Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Roll Your Own Magic Item Tables

This was going to be a post extolling the virtues of rolling random treasure and countering the arguments you sometimes hear against it.  There were going to be anecdotes and laughs and such.  And as I was writing that post, I ran up against a realization that I realized was maybe more important than trying to participate in the conventional dialogue.

And that is that you (yeah, you) should build custom magic treasure tables for your world.  And by "you should" I mean I should, but I think you might benefit from it too.

In the writing of that other post, I realized that the main issue people seem to have with random treasure is that it sometimes yields items which are unsuitable for the type of game being run.  The fear is that it'll give them something which is either useless, or a terrifying gamebreaker like a Ring of Three Wishes.  I've seen the first one before - we once found a Murlynd's Spoon in a dragon's hoard in a combat-heavy, tactical Trailblazer game where we didn't track rations or encumbrance (at least not for practical purposes).  It was just the most useless thing, and we complained about it.  But in retrospect, it made me realize that the problem is not that the tables give you items that either your players don't want or that you don't want your players to have, so much as that the tables were developed to give items which made sense when people were playing the Old Style.  When rations and encumbrance are issues, Murlynd's Spoon is pretty neat actually.  Likewise, a Ring of Three Wishes is not a game-ender in this style - your PCs will use it to summon castles and fantastic wealth, as is expected normal behavior in the Old Ways, rather than to kill your main villain and derail your plot.  It accelerates and furthers the game, rather than destroying it.

But the main point, that "the tables may not suit your game so tweak them" is ultimately more interesting.  People build their own random encounter tables, even in 3.x, on a reasonably regular basis.  It's something that people have heard of or thought about at least.  But throwing together custom treasure tables is not.  I've seen new treasure tables published in sourcebooks full of treasure which very rarely got used, and a few schemes at Telecanter's for generating unique magic items, but for me as a DM to roll my own that were well-suited to my world simply didn't occur to me until, well, yesterday.  Perhaps I'm just dense.  That it provides a fairly clean solution to the objections against random treasure is neat, but personally I'm more excited about using it as a creative exercise over winter break. 

How much new, but sensible, treasure can I come up with, and how am I going to vary the probability distributions of various treasures within the world?  Remains to be seen.  Currently I'm looking forward to adding:
  • Magic ballista bolts and catapult shot to the misc weapons table
    • Heck, maybe magic ballistae and catapults proper
  • Magic banners and standards which provide a bonus to troops in formation for mass battle purposes
  • Books that answer questions, a la Grognardling
  • Magic item recipes (kind of a booby prize, but useful nonetheless)
  • Magic shields that do things other than just being +x
    • Winged shields
    • Floating shields
    • Mirrored shields
    • Lifeward shields
  • Ironwood, adamant, and mithral armors
  • A "what flavor of sword is this" table to go with the armor weight table, including flavorful terms like "dirk", "scimitar", "sabre", and "kris" (so far I've been giving out ho-hum magic longswords, except for one gladius) 
  • Possibility for magic weapons to be silvered, adamant, or other special materials 
  • Ideally at least one interesting or iconic variant for each of the main weapons; javelins of lightning, axes of hewing, daggers of poison, and so forth.
  • More wands of other spells
  • Potions of things other than spells (like these)
  • Artifacts, with low, low probability
Anything else you think I should add, Internet?


  1. After those first four bullet points... I don't think I can stop smiling.

    Other possibilities include:
    Travel items (magic carpets, seven-league boots, flying boats, teleportation gates?)
    Items useful for domains (a watering can that grows crops in a day, a Saw of Wood Construction, a Fountain of Weather Control?)
    Mobile, Intelligent magic items of various varieties could be interesting

    1. I thought those possibilities might be well-received at this juncture. You're going to have to go dungeoneering to find them, though :P

      On travel items - flying carpets are already on the tables, as are the boots of striding. Flying boats are tricky because of size, but I could see doing something like the magic sails from Arms & Equipment Guide. Telegates are an interesting idea, but that's some high-power magic thar...

      Domain items - The trouble I foresee with these is that it's hard to turn an effect like that into a clear domain-level +income consequence, since it's likely to effect a small area. Control Weather is the exception; that one also reminds me of a thing I had planned for a previous setting, which I may have to steal from myself. I guess I could see the Saw providing a bonus to individual craftsmen using it; magic tools that boost single-worker productivity? This would let you take a master smith and boost his output further if you have him working on a special project or something, perhaps.

      Intelligence is just such a pain in the butt... I was honestly kind of happy when Tim's smartsword got rusted, since it was one less thing to keep in the back of my head.

      Also: All of the Quaal's Feather Tokens and the Fan of Winds?


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