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I had an idea about a magic instrument which you can play as an action and permanently sacrifice one hit die (reducing maximum hit points) for a big effect.

As of now, my idea is that you can choose a number of people (equal to proficiency bonus or charisma modifier) which are affected as you start to play, and they get advantage/disadvantage of your choosing. You can maintain this effect if you use your action in the following turns. For each turn you play can affect 1 more creature. For each further minute you play the instrument you need to sacrifice 1 hit die more.

If a creature was subjected to this effect in the past you can use your action to cast Bane or Bless without components and concentration.

I'm not sure if that is balanced, too powerful or too weak. The most answers I got elsewhere were like "I don't use thing where I need to permanently sacrifice my HP"

edit:

  • Disadvantage/advantage for attacks, save and maybe skill checks.
  • you can cast Bane/ bless with this instrument for 1 action and no concentration.(other Casting restrictions are still in effect like range or saves)
  • the hit point maximum would decrease (only the rolled HP, not Con Modifier)
  • the loss of your Hit Dice is permanent and can't be healed through spells like greater restoration. maybe a Adventure for that.

It doesn´t matter, that others don´t use it. I will use it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Couple questions, the effect gives advantage/disadvantage on what rolls exactly? All d20 rolls? or something else? Also, do you mean to say that if I have affected an ally with the item before, I can always and forever cast bless on them without needing components or concentration? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2021 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ It would be better if you wrote this up like a proper magic item, as it stands it is pretty vague, but balancing short term power for long term resources is always going to be tricky (that said my bard would sacrifice hit dice for a sandwich, because I hardly ever use them) \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 5, 2021 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Whey you say that you are sacrificing a "hit die," do you mean your hit point maximum would become lower as though you were one level lower than you are (and if so, would you also lose the constitution modifier for for that level)? Or would you keep the same hit point maximum, but lose one of the dice that lets you heal some HP at the end of a short rest? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2021 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you clarify how this works: "If a creature was subjected to this effect in the past you can use your action to cast Bane or Bless without components and concentration."? Does that mean that if I ever subject any creature to this ability I can cast Bane or Bless on anyone I wish without any limit forever just by using an action? \$\endgroup\$
    – SilentAxe
    Nov 5, 2021 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can give permanent advantage on everything to 5 + 9 or so other creatures (5 initially, then 9 more over 9 more turns in a minute), by sacrificing 1 hit die? You'd use this once ever, for the party. But that's an extremely strong permanent buff. Or do you mean that the advantage fades after the minute? That's an insanely weak buff vs. the cost. Please specify which, because given the cost, I was assuming the benefit also lasts forever. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 8, 2021 at 10:19

4 Answers 4

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"Too weak" in the sense that the cost is too great. No one would ever use this in traditional campaigns.

Permanent loss of hit dice and permanent reduction in hit points is far too great a cost. If you are playing a one-shot character, then maybe it does not matter, but for a traditional campaign, having a permanent cost of hit dice means each time you use the item, you will pay for it for the rest of the campaign. It's just not worth it.

Compare to the Aberrant Dragonmark optional feature: a hit die is worth a permanent Epic Boon.

The Aberrant Dragonmark feat has an optional feature that involves the permanent loss of a hit die:

At the DM’s option, a character who has the Aberrant Dragonmark feat has a chance of manifesting greater power. Upon reaching 10th level, such a character has a 10 percent chance of gaining an epic boon from among the options in chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. If the character fails to gain a boon, they have a 10 percent chance the next time they gain a level.

If the character gains a boon, the DM chooses it or determines it randomly. The character also permanently loses one of their Hit Dice, and their hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to a roll of that die plus their Constitution modifier (minimum reduction of 1). This reduction can’t be reversed by any means.

This feature has the same cost as one use of your magic item, but grants a permanent epic boon, most of which are extremely powerful:

Boon of Magic Resistance. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Boon of Irresistible Offense. You can bypass the damage resistances of any creature.

Boon of Skill Proficiency. You gain proficiency in all skills.

Boon of High Magic. You gain one 9th-level spell slot, provided that you already have one.

And there are many more. These are some examples of the value the rules place on the permanent loss of a single hit die.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @SilentAxe Being able to forevermore cast Bane on a target is very nearly worthless -- how often do you actually face the same creature a second or third time? Recurring villains aren't that common in D&D. Being able to bless your allies for free forever is possibly too good -- compare to the epic boon of fate, where once per short rest you can add or subtract 1d10 from a single check, attack, or save made near you. Concentration is a major balancing factor of bless. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 5, 2021 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I agree with your citation of the Aberrant Dragonmark. The epic boons you describe look way way better than a hit die to me. I have trouble believing that the game thinks this is a balanced trade. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Nov 5, 2021 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with Dan. Just because there is a cost associated, doesn't mean that the cost equals the benefit - taking a winning lottery ticket to the store is a chore, but no one would argue that it's a chore that's "worth" a million dollars. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sirv
    Nov 5, 2021 at 23:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dan, Sirv, and I are pointing out that the upsides and downsides of a game effect do not need to be of equal value. The Aberrant Dragonmark effect you cite is intended to be a net positive, something players want to happen, not a neutral outcome. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2021 at 0:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understood the question to mean is it a balanced item, as in an item a PC would want without breaking the game, not whether its a positive or negative. It is expected a magic item is net positive, otherwise what's the point (unless the intention is a cursed item). In this context the comparison to Aberrant Dragonmark is valid. That's the type of thing that is published with that drawback, so that's probably the pwoer level you are looking at to make it something the PC would want but not be too game breaking \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2021 at 15:56
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Players don't like to pay permanent costs for temporary effects.

It doesn't matter if the effect is balanced or not, because players aren't going to use it. Players don't like making permanent sacrifices for temporary gains. They overestimate the value of permanent effects, and underestimate temporary ones. That means that it's nigh impossible to make an effect like this that is both balanced and feels balanced. Either it's too powerful to give to players, or they think it's too weak to use, or both.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Had this conversation with my table last night about Abberant Dragonmark and sacrificing a hit die for an epic boon. We unanimously agreed on “hell yeah I’d sacrifice a hit die for an epic boon”. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2021 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Permanent cost for permanent effects is something people pay all the time, like gold for items. As is temporary cost for temporary effects like spell slots for spell effect. That said, the item as currently described has a vaguely defined temporary(?) effect and a permanent one, so it's probably broken at any table. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 6, 2021 at 17:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not directly related, but this is also why so many players (of both tabletop and cRPGs) end up hording consumable items. Using it uses it up permanently, for the one-time benefit which is then gone. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bobson
    Nov 8, 2021 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't agree that's overestimating. Some of my campaigns lasted more than a year, cost of being more fragile would add up over that time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Nov 8, 2021 at 21:38
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Permanent loss of a hit dice is a significant penalty. The only time a typical player is going to use such an item is when they believe the party will be defeated if they don't. It is not guaranteed that this will ever happen during a campaign - even if the party are losing, they may not realise how bad things are until the point where the item will no longer be able to save them (for example, if the item owner is already unconscious).

So the item might never be used. Or it might, say, be used a couple of times, to trivialise boss battles that would otherwise have been challenging, or to survive a battle that is clearly beyond their normal capabilities (probably thrown at them by the GM purely to force them to use the magic item).

If that's not the intention, you might consider making it an item that costs a single permanent hit point, in exchange for somewhat reduced bonuses.

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This is, as several people have mentioned, actually way too expensive to use and would be relegated to the bottom drawer of the players arsenal.

Consider a typical campaign. How often are you fighting?

I'll assume a single campaign requires at least 20 fights, some of which will be quite easy. Those characters may level a couple of times from this. Because we gain a hitdie for each level, for a single combat with bonuses from the item, you'll start every subsequent combat with hitpoints as if you were a level lower. This also means that you could potentially go into combat as a level 1 (1 hit die) after having used it a couple of times. This also means that if you want to use it as a general tool, you will eventually die; you'll be unlikely to level up as fast as you're losing hitpoints.

Also the players, who, given a challenge need to complete it together, will get tired of defending the bard every battle because they're so squishy.

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