Thursday, October 18, 2012

Magic Items - Unique or Products of the Magi-Industrial Revolution?

Mike Mearls' article on Magic Items for D&D Next (which I commented on yesterday) brings up a whole other question, at least on the OSR side of things.

Are magic items in your campaign unique, by the book, or a combination of the two?

I know I like unique magic, both as a player and as a DM. They add flavor and mystery to the game. Back in my AD&D days, my group had the magic items tables and entries memorized - they could often figure out the item's name and powers by description alone.

Was it 2e or 3e that put "magic item shops" into the players' dictionary?

Magic weapons and armor were mostly there for the combat bonuses they gave. Intelligent swords had additional powers, but even that could seem old after a while. Besides, you can't really swap out intelligent weapons in combat, as they want to be used. (then there was that whole "ego" thing with intelligent swords taking over their masters - not good).

It is easier to run a game with generic magic items, but flavor, even in small doses, goes far. It why I do my weekly magic item posts. Unique items are certainly more time consuming than picking something out of a book or off a random table.

Do any of the clones encourage designing unique magic items for campaigns? I can't think of any at the moment.

It's interesting that making magic swords potentially unique was part of the early D&D game rules, but it seems as time and editions went on, it became more about the "numbers" and less about the "abilities and powers".

I think if WotC put out a supplement focused solely on creating unique magic items, it could sell across the different editions. In the meantime, I'll go back to doing a unique item a week here on the blog ;)


  1. 2e specifically argued against the magic shop in the Option series for high level campaigns....but also introduced the Arcane in Spelljammer, so it's six of one and a half-dozen of the other.

    These days, I play DCC, and it reinforces my favourite POV -- each item is unique. I played this way even where +1 swords were concerned in earlier editions....just because more than one person can enchant a magic weapon, it never followed that the players should trust that all such weapons were the same, or that they could pick them up at MagicMart!

  2. One-shot magic items, like potions, aren't unique in my games, and can be purchased, although not at anything so gauche as a "magic item shop".

    Magic swords are always intelligent, always have additional powers, always aligned, and always have Ego.

    Other magic items are always cursed. They can still be used, but there's always some danger or drawback associated with them. I try not to let them feel "reliable".

  3. a big table of minor abilities to make +1 stuff unique would be nice - i always add little powers like makes no sound when striking. I had a player with a backpack just for his different swords - later he got a caddy

  4. Lamentations of the Flame Princess has this philosphy for both magic items and monsters. I am undecided if it is a good or a bad idea. I think it is possible to do the same with DCC.

    Clones like Swords and Wizardry's weakest point is in not revising and refiting the magic items.

  5. There was a Diablo supplement for 3e with extensive item tables like the game. + X ____ sword of ____

  6. The Savage World's Fantasy Companion has a huge section (about a quarter of the book, maybe more) filled with tables and rules on creating random and semi-random magic items.

    Not strictly Old School, but there does seem to be a good crossover between SW & OSR style.

  7. I've been trying to incorporate unique items in my games, such as some from this http://www.theskyfullofdust.co.uk/2012/08/magical-swords-a-variant-table-for-acks/

    Working well so far.


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