles and to shift position swiftly when danger threatens. When immersed in water, the greaves take on a fin-like appearance and allow the wearer to swim with ease and grace.
Synergy Bonus (Water & Earth, Breastplate & Greaves): When breastplate and greaves are combined and each attuned, the armor becomes equivalent to splint mail, having a base AC of 17, and it retains its magical bonus of +1, to provide a total AC of 18. It is so well-crafted that it also enables the wearer to add part of his or her Dexterity modifier to AC, if applicable, up to a maximum of +1.
Synergy Bonus (Fire & Air, Helm & Vambraces): While wearing both the helm and the greaves and attuned to each item, the wearer may teleport from his or her current location to an unoccupied space within 200 feet, provided the destination is in clear view. Once activated, this ability can’t be used again until the next dawn. When the character teleports, he or she takes on the appearance of a cloud of smoke that flies instantly to the destination before once again resolving into the form of the wearer.
Synergy Bonus (Complete Set): When all four portions of the armor are joined together and attuned the armor becomes the equivalent of plate, providing a base AC of 18. Furthermore, the magic bonus increases to +2, providing a total AC of 20. It is so well-crafted that it also enables the wearer to add part of his or her Dexterity modifier to AC, if applicable, up to a maximum of +1.
That’s it for this installment in the series. If you are inspired by the idea of Enhanced Attunement Items, please share with us your own creations in the comments section below. In my next article, I will elaborate on the Apotheosis Items that were teased at the top of this article. To be continued! †