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The greater version costs the same as a Crystal of Fire Assault (6000gp), but seems much weaker:

  • neither is multiplied on a critical
  • same (arguably weakest) damage type
  • if you hit a creature once, the Phoenix does 5 damage, Fire Assault 7
    • if you hit twice, it is 5 vs 10.5, gets even worse with more hits
  • delayed damage is inferior, even if the total is enough to kill it, the target takes a round in between

For least and lesser crystals the comparison is harder, but yields the same result.
Are there some hidden combos I am not aware of, or is the Phoenix simply worse?

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The only conceivable advantage of the greater crystal of phoenix ash threat is that since the continuous damage component is, on average, larger, if the target attempts to cast a spell or perform other activities requiring concentration, the Concentration check is large somewhat larger (at least, 50% of the time—though 16.67% of the time, the greater crystal of fire assault is better, and the rest of the time they’re even). But 5 damage results in a DC 12 Concentration check—something no one who cares about Concentration should be failing under any circumstances. A greater augment crystal needs a +3 weapon to attach to, so someone who has either crystal has a minimum of 24k gp spent on getting it—and this is not going to be anyone’s top priority. Buying it before 10th level is extremely unlikely—which means level-appropriate targets have a +13 to Concentration from ranks alone. They literally cannot fail the concentration check from either crystal. But this is, theoretically, the one thing the larger damage over time has over getting a portion of that damage upfront.

Basically, whoever wrote the crystal of phoenix ash threat didn’t understand the system very well, and was not actively comparing to even to the other options offered in the same section of the book, to say nothing of options beyond weapon augment crystals. It serves no purpose but as a trap for players. If it showed up in randomly-rolled loot, it’s easily worth selling for 3,000 gp at the first opportunity. Before then, if you have a +3 weapon—which you probably shouldn’t, ideally, but supposing you do—and no other weapon augment crystal, you would probably use it until you came across someone who was willing to take it off your hands.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I must've read the item's description 5 times looking for something that made the PAT better, and my only thought was that someone forgot to change the lesser and greater crystals' DOTs to 2 rounds and 3 rounds, respectively. Further, I thought that the phoenix ash threat augment crystal—with its weirdly evocative name—might've originally appeared elsewhere and was being updated (albeit poorly) by the MIC, but I couldn't find any other mention of the threat in other texts (but magazines remain unchecked). It really looks like it's just a weird, dumb magic item. [Shakes head. Tsks.] \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 4 at 16:57

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