Balanced Wealth (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Author: Ghostwheel (talk)
Date Created: September 13, 2009
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Balanced Wealth[edit]


As it stands, Character Wealth by level (CWBL, page 135 of the 3.5 DMG) is horribly skewed in favor of casters. Where attackers need all of the Big Six magical items (magic armor, a magic weapon, a ring of protection, an amulet of natural armor, a cloak of resistance, and an item that boosts an ability score), casters for the most part only need two (cloak of resistance and an item that boosts an ability score), especially if they stay out of melee.

This variant attempts to fix this problem, one which gives casters a boost beyond their class abilities and spells. Rather than characters having to buy essential equipment to keep them on par with monsters of equal level, this variant gives the items for free, allowing characters to buy things that are flavorful rather than necessary, allowing them more options instead of simply more power.

Another potential problem automatically fixed by this variant is when characters are below the CWBL they should be at, according to the DMG. With this variant, characters always have at least the minimum level-equivalent equipment that they need to get through a fight.

How it Works[edit]

Replace Table 5-1, page 135 of the 3.5 DMG with the following table. At the appropriate levels, characters gain the bonuses as marked below simply as part of their characters. For example, a level 7 character would have a +2 Enhancement bonus with a single weapon, even an unarmed or natural attack (both attack and damage, as per a +2 weapon), +2 armor Enhancement bonus (as though whatever armor they wore had a +2 bonus--even if they're not wearing any, and this may apply to shields or armor, but not both), a +1 Deflection bonus to AC, a +2 Enhancement bonus to their natural armor, a +2 Resistance bonus to all saves, and a +2 Enhancement bonus to all ability scores. This means that shields cannot gain an enhancement bonus if the armor has an enhancement bonus, but they can have miscellaneous enchantments from the armor list below, with the effective enhancement bonus being equal to one's armor enhancement bonus for the purpose of how strong the specific enchantment is.

Note that the Enhancement bonus to AC does not stack with the Mage Armor spell, Bracers of Armor, or any similar ability (even if the bonus is assigned to a shield).

The one enhancement that can be "split up" as an exception to this rule is the enhancement bonus to weapons if one wishes to attack with more than one weapon in a single round, which may be split to multiple items. For every additional item attuned, the bonus decreases by 1. Thus, a level 20 character with two shortswords can have them both gain a +4 bonus to attack and damage, rather than having one at +5 and the other nonmagical. Every natural attack that cannot be used to make iterative attacks count as a single weapon for this purpose. (In other words, if you had two claw attacks and a bite attack, you could assign the enhancement bonus to them, or split it between them and, say, armor spikes.)

Ability Bonuses[edit]

Replacing the need for Tomes and Wishes as a way to boost scores, we change the way that stats are boosted at each level. At first level, characters choose a primary ability score; that score rises by +1 at every even level (2, 4, 6, etc). In addition, they may raise any other ability score (apart from their primary one) by one at every even level choosing different ability score or the same one they previously chose to increase by another one. This replaces both the normal +1 to ability scores every four levels, and the ability to raise ability scores through Tomes, Manuals, or Wishes and similar abilities.

Any increase to Intelligence from this variant, from both the Enhancement bonuses and the inherent bonuses, grants more skill points per level both retroactively and for future class levels.

Companions and NPCs[edit]

If the character has an animal companion or familiar, they get a boost equal to one half their "master's" level, while NPCs and monsters get the benefits of a character whose level equals their CR.

Balanced CWBL Table[edit]

Table: Balanced CWBL

Level Cumulative Primary
Ability Increases
Enhancement bonus
to all ability scores
Armor or Shield
Deflection Natural Armor
Resistance Secondary
Ability Increases
1 +1
2 +1 +1 +1
3 +1 +1 +1
4 +2 +1 +1
5 +2
6 +3 +2 +2 +1
7 +2 +2
8 +4 +2 +1
9 +3 +3
10 +5 +3 +1
11 +3 +3
12 +6 +4 +3 +1
13 +4
14 +7 +4 +1
15 +5 +4 +4
16 +8 +4 +1
17 +5
18 +9 +6 +5 +1
19 +5 +5
20 +10 +5 +1

Magic Items[edit]

With this variant comes the ability to make magical weapons both simpler and cooler. No character in a fantasy story has a +5 Shocking Screaming Flaming Frost Shocking Axe, right? In fact, few characters have a weapon that's simply "magic"--weapons slice more easily, shriek with an unnerving sound, or explode in bursts of energy. Just "magic" is dull, and can easily be replaced with more interesting abilities. Rather, they have magical sword of fire, axes covered in rimefrost, and hammers that crackle with lightning. This variant uses the above rules, but completely does away with the magical equivalent of "wealth" that characters have, instead substituting them for the number of magical items of a certain level of power that characters will have.

Similarly, characters aren't usually festooned with dozens of magical items as though they were some sort of crazy Christmas tree. Instead, they have a few items that allow them to do interesting things, each one special in its own right. A character might have boots of flying, gloves that allow them to examine the past owners of an object, a cloak that fools the eye, and so on. In this variant, characters are limited to using up to five magical items at a time, and magical items are divided into three categories: least, lesser and greater magic items. Magical items must be willfully donned, with the intent to use them to stop a tricksy enemy from forcing a character to lose one or more of their magical abilities simply by handing off a trinket of little worth. Furthermore, items count towards the limit of five magical items per character for two minutes after they have been taken off to prevent a character from changing clothes mid-combat in an effort to gain the bonuses from a different item. The only exceptions to this rule are magic items that are obviously meant to be switched out mid-combat, such as the Weapon and Armor crystals in Magic Item Compendium or magical ammunition. These, once removed, immediately don't count against your total limit of five magic items.

"Miscellaneous" bonuses to stats such as Sacred bonuses to ability scores, Insight bonuses to attack, or Luck bonuses to saves or AC are gone from magic items, the tables above supplementing them with naturally-given bonuses to such statistics.

  • Least magic items are the most common, and their worth usually ranges anywhere from as little as one gold to 4,000 gold. They often replicate the effects of spells of first and second level.
  • Lesser magic items are often wielded by mighty heroes, and their worth usually ranges anywhere from over 4,000 gold to 25,000 gold. They often replicate the effects of spells from third and fourth level.
  • Greater magic items are very rare, and wielded by paragons of their kind. Their worth usually ranges anywhere from 25,000 to 200,000 gold. They often replicate the effects of spells from fifth and sixth level

The DM is the final arbiter on what rank a specific magic item gets.

Characters can gain the benefits of a number of magic items of specific ranks as shown in the table below. However, remember that one can only gain the benefits of up to five magic items at a time. For the purpose of this limit, one-use items (such as potions and scrolls) and non-weapon/shield items that must be held and require an action to activate (such as the Horn of Blasting or the Drums of Panic) don't count towards your five magic item limit. The DM, however, has final say on whether any given item counts against the limit or not.

Level Rank of Item
Least Lesser Greater
3 1
4 1
5 2
6 3
7 4
9 1
10 1
11 2
12 3
13 4
15 1
16 1
17 2
18 3
19 4

Rather than use the old rules for things like magical arms and armor, these are a examples on how magical weapons scale with one's character. So instead of having a +3 Shocking Flaming Corrosive sword, which deals 1d6 damage of each of the above types, a +3 Flaming sword would deal 3d6 fire damage instead. Weapons may choose one damage enhancement, one boost enhancement, and to be made of a special material enhancement (such as cold iron, adamantine, and so on); with only one enhancement, the weapon is considered a Least magic item, and with two the weapon counts as a Lesser magic item, and with three the weapon is considered a Greater magic item. Armors may have one magical enhancement, and a special material enhanecement (such as mithral, adamantine, and so on). A single enhancement causes the armor to be a Least magic item, while two makes the armor a Lesser magic item. The DM may rule that some materials (such as silvered weapons) are so common that they do not raise the rank of an item.

Some items are special; they are artifacts. Artifacts have a specific level that they come with, and characters who use them that are below the specified level are brought up to that level for the purpose of that item. For example, let's say the Pelee's Wrath is a level 17 Flaming Longsword of Speed. In the hands of a character whose level was less than 17, it would be a weapon that dealt +4d6 Fire damage, and one could make an extra attack with it when full attacking. It would be the same in the hands of a level 20 character, but would deal +5d6 damage, since their natural level was greater than the level of the artifact.

Damage Enhancement Examples:

  • Flaming - Deals an additional +1d6 fire damage per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Frost - Deals an additional +1d6 cold damage per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Corrosive - Deals an additional +1d6 acid damage per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Shocking - Deals an additional +1d6 electricity damage per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Screaming - Deals an additional +1d4 sonic damage per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Holy - Deals an additional +1d6 damage against evil creatures per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Unholy - Deals an additional +1d6 damage against good creatures per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Anarchic - Deals an additional +1d6 damage against lawful creatures per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapons.
  • Axiomatic - Deals an additional +1d6 damage against chaotic creatures per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapon .
  • Bane - Deals an additional +2d6 damage against creatures of a specific type per +1 enhancement bonus that the player adds to their weapons.
  • Collision - Deals an additional 2.5 damage per +1 enhancement bonus that the player adds to their weapons (rounded down).
  • Merciful - The damage from this weapon may be made nonlethal should the character choose to do so with no penalty to attack rolls. When dealing nonlethal damage, increase the damage dealt with this weapon by +1d6 per +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their weapon.

Boost Enhancement Examples:

  • Speed - Weapon grants an additional attack on a full-attack action if the weapon has an enhancement bonus of at least +3 (does not stack with haste or any similar effects).
  • Wounding - Deals 1 point of constitution damage if the weapon has at least a +2 enhancement bonus.
  • Changeling - As a swift action, the character may have the weapon change into any other weapon of the same size.
  • Ghost Touch - The weapon affects Incorporeal creatures normally, without any chance of missing.
  • Keen - The threat range of the weapon doubles if the weapon has at least an enhancement bonus of +2.
  • Spell Storing - The weapon may hold a single spell which is triggered upon a hit.
  • Bursting - On a critical hit, the weapon deals an extra 1d8 damage for every enhancement bonus granted to the weapon plus the multiplier above one that the weapon possesses. (x2 is +1d8, x3 is +2d8, x4 is +3d8, and so on.) Thus, a Shocking Scythe of Bursting wielded by a level 12 character would deal an extra 6d8 damage on a critical (3d8 from being a +3 weapon, 3d8 from the weapon's x4 multiplier).
  • Brilliant Energy - If the weapon has at least an enhancement bonus of +4, the weapon sheds light and ignores armor bonuses to AC and nonliving matter.

You get the idea. This way, weapons stay magical and powerful throughout gameplay, and the player doesn't have to upgrade them at the local magic-mart with new additions and enhancements.

A few examples for armor; remember that even though shields do not gain an enhancement bonus to AC, they may still benefit from the following bonuses. For the strength of the enchantment, treat the shields effective enhancement bonus as that of the armor enhancement bonus the character has.

  • Fortification - Gain a 25% chance of being immune to sneak attack and critical hits at +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor. This upgrades to 50% at +3 enhancement, and 100% at +5
  • Spell Resistance - Gain SR equal to your character level + 6. Thus a 13th level character would have an SR of 19.
  • Blinding - Twice per day, anyone within 20' of the wielder must make a Reflex saving throw or be blinded for 1d4 rounds. The DC of this is equal to 11 + your character level.
  • Fire resistance - Gain Fire Resistance of 5 for every +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor
  • Acid resistance - Gain Acid Resistance of 5 for every +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor
  • Cold resistance - Gain Cold Resistance of 5 for every +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor
  • Sonic resistance - Gain Sonic Resistance of 5 for every +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor
  • Electricity resistance - Gain Electricity Resistance of 5 for every +1 enhancement bonus the player adds to their armor

Materials could work the same way; for example, one could add the mithral material to light armor if one has a +1 enhancement to that armor, add it to medium armor if one has a +2 enhancement to armor, and add it to heavy armor if one has a +3 enhancement to armor. Thus, a fifth level character could have a mithral chain shirt, while a character would have to wait until level ten before upgrading his full plate to be mithral.

Extrapolate these examples to whatever bonus you have in mind, making sure to keep the ability gained in line with the level the character would be when they would be able to gain the ability normally.

Combining Magical Effects

Some characters might prefer multiple effects on a single item rather than just one effect. An item with two Least effects is considered a Lesser item, and an item with two Lesser effects is considered a Greater item. At the same time, two Least effects can count as a Lesser effect for the purpose of a Greater item. Armor and weapons cannot be enhanced in this way.

For example, a Greater item might have four Least effects, or two Least effects and a Lesser effect.

Class-Granted Items[edit]

Some classes give magical weaponry or armor as part of their class abilities. In order to use them with the Balanced Wealth variant, you effectively turn them into extra items--effectively, you get an extra item. Here are two examples to help you figure out how to work them into the Balanced Wealth variant; note that despite their usual enhancement bonus, the enhancement bonus from the Balanced Wealth system takes over as far as their enhancement values and such.

  • Soulknife - Until level 4, the soulknife's mindblade does not become magical. However, at that level it counts as an extra Least item. At level 7 it becomes a Lesser item, and at level 14 a Greater item.
  • Kensai (Complete Warrior) - At first level, the kensai's signature weapon becomes a Least item. At fourth level, it becomes a Lesser item. At level seven, it becomes a Greater item.


All crafting feats are gone under this variant, and any character who possesses only PC class levels with enough downtime (at least three days) can craft any permanent (non-consumable) item that a character 3 levels below them would be able to wear or wield, but only once per level. Characters do not require the ability to cast in order to create magical items. The three exceptions are Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, and Craft Wand, as follows.

  • A character with Scribe Scroll may spend an hour once every 24 hours (usually upon waking) to craft up to three scrolls of any spell level he knows.
  • A character with Brew Potion may spend an hour once every 24 hours (usually upon waking) to brew five potions that he would normally be able to brew.
  • A character with Craft Wand may spend an hour once every 24 hours (usually upon waking) to craft one wand of a spell that he could cast which has 10 charges. If the character has access to Least items, they can craft a wand containing 1st level spells, 2nd or 3rd if they have access to Lesser items, and 4th if they have access to Greater items.

A character may not exceed three scrolls, five potions, and a single wand they have crafted in existence at any time. They always know how many of these are still unused, though not necessarily which ones. If they craft enough enough of these to pass over the above limit, the consumable of that type that has longest been in existence becomes inert and does nothing.

For example, if a character has three scrolls in crafted, having created A, then B, then C, uses B, and crafts two more scrolls, D and E, scroll A would become inert and only C, D, and E would be available. If they then crafted two wands, F then G, wand F would disappear.

Note that while the normal cost to craft these is replaced, the crafter must still provide the right number of material components for each spell as normal, including costly ones (one for each scroll scribed, one for each potion brewed, ten for each wand crafted).

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