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In the DMG there are items like the Tome of Leadership and Influence that gives a permanent +2 to charisma and charisma maximum (and other similar Tomes and Manuals for other abilities), but they all have a rarity of very rare, so it's not really appropriate loot for lower level parties.

I was thinking of giving my low level players a homebrew item that gave a permanent +1 to an ability (I'd roll for which one before giving out the item), up to a maximum of 13, and it wouldn't increase the ability maximum. The idea being that players could use it to increase abilities they might need to multiclass or improve a dump stat. Afterwards, like the Tomes and Manuals, I was thinking that this homebrew item loses its magic and goes dormant for a century. So it's basically a one-shot for one character.

What's a reasonable rarity for an item like this, so I can balance my loot tables? Either uncommon or rare seems reasonable, but I'm having trouble deciding between the two. I'm leaning towards uncommon, given the hard limit of how high it can increase the ability. Without the hard limit I'd guess rare.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there a specific problem you're trying to solve with this item (as in a player asked for it), a homebrew item that fits into the theme of your narrative, or is this just making a homebrew item for the sake of making a homebrew item? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Oct 28, 2022 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Specifically trying to enable someone to multiclass if they're willing to use an ASI to improve the stat to 12 first. Basically instead of just giving them the multiclass at 12 I was going to let them do a small solo sidequest to get access to such an item so their stat is 13. But also I'm trying to flex my homebrew muscles and theorycraft how such an item would fit in the game if I gave it out as random loot, potentially. It'd be unlikely to ever find more than one in a campaign, just because there are so many other magic items to potentially get. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay Lemmon
    Oct 28, 2022 at 20:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JayLemmon i'm not sure if giving this item a rarity, or even limits etc, would help you in any way? Like, just be sure to give other players similar favours if they ask? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Oct 28, 2022 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a rarity budget of how much loot I want to hand out based on character level. My concern is I don't want to oversaturate players with too many magic items or too powerful magic items for their level. Even if something isn't an item (eg: a faction reward, or just a mountain of gold) I've been trying to equate it to one to fit within the budget. If I'm giving out a reward for a quest that isn't an item I'm still reducing the items they'll find later to compensate. I don't know if this accountancy is a good way to DM but that's probably a different question :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay Lemmon
    Oct 28, 2022 at 23:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ My concern is if they have an ability score of 10 or less, and use the ASI to get to 12 then they didn't have multiclassing in mind with this character. If they have 11, why didn't they spend both ASI points to get 13 on their own? Have you talked to the player(s) about this ability to multiclassing? It sounds like this is a magic item to give an option that no one would take except to "game" the system. Unless there a narrative reason why someone wants/needs to change classes? Like a Warlock loses their patron, or a Cleric forsakes their deity. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Oct 28, 2022 at 23:44

4 Answers 4

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This item does not fit into the loot paradigm of D&D 5e particularly well.

5e magic items outside of cheap consumables like healing potions are generally things that break the bounded accuracy of the game by providing a +1 (up to the limit of 3 attuned items) or more bonus to [something], or they provide an asymmetric benefit of some kind of which is very meaningful within the niche that it sits in (like a Broom of Flying). The odd stuff printed in addition to this can often not be very meaningful for an adventuring party or in a few cases wildly overpowered.

This item instead provides a small bonus which is nice but not great. For the average Rogue, going from 10 str to 11 str isn't a big deal. If they have an odd score below 13 to use it on, they get a +1 on.. things they aren't specialized in. 5e very much rewards specialization especially in terms of ability scores - PCs with low Con are basically nonexistent, as an example. And the one time I took low con, i've been knocked unconscious by passing breezes and basically sat out several combats. However 5e also lets people get by with using mostly their high scores very easily - a guy with a 3 in strength can go multiple sessions without needing to roll it, and that's with a DM actively asking for athletics rolls, and that's if the guy has no-one willing to carry his weak ass and no ability to teleport.

So to reiterate - this doesn't push bounded accuracy (increasing a low stat does not do that), doesn't provide an asymmetric benefit, and yet you wouldn't want it to be as common as healing potions (everyone getting every stat lower than 13 to 13 removes character design choices and is very samey). It's too weak for higher grades of magic item, and it's not a great choice to be common as muck.

Ergo, treat it like an adventure-specific magic item. There's one. Maybe 2. Total. If they show up in loot, they're a Common item, they can show up at any level and they don't count as or replace a Broom of Flying. But you don't get them twice. Or at least, not three times. It comes up, it's neat, and then it's gone is the place it best sits at in the game, like in the temple of the ice queen there's an ice rune that lets you shoot ice from your nostrils or whatever. It's not really factored into the expected magic items of the game, and that's fine, you just now have a PC that can shoot ice from their nostrils (or have a 12 dex instead of 11, w/e).

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Challenge to the premise of the question: stop using rarity to balance loot tables and homebrew items

Firstly rarity is terrible as a balance mechanic and broken in a variety of ways.

Secondly if you are creating an item of your own you are probably doing so because you want to see it used, and because you have a good idea on how it will work.

Balance your item around how much power you think it will provide to the player you expect to use it, give it at a planned and appropriate time and let the players know it is homebrew and subject to playtest (which means if you screw up, you reserve the right to fix it).

Your specific item:

If I have 12 in a stat and boost to 13 I have gained a small increase in carry capacity (which often matters very little) and the possibility to multiclass*. But if I was going to multiclass I would have planned that in advance and your item would not just undo that planning, but in my case could annoy me that I now have to replan, or that my original planning is wasted or that I had to spend a few levels worse than I had to be.

If I have 11 in a stat and boost to 12 that is +1 to the stat which mechanically is the same as the tomes, and I could cry from the amount of tomes I see wasted shoring up a dump stat because the barbarian "is already strong".

We can possibly create a rarity for you, but it would be meaningless, so I am not going to.

*If this is your solution to help someone multiclass then either just give them it without counting as loot, or just let them multiclass anyway. The whole "you need a 13" just serves no real purpose other than to stop blatant abuse, but if your player was doing that you would have other issues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Technically going from 12 to 13 strength is like 15 more pounds carried or something. It isn't nothing, but it's kinda nothing. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2022 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I play without encumbrance so often I forgot that, good call. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 28, 2022 at 12:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ It also determines how much you can lift/push/drag, and I think how high/far you can jump. But going from 12 to 13 means you go from being bad at those things to...being bad at those things. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2022 at 12:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov - Bad at those things? If 10 or 11 is the average ability score for a human, then someone with a score of 12 or 13 is slightly above average. A "heroic" player character might not be as nigh-supernaturally good at the things that use that ability as they are at their specialities, but they are not bad at them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Oct 28, 2022 at 17:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Obie2.0 in DND most characters either have a high stat and proficiency (or expertise) or avoid doing things entirely in my experience. Bad in DND terms usually means likely to fail something difficult rather than bad compared to a commoner. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Oct 28, 2022 at 18:55
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This is not a very useful item

As others have noted, anyone who wants to multiclass will already have the stats they need to do that. So this is just an item that improves a dump stat by one.

Most characters will have all (or nearly all) their stats be even, so a +1 will be useless to most characters anyway. Consider making it a +2. It still won't be very good but at least it won't be worthless.

Uncommon rarity is fine

The magic item rarity levels are very wide bands, and not really a useful guide -- you shouldn't rely solely on those for balance.

However we can say this is more useful than nearly any common item (common items are mostly junk), and substantially less useful than a +1 weapon or other frequently-seen uncommons. So it clearly belongs in the uncommon tier.

Choice to not require attunement could potentially cause problems

Part of the design of D&D 5e is that most things should require attunement. As Groody noted, this item breaks that rule. A result is that this item is one of very few cases of items that stack with themselves in large quantities.

The item is very weak, so it's unlikely to cause serious balance issues. But it's something you should think about. If nothing else, you should think about the effect this will have on the magic item economy, if your world has that.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I usually don't post answers when the question has this many answers already! But I noticed that none of the existing answers had actually answered the question (the answer is "uncommon rarity is fine"), so I thought it was worth typing up an answer that did that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Oct 28, 2022 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll give you an upvote at least :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Jay Lemmon
    Oct 28, 2022 at 20:46
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Who is this item for?

I'm not really going to answer the question of what rarity this item should be, because I think there's a deeper problem here -- the item itself doesn't make sense at any rarity level.

Is this item intended for a specific player in your group who wants to multiclass, but didn't get the stats up front to do it? It's a very rare situation that you seem to be trying to address here. Most of the time, if a player wants to multiclass, they will know that from 1st level and arrange their ability scores to allow for it, or have planned to put an Ability Score Increase in the right place at 4th level to allow for it.

For a player who isn't trying to get to some prereq they couldn't manage up front, adding to an ability score with a low maximum means you'll pretty much only ever be affecting a dump stat. If a player has a 12 or lower in an ability score, it's because that score isn't particularly important to them. Could this increase help with a bad save bonus or elevate a skill they took but aren't all that good at? Yeah, possibly, but it's going to suck most of the excitement out of the thing. When you hear "permanent ability score increase", that's exciting -- but then you look at the limitations and think about them, and it's a let-down. "Oh, good, I can be marginally better at something I'm bad at. Wheeeee."

Even if the item were good enough to be interesting to more than a very rare player character, in general, you should avoid items that provide a +1 bonus to an ability score. There's a reason every item in the books is either setting your score a specific number ("your Strength score becomes 19 if it is normally lower") or adding an even number to the score. Odd ability increases have a weird, lopsided effect; whether the effect is good or not depends on the character's specific scores in a way that you see almost nowhere else in the game. Worse, whether the item is good or not has no reflection in the game world -- why does this item make this guy significantly more dangerous in melee combat, but doesn't do anything for that guy? There's no answer. It's just how the system mechanics shake out. A +2 will have essentially the same amount of benefit for people who had an odd score to start with, and will make the item interesting for even-scored people as well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, a +2 increase to a cap of 13 or 12 could still make sense. (12 if you still want the player to have to invest half an ASI, or a half-feat, into the stat as well, instead of questing or shopping around for as many of these as necessary, especially if as suggested in other answers they're merely "uncommon".) \$\endgroup\$ Oct 31, 2022 at 5:48

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