Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #23: Item's drawback is actually a benefit


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm posting them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

23. The item has a drawback that is actually a benefit.

This category is related to category #13, in that it's giving you a "drawback" that actually is a mechanical benefit to the character.

The perfect example of this is an item that slowly turns the bearer into a lich. As in, "Oh no, now I have darkvision, a +5 natural armor bonus, DR, immunity to cold and electricity, undead immunities, phylactery rejuvenation, fear aura, paralyzing touch, a bonus to three caster ability scores, and a +8 bonus to three handy skills! Poor me!" Yes, we've had a submission like this. Yes, it's technically a drawback because it makes the character evil, and some characters don't want to become undead... and those characters will give or sell the item to someone who does want that. If the creepy, not-quite-evil necromancer PC is eying the item hungry despite the "drawback," it's not a a drawback, it's a free power-up.

If your item has a drawback, think about giving the item to the most hardcore minmaxer/rules lawyer you know. Could they use this drawback as an advantage for their character in some way? Perhaps not as a direct benefit to his character's stats, but as a way to use it as an attack against his character's enemies? If the answer is "yes," you should reconsider the drawback, because there's one of those in every gaming group, and they're going to find ways to exploit it that you've never thought of.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

My two-cents...

Spoiler:
I think people fall into this trap in one of two ways. Either they're primarily a storyteller GM/player and, in the pursuit of crafting their item submission, they don't realize they went overboard and a min-max player would absolutely abuse it. Or, they're already a min-max player themselves and the item's abuse potential seems perfectly rational to them, because it's exactly the kind of item they'd love for their character to have. And that's problematic, because it's a pretty swift indication that a designer doesn't have a real good feel for the balance built into the game.

So, my advice would be to steer clear of this pitfall by running it by your gaming friends. Note their play-styles. If the min-max'er/rules-lawyer in your group is already salivating over it, that might be cause for concern. But you need that type of player's feedback, too. Don't discount it. Because it'll make your item stronger. And, if you're already more of a min-max style of player yourself, recognize it and run your item past some people in your group who aren't. Get their feedback on it. Since they're the most likely to show restraint in item design, they can help you know where to rein in your tendencies.

The bottom line is make doubly sure your item enhances the game. Don't let it be a game-breaker. And secondarily, if you're going to include a drawback element to your item, make certain it's truly a drawback that'll come into play with anyone and everyone who uses it. And make sure it's got good mojo where the positives outweigh the negatives. Otherwise, you're designing a cursed item and not a wondrous item.


--Neil

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16

I really don't understand this one.

To expound upon your "becoming a lich" example: Why would this be automatically rejected? Yes, the benefits of lichdom far outweigh the drawbacks... so what?

I understand if this was a Cursed Item competition and the item ended up being more a blessing than a curse, that'd be a failure... but it's a Wonderous Item competition: shouldn't the good outweigh the bad?

I was kicking around some item ideas that had some minor drawbacks (but with large bonuses). Will I get auto-rejected because my drawbacks are weaksauce? Are you suggesting we should just avoid drawbacks altogether? I'm really confused by this one.

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

Erik Freund wrote:

I really don't understand this one.

To expound upon your "becoming a lich" example: Why would this be automatically rejected? Yes, the benefits of lichdom far outweigh the drawbacks... so what?

I understand if this was a Cursed Item competition and the item ended up being more a blessing than a curse, that'd be a failure... but it's a Wonderous Item competition: shouldn't the good outweigh the bad?

I was kicking around some item ideas that had some minor drawbacks (but with large bonuses). Will I get auto-rejected because my drawbacks are weaksauce? Are you suggesting we should just avoid drawbacks altogether? I'm really confused by this one.

The example isn't an item that only makes you become a lich, the example is an unrelated item that has a supposed 'balancing' drawback of making you into a lich. If the item is priced properly to include the lich bonuses, this doesn't apply.

To make another example, suppose I make a magic weapon (which is outside the contest, but see where I'm going with this) that does bonus damage, with the drawback of dealing negative energy damage to the wielder to keep the cost down. That looks dandy until you give it to an undead, or a party member becomes undead, or becomes a high-level necromancer, undead-bloodline sorcerer, bones oracle, or something else immune to (or healed by) negative energy.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16

Thanks Ross, that helped.

Would it be best to understand this advice column as merely a specific case of the general principle "make sure the cost is correct"?

In other words: false-drawbacks are okay, so long as they are properly costed (and that's a tricky thing to do).

Contributor

There are many overlapping items in this auto-reject. Sometimes it's helpful to call out specific problems that people may not realize are a subset of a different problem. But yes, technically this sort of problem leads to a pricing error.

An item that gives you +4 to your caster level for all necromancy spells is a reasonable item if costed properly. However, if the item also eventually turns the user into a lich, a novice designer might see that as a drawback and reduce the cost of the item to reflect that, except it isn't a drawback, it's an advantage, and not only should the item not be discounted, the effects of its lich "drawback" should be added to its cost.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Personally, I would auto-reject an item that slowly turns you into a lich because it fundamentally breaks one of the core assumptions in Golarion about liches—that every would-be lich must research and develop his or her own unique lich recipe. This is why you can't just buy a "lich potion" on the street, and why the process remains something that is a difficult and time-consuming one no matter how many spellcasters' research papers you've studied previously.

I guess that would fall under a different category, though:

#JJ1: Item Breaks Established World Continuity or Makes Established Elements of Golarion Obsolete

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