Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making Magic Memorable - or "How the Hell Can a Bard Identify a +1 Sword?"

Far too often the back of the DMG or some other set of roleplaying rules includes a listing of magic items, usually attached to some random tables. It's almost like looking at a Chinese Take-Out Menu, where players start picking out what they hope they will find later.

I'm certainly guilty of defaulting to the same when running a campaign - heck, I'm guilty of such right now in my ACKS campaign. It certainly is easier to hand out a +1 Longsword, or even a +1 Spear (+2 vs Undead) than it is to have the party find Nyser's Spear of Undead Slaying.

Maybe that is why I'm having a fun time with my weekend magic item write-ups. I get to put together something unique as well as give it a bit of back story.  It is a lot of work to do in addition to the normal campaign prep, so I know why I don't do it on a regular basis.

How do you handle magic items in your campaign. Shopping list? Unique? Combination of the two?


  1. I like them to be unique, aside from potions and more common, single-use items like that. However, +1 weapons are usually forged from some secret-sauce dwarven metal or something, not actually enchanted, so I don't mind having those be sort of generic.

  2. I won't even tell players the bonus at first. I get their roll number if they attack with a magic weapon and do the math myself, and tell them that the attack actually hit. That way they're not sure if the monster's AC sucks or if they really do have a special weapon. After a while they figure it out, and do the math. However, a +1 weapon is more than just a run-of-the-mill every-3rd-level-fighter has one type of item in my campaign. They're rare, and special, and have histories and names. I also have a plan to design some rules for weapons that progress along with their wielder, adding abilities as the character rises in level. Not sure how I'm pulling it off yet, but perhaps something like the bonded item rules for wizards in Pathfinder. Not sure yet. Keep an eye peeled on the Hit Adjacent Ally blog in the near future to see how I handle that (shameless plug).

  3. Shameless plug, Fumblefail? I'll show you shameless plug :)

    First, I dropped enhancement bonuses a long time ago. A bit of whinging from (one of) the players for a little while, but everyone else was cool with it because it meant I cranked up something else.

    I'm not particularly good at whimsical creations. I do like building some backstory, as I describe in Divising Fantastic Creations. This post describes how I went about devising Beobachten, the Dragon Watching, Palavirea, the Burning Green, and Kaiho-sha, the Liberator.

    In these cases I included enhancement bonuses for those who use them, but I think the other abilities are generally more interesting.

  4. i started out my face to face campaign swearing there would be no magic items of the + something variety. laziness and time constraints beat me, and now my players have magic weapons of the + something variety.

  5. I've been gaming for several decades so I have tried a wide variety of methods when dealing with magic items. What I have found is that the gameplay is better when the players have as little as possible to do with the game mechanics and just stick to telling me what their characters want to do and roll some dice.

    So I never tell them what + their magic sword may be. I had one player find a Tolkienesque sword that glowed when enemies were near and didn't need to be cleaned or sharpened, but it had no + bonuses. The player loved that sword and it was useful even when he had found something much more powerful that didn't instantly detect enemies. He never realized it didn't give him a bonus to hit.

    The more characters spend time doing little bits of math the less they are involved in the game. My feeling is that the PHB can be stripped down so that almost all the numbers are gone from it. I've even tried handing out the players character sheets that have no numbers for stats. They are strong, or very strong or weak, or very smart, wise, quick, slow, etc... and I keep the sheet that tells me how strong they are in numbers. The character from a village who is the strongest in that village (with an 17 strength) comes to a city a meets NPCs stronger than himself.

    My groups have always been small with only 3 or 4 players at a time so the book-keeping doesn't get out of hand but I have never been the kind of DM who hands the mechanics of the game over to the players so that they are rolling dice and telling me whether they have hit an opponent in combat.

    The further you can get the players away from the mechanical aspect of the game the wilder it gets. It also makes bringing new gamers into the game much easier. At a convention players can just sit down, grab a character sheet and after making a few choices, start playing.

  6. Just done a quick google trying to find my other mention of one of my favourite ideas for a magic weapon called the Father of Swords. A weapon that has achieved near mythical status when wielded by the greatest swordsmen of the age, but has never actually been proven to be magical. I much prefer playing with stuff like that as it leaves a lot of it up to the players and their desire to tell the story in a certain way.

  7. I lean towards more unique items. Recently my players find a magic sword, which does double damage against giants and glows in the dark, but has no bonuses otherwise, all tied in with a short backstory. I personally prefer it that way.


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