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A common trend when discussing Weapons of Legacy is to compare their benefits to that of normal magical items, notice that they pretty much match up, and then conclude that because the Weapons of Legacy have extra penalties associated with them, they are clearly inferior to any comparable normal magical item. However, some of the benefits of some of the Weapons of Legacy are as good as unique (for there level, at least), so how is it so frequently and easily concluded that their extra penalties outweigh their unique benefits? What I've just linked does a fairly good job of assessing the value and rarity of said benefits, but despite the frequency with which I've seen the claim that the penalties for Weapons of Legacy always outweigh their benefits, I've never seen any such analysis of their penalties, which are rather varied. What property of these penalties is so severe that it allows the Weapons of Legacy to be disregarded without any further analysis, despite the variety in these penalties?

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Most legacies penalize one or more saving throws. Saving throws are some of the most important defenses in the game; the best cloak of resistance you can afford is all but mandatory for literally every adventurer.

Other options for penalties include

  • Attack—pretty crucial for most weapons
  • Caster/manifester level and spell slots/power points—absolutely mandatory for those affected, which includes everyone interested in those items
  • Skill points—maybe bearable but quite painful
  • Hit points—ya know, the thing that makes the difference between you being alive and dead?

Sadly, hp is often the least painful of these. That’s saying something—that’s saying a whole lot. The spell slots aren’t always so bad—since they aren’t cumulative—but caster/manifester level is awful. Attack may not matter to everyone, but it’s likely to for anyone who’d be interested in the weapons that have that cost. Realistically, the skill points are actually the least painful, but only because 3.5e’s skills are kind of meh to begin with—otherwise, everyone always has far too few skill points to get by, losing them should hurt, only they don’t because the skills themselves aren’t as useful as they should be. And in any event, not every legacy costs skill points.

And once again, we have to remember that the benefits of the printed legacy weapons are almost all garbage. Cunning, the capstone on Ur, and the high-level abilities of Faithful Avenger are seriously the only things I’d even bother to double-check against their penalties to see if maybe they’re worth it.

  • Cunning appears on Mau-Jehe, which penalizes all saving throws—hard pass

  • Cunning also appears on legacy ability menu D, which is available from legacy champion—which is mostly only worthwhile for hellfire warlock abuse—or if you found your own legacy. If you can found your own legacy, and create a really minor legacy weapon, so you can pick up cunning with as few personal costs as possible—ideally costs that are irrelevant to you, such as an attack penalty for a spellcaster or a caster level penalty for a warrior—then fine, I guess.

  • Ur costs 20 hp—equivalent to 2 Constitution, which is a big deal. That’s really rough, and it’s only even worth asking if it might be worthwhile at 20th. But there’s no saving throw penalty, and in fact the other penalties aren’t too harsh, so it’s maybe worthwhile. Ironically, if we’re going this route, legacy champion becomes more plausible—because getting more daily uses of savage transformation is valuable, because we clearly have some shenanigans planned for it. And then we can get cunning too. But that’s only at 20th, which is a level very few campaigns ever reach (and, to be honest, probably none should: the game breaks down well before that even if everyone’s trying really hard to hold it together). And only if you have some abusive combo that requires savage transformation.

  • Faithful Avenger costs 10 from your Fortitude saving throw. Stop, do not pass go, do not collect $200—that is a non-starter.

Seriously, Weapons of Legacy is terrible. Every single facet of it, from beginning to end. There is no redeeming quality to the book.1 Just forget it exists; you’ll save yourself time and wind up in the same place.

  1. Monster of legacy is a kind of convenient template for a DM to generically boost a monster. It’s not the only way to do that, but it’s the closest thing Weapons of Legacy has to content that’s actually worth using.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you've missed a penalty. Have a look at the Bones of Li-Peng. There's a Skill Check Penalty and a Skill Point Loss. Speaking of, as bad as a -2 attack penalty is for a monk, the personal costs on that item really don't look all that bad. Does this answer still apply when the costs are small? Is there some sort of trend like "some of the items have low costs, but they tend to have equally small benefits"? \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Dec 26 '20 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @J.Mini You would presume that they intended for such a trend to exist, because that would be in keeping with the themes of the book and (if any of this nonsense actually worked) would be necessary for balance, though there are necessarily outliers where benefits were paired with below-the-curve penalties, or (equivalently) vice versa. However, since nearly every benefit written for legacy abilities is either “garbage” or “easily obtained from a regular item,” it basically does not matter how light the penalties are for most of them—because the benefits aren’t really worth anything at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Dec 26 '20 at 15:34

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