Tobold's Blog
Thursday, February 09, 2012

One thing to think about when writing and running adventures for pen & paper roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons 4E is what you hand out for rewards. Different DMs have different approaches here, with an optimum that probably is somewhere in the middle, but the extremes both existing. So in one campaign your DM might only give you non-magic loot, with an epic dragon maybe having a +1 sword. And in another campaign every goblin is equipped with magic weapons and armor, and the backpacks of players fill up with world-destroying artifacts of unspeakable power.

The discussion is a very old one. And from that discussion, a long time ago, evolved the term "munchkin" for the power-hungry player demanding ever more powerful magic items from his DM. The term became so wide-spread among role-players, that Steve Jackson Games even released a Munchkin card game making fun of that type of players.

Today the word isn't used much any more. And I guess that has to do with the fact that MMORPGs turned all of us into munchkins. The basic "magic item" (the ones with a green name in many MMORPGs) are so common these days that they are often considered vendor trash. "Rare" blue magic items are common, and purple "epics" are considered the base-line for the endgame. Rohan recently discussed the problems of not having legendaries for everybody in his blog.

I've run D&D campaigns with different levels of magic item supplies, from low to medium. Once I confiscated my players' character sheets after they landed themselves in prison, and on release told them they could have all their magic items back. Only unfortunately the paperwork had gotten lost, and they could only recover the magic items they still remembered having had in the first place. That ended up reducing their number of magic items by over half. :) And that is where the problem is with magic items in roleplaying games: If there are too many, they aren't very memorable.

I do think one good way to handle this is to have on the one side rather common and forgettable magic items that are found often enough in loot, and are of the kind that gives bonuses or is used up. From the +1 sword to the magic armor that increases it's wearers strength, and in consumable everything from the potion to the magic wand. And then there should be some really memorable magic items, the kind that adventures are built around, or that played a major role in the adventure when the main adversary used the item against the players.

The item could also be memorable because the players experienced an interesting story with a NPC around that item. One of my favorites in one of my campaigns was the story of the color-blind knight who went to slay the red dragon with a magic ice sword. On that in reality the dragon was green, and wasn't very vulnerable to cold magic. The players ended up having to kill the dragon, recover the corpse of the knight, and inheriting the magic ice sword. That's the kind of magic item reward you tend to remember for a long time.
Monty Hauls

I'm afraid the terms are still very much alive and well, and in use these days. :)

I tend to only hand out magical items that have a reason for existing - after all, someone must have created that +1 Magical Sword and until 3E it would have cost a fair amount of equipment and levels to invest into a permanent magical item.

On the other hand 3E brought us Masterwork equipment - items that werent magical but still gave +'s to hit and damage. A good example is Elven Chain.

One of the most memorable weapons I introduced was The Wanderer's Blade, a weapon that belonged to a strange traveller that was bound up in a curse belonging to a town under siege by werewolves. It gave a massive +6 bonus but only if used in the vicinity of the town.

When the Curse was finally lifted the weapon seemed to lose its powers but the party decided to keep it ... just in case...
Not that you'll run into the issue with your short campaign, but D&D 4E actually expects characters to have certain amounts of gear based on their level and encounters are built on those assumptions. Of course a DM can take that into account differing reward models, but you actually fighting the system to do so. It's kind of mind boggling and I'm glad WotC is reconsidering it in the next edition.
I strongly agree with you Tobold in terms of keeping magical items memorable and special. I believe most if not all should have some context to their existence to hint at their origin or history.

Considering that D&D was based upon fantasy literature ranging from Tolkien to myths from around the world, let's consider Lord of the Rings.

Only a handful of magic items in this compared to modern MMORPGs or even literature, but look how memorable they are.

A mithril shirt, Sting, Orcrist, Glamdring, the One Ring, the three: Narya, Nenya, and Vilya; and the rest of the lesser rings.

Only a few magical items - but of such power or significance to the characters that the story revolves heavily and is influenced mightily by each of them.

And the thought of "discovering" a new magical item for one of the protagonists in such a narrative is an exciting prospect simply for how rare and influential such a discovery inevitably will be.

If magical items can be kept in the spirit of that in the games we play, how exciting and memorable they would be.
And don't forget the almost endless possibilities in finding out exactly what the magic item does.

I favored magic weapons and armor which had multiple minor abilities that would surface slowly or randomly over time, not always beneficial, or that could be unlocked somehow.

Whenever I watch "Antiques Roadshow" (does this crowd watch that?) I think of the possible stories behind magical items and the quest to figure them out.

The most memorable magic item I had was a "sword of personality"' or "named sword" I think they were called. The DM almost used it as an NPC.
What about Kingdoms of Amalur?
I know this is spam and offtop but I had to ask - honestly, I think EA went and ask every one of the small free web creators (be it bloggers, web-show hosts/actors or comic authors) to accept their money and lie to their viewers about how incredible that game is.
What do you think of this kind of advertisment campaign??
I don't know that MMORPGs are to blame for magic item inflation. Single-player CRPGs generally end up with the party outfitted entirely in powerful magical items and unique artefacts. Many roguelikes do too.

There were many more magical items in LoTR:

The staves of the white council were all magical.

The cloaks the fellowship received from the elves.

Magic rope from the same elves.

Magical blades from the Barrow Downs (amongst a pile of such weapons and armor most of which was too large for the hobbits).

The light of the star given to Frodo.


Narssil(sp?) the sword that was reforged.

Lambas bread

The black blades of the nine.

Galadriel's mirror

The black arrow used to slay Smaug.

The gates of Moria.

The Palentier spheres

I'm sure I'm missing a ton of things that's just off the top of my head.

Magic *spells* on the other hand were much more rare - Gandalf only cast actual spells explicitly twice that I can recall and both times were in Moria.
The easiest way to make them memorable is to name them. It really is that easy.

I liked the way earthdawn did it. Players had to attune themselves to magic items (including learning its history) to use them, and in a stroke of even more brilliance, as the players get more powerful, so do the items. In that world, you don't find a legendary -- you MAKE it a legendary by BECOMING legendary yourself.

"I see you eyeing Stone Thunder, lad. No, it's all right. I've heard the stories too. Most of them are true. Aye, this war hammer has staved in the head of many horrors. Eight of them in my hands, and I'm the fourth dwarf to carry it. I see the question in your eyes. It does indeed make the sound of thunder -- but only when it touches the flesh of a horror."

THAT'S a magical item.
I disagree with making them as scarce as the poster above is arguing for, akin to LOTR.

I think that (while lore is important) we as gamers like to acquire shiny things and though they can't be so prevalent as to detract from the overall value there needs to be something to look forward to at the end of the adventure.

An item that gradually reveals its effects is a great idea and something I may borrow!
wow add prop master to all your duties a prospective DM has to attend to.

It's a wonder why Pen and Paper went out of style... it's obvious that a DM in Pen Paper land is under tasked and needs extra jobs....

How about the DM being the PC's personal Sherpa too? No reason to tire those poor PC's with carrying all that equipment around.

Here's an idea give the players two types of loot one- a +1 sword, two- a +5 longsword of doom

The doom part is that when the long sword of doom is used it summons a company of orcs of same level of the PCs AT THE END of their current encounter (out of HP? out of spells? too bad orcs are here!)

Now THAT would be a memorable loot item... kinda mix it up.

Or and I'm just sayin... you "could" have everyone come over with laptops and download Rift and have Rift be the DM for FREE.

Cuz if you add up all the time you are spending (and multiply it by your earnings per hour) this would more than justify buying a big horkin router and fat ISP bandwidth.

That way the DM has fun killin the mobs too... Just sayin.
Or and I'm just sayin... you "could" have everyone come over with laptops and download Rift and have Rift be the DM for FREE.

Naaaaah, every commenter on this blog tells me that playing Rift or another MMORPG is serious work, and you have to study hard and practice a lot to not be a moron & slacker. I'd rather play pen & paper where the players and me are allowed to have fun.
One thing you should give serious consideration to if you want to run a less "generic magic-item" campaign is the use of the D&D4 Inherent Bonus option. This will give characters a "natural" +1, +2 etc on their "to-hit" roll that matches what the designers expect characters of any given level to have from their magic items.

So, a seventh level "normal" D&D character is (in general) expected to have a +2 sword or bow or whatnot, with some add-on like flaming or vengeful in all likelihood. A character in a game where magic items are rare - think Fafhrd & the Mouser or Conan - would have just a plain inherent bonus of +2. This very nicely keeps the math in line.
I guess D&D is to blame, because boring stuff like "Steel Sword +1" shouldn't exist in the first place. I mean, why make it "magic", when it's so generic that no one even cares which kind of magic it is?

In narrative game, I don't think the item deserves any mechanical significance (i.e. better stats), if it lacks the narrative significance (i.e. no drama, tension, or story).

You could argue that magic items are to be used for character progression, even if they don't contribute to the game world. But by spamming players with generic stuff you aren't fostering the sense of progression, you're actually devaluing all that's good and magic altogether, so it actually kills progression.

So my opinion would be to "only give you non-magic loot, with an epic dragon maybe having a +1 sword", which actually is a long-lost legacy of one of the character's family, but which was cursed some time ago and is also hunted by some weird guys from some weird cult for unknown reasons.

So, in my opinion, juiciness in terms of the story is the only reason for the item to exist.

Of course, this isn't true for CRPG (let alone MMROPG), where story is already scarce, and character progression rules the game. Still, Planescape: Torment was a game where many of magic items were somehow entangled either with the story or with the game world, and this was really cool.
Just wanted to say the story of the color-blind knight sounds awesome for a campaign.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool