Alignment of Magic

In our game, the mystical force commonly known as “magic” has two sides, Light and Dark. These sort of, but not exactly, mimic the Positive and Negative material planes of existence in the traditional games also sort of, but not exactly, represent the ideals of good and evil. The three alignments in our game are Light Sided, Dark Sided, and Unaligned.

Clerics directly access either the Light or Dark sides for their spells and undead turning; they cannot be unaligned. Druids access both sides, but only after it has been filtered through nature; they must be Unaligned. Magic-Users and Illusionists essentially “hack into” magic, accessing whatever side (or both) as their arcane formula direct them and harness the energy for their purposes; they can be of any alignment.

Between this basic relationship of magic to alignment and my own desire to both limit the number of magical items in our game and simultaneously make them “more magical,” I’m thinking that many, if not most, permanent magical items should have an alignment. They were created with energy from one side or the other and draw upon it for their power, making them in tune with either Light (good) or Dark (evil).

I think the basic premise is sound and has a lot of potential, but I’m not exactly sure how to mechanically implement it. Should Dark Sided items simply not function for Light Sided characters (and vice versa), should they actually damage them, or should it be something different. Maybe a Dark Sided +3 sword of dragon slaying is merely a +1 sword for anyone not of the Dark Side. Maybe an intelligent-sword-type battle of wills would be required to utilize an item of a different alignment.

I’m figuring that lesser magical items like potions would usually not be aligned, and I also want to avoid turning every single permanent item into an artifact/relic level item. I would like to avoid “Oh, look, another +1 long sword…does anyone want it or should we just sell it?

Simply giving names and/or histories to items can add a lot of flavor, but I would like at least some mechanical meaning to this if we go ahead with it.

Does anyone have any experience with this sort of thing? I’ve got a few ideas, but I’d sure love to hear what others think.

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6 Responses to Alignment of Magic

  1. Cameron Wood says:

    Perhaps it would work best if swords had intelligence but took their alignment cues from their extant masters. Not that they switch automatically with every new pick-up, but more that they get broken in – think of shoes, or even if you’ve purchased one, a previously-owned car – and develop habits that a new owner can break (or learn) with time and maybe some rolls of the dice from a “battle of wills” table.

    I wouldn’t want to be around a fighter that lost the battle of wills. No tellin’ what the crazy bastard would do.

    • Kilgore says:

      That’s an interesting idea. Some things might be flat-out evil and that would be handled by giving it high INT/ego scores so it would likely overcome most non-Dark sided characters.

  2. Phil Jones says:

    “I would like to avoid “Oh, look, another +1 long sword…does anyone want it or should we just sell it?”

    My opinion is that magic should be pretty scarce in the game. That said, one way that I ensure this is to make most magic items “purpose bound”.

    For example if a potion is found in my game it is treated with wary suspicion as it is most likely not a “potion of healing” but rather a potion of “heal my child Helga”, “Slay my uncle Otho”, ect,.

    If consumed it may or may not have a beneficial effect on the pc. No alchemist or sorcerer is going to sit around a enchant swords or potions for fun or money.

    I feel that such item’s creation are driven by need, passion, rage, ect,. My sorcerers deal in the coin of favors and influence rather than money. Makes things a bit more interesting as well:

    “My cousin Olaf is the worst king this nation has ever endured. Wizard, I would see him dead.”

    “Yes…”, the wizard pauses in thought.

    “Yes, I will do this thing for you! But know this my lord, when you come to power, there will be some small matters that you must take care of for me. Agreed?”

    Several days later the noble lord receives a package containing a drab looking longsword. An attached note reads:

    “Please ensure that this sword finds it’s way inside King Olaf’s reception tonight.”

    Fast forward 1000 years. Deep within some crypt the party finds this rather plain sword clutched tightly in the hands of a skeletal warrior.

    Squinting in the candlelight, “Says here this guy was named Olaf. I think he was some kind of King.”

    “Who cares…grab that sword and his helmet.”

    What will happen next when “Olaf’s Bane” is stolen from him???

    Purpose bound objects make sense to me and certainly seem to make things much more interesting for my players. There should never be “neutral” or “ordinary” magical items in a campaign.

    • Kilgore says:

      That is a very nice way to do it, though I’m not sure I’d really want a lot of backstory with EVERY magical item; that seems too close to turning every magical item into some sort of artifact/relic, which is not what I want. Still, I like your take.

      The only thing I don’t care for is There should never be “neutral” or “ordinary” magical items in a campaign [emphasis mine]. Maybe YOUR campaigns should NEVER have them, and maybe some of MY campaigns may NEVER have them, but to flat out state that no campaigns should ever have them is, well, not the way I’d put things.

  3. Phil Jones says:

    I stand corrected.

    What I was trying to say (poorly) was in my campaign of purpose bound magic items, there are no neutral or ordinary magic items.

    A lot of it really depends on how common you want magic items to be in your campaign. If you want players to treat your magic items with reverence you are more than likely going to have to make them pretty scarce.

    • Kilgore says:

      I knew that’s what you meant, Phil. In fact, that’s what you say at the beginning of your comment. I was just going on the record about the last line.

      Yes, I agree that too many magic items can “dilute” the magic, so to speak.

      I’ve come to realize that my perception of what’s “magic” is different than many other old-school types, but I do want to capture some of the mood/vibe of scarce magic, even if I don’t always agree with how much “scarce” really is.

      Thanks for the comments.

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