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Friday, June 6, 2014

A stingy DM's look at magic items in AD&D

Gm’s and magic items.
I think GM’s who were brought up on AD&D and its ilk get a bit too caught up in what magic items “do” rather than what they “are.”

That ring of protection + 1 that was just found in some dank corner of a dungeon can be easily swept aside in a game by simply focusing on mechanics. This ring when worn gives the wearer a bonus of 1 to their armor class.  Fancy that, and useful to boot.

However even the most run of the mill magic items still represent a creation of some effort by some craftsman with both the  jewelers skill to produce the ring and an enchanters skill in  granting a constant magical effect.

Simple wood ring, or the Hirophant Druids ring of spell Turning?


Not exactly something that would be given out lightly or treated roughly. For a common person a simple ring of AC plus one is an heirloom. How would that common person  with less experience dealing with magical  effects view that golden ring that uncle Garaius passed down? Is it their lucky ring in that they have never been hurt when they are wearing it? Do they know it’s magical? Is it a prized possession?  Does the family look on the ring as a talisman that is to be respected as to not disturb the spirit within?

I am known (Rightfully so) as a stingy D.M.  *
In my  main game, I do not lavish magical items on players, and when I do, there is usually some history behind them, in that whoever identifies the item can usually give some info about where it came from. Sometimes the information about an item is  pretty in depth, other time snot so much, but it’s always a bit of something. I don’t want the special nature of magic items to ever wane. Were I to equip a whole battalion of skeletons with plus three swords, then run that battalion against the players, the end result would cheapen the idea of a magical sword considerably.

Here is an idea:
When a character finds a magical item, don’t tell them a thing about it until they can get it properly researched.  If the player decides to wear the ornately engraved ring found in the  robes of the dead viscount, then the gm can modify what it take monsters to hit the player without ever overtly saying the ring is a ring of protection plus one.
If the  player uses that sword plus three against  goblins, the gm can describe the sword flickering with a sickly purple flame as it cuts down the attacking goblin, and let the player make his or her own assumptions as to why.

The character never really needs to know what the pluses and minuses of a magic item are. In-fact  sometimes it’s just better if they don’t know all the mechanical details.

When research is done, give as much history as you feel comfortable with and describe the power in and interesting way. The viscount was gifted this ring by king Seluch, before he lead his men against the troop of lord Nethran. The ring was said to be a talisman against harm  the king had received it from the elven nations at his coronation.
Ok that’s long winded, but the result is a shit load more interesting than “You found a Ring of protection plus one.”

The  Necklace of  Starchy  Goodness.

Dealing with magic items in the manner also allows for that ahh-ha moment when things are going bad and the character realizes that that dagger he has been toting around is magical and it can really help in this situation. It’s a moment of discovery, and that’s something that a lot of GM’s overlook. 
Tension and release, pacing, and tone get a lot of attention out here in the blog-o-sphere but for my money a moment of actual discovery is just as important as any of them.



(*It should be said that I’m really only stingy in AD&D2nd. In AAIE I roll up random magic items and pass them out like candy Then again AAIE’s a vastly different system with much different game play and goals.)

As always thank you reading , questions, comments, and shenanigans are welcome below.