D&D Archives07/13/2003

Assassins, Magic Items, and
Monsters Design Notes

By Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel


A dark figure stealthily maneuvers along the top of the castle wall and sneaks shadow-quiet into the Chamberlain's bedroom.

Thunk! The assassin's bulky backpack knocks over an oil lamp. It crashes to the floor, awakening the Chamberlain.

"Guards! Guards!"

Why would an assassin carry a bulky backpack? His cumbersome spellbook.

James Wyatt was the first one to point out to me the spellbook-toting assassin. With the unanimous approval of the department, I made the assassin a spontaneous caster.

Magic Items

Pricing magic items is something I've grown quite comfortable doing through large amounts of practice. The rules have generally stayed the same between versions 3.0 and 3.5, but the framework of the game around them changed.

Rich Redman did a splendid job of initially repricing items to conform with changes to spells and also to rebalance items' costs with their usefulness. For instance, the fly spell changed significantly --shorter duration, lesser speed, and decreased maneuverability. A new spell, overland flight, now occupies the long-duration flying niche, requiring development of magic items such as winged boots and flying carpets. I continued Rich's process of magic item repricing, and also got to add in a number of other items. Some, like the metamagic rods, were developed from existing products. Others were ones I created such as the robe of bones.

While the rules for pricing items remain the same as those in the previous version, we've worked to clarify them and make them more accessible. With a view to that end, I created the DMG's Table 7-32: Summary of Magic Item Creation Costs. Its simple, graphical format should be a good aid to players making new items.

We also learned that many gamers find creating magic items too big an investment of their character's time. The creation cost in gold and experience points are reasonable in any campaign, but some settings are so dynamic that item-creating characters lacked the time to make anything worthwhile. In 3rd Edition, while creating magic items, "[the caster] cannot take a day off." Folks will be happy to read the revised Creating Magic Items section on pages 282-283: "The caster works for 8 hours each day. He cannot rush the process by working longer each day. But the days need not be consecutive, and the caster can use the rest of his time as he sees fit. A character who takes a break from item creation to adventure should keep track of how many days of work remain on that item."

Monsters' Level Adjustments

Savage Species broke ground on playing monsters as characters and integrating level adjustments and effective character level (ECL) into play. Monster Manual entries for critters likely to be played as characters include a detailed As Character section.

Further, we included level adjustments in the Monster Manual. Over the course of several meetings, I worked with the designers to finalize a list of which monsters would receive what level adjustment. We established criteria to guide our use of them in the book. We wanted to include numbers for species likely to be played as character or desired as cohorts. The creatures had to be reasonably understood without much additional work on the part of the DM. The critters needed to be intelligent (Int >2) and have opposable thumbs. It also meant restricting the ECL totals to less than 20 to ensure nonepic playability.

Monsters' Feats and Skills

"Grrr! Argh!"

Somewhat late in the whole revision development process, Rich Baker hit upon a brilliant way of synching up monsters and characters, making the way they acquire feats and skills harmonious. "Yipee!" Of course, that meant that he, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, and I had to update every single monster. "Grrr! Argh!" Ah, so much work -- but quite worthwhile in the end.

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