Sunday, November 8, 2009

Magic items as mystery and wonder

Today I read something which got the gears turning, over at Inkwell Ideas. For some reason magic potions seem to be a constant source of wonder and mystery in magic, which sadly are missing way to often. Magic items have, at least in D&D, become something more mundane than wondrous. Sometimes the potions start bubbling and boiling, and some fun stuff pour over the rim.

In my old D&D3 campaign I decided to try to make magic items something more than just "another cloak of invisibility" which everyone who ever cracked open a D&D books knows about. My players had to use Detect Magic, Identify and do some experimenting. Guess what happened when I found tables of potion mishaps and odd effects in some gaming magazines? Chaos ensued. I loved it.

Over at the Inkwell, my idea have gotten some sturdier legs. Sadly I never managed to keep track of which potion it was that was green and sparkling, and which was clear and tasted of raspberries. Personally I think it's a marvellous idea not to tell the players what they got, and instead say how it looks, smells and taste.

Long time readers of my blog know that I have bemoaned the fact before that magic items have become less magic than they should. When the first supplement to D&D was published that suddenly became a shopping list, instead of a source of inspiration for new creations. I really resent that. I realized when I started my campaign that since everyone who have played the game for any time at all knows all there is to know about the iconic items, and the only way to make it interesting was to refuse to say what they had found. As always there's a balance between making it hard for the players and making the game fun and run smooth. My biggest disappointment was when they found a staff, radiating powerful magic, but of a slightly twisted and chaotic kind. Naturally they never dared to use that wand, and I never had any use for the d% chart I had with cool random magic effects. I almost feel like sulking, just writing about it.

The major complaint I had from my players in my 3rd ed D&D campaign was that the Identify spell took way to long to cast. In T&T the spell to have, The Omnipotent Eye (have you seen that name somewhere around?), is quicker and easier to cast. Still, even if it's cheap and easy it's a decision if you want to spend the slot/spell points. I like that. It don't have to be expensive, but it should not be free to know all about something like magic. That surely is the way to make it loose any touch of mystery.

Anyone who still haven't figured out that I like to add drawbacks to magic items as well? As an analogy I decided to think about magic like an electromagnetic field. It radiates, and have particles doing the interacting with the rest of the world. Thinking like that and radiation damage is the next logical step. You find a powerful item? Cool! Carry it a while and the longer you do, the more weird shit happens to you. That's magic to me!


  1. I've recently discovered your blog and am now reading posts over four years old.

    About magic items with drawbacks. Years ago one of my players discovered a dagger that he quickly figured out was +4 to hit . . . but he always seemed to draw the toughest opponent.

    Why? Because although it was +4 to hit, it always did exactly 2 points of damage. So I'd always ask how much damage he rolled and then only scratch off two hp from his opponent and tell him that the guy is bleeding but he seems bigger and stronger than the rest.

    He never did figure it out.

    -- Jeff

  2. Great to hear the old stuff is still entertaining!

    I love that dagger. Good story. Thanks for sharing!


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