A New Look at Infrequently Used Magic Items -- Magic Items and Characters
In this series, we'll take a look at infrequently used, or little understood, magic items described in the Dungeon Master's Guide, plus we'll give you some creative uses and reasons to include them on your character's inventory list.
Like spells, there seems to be a list of magic items that are considered crucial to an adventuring party -- cloaks of resistance, rings of protection, and potions of cure light wounds, for example. Of course, with hundreds and hundreds of magic items to choose from, some magic items are going to get short shrift. But what should players and DMs do when the random treasure table turns up something unusual? Toss it and move on? Or maybe they can open up their minds and build a character (or adventure) around particularly interesting magic items.
Next up, we'll take a break from looking at specific magic items and go more into the philosophy of how characters acquire magic items and what they could do with them.
Random Treasure Tables -- Friend or Foe?
The random treasure table has existed since the earliest incarnation of D&D. When combined with the equally ubiquitous random monster table, a DM could run an entire adventure without having anything prepared at all. The biggest problem with the random treasure table, of course, is that it's . . . random.
On the downside, although an adventuring party ends up getting the gp value appropriate for an encounter when the DM rolls on a random treasure table, it also means that they are likely to end up with an oddball collection of magic items, which may or may not be useful to everyone. If you're playing in a campaign thick with undead, getting a staff of size alteration doesn't seem like it could help all that much. Sure, you're not always going to get what you want for your character every time, but if your group continually gets magic items with little to no apparent use, then it's time to talk with your DM and see if some changes can be made to make the treasure more in line with what you need.
On the other hand, the random treasure table lets you explore different rules and possibilities that you may not otherwise think about attempting. See below for more on this.
Only What You See on the Shelf, Pal
Another phenomenon common in most D&D games is the extremely well-stocked magic store. It's just assumed that when the character comes rolling back into town either looking for magic items or hauling bags of loot from a dungeon, there will be someone able to accommodate them -- selling almost anything they might need and buying anything they put up for sale, regardless of whether the purchaser can actually use it themselves or not.
If your DM is using the rules for the gp limit of a town or city (see page 137 in the Dungeon Master's Guide), then there's already a built-in point at which your character can sell their loot or buy new magic items. If you are the DM, you may consider using the random treasure table to determine ahead of time which magic items are available in any given town. This way, when the characters show up ready to buy up the town, they'll have to contend with the limited selection and live with the consequences. However, players should be encouraged to accept what they get and adapt their tactics (and characters) accordingly.
Building Your Character Around Magic Items
Okay, so your character has kicked some poor monster to the curb and it's time to loot its stuff. The DM rolls on the random treasure table and in addition to the coins, gems, and potions, you also get some magic item that definitely wasn't on your birthday wish list. Instead of immediately selling it off for half the value, consider keeping it and shaping your character around the magic item, choosing feats, abilities, and even classes around some particular cool aspect of that item.
For example, let's say that your ranger obtains a periapt of proof against poison and decides to keep it. As long as he wears it, he's immune to poison. Over time, your character focuses on finding animal companions that produce venom, such as snakes and scorpions, using his ranks of Handle Animal to extract their poison to apply to his weapons. Later, he spends some of his wealth on obtaining a dagger of venom to complement his particular obsession. If the character decides to turn toward the evil portion of the alignment spectrum, it's possible he could even take levels in assassin (if he qualifies) -- all those years of using poison coming to "good" use.
Building Your Campaign Around Magic Items
For the DMs out there, the converse is true too -- sometimes it's cool to build your own adventures around some of the magic items possessed by the PCs. Consider putting a little bit of history into certain magic items, complete with a possible use (or fate) for later on or possibly previous owners that want the item back. This works best with specific magic items that are the goal of particular adventures -- say a magic sword or armor -- but can also apply to random magic items that are acquired along the way.
For example, after defeating a young green dragon, one of the human characters takes a pair of boots of elvenkind as a portion of her loot -- determined completely at random from the treasure table. However, the DM decides that the next elf that the character encounters not only takes great umbrage at the fact that a non-elf is wearing the boots, but also recognizes the style as belonging to that of an elf cobbler who was kidnapped by the green dragon and thought dead. Now the characters have some explaining to do and possibly an ally (or enemy) in the elf that wants to find the whereabouts of the missing elf cobbler.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Monster Manual IV, and the Tome of Corruption from Green Ronin Publishing. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.