Magic Items Rot

My game does a pretty good job of stretching out time — it’s been a year in-game since the campaign started, and while the characters are hitting 9th level, they’re doing so at a much more sedate pace than usual… 52 weeks, 9 levels: seems fair to me.

Where one area doesn’t stress out my verisimilitude, however, another does: I have blown WAY past the DMG limits on magic items. They’re just suggestestions, but I’ve ignored ’em roundly. There’s a headband of intellect in play, a +1 spear, detects drow, a dagger of venomgloves of climbing and swimming, a half-strung Canaith mandolin (… maybe. I don’t remember which one it was. It doesn’t have any of its high level spells yet anyway, needing a skilled luthier (ich ben ein mandolinner?) first), a stone of madness (wand of wonder powered by insanity effects, curse: it sometimes discharges itself), an amulet of vengeful spell turning (just the spell turning, not the magic resistance).

It’s weird: My party misplaced 25 scrolls from, oh, six months ago real-time. Just plumb lost ’em. I might even be forgetting some minor dits and dots they’ve got: I know they got a wand of detect magic, but I think they never found the corpse of its owner; I know they’re holding a greataxe of giantkind (per belt of dwarvenkind but with the types switched) that they’re just trying to figure out how to grow to huge size to take advantage of.


The problem is that the good items are just so interesting. I want flaming swords, and even though flame tongue is rare, it’s also awesome.

The problem is that the good items stay with you until you outgrow them. I want wands of fireball, but it fundamentally changes the game to have fireball on tap, 24/7/52.

The problem is that a sword is a sword: once you’ve picked it up, you expect to swing it around for a while.

Of course, there’s no reason the sword does have to stick around. Link’s Master Sword often gets de-powered between adventures, requiring a dungeon or two to beef it back up. Excalibur went back to the Lady of the Lake. Beowulf’s Sword of Grendel’s Mother Slaying disintegrated. Even D&D flirted with this: the weapons of the drow fade quickly, removed from the faerzress of their home. Videogamey though it might be, let’s talk Magic Item as Power Up.


I guess the idea is simple: Give out twice as many “permanent magical items”, but they come with significant restrictions on use. This cloak of elvenkind functions only in a forest — okay, that’s normal — but also requires weekly blessing by the unicorn guardian of that specific forest. Dies after 100 miles or 1 week, whichever comes first. This sword of sharpness functions because of the runes sketched upon its side: exposure to the sun, or one week of time, causes it to fade in either case.

These items are the same rarity as the by-the-book permanent ones, but you should treat them as consumable in terms of availability. They more or less are.

The ability to repeatedly dispense these items is an item of approximately the book rarity: you can sketch the rune of sharpness at will, but only power one at a time. It’s better in a lot of ways: you can use new weapons if your old one gets rust monstered (okay, bad example because they can’t do that — disintegrated, I guess), you can loan them out but never have them be stolen. But none of those add up to me to more than the strict ability to manufacture it in the first place. In that way, they really do become a part of your character in a way which a permanent magical item can’t (“in your hands, all weapons are swords of sharpness“). The story of how you acquire this talent doesn’t work the same as the story of how you acquire a physical object, which is why this isn’t the standard trick.


About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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