• NOW LIVE! -- One-Page Adventures for D&D 5th Edition on Kickstarter! A booklet of colourful one-page adventures for D&D 5th Edition ranging from levels 1-9 and designed for a single session of play.
log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D General How Do You Create Great Magical Items?

Retreater

Legend
What are some tips for creating good magical items?
I often get stuck on just having +1 swords or armor, but what are some other cool features that could be added? (I'm not necessarily talking about giving them descriptions or interesting backstories, as that will vary a lot from campaign to campaign.)
For example, one I created recently that I liked was a suit of armor that would imprint on itself key scenes of the wearer's battles. The character can use these for Charisma checks to Intimidate or Persuade in addition to the magical protection bonus of the armor.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Democratus

Explorer
Every magic item in my campaign was built for a purpose. When it is fulfilling that purpose, it does "more" than a generic magic item. Sometimes that purpose can cause trouble (i.e. always fight the biggest enemy, never retreat, etc.).
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
What are some tips for creating good magical items?
Have players that actually look at them as more than just new game mechanics. ;)

This is precisely why I don't bother trying to make the magic items in my games special anymore... because none of my players interact with them or roleplay them as being anything more than just higher numbers and additional powers. I've tried... whether it be stories of the items, or plotlines connected to their existence, or anything like that... they just don't care. They treat the items merely as tools and game mechanics to use when necessary.

So I don't really bother anymore. I throw out items here and there that they hold onto and use when they need the power, but I don't bother trying to make them special because the players just don't see them as anything to invest their time or imagination in. And I suspect the same will hold true for many other tables... magic items are only as special as the players are willing to treat them as such.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What are some tips for creating good magical items?
I often get stuck on just having +1 swords or armor, but what are some other cool features that could be added? (I'm not necessarily talking about giving them descriptions or interesting backstories, as that will vary a lot from campaign to campaign.)
For example, one I created recently that I liked was a suit of armor that would imprint on itself key scenes of the wearer's battles. The character can use these for Charisma checks to Intimidate or Persuade in addition to the magical protection bonus of the armor.
I start with thinking "what could this item do as an extension of what it already does?". Many of the most obvious of these have already been done as classic items; for example boots are for transport and so you have boots of speed, boots of flying, boots of climbing, etc. which all just make a pair of boots better at what it already does. There's still lots of space here.

Failing that, I think "what could this do that'd just be plain cool but not completely overpowered?". Your idea with the armour would fall into this category, though my concern as DM there would be I'd constantly be expected to come up with on the fly just what those battle scenes were.

Sometimes it can be as simple as taking the properties of a well-known item (say, Arrow of Direction) and putting them in an unexpected thing (so now you have a Broom of Direction; and watch your players go nuts trying to make it fly!).

I also sometimes think "what might be a good drawback or curse for this to carry?", as not every item is always helpful all the time. :)

For weapons, I have a long list of possible properties they can have - ditto for armour - and I'm always coming up with new ideas. Intelligent items are also cool, as they can become almost like mini-NPCs you can have fun with.
 

I love going to the Special Features tables that start on page 142 of the DMG. From just a few details, it's easy to extrapolate. A ring of resistance to fire that was created by fiends might also give a bonus to deception checks.

When adding special abilities to magic items, I also will benchmark it against exiting magic items, to make sure its power levels match.

Another thing I like about those tables is that it gets you thinking about what they look like, about the fluff part. A plain ring of fire is just a ring, but when you start describing it as blackened, pitted iron with a red gem that glows faintly, the whole thing faintly smelling of sulfur, then it becomes a more intriguing.
 


cbwjm

Hero
I look at earlier editions and 5e adventures for item ideas. I've a dwarf NPC who is crafting his masterwork (all dwarves have the potential to craft a unique item of power in my world, if they have the right skills/tools). Its going to be a battle axe based on the maul of a demon lord in descent to avernus. It makes the wielder immune to lightning and explodes in lightning each time it hits, no + to hit, what its got is enough.

I like the armour, granting a bonus on persuasion and intimidation is a a nice effect and a fun boost. I like having "shadowed" attached to light armour which grants a bonus to stealth when in dim light/darkness. Something as simple as a magical mace that can glow as the light spell on command is, I think, a cool effect. It also counts as magical so even if it doesn't have a + to hit, it still hurts creatures resistant to magic.

I also like items which interact with with race or class abilities. I have a series of weapons called dragonfangs which allow a dragon born to smite by expending his breath weapon. Another is a wizard blade, common among the bladesinging elves it allows a wizard to use intelligence instead of strength or dexterity as their attack stat. I also have a number of wands which grant not just a spell that uses charges but also access to a cantrip. If you have a wand of flame then you add fire bolt to your cantrips known as well as being able to cast burning hands with the stored charges.

Finally, I also look to mythology for ideas. I'm wanting to have my players fight something like the nemean lion after which they can fashion a cloak which grants resistance to slashing and piercing damage.
 

Retreater

Legend
Failing that, I think "what could this do that'd just be plain cool but not completely overpowered?". Your idea with the armour would fall into this category, though my concern as DM there would be I'd constantly be expected to come up with on the fly just what those battle scenes were.
That's why I left it up to the player to tell me what scenes are going on the armor. It gets him engaged in the campaign and desiring to do awesome feats to brag about later. :)
 

akr71

Adventurer
I try to create magic items that have abilities or properties that are new or hopefully exciting to the players. Things like:
  • the Shieldbow - when attuned, you can cast Shield 2/long rest without components
  • the Elderbow, a +2 longbow that uses strength instead of dexterity and does extra damage vs undead - also the wielder needs a strength minimum to wield it
  • Spleenripper, a +2 shortsword that crits on a 19 or 20 when used to sneak attack. The wielder can also spend their own HD and add the total to the damage (once/long rest)
 

I tend to make magic items with their own story and keep them to a minimum. Here is an example:

I start out with the item's history.
Book of the Giants
The book of the Giants is an ancient text used for centuries. Its unique features offer a variety of tools for finding, communicating and fighting giants. History In centuries past, the wars between giants and man become more and more common. Men would move into an area rich in resources, push the giants out, and then the giants would retaliate. Unfortunately for their reproductive cycle, the giants were at a severe disadvantage.
Enter one elven diplomat who sympathized with the giants. His name was Flore “Cup Bringer” D’Leaf. His name can still be heard in some storm giant songs. He brought about diplomacy through drink and wit. He kept the peace through power.
Once on the scene, peace lasted for over a century. The giants and humans traded with him present. Any aggression was won over with charm. And, in general, according to the history books, times were good. That’s when Flore disappeared.
His spell book would appear ten years later at a library. There were no other signs of Flore or his whereabouts. The book was bought by many who wished to understand its secrets, some to continue Flore’s work, others to undue it. In the end, the giants drifted away, tired of the human’s surreptitious ways. Which leads to today, where the book has been found once again. The book that once held the giants and people at peace.

Then I go for its description.
Gulp: The book of many drinks. On almost all pages there are wine circles, coffee circles and tea circles, almost as if done on purpose.
Silver & Gold: Hints of elven silver twist with constellation patterns across a midnight blue background. The stars shift on each page, and the connecting silver strands curve and stretch to connect. It seems to tell an ancient story: a giant and hero, locked in immortal combat.
Hints of Power: A partial solar eclipse centers of this book cover. When the visible portion of the sun is touched, a slight heat is generated. When the lunar portion is touched, a faint hint of cold can be felt. The rim between the sun and moon gives off a slight electric pulse. This pulse seems to match the book’s owner’s heartbeat.

Then I move to abilities. I try to make the powers intermittent, so it acts as like a Christmas present, maybe even one the player forgot about. I also do my best to make sure one or two the powers don't always align exactly with the character. It's nice because it allows them to stretch their wings a little.
Ability's Level; Title; Ability
1; Silver & Gold; After being attuned to this item, the owner is able to speak giant fluently
2; Gulp; While this book is in the owner’s possession they are unable to become inebriated
4; Hints of Power; When a spell using the damage type fire is memorized from this book, it deals damage 1 spell slot higher
5; Hints of Power; When a spell using the damage type cold is memorized from this book, it deals damage 1 spell slot higher
6; Broken Mirror; The owner of this book is able to cut themselves using the mirror on the back side of the book. The blood will create a compass needle and point in the direction of the nearest giant
9; Silver & Gold; When the spell Charm Person is memorized from this book, its power is increased to include giants, not just humanoids.
12; Hints of Power; When a spell using the damage type lightning is memorized from this book, it deals damage 3 spell slots higher

Lastly, I tend to write a few narratives that describes how they received the power. If it happens in game, that is just icing on the cake. But in case it doesn't, it is nice to have a little story about the PC's downtime and what they (and their item) happened to experience.
Noisy Night
“You toss and turn all night. Each moment of sleep interrupted by dreams. Dreams of bawdy jokes, loud laughter, and then, in serious tones, talks of family, life, and death. The voices are deep and echo in your head. Each time you awake, the area around you is quiet. Then, as your eyes close, the dreams begin again. When you awake you realize it was all in giant’s tongue, one which you now understand.”

Hope this helps. It's a bit of work, but what I can say is it gets the focus on the magic item, and in turn, makes it feel special.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Have players that actually look at them as more than just new game mechanics. ;)

This is precisely why I don't bother trying to make the magic items in my games special anymore... because none of my players interact with them or roleplay them as being anything more than just higher numbers and additional powers. I've tried... whether it be stories of the items, or plotlines connected to their existence, or anything like that... they just don't care. They treat the items merely as tools and game mechanics to use when necessary.

So I don't really bother anymore. I throw out items here and there that they hold onto and use when they need the power, but I don't bother trying to make them special because the players just don't see them as anything to invest their time or imagination in. And I suspect the same will hold true for many other tables... magic items are only as special as the players are willing to treat them as such.

Yeah, and that's fine. Some times a new tool is just a new tool.

When I want magic items to be meaningful beyond some numbers on a character sheet, either they are sentient with their own agendas, are the cause of--or are tied to--a geas, or they are a specially fit-for-purposed item needed to complete some aspect of a quest to defeat some big bad.

In my game, +1 are just incredibly well-created weapons or armor. There is a enough magic in them to kept them from dulling and breaking and able to affect creatures that can only be affected by magic. They are still rare, but more because of cost. Commoners would be aware of and likely to have seen +1 weapons and armor, just as I am aware of and may have seen in person a McLaren, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, or Rolls Royce, although all of those vehicles are well out of my reach.
 

When I was a player in Waterdeep Dragon Heist we got a +1 Dagger that let us cast Speak with Dead once a day. I'm fairly sure it's in the published module, but the DM may have just made it up, or modified it in some way. I know we added that the spell was activated by stabbing the corpse, which was definitely fun.

In any case what made that a great item is that it let us cast a powerful but situational spell of the sort that doesn't see a lot of use, because it is hard to quite justify preparing it if you aren't specifically expecting to use it that day, and a memorized spellcaster is basically never going to use it. Even just having it from an item with no spell slot required we only used it about a half dozen times total. But when we did use it it was always pretty awesome.

So I recommend looking through spell guides, picking out the ones the guide writer codes as purple or green or whatever they indicate middling scores with and notes are "too situational" and give players an item with one of those spells attached.
 

I forget the exact details; however, I once created a suit of armor with a hidden spring-loaded chest plate. As a bonus action, the wearer could activate the chest plate and it would spring out to hit a creature within melee. From memory, I think the effect was that the target would then need to make a strength save or take 1d4 bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone.

After triggering the breast plate, it could not be used again until either the wearer or a nearby ally used a move action to push the breast plate back in (to reload the spring).

I may be misremembering a few of the details. That was more than a few years ago.
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
My buddy likes to write rpg books and puts them up for pay-to-print (or whatever it's called). One of the small books he put out was called, "Book of Ten Trillion Things" and was just a system of random tables with descriptors and nouns used to generate random items. It's completely system agnostic and is a basic tool to generate concepts that you'd never come up with on your own. I use it when I need to come up with unique items that are more than just numbers and modifiers. As I typed this, I rolled up 3 random items:

The roll: "Light Shopworn Silvery Insectine Smooth Measuring Rod" = Architect's Measure. This rod is about a foot long and formed from a smooth, silvery metal into an elongated form that resembles a water striding insect. It's extremely lightweight. Created by the architects of an ancient civilization, this device was used to determine exact measurements. As an action, you can use the tip of this rod to place a tiny glowing beacon, about an inch across, at a set point in space and the distance between this beacon and the tip of the rod is displayed in glowing sigils on the side of the rod. This effect lasts until you deactivate the rod as an action or place another beacon.

The roll: "Evil Patterned Raffia Enchanting Faulds" = Skirt of the Skull Queen. This long, high-waisted skirt is woven from strips of palm into a baroque pattern of whorls and haunting faces. There are tales of a witch who lived on a small island at the edge of an archipelago, spending her days weaving palms. Fisherman knew to avoid her beaches but on nights when the fog encroached on their villages, locals barricaded themselves indoors. Years before, the witch had come through the darkness to take the youngest children to her boat. The strongest laborers and warriors of the villages turned their spears on her only find their wills subsumed, turning their attacks against each other. When when you are hit with an attack, you can make a Charisma (Persuasion) check as a reaction. If the result of your check meet or exceeds the result of the attack roll, a different creature within 30 feet becomes the target of the attack roll. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to your proficiency bonus.

The roll: "Final Unlimited Exotic Mist Shrinking Tumor" = Cannibal's Symbiote. This fist-sized lump is fleshy grey and porous, gently pulsing at a touch. Carved from the body of a notorious fleshwarper wizard, this symbiotic cancer was what made the psychotic cannibal the most legendary serial killer in the Capital's history. This item is cursed, and once attuned, the creature bonded with this item is constantly tormented by the urge to consume tiny humanoids. As an action, you can cause the tumor to release a mist within a 5' radius of you. Any humanoids caught in this mist must make a DC 15 Con save or become Tiny. Any creature rendered Tiny by this effect remains so until Remove Curse is cast upon them. You must take a long rest before you can use this ability again.

I just pulled this stuff out of thin air, using random tables as a guide. My personal philosophy on magic items is that a cool ability or story is worth at least as much as numerical bonuses. If I was designing 6e, I'd drop all of the +1 gear altogether and leave that stuff for class advancement.
 

I often throw very simple magic items into my campaign that have an interesting quirk. Not every magic item needs to be a powerful weapon or suit of armor.

How about a featherpen that can write down any spoken word? Or a carpet that trips people? Or paper figures that can create a convincing shadowy illusion with sound, when placed on the ground?
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
One of my favorite books for tweaking spells and magic items in 3.X/PF1E is The Practical Enchanter (affiliate link). One of the options it describes (p. 106) is that items worth more than 10,000 gp have "flourishes," essentially cosmetic effects that look cool without having much in the way of actual game effects, similar to that old rule that a certain percentage of magic swords glowed (anyone else remember that?).

I also like to take this one step further, and add minor bonuses that are extremely situational in nature. Quite often, two or three of these (and a memorable name) is all that it takes to make a magic item really stand out. For instance, a staff of fire isn't that notable by itself. But that changes if it can ignite flammable objects as per a flint and steel (but as a standard action, rather than a full-round one), gives a +2 to Diplomacy checks against creatures with the Fire subtype and a +2 to Intimidate checks against creatures with the Cold subtype, and provides the wielder with a perpetual endure elements effect so long as the sun is visible.

Now it's not just a staff of fire anymore. It's the Staff of Sol Invictus, and your player won't soon forget that his wizard wielded it.
 
Last edited:

aco175

Legend
I tend to tweak weapons and armor and give them a paragraph of backstory- but none of the players explore the story part. I tend to grant the items some spell powers and combat powers either 1/rest or 1/day. I might have a bow that allows you to cast a burst of arrows at each target in 30ft cone or re-roll the last attack. I have one that allows you to shoot again if you score a crit. A sword may allow you to see invisibility or feather fall where a dagger may have misty step or shield spell.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I often throw very simple magic items into my campaign that have an interesting quirk. Not every magic item needs to be a powerful weapon or suit of armor.
Agreed with this. A lot of times all players need is a weird little thing to make an item memorable. And it doesn't even have to be functional, it can weird stuff like an item that curses when a certain specific name is called. Or an item that turns blood red for 5 minutes a day at high noon.

Often such items invoke "mystery", why does the item do that? Is it broken? Was it intentional made that way, and if so...why?
 


Mystery features that are uncovered over time with use or questing.

Not every item should have a mystery, but you need to scatter enough items that do to make it be known: this is something special. One of my favorite 3rd edition books is Weapons of Legacy. These weapons started out with a mundane power, but if you uncovered the backstory to the weapon and completed rituals to unlock its power, they became potent artifacts whose powers scaled with your levels. If you keep the mystery going (I wonder what's going to happen if I do this ritual or I gain this level), you keep the item epic and interesting.

Visuals. If you hand the PC a visual with blanks to fill in, there's something special about this item. I've attached my Curse of Strahd items with the DM item sheet (I'd remove powers and replace with blanks for players to discover as they go). In my DM notes (not attached) would be the rituals and stories. The Sunsword from that setting would be a type of Legacy item as above for 5E rules.

A Unique Name. The Shield of the Encroaching Forest (Forest Kingdom Campaign by Nelson, 5E version) sounds a lot cooler than a Shield +1. That's because it is. Not only does it look like a shield of vines, you can command it to animate the vines to ward off missiles and to transform your group into actual trees for a bit. Each power you add makes the item rarer (this one is Very Rare), but simply change this to tree transformation and you've still got a pretty unique item.

Utility. Items that allow you do non-combat things that are beyond any of your character powers can be pretty cool. Players will be looking for a chance to use those powers, like the above Tree transformation. This can lead to some interesting, unique play that never would have come up if you hadn't "spruced" up your magic items.
 

Attachments

  • Strahd magic item handouts.pdf
    227.2 KB · Views: 14

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top