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I'm pretty new to D&D as a whole and a new DM who's running Lost Mines of Phandelver for some friends who wanted to roll their own characters. As a result, some of the magic items detailed within the mines don't really seem exciting for my current party and I'm trying to make some replacements to make finding them a bit more fun.

One idea I had was to leave my party's monk a scroll from an old master monk that would grant some ability upon being read (in-world kind of shown as the teachings of that master on the first steps to enlightenment). This idea mostly came from the flavor of monks caring little for material wealth (and thus likely not being interested in a general +1 monk weapon, but rather being interested in beginning a journey of enlightenment. However, when trying to either find an item whose effect kind of worked for that (Referencing the Player's Manual and Lost Mines Book as a starting point), I found that items that just impart knowledge/training/improvements to class abilities seem exceedingly rare in D&D 5e. Are items like these avoided for balance reasons or more for the general flavor of "magic items"?

I'm hoping to create an item with similar power level to Hew/Lightbringer which are +1 uncommon weapons with conditional side effects against specific enemy types. However, I also want to make sure that I don't make something inherently broken in the format of D&D which will make planning any future encounters for this character significantly harder (or just make them far stronger than they should be). I'm fine with this item in question not necessary just resulting in a raw bonus to damage dealing potential and being focused on other traits instead (The skill being granted having some combat potential does feel consistent with the items it will be replacing, even if that bonus ends up being something such as a bonus to movement or empowering Ki usage in some way rather than the raw boost normal magical items have)

In summary, are items that just grant skills (whether these skills be proficiencies, or combat boosting effects) by being consumed/read generally seen as something to be avoided in D&D? If these types of items generally aren't aimed at being avoided, what are some reference items that could be pointed out to understand how to scale these items appropriately and roughly match the power level of various rarities of items? If items that permanently teach PCs new abilities are generally avoided, what are some good alternatives to model a system for a PC beginning a journey of learning/spiritual enlightenment in an item?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand the votes to close as a shopping question. 'Trying to find an item whose effect imparts knowledge/training' within official sources seems like a pretty bounded and un-opinionated request to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 26 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Shopping is meant as the querent directly "shopping" for games, supplements, etc. Not trying to identify a similar-to item in a specified set of rules. I don't understand any of these close votes, to be honest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Sep 26 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the other two comments. This question seems on topic to me, if a bit meandering. To me, the core question seems to be: is it unbalanced to grant a permanent skill proficiency, and if so, what is an alternative that is more conducive to game balance? Can anyone who voted to close suggest how the question might be edited to be more on topic? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson I voted for either opinion based or needs focus, I don’t remember which (though they’re the same thing here). To me, this question seems like several questions, some of which seem pretty opinion based. But if you could work on the question to focus more on the problem as you explain it, I could be convinced to vote to reopen. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 26 at 22:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think Ryan has captured my general goal here, though I admittedly meant "ability" more broadly (meaning to also include combat-focused bonuses such as just a permanent increase to running speed, giving extra ki points, etc. [though I'll admit I have no idea how balanced those ideas are], or just giving generic +1 to hit on unarmed) I'll admit, the question might have too much info on the specific scenario and give context that isn't that relevant though as my inexperience in domains tends to leave me over describing for the sake of not knowing what's the most important in the area. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hegna
    Sep 26 at 23:07
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Skill proficiencies are primarily the domain of character creation

Items that grant additional proficiencies are indeed rather few and far between. Any item that grants proficiency with a weapon, tool, language, or skill generally only does so while the items is equipped and/or attuned. For example, the Bracers of Archery grant proficiency with the longbow and shortbow, but only while they are attuned and worn. As far as I know there is no published item that allows a character to gain a proficiency permanently. The closest thing I can think of such such an item would be items such as the Manual of Quickness of Action. These items allow the user to gain a permanent increase to one of their 6 game statistics, but they are very rare.

The reason for this, I believe, is that skill and weapon proficiencies are primarily the product of character creation and advancement. That is, they are mainly granted by racial features, class features, and backgrounds, and they represent aspects of the character's origin story and personal development. Having magic items that grant permanent proficiencies entirely unrelated to the character takes away from this aspect of character creation, and might make it feel like you're taking away players' agency over their characters.

Similarly, you probably don't want to have an item that just grants additional class features (e.g. more ki points for a monk, additional fighting styles for a fighter, etc.). If you want to grant more class features, there's already an easy way to do that: level the characters up!

Consider making the scroll a part of regular character advancement/training

That being said, the above suggests an obvious way to make your scroll idea work: make it work with the normal character advancement paths instead of working separately from them. There are a few ways to implement this mechanically. The simplest is to have no mechanics at all: just state that the scroll will take time to decipher, and when the monk levels up, tell them that their new class features are partly the result of their efforts deciphering the meanings of the scroll. Of course, you've said that you want to give your character a mechanical benefit. If you are playing with XP, you could allow the monk to gain additional XP by reading and deciphering the scroll, although this might feel unfair to the other players unless you plan to provide all of them with similar benefits.

Another possibility is to allow the scroll to serve as an "instructor" to teach the monk a new skill using the rules for downtime training given in Xanathar's Guide to Everything (emphasis added):

Given enough free time and the services of an instructor, a character can learn a language or pick up proficiency with a tool.

Essentially, the scroll would substitute for the instructor, allowing the monk to skip having to find an instructor and start training as soon as they have the downtime available to do so. This way, the new skill learned becomes part of the monk's character advancement and story rather than a seemingly arbitrary boon handed down by the DM, even more so if you allow them a choice of which skill to learn. Of course, this will require you to buy XGtE and maybe also the DMG, since you've said you currently only have PHB and LMoP.

If you don't mind spending some real money for yet another source book, another potential benefit you could grant your monk player from the scroll would be learning some of the optional class features introduced in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. These would be presented as "lost teachings" that they learn from the scroll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the thoughts. I do like these quite a bit as an alternative, though am a bit curious how these stack up against my replacement targets of +1 magical weapons. If you have any thoughts on that, they'd be appreciated, but I've accepted the answer. I believe it covers the core problem well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Hegna
    Sep 27 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd recommend holding off on accepting an answer for at least 24 hours after asking. Someone else in another time zone might have an even better answer than I do. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 27 at 5:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. I would add that I managed to find at least one magic item that can grant permanent proficiency: the Deck of Many Things (DMG, p. 162). Specifically, the Throne card (DMG. p. 164) which states "You gain proficiency in the Persuasion skill and you double your proficiency bonus on checks made with that skill." It might help your answer if you mentioned it, especially as it is a Legendary magic item, indicating how rare such a thing would be. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29 at 14:52

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