Magic Items and Item Creation


In short, I think magic item creation is, in general, boring and unheroic.  There are times I could see fusing some magic together to create some powerful artifact capable of withstanding/defeating some other great evil – but for everyday adventuring purposes, the idea is to adventure to find wonderous things.

But if adventurers can’t craft magic items, where do these magic items come from?  For one, I like the idea of magic being more than academic incantations.  Magic sometimes occursSpontaneously.  In the game that I run, magic often occurs at the height of emotion, or at the tipping point of a battle.  You just critted the giant as the last man standing with 1 hp to save the party?  That axe you used is tingling with magic.

So what if a player really wants to craft an item?  They better be prepared to adventure for the components.  If they aren’t, they at least need to be ready to explain how they’re going to arrange for the strange and magical things needed to put it together.  It’s going to cost them game time to accomplish this.  If they’re not interested enough to spend gametime on it, and the rest of the group isn’t interested enough to spend their gametime on it, then I don’t want to spend my time on it.  I’ve actually considered placing loot that has a ‘secret formula’ for some kind of magic item creation, and then have a series of adventures to solve the riddles of the formula and figure out what components would be needed.  The main issue I have with it is that I worry about the “mass production” impact.  The formula would need to be set up so that it’d be terribly hard to create them over and over.  Maybe the ‘bloom of the shrouded flower carressed by the last light of autumn’ would be an ingrediant, and they find out that the ‘shrouded flower’ is a unique, sacred plant, that blooms once a year – 3 days before the end of autumn.

I’ve already expressed my distaste for magic item slots that you fill up with generic magic that does nothing interesting other than adjust the math of the game.  When the math of the game assumes these adjustments, they become necessary and boring.  Players crafting items really flips the switch to overdrive, so that now they want to custom build every magic item slot with just the right combinations of math adjustments and special powers.  The problem with this is that it’s a puzzle that’s only interesting once, while you’re solving it.  Once solved, it has the opposite effect – it kills the mood of the game and causes some characters to have major advantages over others who didn’t have the time or interest in solving that puzzle.

So, magic items are created in two ways:

1. Purposeful creation that requires adventuring for rare materials and possibly finding loot that provides formulas of ancient “recipes.”

2. Spontaneous creation of items that have been through extraordinary circumstances.  That way, Lancelot’s sword might be magical, if for no other reason than it belonged to Lancelot and had been through strange and epic circumstances.

(Art by Random223 on deviantart)

9 thoughts on “Magic Items and Item Creation

  1. Andy

    I’m completely good with these as the only two ways magic items are created. Of course, now that magic items are rare, its going to be more about “crafting” a sword from a cool metal than about crafting magic items. However, that kind of crafting would still affect the math in the game. Maybe its better because it seems more realistic though? Or should adventuers just be so busy that they typically don’t have time to do crafting at all?

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Yeah, I don’t much like the idea of someone with the capability of just crafting their way to upgrading the math on everyone’s equipment. It’s a very boring way about it. I’d like to leave the crafting to NPCs that spend all their time perfecting their craft, rather than adventurers who also craft masterwork equipment.

      I suppose if someone wanted their background to be a craftsman, I could relent, but I’d really want it to be thematic, not the most mechanically superior way to acquire all the equipment the party needs to upgrade.

  2. Brian

    another option might be to say a magic item must be infused with the life essence of a powerful creature – and depending on how powerful they are you could grant the item a range of power. Kill a lowly peasant and maybe nothing happens, kill a marauding knight – and you get DR bypass qualities or maybe an attack bonus to heavily armored foes….The two paths you have are great – I’d like a lot of variety in the fetch part – fetch a rare metal, fetch a certain sized gemstone…a monsters body part etc…

    RIP Bouzaglu and his axe 😦

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I’ve thought about a magic item that did something along those lines, but it would be a special item that worked that way. I actually had a prestige class in the old game that worked that way, received random powers after combats, rolled on a chart based on the level of the creatures vanquished.

      I could see a subsystem for acquiring “souls” but the idea strikes me a bit as “evil.” – even if the souls are of evil creatures. I think of a magic item that does this but acts as a conflicted item for the hero. Something like Elric’s sword Stormbringer from Michael Moorcock’s books.

  3. Andrew

    Sort of in line with granting magical properties in the heat of a battle, why not use it as a reward to large fights? Kill a red dragon and your weapon now deals fire damage, something like

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Yes, this. I think instead of finding magic items for all your slots, a reward for a major fight might be that one of your items spontaneously exhibits new powers. I actually like the idea of doing this during a combat – but I don’t want players thinking I’m “bailing” them out, so that’s a harder one to pull off I think.

  4. futuresheep

    Yeah, I am definitely fond of magic item light campaigns. Usually magic item heavy campaigns seem to lead the players to role play less and less, as it becomes more necessary to fill that slot.

    I have always liked items that “grow” with a character to some degree or even just a favored item. 4th edition actually had a good addition to this with their Artifacts, which I heavily used for items in our campaign. This way players still have a cool magic item, but they got to keep it with them and it became more character flavor and RP centered.

    Using this same concept but going more mundane would be the same idea. Rare materials used to decorate, reinforce, or modify an item.

    I think every player should have nice magic item that might increase their power somewhat, but any items beyond this should be purely utility based. Then quests or major fights that focus on the “power” item the players have seem more epic.

    I just hate when a character has a flaming sword or interesting item that they have used for levels, that immediately gets thrown away once they find one with a bigger bonus. Items should have more meaning than that if they’re are going to be impactful and not just a source of escalation.

  5. Pingback: Dungeon World – Magic Items | Lost Worlds

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