WotC released a new magic item book and I’ve had a month or so to finally read through it thoroughly. It’s an interesting departure from the previous adventure vault books, being pretty sparse on the number of items and having more emphasis on descriptions and providing a back story of the items themselves. Add to that additional mundane items, armor, weapons, and a bit of rules for henchmen, and you’ve pretty much have a concise rundown of the book content.
The magic items are a mixed bag. Some classic AD&D items return and get a 4E treatment. Just about each item entry has some details on the item’s history and lore. It seems they are making an effort to put some wonderment and flash back into magic items, and I think it’s a nice touch. There is a nice section on giving magic items story elements. I think there is a fairly good spread of items to cover just about any class or item slot, giving your PCs some new things to drool over.
Cursed items are also included. I really like the idea that curses are pretty much item properties that a DM can slap onto just about any existing item. The emphasis seems more on using cursed items as a vehicle for story elements, rather than befalling your players with a ‘gotcha’ situation. There are lots of suggestions for introducing cursed items and I especially enjoy the idea that item curses might be tied to a very beneficial item. So that awesome sword might make a PC an absolute monster in combat, but having this great power comes with a trade off. It’s a nice idea and gives the players tough choices.
There is also quite a few new equipment, armor types, and a few additional weapons. I expect much of the weapons were additions to the stock essentials books. There are also some neat superior implements to give them a unique twist. However these require a feat to use. I appreciate the option and allows a small work around with your min/max PCs (especially as there is a cap on the bonuses from feats). I expect that tying superior implements to feats also can curb some abuse, but it does give that ‘chicken or the egg’ conundrum for players. They can’t get the benefits of a superior implement unless they take the feat, but might not take the feat unless they have access to such an implement. This is something that will require some DM to PC communication for certain.
There are also some tables describing the value of certain trade good along with approximate costs for different housing. Combined with the additional equipment, I like having this handy. It allows me as a DM to explore other types of rewards aside from the normal magic item or gold option.
This is sort of an important book as it is the first jump into magic items post-essentials. This leads me to a bit of a sour taste with the book. A handful of items have been presented before in the adventurer's vault books (AV). Granted some of the properties have been tweaked, but why they didn’t just stick to being in the errata I don’t know. It would have been nice to just present new, never seen before, items to the 4E game. I get the idea that WotC wants to abandon all the earlier books, and not saddle new DMs coming in through essentials with having to pick up the other AV books. I can see this simply besides a few older magic items being included, they also provided the rules for PCs making alchemical items. If this is the case however, I think they made a huge omission with the henchmen.
The lauded henchmen rules are also here. For the most part they give the DM an idea of how different hirelings could be introduced into the game (and most are very fragile with combat stats effectively like minions). There are examples of companion characters, which effectively give the players a chance to round out a party with another man-at-arms henchmen. But are there any rules for them? Nope. You’ve got to dig out the DMG2 to get those rules. I am very surprised with representing certain magic items and providing alchemical rules, the companion rules got left out. A quick and dirty version could take up one page. In the end, new DMs coming in from essentials are pretty much left to using examples in the book and will have to wing it if they wanted a higher level NPC.
Another huge beef with me is making this an independent game store only purchase. I get trying the throw some support back to the smaller retailers. And I think having an initial limited release for 6-8 months including only these retailers a nice gesture. But totally avoiding the larger book distributors is pretty harsh. Some folks just might not have the option to get this book at smaller retailer, and that is doing nothing towards some independent retailers taking advantage of this (last I checked some were selling this book at $70+ on Amazon). Next time, here’s to hoping WotC considers giving the FLGS a 6 month head start and then open up distribution to other retailers.
So is it worth your dollar? If I were a new DM and jumped in with essentials, I’d say an emphatic yes. Aside from the magic items, you have a lot of armor, weapon, and equipment options for the PCs. Otherwise I see the books as a very optional purchase. If your players want to explore other weapon focus feats or you wanted to dabble in curses, this is something you’d likely want to buy. As always, more magic items are nice to have but if you all ready have the adventurer’s vault books you likely have enough items all ready. For the DM that has much of the 4E material, I’d consider picking up Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium as a nice stocking stuffer, but not that must have book.