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Related: Why is this uncommon magic item better than this rare magic item?

The related question and associated answers indicates that the opportunity costs of attunement can be significant driving factor for the purpose of determining a magic item's rarity. Presumably, if you don't have to attune to an item, then you can benefit from it with minimal opportunity cost.

This logic seems to break down when evaluating the Ring of Warmth and the Ring of Resistance (cold):

Ring of Warmth

Ring, uncommon (requires attunement)

While wearing this ring, you have resistance to cold damage. In addition, you and everything you wear and carry are unharmed by temperatures as low as −50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ring of Resistance

Ring, rare (requires attunement)

You have resistance to one damage type while wearing this ring. The gem in the ring indicates the type, which the GM chooses or determines randomly.

Both rings require attunement. However, the uncommon Ring of Warmth appears to confer all the bonuses of the rare Ring of Resistance and bonuses beyond as well.

Are there any reasons why the Ring of Warmth would be rated as uncommon, while a Ring of Cold Resistance (or any other kind of resistance) would be rare? A good answer would consider the following, with priority for elements higher on the list.

  1. Specific designer commentary;
  2. Lore based reasons;
  3. Balance implications should Ring of Resistance be knocked down from Rare to Uncommon. To clarify the intent here, I'm curious if there are mechanical elements which would be impacted by such a change, for example can Artificers make Uncommon items? Or do some adventure modules recommend X number of Uncommon magic items as loot? Is having resistance to something like psychic or force damage dramatically more beneficial than fire? Or another angle that I've not considered.
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    \$\begingroup\$ The DMG environmental hazards section pretty much says they both do the same thing, i.e. having resistance makes you immune to the environmental cold. Never quite understood the difference or requirement for RoW. \$\endgroup\$
    – Slagmoth
    Oct 9, 2018 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical I'd still like to know what you think your 3rd bullet could mean, "Balance implications should Ring of Resistance be knocked down from Rare to Uncommon." Particularly, rarity isn't really a mechanic, it's just a classification system. It's just a label, and so asking about the balance implications of changing that label seems to have the same problem as asking "What are the balance implications of changing its name to ring of hot?" Nothing, since we aren't affecting any mechanics. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2023 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re:OSage’s comment, if your DM makes magic items readily available for purchase using the rough price guidelines in the DMG, then there may be something to talk about there balance wise, but we’d need to know to what extent your DM makes items available and how they typically price them. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2023 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StarHawk Please do not answer in comments. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2023 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Two out of three current answers are unsupported. If you don't have a supported answer, please don't answer - this is why we had to close these questions before. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 5, 2023 at 13:49

3 Answers 3

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Rarity is about how common items are, and only roughly about power

The DMG introduction to magic items states (p. 135):

Each magic item has a rarity: common, uncommon, rare, very rare, or legendary. Common magic items, such as a potion of healing, are the most plentiful. Some legendary items, such as the apparatus of Kwalish, are unique.

By this, and by the naming, it is clear that the primary function of item rarity is to determine how common an item is in the game world. You don't need external designer commentary to understand this. It is right there in the rules. The system is called "item rarity" and not "item power", and its ranks are "common, uncommon, rare, very rare" not "lesser, minor, major, epic". The designers could have just as well ordered items by power, and then commented that the weaker ones are typically more common, but they did not.

Adventure modules do not recommend how common items are, but the core rules do: this is what the magic item tables for randomly selected items in the Treasure section are for (p. 137ff DMG). They mechanically lead to uncommon items being found more often and earlier than rare ones, independent of their power.

From the game world logic, a ring that protects you from cold environments would be much more useful and should be more common than a ring that protects you from, say, Force effects, because cold environments are common, but Force effects are exceedingly rare.

Your question tacitly assumes that a item that is more rare also must be more powerful. This is just not the generally the case1. The rules discuss the power aspect of rarity, and make it clear that there is only a rough correlation between power and rarity:

Rarity provides a rough measure of an item's power relative to other magic items.

You look at just cold resistance here, but there is no entry for "Ring of Cold Resistance" in the rules. There only is one for "Ring of Resistance". Because of game world logic, many kinds of resistance would be very unusual, for example resistance to Thunder, Radiant, Psychic or Force damage, and you would not want them to appear frequently. The design decision to put all energy types under the same "Ring of Resistance" effectively forces the designers to put it at a higher rarity. Not for power reasons but for how rare many of them would be in the game world.

From a power level perspective a ring that provides resistance and requries attunement is probably correctly placed at uncommon. Attunement is a considerable downside, as it will have to compete with all other such items for your only three slots. Based on the types of damage monsters and spells deal, fire is probably the most useful, although poison and cold also could be of value.

From adventure modules, the ring of warmth shows up quite a bit: in Curse of Strahd, Storm Lord's Wrath, Journeys through the Radiant Citadel, Lost Laboratory of Kwalish, Icewind Dale, Dragon Heist, at least 6 times.

Rings of Resistance however match that: Rise of Tiamat [poison], Storm King's Thunder [cold] and [fire], Tales of the Yawning Portal x2 [fire], Shadow of the Dragon Queen [fire], Candlekeep Mysteries [acid], Dragon Heist [force]: at least 8 times. You also can see that the more useful ones -- fire, poison, and cold -- show up three times as often as the exotic ones, fire alone makes half of the showings. Based on this, a Ring of Fire Resistance would be about as uncommon as a Ring of Warmth, but a Ring of Radiant Resistance would be very rare -- but because all energy types share the same entry in the rules, there is no way to express that in item rarity.

Based on the publication record, neither type of ring is more common -- but beyond what you could earn from selling an item, rarity really has little meaning for items that are placed in an adventure explicitly. Rarity is meaningful primarily if you roll which items show up randomly.


1 And there are clearly many cases where uncommon items can be far more powerful than rare ones, the best known example is the broom of flying vs something like a potion of flying. Or cases where the same funtionality is at different levels of rarity, such as a cloak of protection at uncommon and a ring of protection at rare, even though both confer the same benefit. (As @Yakk observes, different items stack, and this setup lowers the chances of multiple such items being found snd stacking).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ring of Protection and Cloak of Protection do not confer exactly the same benefit. If that was the case, wearing 2 Rings of Protection would grant +2 AC (and saves); but it does not. Wearing 1 of each does grant +2 AC (and saves). One of them being more common than the other has significant balance impact (ie, if they where both of lower commonness, you could stack them easier). \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Nov 27, 2023 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's also the section from the DMG about wearing multiple items of the same kind: "Use common sense to determine whether more than one of a given kind of magic item can be worn. A character can't normally wear more than one pair of footwear, one pair of gloves or gauntlets, one pair of bracers, one suit of armor, one item of headwear, and one cloak." When you wear the cloak, it competes against any other cloak you might want to wear, while you could wear the ring with at least 9 other rings, even if you could only have one per finger. (Though a DM could allow layering of multiple cloaks) \$\endgroup\$
    – smbailey
    Nov 27, 2023 at 18:04
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There likely isn't a logical reason.

A ring of cold resistance being Rare, and a ring of cold resistance++ being Uncommon likely has no intentional reason for the disparity.

The reason likely stems from an initial perception or actuality of the ring of warmth being similar to the effect of Endure Elements in 3.5e, or the literally dozens of magic items that served a similar purpose - resisting environmental effects such as icy winds, but having no combat utility outside of very odd circumstances (a spell that calls on the environmental effects rules, or a DM ruling about how Sleet Storm works that gives you a favourable outcome).

In most editions of D&D that I have been aware of, enduring environmental effects has been treated as a very trivial ability, available as a long duration spell very early, as cheap magic items, as racial abilities that are not even the major granted ability. Meanwhile energy resistance, the ability to reduce damage from spells or breath weapons, has always been difficult to get, costly, and in many cases simply not worth it.

In this case the Ring of Resistance follows that trend - it's rare, and takes up an attunement slot for Resistance to a single element, making it a sometimes food for that slot if you have other options, especially if you don't know you'll run into damage of that element anytime soon.

The Ring of Warmth doesn't, as while it does take up a slot, as an Uncommon item you're more likely to run into it when slot priority isn't a big deal. So it doesn't follow that 'energy resisting item = overvalued' design philosophy that's been around for like 30 years.

Ergo, I find it very likely that one of the following occurred

  • the ring was set at uncommon rarity before the resistance to cold damage was added, and the rarity was not updated
  • the ring of warmth was written before the ring of resistance and the usual 'but what if the party fights 800 red dragons in a row' thinking set in

It likely slipped people's thoughts and any editing process because it has a cute name. You don't want to scrutinize a 'ring of warmth' too closely as it sounds wholesome, and the -50 degrees Fahrenheit is the part of the text that the eye is drawn to, as it has a symbol, a number, and a capital letter.

Having done a bunch of design work with a variety of people, by far 'grandfathering' of design choices and order of events (we valued X highly at the beginning of the design process, but valued Y higher at the end) are the biggest reasons for these kind of disparities. Given the variables in play, it is absolutely what I would expect to have happened, and I very much doubt it was an intentional choice or related or lore or whatever else.

Which isn't to say it isn't fine. Ring of Warmth is actually far closer to the value of resistance to Cold damage than the Ring of Resistance is. The only ring of resistance that is truly worth an attunement slot at the level rare items begin to show up is probably the ring of fire resistance. Unless you're going to raid the Yellow Tower of the Mage Acidophilus, master of all things that melt, being resistant to acid or whathaveyou is just not that exciting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the Acidophilius bit and the grandfathering section. I did check the 1e DMG (ring of warmth dates back to then), and there it has the exact same gp/XP value as a ring of resistance, so there also is no historical tradition being observed here. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2023 at 11:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ "likely isn't" isn't a supported answer. We closed these questions before due to upvoted best-guesses rather than supported answers, and yet here we are again. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 5, 2023 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify, are you attempting to address criteria 2 or 3 with this answer? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2023 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArchisonstrike While the answer admittedly involves some speculation, it does provide logical support for why the speculation is likely true or at least reasonable. Also, my characters will definitely be facing Acidphilus soon now. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 30, 2023 at 16:59
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My previous answer was perhaps correctly down voted. I wanted to reform the entire answer.

I believe the correct answer is as stated after and before my response, found in DMG 135.

Rarity

…The game assumes that the secrets of creating the most powerful items arose centuries ago and were then gradually lost as a result of wars, cataclysms, and mishaps. Even uncommon items can't be easily created. …

Rarity provides a rough measure of an item's power relative to other magic items. …

…As the DM, you determine the value of an individual magic item based on its rarity. …

By Design, Rarity is not a measure of Power

Rarity provides a rough measure of an item's power relative to other magic items. … DMG 135 Rarity

Rarity is the evidence of supply and demand. It is obvious that cold is among the most useful elements to resist, that demand would have more of these rings created over time.

Ring of Warmth, sounds like a salesman’s name for the ring you sell to someone in Icewind Dale.

A place where Tourmaline is mined, and the primary gem used to create the Ring of Resistance: Cold.

…The game assumes that the secrets of creating the most powerful items arose centuries ago and were then gradually lost as a result of wars, cataclysms, and mishaps. Even uncommon items can't be easily created. … DNG 135 Rarity

The designer intent tells us supply and demand make this ring more common in a place where the secrets of creating something are less likely to be lost as they are more often needed, less time would go between needing to create the items. The material components are available via the lore of Icewind Dale.

Adventurers are rarer and perhaps less inclined to search for a Ring of Warmth, but for a ring to resist the cold of a dragon’s breath… some salesperson, used the demand of the adventurer to get extra coin. Ring of Resistance Cold is ‘rarer’ precisely because so many of these rings are called Ring of Warmth, while the ones sold to the wealthy adventurer are taking advantage of the prolific coin adventurers tend to have.

…As the DM, you determine the value of an individual magic item based on its rarity. … DNG 135 Rarity

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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote but I think the ones you attracted may be for claiming it is intended You are likely right rarity is also based on how "unsual" an item would be, not just power -- but it would be good to have a source to back it up. Presuming a magic item market as a justification may also contribute, the game is very clear about, is not a default - you often cannot buy, and only with effort can sell magic items. I agree that the idea likely was that an item protecting from cold envrions would be more common, as laid out in the lore section. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2023 at 11:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure my response is really needed, but I think it is an oversight to ignore supply and demand an its affect on rarity. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 6, 2023 at 21:43

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