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Monday, October 3, 2011

Magic Items in Campaign

I have always erred on the side of caution when it came to letting too much magic into my campaign. I saw my friends D&D games ruined by too much magic and just letting even random treasure items drop into a game can screw with your power levels. The Dragon had articles it seemed like about every month warning against the dangers of "Monty Haul-ism" and I saw myself what happened more than once when teen-aged boys ran amok with whatever treasure items they could wheedle out of a DM and misuse to their heart's content.

My friend Chris G. ran a game that was so Monty Haul/Killer GM that you might as well have flipped a coin before entering his dungeons: Heads- you gain 99 levels, Tails- you die a horrible death. His games were fun for their narrative, but not so fun for their continuity of longevity. He used the Deities & Demigods book as just another monster manual.

My buddy Darryl C. had a campaign where his party had access to literally every single magic item available in the Expert rulebook, and multiple copies of them, like at least 5 of every item. This was actually my fault, and related to my playing in Chris's game, but that's another story. His game was actually fun to be in because his dad, Darryl Sr. ran them and adjusted accordingly, it was a high magic extravaganza and massive battles against huge forces of dangerous foes were the order of the day. Big Darryl had a long time background in wargaming and understood a lot of the underlying assumptions of D&D/AD&D better than us kids did at the time.

What got me thinking about all of this was this post over at Hack & Slash.

There I advocate for stinginess with magic items in the comments. My first long time DM, Tim McD, was maybe the stingiest DM I ever saw when it came to doling out permanent magic items. I played a Fighter in his campaign for something like 5 or 6 YEARS and only ever got ONE permanent magic item, a +1 longsword that shed light on command. He kept us in single use items pretty regularly. The most common magic items in his campaign were potions of healing and extra-healing and Keoghtom's ointment. So I have tended over the years to follow the example of his teachings.

Now, I have skirted the edge of campaign ruining magic items before. In my Dempster Phase II AD&D Campaign of the late 1980's I created a magic arm band that could teleport you using 3 settings. It was a leather arm band with 3 gems that you strapped to your upper arm, I forget what the gems were, but they were expensive and different colors; so probably diamond, ruby, and sapphire. One gem could be "set" to your home base, and would teleport you without error there. The second would teleport you without error to the last place you teleported from, and the third would teleport you (as per the spell, minimum level caster) to wherever you wanted to go. This item (usable by any class), of course, opened itself up to abuse; particularly in that it was permanent, but not too bad with the group that was playing at the time. I can't decide if it's just that they weren't terribly creative, they knew they were getting some benefit from me since they had no Magic-User in their party, or they were just a very nice group of players. It did save a lot of travel time and random encounters though.

Another option, one I first saw used by Steve S. in his 1st edition AD&D campaign back in the early 1990's and later saw in print in the 3e Oriental Adventures book, is to awaken powers in lesser magic items over time. My character Brennos was a Fighter in Steve's campaign and in an early adventure acquired a magic axe. He described it as being obviously magic because it had an eldritch blue glow. I took it as my spoils and named it Babe. Babe the blue axe. It was Brennos's signature weapon and, as the party became more powerful over time, I kept the axe despite it being kind of a liability to my character. Have I mentioned that sometimes I am the problem child of the D&D group? Actually I wasn't in that group, but I WAS attached to my axe. He needed a way to make my axe better, so he "awakened" the power of my axe as I leveled. We all thought it was a cool solution at the time, and it turned out to be ahead of it's time because that's exactly what 3e Samurai do with their Daisho.

Now, here's some stuff that came in the mail today!

Once again the pictures are from the EBay auctions.

Don't judge me here. I was LARP curious, particularly since it has the Oriental Adventures logo on the front cover and it was wicked cheap. When it got here I saw that it also has the D20 logo on the back AND inside the front cover it says it is specifically licensed by Wizards of the Coast a subsidiary of Hasbro back in 2004; which makes this the only official D&D LARP ever to exist, right? The cover price of this little digest sized RPG book would have turned me off at the FLGS, $24.95, really?

This was a two-fer auction and I got a pretty good deal. Secrets of the Crane is the Crane splat book for D20 era dual statted L5R RPG, I just flipped through it a bit and it seems pretty nice, although 3e isn't my cup of tea it still has enough L5R stuff and system neutral stuff to be good for anyone. My only real beef would have been cover prices again, the Way of the Crane for the 1st edition L5R RPG had 124 pages and cost $14.95, Secrets of the Crane for 3e D&D/2nd edition L5R is 96 pages and $24.95.

Rokugan is the setting book for 3e Oriental Adventures, it says so on both the front and back covers. It has new races and classes for 3e OA, and fixes what was most broken in 3e OA from what I can see; still L5R and 3e D&D are too different to make a successful bonding in my opinion, they should have stuck with Kara-Tur. This is also a pretty pricey book at $29.95, but I don't know what other 3e setting books were going for, so I don't know how it compares; I know my Kara-Tur boxed set was $14.99, because it still has the price tag on it from Kay-Bee (the one that used to be in Penn-Can Mall). I don't know why I bought it there, but I do remember the day, because I opened it up to check it out while I was eating lunch sitting at a table outside Der Burgerhaus and was approached by a fellow D&D player, which didn't happen much in those days, and got his contact information but managed to lose it, probably somewhere in my truck, before I made my way home.


  1. "He used the Deities & Demigods book as just another monster manual."

    I don't know whether to laugh or wimper in fear. :)

  2. A little bit of both is appropriate there I think. He also used to use Gamma World to supplement D&D pretty heavily, so it was pretty gonzo playing at his place. His D&D campaign was kind of like the TV series Thundarr the Barbarian, only with Gods added too. Oh, and Demons. Lots and lots of Demons. Except that you started out in an ostensibly "standard" medieval fantasy world with the standard fantasy races and class options. There were lots of gates to alternate dimensions and planes in his games. I only played with him for a short while at the beginning of my D&D playing life, he introduced me to the game, but it didn't take me long to figure out that something was wrong and I was only in 5th grade at the time. All told I may have played with him a few dozen times over the course of maybe 7 months before I found another group to play with, his group kept disintegrating and having to reform all through that period. I lost touch with him over the years, despite the fact that my sister married his cousin, but I heard he never changed much, and in fact only got more odd. Turned into a big Vampire: The Masquerade player I heard. Got into LARPing.