Magic Item Write-Ups

As my son and I continue to plow ahead on our homebrew Wizards & Warriors game, we’ve reached the point where we have started to write up magic items. We’re using B/X and Labyrinth Lord as our starting point with these, leaving the items listed in LL’s Advanced Edition Companion off of our lists. One reason for this is space; I’m trying to get our 8 level game to fit into 48 pages and if we included all of the advanced magic items we wouldn’t make it. As this ruleset is not intended for general release, I don’t have to worry about pleasing gamers I’ve never met or making sure that everything we’ve written is put together in such a way that it’s usable by anyone who picks it up.

I’m thinking that magic items will be a bit more common in our game than normal. I’m usually pretty stingy with permanent items, but the nature of our Wizards & Warriors game will probably mean that we’ll be seeing more items than usual, many of them color-specific in some way or other.

Another reason that we’re sticking with the more limited number of objects is that I’ve always sort of felt that the extensive lists of magic items were a bit much. Great reading and good for inspiration, but not necessarily a key requirement for a set of game rules. A few basic items listed and described to give DMs an idea of how such things often work, and let the imagination run wild after that. If the items don’t really follow the accepted norms for how magical objects work because the creator is unfamiliar with the existing standards, SO MUCH THE BETTER.

I considered including random tables of items but no descriptions. When the dice roll up Gauntlets of Ogre Power, for instance, it would be up to the DM to rule how the item worked. No two pairs of Gauntlets of Ogre Power would be exactly the same, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

I also thought about writing up the items but using only those from the Moldvay Basic set and not including those in the Expert set. This would give a few things to randomly generate if needed and would set a baseline for how magic items worked, but the relatively small number of items (54 total) would still leave things wide open.

In the end we chose to go with the B/X/LL lists and short descriptions as a good compromise. Like our spell and monster write-ups, we’re working hard to boil each magic item down to its bare essence and spelling it out as briefly as we possibly can.

Compare this Labyrinth Lord write up:

Staff of Withering [C]: This staff functions as a +1 staff that deals 2d4+1 hit points of damage when a charge is used. By using 2 charges and successfully striking an opponent, the staff ages a victim by 10 years. If three charges are spent in this attack, one of the victim’s limbs will shrivel into a mummified, useless member (saving throw versus spell-like devices is allowed). The aging effect will automatically kill most creatures that have a short lifespan. Also note that effects of spent charges are cumulative, such that if 3 charges are used, the victim will not only receive damage, but he will be aged and have a withered limb.

With ours:

Staff of Withering +1 to-hit, 1 charge causes 2d6 damage, and a second charge also ages hit target 10 years. One additional charge will cause hit limb to wither and become useless.

Note first that they aren’t exactly identical, as we’re tweaking a few things here and there as we go and also standardizing some stuff such as making staves do damage in multiples of 1d6 as a normal staff is a 1d6 weapon. Secondly, a lot of the details are left to the DM to sort out. The 1e DMG (which devotes 44 pages to magic item descriptions) notes that the aging effects of the staff of withering won’t do much to a dwarf and may actually help a dragon. We’ve decided not to make such notes a part of our ruleset.

Finally, a lot of the details in magic items and spell descriptions seem to be codification of rulings made at some point in the past. I noted this when looking at spell descriptions a while back.

For instance, the LL chime of opening item description notes that it will not work if used in a silenced area. That makes perfect sense, but we’ve elected to not include that note and leave it up to the DM to decide whether or not it is the sound of the chime that opens the locks and can be defeated by silence or if the sound itself is incidental and the chime works anyway.

Another example is the LL write-up for dust of appearance. It notes that the dust “likewise negates the effects of mirror image, cloak of displacement, and elven cloaks” despite having earlier specified that the dust “coats all objects within a 10′ radius, making them visible even if they are invisible.” We’ve decided that since we’ve specified that the dust will “all objects in 20’ area even if invisible, ethereal, etc.,” we don’t need to spell out that it affects those specific instances cited. Does this mean that we may run into a situation where someone with a cloak of displacement wants to argue that the dust shouldn’t affect him? Yes. And DM will have to make ruling, which is one of the DM’s main responsibilities. Also, we didn’t even bother mentioning how to go about blowing the dust through a tube; that sounds like an ingenious idea that some player had at one point and was ruled on by the DM. Then it was added to the rules themselves. We’re just dispensing from that last step.

With the infinite nature of magic item lists, we think that we’ll be just fine with a basic collection of standard-type items that can help inspire unique creations which will probably be found as often as the old stand-bys.

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2 Responses to Magic Item Write-Ups

  1. I like the idea of making spell descriptions simple. Sometimes when you want to quickly read what the spell’s effect is all about, it’s good to see it immediately. Most of the words in your comparement are just completly unecessary and confusing.

    My thought.

  2. Jack Colby says:

    That’s a great way to handle it. No need to list and codify all the rulings of DMs from the past. I’m sure someone thought it was a good idea at some point, but in the long run it just makes for a more cumbersome game, and takes away from the personalization of an individual campaign.

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