Behind the vault door excerpt: Usefulness of items
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book: Behind the vault door. I hope you enjoy!
Magic items can be sorted into any number of categories. The slots they use, the cost of them, the kind of effect. But when I look at magic items. I think one of the most important things to consider is last ability. Is this item going to be useful in 2 levels? In 5? in 10?
There are three categories an item can fall into when considering this. First are Items that simply do not stay useful beyond a few levels. A wand of sleep, or scroll of fireball are great examples, but as are things like thunderstones and even mantle's of spell resistance. These items grant a specific measurable numeric effect, which becomes less relevant as other effects continue to increase steadily. These items need special attention because if they don't get used soon they never will, and that can lead to a sense of unfulfillment. That's not to say these items are bad, but at level 2 it's probably better to bust out that sleep wand while you still can, don't hold onto it so long that it becomes obsolete, use it while you can.
That last part is important and helps separate it from the next category: Items that maintain usefulness but can be replaced by something better. An amulet of natural armor+1 always provides+1 to ac and it is always helping and contributing, never becoming entirely useless. You'd be better served by a +3 sure, but that +1 is still pulling it's weight. Other items in this category include things like bracers of strength, a +3 sword, or most of people's favourite statimproving numbers. This also includes things like wands of magic missile, which will still deal damage but not as much as you'd like.
The final category is for items that will always be useful and relevant and, more importantly, provide benefits thateither aren't measurably, or aren't meaningfully improvable. Things like stone salve, which cures petrifaction, or a scroll of teleport, or a wand of cure light wounds. These items do something that will always be useful, no matter what level you are. These are in my opinion, the best and most exciting items, ones that you can award as a GM or receive as a player and KNOW that they're going to come in handy whether you use them now or 5 adventures later.
So when you're shopping for your next adventure, or building treasure for your players. Consider carefully which items are going to be useful when, and plan for situations where those short term items will come in handy right away. Some of this stuff may seem obvious to some, but it's vital to think about what sort of an item you're looking at, and what kind of game you're playing.