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As many of my players are into flavorful, unique magic items, I've been attempting to create some custom magic items. Most of them are fairly simple, a sword with an extra 1d4 shock dmg, a broach that gives advantage to constitution saving throws, a staff that can be used as an everburning torch; stuff like that. One thing I've been having trouble figuring out though is which items should require attunement.

Is there some quality that determines if a magic item requires attunement?

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DMG p136 defines attunement but doesn't put forth anything concrete about what would require attunement. The closest I can come to an answer on this is mostly metagame thinking on the part of the designers.

Either to limit an item to a specific class/race or to thwart the passing around of items that can be problematic if they were allowed to be easily passed around from character to character. Example: if the Wizard tossed the Rogue her Ring of Fire Resistance in preparation of that fire trap, just in case the Rogue missed his roll to disarm (used to see stuff like this all the time). Although it is still possible it now takes 3 hours according to the rules.

The "Creating A New Magic Item" section p285 (referenced by Nitsua60)

  • If having all the characters in a party pass an item around to gain its lasting benefits would be disruptive, the item should require attunement.
  • If the item grants a bonus that other items also grant, it's a good idea to require attunement so that characters don't try to collect too many of those items.
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There doesn't seem to be a consistent rule here. The best I can come up with is an item requires attunement if its rarity is Rare, Very Rare, or Legendary, and it provides a permanent bonus (not consumable or limited daily use).

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to this. The Mace of Smiting is Rare but doesn't require attunement. The Cloak of Protection is Uncommon, but does.

The guides for sentient item creation and artifact creation mention nothing on attunement, but all of the sample items require it.

However, the rules for custom magic items on DMG 284-5 do mention attunement. All they have to give is general advice. The first suggestion is to use attunement to prevent player abuse of bonuses: no mage-handing your Boots of Springing and Striding back over the gorge to the next party member to attempt the jump. The second suggestion is to require attunement for bonuses that are both common and desirable. You can only attune three things at once, so you can't simultaneously stack defensive bonuses from your Ring of Protection, Cloak of Protection, Armor of Invulnerability, and Arrow-Catching Shield all at once.

As an addendum, you should check out the Modifying an Item section on DMG 284. Specifically, I believe all three items you mention have near-equivalents that you can use as templates.

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