Magic Items Should be Magical

Once again, Creighton Broadhurst has made a post that has touched on one of my complaints with some Role Playing Games.  Magic Items aren’t magical anymore.  This is one of my many complaints about 3E and 4E D&D (see paragraphs 4 and 5).  Magic items in these games become tools, like those that one may purchase at a hardware store or thrift shop.  Magic items become less magic al because there is nothing “magical” about them.

When all magical items can be codified and cataloged and any relatively aware person can look at a magic item and know its workings, then such things become no different than the often glossed over pitons and rope at the bottom of an adventurers backpack.  Magic items should have an air of mystery about them, a mystique that make even hardened adventurers and their players just a tad wary of them.

Way back in the days of 1E, I often played fast and loose with magic items.  You probably didn’t find much more than potions before you reached 4th level, but after that, watch out!  I loved weird magic; things that the Players wouldn’t expect.  Instead of dropping a ring of invisibility into a game, I’d drop a cap of invisibility or a sword of invisibility.  My players might find a ring of fireballs, instead of a wand of fireballs.  One of my favorite magic items was the lightning stone.  It was an electric blue crystal that would build up and discharge a blast of lightning ever 500 turns (a turn was time unit equal to 10 minutes in those days).  It could be discharged early, by throwing it against a hard surface, resetting the build up time.  If my Players went several days in game time without discharging the lightning stone, I would start counting down from some random number under 20.  They would panic and start shouting at the Player whose character was carrying the stone, “Throw it!  Throw it!”  Magic Swords, I loved magic swords with unreasonable powers.  Once I gave a player a sword that could cast a 100 d6 fireball that was a mile in diameter; the catch…ground zero was the sword.  Then there was Narnfriend, a dagger that could be used to cast a power word: Kill spell.  The only problem is that the caster had to make a Saving Throw or die, too.  Magic items were fun in 1E and 2E.

Magic items lost much of their fun after 2E.  In my 3E and 4E games, most magic items were nothing more than stat enhancers.  With Feats and Skills that allowed PCs to craft, modify, or completely remake magic items based on their spell selection, 3E made it very hard to make “magical” magic items.  The rules didn’t even, really, allow a GM to make items that had curses or quirks.  There were exceptions.  Raven Al’Bari, a PC in my Divlos campaign, crafted a series of Rings that had non-standard powers.  I let a Player get a Red Cap’s red cap.  So you know, a Red Cap is a type of murderous fairy; after it kills its chosen victim, the Red Cap soaks its cap in the deceased blood.  In my game, a red cap also granted a special form of invisibility called fairie invisibility, but for the cap to retain its power, it had to be regularly soaked in the blood of the wearer’s victims.  That made for a slightly morbid scene from time to time.  That cap reappeared in my 4E game with an additional power that allowed its wearer to phase thorough material objects.  It could be done, but the rules didn’t encourage it.

My 5E games are proving more “magical” than my previous games.  The characters in my Zentlan campaign have reasons to slay the fey lord Doresh, Lord of the Fading Dream, but to do so, they need a special sword.  The crippled storm giant Gormagon forged them a sword that can damage Doresh, whether he is in Dream or in Reality.  Last game, the aquagith swordsmith, Ja’Ruhl tempered the blade so that it is silvered and does psionic, as well as, slashing damage.  The characters will need to continue to seek out famous smiths and get them to enhance the weapon until it is truly a blade worthy of fighting a Lord of the Fae.  I, also, dropped a load of items of adaption on them, but what they are going to do with those rings, torcs, and bracelets, I’m not sure.  In my Bazarene Circuit game, my Players have found a slew of elemental crystals.  They are not magical in themselves, beyond their soft glowing, but they are useful ingredients in various magical spells and items.  They have also found two Masks of the Smoke Dragon; they may need to be wary of them.

A Mask of the Smoke Dragon grants its wearer darkvision and makes him or her immune to the effects of smoke and other airborne contaminants.  It’s not too powerful of an item for a 2nd level character.  It will let a PC move through a darkened room filled with poisonous gas without any inconvenience.  End of story, right?  I have a few questions for you all, Dear Readers.  1) Who made the masks?  2) Why were the masks made?  3) What is the Smoke Dragon?  4) Is the Smoke Dragon a real entity or a magical effect?  5) What were/are the aims of the Smoke Dragon and/or its creators?  6) Are there additional enchantments on the masks that the PCs do not know about?

Until next time, Game On!