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This question is a follow up for my question Can a player use two characters in a campaign? Instead of adding another PC to the party to make up for how squishy the group is (the group being a wizard, druid, and bard) I thought of having the group find a magic item that allows them to summon some kind of creature or person to assist the party.

I was hoping I could find a balanced magic item for a party of level 4 spellcasters that allows them to summon some kind of being that attacks or at the most has a way to shield a bit of damage. I couldn't find a single balanced item for their level that didn't summon something overpowered.

Is there a magic item that would allow one of the party to summon something to assist them in battle?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Argo, I think you're asking an X-Y issue here. You're identifying a problem and then asking about potential solutions. Instead, I'd very much recommend asking about your specific problem and see what solutions we've got. THe answers to the instigating question cover a lot of this, and I'm not sure you need another question if you read those. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is really answered via this other question about a squishy group. Oddly enough, also involving two druids, a bard, a wizard and a warlock. As stated, this would not be a dupe, but as @NautArch pointed out, this is an X-Y problem and you're asking the wrong question. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:52

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Why are you using an item?

The party is currently level 4. In one level, that group will have access to:

These are all third-level spells that will create fighting buddies of some sort on demand. Some are better than others, but all will accomplish the same goal of adding more players to the battle field.

Does this mean they won't be able to prepare other cool 3rd-level spells? Yes. But if the other option is dying from not having enough players on the field, I'd rather the party spend time learning one or two summoning spells.

Here is why you shouldn't give away an item

As it stands, you want to give away a magic item, but that is usually a bad idea. It sets a precedent.

Instead of the party coming up with a solution (multiclassing, tanking wild shape druids, front-line bard, etc) you are giving them something to band-aid the problem until it happens again.

What happens when the item breaks or runs out of uses? For instance, Eddymage suggests a Staff of the Python. But if someone gets in a good blow and kills the python in the middle of a dungeon, the staff is destroyed and the characters no longer have their body guard. Do they suddenly find a new staff? Does a Horn of Valhalla fall from the sky? A DM should not need to keep "fixing" the party.

Low-level squishy character may appear less squishy at higher levels, but they also face tougher enemies that will make them squishy again, calling for another band-aid.

Alternately, change the campaign

From the DMG, Know Your Players:

The success of a D&D game hinges on your ability to entertain the other players at the game table. Whereas their role is to create characters (the protagonists of the campaign), breathe life into them, and help steer the campaign through their characters’ actions, your role is to keep the players (and yourself) interested and immersed in the world you’ve created, and to let their characters do awesome things.

So instead of "fixing" the party by giving them items to hide behind, perhaps you should change the campaign to something that doesn't require so much front-line combat yet still be awesome?

Not every campaign needs to be a dungeon crawl. Or going from one fight to the next. There are options where even the squishiest of characters can be invaluable. Consider:

  • political/espionage focused where it's more social role play than fisticuffs
  • a series of stealth missions to steal the pieces of a MacGuffin
  • a tactical situation where the party needs to defend a town and the townsfolk can aid as needed

Use things like "Oceans 11" and "The A-Team" for inspiration. The first two have the advantage in that the party will generally, if they plan correctly, should only encounter small groups of creatures at a time. Take out a few guards at a time, disable the one hidden assassin, or deal with a couple of sharks with lasers in the moat. Defending a town means there are lots of other fighters that can pop in as needed, and other able bodies that can pull the wounded to safety.

You can play to the character's strengths; The bard's charisma can get them into places where combat wouldn't. The druid's Wild Shape can make them inconspicuous for intelligence gathering and also sudden bursts of meat power. The wizard will have a supply of "utility" spells to overcome obstacles.

I'm not saying no fighting at all, but don't make fighting the crux of the day-to-day adventuring. "Combat" is only one pillar of adventure. Lean into the other pillars of "Exploration" and "Social Interaction" where this group might excel.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 4th level characters don't have access to 3rd level spells. Is your recommendation that they wait until 5th level and then choose these spells? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mathaddict
    Feb 1, 2023 at 20:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mathaddict, Yes. That's why I say "In one level...". As it stands, the DM wants to give away a magic item, but that is usually a bad idea. It sets a president. Instead the party coming up with a solution (multiclass, tanking druids, front-line bard, etc) just give them something to band-aid the problem until it happens again. A DM should not need to keep "fixing" the party. Either create a campaign that doesn't require so much front-line combat (like espionage or political) or have the party adapt. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 1, 2023 at 22:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage, we also don't know how long the party has been 4th level. the next level could be one session away. I don't want to make that a distinction. If the DM is concerned that the party is continually having trouble with combat by being squishy, then maybe the DM shouldn't keep putting them in that situation? Which makes more sense, the the DM changes the party by giving them magic items to overcome DM's story, or the DM changes the story to match the playstyle of the characters? \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 3, 2023 at 21:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Requiring players conform to optimization to play in the game (instead of making thematic or character-focused choices) without dying is weak dming + this is not a solution to the problem as it currently stands only theoretically sometime in the future \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    Feb 5, 2023 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user2754, actually, if you read the last line, you'll see I think the DM needs to change his story to adapt to the players. I can spell it out more if you think that's helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Feb 5, 2023 at 5:35
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Staff of the Python could be a good choice

The Staff of the Python seems to me a suitable option for your group.

Thematically speaking, it fits well due to the presence of a druid in the party.

On the other hand, considering your request, this item allows the owner to summon a giant constrictor snake with 60 HPs, AC 12 and two interesting attacks:

  • a classical bite
  • a constrict attack, that may grapple an enemy treating the group, allowing them to reorganize, cure themselves or even run away.

This item is not overpowered with respect of the group level: indeed, a Barbarian at level 4 has, more or less, 45 HPs (supposing a CON score of 16), without considering the resistance to slashing, bludgeoning and piercing damage provided by raging. Moreover, being an uncommon magic item, it follows the guidelines in the DMG, which suggest for a 1st tier party common and uncommon magic items (see the table "Magic Item Rarity", page 135).

Specially for the last point in the above list, it seems to me that this could be a good fit for your party, given the absence of a warrior.

But the most important part actually is in the last bit of the description (emphasis mine):

If the snake is reduced to 0 hit points, it dies and reverts to its staff form. The staff then shatters and is destroyed. If the snake reverts to staff form before losing all its hit points, it regains all of them.

Hence, if you feel that this item is too powerful, if once reached level 5 your group decide to learn/employ summoning spell and there are too many creatures under party's control, or for any other reason, you may use (or abuse) your DM's skill to organize an encounter where all the enemies' attacks are concentrated on the snake, killing it1, without having to come up with some special situation/rule.

Anyway, you should be honest with your players: usually, when I feel that something could be game-breaking or causing some balance issue, I tell to the party "Ok, let's use ThisGameThing under this rule [could be its original or a homebrew ruling]: if anything does not work well, than we'll see what has to be modified".


1 As a DM, I did this, not on purpose but because I did not track well the HPs of the snake and one critical hit killed it. But now this is a perfect plot hook for a side quest for repairing the staff, a quest connected with the past of the party's druid.

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Alter the encounters, not the party.

The party is the way they are for a reason - they wanted to play wizards and druids and so on. If you add magic-item-summoned-creatures into the fray, you're taking time away from wizard and druid player character turns to either have the DM play npc vs npc turns (the most boring activity for every player ever), or having people take turns for summoned minions instead of their characters. There will be some novelty value in this, initially, but ultimately they will be less interested in playing a random summoned creature from a magic item you gave them than they will playing the character they brought to the table.

Alter the encounters to be easier, so they can play the character they made vs the encounter. Not a summon, or watch you play warmachine against yourself. Lower the damage. Lower the hp! Less special abilities. Remove resistances! It's very, very easy to make encounters easier. If you lowball it too much, reduce it less next time! It is not impossible to do at all and there are entire forums of people who will help redesign encounters for free if asked.

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Handing out magic items to fix an in-game issue isn't a good solution

Although this is a challenge to your ask, I think actually doing this is not going to be in the best interests of you or your players. A magic item is a cudgel, it's got a specific use, but it'll be used heavily and in ways you don't expect.

But more importantly, you're using it to try and solve a larger issue. It may temporarily resolve some of that, but until you figure out and address the core issue, the problems of character survival are going to rear their ugly head again.

Rather than focus on what magic can help, trying to figure out why they're in this jam is going to be net you a much better response!

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Shield Guardian Amulet

Our group of three has a Shield Guardian. It's great thematically for a wizard, and on top of adding another tough (and regenerating) body to the mix, it even makes the owner less squishy by allowing them to transfer damage and get better AC. It does not even require attunement.

The only downside is that it's maybe too good for a level four group. Ours, from Dungeon of the Mad Mage started out damaged, it could not cast spells. You could do that too, and start it at a lower hp total, to bring it more in line with the group. There is one in Rime of the Frostmaiden that has fewer hp, 80, but you could put it even lower at 40 or so, so it will act much like an extremely dumb, heavily armored fourth character the PCs can guide, but with lower maintenance.

It also has a few downsides -- it is loud, large and heavy, so it makes stealth tactics a lot more difficult, and it may make fleeing more difficult as you do not want to leave it behind to get chopped up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that this is for a party of level 4 characters - would you say this is still appropriate? And if so, have you run a game where the players of a lower tier had one that you could talk about your experience with to help guide OP? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch You must have read my mind, I was just editing the question to address these points. I think there are various ways to bring it down a bit, with good precedent. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2023 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ In Rime we basically used it as a car. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2023 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov And it was exceedingly hard to plan for in encounter design. Groody - what's your experience in accounting for a shield guardian? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Feb 1, 2023 at 20:45
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Magic Items as a Temporary Fix

As per other answers, giving magical items as a fix may just paper over the main issue - the kinds of encounters they are facing. Adjusting the encounters and altering the NPCs to meet the style of the PCs is something I myself would do. Again, as above if I gave the PCs a sidekick like a simple warrior they can all use (Squire Dyse Rolz) I'd likely stipulate they focus on the task at hand during combat and never talk or argue, unless really necessary - saving time to just rolls without much strategic thinking or distraction. I've played two full characters myself for a session - it was a bit of a mess for the second.

But to answer your specific question, if you wish to go down that route I recommend temporary items or weak items that are specifically planted for this kind of encounter.

But first of all, before providing these items I suggest that the PCs work for them so they don't take them for granted. For example, to defeat a particular enemy they hear has some particular weaknesses (or have run away from but still need to defeat) some roleplaying to convince a trader/weaponsmith/mage/retired adventurer to part with them for a PC-friendly price/reason would be in order. They do get to use these much more powerful items, but not without some character work on their part. A relatively quick task that the NPC can't do that we all know a party will take ages on (like riddles, amirite?) is good. Finding someone? Getting something rare from someone but has it in for the NPC? Something that might last maybe half a session of proper player work and/or rolls, unless it's more fun.

It also avoids cheapening the experience - something you had to work hard for is cherished more than something you just get handed to you, etc etc.

The Whatnots of Gifticality

Potions of Health etc are an obvious choice for survivability, but a higher grade, such as a Potion of Superior Healing. 8d4+8 means an average heal of 28hp, probably higher than the hitpoints of the PCs in this case. The upside is that it only requires one action to heal, rather than two or more actions for lower-grade potions. Saving an action next round for something else can be quite important in some encounters. Other options such as a Potion of Fire Breath, or variant type that isn't that enemy's particular resistance or attacks a weakness - Cold Breath, Acid Breath, etc. (Force resistance is quite rare in enemies too, incidentally. "Look at me, I'm Black Bolt!")

Another option are scrolls - one-time higher-level spell usage can hurt an enemy without leaving a super-weapon in the player's hands. Bards and druids can't save scrolls for later spellbook entry like a wizard can, if you're concerned they might save it.

Continuing the theme, altering an existing magic item to self-destruct can work too. Frostreavers from the Dragonlance setting are magical axes made of very specific ice from locations only known to a few makers in the far, far antarctic south, annointed with thanoi oil etc. It only remains powerful in cold or extremely cold environments, otherwise it's a rather weak magical weapon. The adventures in such a place were very rare, of course. It might be a fun character aspect to have a +1 axe made of ice that never melted, unless the DM judged that it would deteriorate quite quickly. A weapon bonus blessing gifted by a demi-god that lasted a single night also features in one of the Dragonlance novels, but again that would be a little deux ex machina if just given to the PCs.

Dark Sun (a resource-poor setting based on ancient Sumeria/Assyria) featured regular weapons made of bone, obsidian etc instead of steel, which lower-level PCs were more likely to be able to afford/find. They were lighter, had attack roll penalties and had a 5% chance of breaking when doing maximum damage, because they weren't particularly sturdy compared to steel. On this theme, magical items from a particular traveling weaponsmith they are unlikely to encounter again (unless you want them to) can warn them that due to the enchantments and crafting processes of the weapons they can receive they will only last three days (or a random period following the encounter) before they are unusable. And don't forget they could also access other types of items - a Broom of Flying that easily loses straw because it flies so fast, or a Circlet of Over-Blasting that starts to burn the user and eventually sets itself on fire after seeing too many dawns.

The key is that generally they won't last any longer than you want in case the PCs try to save them for a (much more) rainy day. You want them to use them now, so anything they get lasts for this coming encounter, maybe a little longer, but afterwards you're back to normal programming having some time to adjust your game a little.

Incidentally, my style is that if I used the temporary powerful item model I would ensure they could keep a small part of the item as a keepsake, given the work they put into gaining them. The slagged metal core of a burned-out fire mace's head, or the cracked central gem of a Circlet of Over-Blasting they could later put into a ring or a pendant. This was an interesting period of time that meant something and provided an in-character reward, rather than a DM-mandated fix to get over some maths for a session. Also you might get away with having planned it all along, which of course all DMs do, obviously, totes, because of course we did.

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