My group recently finished playing through the Tomb of Annihilation published adventure. It was most of our players’ first time with 5e (including mine), and one of the differences I noticed compared with previous editions was how limited the availability of magic items appears to be. In 4e, characters regularly collect powerful magic items as quest and combat rewards. They are expected to have, at minimum, a magic weapon, magic armor, and a magic neck slot item; and typically have many more (arms, feet, head, waist, etc). But by the end of ToA, we were level 9, yet not all characters even had a magic weapon, much less armor or protective items. We did pick up some items, but most were not broadly useful and would have been classified as “Wondrous Items” in 4e.
I’m not sure if this is a limit of the adventure, an accident of how my party approached the adventure, or an attribute of the 5e system itself. ToA doesn’t provide much equipable treasure from encounters; most of its rewards are miscellaneous sellables. Additionally, my group accidentally took the most direct possible path through the adventure, bypassing almost all sidequests and spending little to no time in any location other than the Tomb. So we were never in a position to sell those various gems and artworks, either to buy gear or do anything else.
However, from what I’ve read of 5e overall, it’s a much lower-magic system than previous editions. Magic items are considered rare and priceless, and there are few places to buy or sell them. On top of that, 5e’s “bounded accuracy” model means the system doesn’t expect players to stack up lots of small bonuses. This suggests 5e doesn’t require players to wield powerful magic weapons to fight high-level mosters; or to wear powerful magic armor to defend against deadly attacks. But that raises the question of, what are all those sellables for, if not to buy magic items?
I’m considering running a game in a homebrew setting, and trying to decide whether 5e is the right system to use (versus attempting to run 4e without access to all those lovely but unfortunately Silverlight-based web tools). The setting is fairly high-magic but does not contain a lot of large cities where players could do anything useful with sellable treasure, or find those rare few places to buy magic gear or other items.
Is it expected in 5e that players mostly receive sellables as rewards? If so, are players expected to sell the sellables for cash and then buy magic items? (And if so to that, then where do players buy magic items?) Or are players expected to not ever need magic items, and any cash they can get from sellable rewards is just a nice retirement cushion?
On the other hand, is Tomb of Annihilation an outlier in treasure distribution and in a different setting, players could expect to receive more magic items directly?