We need to talk about common magic items. There’s four of them in the Dungeon Master’s Guide – potion of climbing, potion of healing, cantrip spell scroll, and 1st level spell scroll. That’s all! No more! Why even have that distinction if you’re going to have so few items in that category? I suppose I should mention there’s not as few as it seems. Cantrip and 1st level spell scrolls are far more than just two magic items. There’s as many of those bad boys as there are spells of those levels. Still that leaves much to be desired in the common magic item rarity category.
Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons is designed in a way that characters need not be weighed down with magic items as they were in the third and fourth editions of the game. That means getting a magic item is special and by its nature a rare occurrence. So there are no permanent magic items in the common rarity category because if everyone has a +1 longsword then finding one becomes less special and more, “I need this in order for the game to stay balanced.” Even so it can still occasionally be fun to find and give a magic sword, even if it doesn’t give the PC a mechanical boost to attack and damage.
There are at least two reasons I can think that a dungeon master might want some permanent common magic items to give out. First is that a DM might just like giving out magic items, but do not want to overpower their party. The second is that they do NOT like giving out magic items, but want their party to be able to face tough beasts like dragons and golems which are usually at least resistant if not immune to nonmagical weapon damage. For this second reason I’m focusing on weapons in this post. Today I’m going to show off some common magic weapon properties I designed which I think fit the bill quite well.
Designing Common Magic Weapons
Calling potions of healing and 1st level spell scrolls common is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not like every peasant, merchant, or even noble has a pantry full of these items. In most cases they have nada when it comes to magic items. Common rarity is just as much about the item’s power level as it is about its abundance.
Now that’s not to say magic items in the same rarity category need to have the exact same level of power. Just look at spell scrolls. Cantrip and 1st level spell scrolls have the same rarity, even though a 1st level spell scroll is by definition more powerful than a cantrip spell scroll. Similarly a +1 shield, a 2nd level spell scroll, a gem of brightness, a headband of intellect, and a sword of vengeance are all uncommon rarity level, but vary in their power level. Still not sold that all items of a given rarity category have different power levels? Consider this – a scroll of fly lets a PC cast fly a single time before becoming worthless. Winged boots let a PC fly for four hours each day without having to maintain concentration and the PC never loses this ability as long as the boots are on foot. Granted the scroll makes a PC’s flying speed 60 feet while the boots use the creature’s normal walking speed, but I’d say even with that fact considered the boots are way more powerful even though both items have an uncommon rarity.
So now that we’ve established items of the same rarities can have different power levels, I should point out that items of the same rarity have a similar power level ceiling. Reading through the Dungeon Master’s Guide you can get a feel for what these parameters are. For instance in the uncommon rarity category no weapon or shield gives a bonus greater than +1, no permanent items increase attributes beyond 19, and no magic items duplicate the effects of a spell greater than 3rd level.
With all this power level stuff in mind I sat down to determine what weapon properties would common rarity magic items have. Here’s the parameters I gave myself.
- It is fine for these weapons to surpass the power level of a potion of healing or a 1st level spell scroll in the sense that they are permanent magic items and almost by that fact alone they are more useful than single-use items.
- These weapons should not have power equal to or greater than a +1 weapon. This means that any bonuses given to attack or damage of these weapons should have their access limited to these boons through circumstances (e.g. bonuses only apply when attacking a specific creature type) or through item recharges (e.g. the property can only be used once per day).
- These weapons should not duplicate the effects of any spell greater than 1st level.
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