Tag Archives: magic items

Some Exotic Armors

New And Exotic Armors

Because a fantasy universe should not be limited to “leather, chain, plate”.

This is a selection of (I think) interesting and unusual types of armor, as might be found among different cultures and species. While some use minor magic or alchemy in their construction, they’re not considered magical, but can be enchanted as can any other armor type. (Been working on this, on and off, for a month. Posting it as-is, to post *something*, already. Heavy armors coming soon.)

Shields

Shield Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Fungal Cap, Small 7 gp +1 –1 5% 3 lbs.
Fungal Cap, Large 10 gp +2 –2 5% 5 lbs.
Gelatinous Flesh 12 gp +2 –2 10% 6 lbs.

Fungal Cap, Small: These shields are made by many underground races, especially those with little access to metal ores. By taking the caps off underground mushrooms, and coating them with an alchemical lacquer to add rigidity, a reasonable shield can be formed. On a critical hit from a melee attack, however, the shield will shatter, gaining the broken condition. It will also release a puff of choking spores, so that the attacker, if they are adjacent to the defender, must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or be nauseated for 1 round.

Fungal Cap, Large: As fungal cap, small but a large shied, and the DC for the Fortitude save is 14.

Gelatinous Flesh: By carefully slicing and drying a chunk of a gelatinous cube, a rigid sheet can be formed, which can then be placed into a frame. When an enemy misses with a bludgeoning weapon (other than natural weapons) by 5 or more points, the attack rebounds, smacking the attacker in the face for 1-3 points of damage. However, the shield can be over-dried; if the wielder is subjected to fire damage, the shield will crumble to powder and be permanently destroyed.

Light Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Living Bark 5 gp +2 +4 –2 10% 5 lbs.
Crystal Silk 250 gp +1 0% 1 lbs.

Living Bark: A secret of cultures that dwell in woodlands, jungles, or swampy groves, living bark armor is made by carefully harvesting bark from trees and treating it constantly with herbs and unguents (the cost of this is not included in the price; this armor is usually kept as communal property by elves, lizardmen, and similar species, given to scouts and warriors as needed, and maintained by the people’s druids, shamans, wise ones, or the like). While somewhat bulky, it has the advantage of adding a +2 equipment bonus to Stealth checks made in the environment the bark was acquired from — this is not affected by the -2 Armor Check Penalty, so the full +2 is gained. This bonus increases to +4 if the wearer is not moving, making it ideal for setting up ambushes. Because the armor is still living, spells which damage or kill plants will affect it, as will warp wood and the like.

If living bark armor is enchanted, it no longer needs to be treated to be kept alive; this is part of the enchantment process and imposes no costs.

Crystal Silk: In areas where links to the elemental plane of earth are common (such as in deep caverns, far underground, isolated from sky and sea by a dozen miles or more), trade can occur. One such item is crystal silk, harvested from the creatures of the elemental plane of earth, and woven by skilled craftspeople into armor vests. It is phenomenally light, flexible, and strong, as well as being hard to cut or pierce, granting DR 1 against non-magical cutting or piercing weapons. Enchanted crystal silk increases this by half the enchantment bonus (minimum 1), but only against weapons with a lower bonus. (So +3 crystal silk has DR 2 against cutting or piercing weapons of +2 or less.)

 

Medium Armor

Armor Cost Armor/Shield Bonus Maximum Dex Bonus Armor Check Penalty Arcane Spell Failure Chance Speed Weight
30 ft. 20 ft.
Turtle Shell Breastplate
300 gp +5 +3 –3* 20% 20 ft. 15 ft. 25 lbs.
Pain Mail
125 gp +6 +3 –6** 25% 20 ft. 15 ft.
40 lbs.

*Except for Stealth checks.

**See description

Turtle Shell Breastplate: Island dwellers are the most common manufacturers of this armor, formed from the shell of a giant turtle. While bulky and odd-looking, it has a distinct advantage due to its non-metallic, one-piece, nature: The armor check penalty for Stealth checks is only -1.

Pain Mail: A creation of orcs, bugbears, gnolls, and similar races, “pain mail” is basically chainmail made from barbed wire. The design has most of the barbs sticking outwards, but enough touch the flesh of the wearer to inflict constant small wound and scratches. This has several effects. First, anyone grappled by someone wearing pain mail takes 1 point of damage every round, automatically. Second, if a pain mail wearer suffers a critical hit, they begin Bleeding at 1/round (stacks with all other Bleed effects), DC 12 Fortitude save to stop. Third, a pain mail wearer can reduce the armor check penalty to -4 by taking 1d4 damage each time they make a skill check that would be affected by such a penalty. Lastly, a wearer of pain mail gets a +2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 9 or less (“Wow, he’s so tough!”) but a -2 on Intimidate checks against beings with a Wisdom of 12 or more (“What a freakin’ moron!”).

Yeah, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

Review for “The Book Of eight Restful Retreats”, my first product published through Christina Stiles Presents: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=131265

Ten-Fold Pouch

The Ever Shifting Pouch

In what may be a record since I gave up on daily updates several years ago, three entries in one month — and it’s only the ninth! Continuing the Blog Carnival theme of Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot, I present yet another magic item of utility to those whose activities are more “daggers and duplicity” than “dungeons and dragons”. Hmm. I really like that. “Daggers & Duplicity”. Might even try to use it as a project title someday. Or something. Wait, where was I?

I had an idea… it was something about a bag… look, it’s 6:10 AM and I’ve only had four hours sleep, give me a frakkin’ break here… bag… bag… right!

Bags of holding, handy haversacks, and the like are really great. But as anyone who has had to enter any government building or airport since 9/11 knows, we have a great deal of useless security theater. Also, they’re going to check your bags. Absolute monarchies overseen by paranoid tyrants with unlimited authority and no respect for human rights might not be quite as bad as the DHS, but they’re still pretty nasty, and if your “bag” is large enough to hold a few dozen mercenaries, they’re going to be just a tad suspicious.

Thus, the ten-fold pouch.

EDIT: Weight notes added.

Aura moderate conjuration; CL 9th

Slot —; Price 3000 gp (possibly more; see below); Weight see below

Unlike many similar items, such as a bag of holding, the ever-shifting pouch holds exactly as much as one would expect — typically, either a belt pouch or a small sack. Taking items out and putting them back in evinces no unusual properties or behavior.

Speaking the correct command phrase, however, reveals the true nature of the ever-shifting pouch. It is actually ten pouches, dimensionally folded together. Thus, the command word has two parts: The first activates the magic, the second determines which of the ten becomes “active”. Each one is normal in every way. If one is damaged, ripped, or torn, the others are unaffected, though at least 90% of the “active” pouch must remain in a single clump in order to access the others. If it’s torn in half or otherwise dismembered, the magic is shattered, and the other nine are dumped into the Astral Plane, which can lead to serendipitous discoveries by travelers in that strange realm.

If placed into another extradimensional space, the pouch cannot be shifted or cycled; whichever one was active at the time remains active.

Speaking the command phrase is a free action. The pouch can only shift once per round, however, and removing items from it follows normal rules for such things.

Each of the ten pouches can be of a unique design or style. Generally, the capacity of each is about 1/2 a cubic foot and up to 15lbs of material can be stored. Variations of up to 20% larger or smaller per pouch are not unknown. This adds a secondary utility to the item: Aiding in disguise. Dress as a wealthy merchant, speak the appropriate command phrase, and the pouch shifts to one made of finely tooled leather, decorated with well-made fake gems. (For real gems, add their cost to the cost of the ten-fold pouch.) Dress as a mercenary, and the pouch may be worn and stained with interesting bodily fluids. The descriptions of each of the ten should be specified by the GM or by the maker of the pouch; they are fixed at the time of creation, as ten actual pouches must be used to form the item. For those with no concern for such niceties, simply assume they’re all equally nondescript.

The weight of the pouch is equal to that of the heaviest of the set, regardless of which is active. This is perceived by the wearer and calculated into their encumbrance, but a third party inspecting the bag will notice only the weight of the visual contents.

Construction Requirements

Craft Wondrous Item, secret chest; Cost 1,250 gp (plus the cost of 10 pouches, usually 1 gp each, unless special materials or fine workmanship is involved.)

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

The RPG Blog Carnival for November has a theme of “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plots”. This is my second item inspired by the theme; the first is here.

You know how it is. You’re skulking through dark passageways to commit an assassination, and some annoying guard walks by. You try to kill him, but it takes four rounds, and meanwhile, he’s screaming his fool head off (before you cut it off, that is). This dagger removes that problem. Removing the guard is up to you.

Only those who have studied both the art of magic and the art of shivving someone in the giblets can craft one of these blades. Priests of assassin gods, actual assassins, and bards of a particularly larcenous nature are the usual makers.

Addendum: This should be considered a +1 dagger; the cost assumes the enchantment is about equal to another +1.

Dagger Of Silent Slaying

Aura faint abjuration CL 5th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 8,302 gp

Description

This +1 dagger typically has a slim, slightly curved blade, and a hilt of ebony and jade. (However, many variations exist, and this is sometimes found as a different weapon type, though it is always a one-handed, light, melee weapon.) It makes no noise when drawn from its sheathe, when dropped, or even when struck against an object. On one occasion, this odd feature caused a target to believe the dagger was a silent image, and to laugh at how he’d seen through the wielder’s bluff, right up until the dagger slit his throat.

Anyone carrying the dagger on their person (but not in any kind of extradimensional space) gains a +2 circumstance bonus to Steath checks vs. hearing. However, the real utility of the dagger comes when it is used to inflict precision damage (such as sneak attack) on a target. The target cannot speak above a gargling whisper for 1d4 rounds, +1 round per die of precision damage. Each additional attack that deals precision damage while the target is silenced increases this by 1 round. “The more you stab, the more they shut up”, as the saying goes.

Anyone afflicted by this effect who casts a spell with a verbal component must make a caster level check at a DC of 15+Spell Level to do so. Language-dependent spells, and any spells with the [Sonic] descriptor, are ineffective: While they can be cast, they will simply not function, and the spell is lost. (Before deciding to attempt such a spell, the caster should get an automatic Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft check (DC 13) as a free action if they are trained in either skill. If they succeed, they know not to waste their time. If they’re not trained in either, too bad. No free check. Any caster who doesn’t pump their relevant skills deserves to die.)

Construction Requirements: Craft Magic Arms and Armor; silence; must be able to do at least 1d6 precision damage. Cost 4,302

Shield of Fearsome Mien

Shield Of Fearsome Mien

Ah, thank you, Mr. Gygax, for the massive expansion to my vocabulary.

It is not entirely known who first crafted the shield of fearsome mien. There are references to items of this nature dating back a few hundred years, at least, but all of them tend to reference it in such a way as to imply the intended audience would be at least familiar with them, indicating the origin was much earlier. In any event, many of them have been made, as they find favor with those warriors who enjoy discomfiting their foes, which is most of them.

Aura faint necromancy; CL 5th; Weight —; Price 8,000 gp

shield of fearsome mien is always a +2 shield, though it may be a buckler, a kite shield, or any other form. Generally, the surface is smooth and featureless, with a tracing of runes and symbols along the outer edge. It is always cool to the touch, regardless of the local weather, though this provides no particular bonus against fire or heat.

The power of a shield of fearsome mien is activated when the wielder either confirms a critical or strikes a lethal blow with a melee weapon. The image of this grisly scene is then captured by the shield and continuously plays across it, from a variety of angles and distances, over and over. This continues for the next 24 hours (the ‘clock’ resets each time a critical or killing blow is struck). When the shield is ‘active’, any enemy who enters a square that the shieldbearer threatens must make a DC 15 Will save or become shaken for 1d4 rounds. (This is a mind-effecting, emotion, fear, effect.) Anyone making the save is immune to the shield’s effects for one day, unless another critical or deadly blow is struck; then such immunity is lost.Likewise, once the shaken effect expires on an individual, they cannot be affected a second time that day.

Only the person who struck the blow which empowered the shield can benefit from the shield’s magic; if it is wielded in battle by another, the ‘charge’ is lost until that wielder also makes an appropriate attack.

Craft Magic Arms And Armor, cause fear; Cost 4,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang

Igilvar’s Fang

Aura moderate necromancy CL 8th; Weight 1 lb.; Price 12,000 gp

Igilvar’s Fang (many imitations of the original have been made, but they are called “Igilvar’s Fang” in honor of the originator), is usually a thin, long-bladed, dagger, with a hilt of ebony banded with golden wire, and a wide guard. At the pommel is a white pearl. Igilvar was an infamous cleric of dark powers, who first made this blade for an unknown comrade who accompanied him on many quests in service to his bleak master.

It is a +2 dagger, which makes it useful in and of itself, but it has another power. When used to do precision damage, if it does at least 10 points, against any creature which has a poison attack (including poison breath or gaze weapons), it will magically replicate the poison and store this enchanted venom within itself. This changes the white pearl at the pommel to blood-red, indicating that the dagger is “charged”. It will hold this charge until the user drains the dagger (a free action). This is most often done just after a successful attack with the blade, but it can be done at any time to “empty” the weapon and prepare it to absorb a different kind of poison.

The poison stored in the dagger is exactly identical to the poison extracted, including Save DCs, effects, etc. The target is affected exactly as if it had been successfully poisoned by the original poison source.

The discharged poison vaporizes instantly on contact with air; to be effective, the blade must be plunged into something. Obviously, this is usually an enemy creature, but it could be a tankard of ale or a haunch of meat. At least half the blade’s length must be submerged for the poison to work. Poisoned food or drink will remain so for 1d4+1 rounds; after that, the poison will dissolve. As creature venoms rarely evolve to be used in assassinations, detecting such a poison in food is easy, a DC 10 Perception check. Making such a check means only a trivial amount of the poison was imbibed, granting a +4 on any saves.

Igilvar’s Fang can only charge itself when used in actual combat against a non-helpless enemy. The blade will not absorb poison from a container, a dead foe, or a willing target. How does it know? A wizard did it! (OK, a cleric, technically. Bite me, pedant.)

Some 10% of Igilvar’s Fangs will not match the description above, but they will always be daggers, and always contain some gem or decoration that changes color dramatically when the weapon is “charged”.

CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENTS

Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Poison. Cost 6,000 gp

Designer’s Notes

The price is an approximation; I didn’t think the ability was quite worth kicking it up to the cost of a +3 weapon, but it’s better than a +2 weapon, so I split the difference.

There’s some great plot potential here. Igilvar’s Fang will hold a “charge” indefinitely. If there is some creature with unique venom around, usually paired, thematically, with a creature that can only be killed by said unique venom, then, the owner of the Fang might go on a hunt for the first creature. Alternatively, if the first creature is extinct, a rumor might exist of a rogue or assassin or the like who owned a Fang, or even the fang, and was entombed with it… and wouldn’t you know, in that rogue’s last battle, he fought the now-extinct creature and maybe, just maybe, got the venom from it before he croaked. Road trip! (With grave robbing. Actually, come to think of it, aren’t most D&D adventures basically road trips with grave robbing?)

Magical Descriptions

Magical Descriptions

So, in my post on magic, or somewhere else, who can keep track of this anymore, I sure can’t, I posited that there should be good guidelines and idea pools to help DMs describe magical items in ways that made them flavorful and memorable from a fluff perspective, regardless of the mechanics. It thus then occurred to me that I could provide such a service myself.

First, let’s discuss the kinds of things a DM should think about, before delving into a catalog of mental kickstarters. The below material doesn’t contain specific mechanics, but describes mechanics conceptually, so a DM can translate them to their game system of choice with ease.

Basic Concepts

So, you’ve got a +1 sword. Now what? Please note, the below questions and guidelines can apply to all items, not just weapons and armor, though they’re less applicable to disposable one-shot items like scrolls and potions, though not wholly so.

Who Made It?: I don’t mean the name of the smith or wizard (or do I? Yes, I certainly might), but the culture. In an age before mass production, all items show some signs of cultural origin, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If it’s made by a particular nation, it may contain the symbol of that nation, or the choices of decoration may reflect the animals, gods, plants, and so on of that nation. Remember that non-humans aren’t monocultures; while you can get away with saying “It’s forged in the elvish style”, it’s much cooler to day, “It’s forged in the style of the Grey Elves of the Western Woods, as you can tell by the use of the silver ash leaf as a decorative motif.” Except for items from lost, forgotten, etc, cultures, it should generally be an easy check on an appropriate History or Knowledge skill, or a freebie to someone with the appropriate background.

When Was It Made?: This ties slightly into the above — cultures have eras and periods, and there are usually signs of when an item was made, based on the style of art, the craftsmanship, materials used, and so on. Symbols rise and fall in prominence over time, and craftsmen learn new techniques, or forget old ones. The purity of an alloy, or the width of a hilt, can all give clues to the age of an item. Generally speaking, it is a trope that older items are more powerful. While sometimes illogical (would you rather have an ENIAC or an iPad?), it can make sense in the weird context of D&D-style games. For a sword to survive in a usable form for thousands of years in a dank dungeon, it’s probably got some potent enchantments on it. Furthermore, a newly-made +5 holy dancing vorpal flaming dragonbane sword is probably still in the hands of the person it was made for, not lost twenty levels underground. For a very powerful item to be lying around waiting for someone to claim it, it needs to have been lost so long ago most people have given up looking for it. Less powerful items, more easily replaced, are more easily abandoned when they’re still new.

What’s It Made Of?: Leaving aside explicitly magical materials, the composition of an item can be interesting. Is it made of crude, impure, metal, or highly tempered and refined steel? What kind of wood is the bow made of? Is the leather on the grip made of dragonhide or human skin or good ol’ cow? Is it made of multiple substances, perhaps woven together in an unusual way? Again, culture is likely a key here, but this is also a good chance to show how an item is unusual:”The markings and runes are all very clearly of the Dwarves of Brasshammer’s Forge, but they’re known for their work with steel and adamantine. This shield is made of crude bog-iron, or so it seems.” Alchemy, Appraisal, or any kind of military or weapons knowledge skills are used here, and identifying common materials is likely to be an easy check, but rare materials — or realizing a common material should be uncommon for an item of this type — can be moderate or hard. Scrolls can be on papyrus, on refined paper (for higher tech cultures), on rough cloth, on segmented folding metal or slats of wood, or on vellum made from all sorts of creatures.  Potion bottles might be glass, or metal, or clay, or varnished wood, or stoppered drinking horns. Ivory and bone can come from dragons, demons, liches, or sheep.

What Does It Look Like?: Well, duh, it’s a sword! (Shield, chain shirt, wand, ring). This question sort of relates back to the others, but go further. Is the ring made of twisted and interlocked braids? Does the sword have writing on the blade, and on both sides, or one side?  What does the writing say? What language is it in? Is the blade straight or scalloped? What condition is the armor in — shining and clean, or battered? Are the decorative bits, or does the item reek of pure functionality? Has it been dyed or colored in any way? Are there small details — if the grip of a wand contains a carved ivory skull, does the skull have tiny sapphires for eyes… or perhaps the skull has horns, or fangs.

How Does It Feel?: This is a good time to consider the kind of magic the item has, and how it might manifest. Is the armor unusually light or flexible? Does it seem to instantly fit the wearer? Does it itch, or radiate warmth, or is it always cold? Is the sword so well balanced it almost seems to move on its own? Does it vibrate a little when it’s held? Does the wand twitch a bit when you first grip it, seeking a target? Do you find you always nick yourself on the blade when you draw the weapon, now matter how careful you are, and does the blood sink into the very metal of the sword?

Is It A Thing Of Legend?:Most items were made for a reason. You don’t make magic swords — not even boring +1 swords — to keep them in stock in case someone comes in wanting to buy one. Perhaps a powerful ruler commissioned a dozen such blades for his elite guard, all identical, but finding one of the King’s Own Twelve is still a noteworthy achievement. This doesn’t mean every blade is fabled in song and story. Most of the time, the backstory is relatively trivial — a wand carved by a wizard for a favored apprentice, a ring made by a runesmith to be a gift to a loyal adviser, and so on. Knowing this history is often simply a fun thing, but it can be useful, especially if anyone involved, or their descendents, are still around and even marginally interested. It can open some doors… or attract some enemies.

Oddments And Oddities: Magic is a chaotic force, even under the most carefully controlled conditions. Some believe the chaos is innate; others, that the chaos represents a lack of knowledge about all the factors which might be involved. In any event, most items have some slight quirks to them. An axe forged by dwarfs might cause its wielder to curse in dwarfish, no matter what language he is trying to swear in. The wielder of a wand of fireballs might find he can’t abide any meat that is not seared to nearly the point of charcoal. Armor may clang resoundingly when it is struck, or it might bleed black oil whenever the wearer is critically hit. The design on a ring might shift to show the phases of the moon, or the gem on a magic staff becomes the birthstone of whatever wizard is holding it. A cloak woven with a pattern of roses might give off the small of roses… or it might occasionally produce, from nowhere, a few petals, which simply drop off.

The Inevitable Caveats

It’s best to have only one to three interesting aspects for any item; don’t go whole-hog, especially if the item isn’t the centerpiece of a campaign or intended to be the signature item of a character.

Descriptive and fluff text should have effectively no mechanical impact, except under extraordinary circumstances. Don’t make players suffer if their items are cool (for example, penalizing them on stealth if their items emit quiet sounds or odd smells), and, likewise, don’t let them try to turn a bit of colorful description into a way to snag an unearned bonus or modifier.

The Magic Of Magic

The Magic Of Magic

Once again, this a is reply to, and expansion of, some of the WOTC articles on 5e. Here’s the original article, and here’s my (two) original replies, and after this, we’ll get even more ways to say the same thing using slightly different words.

First off, let’s put a stake through the heart of the myth that magic items used to be “rare” or “mysterious”. Everyone had all the rulebooks and memorized them, as far back as the game existed. To the extent there was every any mystery, it was always for new players who hadn’t yet memorized the rules, and trying to reclaim that feeling is like trying to get back your virginity. Ain’t gonna happen. As for rare… two words: Monty Haul.

If you decide that you won’t build in the assumption that players will gain magic items, then, you basically break the game’s math, because they WILL gain them, in great profusion. If you scale monsters and difficulty levels on the assumption most players won’t have magic items, that’s like designing a video game on the assumption most players won’t go to hint sites or read guidebooks. It’s just not how things work, or how things EVER worked, and I’m really worried that people caught up in this nostalgia kick are apparently doing no research as to how games ACTUALLY PLAYED back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how most of the design decisions being rejected were the direct consequence of fixing actual old school play, not rose-colored fantasies of a playstyle that never was.

That said, having backstory and myth and cool minor powers attached to magic items is something any competent DM does all the time; it’s nice if this is mentioned in the rules and guidelines provided, but it’s hardly the sort of thing we’ve all been waiting on the rules to “let” us do. It’s baseline DMing, it’s what we do by instinct. Also, and this is important, it’s done for our own pleasure, as players either a)ignore such fluff, or, b)obsess insanely over it, warping the entire campaign over some off-hand bit of color, because somehow it’s got stuck in their minds that this is the key to EVERYTHING and the DM wouldn’t have put it there if they weren’t meant to pursue it at all costs.

Second reply:

Just to elaborate, here’s the reality of actual play:
DM:”You see an odd suit of armor. It is formed of battered dark iron, inset with many pieces of stone, all in tones of greys and blacks, such as smoky dark quartz and obsidian mosaics that form primitive, but intricate, patterns. There are signs that the suit has seen much battle,  as it is dented and scraped, although clearly still sturdy and wearable. The helmet for the suit is hammered into the shape of a bull’s head, and…”

Player: “Right, gorgon armor. +2, immune to petrification, yadda yadda. Page 125 in the DMG. Does anyone wear plate? Oh, and if he’s handing this out, it means we’re going to be facing medusae or basilisks or something, everyone make sure you’ve got Scrolls Of Protection From Petrification at the ready. Oh, I guess, technically, I should roll to know that… roll…. 24 on my arcane knowledge check, there, that’s done, what’s the next item we looted? It better be a +2 sword, I’ve been carrying this +1 piece of crap for three levels now. Cheapass DM!”

THAT’S the reality of play, from 1974 to 2012, and beyond, and nothing in the rules can change it.

Now, let me go on a bit…

Consider the following:

“The blade, known in lore as Restgiver, is a greatsword in form, the general style and artistry reflective of the Theatian culture which forged. The hilt is of bone, reputed to be of a lich, and carved with patterns of skulls deformed in seeming terror. The blade itself is of metal so pale as to seem almost white. Histories tell that it was forged from the fragments of blades taken from such beings as liches, death knights, and skeleton warriors, and it was tempered in both holy water and in the ectoplasm of ghosts bound to the forge where it was made. Its innate magics make it lighter, sharper, and faster than even the finest mundane blade, making it a fit prize for any warrior, but it shows its purpose when it confronts the undead, as it is designed to give them rest. When wielded against any once-living being still animated by foul magics, it is even deadlier than a normal blade of its ilk would be, and it cuts and bites into the faintest wisp of a ghost or a phantom as if they were made of solid flesh. While it has no true soul or spirit animating it, those who wield it report that they feel some sense of warmth or joy when the prospect of returning the dead to their grave is mentioned in its presence.”

And

“Greatsword +2 bane (undead), ghost touch”.

They’re both the same thing.

The rules exist to give you the tools to make the latter. Adding the former is up to you; the rules can’t give you that.

(Oh, and I just posted most of that back on WOTC’s boards anyway; so it goes. It’s not like anyone’s paying for this site.)

Making Magic Magical

A common complaint I see on RPG boards is that “magic should be more magical”. The lack of “magicalness” is often cited as a reason to dislike some new version of a game, or otherwise waved around as a generic failure that explains why nothing is fun anymore and everything sucks and it’s just not like it was in the old days.

Virtually identical tones, if different in actual details, can be found on every MMORPG board, and it all basically boils down to “You can’t lose your virginity twice”, a metaphor which is, admittedly, a bit problematical when dealing with some MMO players. But I digress. (Yeah, I’ve made that joke before. Hey, you go with what works, you know?)

Anyway, to focus on the topic on hand… no system of rules will make magic magical. The reason why is in that very sentence. It’s a system of rules. No matter how the game is dressed up in folderol like “arranging motes of quintessence in order to transform will into power”, it boils down to “Roll 4d10 and add your Majik1 Enlightenment to blast the zombie into dust.”

A common response to this is, “Well, sure, there are rules, but the game and the world can make magic mysterious, and magical!” Partially true… but not nearly so much as some people think or want, and here’s why. When discussing D&D, or dungeon crawly/medieval fantasy in general,  magic is usually quite common in actual play, even if the rules say it isn’t. Face it, if you’ve got a book of spells, and a book of items, and a book of monsters, you want to use most of them. You don’t want your heroes spending all their time fighting normal humans with normal weapons… unless your name is “George R. R. Martin”, who can literally describe characters eating breakfast and make it compelling reading.

Rules For Breakfast Not Included

(Yes, I know what “literally” means. I do not mean ‘figuratively’ or ‘as an exaggerated example’. I mean, when George R. R. Martin writes about what his characters eat, just the normal mundane foods they consume, he does it in a way that is interesting enough that it serves to draw you into the world, not make you yawn and wonder when he’s going to get on with the plot. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say few, if any, of the people reading this are that skilled at DMing.) You want your characters fighting vampiric half-dragon wolves with flaming vorpal swords! (You can read this as “the characters are using the swords” or “the wolves are using the swords” — either works.) So the world is going to be steeped in magic and monsters, and that’s that.

This is a “best case” scenario, where only the PCs, and their key antagonists, have access to magic, akin to older high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings.

Rules For Second Breakfast Not Included

The NPCs may oooh and ahhh and swoon over the magic, but there’s still no getting around the fact that the players know exactly how many plusses Gorthandiril, The Lost Sword Of The True Kings Of The Far Lands, has, and how much better it is than a mundane sword, and that they’ll toss it down a well if a sword with more plusses shows up. Even in this case, if the campaign is long, the amount of magic in it will invariably creep up, if only to keep the enemies and the players on an equal footing. Further, it’s quite impossible to pull many of the tricks that authors pull when you’re dealing with players. They’ll loot every item they can find, and “mumble mumble doesn’t work for you mumble mumble” grows thin. Even more, no matter what wondrous, enthralling, truly mystical marvel you create, as an item or as a feature of the world, some player is going to find a way to exploit the living crap out of it by treating it as a fact of the world and then reasoning forward from that fact… and that leads us to the more common scenario.

That scenario is, “the world is overloaded with magic”. This is the default scenario for any D&D world, whether you want to admit it or not; you can’t go into any random dungeon and come out with a pile of wands, scrolls, potions, and so on, without realizing “someone made all this stuff, and it was sufficiently replaceable that it was left to molder in some goblin-infested pit until a bunch of sociopathic murderers decided to commit genocide and then loot the corpses”.  If there exist NPCs capable of massacring goblins by sneezing on them (and there usually are), and none of them considered finding, say, a +1 sword in a goblin lair to be sufficient inducement to take an hour or two to clean out said lair, this instantly tells you that a +1 sword is considered to be a pretty darn common thing, even if the fluff text in the rules goes on and on about how rare magic is. If the fluff text says “Magic is rare and precious!”, and then the “sample adventure” has a goblin lair with magic items in it, a bare hop, skip, and jump from a town with NPCs of sufficiently high level that the PCs can’t just skip the goblins and, instead, loot the town… the fluff text is lying.

“Well, what if no one knew there was a magic sword there?”

Do they let the PCs keep the magic sword? Yes? Then the magic sword is virtually worthless.

Let’s put it this way. If a modern day soldier, returning from a battle, has grabbed an enemy utility knife, or even pistol, as a souvenir, he might be breaking some regulation or two, but in reality, no one will care. If he comes back with, oh, an atomic bomb, he will not be allowed to keep it “as a souvenir”. Period. Given how even high-level NPCs in most D&D type worlds react to PCs with magic items (that is, they don’t), barring artifacts and similar world-wreckers, there’s no way to get around it — magic items are common.

Likewise, so are spellcasters. Again, no matter how much the fluff text insists magic is rare and amazing and people stare with wonder at it, if a typical part of a wizard, a cleric, and this year’s variant of gish (fighter/magic-user) can walk through town and go about their business easily enough… magic isn’t rare. (Consider how much fuss was caused in Israel, about 2000 years ago, when one person tossed off a few trivial spells like Cure Blindness, Walk On Water, and Create Food and Drink. Even the highest level spell cast was Raise Dead, which is only fifth level.)

“So? Just because magic is common doesn’t mean it can’t be…. magical, whatever that means!”, says my peanut gallery of straw men, a truly strange mental image.

Except that it does. If it’s common… people know how it works and what it does. Oh, most people might not know everything and there will be a lot of false information. The “why” and “how” might be very mysterious… but so what? I don’t need to know exactly how gunpowder combusts to know, roughly, what a gun can do, how fast it can fire, how many shots it holds. I may not be able to perform the equations that explain how rifling works, but I know what it does and the effect it has on a bullet. A wand of fireballs is no more mysterious, to a typical D&D inhabitant, than a fully-automatic rifle. He may never own one. He may never see one personally, at least, he probably hopes not. He may not be able to describe how it works, or determine, at a glance, how many charges it has left… but he’s heard of them, he knows enough about them that while he may be terrified of seeing one in action, he’s not astounded by it. The reality of its existence is part of his world. We all live surrounded by machines whose exact workings we can barely fathom, and we know of the existence of all sorts of machines we have never personally seen or interacted with.

Attempts to hammer a “sensawunda” into the rules are usually futile. You can make magic much more random and less reliable, but this still doesn’t make magic “magical” — it just makes it more of a case for detailed cost-benefit analysis.

So what’s the solution?

Well, first, players need to realize that what they’re asking for is to have their minds reset to the time when they first discovered RPGs, when they didn’t know how the rules worked or what spells were available or anything, and so of course magic was “magical”. While you could guess what a sword could do fairly easily, you had no idea what a wizard could do, so you actually experienced that sense of wonder, because it was new to you, the player, and that cannot be recaptured by any rules.

Second, the DM and the players have to take up some of the heavy lifting themselves.

Effects need to be described, not just in terms of their game effects, but in their sight, sound, smell, and the way they impact the world. When a character “detects magic”, what are they doing? Hearing odd noises? Seeing colors? Having images flicker into their brain, like forgotten dreams? This responsibility falls on both sides of the screen. If a DM tells you, “You’re detecting strong conjuration magic”, you may tell the rest of the party this, in character, as “There are vibrations here of the sort one usually sees with spells of conjuration… fairly potent ones, too… let me wait a moment more, and see if I can perceive the sub-harmonies that could indicate the type”. Now, of course, this kind of flavor text might strike other people as utterly wrong, exactly the kind of clinical pseudo-scientific “magic” they want to avoid… and that’s fine. The exact way in which the mechanics of the rules are perceived by the people in the game world is something that tends to arise from consensus between the players and the DM.

The game mechanics of 3.x/PF, and to a lesser extent 4e, virtually mandate a golf bag of magic items and a constant swapping of weaker items for better ones. (I’ve found that, in 4e, once someone likes a sword/armor/shield, it’s often best to simply increment the bonus instead of giving them a “new” item. If a flaming sword is iconic to their character, then, instead of replacing the +1 flaming sword with a +2 frost sword, or a different +2 flaming sword, just say, “After the battle, you realize that the ambient magic has been partially drawn into your blade, increasing the potency of the enchantments upon it.” Most players, in my experience, are happy to keep the sword that has become identified with their character, so long as they remain in the right place on the power curve.)

Even if you do have many potions/wands/scrolls, though, it’s possible and desirable to describe them uniquely. A wand of fireballs may be made of charred wood and always smell slightly sulfurous, for example. Potions have varying tastes and textures. Even more, each item may have odd side effects or unusual traits, reflecting the idea that magic is as much art as science. Given two wands of magic missile, for instance, one might emit bolts that fly towards their target with a keening whine, while another bucks and quivers as it discharges.

In conclusion… if you think that the reason things aren’t “magical” enough is that the rules are too well-defined, and that going back to a “simpler” rules set will “bring back the magic”… you’re probably wrong, and you’re going to spend a lot of time being very disappointed. If you want to recapture the feeling of freshness and wonder, bring in some new players — in any edition of the rules — and enjoy seeing the game through their eyes. If you want to make the world more evocative and involving — don’t expect the game to provide you with all the description and imagery that makes it so; do it yourself. As a player, describe what happens when you cast a spell, or the look and feel of your magic items, and ask your fellow players to do the same. As a DM, think about every +1 sword and potion of cure light wounds you hand out, and give them something interesting, even if it’s just a decoration on the hilt or the fact that when you drink the potion, you hear a feminine voice singing “Soft Kitty”.

If You Didn’t Get That Last Joke, Order This

 

1: The more you misspell “magic”, the more magical… I mean, majyckyl… it is.

Bestial Helms

Just a bunch of magic helmets for Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons along the basic theme of “Dude, they look like animal heads”. Because my campaign is set in a world where the only mammalian life forms are the major races who came fleeing a world-ending catastrophe a few hundred thousand years ago, and a few demon-created species like gnolls and minotaurs (blame the Eladrin for summoning said demons and their minions), these have a strong reptilian bent to them.

All of the bestial helms are shaped like the heads of various animal species, with a focus more on style and appearance than on actual functionality. Only the enchantments worked into them allow these helms to be truly useful in combat, as opposed to purely ceremonial, situations. The magic of these helms draws upon primal powers, so they can be made only by those with a primal class (including a multiclass feat, etc). If the crafter has recently (within 24 hours) slain a member of the species which is captured in the helm, and done so in single combat in a fair fight (not against a chained, drugged, or weakened animal), then the cost in residuum to perform the ritual is reduced by 10%. The body of the beast must be used during the ritual to gain this effect; it is consumed in the process.

Helm Of The Greenstripe Scytheclaw

Scytheclaws are the most common predators on the planet, with dozens of species. Greenstripes are found primarily in the fertile flatlands of central Karathakos, and are known, as one might guess, for their pattern of rippling green stripes that serve as effective camouflage when stalking through the reeds and grasses of the plains. They are legendary for two things… their silent, careful, stalking and their deadly pounce. This helm reflects both aspects of their nature. It is usually made of dark iron, pitted and worn, and decorated with stripes of jade, tourmaline, or malachite. Emeralds or rare green pearls form the eyes.

Greenstripe Helm

Level 6 Uncommon 1,800 gp

Item Slot: Head

Property: Gain a +2 item bonus to Stealth checks, or a +4 item bonus when moving through jungles, swamps, or similar environments.

Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power when you charge an opponent who did not have line of sight to you when you began the charge. You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls, and, if the attack hits, the target also takes 5 ongoing damage and grants combat advantage to you (save ends both).

Helm Of The Skyshadow

Skyshadows are among the largest non-magical creatures which regularly take to the air. Featherless, they are adept gliders and can coast for longer periods of time between the occasional flap. They feed by swooping down on prey and snatching it up. The terrifying shriek they make as they grab their prey sends nearby creatures scurrying away.

This helm is usually constructed of high-quality leather from its namesake beast, ornamented with semi-precious gems. The hinged ‘beak’ of the helmet, still considerably shorter than the skyshadow’s own, is usually made of ivory bound with silver.

Skyshadow Helm

Level 9 Uncommon 4,200 gp

Item Slot: Head

Property: You do not need to make an Athletics check to jump any gap of 1 square or less.

Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power when you charge an opponent, at the start of the charge. Attack +12 vs. Will, Close Burst 2, centered on opponent. Target: All allies of the target of the charge. Hit: 1d6 thunder damage and push 1 square, using the target of the charge as the origin of the push effect.

Helm Of The Dawn Trumpeter

Hadrosaurs of many types are used as beasts of burden and food. Strong, herd oriented, and slow minded, many species have been domesticated, any wildness bred out of them over generations. There are plenty of wild kin left, though, and folk who live far from the wilderness and know only the domestic strains may be surprised at how fierce the untamed can be, forgetting that hadrosaurs must regularly fight off some of the most vicious predators of the land.

Dawn trumpeters are so-named because of the bellowing sounds made by males when the sun rises, calls to the herd to gather up and calls to their mates and children to come close. The helm of the dawn trumpeter features an ornate crest, decorated in patterns of silver and lapis lazuli, with heavy hide panels sewn over an iron framework.

Trumpeter Helm

Level 12 Uncommon 13,000 gp

Item Slot: Head

Property: You and all adjacent allies gain a +2 bonus to saving throws against fear effects.

Power (Encounter): Minor action. Close burst 5; all allies in burst. You may pull all allies 1 square.

Power (Daily): Move Action. Close Burst 5; targets allies. You may teleport any allies in the burst closer to you. They may be placed anywhere, so long as the total distance from you to them has been reduced (i.e, you can teleport an ally who was 4 squares to your left to a position 3 squares to your right.)

Helm Of The Megalodon

You may note that megalodons do not have some fake made up “native” name like skyshadow or scytheclaw. There is a very good reason for this. There is nothing I could come up with that’s cooler than megalodon! I mean, really. What else should I call it? “Giant Swimming Cuisinart That Noms You To Death”? (OK, actually, I think I did call it Teeth-That-Swim when I did GURPS Lands Out Of Time, but that doesn’t work well for a helmet name.)

Some people may also note that megalodons were Pliocene creatures, and that if I have no other Pliocene-era life on my world, I should not have megalodons, either. Some people can bite my shiny metal ass. All that matters when I do worldbuilding is if something is totally frakkin’ awesome, dude, and 100 foot long (To hell with all you dream-killing so-called “scientists” with your “math” and your “biology” and your “facts” and your “evidence” that says megalodons were only 60 feet or so. What’s more likely to be true? What we learn from rigorous study, careful analysis, application of proven techniques, and repeated experimentation and testing of theories, or what we really, really, wish the world would be?  The 96% of the human race that’s not atheist says the latter, and who’s going to say they’re wrong? Reality? Hah! Where was I? Oh yeah, megalodons) sharks are totally frakkin’ awesome. And in my world, some have crossbred with dragons, but that’s another post.

The megalodon helm is actually formed from teeth taken from the great shark, and to be used in the crafting of this helmet, they must be taken from a living specimen that has fed on sentient flesh within the past 24 hours. The lining of the helm is made from a megalodon’s skin (all the parts do not need to come from the same creature, though it’s fairly rare for it not to be the case) and additional structural support is provided by iron mined from nodes of ore floating in the elemental seas.

Megalodon Helm

Level 30 Rare 3,125,000 gp

Item Slot: Head

Property: You gain the aquatic keyword. Your swim speed is equal to your base speed +2.

Property: If underwater, any melee attacks you make against creatures without the aquatic keyword gain a +4 bonus, instead of the usual +2 bonus.

Property: You gain a +2 untyped bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls for melee attacks against bloodied targets.

Power (At-Will): Standard Action. Attack +35 vs. AC. Hit: 3d12+10 damage, and target takes ongoing 15 damage (save at -2 ends). A critical hit does an additional 6d12 damage.

Power (Encounter): Minor action. Until the end of your next turn, all of your melee attacks against bloodied targets ignore damage resistance.

Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power when you reduce a non-minion foe to 0 hit points with the helm’s at-will power. You may regain the use of an expended martial encounter attack power. If you use that power before the end of your next turn, you gain a +4 item bonus on attack and damage rolls with it.