Thursday, October 8, 2009

Magic Item Junkie

Thinking back on it, yeh, I'm a magic item junkie. I love endless variety in my magic items, as I figure mages in my world are of endless variety themselves and would naturally create magic unfettered by any boundaries. So, for example, instead of the usual 35 varieties of magic potions given on the standard 2E random chart, my jiggered chart in my heavily adapted 2E Core Rules CD set gives 90! Rings, 84 varieties instead of 34; Wands, 32 varieties instead of 19. This isn't even counting a lot of non-standard type magic items I have occur in my campaigns that are just simple variations on existing items (Bracers of Invisibility and Necklaces of Protection from Missiles are two that crop up quite a bit in my world). It's safe to say that players in my campaigns have absolutely no clue what they have found when they find a ring in a treasure horde that detects could do everything from protect against disease, allow you to understand any language, let you polymorph into a giant, to give you the simplest of protection (the humble +1 Ring of Protection). I'm also a huge fan of unique, individual's safe to say a typical party of adventurers in my world won't have standard magical items and won't look like the typical party of adventurers in anyone else's world, which is a good thing. Nothing more boring than a ranger equipped with a +1 long sword, +2 shield, +1 long bow and Boots of Striding and Springing; my player's ranger would probably have a +1 long sword that speaks giantish, a long bow of distance, Shield +1/+2 vs missiles, and a Horn of Wolf Summoning. I just can't help but goose up the magic items one way or another to make them interesting and just the littlest bit more useful than the "average" magic item.

My philosophy on placing magic is probably not grognard tested (or approved), but generally, the weakest examples of magic items (+1 weapons, +1 rings of protection, +1 armor) are not uncommon. I figure some smart leader type centuries ago got a mage school to pump these out on a fairly regular basis to arm his minions; through the intervening period, these weapons have fallen into the hands of much "common" folk. Actually, that's pretty much what DID happen in my campaign world almost 2000 years ago when the Overlord's army threatened to over run the entire world; he literally had hundreds of mages (and priests, for that matter) loyal to his cult churning them out assembly line fashion to arm his followers. After the Cataclysm, these weapons have indeed found their way into various treasure hordes scattered across the planet. In my campaigns, it's fairly easy to determine you have come across a magical weapon or armor; they are the only ones in the treasure hordes that haven't aged and look new once they have been handled and polished off a little. Their individual powers might be a bit harder to figure out, although if grasped most magical items in my world will let the wielder know it's powers or purpose (kind of a bummer when the item is evil in intent, whoops).

It's not out of the question to figure every village or town across my world has one or two village elders with a magical weapon or device squirreled away for an emergency. The trick is to make the +2 and higher weapons much, much rarer in context. Not only are they a factor harder to find, but almost every weapon of +2 and above is a "unique" weapon with a special power or two (even if the special power is only to create Light '30 radius or speak a language). So, if you enter a good-sized town and notice all the guard commanders have at least a +1 sword, be assured that only the Leader of the Guard will have something as esoteric as a Flaming Longsword or talking sword that also detects magic and alignment. So, while everyone in one of my campaigns may possess at least one +1 weapon by 3rd level, getting anything better than that prior to 5th-7th level may be quite problematic (unless the characters happen to defeat a group of adventurers of higher level, or specifically hunt down a long-lost treasure horde rumored to contain a magic weapon or two of high quality).

It also must be noted at although I dearly love different types of variations on magic items, I don't favor "powerful" types of magic. I generally stick to items that have one or two intriguing functions that are not game changing, but that may affect the game in various ways. That, and the aforementioned "tweaking" an item to so something "standard" (i.e., invisibility) in a non-standard form. How the characters use an item that has probably never come up in their play before is one of the things that really interest me as a DM and as a student of the game. Everyone has been in a campaign with a +1 Cloak of Protection; how about a cloak that lets you assume the form of a stalagmite when the hood is put over your head? (one of the non-standard items in my campaign). I enjoy seeing what the clever player can bring to the table when give an item like that that takes them a bit out of the their "typical magic item" comfort zone.

Now, I don't cater to party expectations and sometimes the characters must adapt to the weapons or items they have found, or use something they are not proficient with in order to wield a magical weapon. For example right now one of my current adventuring parties (everyone 3-4 level) has everyone wielding at least one +1 weapon (well, except for a priest who is only proficient in the sling, club and mace and hasn't stumbled across anything), although the thief isn't proficient in the magical dagger she has found, and the druid just this level gained proficiency in a magical spear he was toting for an entire adventure. A few times in the past I specifically placed weapons for characters, and I felt "dirty" if I was injecting far too much of my own bias in the proceedings. Since then, I've let the chips (or magical items/weapons) fall as they may, and it's much more fun to watch the characters adapt to what they find rather than the other way around. Sometimes players slog through a dungeon only to be rewarded with several items they cannot use (say, Robes of Shadow or Rings of Bone, which are evil in purpose, or esoteric like a +3 Maul or halfling-sized +3 banded mail). Sometimes, however, that's where the fun begins as players must figure out how to make a profit off such items, either by finding someone to sell it or trade it to. My caution would be if you play in my campaigns don't expect to be fully outfitted in magical gee-gaws by 5th level (or at least, the magical goodies you EXPECT to find).

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that to this day I add to my custom stock of magical items in my Core Rules CD rom program on a weekly basis, whenever I come across something in the four volume Encyclopedia Magica (fantastic resource for ANY edition) or while thumbing through an older Dragon, Polyhedron, or random fantasy oriented mag or rules system (like Rolemaster or Runequest). Some unique or interesting items may only rarely come up as part of a random treasure horde, while others might fit the personality or aims of a NPC character so perfectly they just belong with him or her. Whether or not the party can use the item is somewhat immaterial to me; I know in the past (particularly in the classic TSR "letter" series of modules in the late 70s and early 80s) magical items were placed with a purpose (Dungeon Design Tip #101, so to speak). For example, anyone hack and slashing through the classic G-series will, by the successful completion of G1, have not one but TWO flaming swords as well as a sword of Giant Slaying! (nice of Nosnra to keep that lying around.) I do enjoy the frisson that accompanies finding a not so standard item; sometimes players are flummoxed when they are confronted with an item that doesn't fit their preconceived notions of past dungeon play. So who gets the Bracers of Missile Protection? No previous paradigm exists for most of the oddball items that I toss into the campaign, so a lot of times it causes a new dynamic to emerge. Thieves, who are almost always presented with a Ring of Invisibility in a treasure horde, are often reluctant to instead take a pair of Boots of Invisibility (what if Boots of Elvenkind pop up later?). Mages presented with the aforementioned Bracers of Missile Protection will be in a quandary when Bracers of AC 4 are discovered; a fighter who wins a flaming longsword in battle might be loathe to give up his +1 weapon, since it also has the ability to detect invisibility '10 and can speak elvish, dwarvish and orcish. Even more so the truly non-standard items I introduce such as Pooky the Bear (detailed below) that anyone can use.

Anyway, I do so love the non-standard magic item, and today while flipping through a random mag while on the throne (Polyhedron #58 from 1991, the Magic Item Contest Winners column they used to run every year) I found a few more to add to my data base. Here they are below if you want to throw a curveball into your own campaigns!

Warstar of the Manticore:
Several of these morning stars, +1, are believed to exist. However, scholars believe most owners of these weapons do not realize they have more than a melee weapon. Upon command, a Warstar of the Manticore releases 1d6 spikes at any one target. The spikes have a range of a light crossbow and instantly replace themselves. the wielder must make one "to hit" roll, adjusted for range, for the volley of spikes. The wielder gains the Warstar's +1 "to hit" bonus and any bonus he normally would be entitled to for high dexterity (the Warstar's enchantment negates dexterity penalties). The spikes can be released up to four times a day (thanks to Michael Madden)

Rock Robe:
This average looking garment radiates a strong aura of alteration magic, if such is detected for. When first donned, nothing unusual happens, as the robe takes 24 hours to attune itself to its new owner. After that time its powers become known to the owner. The robe has two powers, each usable at will. The first allows the wearer to become a statue, similar to the 7th level wizard spell of the same name; no system shock roll is required, and the effect can be maintained indefinitely. The wearer can change back and forth between his flesh form and statue, with each change requiring one round. No other action scan be taken during the transformation.
The second power is immunity to petrification. Further, the robe can be used to return a petrified individual to flesh after it has attuned itself to that person for 24 hours. The robe only functions when worn, and it is useable by any character class (thanks to Gary Watkins)

Protection Item:
Pooky the Bear:
This protection device is unique and was created by a high level mage for his children. This huggable, lovable stuffed bear looks like a typical toy animal, However, when held somewhere on the body, Pooky acts like a +3 Ring of Protection. In addition, if held while slumbering, the owner is surrounded by a Protection From Enemies 3 foot radius. This protection ends as soon as the owner awakes. While sleeping, the owner is prevented from suffering bad dreams. Because of the restful nature of sleep while slumbering with the bear, hit points are restored at twice the normal rate.

(Pooky came from a oddball published module whose name I can't recall...I changed it up a bit and inserted it into an adventure I ran BITD. My brother's tough as nails high level dwarven fighter came into possession of it, and would wear it stuffed under his armor into battle. Despite a lot of ribbing he kept the item and was probably the only name level Dwarven fighter ever to run into battle screaming "For Pooky!" with a stuffed bear head peeking out over the top of his plate mail....!)

1 comment:

  1. Pooky the Bear is brilliant. If you find out which module it came from, please let the readers of your blog know. Pooky must not fade into oblivion!