Designing a Custom Magical Armor Item for High-Level Campaign


I am currently developing a magical robe for my artificer character in a long-running, high-level campaign spanning from level 6 to level 20. Inspired by the functionality of the "Ectoplasmic Armor Skin", my goal is to create a robe that not only serves as a valuable long-term investment, but also integrates protective features similar to those of the "Great Luminous Armor" spell.

While I find the protective qualities of the "Great Luminous Armor" attractive, I am concerned about the "Daylight" effect associated with this spell. It could potentially be detrimental in certain scenarios, so having the ability to control this feature at will would be very beneficial.

One important aspect to keep in mind is that my character is an undead (Necropolitan), which grants him immunity to the strength damage that usually comes with the sacrificial cost of casting sanctified spells.

In addition, I plan to designate this robe as my character's "familiar item", which I believe will increase its importance and usefulness within the campaign.

I am seeking advice on how best to design this magical item. Specifically, I would like to know what magical properties I could incorporate into the tunic and how to effectively integrate it as a familiar object. I am also interested in your opinions on this concept, especially regarding its cost effectiveness (especially considering it vs. the Skin of Ectoplasmic Armor) and the possible pros and cons I can foresee.

Best Answer

You asked for opinions, so in your position I'd get a wand

The 4th-level sanctified spell greater luminous armor [abjur] (Book of Exalted Deeds 102) is one of the game's premier defenses. Not only does it provide a nearly unparalleled (albeit unenhanced) armor bonus to AC plus the daylight effect, but also the spell causes the affected creature's foes to suffer a −4 penalty on melee attack rolls against the affected creature, an effect that's largely unique in the vast 3.5 corpus. Further, because the character in question possesses the type undead, and because the DM has apparently agreed that the character can still cast sanctified spells despite an immunity to physical ability damage and drain, the character can cast the greater luminous armor spell with impunity.

So rather than create a new magic item that incorporates a greater luminous armor effect, I'd buy or create a wand of greater luminous armor (4th-level spell at caster level 7) (21,000 gp; 0 lbs.). One charge lasts a decent 7 hours, and the armor spell is dismissible so deactivating it—therefore the accompanying daylight effect—isn't an issue. Just don't be afraid to actually use that wand.

That 21,000 gp price tag may seem steep, but it's not. My back-of-the-envelope calculations using Table 7–33: Estimating Magic Item Gold Piece Values (Dungeon Master's Guide 285) puts the price of a new magic item that creates a continuous (or continuous-ish) greater luminous armor effect at over 40,000 gp. However, even a reasonable DM could require that a new magic item separate the greater luminous armor effect into pieces and price them individually. Adding the price of bracers of armor +8 (DMG 250) (64,000 gp; 1 lb.) to a custom at-will daylight item to a minor cloak of displacement (DMG 253) (24,000 gp; 1 lb.) (approximately equivalent to the penalty the armor inflicts), for instance, runs over 100,000 gp.

So if it's AC you want, instead of spending 100,000 gp on a new robe of light (or whatever you'd call your new magic item that creates the greater luminous armor effect), buy the wand. Then head to the Magic Item Compendium and its Table 6–11: Adding/Improving Common Item Effects (234). Slap onto your robe a +1 deflection bonus to AC or a +1 enhancement bonus to natural armor so that it's now a robe with a market price of at least 2,000 gp. Then, as levels are gained, bling out your robe further according to Improving Magic Items (MIC 233).

"But I don't want to use a wand!"

One reason to want to avoid the wand of luminous armor is that it's a charged item. My experience has been that players vastly underestimate what fifty charges really means. The DMG recommends about 12—13 encounters to level up. This means that a wand of greater luminous armor can be used in every fight for four levels until needing a new one—that costs exactly the same as the old one. (In other words, the wand is very expensive at character level 8, a moderate expense at 12, pocket change at 16, and a rounding error at 20). Even if four wands are purchased over the course of an adventuring career—keeping in mind that most campaigns don't last until level 20—, that's still less than the possibly 100,000 gp outlay for an equivalent new magic item!

Another reason to avoid the wand is that it takes a standard action to activate. Ambushes should be increasingly rare as PCs level up precisely because PCs are typically the most aggressively paranoid beings in the campaign setting. If the campaign's optimization is such that spending a standard action to don one of the game's most comprehensive defenses means still losing the fight, spend a charge whenever trouble might appear. A charge lasts seven hours! Really, my experience is that by the time a wand of greater luminous armor is affordable, PCs are picking fights not being picked on.

Anyway, then take that robe of protection +1 (or whatever) for the feat Item Familiar (Unearthed Arcana 170). If you must.

…And I'd skip the Item Familiar feat

If the Item Familiar feat were free, my PCs would never invest life energy, skill points, or spell slots into the item familiar. The risk of losing the item is simply too great. Even if the DM says that PCs' stuff won't be targeted, the prospect of an item that occupies a body slot being accidentally destroyed or lost is very real given the vagaries of the adventurer's lifestyle.

More practically, a PC who has invested life energy into the item gains XP at a different rate from PCs without the feat. This may not bother other PCs, but it makes adventure design harder for the DM, therefore tacitly encouraging the DM to destroy the item (because DMing is already hard enough). However, even if events are reasonable or its loss is accidental, if the item is lost, the effects are so severe that the DM looks like a jerk because the player opted to have the PC invest life energy (and maybe more) into the item. Once the PC invests in the item, it's lose-lose for the DM. And that's with a conscientious DM. If the DM's playstyle is adversarial, then I'd expect to lose the item regularly.

If the goal is not to invest in the item familiar and, instead, just have a magic item that grows in power with the character, consider the feat Ancestral Relic (BE 39, 41).

Note: The player rolled a natural 1 on his PC's Reflex saving throw against a spell that dealt sufficient damage to destroy the PC's item familiar. After realizing how terrible that was, I banned the feat in later campaigns; it simply provoked too much anxiety. The only time I'd consider the feat Item Familiar is if the campaign mandated that PCs all be truenamers from Tome of Magic (191+). If that's the case here, please point me to that campaign's online journal.