Magic Item Compendium introduced us to magic item sets, which as their name implied were thematically-linked sets of magic items that provided bonus benefits for wearing multiple items from that set together. I have been looking in that book for rules/suggestions on how to have this sort of effect on modified/customized items, but I can't seem to find anything explicit on it. Does anyone here have any thoughts on the idea? e.g. what sort of additional costs would it take to add set benefits to items?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I suggest that the best answer would be one that analyzes what the authors of the Magic Item Compendium did for their sets. For example, take a set, calculate the value of the items individually, compare to the listed per-item costs, and evaluate the difference against the set bonuses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dane
    Apr 14, 2014 at 17:33

2 Answers 2


The best design is to minimize the impact of “setness”

Sets are a neat idea, but ultimately you run into real design problems if their full power depends much at all on having multiple items in the set. You want flavor and fun from the set bonuses more than you want power.

Ideally, each item on its own is, or very nearly is, worth its cost, and the set is worth the sum total of the components cost. That is, items A, B, C, costing x, y, and z, respectively, should be such that all of the following are true:

  • A is worth x
  • B is worth y
  • C is worth z
  • A+B+2_items_set_bonuses is worth x+y
  • A+C+2_items_set_bonuses is worth x+z
  • B+C+2_items_set_bonuses is worth y+z
  • A+B+C+all_items_set_bonuses is worth x+y+z

There is an obvious paradox here: the various set_bonuses are being added without a corresponding set_cost. The important thing to remember is that there is an inherent opportunity cost for using a complete set: even if B may be worth y, it may not be worth not having B’s slot for some other item. This is true of all items, but sets make it more complicated by having multiple items, and by generally being unique and difficult to move to other slots.

But the only way you can accomplish that is by having the bonuses for multiple items be pretty small; after all, the difference between sets and regular items in terms of the space they take up isn’t that different. So there’s only very little room for extras.

If you do not follow this approach, what ends up happening is either that singular items are overpriced (which sucks for someone who wants to roleplay the collection of the rest of a set), or the full set is overpowered (with the obvious problems that carries, plus possible dilution of sets’ “specialness”).

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ One possible, partial solution to the cost paradox would be to remove set bonuses, and instead give the items in the set specific abilities designed to compliment each other so that sets work well when all the parts are held and used in conjunction. There's a risk of losing the flavour of a set that way, though. Hmm... \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 15, 2014 at 5:06

I've once made a whole quest around a set, so the meaning of it (hence the cost/balance) was something else.

The set was also partly a McGuffin:

"The legend goes that only with the Light-Powered-Sword held with the Light-Powered-Gloves one may break the Wall-of-Shadow, all around the Lichs-Dark-Castle"

KRyan pointed out something very nice about sets: In the end, the cool thing is to have the whole set.

I would recommend to balance the cost thinking about the full set but, of course, do take in account the hard adventure to obtain the set pieces as part of the cost. As the players have to work for the items, rather than just buying them, it becomes more balanced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ welcome to Rpg.SE! If you have the time, please see more about our site and our guidelines: rpg.stackexchange.com/tour Your answer seems more like a comment on Kryan's answer or to the OP rather than an actual answer to the question being given. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2014 at 18:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kahler I've edited your answer to bring out more information I think you included but didn't emphasize. If you don't like part or all of it, or think it changes your answer too much, feel free to revert it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dakeyras
    Apr 14, 2014 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dakeyras Nice edit. I was not aware of the term MacGuffin. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahler
    Apr 14, 2014 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JoshuaAslanSmith Tanks for the warm welcome. Will read it now. I'm more used to another Stack Exchange Q&A. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kahler
    Apr 14, 2014 at 21:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kahler good. Your answer had the makings of a good answer (Dakeyras' edit improved it). Your personal experience is valued but you need to tie it the system and/or show how the it can be applied to solve the question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 14, 2014 at 21:48

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