Magical Encumbrance

Homebrew and House Rules

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Below is a house rule that I have been using in my Eberron game called Magical Encumbrance. The basic idea is that the Wealth by Level table is an actual in game physical mechanic that limits the amount of magical items that a character can use at any one time. Items take 1 minute to bond and the bond can be removed from an item after resting for 8 hours. The in game expression of this mechanic is that magic items need a bit of your characters life force in order to function for them. You only have so much of this energy to bind to magic items and without it the magic items doesn't function.

You can still carry around a magic item that you don't have bound, but it provides no magical benefit. The item is still magical and it benefits from its magical nature in terms of saving throws and hardness, and any mundane effect of the item is still usable. For example you could wear a suit of platemail +1 that you don't have bound and you would get the benefit of wearing masterwork platemail and if anyone targeted or affected the platemail specifically it is still magical, but you would not benefit from the +1 enhancement bonus unless it is bound.

The major upside to these rules is that it helps to separate gold pieces from magical item power. Under the current rules the more gold you spend on magical items the more powerful you get with no diminishing returns. Spending gold on anything other than magical items is a net power loss as the game encourages you to spend all your gold on magical items. While not removing the connection of gold and magical items this rule does create a point of diminishing returns as you can keep buying magical items, but it is hard to use them after a certain point.

Another byproduct is that you have to be a certain level to make use of certain items. This helps alleviate some of the issues that certain magic items can have on the campaign setting. Something like the Lyre of Building actually needs a decently high level person to bond it so it helps explain some why they are much more common. This also means that certain powerful items can be around in a game without having to worry about the characters getting their hands on it and upsetting game balance.

This rule also encourages different sets of items for different situations. A character may have an adventuring set of gear and a set of gear that they use while they are in town or crafting. So far it has worked great in the Eberron campaign I am running and has helped to keep the Artificer who crafts at .325 cost reasonable. The Artificer can make magic items very quickly and cheaply, but the group only gains so much benefit from it. Consumables are the one area where gold can still be poured into to gain power, but that hasn't really been a problem so far. Below are the rules that I gave to the players as part of the house rule document for the game.

Wealth by Level as Magical Encumbrance
In this campaign for a character to gain the benefits of a magic item they must bond with it in order to activate the magic of the item. This process is a burden on the character and each character can only support so many magic items before additional magic items will not function for them. This burden is referred to as magical encumbrance. The function of this rule is to instead of having the Gamemaster jury rig the wealth of the party behind the scenes each character will have to account for the magical items the character is using and will be limited to the total GP value of these items based on the Wealth by Level table (reproduced below). This will allow gold pieces to be more freely given out based on character/player creativity and ingenuity as they will not upset the balance of magic item wealth and the Challenge Rating system. Not all magic items count against the magical encumbrance value and magic items can be added or removed from the encumbrance. Adding an item takes one minute of concentration while removing an item takes 8 hours of rest.

Items that do not count against Magical Encumbrance

Consumables do not count against magical encumbrance as they are one shot items that are meant to be able to be used or transferred between characters. Consumables include potions, scrolls, or any other item that is entirely consumed and destroyed when used (such as tokens, magical arrows and other similar items). Wands are not considered consumables and have their own rules below.

Cursed Items
Initially cursed items are allocated against magical encumbrance, but once they reveal their cursed nature they no longer count against magical encumbrance and are instantly removed from that calculation.

Artifacts and Intelligent Items
Items that are classified as Artifacts or Intelligent do not count against magical encumbrance as they have their own independent power.

Exceptions for certain items

Wands count against magical encumbrance, but if a wand runs out of charges and the character has a wand with the same spell and GP value as the one that just ran out they can immediately begin using that wand and it takes the place of the exhausted wand.

Liberty's Edge

I still think this is an awesome rule and will be most certainly implementing it from now on.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

I think this is an great solution for the Joshua's example. My only concern would be that quirky or situational magic items would see little play compared to the straightforward stat boosters. For example, even at 6th or 7th level, a ring of lesser energy resistance would see little play since it would eat up a big chunk of their budget.

Also, how do you handle materials (mithril, adamantine, etc.) under this?

Cursed items might need a bit of work. There are some cursed items that do provide benefits with a drawback, like the deadflesh waraxe or the berserking sword. Plenty of characters would see them as well worth it and use them for free magical weapons.

Plus, non-unique cursed items aren't very cursed. Most of the randomly generated ones just don't work 5% of the time, activate randomly once a day on 5% of days, or have some requisite condition, the less harmful of which are having to worship a particular deity or having a certain name.

The first is still a free 95% effective magic item, the second is generally harmless unless it has charges or is a necklace of fireballs or some such, and the third is too easy to ignore.

EDIT: Of course, it's near impossible to intentionally go and buy a specific cursed item, the GM can easily control which cursed items show up in loot, and even if you deliberately botch the roll to make a magic item to purposefully curse it, there's no guarantee it wouldn't get something like "you must destroy 2000gp of magic items every week."

Future versions of D&D/PF ought to implement something like this rule as standard. It's a more direct and less adversarial version of what I have implemented (where having WBL or less makes the world view you as a difficult target, not worth the risk, but having WBL or more makes the world view you as the reverse, with WBL being counted in a remarkably similar manner to the way you estimate magical encumberance).

Thanks for the replies!

@Joshua Goodreau

Thanks Joshua I have been pleased with its effects on my Eberron game so far. It has made the now Mythic Artificer much more balanced than he otherwise would be. He actually gets to make extensive use of his magic item crafting without totally disrupting the game. It still is very effective, but this rule has helped keep it in check. Plus my PCs actually spend gold on things other than magic items and don't feel punished for it.

If you end up using this rule please let me know how your experience works out!

@The Hanged Man

Material costs do not factor into the magical encumbrance, only the market value of magical effects do. You still have to pay gold for special materials, but they have no magical encumbrance except what you enchant them with. What the item is made from is not included in the encumbrance value.

My solution to the Big Six problem is that I have artifacts and intelligent items be more present in the game. Since artifacts and intelligent items don't count for encumbrance I tend to make the them one of the Big Six. I actually combine artifacts and intelligent items into one item type (all artifacts are intelligent items and all intelligent items are artifacts) and these are highly sought after by adventurers as they cannot be created.

So adventurers can make magic items, which is more like specialty gear for adventurers, and artifacts become kind of like magic items in old school DnD where you have to go out and find them. Artifacts are partly the reason for adventurers to go out and seek adventure. There is no market for artifacts really and anyone who has one is unlikely to be selling it, to get one you generally have to go out and find it. Obtaining an artifact would always be a role-playing event of some kind, not just something you pick up at the market.

@Ipslore the Red

That is a good point that I hadn't considered, probably because my group doesn't make use of cursed items very much. I agree that limiting the exploitation of cursed items is good move by the GM, but if someone really wanted to use a cursed sword to get around the magical encumbrance I would probably be fine with that, it helps to create a reason to use cursed gear other than it being a temporary nuisance. Cursed gear kind of becomes a drawback system for the magical encumbrance rules where you can get a break on encumbrance by accepting drawbacks on the items.


Ironically this rule grew out of my dislike for the passive agressive wealth by level system of "oh great idea Bob that totally should earn you extra gold, now I will just take that out of your future earnings so I have to railroad you through a dry spell now" which really impinges on my verisimilitude.

I do like your idea and think it would work perfectly alongside this. Being near or at max magical encumbrance would be sort of a mark of being fully geared or loaded. Kind of a wild west feel of a gunman riding into town with several weapons, people take people with maximum magical item encumbrance more seriously. This could also serve as a mark for criminals looking to steal magic items. There could even be some kind of effect that is noticeable that occurs when wearing magic items that intensifies the closer to your magical encumbrance you get (They could even call it gear score!).

The Exchange

keep in mind, crafting feats are expected to increase WBL for that character by 25%. and anyone can take crafting feats these days.

so, logically there should be a bonus or discount to equip self-crafted magic items. this rewards crafters for taking those feats, while preventing abuses.

Not bad. I probably won't use it in my current game since none of my players are crafters and I'm pretty stingy handing out items, but I can definitely see the benefit.

@Captain Xenon

That is a good point about the Ultimate Campaign article. The rule could be that if you have a magic item crafting feat bonding items of that type count 75% against magical encumbrance. That would provide an extra incentive and preserve the expected additional bump in wealth by level for having the crafting feat.


Thanks for the feedback!

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This is more or less what I implemented in Kirthfinder years ago:
Click here, then click on Chapter 6 and scroll past the weapons. Those rules also have provisions for crafting, for custom items, CR adjustments for less gear, and so on.

Digital Products Assistant

Removed an off-topic post and the responses.

@Kirth Gersen

Cool thanks for the link, I have seen your work mentioned but hadn't looked through it before very impressive looking.

It's interesting to see people have similar issues and come up with similar ideas to fix it. Yours has some cool additional complexities that I like and may steal :) . The part where you don't allow sales of magic items above 10,000 for cash is well reasoned and helps frame a workable economy which is something I am striving to achieve in my own games.


Glad it's helpful! Any homebrew ideas I have are always freely available for people's use, if they're of any interest to them, so feel free to steal/borrow/modify anything there as you see fit for your group.

If you're interested in a game-world economy making sense, you'll probably find this essay to be extremely useful.
There's a pretty thorough dicussion here as well. (The "no powerful items for gold" is originally Frank's idea, not mine.)

Happy gaming!

I'd forgotten I'd cross posted that. I hadn't noticed that you'd worked part of it into Kirthfinder. I'll have to check that section out again.

@Caedwyr: It was a great discussion -- I was glad to see you'd threaded it over there.

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