DnD Items that level with players are rare, but extremely fun when done correctly.
To make DnD Items that level with players work well, you need to decide what type of item you want. Cursed, weak, or progressive.
These items have to be used in three different ways, but you first might want to ask yourself, why even make items that level with the players? Won’t that take away the gratification of other weapons?
Why make items that level with your players
Why? A very important question. We provide loot to the players by giving them new items, toys, and trinkets to play with. That satisfaction of finding a new item is invigorating and what some players strive for! So why take that away and make DnD Items that level with players? The answer is simple.
Players will still get a new toy/trinket. They will still look forward to it with wonder, but instead of just finding something new they are working on progressing what they already have. It is like leveling a character up, instead of just getting a new one. That sense of progressive achievement is its own gratification.
This is the main idea of giving your players items that will level with them. The players don’t need to know what will happen when they improve their items, but they will work extremely hard to improve them none the less. That is why there are three types of progression.
- Cursed items
- Weak items
- Progressive items
Each item has to be handled differently. For example, can just one person have an item that levels up with them? If so isn’t that favoritism, or is it a party item? For cursed items and weak items the answer is fairly similar, but what about items that progress with the player?
On top of this, how should you handle progression? Should the player just level up and have the item level with them? Does a quest or material need to be found and installed/completed?
As you can see, there are many questions that need to be answered about DnD Items that level with players. We will go over all these questions, and talk about the 3 different varients that you can use in your game.
Does everyone need a special item?
Every party is obviously different. One group might be fine with Ricky the barbarian getting a progressively leveling lightening axe while they get nothing. Most, will not. That is, unless the item itself is a hindrance to their safety, or just incredibly weak.
That is all there really is to it. Is the item powerful enough to offset the party by itself with no downside, or is it either weak or a hindrance in some way?
If the item is weak, then it might be a cool item that everyone can use. A cursed item also has the same effect, but there is a problem. If the rest of the party wants one, you need to listen to them.
These are cool items! Why should Ricky be the only one to get a ring of potential wild magic? Whenever he swings he might make colors, ducks or blow up! I want that too.
While these demands seem like those of a madman, remember what your players are. Chaotic insane little creatures, so be sure to give them at least 1 item each that progresses with them in a similar fashion.
This means that if you give a player a cursed item, give them all a cursed item if they clamor for it. The same goes with weak items.
The only exception is progressive items. These items are truly exquisite and should be venerated as such. That is why every player should not only have a progressive item, but the items need to be somewhat similar in overall power scale.
It is a tall task, but everyone will need a special item if the party wants one. So be sure to make them not too powerful unless that is your campaigns intent!
Now we need to answer the question of how to improve DnD Items that level with players.
Improving the items
The whole point of DnD Items that level with players is that they level with the players. They improve in some fashion just like the players do. These items are not just +1 swords to be tossed aside for a +2 sword, they become that +2 sword! But how does this happen?
There are generally 2 options. The items improve with the player, as they are an extension of the player. Secondarily, the items improve by some outside means.
In the first option, these items are linked to the player. When the player grows, the item grows as well. This does not have to be when the player levels! That is one way to improve these items to easily reflect the player’s growth, but you can also do it by narrative.
If the player grows narratively through an experience the item might level with the player this way. This is a bit difficult, since it is on the player to force an evolution. The evolution also isn’t pre-planned, so it can be anything.
The first option is difficult and provides a sense of growth. More growth if it is done from a narrative standpoint. I would not suggest to have the item grow as the players level since it is now just part of the level up feature which already has a sense of gratification.
Instead, make the player earn the evolution narratively. It is more difficult, but will give a greater impact. If you want to make the player items level with a specific power in mind, keep in mind the second option.
Adding to items
The second way to improve DnD Items that level with players is by adding something to them. This can be done by infusing elements, gems, etc. Almost anything can add to them, and I would even put quests into this category since they are an external element that is poured into the item.
When you improve items in this manner they give a great sense of satisfaction and make the player work for it. In the first option, leveling with the player as they level is a poor choice. Narrative development is optimal because the player has earned it. The same applies to the second option.
Players must feel that they have earned the evolution, or it is all for naught.
This could be by them setting out to find a specific material or element and finally, after a few levels find that required aspect. Once found, they have a great sense of satisfaction as the player has worked hard to earn this upgrade.
Now that we have gone over how to improve your items and who should get them, we need to delve into the types of DnD Items that level with players.
DnD Items that level with players can be extremely powerful. So why not make them come at a cost? It makes the item more interesting and isn’t a blatant buff that the player gets. They might even want to use other items to supplement their cursed item.
I give you one caution. Creating cursed items is a tricky thing. You need to find the proper balance. If you do not, the players will either not use a cursed item, only use it, or try to destroy it. We go over it a bit more in our how to properly make a cursed item article. Check it out to make sure your cursed item idea is good first, then come back here.
Now that you understand the thin line that you walk to create a cursed item, adding powers to it shouldn’t be too difficult. Make sure that the powers align with the item’s created intent, and then have fun. For example, an item meant to stick to people might develop an ability to spawn an ooze. Beyond this, it might develop the ability to cast web, but makes the wearer stick to any surface while the webbing is active.
Make sure that there is always a downside, and try to stack the downsides of using this item. Make sure that they do not get too crazy. You don’t want your players only using this item or throwing it away after all.
Combining the article on cursed items with the previous paragraphs and a few examples of how to make one should give you a good idea on how to create cursed DnD Items that level with players. But what if we don’t want to curse the players? What if we just want to make weak items?
A cursed item has quite a few strong qualities to it, with some downsides. The downside of a weak item should be that it is fun to use, but mechanically won’t do much to the game at hand. For example, the wand of smiles. We have all seen this item in Xanathar’s and if you have not, take a look. It is a simple item that just makes people smile.
Making people smile will not impact the narrative of the story in any significant fashion. If a player makes another PC or NPC smile, then it is comical but generally that is it. It will not make the players gain any in game advantages. We use them because they are funny, fun to use, or just make life a little bit easier.
To make weak DnD Items that level with players, you should make them trivial affairs that match their theme. If a want is meant to make others smile, then why not make the wand also fire off a joke as it levels? How about record sounds? Some of these can be useful, but only moderately so.
It is important to make sure that these items give benefits that are pathetic for the level of the party. If message would be nice at level 1, is it as nice at level 9? It could be helpful, but by now they have sending and other spells.
Making weak items level should also be easier. The theme of a wand of smiles is to be funny, so make the requirement to level an item be funny. The laughter of a baby orc might make the item level, or some ridiculous thing. It should not require any narrative or material components that are of any significance.
These items can become an obsession for the party so just be careful. We don’t want them to be as important as progressive items.
Here we are. The big items. The heirlooms, deity weapons, and other ridiculous weapons.
These are the items that are extremely powerful and meant to be a core part of a character. It might be that a paladin has a ‘holy’ sword. A wizard might have a staff that levels with them. A cleric might have a holy symbol that belonged to an avatar of their god. Whatever it is, these items have a backstory and are able to become extremely powerful.
If you are running these items in your game, you need to make sure that your game can handle them. I know it is a silly thing, but these items quickly get out of hand. Your players at level 13 might be on the level of demi-gods even if this was never your intent.
DMs and players alike get carried away with these items. This is why I am cautioning you so much about using these items. That being said, they are extremely fun to use and can make a great power fantasy campaign.
Now that you have chosen to play with progressive items, chose an item that is important to each player! You do not want the mistake of giving a ranger a bow that they won’t use after 3 levels. Talk to them and make sure that you understand the player’s desires. Then craft an item meant for them.
After you have an idea of what item to craft, decide their purpose. Are they meant to supplement other magic items, or become powerful progressive items?
Supplemental progressive items
Supplemental progressive items are DnD Items that level with players. Nothing more is added to that statement, as these are the most bland items you can create.
Cursed items have a downside and are cool custom creations. Weak items are interesting in their nature. These items just replace what the players would get in game to create a better sense of satisfaction.
We went over how it is better for the player to work towards a reward and get it instead of just giving them a reward. That is main purpose of these items. The players can upgrade a +1 sword to a +2, and so on.
You can still have a great narrative around these weapons and don’t have to get too creative in their effects. This cuts out the chance of an item being much better than the others, and instead makes it more in line with the other campaigns you might have.
These are just giving a narrative spin on item progression, but what about making your progressive items powerful?
Powerful progressive items
Heirlooms, avatar items, and more. These are the weapons that you probably thought of right away when you thought of ‘DnD Items that level with players.’ As you can see, there are many different types of DnD Items that level with players but these are special.
These items are those that become ridiculous. They can be sentient items, shields that carry spells per day in them, and more. For these items I have a few pointers.
Be ready for your game to be ridiculous.
Just by adding these items into your game, the standard challenges are not enough. You will be constantly balancing if you are giving the party too much or too little in terms of challenge. If the party is level 5, they might need to fight a CR 7 or CR 6 for a moderate challenge.
We already went over how CR is a lie in this article. These items only add to the difficulty of making your encounters, but they also make your players monsters. Which is why.
Be careful on what powers you give
This is very important. You want to give your players cool powers, but you need to be very careful about what you give them. Most powers should be static or an active spell effect. Daylight, a lightning bolt, or resistance. Give them something tangible and not too creative.
If you give your players powers that can be used creatively, you will regret it.
That is the only warning I will give on handing out creative powers. Your players are cunning imbeciles that will surprise you.
Creating DnD Items that level with players gives you more options than most think of. That is why I intentionally put powerful progressive items last. To show you all the other options and considerations when creating DnD Items that level with players.
DnD Items that level with players can be extremely fun. I would highly recommend to add some into your game when you are an experienced DM, and I hope that this guide has helped you create them without any problems.
The first time that DMs create DnD Items that level with players they might break the game. This is very common, so please please please read the article thoroughly. It will help you avoid these pit traps that other DMs have fallen into, and I wish you happy gaming.
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