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Should all PCs should get the same number of magic items regardless of class?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about imbalance between martial classes and caster classes. I’ve heard that magic items are one of the main ways for martials to keep up with casters. Would giving them more or better magic items help maintain that balance?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. What you "should" do as DM may be a bit too subjective for us to answer, normally. "Would caster players be okay with that?" and "How does everyone else handle it" are certainly too subjective for Stack Exchange's Q&A format, as you're basically polling people, meaning that every answer is equally valid and there's no way to choose a single "best" answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...However, it seems like what you're really asking is whether it's balanced for all classes to get the same number of magic items; alternately, you may be asking whether it solves a particular problem (i.e. an existing imbalance between martial and spellcasting classes) and/or causes problems. You may want to edit your question to focus on one of these issues in particular. (Answerers can then answer your question, and support that answer by citing experience or other evidence.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 22:21

2 Answers 2

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5e doesn't particularly have this problem

I think your premise is wrong. I don't think the divide between martials and casters in 5e is very big at the levels most people play at. I don't think it's significant in tier one ("Local Heroes") and tier two ("Heroes of the Realm"), which is where almost every game of 5e I've ever run or played has taken place.

If there's one single fight? Sure, casters can dump all their highest level slots and do a lot of work. But 5e is balanced for 6-8 medium-hard encounters per day, with two short rests during that time. This means that if each combat is 3-5 rounds, there are around 18-40 rounds every day between long rests. If you're a caster, that means most of the time you aren't going to be using levelled spells and instead relying on cantrips. You also have to remember that there are going to be perhaps as many non-combat opportunities to use resources too - for example using charm in a social situation.

In my experience this means casters get a few moments where they really shine, and the rest of the time martials will be still slogging away doing work. I know a lot of games run with one combat per session and a rest between sessions. This heavily skews balance away from martials.

I would suggest that if, in your game, you are finding casters overpowering, step 1 is to make sure you have the right number of encounters of sufficient difficulty and rests are as sparse as they should be.

So how about magic items?

IMO just give them out evenly. I think you'll find that, aside from +1 weapons, most magic items provide indirect bonuses. Items like efficient quiver, boots of elven kind, or immovable rod don't directly "buff" a character. Instead they provide extra interesting options or skill buffs. Unless you plan to give all martials +1 weapons and all casters utility items, I don't think it will make much of a difference (and even then, +1 hit/damage doesn't have that big an impact in the first place).

I have always run with roughly even spread of items, and never had an issue. If you have an issue, like I said before, I think there are core ways to address the issue right at the root cause.

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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, WoTC did a survey a few years ago, using DDB info and IIRC some AL info, to find out what levels PCs are and they found that most games don't get much past level 11 (and Mike Mearls had noted that from previous editions as well which is why the XP progression is what it is beyond level 9) so you can safely say that most campaigns don't bet past level 11 or 12 although some certainly do. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 14:23
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As stated in the attunement rules (DMG, page 138), a creature can only be attuned to three magical items at the same time, and only one copy of the same object at the time.

However, not all magic items require attunement; for example, the Gloves of Thievery, the Goggles of Night, and the Ring of Water Walking don't require attunement. There's no limits (in the rules) to the number of not-attuned magic items a PC might have, and it depends mainly on how you want to keep your game balanced.

In any case, the main purpose of the game is fun, so if your players agree to be some sort of Inspector Gadget look alike, I'd say roll with it and just throw in bigger, scarier, more dangerous monsters for your encounters. Even better, design adventures that heavily rely on their ability to use those pile of items in a very creative, innovative way and give them some extra focus on your story.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even without attunement, some items have a "slot" like cloak, necklace, armor, gloves, or ring (1/hand IIRC). So that's another minor limit on how many non-attunement items you can actually make use up. But yeah, non-attunement items are either limited by slot (like +1 armor or shield), or are not direct boosts to combat power. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 2:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes: The only such rule on wearing multiple items of the same kind (e.g. multiple rings, etc.) says: "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. You can make exceptions; a character might be able to wear a circlet under a helmet, for example, or to layer two cloaks." \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterCordes: Beyond that, though, there are no "item slots" in D&D 5e. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 18:23

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