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.