Magic items by character level in 5e

Last month I posted one piece about magic item distribution and another about level advancement. Here, I’m going to bring them together and see what they mean for magic items by level.

I confess that this feels a bit redundant because since the earlier posts I’ve acquired the official 5e book Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, which covers some of the same material (on pages 135-136). It gives guidelines that are very similar to what I outline here, but not exactly the same. Since I haven’t reverse-engineered quite how the Xanathar’s numbers are derived, I feel it is still worth publishing this piece because my calculations are transparent and my figures are more detailed, giving item guidelines for each level rather than just tier by tier.

Treasure hoards per level

In the level advancement post, we identified how many ‘adventuring days’ it takes to advance through each level. I was going to write this piece assuming that you get one treasure hoard per adventuring day and take the minimum days for each level, and say that a lot depends on how individual GMs put adventures together and allocate treasure. But now that I have looked at Xanathar’s, I’m going to add another 30% to my base assumption, which aligns my hoards per level with the hoards per tier table on p135 of Xanathar’s. I’ll take it on trust that this may reflect adventure design practice (some combination of shorter adventuring days and multiple hoards in some adventures); I’m sure Wizards of the Coast have more idea how GMs across the world design adventures than I do.

Level of acquisitionMinimum ADs to completeExpected hoards
11.01.3
21.01.3
31.52.0
42.22.9
Tier 1 total5.77.5
52.12.8
62.32.9
72.22.9
82.33.0
92.12.8
102.33.0
Tier 2 total13.417.4
111.41.9
121.72.3
131.51.9
141.72.2
151.72.2
161.52.0
Tier 3 total9.512.3
171.62.1
181.51.9
191.72.2
Tier 4 total4.76.2
Total33.443.4
Adventuring days and hoards by level and tier

For comparison, Xanathar’s expects 7 Tier 1 hoards, 18 Tier 2, 12 Tier 3 and 8 Tier 4 (including level 20, which I have not included) for a total of about 45.

Items gained per level and tier

Since in the item tables post we established how many rolls on which item table one hoard of any given tier represents on average, we can translate the hoards per level table into an items per level table. I’ll split it up into minor and major items to fit this page format.

Level of acquisitionMinor Items
Common*Uncom-mon*Rare*Very Rare*Legen-dary*Total
11.090.490.33001.90
21.090.490.33001.90
31.640.730.49002.86
42.441.090.73004.26
Tier 1 total6.262.801.860010.92
51.561.320.770.1703.82
61.641.390.800.1804.01
71.601.360.790.1703.92
81.701.440.830.1804.16
91.551.320.760.1703.80
101.701.440.830.1804.16
Tier 2 total9.758.274.791.04023.85
110.650.911.370.740.153.82
120.791.111.660.900.184.65
130.670.941.420.770.153.96
140.761.061.590.870.174.45
150.761.061.590.870.174.45
160.680.961.430.780.164.01
Tier 3 total4.316.049.064.930.9925.33
17001.122.331.605.05
18001.042.161.484.68
19001.172.431.675.27
Tier 4 total003.336.914.7515.00
Total20.3317.1119.0512.895.7475.11
Average items by level and tier, minor items

*I have headed the columns by item rarity so it is easy to interpret, but the numbers are actually for table rolls, on item tables A-E reading across the page. Most of the tables actually have some chance for an item of a different rarity category; the chances are generally small, except on Table E which has equal chances of Very Rare and Legendary minor items.

Level of acquisitionMajor itemsMajor and minor items total
Uncom-mon*Rare*Very Rare*Legen-dary*Total
10.390.04000.432.33
20.390.04000.432.33
30.590.06000.643.50
40.870.09000.965.22
Tier 1 total2.240.22002.4613.38
50.980.280.0601.315.13
61.020.290.0601.375.38
71.000.290.0601.345.26
81.060.300.0601.435.58
90.970.280.0601.305.10
101.060.300.0601.435.58
Tier 2 total6.091.740.3508.1832.04
110.260.650.460.151.525.34
120.320.790.570.181.856.50
130.270.670.480.151.585.54
140.300.760.540.171.786.23
150.300.760.540.171.786.23
160.270.680.490.161.605.61
Tier 3 total1.734.313.080.9910.1135.44
1700.210.421.041.666.72
1800.190.390.961.546.22
1900.220.431.081.737.00
Tier 4 total00.621.233.094.9419.94
Total10.066.904.664.0725.69100.80
Average items by level and tier, major items

*I have headed the columns by item rarity so it is easy to interpret, but the numbers are actually for table rolls, on item tables F-I reading across the page. From Rare (table G) to Legendary (table I) there is a small chance to get an armor item with a lesser enchantment but a relatively expensive armor type.

Cumulative items per level

On the assumption that the party keeps items they acquire, the below tables show the total items acquired up to and including each level.

Level of acquisitionMinor Items
CommonUncom-monRareVery RareLegen-daryTotal
11.090.490.33001.90
22.180.980.65003.81
33.821.711.14006.67
46.262.801.860010.92
57.824.122.630.17014.74
69.465.513.430.34018.75
711.066.874.220.51022.66
812.768.315.060.70026.82
914.319.635.820.86030.62
1016.0111.076.651.04034.78
1116.6611.988.021.790.1538.59
1217.4513.089.682.690.3343.24
1318.1314.0311.093.460.4847.20
1418.8915.0912.694.330.6651.65
1519.6416.1514.285.200.8356.10
1620.3317.1115.715.980.9960.11
1720.3317.1116.848.312.5965.16
1820.3317.1117.8810.464.0769.84
1920.3317.1119.0512.895.7475.11
Cumulative items by level completed, minor items

Level of acquisitionMajor itemsMajor and minor items total
Uncom-monRareVery RareLegen-daryTotal
10.390.04000.432.33
20.780.08000.864.67
31.370.14001.508.17
42.240.22002.4613.38
53.210.500.0603.7718.51
64.240.790.1105.1423.89
75.241.080.1706.4929.15
86.301.380.2307.9134.73
97.271.660.2909.2239.84
108.331.960.35010.64 45.42
118.592.610.810.1512.1750.76
128.913.411.380.3314.0257.26
139.184.081.860.4815.6062.80
149.484.842.400.6617.3869.02
159.785.602.940.8319.1575.25
1610.066.283.430.9920.7580.86
1710.066.493.852.0322.4287.58
1810.066.684.232.9923.9693.80
1910.066.904.664.0725.69100.80
Cumulative items by level completed, major items

So based on these assumptions a successful adventuring party can expect to find about 100 magic items by the time they reach level 20. Note that each character in the party gets only a share of these. Since the treasure tiers are based on standard encounters balanced for 4-character parties, you can divide the numbers in the tables by 4 if you’re generating items for a single character.

The large majority of items acquired are minor items. (Note that this is one of the variations between my results and the guidelines in Xanathar’s: I make the ratio between minor and major items about 75:25, whereas Xanathar says about 80:20.)

Also, items are balanced towards the lower rarity tiers, even when you look across a career that progresses all the way through Tier 4. An adventurer of 20th level may expect to have one Legendary major item and a Very Rare, but will probably have a few lower-tier major items and have obtained over a dozen lower-tier minor items. (The exact numbers are again a little different between my tables and those in Xanathar’s.)

However, not all items last forever. Especially minor items: the majority of items generated by the minor tables are potions, scrolls, ammunition and similar single-use items. Some major items also have finite uses before losing their magic; others have regenerating charges but have a chance of losing their magic permanently if discharged completely. Even fully permanent items may have been lost, stolen, requisitioned, gifted away or otherwise be no longer in the character’s possession.Therefore the number of items in a veteran adventurer’s possession is likely to be considerably less than the number acquired over the course of their career, and the balance more even between minor and major.

Also, NPCs with class abilities don’t necessarily adventure as much as PCs and might never have acquired as many magic items in the first place.

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