Magic Items: Surprise Me

alt textWish lists are new to D&D in 4th edition, representing a bridge between player or character (or both) tastes or desires and DM prep and magic item inclusion.  Keep in mind there are alternatives to how you use and communicate your wish lists with pros and cons for each approach. 

And whatever approach you use for your wish lists, do your part to promote the classic wonder of magic items – flesh them out to make them look, sound and feel truly magical!

Full Wish Lists

Full wish lists are great because they are a full suite of what a player is looking for, either for his or her particular playstyle, that particular character, or some combination of both.  A fully fleshed out and updated wish list is also a massive and time-saving resource for the DM to draw immediately engaging magic items from.  Also, at the point of discovery, such magic treasure is simply quite exciting.  Wishes do come true!

However, full wish lists do carry two drawbacks.  On the player end, it can be daunting and highly time consuming to comb through the online Compendium or all your D&D sourcebooks for your favorite magic items.  Full wish lists also have the drawback of having little mystery to them besides when or if you get an item on your list – there’s little or no room for surprises.  And everyone loves a good surprise once in a while, right?

Partial Wish Lists

Instead of listing out magic items for your DM, consider using keywords, categories, power frequency, properties or even just basic themes such as “charge attack-related” or “Far Realm-feel or origin”.  This a balanced approach that gives you a little bit of everything from both the PC and DM perspective, from both a flavor and efficiency standpoint.

Partial wish lists balance the surprise and delight of unknown specific magic items against the general styles and themes you’re seeking and like most.  You still save the DM some time looking for these magic items, though not as much as full wish lists. 

No Wish Lists

Some players are old school or simply trust the DM to include magic treasure that is useful for or simply cool to one more PCs.  Such a player typically likes the pure fun of surprise and discovery as well as figuring out on the fly how tactically helpful an item is.  Perhaps magic items even feel more magical when they’re this unexpected?  And of course, if you’re truly time-starved as a player, with barely enough time to get your character ready to play, you’ll want to let the DM know early that no wish list is a good wish list for you.

Player vs. Character Considerations

You’ll want to pay careful attention to how much magic treasure you include on your wish list because of your character’s backstory or motivations, how many you include for mechanically advantageous reasons, and how many you include for personal playstyle reasons.  It’s a good idea to know where a particular PC is coming from, whether you’re a player or the DM in the group.  Having a sense of this helps you or the DM shift your wish lists and actual magic treasure in whatever direction looks more naturally desirable or enjoyable. 

Personally, I strive for a balance among those three considerations.  Just like a powerfully enchanted greatbow can’t be beat for most archer-style rangers, it’s also cool to discover a Skull Mask for your Heroes of Shadow-inspired character, to make him or her even more fearsome and unsettling to the enemy.  At the same time, if you prefer – as a player, DM or playgroup – straightforward items without too many immediate actions or triggers to track, make sure your lists reflect that.  In such a case, magical treasure with only properties and daily powers are more desirable.

Magic Treasure Names

Finally, no matter which wish list approach you prefer, remember that evocative names, origins and histories for magic items help bring such wondrous and powerful treausure to life.  As a player or DM, don’t be afraid to expand upon the flavor or reflavor magic item names and descriptions.  The truth is, magic item physical descriptions and lore have received very little attention in 4e, and so some of their original luster and wonder is missing – especially when combined with full wish lists. 

So flex your creative muscles and weave some storytelling and world lore around your magic items.  For example, as a player, decide to name your favorite magic treasures as you unearth them or tear them from the cold, dead hands of your wicked enemies. 

Perhaps your Waraxes of Rending become the Raven Queen’s Executioners as you annihilate the evil lich Elduuzaat, whom you’ve been chasing across the planes for months at the request of High Priestess Ilka of Winterspire Temple, the kind yet fiercely undead-loathing woman who was the first and hopefully last benefactor to bring you back from the dead. 

Use character backstories, motivations, the events of the encounter or the entire adventure for inspiration in naming and reflavoring your new magic weapon or armor.  Again, both players and DMs can take the reins here, collaborating to create more memorable and story-rich magic items. 

More Resources

For more inspiration and resources, take a look at the expanded lore and flavor of artifacts in 4e – or include one in your games!  Whether you use their write-ups for ideas for other magic items or integrate the true surprise of a discovered artifact in your 4e games, they have great storytelling potential for your games – with quite a bump in personal power to boot.

Previous D&D edition rulebooks and sourebooks also make for excellent inspiration.  They typically contain expanded physical description and lore for magic items, with Forgotten Realms magic treasure description and lore often the brightest stars among them.

Finally, there’s truly inspiring flavor to be found in the Accessories treasure generators at Chaotic Shiny.  My favorites are the Magic Artifact, Treasure Trove and Magic Weapon generators.  Take what each gives you, or run with the descriptions and flesh them out even more!

4 Responses to “Magic Items: Surprise Me”

  1. Erik says:

    King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Thor didn’t use a longsword +4, a shortsword +4, and a throwing hammer +4- they wielded Excalibur, Joyeuse, and Mjolnir. Player characters should follow suit. Should their exploits influence the world in which the campaign takes place, their weapons will gain the same notoriety as they themselves do.

    • Kilsek says:

      Excellently articulated, Erik. It’s true, some of weapons and tools become legendary and iconic in and of themselves, immediately identified with the awe-inspiring hero who wielded them. I find myself wanting to watch Thor again right now – and yes, it was tremendous!

  2. […] Like this article?  You’ll find more related reading here: The Big 3 Potions, Treasure, Wish Lists & Low-level Magic Items, and Magic Items: Surprise Me. […]

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