Bringing Back Masterwork Weapons

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition had a lot of cool features.

One of them being masterwork items.

Masterwork items simulated well-crafted weapons, armour, and items found in the world, which gave you minor bonuses when used.

The most popular of these were masterwork weapons.

At low levels, masterwork weapons provided a much needed +1 to hit and were helpful when characters didn’t have any magical weapons.  

This bonus inferred by the masterwork quality did not stack with any magical bonus (in fact, a weapon had to be of masterwork quality to become a magical item). So, once a character had a +1 magical sword, the masterwork quality didn’t really matter any more.

Unfortunately, D&D 5th edition did away with masterwork items and largely ignored it.

I suggest bringing master work items back into D&D, including the rules into 5th edition.

I have even started to implement this into my latest lunchtime dungeon crawl campaign.

I have converted this below, and while masterwork weapons and items need little or no conversions, masterwork armour does need a little re-work.

Masterwork Weapons

As I mentioned above, the rule for masterwork weapons in 3rd edition was pretty straight forward:

A masterwork weapon is a finely crafted version of a normal weapon. Wielding it provides a +1 enhancement bonus on attack rolls.

The masterwork quality adds 300 gp to the cost of a normal weapon (or 6 gp to the cost of a single unit of ammunition, such as an arrow).

This is a simple rule that is even more at home in the magic-devoid (at lower levels) 5th edition of the game.

And allows you to add some non-magical treasure to reward your players, or just to beef up your bad guys.

5th Edition Rule Conversion

I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t play this rule as is – there is really no need to change it.

Design Notes: You could easily change this to a +1 damage instead of to hit, which would more align itself with the design aesthetic of 5th edition, but I don’t mind the +1 to hit adjustment.

Masterwork Armour & Shields

The rules for masterwork armour are slightly different. No, it doesn’t give you +1 to your AC (or even to hit, assuming you want to wack someone with your shield).

The 3rd edition rules are as follows:

Just as with weapons, you can purchase or craft masterwork versions of armor or shields. Such a well-made item functions like the normal version, except that its armor check penalty is lessened by 1.

A masterwork suit of armor or shield costs an extra 150 gp over and above the normal cost for that type of armor or shield.

5th Edition Rule Conversion

Converting masterwork armour proves to be a little more difficult as there is no Armour Check Penalty in D&D 5th edition, or rather it has changed from a number penalty to a number of skills to simply having Disadvantage on stealth checks.

D&D 5th edition does however have a Strength requirement for heavier armour. It also has a max dexterity quality for medium armours.

I would suggest making masterwork armour for medium armours give a +1 to the maximum Dex modifier the wearer can add to his AC when wearing the armour.

And for heavy armours you could allow a +1 Dexterity bonus (if the wearer’s Dexterity was high enough) or perhaps lower the Strength required to wear it by 1.

This would mean that a masterwork chain shirt would cost 200GP, but offer an AC of 13 + Dex modifier (max 3).

While a suit of masterwork plate armour would cost 1,650GP, but offer an AC of 18 + Dex modifier (max 1) OR could be worn by someone with a Strength of 14.

Masterwork Items

Another type of masterwork were the items. The most popular of these being masterwork thieves’ tools.

The idea with masterwork items was that you would receive a +2 circumstance bonus to your skill check when using them.

Here is the official rule:

This well-made item is the perfect tool for the job. It grants a +2 circumstance bonus on a related skill check (if any). Some examples of this sort of item… include masterwork artisan’s tools, masterwork thieves’ tools, disguise kit, climber’s kit, healer’s kit, and masterwork musical instrument.

Masterwork tools cost 50GP each, except for masterwork thieves’ tools, which cost 100GP.

5th Edition Rule Conversion

Like masterwork weapons, I am pretty happy to leave the rule as is. A +2 bonus to a skill check sounds like a lot, but I think having quality items would give you that kind of bonus.

To give an example, imagine the difference between a violinist playing a Stradivarius verses them playing a primary school’s violin.

I would only provide this bonus to someone who has the appropriate Tool proficiency however. Someone who is unskilled in playing a violin will still make the Stradivarius sound awful.

Design Note: You could make this bonus a +1 if you so desire.

Making Masterwork Items

A character (or NPC) could craft masterwork items in D&D 3rd edition – they simply had to make a DC20 craft check (craft is equivalent to Tool proficiencies in 5th edition) to be successful.

5th Edition Rule Conversion

In 5th edition a character can make items as per the rules in Xanathar’s Guide, as follows:

In addition to the appropriate tools for the item to be crafted, a character needs raw materials worth half of the item’s selling cost… Items that cost more than 50 gp can be completed over longer periods of time, as long as the work in progress is stored in a safe location… A character needs to be proficient with the tools needed to craft an item and have access to the appropriate equipment.

I would suggest simply adding the extra cost for creating a masterwork item (300GP for a weapon, 150GP for armour, and 50GP for an item) and then calculating the time it takes with the new total.

So, a masterwork weapon would take an additional 6 days to make.

I would also require a skill check – DC 15 isn’t unreasonable – to see if a masterwork item is created.

Over to You

Adding in some quality items gives your lower level characters to strive for, and gives you a non-magic treasure you could give out as rewards or add to loot piles.

It also adds to the flavour of the world and allows characters (and NPCs) the ability to use their increased skill levels. [link to skills article]

What do you think? Would you introduce some masterwork items into your campaign world?

While You’re Here…

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