Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Can Mundane and Memorable Magic Coexist?

Yeah, I've got magic on my mind recently - go figure.

So, If mundane magic is the +X type sword and memorable magic is the sword that is not designed around +X but with history and abilities in a unique combination - can the two types of magic items viably coexist in a campaign?

I ask, because ACKS has an Arcane Lore proficiency that allows the Magic-User to attempt a D20 roll to ID a magic item. This makes sense when magic items are unique (or nearly so in nature) as discovering Abigale's Magical Serving Tray and Shield is certainly covered by having a understanding of the history of magical items. I don't see it translating as well to "Generic +3 Long Sword".

The same goes for those systems that include a Bard Class. A knowledge of history and legends could certainly held one identify Azel's Unerring Bow of Hunting, but that suit of +1 Chainmail isn't all that remarkable.

Of course, one could simply give all mundane magic memorable names be item, but I suspect that would go to the wayside fairly quickly with most players. Besides, when an item is defined by something as simple as a number, a name doesn't mean much.

Or generic magic items might not be identifiable with a lore roll, unless they were owned previously by a historical figure.

Eh, that is why I don't have much love for magic items that are defined solely by a number - they lack character and soul. But the other extreme is to design magic items to be unique, and that can be extremely time consuming.

So I mix and match. Which doesn't answer my magical lore problem at all ;)


  1. Maybe a way to look at magical items is the way that we look at our heroes.

    My game of choice is Tunnels and Trolls, which comes with an EXTREMELY high attrition rate for entry level delvers. They still all get names though and, over the years some have certainly been more memorable than others (even if they didn't make it past the first level).

    So maybe it's the same for magical objects. They all have names but there are so many +1 Swords in the world that we only bother to name the ones that make a significant impact on the campaign world.

    This could be something as simple as being the blade of the greatest hero in the realm or, who forged it. After all, the one ring wasn't great (or much more than a cursed ring of invisibility) but, where it came from and who forged it made it special.

  2. I don't think it is about names, I think it is about rarity.

    I'm kind of with some other posters I've seen on this topic recently - I prefer that magic items be special. That being said, I've had memorable but unnamed +2 swords as a player, in campaigns where such things were sufficiently rare.

    Systems or settings that encourage dozens of magic items per level don't entertain me much unless they are parody games :)

  3. that's why I like the concept of "masterwork" items, or items forged from rare alloys, despite the baggage that might bring for some people. A blade of Damascus Steel might be +1 in game terms, though it's not actually enchanted. It's just better and more rare than the workmanlike blades hammered out by Blacksmith Jim.

  4. In my game, all magic items have specific names and histories (some having several). Most of those, however, are just lost in the sands of time, waiting for a new hero and a new name.

  5. My take would be that perhaps those generic items are made by a few shops that specialize in making magical starter magic weapons. They each have there own style and branding. A makers mark that some one who knows the history of these mundane magical shops could recognize. "This is a Gibbies model 3 +4 long sword. Not a bad make but the magics they used were a bit dark so i would not recommend giving it to the Paladin."

  6. No reason why you can't give some background to a simple +1 sword: owned by some famous warrior whose blood soaked into the blade and made it keen (i.e. +1 magic). That'd work, and it's what I'm doing in my games when I can't think of anything more special.

  7. "This dagger was made by the elves in Gondolin, and probably saw service in the wars with the orcs, as it was found with Orcrist and Glamdring."

    "These blades were made by men to help resist the Witch-King of Angmar. Although they have no names that I know, they may be fell blades to the servants of the Enemy!"

  8. Make the players come up with a story background and name for anything they find. Until they do, the item doesn't work mechanically in game terms.

    e.g. Until the player decides that +2 battle axe is-'The Three Tree Cleaver of Yvonne Goblin-hewer' it's just a regular (albeit nearly indestructible) battle axe.

    You could even make in-game discovery of an item's provenance a requirement as well. Good way to suck off that extra cash with all the Sage hiring that would ensue.

  9. Whereas I look at it a bit differently. I look at it like an episode of Antiques Road Show. There are places like Tiffany glassworks that have made some fantastic pieces that are incredibly well known and everyone is looking for them. Well, the glass blower in 1901 also did several pieces that are collectible for their aesthetic work and craftsmanship, but are not proper named Tiffany pieces. They are still far and above what Jim the glass blower was going to be cranking out, but they are not exactly brand name.

    The same goes for your magic weapons. I build in two or three great sword masters, master blacksmiths and magic practitioners who have made the 6, 8, 10 named weapons. (Your Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver and what not) and those three or four mast craftsmen and women also did projects when they were starting out, or on the side, or for a visiting noble, all of which are FAR better than the standard blacksmith (your +1s, +2s, etc) but are not up to the quality of their named commissioned pieces.

    They could be concept pieces, practice works, proofs, or even production work that the master artisan performed when between commissions as part of a contract to the noble whom he supplied the weapons for in lieu of patronage.

    So the response when the mage or bard does their historic roll is, “Yes, this was one of Giltha the Strong Armed swords. The tell tale markings of the mighty dwarven smith are here on the hilt. The design is some of his early work, perhaps before he even forged Orcrist, the Goblin Cleaver. It could have been an army piece, or perhaps some stock work. But it should go without saying that anything that the Strong Armed laid a hammer to was of exceptional quality and was of superb workmanship. They say that when Giltha first landed the hammer on the anvil that the first sound that rang from the iron was so pure and so crisp that those in attendance wept for what wonders he would produce. Even this sword, one of the first he ever produced is a +2 long sword. Not his greatest work to be sure, but still valuable, still collectable and still able to rend your foe with greater skill and speed than most…”

    Something like that.

  10. I think Irongoat has a point, in that a basic +1 weapon/item, need not be magical at all. The really cool stuff though, the unique bits and pieces, they have a back story worth remembering and a name that comes with it's own sense of awe.

  11. Maybe the trick is to give every longsword +1 a special property - but that does not mean this special property has to be some magical power. "It's a longsword with a unicorn horn hilt and a dark blade." may be enough.
    Need a d100 table with lots of subtables... ;)

  12. Maybe the trick is to give every longsword +1 a special property - but that does not mean this special property has to be some magical power. "It's a longsword with a unicorn horn hilt and a dark blade." may be enough.
    Need a d100 table with lots of subtables... ;)

  13. @rorschachhamster

    I like that. For me, too many history details on every single item would get tiring, but having them each look unique would be a lot of fun and still gives the items a personality.

  14. @ Mr. Blue: Yeah, and if the pc is really interested, you could even make some history up fitting to it's appearance...

    oh and sorry for the double post. There is this thing with Blogger and OpenID...

  15. I just posted a random table on my german blog, but here's the directlink to the english version. Just for you guys. ;)


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