The Alphastream Game Design Blog
How do we make magic items awesome? After answering this on the D&D podcast, I published a new supplement that is all about creating engaging magic items that grow with your players!
I was fortunate to talk about how to make magic items on Dragon Talk, the official D&D podcast! You can hear host Shelly Mazzanoble and I talk about this subject on episode #364.
I’ve used this new supplement as the opportunity to launch a Patreon and Ko-fi (Ko-fi gives me 100% of monthly support)! I will blog next time about the big goals I have for this year, and how to reach them I need help. I hope you will consider being a part of my upcoming writing and streaming goals. As a thank you, supporters will receive copies of The Game Master’s Guide to Evolving Magic Items, Rules for Collaborative Campaign Creation, and gain access to my exclusive Adventure, Encounter, and Monster Design Tools!
We all love opening a treasure chest. What should be inside? How do we make treasure and magic items compelling? How do we handle player requests, and characters advancing over time? How can we create a signature item that a player will truly utilize? How can a curse be fun? These are the topics the supplement answers.
Let’s start at the end. The supplement first covers the topics I describe below, so as to establish the baseline concepts for how to make magic items rewarding. I then share a technique I use in my home campaigns called Evolving Signature Items.
We start by selecting a baseline magic item for each character. Depending on their level, the item may be the equivalent of a common or uncommon item, with quirks or properties to make it unique. Importantly, the item is chosen based on the character’s backstory, class, subclass, and other interests. This signature item is one that is iconic to the character, the way Gandalf has his iconic staff or Elric has his iconic sword.
We then provide rules for how the signature item evolves over time. This makes use of the official rules for handing out magic items (see below), so that we have fewer useless magic items over a character’s career and instead evolve their signature item to have it grow with the character.
Throughout the supplement I provide examples from my campaigns, so you can gain inspiration for evolving signature items in your campaign!
That’s how the supplement ends. Now, let’s go back and talk about the other topics I cover in the supplement and on the podcast!
As you hear on the podcast, in the supplement I break down the rules found in both the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. These two books provide different systems for handing out treasure. Using information from Andy Pearlman and DM David, I share breakdowns by level of the amount of expected gold and magic items under each system. This helps us make sure we have the right amount of treasure in our campaigns.
I pause to discuss the subject of cursed items, because they are such a fascinating type of magic item. In older editions, cursed items were hugely impactful, potentially rendering a character unplayable. In 5E, the same could be true… or we might simply cast remove curse and not suffer at all! We look at how to create fun cursed items that remain a challenge but are not frustrating to the point of being unplayable.
The DMG provides several tables providing ideas for customizing items. We look at each table’s general concept and how to make the most of these to create engaging and rewarding magic items that feel special and even unique.
An oft discussed topic is whether to reach out to players and ask them for their desired magic items. I find that soliciting specific requests can lead to either overpowered characters or hurt feelings. I instead recommend asking broader questions we can use to understand the general categories in which characters desire to focus or improve.
And there you have it! If the topic sounds interesting, please consider checking out The Game Master’s Guide to Evolving Magic Items at DriveThruRPG or, better yet, by supporting me on Ko-fi or Patreon. Thanks!
I agree with you about player magic items wishlists – they seem to cause more problems than they solve. Better to listen to your players talk about what their character needs (a better AC, a magic weapon) and pick something appropriate for them.
My biggest issue is when everyone wants the same item – usually something like a ring of protection – and they end up arguing about it. How do you handle this?
That’s an excellent question. If it’s just a ring of protection, I probably am okay with them arguing. Then I note who gets it, because then I later will likely choose things specific to the other players. If it’s intended as a signature/evolving item, or if I really want it to go to a particular character, then I’ll add properties and quirks that make that clear. If the PC worships a particular deity, then we can add an emblem of it. If they are a ranger we might decorate the ring in leaves and add history that ties into their backstory, etc. Then the other players will get the message, “yeah, the ranger probably should get this ring. It will mean more to you.”
Love that suggestion! I will give that a try next time. The last ring of protection went to the paladin who arguably needs it the least!
Teos–is this going to be available to purchase anywhere else, i.e. Drive Thru RPG or DM’s Guild?
It is available on DriveThru here! Thanks for asking!
A supplement sorely needed if you want your games to resemble fantasy fiction, lest Frodo toss out his +1 spiderbane shortsword for the next +2 whatever that a random goblin is carrying around. I recall Weapons of Legacy attempting to do this in the days of 3e, though its success was limited. 5e does mitigate the worst of this with some of its design choices, but the fighter’s still going to be clamoring for that +3 weapon at higher levels. I have a feeling that the developers would have nixed +x magic items entirely if it weren’t for tradition.