Magnificent Indeed: A Review of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium

alt text“Making Magic Items Magical” again is one of the promises the highly anticipated tome, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, makes in its earliest pages. 

Bold promise, isn’t it?  With 4e magic items often missing that special something in their descriptions and presentation since the Player’s Handbook, is such a lofty goal even achievable?  

Did MME get there?  Did it make our beloved magic items – including many Dungeon & Dragons classics – wondrous and inspiring once more? 

Expanded Wonder

Smartly following the example of recent releases such as as the Monster Vault series and Heroes of Shadow, a balance of flavor and crunch is something you see throughout MME.  Healthy doses of magic item description, history and lore are included before the usual one-liner flavor description.  Sometimes it’s just a few lines, others times it’s a paragraph or two.  Each expanded magic item description adds more context to a magic item’s existence, purpose and style, and gives MME’s magic items a richer feel. 

Why?  Because now you understand how they fit in the world, why giantslayer weapons were forged during the Dawn War and for whom, and why the rumors of someone wielding a greater luckblade being impossible to kill might just be true.  Now you know why robes of the archmage can kill the unworthy ones who would dare don them, and why you, too, can share a laugh with others who know the true demise of the first creator of the greater armor of eyes.

Not only is all the expanded lore and description welcome and a pleasure to read, it’s also inspiring - for both players and your characters’ backstories and motivations, and for DMs and your adventure seeds and story arcs. 

It’s hard not to imagine an undead-filled adventure where a set of ebon armor and generations of infernal owners are featured throughout.  Weave in the simple and brilliant story item templates and ideas from Chapter 5, and you have several nights’ worth of dark, gritty adventure on your hands – just in time for Halloween!

To be clear, the balanced delivery of the two ends of the spectrum - evocative flavor and helpful, matching, and sometimes very powerful game effects - is brilliantly executed throughout Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium. 

But Wait, There’s More!

Sure, I’ve mentioned some of my favorite magic weapons and armor so far, but what else is there inside that might excite you?

There’s more magic items, of course, like the rod of death - if you’re the gambling type, you’re going to love gambling with your death saving throw failure count in exchange for a wickedly sweet damage boost. 

Or point your wand of fear and scare them all off, in and out of every combat or social encounter.  There are many items throughout MME which offer a combination skill bonus as a property (i.e. bonus to intimidate checks) as well as a cool encounter attack or similar power that reflects the magic item’s nature and description (i.e. push a target you hit with this wand a number of squares equal to its enhancement bonus).  I can practically see and hear myself yelling, “Back!  Or I’ll destroy you!”  while brandishing that wand of fear. 

The rare ioun stones are pretty much incredible.  Simple, powerful, and the cool history of their creation and all the gods involved besides Ioun, is yours.

Finally, the elven chain shirt and and potion of invulnerability were hard to ignore.  A D&D classic, the shirt counts as a wondrous item, and boosts your AC.  What?  Insane!  It’s uncommon though, so you’ll have to wish list it or search some ancient elven places of magic or perhaps old dwarven tunnels that used to be filled with mithril.  Good news though, the potion is common, meaning in any reasonably sized community, you can get your hands on multiple injections of damage-resisting nectar… of the gods.  That’s how strong it is!

Oh, and it looks like we can expand my review of consumable options – The Big 3 Potions now have some competition with the return of potions of cure light wounds, cure moderate wounds, and yes, even heal.  They’re all pretty good, but the latter is crazy!  Potion of heal is a 30th level uncommon potion though, so I guess it ought to be, right?  Now you’re ready to fight Lolth!

Yes, There’s Even More

There’s so many other things inside MME: new artifacts, curses, story items, mundane gear, building costs, hirelings and henchmen, item levels as treasure… just to name a bunch. 

Among those, here are just some of my favorite specific things:

  • More Kits.  Expanded mundane gear tables with new kits (i.e. delver’s kit, charleton’s kit, gambler’s gear, and more) to pump up your favorite skills or have just the right tools.
  • I Want A Castle!  Costs for how much it costs to build and have your own place, from cottage to floating castle to your own private island!
  • Got the Goods?  An expanded trade goods chart, with about twenty trade goods and detailed values by both unit and weight. 
  • Henchmen: I love companion characters, and henchmen are the same thing, originally from DMG2, the greatest 4e book to date.  Hirelings are cool too – if you got cash, you got a small mechanical bonus or NPC roleplay color (i.e. a scribe); these remind me of my simple companion characters in some ways.

Art & Imagery

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ”big” or otherwise “enlarged to show texture” art.  An effort was made to draw large and detailed depictions of many magic items, and that really gives you a greater appreciation for the look and feel of the aforementioned tempting rod of death, the mighty true gauntlets of ogre power and the eerie helm of seven deaths.  

You’ll also find a whole page of illustrations showing you what the new armor types look like (including some cool properties, like tough, durable and barbed).

And the map of unseen lands?  Quite possibly the coolest looking magical map you’ll ever lay your eyes on – talk about the possibilities!

A Must Own

MME tells us early that many of its items are written description and story elements-first, with fun, helpful and fairly easy to resolve game mechanics filled in to flavorfully match afterwards.  That’s the core of this outstanding book, and that’s exactly how we breathe the magic back into magic items in 4e.  MME has nailed it, my friends, ring of ramming-style.  Five stars.  Five roars even! 

So stop everything, get up and go grab a copy of your own.  Enjoy its find blend of classic and new magical wonders, and make sure to come back and tell me what you loved about it, and what you think could have been better. 

Thanks for checking out my review and see you Friday!  (With some big news!)

5 Responses to “Magnificent Indeed: A Review of Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium”

  1. Quirky DM says:

    I picked up my copy on the weekend and I’m as impressed as you. Some of the classic magic items from previous editions are in there, and they feel like magic items from previous editions. The wondrous items section especially felt, well, magical. I could see myself spending half my gold on adventuring items because it would be fun.

    I was also a big fan of the way they handled cursed items. They were maybe too easy to remove, though. I think I would rather leave the curse on the item, but make the item worth 5 levels less. Characters can find an item that is normally far above their level, but pay a price for it. Many of those curses can be lived with, so I think that would be much more interesting.

    Final note- does anyone ever use a magic item that helps with death saves? Wouldn’t it be better to just have another magic item that helped you live so you never had to worry about death saves in the first place? Death save items always seem overpriced to me.
    Quirky DM recently posted..Rapid Fire Combat – Provide IncentiveMy Profile

    • Kilsek says:

      Thanks for your comment, Quirky DM, and welcome to Leonine Roar!

      There’s a great nod to classic magic items, and if anyone played lots of 2e and 3.x like me, the nostalgia factor is cool. Though the magic items in there aren’t just for nostalgia – they’re pure awesome in their own right!

      Since curses had been dead for a long while in D&D, I’ve been implementing them more as unique magical phenomena or story tools, and only rarely. I’ll have to look at the curse rules in MME more closely to see if cursed magic items can indeed be cool again. For the group I DM, my players seemed only to dread their return, which was funny… what about yours?

      You make a good point on death saves, Quirky. To me, they’re just another resource you can draw from in 4e’s naturally resoure management-rich combat. If you already have more than enough items that draw on your healing surges, for example, tapping into death saves as a sort of reserve or resource might be worth looking at. And if fitting in rests isn’t typically an issue – and the majority of the time, it’s not – it’s all the more reason to consider something like the rod of death.

      • Quirky DM says:

        My players haven’t had to deal with cursed items … yet. My fondest memories in earlier games were cursed items that you wanted to keep:
        - a ring that would let you fly, but only while you screamed at the top of your lungs
        - a rod of fear that would drain your Charisma when you used it
        - Deck of Many things (not cursed, but there enough bad effects in there, it might as well have been)

        I think the latest batch of cursed items fall into that category- items that you genuinely want to keep, but can cause you trouble and you have to weigh their benefits. Just last night, I played Gamma World with a walking robot with a laser on it. It fired at enemies for a hefty chunk of damage as a minor action, but if it missed, it fired at me instead. That is a far more interesting gadget to have then a laser gun.

        • Kilsek says:

          That ring of flyin’ and screamin’ is hilarious, I love that!

          My brother has included more interactive items in encounters as well, and easy of use, big impact, and especially low action cost are the big factors there (i.e. magical ballistae). No one wants to expend their precious standard actions on things that might not be anywhere as powerful or cool as their own attacks, so it takes plenty of design forethought, clues and encouragement.

          I agree with you on minor risks to use these types of things – like the funny risk that comes with your robot. Makes them fun and only slightly dangerous. I do the same with some skill checks, like when attempting to channel some unique magical phenomenon, for example, in order to gain bonus damage to attacks. As long there’s cool or big payoff and low action costs, seems most of us are ok with a dash of risk!

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