Behind the Screen: Questions about legendary item creation…

2009 May 19
by Dante

I had a good time writing last week’s post on tailormade items, thanks for all of the great comments! As I was thinking about this topic further and reading through all of the insights provided on that thread, I started thinking about an underlying question.

Burning questions

At one point in the discussion, I asked whether or not it was important to have a rules set for generating weapons, armor, and items of that magnitude. Is the “outside the box” thinking that is required to create an item so suited to a player part of the creative fun that is being a DM?

So I’ll turn this question over to you, gentle reader: if a set of rules existed for creating tailormade, high-power (or growing in power) magical items would you use them? Or would you still eschew these rules in favor of doing it by yourselves?

My thoughts

Honestly, it would have to be a VERY flexible rules set for me to consider using it. Often, I will see elements that I would want to have in my magical item but one little aspect of it isn’t quite right… the descriptor isn’t quite fitting, the drawbacks too severe (or not severe enough), the legend or lore that comes along with the item just doesn’t fit with the setting or the intended character, and so on.

For me, magic item creation over a random treasure roll has to be an act of creative fun for me as a Dungeon Master. How about you?

9 Responses leave one →
  1. the-gun-nut permalink
    May 19, 2009

    For standard magic items the limits set by the creation system are already fairly flexible. For a legendary item, or an artifact, you don’t need much of a system. I’d say what would be needed is just some common sense about what you (the DM) want the item to do in the game.

    Then, take that idea and abuse it as much as you can. Figure out what would be possible if you were a player given that item. Exploit it to the limit. Then ask yourself if it is appropriate to your game.

    I tend to do this with just about everything in the game. I don’t have a problem with power gamers since I come up with as many exploits as I can, and anticipate the abuse early on. Not to say they can’t surprise me, but I am always quick to remind them “Whatever you come up with, I will use, too.”

    Munchkins: Those are players who, IMO, are actively trying to derail the game or are just plain clueless about abuses. It usually doesn’t take me long to persuade them to either tone it down, or leave if they are really onery. I have met very few players who qualify for this title.

  2. ketjak permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Well, those comments got weird. 😉

    I’ve invited my old DM Scotty to weigh in here. I’d love to know what his “system” was.

  3. Dante permalink
    May 26, 2009

    @ketjak: Thanks for the comment, looking forward to hearing from Scotty.

    For Reasons Unknown, Blogger seems to hate letting me delete those comments for some reason. We’re moving to WordPress later on this year, so hopefully our woes will be behind us.

  4. RobynHode permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I have hosted several games in the past with legendary items, and here is what I personally found worked well for me and the PCs.

    1. First define the overall purpose the characters’ have in the context of the role-playing setting. In other worlds, look into the future and determine what type of path they could lead based on their current character choices.

    2. Establish each legendary item as a ‘character itself’ and see how that item fits into the context of the world. Treat each item as an NPC with a history, future goal and the ability to ‘level up’. But only give the leveling ability based on the wielder’s level. This way, at each level, it not only ‘feels’ like the item is getting more powerful, it feels as if the item is adapting to the specific character wielding it.

    Far too often, I see items designed with everything already-created/designed with it. This not only puts instant limits on the legendary item, it also takes away the mystery once all of the powers are known. I view legendary items as something that can evolve and become even more integrated as a symbiotic relationship with the wielder.


  5. ketjak permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I have to say, Scotty, your items were awesome and I even still have most of the little cards you printed (before there were GameMastery cards, too!). I think in general they were over-powered (probably because I am a prudish DM myself who starves his players for magic items), but they were VERY fun to use and watch in use. If you’re not interested in making a product out of it, you should post a sample of, say, levels 1-4. I think you have a blog somewhere, no?

    Anyway, I keep trying to get to this legendary item creation thing myself, but keep backing away because I’m stingy. If not done right, this gets out of control fast. Obviously I don’t know what you were planning, Scotty, but it started to feel like the magic items were the dominant part of our characters. 🙂 Hmmm, I bet that’s what you had in mind. 🙂

  6. RobynHode permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Hehe, well the idea was that for our game, the items were ultimately becoming one with you, and had the ability to take you over if you kept investing XPs into them. These particular legendary items were literally the contained souls of others that you were slowly unleashing inside of yourselves. The trick was to walk a fine balance between that entity and yourself so that your character always had the upper hand. However, in the context of the game, you had to keep relinquishing control to the legendary item at each new level, or you would not have completed the ultimate plot. Of course, there was a way to regain control once you were ultimately possessed. This is why you started to see real changes in your appearance, skin color, etc. The way I saw the entire campaign unfold was to have you guys around level 20 and then to have the soul come out of the items, and then to have each of you have to fight those legendary items that had been helping you for so long.

    Getting back to the actual items, here is the best way to handle it if you don’t want to take it to that extreme…

    1. Determine two themes for your one legendary item (such as intellect and flame, or speed and poison, etc.).

    2. Determine the means by which powers can be released. Think in lines of triggers, components needed, gestures, and similar things a wizard might need.

    3. Make a level chart for the item up to the level you desire. This level chart is directly tied to the wielder’s level.

    4. Provide a single power/spell/ability/Feat/etc, to boost what you desire that works with the theme of the item. This will help to establish the Legendary Item’s persona and give the wielder mystery as to what will happen in the future with it. The extra powers you give should always be less than what the PC could attain at that particular level if playing any other Class. However, try to cross over into powers that may lead to significant outcomes for designed situations you foresee in your campaign down the road. Even if the PC thinks… damn, I really don’t need blindfighting because I’m a wizard…then you’ve probably worked something into a future event that blindfighting will be the key to success.

    5. Create a ‘bonus’ secondary chart of minor powers that can be given to the Character, if the character desires to put their own XP into the item. ** Note, if the character does this, come up with ramificaitons/consequences for investing XP into it such as emotional ties, new fears of losing the item, or go farther like if the item leaves more than 100 feet of the character, the character loses hit points, abilities, etc.

    6. Work the item into the context of your campaign by making it very significant to past events, but also mysterious as to why it still exists (because it was thought to have been lost or destroyed for example). Come up with legends about it and have the characters discover pictoral images of it in murals in a dungeon defeating a dragon, or have them find a scroll about how so and so used it and it was lost, etc. The more you develop about it, the more it will intregue the PCs, and the more questions will come up about it. The goal is to answer enough that it satifies the PCs for the moment, but not reveal too much that it brings out a dangling carrot that they may want to investigate more about it in the future (almost like a LOST episode).

  7. ketjak permalink
    May 26, 2009

    “The way I saw the entire campaign unfold was to have you guys around level 20 and then to have the soul come out of the items, and then to have each of you have to fight those legendary items that had been helping you for so long.”

    Crikey. We were right to be freaked about the cosmetic changes. That’s good.

  8. RobynHode permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Yeah, the cool thing there would have been a swapp-eroo if you guys would have failed. Your souls would have gone into the items and the evil souls will have been left to ravage the lands. The next game after that I had thought about: you all would have started in the hands of new NPCs about 150 years later that discovered what had happened to the items that were left in the place where the other souls escaped. That adventure game would have been very interesting because you all would have been given simple character sheets that outlines what powers you have as Legendary items and what you could do to help your new wielders. You all would have seen battle after battle through the eyes of your new wielders until they found a way to free you out of the items (at the end of that adventure if you were successful).

  9. Dante permalink
    May 31, 2009

    @ketjak and @RobynHode:
    This is all really great stuff, you’ve given me a lot of ideas to sift through. Thanks for commenting!

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