Prosthetic Attunement

Over the course of supplementary rule books, Wizards of the Coast has supplied player characters with items that can serve as a stand-in for a lost body part.

The first such item was the Ersatz Eye, released in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. This common item replaces an eye that you lost or was removed. You can see through the Ersatz Eye as if it was your normal eye.

Then, we received a variety of prosthetic limbs in Keith Baker’s Eberron: Rising from the Last War. These provided all sorts of nifty features and magical abilities, in the spirit of Rockman’s Mega Buster. But, it also provided a plain base Prosthetic Limb for characters who need one.

The Problem

As originally printed, both of these items had the same issue: attunement.

Attunement is a mechanic in 5th Edition D&D that’s intended to limit power creep from item stacking. Each character (except Artificers) gets three attunement slots. A character can only get the benefit of three items that require attunement at the same time.

When attunement was included as a component of the Ersatz Eye and the base Prosthetic Limb, it placed disabled characters in a different power class than their peers. If you want to play a character who brings some disabled representation to your table, you’re playing at a disadvantage, because some of your attunement slots are occupied by bringing your capability in line with your peers.

Indeed, there is nothing magical about using a prosthesis. People do it all the time in every day life. This is a basic character choice that a DM should allow their player to make about their character’s identity without mechanical interference from an item.

Now, it’s still important to have these kinds of items in the game. It’s representation for disabled players and it signals to DMs that these common items should be a part of their worldbuilding.

Fixing the Problem

I’ll admit that this problem escaped me at first. I only noticed it when I was combing through Matthew Mercer’s Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, where the prosthetic rules were adopted from Eberron.

The simple fix is to remove attunement from the Ersatz Eye and the base Prosthetic Limb.

Attunement Removed from Base Prosthetic Limb

So, back on May 24, 2020, I put it out there. D&D Rules Designer Dan Dillon responded the same day, letting us know that he had flagged the item for review with the team. Then, on November 13, 2020, when errata was released for the Eberron book, the team updated the base prosthetic to remove the attunement requirement:

Ersatz Eye Improvements on the Horizon

More recently, D&D’s Principal Story Designer Chris Perkins tweeted that he was playing a character who used an Ersatz Eye. So, I took the opportunity to raise the issue again. Chris tagged in D&D’s Principal Rules Designer Jeremy Crawford, who confirmed on January 10, 2021, that the attunement requirement would be removed from the Ersatz Eye.

Attunement for Stronger Items

If the prosthesis provides some additional benefit beyond restoring basic capability, then by all means it can require attunement. Consider an Ersatz Eye that you can remotely control for scouting, or one that grants the user darkvision or truesight. Consider a Prosthetic Limb that fires off rocket punches or laser beams. Or even, the Hand of Vecna. These types of items might be a candidate for attunement. It should be based on the magic power, not the functional capability.

One creative solution to this design quandary was offered by Game Designer Sara Thompson, who released their combat wheelchair in July 2020. The combat wheelchair does not require attunement, but any items that are attuned to your character are also attuned to the chair:

If you know any more items that should have their attunement removed for accessibility reasons, or you can think of additional non-attunement disability aids to add to the game, please let us know in the comments below!

Thanks to all our supporters on the ThinkDM Patreon who make these articles possible!

5 thoughts on “Prosthetic Attunement

  1. The only thing I would change about Ersatz Eyes or Prosthetic Limbs with extra powers that require attunement would be the caveat that you can use them to function normally if you arent currently attuned to them. Attunement juggling is a thing that often comes up in games that run for any extended period of time, and to have to swap out the attuned version of the item with the normal one whenever you want to do so is just a hassle. The attunement should be specifically for the extra magical effects, and you could easily work that as you’re attaining to special parts of the device that give the extra abilities.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am very ambivalent with this. I think I’ll put it this way, should a fantasy character with a wheelchair care about stairs?

    Like

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