Defining the "Magical Item"

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higgins
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Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by higgins » 20 Sep 2014, 12:54

hector [url=http://www.grandheresyforums.com/viewtopic.php?p=548#p548]here[/url] wrote:I prefer the idea of subtle but powerful magic. It may be possible to allow the creation of magical items, but that should be the kind of thing that requires the players to go out and find rare components, to craft an item out of rare and expensive materials capable of containing that kind of energy, and and to perform a costly ritual to empower the item with that spell.
While designing the system, our silent assumption has been that we will not be including any magical items in the game. However, this point made me question: What would the community actually consider a "magical item" to be? How would you define it? What items pop into your mind when you hear that phrase?

For me, it's the classic LOTR stuff. Sting, for one. Palantirs. And of course the Rings of Power, however vague the actual benefits of owning them were.

Then after that, I invariably think of D&D +1 weapons and other combat related miscellanea. Frankly, I wouldn't want to touch those concepts with a ten foot pole regardless of what I'm playing, but due to exposure, they pop into my mind nevertheless.

Then Jack Sparrow's compass comes to mind. A couple items were mentioned in the Conan stories... but after that I honestly venture into the fairytale and Harry Potter territory.

So, firstly, what's your definition of a "magical item"? And perhaps more importantly, what items would you bring as examples of that?

Secondly, for fun, what kind of magical items simply make you cringe? :twisted:
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by hector » 20 Sep 2014, 13:17

I hate the idea of the +1 sword or +1 suit of armour. That entire concept needs to die in a fire. Personally, I prefer magical items to do one thing and do it well. A staff that produces fire or lightning, a wineskin that never empties, or even a compass that always points to where you need to go, but not necessarily to where you want to go.

Edit: And, of course, a weapon that glows a certain colour in the presence of a certain race, presumably one considered an enemy by whoever created the weapon.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Agamemnon » 20 Sep 2014, 14:40

I think we're kind of on the same page here. The biggest thing to turn me off of D&D style games is the idea that I'm expected to continually upgrade my equipment - that there's an entire game-within-the-game revolving around finding ever more fancy and powerful pairs of pants.

I'm actually not against the idea of magic items being a thing, but I am absolutely against the idea of generic magic items. They should be artifacts, individual and unique items with a history of their own. Honestly, this is a place that TROS got it right the first time in my book, with the whole "magic items have a desire of their own" thing. It was pretty great.

On the other hand, I also like the idea that wizards do what wizards did historically - craft charms, talismans and fetishes. Kept weird, supposedly magical accessories for different purposes. So there's some argument there for the idea of "Crafting magical items" if even just limited in scope.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Marras » 21 Sep 2014, 08:15

I'm not a fan of general +1 magic items, either. Those are just ... dull that magic items shouldn't be. So, enough about those :)

I like to categorize magical items to artifacts and lesser items. Artifacts are like Stormbringer, really powerful items that might very well have a will of their own. As I like low magic settings I wouldn't allow PC wizards to craft that sort of items unless they really spend their time on that project. Of course crafting an item like that could be basis for a whole campaign where the whole party gathers components and knowledge before that story arc end at crafting that item.

Lesser items can be crafted by a PC wizard but the benefit should be pretty minor/tightly focused/rare (plot device). Scale might be lower than what passions give or indeed can only be used with passions. Then the charm can be tailored to owner for a specific reason. For some reason I like that.

As for what is a magical item we were playing Warhammer FRP many years ago. At one adventure we got hold of "Norscan talisman". As far as I know, it had no game mechanical effects but otherwise it was the most memorable magical item in our games, ever.

It took about 3 PC deaths before we decided to ditch the whole talisman as a cursed object. Each and every dead PC of those 3 owned that Norscan talisman.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by higgins » 21 Sep 2014, 09:24

Marras wrote:As for what is a magical item we were playing Warhammer FRP many years ago. At one adventure we got hold of "Norscan talisman". As far as I know, it had no game mechanical effects but otherwise it was the most memorable magical item in our games, ever.

It took about 3 PC deaths before we decided to ditch the whole talisman as a cursed object. Each and every dead PC of those 3 owned that Norscan talisman.
Haha, that has to be the best magical item description that I have ever seen. :)

I'm assuming the deaths were pretty much unrelated though, right?
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Agamemnon » 22 Sep 2014, 14:14

higgins wrote:
Marras wrote:As for what is a magical item we were playing Warhammer FRP many years ago. At one adventure we got hold of "Norscan talisman". As far as I know, it had no game mechanical effects but otherwise it was the most memorable magical item in our games, ever.

It took about 3 PC deaths before we decided to ditch the whole talisman as a cursed object. Each and every dead PC of those 3 owned that Norscan talisman.
Haha, that has to be the best magical item description that I have ever seen. :)

I'm assuming the deaths were pretty much unrelated though, right?
That reminds me of a campaign I played years and years ago. This was .. AD&D2e. They party visited this little run down village, and they were trying to find information about this curse that was placed on the countryside. They are eventually directed to this warped and gnarled old crone, "angel of death" straight out of Eaters of the Dead (or 13th warrior, if you prefer the movie version). She dispenses some wise-sounding words, and winds up giving this little fetish - a little carved statuette in the shape of an hawk with its wings spread. The barbarian character takes this to heart and keeps it with him.

DM side, this thing has no magical powers or significance whatsoever, other than that this little old lady is superstitious and knows the local folklore. Nothing about her or it is magical. But the players assume otherwise.

Cut halfway through the campaign, they've slowly convinced themselves that every other strange twist of fate and narrow escape they have is because "the spirit of the hawk" is guarding them. Truth told: I had almost no control over most of the events that actually took place, because then as now my style of DMing is to set up a system and see where it goes. For AD&D that meant "I made lots of random tables for things and occasionally rolled on them." It's fun not knowing what's going to happen.

Of course, the players don't just believe this, they make the mistake of talking about it. One of them even brags about how lucky the thing is, and tells the whole story to some bar wench he's trying to impress. Word then gets out. Before long, the antagonists have conspired and manage to steal their little statue, convinced it had magic powers. The climax of the campaign - the thing that kicked off the third act and lead to the final showdown - was not anything i had set up. It wasn't the villainous nature of the antagonists. It wasn't that they had been butting heads the entire game. It wasn't trying to save someone or prevent danger, or even personal gain... it was because they had to get their bloody statue back.

I didn't realize when I had the crazy old lady hand them the trinket, it would become the macguffin for the entire campaign.

I never did tell them it wasn't magical.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Marras » 22 Sep 2014, 16:13

higgins wrote: I'm assuming the deaths were pretty much unrelated though, right?
As it sometimes happens in WFRP PCs die and then SOP was to loot the old adventuring buddy and when the player described what his character had a surviving character took that Norscan talisman. Then that PC got killed in a fight, again and after another looting the third PC gets that talisman and pretty shortly gets killed. This is again followed by the looting and then we begin to connect the dots that made us believe the thing was cursed :)

But yes, there were two common things in those deaths. One was that the death was violent and the second was that the victim had that talisman. In reality it was of course just chance but it sort of made that talisman even better.
Agamemnon wrote: The climax of the campaign - the thing that kicked off the third act and lead to the final showdown - was not anything i had set up. It wasn't the villainous nature of the antagonists. It wasn't that they had been butting heads the entire game. It wasn't trying to save someone or prevent danger, or even personal gain... it was because they had to get their bloody statue back.

I didn't realize when I had the crazy old lady hand them the trinket, it would become the macguffin for the entire campaign.

I never did tell them it wasn't magical.
That kind of campaigns are just best. And sometimes GMs are a bit like magicians, it's all about illusion so it is best to leave the players think you just planned the whole deal :)
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Daeruin » 19 Oct 2014, 16:54

I think if you have the ability to create magical items, it's basically inevitable that someone will want to craft a better weapon. Better to define up front whether magic can make weapons sharper, stronger, lighter, or whatever, and what effect that might have on the combat system. In a relatively abstract combat system like DnD, there's not much you can do beyond giving something a +1 to hit. Personally I seldom play magic users but I'm always interested in ways of making my fighters better, and magical weapons, if available, are a great way to do that. I always prefer magical items that increase role playing opportunities rather than generic +1s or whatever, but as you have pointed out that is as much a function of how the gamemaster and players handle it as it is the actual mechanics of the item.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by Siggi » 19 Oct 2014, 19:24

Speaking of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I should say that the first edition of the game displayed some quite interesting and ingenious magic items. Let me recall... There were simple but impressive stuff, such as the Amulet of Thrice Blessed Copper. It was the simplest magic item and one of the easiest items to come by (though none of us characters ever owned one!) but it was cool: it gave you resistance to poisons and turned green if brought near poison or poisoned food or drink. And it also gave a minimal protection from wounds in general.

Then there was the magic rope - that's something from oriental tales, I believe. The rope was actually "alive". The owner could give it mental commands and the rope carried them out - yes, it could move on it's own, tie, untie, - whatever a living rope would do. One of the characters in our games owned such rope - and made a lot of hilarious stuff with that.

Then there was an interesting amulet and as far as I remember it was one of the 'official' magic items in The Enemy Within Campaign. The wearer of the amulet became immune from fear of the undead, but there was a twist: the wearer didn't fear the undead and in the same time he could't see them at all!

The core rulebook also contained very simple rules for runic items that among other things allowed to create a weapon with a "Great Death Rune". A hit by this weapon wound slay any living creature. Naturally, we never used such powerful stuff in our games. At last one of my fellow GMs decided to include a sword with this rune in his campaign. But to raise the stakes he made a small addition to the rules: each time the blade was used, the wielder had to pass a Willpower check or die. And this worked out awesome! Needless to say, people did use the sword from time to time!

Now I hope that this gives you some ideas. Said magic items seem rather high fantasy type to me, and I expect something more subtle from 'Bastards'. What I'm trying to say is that magic items that have some secret/unusual/unexpected qualities are the most fun to deal with!
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Re: Defining the

Post by higgins » 20 Oct 2014, 01:52

Daeruin wrote:Better to define up front whether magic can make weapons sharper, stronger, lighter, or whatever, and what effect that might have on the combat system.
Oh, I'm sure there could be something like the sword forged by Master Maker in The Blade Itself that never dulled and eroded any whetstone laid upon it without even taking a scratch.

Effect on combat rules, however? I'm positive that Agamemnon and I are of the the same mind in this. The answer would be "None."
Siggi wrote:Then there was an interesting amulet and as far as I remember it was one of the 'official' magic items in The Enemy Within Campaign. The wearer of the amulet became immune from fear of the undead, but there was a twist: the wearer didn't fear the undead and in the same time he could't see them at all!
There's nothing new under the sun, apparently. :lol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology ... Sunglasses
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Re: Defining the

Post by Siggi » 20 Oct 2014, 04:55

higgins wrote:There's nothing new under the sun, apparently. :lol: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology ... Sunglasses
Now that's where this weird stuff comes from! Thanks for the link - I got to go tell my clueless friends about it. So much for living in the age of postmodernism!
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Re: Defining the

Post by hector » 20 Oct 2014, 16:10

Daeruin wrote:I think if you have the ability to create magical items, it's basically inevitable that someone will want to craft a better weapon.
Yes, they will. I'm not sure I'd let them, to be honest - certainly not just to create a "+1 sword of smiting". Magic could theoretically be used in the forging of a blade, so long as the mage were also a really skilled smith, in which case the sword would simply be made of better steel; it wouldn't do more damage, nor would it be easier to use, but it would probably be far more durable, and might have an easier time doing damage through armour; much like a sword made from modern crucible steel as compared with a sword made from the steel available back when long swords were commonly used. Any better than that, and the effects would have to actually be interesting.
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Re: Defining the

Post by higgins » 20 Oct 2014, 16:49

hector wrote:Magic could theoretically be used in the forging of a blade, so long as the mage were also a really skilled smith, in which case the sword would simply be made of better steel; it wouldn't do more damage, nor would it be easier to use, but it would probably be far more durable, and might have an easier time doing damage through armour; much like a sword made from modern crucible steel as compared with a sword made from the steel available back when long swords were commonly used.
That's pretty much my take on it. We don't plan on differentiating steel type in weapons, so, such effects would be largely (if not exclusively) narrative.
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Re: Defining the

Post by Agamemnon » 21 Oct 2014, 17:52

higgins wrote:
Daeruin wrote:Better to define up front whether magic can make weapons sharper, stronger, lighter, or whatever, and what effect that might have on the combat system.
Oh, I'm sure there could be something like the sword forged by Master Maker in The Blade Itself that never dulled and eroded any whetstone laid upon it without even taking a scratch.

Effect on combat rules, however? I'm positive that Agamemnon and I are of the the same mind in this. The answer would be "None."
Pretty much this. I would be all for making magical weapons that had interesting properties ("turns blue in the presence of magic") but any kind of combat bonus would be tricky to implement at best. I can say with confidence we wouldn't want anything that circumvents basic weapon type properties (i.e. getting a lower TN, or allowing a sword to cut through plate armor), or provides a blanket bonus (this sword is so awesome, you get +2 dice when using it!).

The creation of permanent magic items may or may not make it into the beta, depending on how the rest of things go and if it winds up being the last thing on our plate. I would be as happy taking the stance that truly magical items are artifacts and the province of masters from a different age, but we may yet come up with a good way to handle them. I've got a couple ideas.
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Re: Defining the "Magical Item"

Post by nemedeus » 26 Nov 2016, 04:08

I've been writing a few magic items lately, and my favourite one is the following two:

Glory
A legendary sword wielded by an ancient King, also known as Caliburn. It never takes on rust or blemishes.
The sword is mighty in battle: the wielder gains advantage on any action performed with it. However, in the presence of its twin blade, Ruin, it takes disadvantage instead.

Ruin
Also known as Clarent, owned by the old king's brother. No matter how much it is polished, it always looks worn and rusty. Ruin performs like an ordinary sword, but when fighting its twin, Glory, the wielder gains advantage on any action performed with it.

Note that in my campaign setting, these are literally the only magical swords to have such an effect. That's why I think it's okay to have them give TN shifts.


Other swords are more narrative or limited in their use:

Sword of a Saint (rare)
When the wielder would receive fatal damage, that damage is negated and the blade shatters.

Sword of a Heretic (extremely rare)
The wielder gains an SA point for every kill made with this weapon. Once the sword has been used, sheathing it requires burning an SA point.While wearing this sword, the owner can be tempted to commit murder. If ever an enemy is spared by the wielder, the blade shatters.
Now remember that even with this is of power, it's still not a good idea to run around murdering people like the sociopath this sword wants you to be.



Another favourite of mine are Named Swords, engraved with the names of great and powerful beings, that could be used to kill the beings marked on these blades. These too would perform like any other sword, except they would be indestructible... until their Mark has died—they would then shatter on the spot.


So as you can see, I like it when magic weapons have two things: a very specific use, as well as a downside that prominently involves the blade shattering.
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