Magic Items in Dungeons & Dragons
One of the most enjoyable moments in playing Dungeons & Dragons is when a player character receives a magical item. As a DM, part of my job is to make sure the magic items that players receive don’t break the game or make them too powerful. At the same time, players want to get the most awesome, reality bending items possible. So, how do you make players happy without breaking your game?
Where to Find Magic Items
First, let me say that the DMG has an extensive library of magical items for you to choose from; however, I am a firm believer in creating custom magic items for my campaign. I encourage you to read through my homebrew magic items list. Many, if not most of the D&D official publications have new magic items too. You can also find countless homebrew items on the various D&D discussion sites. So, there is no shortage of magic items to fill your game.
It's Not Just a +1 Sword
Nobody is going to get to excited over a +1 sword, if you just say, “You find a +1 sword.” In my opinion, an interesting backstory and lavish description combined with a custom printed item card can turn a simple, low-level magic item into the treasured possession of a player character. Take the time to create an item card and a backstory for the item. Here is an example from my homemade deck of items.
Ring of Egon
Young Egon was a hopeless wanderer and often found himself lost, with no idea how to find his way home. His father, Elgon the Artificer, crafted this ring to protect and guide his son home.
A character can perform the attunement ritual at a specific location, and the ring will guide them back to that location. The wearer simply needs to spin the ring on their finger five times while standing or sitting in one spot. When the player wants to return to that location, they can point their finger and turn in a circle until the ring glows. The ring will glows to indicate the shortest path back to the location.
Oops! Too Much Magic
So, you gave a character a magic item that is WAY too powerful. Now what? Well there are many ways to address this both in and out of game. Here are a few suggestions for how to reign in the magic after the Djinn is out of the bottle.
- Talk to the player and let them know you made a mistake. Explain why the item is a problem. Let them know you are going to find a way to nerf the item or they will have to give it up. This works great if you are dealing with adults and older kids. Younger kids tend to be less accepting, but they can be reasoned with when you treat them with respect.
- The item has charges. Let the player know that, after using the items once or twice, the notice some physical change that indicates the item has limited uses. You might say, “You notice that several of the gems encrusting the item seem to be missing or cracked. After using it last time, you think one more gem may have cracked.
- The item has bad side effects on the player character. After using the item, you describe to the player how their character suffers some physical or emotional feedback. The character may suffer from exhaustion or even pass out after using the item because they are not high enough level.
- A powerful being owns the item and they want it back. By using the item, the character has alerted its owner to its location and they will be coming to reclaim it. Perhaps a finders fee or reward for its return is offered.
- The powers of the item require study to unlock them. Additional adventures will need to be completed in order to gain the knowledge or material components needed to activate the item.
- The Item requires attunement. D&D 5e has a limit to the number of attuned items a character can use at one time.