+Number Magical Weapons Are Boring

I have mentioned before that I am not a fan of +number magical weapons with no other effects. I understand the mathematical necessity of increased to-hit change and damage, but I want something more. And I bet most players do too!

Exciting x Boring creative sign with clouds as the background
+1 weapon or something weird?

However, many adventure modules have +number weapons, which many DMs use and love. The ramblings of a random jackass on the internet don’t mean much compared to modules which have lasted the test of time, I get that. But let’s try and fix that anyway, because that’s what random jackasses on the internet do!

I have created a couple of small tables with active effects and passive effects that can be added onto +number magical weapons to give them a little more “oomf”. I know that the passive effects may be thought of as boring, but it does help differentiate one +1 weapon from another.

ACTIVE

unless otherwise mentioned, no saving throws allowed

1. Illuminator: Glows like a torch when commanded, up to an hour, 1/day
2. Mosquito: On a successful hit, sucks 1 hit point out of the target and gives it to the wielder of the weapon, 1/day
3. Silencer: On a successful hit, the target cannot speak for 3 rounds, 1/day
4. BEGONE THOT: On a successful hit, the target is pushed back 10 feet, 1/day
5. Collapse: On a successful hit, the target is knocked down, 1/day
6. Venomous: On a successful hit, the target must save vs. poison or die, 1/day

PASSIVE

1. Savior: +1 to a specific save type
2. Wild Hit: -1 to hit, +2 to damage
3. Arrow-Catching: -1 AC vs missile weapons (or +1 AC, if you use ascending AC)
4. Reliable: +1 to hit, -2 damage (minimum 1 damage)
5. Animal Speaking: The wielder is able to speak to one specific kind of small creature (for example: one would be attuned to squirrels, another song birds, another hedgehogs, another badgers, another penguins, so on and so forth)
6. Auto-Cleave: When downing an enemy, get one free attack against another enemy in range. If your game already has a ‘Cleave’ mechanic, instead gain a +2 to hit when cleaving.

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8 thoughts on “+Number Magical Weapons Are Boring

  1. I think that enhanced weapons (magic or alien tech or whatever) have different narrative functions in different campaigns.

    Most of the time they are treated as just another part of the leveling up process–as a character advances in rank better gear comes along with more hit points, greater skill success chances, and so on. It’s not linear–in most campaigns your sword doesn’t become magical when you gain a level–but it might as well be.

    I’ve yet to see a campaign that starts characters at an advanced level that does not also provide magical weapons to characters that start above first level.

    When items are a defacto character advancement mechanic, they are going to be boring. The abilities gained can be various and the obtaining of such items can be haphazard, but in the end it’s just more math on the character sheet.

    There is none of the awful wonder of the The One Ring or Stormbringer or the Ark Of The Covenant. The problem is not the item itself, it’s how the item is used in the game.

    I don’t know of any way around it except by making magical items exceedingly rare. In the first D&D game I played the PCs had a total of one magic item in the group, in a game that lasted about three years. It was a +1 warhammer, and the character who held it (which was my dwarf) was the only character who could fight effectively against spectral undead. That required us to proceed very carefully through one dungeon in particular, which was infested with ghosts.

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    1. You are right (as you usually are!) about magical weapons not being unique enough in general. The inspiration for this post came from the Temple of Elemental Evil game I am playing in, where the party is drowning in +1 swords. I am seeking a way to make them more unique without unduly burdening a GM who is running a module. Perhaps I should have made this point more clear in my post.

      If the GM creates the dungeon himself or herself, she can tailor it to make magical items truly rare and unique. However, for the GM picking up a pre-made module, they must roll with the assumptions of the module or spend time re-working it… which defeats the purpose of grabbing the module.

      What strikes me about your example is that the magical weapon was useful because of its function: fighting ghosts. I don’t know the details of your game, but I bet that the GM made up the dungeons and tailored it to the fact that magical items were going to be rare, compared to a “typical” dungeon.

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  2. I think what Mr. Burnett says about the effects of rarity is worth remembering. Special effects like the ones in your tables are great ways to add something special to an item. I like them instead of a +x bonus, in fact. The effectiveness against spectral undead Mr. Burnett mentions would be my preference over the +1.

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    1. In old D&D (I don’t know if it’s part of modern editions) certain forms of undead could only be damaged with magical weapons. Since I had the only magic weapon in the party, I was the only one who could fight against them. (The GM for this game also never told us what we were facing by name–they were just dark, insubstantial shapes. So they could have been Wraiths or Shadows or Ghosts, or whatever else was in the books at that time.)

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      1. I have been trying that last part out in a Dungeon Crawl Classics game I am running (we haven’t gotten to magical weapons yet, but I will be trying out bonuses besides +x.) Not naming the creatures seems to make it more fun and less pedestrian to run into various non-humans.

        Having thought I disliked the entire dungeon-delving genre thanks to modern D&D, I have only a vague sense that effect of magical weapons is in 3.5 as well. 3.5/Pathfinder/5 ed. suck all the fun out of it for me, so I only pay the minimum attention when we play them.

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  3. Hear hear! I think + number weapons serve a purpose, as Misha said, but I too find them rather boring. When I ran campaigns I used to try to give them at least some other cool or distinguishing feature. Even if you make it something completely superficial (The sword is always cold as ice; identify or detect magic spells reveal some vague power, and leave it at that)…that’s still kinda cool and more memorable than a generic +1.

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    1. That was a little bit of what I was doing with this post. Finding a small distinguishing features for the +number weapons that litter adventure modules, so that a GM can quickly customize a magical weapon.

      The inspiration for this post came from the Temple of Elemental Evil game I am in, where the party is drowning in +1 swords.

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      1. I was thinking about this post and the issue of large numbers of +1 weapons in this particular module and I started wondering–why are so many magical weapons there? Where do they come from?

        The usual answer for fantasy RPGs is that they are enchanted by some sort of magic user. But suppose we went with a more Weird Tales explanation? Suppose that when someone dies in combat the weapon that they are using has a chance of becoming possessed by a spirit of vengeance. And the blade (or whatever) gains a power that is specifically related to the manner of the original owner’s death?

        Not necessarily as specific as +1 vs. Goblins for a man killed by Goblins (although that is certainly possible) but a blade that glows for a man who died in darkness, detect poison for someone that was poisoned, and so on. Whatever the original owner needed at the moment of death.

        This doesn’t really address your original question, but it might help you come up with a random ability chart by considering all the ways that a character could die in a particular environment.

        The Warehouse 13 method of magical item generation.

        Also, magic weapons wouldn’t necessarily look like magic weapons, given that the magic came into not by how they were made, but how they were used.

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