In Monteporte 44, the session began and ended with animated discussions on the rules for attunement to magical weapons. +Rob Conley had created a chart or an excel file listing all the weapons that required attunement from the DMG, and we played around with the concept a bit. We all, I think, liked the general concept of attunement, but were all equally bothered by some of the implications. In addition, since Monteporte was migrated over from a game with different assumptions than went into D&D5, there were many more magic items than seemed typical for a D&D5 party.
Attunement (DMG pp. 136-138)
The basic concept behind attunement is simple. To use a weapon with magical properties in a magical way, you have to spend a period of time – a short rest – bonding with the item in an appropriate way. If you don’t do so, the items functions like a normal, non-magical item of that type, but no nifty stuff can be generated from it. A Sword of Sharpness might act like a regular sword and would cut things just fine, but no other magical abilities would be present, and I’m not even sure it’d damage creatures that are only damaged by magical weapons – the text seems to suggest not. A suit of plate armor that requires attunement would still give you AC 18 for wearing it, but whatever powers it has would not be available to you until attunement is complete. A wand or ring, which otherwise serves no purpose than to give you certain powers, is basically useless. Maybe you could use it as a napkin holder or a stir stick?
Limits on items
The biggest thing that the DMG rules hit you with is that you cannot be attuned to more than three items at a time. Period, done . . . see you later. So you can’t (for example) wear ten Rings of Protection, one on each finger, and another couple on your toes. Firstly, you can’t usually wear multiple of any given item, but also, three is the limit, and the limit shall be three. Not two, unless proceeding directly to three, etc.
This makes any given player decide what she wants to be equipped with, and since you can only detune-attune to an item with a short rest, you can’t just swap out inventory slots and always get the benefit of the good stuff. So you have to prepare. It’s not quite as restrictive as spell slots and long rests, but it’s there to make you think about what you’re doing.
What requires attunement
The magic item lists speak to what requires attunement – sometimes by a particular class – and what does not. There definitely seems to be a pattern to it, and some very useful stuff does not require attunement.
Let’s start with some examples:
Basic Magical Weapons and Armor: Your basic +2 Mace or longsword, or +1 Chain Mail, or +3 half-plate does not require attunement. OK.
Mace of Disruption: Requires attunement. If you smack a fiend or the undead, you do extra radiant damage. If the critter has fewer than a certain number of HP, it must make a saving throw or be destroyed outright. The foes of the affected type are afraid of you. Also, the weapon glows if you hold it.
Mace of Smiting: +1 damage, more against constructs. If you roll a 20, you get extra damage, and can destroy constructs on a lucky roll. Does not require attunement.
Immovable Rod: Hey, the thing doesn’t move. Ever. Does not require attunement.
Gloves of Thievery: Provides a bonus to Sleight of Hand and DEX checks while wearing them. Does not require attunement.
Most any Cloak of X: Protection, Elvenkind, Invisibility. All of these require attunement, but . . .
Cloak of the Manta Ray: Allows you to breathe underwater, and swim pretty fast. There’s another item like this that makes a bubble of air around your head. Neither require attunement.
What’s the Common Theme: The key bit here seems to be that if the item is magical because of itself, such as magic armor, it does not require attunement. If the item has powers that only affect the victim or the environment – that is, the magic is outwardly directed – it does not require attunement. But if the thing is basically casting a spell or giving its blessing to the user – something that if malign would be resisted by a saving throw – then you need to attune to it.
It’s a fine line. The Cloak of Protection is just a cloak, it’s not particularly sturdy. But even it it is sturdy, the bonus to saving throws impacts the wearer as if it were a spell. That requires attunement. The Manta Ray cloak and the bubble-head charm (whatever it is) probably work their magic on the water and air around you, not you. They don’t bestow gills, they create a space of breatheable air.
I have no explanation for the Gloves of Thievery. I’d probably force you to attune to them, but perhaps the skill/DEX boost provided is actually a spell that impacts whatever you’re working on, not you.
Basic magical swords are just magical. The Mace of Smiting is totally outwardly directed. The Mace of Disruption . . . seems like the mace of smiting, but makes creatures afraid of you (not the mace) and casts light. I suspect it’s the fear thing that turns the tables.
Armor that’s just magical is simply better made and enchanted. That’s inherent to the item. But if it also provides extra spell-like abilities, that requires attunement.
Anything that requires conscious activation seems to require attunement.
Wouldn’t be a blog – specifically my blog – without the tinkering. So, here we go. What could we do to tweak out what’s basically a good concept?
More Awesome is More Awesome
The first one is easy. Allow the number of magical items to which you can attune vary by character level. Specifically, something like “you may attune to item equal to your proficiency bonus” would allow two items for beginners, but up to six at very high levels. Another would be you may attune to one item plus half your proficiency bonus. That’s still two items at low level, but four at high levels.
In any case, items tend to grow with power at high levels, so another way might be a slot system. Each rank from Common through Legendary is given an effective number of slots: say 1 for Common, 5 for Legendary. You might get a number of slots equal to 1 plus your proficiency bonus, so slots vary from 3 to 7. So you can attune to seven Common items at very high level, or one Legenary item and two Common ones. Or two Uncommon and one Rare. Still limiting, but if you really want to wear seven common items instead of carrying around that Vorpal Sword . . .
Not attuning to an item having it behave as completely mundane seems off to me. Of course, that thought was started by Ken thinking that any item of +2 bonus or higher, including armor and weapons, requires attunement. I was thinking that in that particular case, the weapon or armor would still be magical, just provide no bonus. So not attuning to said Vorpal Sword would give you a magical longsword which could damage creatures that are only harmed by magical weapons (if such exist anymore in 5e), but would not suddenly decaptiate anyone.
Gotta Fight, for the Right . . .
One thing that would be interesting for non-attuned weapons would be that yes, you can still use them, but you have to force the item to obey. You’d need to make some sort of saving throw, and I’m thinking INT, WIS, CHA rather than the physical stuff – basically willpower – in order to activate the item’s powers.
In fact, one interesting thing would be to have attunement be a gradual process. Each short rest spent attuning would give you a bonus to the roll to master or attune to the item. You have to successfully use the item in order to claim your next bonus. Eventually, your roll will be high enough that you automatically beat the item’s DC. At that point, you’re attuned permanently unless you voluntarily switch it out – then you have to start again.
That would make it a bit of a process – and narratively interesting – to get to know a weapon or armor or magical device. If the process were intersting/onerous enough, there’s a barrier to switching out.
Naturally, you’d want the DC to go up with item power. So maybe if we use the level analogy above, the DC might be 10 plus twice the slots. So a Common magical item would be DC 12 for mastery, a Legendary one would be DC 20.
Attunement brings a very cool dynamic to equipping magical items in D&D5. The core concept is very good, and it forces you to be choosy about what items and powers you can have. It keeps the focus, to some extent, on the character rather than the gear – though some of the Legendary items are truly badass, so there is always going to be a certain cache to having that Hammer of Thunderbolts paired with the Girdle of Giant Strength, which is also good.
Tuning the attunement rules also provides knobs for campaign-specific flavor. This is also good.
We’ll see what Ken decides to do with it, but I can certainly see options.