GEM: Gear Enhancement Method
In my previous post, I’ve outlined some of my issues with magic items as implemented by D&D 5E and two possible solutions for them. Here’s the TL;DR:
It’s hard to award magic items that are useful and at the same time feel special for the characters. In my experience, the DM will often either hand out generic magic items or super cool ones which no character can use.
One solution is to allow characters to buy upgrades for their mundane items. This has a couple of potential drawbacks: players might create broken combos if the upgrades aren’t limited in scope and this can become very costly if the characters regularly swap gear.
Another solution is to let items have dormant features which awaken once some condition is met. Again this introduces a few problems: the players are back to having no say in what magical properties their items have and it’s impossible for characters to transfer features from one item to another.
In this post I’ll put forward my solution for those issues.
How Gems work
GEM is a backronym derived from the main feature of this magic item system: Gems. Gems are magical items onto themselves and they can grant one or more extraordinary properties when affixed to a piece of gear, but it is impossible to affix more than one Gem to a single item.
Much like regular magic gear, Gems can’t be bought or sold. Additionally, the technology for creating a (capital G) Gem from a (lowercase G) gem has been lost to time, which means that they must be found though adventure, battle and heroism.
Gems work a little bit like The Armorer’s Handbook’s Runestones, with the important distinction that Gems do not have a set effect and can be removed from any piece of gear without much work.
Calvin finds an ancient sword in a dungeon. It is engraved with a Round Emerald, which grants the sword a +1 bonus to damage rolls. Since Calvin doesn’t use weapons, he removes the Gem from the sword.
A cut Gem always has one (and only one) shape 1: Round, Oval, Pear, Marquise, Cushion, Square, or Rectangle. The shape determines the mundane benefit that the Gem grants and the type of gear to which it can be affixed.
Calvin asks his jeweler to recut the Round Emerald into a Marquise Emerald, which can be affixed to his spellcasting focus to grant a +1 bonus to spell attack rolls.
Stronger Gems might have, in addition to a shape, one or more styles: Brilliant and/or Step. The shape narrows down exactly what magical benefit each style will grant but, either way, this will come in addition to that shape’s mundane benefit.
Calvin now finds a Sapphire. He wants to make it a Cushion Sapphire, which would grant him a +1 bonus to ability checks. Since Sapphires are stronger then Emeralds, they can also have one style; Calvin must, therefore, chose either Brilliant (+1 bonus to AC) or Step (+1 bonus to saving throws).
There are, in principle, 4 types of Gems (Emeralds, Sapphires, Rubies, and Diamonds). Emeralds can only have a shape, Sapphires can have a shape and a single style, and Rubies can have a shape and both styles. Diamonds are only used in a binding ritual that will be explained in the next section.
Calvin decides on the Cushion Brilliant Sapphire. He’s sad to not get the +1 bonus to saving throws, so he starts looking for a Ruby. This Gem could be cut with both styles in order to become a Cushion Mixed Ruby, which would grant a +1 bonus to ability checks, AC, and saving throws!
Below is a summarized table with every benefit that a Gem can grant. Unless otherwise noted by your DM, the following should be observed: any item that is under the effect of a magical benefit is considered magical as well (weapons deal magical damage, etc), items with Marquise or Cushion Gems require attunement, and robes are incompatible with medium or heavy armor.
If you want the full versions of the effects, grab the PDF here!
|SHAPE||MUNDANE||MAGICAL (BRILLIANT / STEP)|
|Round (any weapon)||+1 to damage rolls||+1 to attack rolls|
|Scores a crit. on a roll of 19 or 20|
|Oval (melee weapon)||You can’t be surprised||Crit. blinds enemy for 1 round|
|You have advantage on initiative|
|Pear (ranged weapon)||Ignores up to 3/4 cover||Long range doesn't impose dis.|
|Being within 5 ft. doesn't impose dis.|
|Marquise (focus, attun.)||+1 to spell attack rolls||+1 to the saving throw DCs of spells|
|Spell attacks ignore up to 3/4 cover|
|Cushion (robe, attun.)||+1 to ability checks||+1 bonus to AC|
|+1 to saving throws|
|Square (armor)||No Str requirement||Ignore dis. on Dex (Stealth) checks|
|+1 to maximum Dex modifier|
|Rectangle (shield)||Shove as bonus action||+1 bonus to AC|
|Adds its AC bonus to Dex saves|
Diamonds are powerful Gems that, through a special ritual, can bind the effects of a target Gem to an item. For the ritual to work, the target Gem must already be affixed to the item and, once complete, it transfers all benefits granted by the target Gem to the item itself. Both the target Gem and the Diamond are consumed in the process.
Since anyone can usually remove a Gem from an item without much effort, this ritual is mainly used to prevent a Gem from being stolen. Another advantage is that characters can name an item after it has gone through this ritual; they can have their own Sting or Glamdring, which is pretty cool.
A Diamond might also grant a one-of-a-kind benefit. Unlike regular Gems, this effect is chosen by the DM and cannot be changed by cutting the Diamond. If a Diamond carrying a special benefit is used in a binding ritual, then this benefit is bound to the item alongside those from the target Gem.
After going through a binding ritual, an item ceases to be mundane and becomes truly magical. From this point forward, no other Gems can be affixed to it.
The rules described in this post are only suggestions. You can obviously change the effects of a shape or style, reduce or increase the number of available cuts, etc. Besides these modifications, some variant rules might be of interest:
After being cut for the first time, you might want to limit the number of recuts that a Gem can endure before losing its efficacy. My estimate is that allowing 3 additional cuts should be enough for most parties.
Instead of describing the effects of a Gem through the name its cut, you might prefer adding adjectives to the engraved item, e.g., a sword with a Round Emerald might be considered Keen or Sharp.
It is possible to allow (lowercase G) gems to be transformed into (capital G) Gems. In this scenario, regular gems should be scarce resources, with emeralds and sapphires costing up to 1000 gp, and rubies and diamonds up to 5000 gp.
You also could allow specialized vendors to trade Gems. As a rule of thumb, a Sapphire should be equivalent to 2 Emeralds and a Ruby to 3 Emeralds. Diamonds are best left as one-of-a-kind Gems that can’t be traded.
If you don’t like the complexity of having multiple types of Gems, you can probably make do with a single type if you allow up to three Gems per item. In this case, all Gems should have the same shape and each would grant a different benefit from that row of the table.
Do Gems work?
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, I created GEM as a way to solve a few problems I had with magic items in D&D. Does it help the DM award useful items? Does it help reduce the number of “remarkable” items that have to be hand out?
Firstly, GEM allows players to choose their own upgrades, so the DM doesn’t have to think of useful items to award. Secondly, GEM helps items feel special because characters will grow attached to their own items, with Diamonds playing a big role on this process.
And how does GEM comparte to tags and awakening mechanics from the previous post?
Tags could allow players to create broken builds, so GEM mitigates this by forcing them to chose upgrade paths which are easier to balance. Tags could also become prohibitively expensive, and GEM offers a system with very few fees (only the process of recutting Gems might be charged).
The awakening system removed agency from the players, which GEM gives back by allowing them to chose their own upgrades. With awakenings you also couldn’t transfer benefits from one item to another, while GEM allows Gems to be affixed again and again.
Overall I think GEM turned out pretty good. I’ll playtest it in my upcoming campaign and, once it’s done, I’ll make sure to write a follow-up! See you all next time.
I’m not a gemologist. I created the list based on this article, and I’m sorry if I made any mistakes. ↩︎
#d&d #gear #system