How I would Make Magic Items Interesting in D&D Next

By Ken Wai Lau

Magical Swords D&D

If only ‘octopus’ was a playable race…
Artwork © by Taghuso

Not too long ago, Wizards of the Coast published an article about magic items in Dungeons and Dragons Next.

Back when I started to play Dungeons and Dragons in some capacity, it seemed like the only thing that mattered to me was acquiring magic weapons, the more the better. I wouldn’t just have a golf bag of weapons – I would need a fleet of wagons to carry them all.

But as time went on, I became somewhat indifferent to acquiring loot because magic items seemed like a dime (or is that copper piece?) a dozen. That and I had the growing sense that the power of my character was largely determined by the material resources available.

The most interesting point brought up by the Wizards article is that the game no longer assumes any magic items at all for parties of any level. That being the case, I would certainly be interested in seeing how a high level, high magic, but no item campaign would pan out.

By leaving out the magic items altogether, more emphasis would be placed upon character development in terms of abilities and narrative (in theory). I felt that the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. splatbook, Tome of Battle, was a step in the right direction in that sense, since a martial adept was capable of inflicting significant damage with his maneuvers regardless of the weapon he used.

But maybe the problem isn’t so much the existence of magic items, but more about making them unique, special and cherished. The problem with D&D 3.5 and 4e was that they became disposable once you found something better.

I’ve a Blade With Your Name On It.

sword_of_kings

More importantly, make it look cool.
Artwork © by Stefan Ristic

One thing I’d love to be able to do in D&D Next is borrow a blacksmith’s forge and build a weapon from scratch. The weapon will obviously start off as an ordinary weapon, but it will eventually gain a power of it’s own with each deed of heroism (or villainy) that you perform (read: level up).

If you lack proficiency with the tools to create a weapon, or if you prefer not to jump through that hoop altogether, you could commission a legendary blacksmith to craft a masterwork weapon for you.

You could even uncover an ancient (seemingly) non magical masterwork weapon with your name etched on it, with prophecies of future deeds carved in an ancient language upon the surface of the blade. Once a deed is accomplished, the appropriate rune glows and the weapon becomes magical as a result.

In any case, some expenditure of effort or money should be required to obtain the weapon in the first place.

A good time to start crafting/buying/discovering a weapon might be around level 4 or 5, at a point when player characters would be considered ‘a cut above the average folk’. The deeds performed using the weapon over time will awaken and imbue it with powers derived from your temperament, fighting style, beliefs, fears, etc.

Obviously, this can be applied to other items as well as weapons, but I would love to see a mechanic like this implemented in D&D Next. Not only would it be more customisable (subject to DM approval, of course!), but the item would feel more like a part of your character.

Also, you could take inspiration from Weapons of Legacy and have the item grant a suite of magical abilities that are active or usable as long as the item is in your possession, forgoing the need to wear additional magic items on the body. Doing this would help avoid the ‘Christmas tree’ effect.

Let me know in the comments what you think of this idea? Does it sound like something you’d love to see made official in D&D Next or do you already use a variation of this house rule in your own campaign (any edition)? How well does it work for you? Or do you reckon part of the fun in D&D is uncovering loads of magic items and being decked out from top to toe for Christmas?


2 Comments

  1. Jason April 11, 2014 12:54 am  Reply

    Since we have bounded accuracy in D&D Next, it would be awesome if they could do more with special materials. They’ve always been more interesting than magic items for me.

    • Ken Wai Lau April 15, 2014 10:55 am  Reply

      I agree with that.

      There was also someone else who suggested adding magical properties depending on material. For example, a weapon made of blue ice can have the frost special ability or a certain weapon is keen because it’s easier to sharpen – something along those lines. These special materials won’t be easy to find.

      I would go further and consider adding materials that are suited to defeating certain monsters, not by overcoming resistance, but by dealing double damage or some such.

      D&D Next, with it’s bounded accuracy concept, would certainly allow for something like this without needing to add +X enhancements on each weapon.

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