Every player loves magic items. That said, magic items can also be quite boring. The best GMs take the time to make their magic items unique and compelling.
Magic items make PCs stronger and more capable – they are a vital part of the game. Players love getting them, but once their affects have been added to a character’s abilities or they’ve been used a couple of times they tend to fade into the background.
When you’ve seen one +1 longsword, for example, you’ve seen them all. Designing unique treasures for your campaign is time well spent.
I include unique treasures in my Borderland of Adventure campaign for several reasons:
- Flavour: Magic items with a defined history and place in the world are a great way of stealth world building. If an item was present at certain events or was created or wielded by a powerful or legendary figure the PCs are bound to want to know more. This provides a GM with an excellent opportunity to share cool facts about his campaign world. What GM doesn’t want to do that?
- Family Heirloom: A PC who carries a unique magic item tied directly to his family is much more invested in the item than if it were merely a standard magic item. Cool heirloom items include those that are sentient or those whose powers scale as the PC gains in power.
- Plot Device: Often a unique magic item can serve as a plot device. Perhaps the PCs possess something the evil villain coverts or they are searching for a legendary weapon that can be used to kill a rampaging dragon, demon or whatever. Hunting for a specific, famed weapon is much more fun than simply buying a bane weapon of the relevant type.
- Differentiate Hero: Anyone can own a +1 spear, but only one person can wield the Spear of the North. Owning such an item marks the hero as someone special – perhaps someone with an important destiny.
Making Them Unique
Making unique items is relatively simple. A time-crunched GM can create a unique item in a matter of minutes.
- Name: A unique item must have a name. The item’s name is a great way of setting the theme for the item (and can also serve as an introduction to its crafter or most famous owner and so on). For example, a sword named “Arundel’s Bane” raises the question of Arundel’s identity and why the sword was his bane.
- Appearance: Creating a description for an item is a huge signpost to the players that it is different to the norm.
- Powers: Giving a standard item other powers differentiates it from the norm. These powers don’t have to be amazing and spectacular, but should make sense when viewed in conjunction with the item’s main power. Perhaps, for example, a wand of burning hands could provide a +2 bonus on saving throws against fire while a weapon could render its wielder less susceptible to fear.
- History: Giving the item a history is a great way to world build and to give the item context in regards to the campaign. An item’s history is also an opportunity for the PCs to learn about it using their various knowledge skills. Uncovering such information – or even snippets of forgotten lore – further invest the players in the item.
Help Fellow GMs
Do you have any other advice for designing unique magic items? Do you have any examples you’d like to share? Post in the comments below and help your fellow GMs design better magic items today!
Got No time?
Finally, if you don’t have time to create unique magic items (and other treasures) for your campaign, check out All That Glimmers from Raging Swan Press. Comprising over 150 pages of unique treasures, it’s a tremendous resource for the time-crunched GM.