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Someone in our party wants to have a magical item that slowly turns him evil, taking control over him and that will make him a possible BBEG down the line, with the chance of being saved by the party. He is an Indiana Jones kind of explorer and it would be something he found during his travels.

He wanted something that creates some kind of plague like StarCraft, with lots of little insects, so I came up with this item, and I wanted to check here if it is balanced.

Emblem of the Everlasting Plague

Locket (requires attunement)

While wearing this locket, you always have exhaustion 1 that cannot be cured by sleep. You can summon 4 swarms of insects (8 at level 9, 12 at level 13, and 16 at level 17 to devastate your enemies. You can also wear them as armor (+2 AC or protection from a damage type; you can get each protection only once). Each time you use this ability, you must make a Constitution saving throw (DC 12) or take 1 extra exhaustion.

Is this Emblem of the Everlasting Plague cursed item a good idea? I tried to follow the Conjure Animals spell and when he gets the spell slots for scaling.

Looking forward to feedback!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please, add item text as text. As it is now, it is not accessible for search engines, blind people using screen readers, and visually impaired people that need to enlarge the font to read. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 8:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Editing question in response to answer is not the Stack Exchange way. You should collect answers and in two, three days post a revised item for review, as a new question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LaurensWolf I recommend checking out this FAQ, it should contain the guidelines you need. The "See also" FAQs linked at the top also contain useful information for your endeavours. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will read it well, thank you!! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ The duration of the swarms existence was already addressed (by @Matthieu), but here's just a additional idea for your item: Let the animals exist after the duration, but without any control by the character; they just skitter away. That way, using this Emblem of the Everlasting Plague many times at one place will create a plague by itself. This 'side effect' should not be mentioned in the player's version of the item description. Let them find it out by themselves .... evil grin \$\endgroup\$
    – Flynxer
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 9:35

4 Answers 4

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The item you've homebrewed looks reasonable, as long as the group is starting around level five. If they're level one, then having the ability to cast conjure animals is way too good.

  • You should clarify that the spell takes an action and requires concentration to maintain.
  • You probably should also replace the phrase "protection from damage type" with "resistance to a damage type of your choice".
  • When you say "you can get each [protection] only once", do you mean "the swarm gives you resistance only to the first instance of that damage that you take"? That would be reasonable.

The problem is: giving someone a powerful cursed item that turns them evil is fundamentally pretty unbalanced.

Right now, this one character gets a cool magic item, and the rest of the group gets nothing. That might not be fun for the rest of the group.

Later, this character gets narrative license to try to kill the rest of the group. This is a risky thing to do, because either the character fails (and the player might be sad), or the character succeeds (and the rest of the group will definitely be sad).

In a "real life" version of this situation, the rest of the characters could say: "hey, we don't like that you've got this creepy bug thing, we're not going to adventure with you any more, we're kicking you out of the group." But that doesn't work in D&D, because it would be equivalent to uninviting the player from the D&D group, which would be super rude.

So now the rest of the group has this guy who they suspect is going to try to kill them at some point, but they can't do anything about it because that would be mean. And the risk is that that might not be fun for them.

(I've been in situations like this and I can confirm that it wasn't fun for me.)

My advice is to ask your player to think of a backstory that doesn't involve turning evil.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I will aks him! Ty for the advice! :-D i am thinking of changing the armor thing to, you can attach x amount of swarms to your body and for each swarm you get 5? Temp hp, does that sound better or the armor thing? The group is really cool with giving him this thing it's a long playing groep knowing all the tricks and this is a new player so everyone asked if we should give him something to feel more included and made him feel cool 2 :-D \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ The temp hit points sounds reasonable to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sweet :-D tbh i also think temp hp is far easier to track for everyone then the other one, i will put it into my next update ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Glad Laurens talked to the other players and they like the plan! I really like this answer because it hits on an important aspect of 'balance' which is like, no matter how many downsides you give this item, they get more details/mechanics/time in the spotlight than the rest of the party. That's just as important than 'who helps more in combat' (probably more important)! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kaia
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not applicable here, but I forget which system it was (probably a PbtA game) but there was a homebrew I saw with a class focused around the theme of being the 'ringbearer'. carrying and using a cursed item with the goal of destroying it. Making that the entire class of the character felt interesting, and it helps with the spotlight because the cool aspects about being a curse-bearer take the place of (and are on an equivalent level to) other characters' ranger/thief etc powers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kaia
    Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 18:04
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Clarification is needed

There are a few points that need to be clarified in order to evaluate the effects of this item on play.

Action cost?

The abilities of your item do not have an action cost attached, which is unusual. Whether you want the item to use an action, bonus action, reaction or cost nothing in the action economy, is an information that needs to be given, and which has great impact on the balance of the item.

Cursed?

Usually an item labeled as "cursed" cannot be unequiped or unattuned. If this is the case for this locket, it might be worth adressing. Cursed items usually have a specific part of their description refering to this. For example, the Armor of Vulnerability has the following :

Curse. This armor is cursed, a fact that is revealed only when an identify spell is cast on the armor or you attune to it. Attuning to the armor curses you until you are targeted by the remove curse spell or similar magic; removing the armor fails to end the curse.

Limits on the number of swarms?

I assume this refers to the CR 1/2 monster of the same name in the Monster Manual. If that's the case, you indeed follow the limitations of Conjure Animals, a 3rd level spell that can summon 4 CR 1/2 creatures. There are a few issues with how you handle the scaling though :

  • Conjure Animals scales with spell slots used, meaning the scaling is done with higher resource cost (up to a 9th level spell slot for the 16 CR 1/2 creatures). Your artifact keeps the exact same cost (low risk of getting 1 level of exhaustion) and gives more and more.

  • Conjure Animals prevents the user from spamming the spell and getting tons of creatures with its concentration requirement. As currently worded, your artifact does not have a limit on how many concurrent swarms you may have, which means your player could spam the ability to get dozens of swarms at once.

  • Conjure Animals has a 1 hour maximum duration, after which the summoned creatures disappear. This artifact does not have any such limitations, so as written the swarms never disappear.

If the intent is that the swarms are limited in the same way as Conjure Animals is (concentration, limited duration, limited number), it should definitely be included in the description.

How does the defensive ability work?

The defensive ability states that the swarms can be worn as armor, granting either +2 AC or "protection from Damage type" (which I understand as "a damage type you choose"). It is made clear that the same effect cannot be stacked multiple times, for instance you cannot get the +2 AC multiples times, although you can get +2 AC and a "protection from damage type" at the same time.

There are a few things that can cause confusion here :

  • How many swarms do you need to activate this effect? One of them? All of them?
  • Do the swarms stay as such and can still be targeted, or do they "fuse" with your character while this effect is in play?
  • Can those swarms still take actions while acting as armor, such as attacking other creatures?
  • Does triggering this defensive ability also trigger the "each time you use this ability, you must make a constitution throw...", or is it only when you summon the swarms?
  • Does the "protection from damage type" mean immunity, or resistance? Is it to any damage type, or limited to certain damage types? Can you stack multiple "protection from damage type" effects if they're targeting different damage types?
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    \$\begingroup\$ hi! itried to answeredyour question in the original text, it was to many character to do it here, i will try to update the image asap, ty! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 8:53
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Needs a once over on spelling and grammar, and balance

Most of the balance I would cover is already covered in Matthieu's answer, there is a single standout that's a technicality not covered.

While wearing this locket you always have exhaustion 1 that cannot be cured by sleep.

Due to this line, a valid reading would be you always have exactly 1 exhaustion. I'm not aware of any items that provide exhaustion off the top of my head or through brief research, but I would consider changing the wording to something along the lines of:

Upon attuning to this item, gain 1 exhaustion that cannot be healed until this item is unequiped.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good catch, you could otherwise use it to claim you can never have more than Exhaustion 1. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 27, 2023 at 15:08
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I'd lean more into "Slowly turns him evil".

The balance and clarifications have already been addressed by other answers, but I think you're missing a chance to make this feel more dramatic.

As written, it seems like it'd mostly function like a buff to combat with major downsides in out-of-combat play (permanent disadvantage in all ability checks means that your player probably doesn't want to try to do anything cool, like scouting/talking/picking the lock/jumping the chasm/etc.) It depends on your player, but this feels like it could encourage an 'only paying attention in combat' playstyle.

At the same time, there's nothing in here that actually pushes him to become the BBEG--there's no 'oh no, he's tapping too much into the evil power!' moment for your player or the other players at the table. Obviously, "my player wants to play the villain" is a fraught situation at the table and it's been discussed a bunch of times before, but if your table is excited about it, lean into it.

I'd consider replacing exhaustion with your own condition, and make it impossible/very difficult to reduce it's progression, so each stage feels dramatic and permanent. I wouldn't be afraid to throw in some buffs; you and your player want to encourage them to reach the final stage. For instance:

  1. <Some debuff, maybe the same as Exhaustion 1, maybe something else>
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. Summon 8 insect swarms rather than 4.
  6. The Emblem is inescapable. Even death will not save you from your fate. Your speed is reduced to 0. You can resist for now, but 1 hour after reaching this stage, your mind will be consumed. When this happens, pass your character sheet to the DM. Your character becomes an NPC and acts according to the will of the Emblem.

The buff on stage 5 is to encourage the player to make use of the power--taking the risk that a failed roll will end their character.

I also think that making stage 6 take time gives the player some time to say goodbye to their character and roleplay with the party, lets the party get away before they become an antagonist, and ensures that the player doesn't suddenly turn on the party in an already-difficult combat. It also lets you time their transformation with the end of a session, to give you time to prepare, and your player to make a new character sheet between sessions.

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