51
\$\begingroup\$

From what I understand, uncommon magic items are less valuable than rare items in terms of functional power and monetary value. From the DMG (pg. 135), uncommon items are worth 101–500 gp while rare items are worth 501–5,000 gp.

I was reading through various magic items and noticed the following items:

+1 Armor. Armor (light, medium, or heavy), rare. You have a [+1] bonus to AC while wearing this armor.

Cloak of Protection. Wondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement). You gain a +1 bonus to AC and saving throws while you wear this cloak. (DMG, p. 159)

In comparing the two I noticed something strange: the armor is rare — worth up to 5,000 gp, while the cloak has the exact same effect and then some and is worth no more than 500 gp. In other words, the cloak is "better" than the armor but potentially worth much, much less than the armor. Am I missing something?

Why would an uncommon magic item have better properties than a rare magic item?

\$\endgroup\$
103
\$\begingroup\$

Attunement is an opportunity cost.

Wearing +1 armor is a straight uncomplicated upgrade from non-magical armor. The Cloak requires attunement, and you can only attune to three items at a time, so it competes for space with other magical items.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 18
    \$\begingroup\$ +1, but you might be able to improve this answer by being a bit more explicit about what Attunement means and why this opportunity cost is (potentially) so large. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Oct 7 '18 at 1:06
28
\$\begingroup\$

Item rarity is unfortunately often simply inconsistent

Mark Wells' answer relating to the attenement cost of the Cloak is reasonable, however, there is another explanation for this apparent anomaly - it's an oversight.

Item rarity classifications are unfortunately pretty notoriously inconsistent. There are lots of examples of low level items that really punch above their weight and high level items that turn out to be pretty damp squibs.

As an example of this in practice, consider the relative rarities of the DMG items that provide a PC with the ability to fly:

There are a few items which give the ability to fly in the 5e DMG. Among the first I came across were the Winged Boots and the Broom of Flying. The Boots give a fly speed equal to your walking speed for 4 hours per day divisible into 1 minute chunks while the broom gives you a flat 50 foot fly speed all day long, decreasing to 30 feet if you are particularly heavy. Both are clearly very powerful, if you've got two sides in a combat one of which can fly and one of which can't the flying side has a huge advantage. If the other side also has no good ranged attacks the flying team more or less wins automatically. Yet both the Boots and the Broom are uncommon, they only cost 500 gold, pretty much any adventurer who decides they want one should be able to get their hands on one if they really want to.

Right under the Winged Boots are the Wings of Flying. The Wings give you a fly speed of 60 feet for one hour but then require a 1d12 hour cooldown period after each use before they can be activated again. Again, a pretty powerful item, but probably less useful than either the Broom or the Boots for most practical purposes. The higher move speed will occasionally pay off, but usually the ability to fly whenever you want will win out in terms of practical utility. At most, it's definitely not better than either the Broom or the Boots. The Wings of Flying are a rare item. They are worth 5,000 gold, 10 times what the boots or broom are worth.

The next item I found was the boots of levitation. These boots let you use levitate as the spell at will. Levitate moves you straight up or down only. It can never move you more than 20 feet off the ground or more than 20 feet up or down at a time. It has a similar weight limit to the Broom. It consumes your Concentration slot. You can't use it for longer than 10 minutes on end without returning to the ground. The boots of levitation are rare items. They are worth 5,000 gold, just like the Wings of Flying. 10 times more than the Winged Boots or the Broom.

The next item I found was the potion of flying. The potion of flying gives a fly speed equal to your walk speed the same as the Winged Boots do. It lasts one hour like the Wings of Flying, and can only be used once ever. The potion of flying is very rare. It is worth 50,000. 100 times what an item that gives precisely the same effect 4 times every single day forever does.
Saidoro, Sane Magic Item Prices (Emphasis mine)

So, it's possible that an uncommon item could be better than a rare one, what should you do about it?

Just think carefully about how any item that you plan to give your players might unbalance your game.

If you've already given your players an item that you now worry is too strong then there are a number of other questions on here that deal with ways you might be able to rectify that situation.

Practially, however, there's a reason that this fan-made list of Sane Magic Item Prices has become so popular - it corrects what many see as an obvious deficiency within the game. Before you give your players an item, why not check its relative value on this list and see how it compares to other items, either of its rarity, or that produce similar effects - you might find that doing so saves you from making a potentially costly mistake (it's not infallible but it's saved me a couple of times).

Relevant to your exact question - this pricing system puts the value of the +1 armour at 1,500 gp (in the middle of the rare item range you quoted from the DMG) but suggests that the cloak should be priced at closer to 3,500 gp (well above what the DMG suggests for uncommon items).

\$\endgroup\$
15
\$\begingroup\$

You're mistaking a frequency-related term for a quality-related term.

'Rare' doesn't mean 'better than uncommon'. It means 'encountered less frequently than uncommon'. A 'like-new' Ford Edsel is 'rare'. A 'like-new' 2018 Ford Explorer is common. The Explorer is better than the Edsel in every possible metric, except 'sale value to a collector'.

From a mechanics perspective? The fact that the armor doesn't need attunement is also a big difference once your characters start accumulating a significant number of items.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add that while rarity gives the item monetary value. That does not mean magic items are for sale, they usually are not. Even a common magic item is rare, as most people will never see one rare. \$\endgroup\$ – joojaa Oct 8 '18 at 18:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for addressing the real issue in this question: semantics. \$\endgroup\$ – Vadruk Nov 27 '18 at 12:51
4
\$\begingroup\$

Consider the relative prices. According to Roll 20, non-magical armor prices range from 5 gp to 1500 gp. You say that rare items range in price from 501-5000 gp. Non-magical full plate costs 1500 gp. Even without any magic premium, it is already well into the rare range in price. D&D Beyond suggests that a full set of clothes including a cloak only costs 2 gp. If we figure the cloak is half that, that's still only a fifth of the cost of the cheapest armor.

This might be a good argument not to use price to determine rarity. But if they already made that choice, then it seems natural that expensive armor would be more rare than cheap cloaks. Particularly as the more expensive materials of the non-magical armor may require more expensive magical replacements. It's the cost of production that makes magical armor rare, not the value to the typical person.

You also might consider what happens if you already have one or the other item. If you already have a magical cloak and you find a magical cloak, you can still only use one cloak. If you find a suit of armor and you don't have magical armor yet, then switching from your non-magical armor to the magical armor will benefit you more than having two Cloaks of Protection. This is true even if the Cloak of Protection itself is more valuable.

Counter-intuitively, if the Cloak of Protection is more valuable, that might also make it more common. Because people concentrate on buying the better and cheaper magical cloak rather than the more expensive and not as good armor. So artificers concentrate on producing the more valued and cheaper to produce cloak. After all, they can only charge a 233% premium for +1 Plate (1500 gp to 5000 gp for the maximum price rare item), but they can charge a 10,000% premium for a Cloak of Protection (1 gp to 101 gp for the minimum price uncommon item). But that just makes the few suits of armor that they make more expensive for the few people that really need them.

Going back to the previous point, magical armor may be most useful to people who already have magical cloaks. Presumably people who have magical cloaks are more experienced and richer than those who don't. They can afford to pay more to buy the last item of their set. But as experience increases, the number of adventurers decreases. So fewer adventurers need and can afford the magical armor, making it rarer than the cheaper but usually more valuable cloak.

And of course, the opportunity cost of attunement may also be an issue. But it's not necessarily the only issue.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ This makes very little sense. For instance, you compare switching from non-magical to magical armor with getting a second cloak of protection, but shouldn't you compare it to switching from non-magical to magical cloak? "you can still only use one cloak" but you can use two armors? huh? \$\endgroup\$ – Benubird Oct 8 '18 at 11:58
1
\$\begingroup\$

You have overlooked part of the benefit of the armor. The armor provides more than +1. If a non-magic version of the armor raises your AC from 10 to 12, then the +1 version is raising your AC by a total of +3 (relative to unarmored AC 10), not by +1.

So comparing the items in a vacuum, not considering the characters receiving them, the armor is better. However, in all practical use cases, the cloak is likely to be better for the player for various reasons. The easiest justification for the previous sentence is that by the time a player could get either the cloak or the armor, the player likely already has optimal non-magic armor.

But the original justification above still works in-character, in a role playing sense. Ignore the numbers and the book mechanics for a moment, and just think about an average person in context comparing the two items: a suit of armor and a cloak, both being magical and having similar magical properties.

In character:

PC: Hi, I'd like to buy that +1 chain mail on the mannequin in your front window.

NPC: That'll be $3000.

PC: But the guy down the road is selling a cloak that will raise my AC to the same amount for one-sixth that price. I'll buy it, but only if you price match for the item I would get the same benefit from.

NPC: I got a dual degree in blacksmithing/magic-crafting, and I put my blood, sweat and tears into that masterwork piece of chain mail before giving it a +1! All that guy down the road did was bum a cloak off of someone and give it a +1 with his single-degree in magic-crafting because he was too busy drinking at frat parties!

PC: Sorry for your personal issues, but I already have a normal chain-mail, so buying your +1 chain mail is not going to benefit me more than the cloak.

NPC: Do I look like I care what you already have? What does that have to do with what I'm selling? If you already had a +1 chain mail, would you expect me to give you mine for free because it wouldn't benefit you at all? Get out of my store before I tell the village idiot we've hired a replacement for him!

PC goes down the road and buys the cloak for one-sixth the price

[Your AC has increased by 1]

Other NPC: Thank you, have a nice day, come again!


All that explains away a small part of the discrepancy, but it still falls short.

The cloak is lighter, is useful to a wider array of character types, is quieter, does not scream "tough guy in armor coming through", etc.. Note that some of those benefits are purely RP benefits, not combat ones.

Most of the reason is just because of mistakes on the game creators' part, as per the answer by @Tiggerous.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't believe there is any armor, excluding shields, with a natural plus two. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 8 '18 at 20:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I've been exposed to 4th/5th ed. but usually don't use them, so I just googled up a dnd 5th armor list. Unless the list I'm looking at is not correct for core game rules, it looks like better armor still provides more armor class benefit. Plate is +3 higher than half plate which in turn is +2 more than chain is +3 more than nothing. So a "magical +1 chain armor" is actually providing more benefit to your armor class than just "+1". The normal chain armor provides +3, the "magic +1 chain armor" provides +4. Is this incorrect? \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Oct 8 '18 at 21:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Any armor listed as "+1/2/3" is magical. There's no such thing as a non-magic +2 armor. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 9 '18 at 0:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's a bit more complicated than that because the AC for Light/Medium armor calculate based on your own dex plus a modifier while heavy armor is a set value (as well as issues like cost, weight, and stealth.) You can also wear a cloak/ring over armor and get the effects of both. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Oct 9 '18 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast You seem to be misreading what I have written, or perhaps reading it out of context. If I say "That +1 armor has a total benefit of +3", that does not mean "non-magical +3 armor". As the answer says, the +1 is not the only benefit that the magic armor provides. Its non-magical bonus does not simply disappear. Also, saying "no such thing as non-magic +2 armor" is very disingenuous. If you can find anything in the rules stating that non-magic armor does not provide a bonus to your AC, then please provide a citation. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Oct 9 '18 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.