Tuesday, August 10, 2010

an idea for a magic item overhaul

My favorite scene in the film Dead Poets Society comes when Robin Williams, playing the new nonconformist English teacher at an uptight boys prep school, instructs his class to rip out the introduction to their poetry textbook.  The intro is too scientific, too systematic, too boring, especially for a subject as vivid as poetry.  I can't quite bring myself to like the whole movie, as I think overall it's exactly the schmaltzy sort of melodrama that Hollywood all too often tries to pass off as serious film, but I like that scene.

Today's thought experiment was inspired just a bit by that scene.  The text we'll use is the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide and the section we're excising (at least in our imaginations) is the magic item lists.  Pretend with me for a moment that the magic item charts on pages 121 through 125 (and their accompanying explanations) don't exist, with the sole exception of Table (III.E.) Special.  That's the list of artifacts and relics.

In the past I've argued that you could build a helluva campaign by ditching all the non-artifacts and concentrate on the uberpowerful weirdies on table 3-E.  But today I want to do something different.  Imagine instead that the items on the list are exemplars of an entire new set-up.  In other words, take the form and/or function of the artifacts to extrapolate new categories of items to replace the old familiar ones.  Here are my initial thoughts:

Axe of the Dwarvish Lords - Maybe each species has at least one magic item associated with them.  Cheese Slicer of the Wererats, Toilet Brush of the Otyughs, that sort of thing.

Baba Yaga's Hut - I'm trying to figure out which is a better idea, a whole range of ridiculous huts with chicken feet or a more general class of places that can go to other places.  A castle with centipede legs, a tavern with bat wings, etc.

Codex of Infinite Planes - Spell books should be more like this.  See also Call of Cthulhu tomes and/or 'Pages from the Mages'.

Crown/Orb/Sceptre of Might - Why wouldn't every ruler desire magical regalia?

Crystal of the Ebon Flame/Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty - A whole class of gemstones with magical hypnotic fires inside sounds pretty rad to me.  Drawing up a chart that gives the power of the gem based upon size and type sounds like a fun way to kill an hour or two.

Cub & Talisman of Al'Akbar - Potions are clearly too easy.  Instead give the PCs a cup and talisman and make them whip up the potion when they need it.  Then have a pickpocket steal either the cup or the talisman just to be a jerk.

Eye & Hand of Vecna/Teeth of Dahlver-Nar - Necromantic cybernetics.  A good critical hit system that left PCs with missing or mangled body parts would certainly encourage their use.  Buttock of Hargrave, anyone?

Heward's Mystical Organ/Recorder of Ye'Cind/Horn of Change - The Devil's Saxophone, Accordion of 1,000 Delights, Slide Whistle of Levitation & Gravitation, etc., etc.

Invulnerable Coat of Arnd/Mace of Cuthbert/Sword of Kas - This is how swords and armor and crap creep back into the system.  But each item needs to have a hero/demigod associated with it and at least one crazy ass power.

Iron Flask of Tuerny the Merciless - Suggests a whole range of "[Variety of Substance] [Type of Container] of [Kind of Monster]" that can both capture and release/control that type of critter.

Johydee's Mask - Magical masks just sound awesome.

Kuroth's Quill - "Literacy is power" is one easy interpretation of the magic-user class.  Given that, I'm surprised we don't have more more enchanted items in that vein.  Not just quills, but clay tablets, enchanted inks, brushes for Asian style calligraphy, magic scroll cases, arcane paper and pointers.

Machine of Lum the Mad/Mighty Servant of Leuk-O/Queen Ehlissa's Marvelous Nightingale - Arcane clockwork/robotics scaling from tiny devices up to magical mecha.  Perfect for Kitchen Sink type games.

Orb of Dragonkind - I like Orbs because they don't have much in the way of a non-magical function.

Ring of Gaxx - Magic rings with mutiple functions, players have to figure out with glyph on which side of the gem does what and occasionally the gem slips and activates the wrong glyph at the wrong moment.  What's not to love?  I'd probably be cute and make all the gems looks like polyhedrals.

Rod of Seven Parts - By Grodd if I have to assemble every ding dang plastic toy my daughter gets as a gift, the PCs ought to suffer through more magic items that come with 'some assembly required'!

Throne of the Gods - Enchanted places that don't move can easily become the focus of entire campaigns.

Wand of Orcus - What if every demon had a wand?  The Wand of a Dretch might not do a whole lot, but the Wand of a Succubus or the Wand of Demogorgon ought to be pretty dang interesting.