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Better Than A Plain +1

Seven sample items to show you how to make minor items in a game more interesting.

By Samuel WrightPublished about a month ago 6 min read
Better Than A Plain +1
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Magic items, especially the common ones, can get dull. If you have seen one +1 dagger, you have seen them all, right? Well, with a little work, you can make the weakest magic weapon interesting. Just ask yourself, who made these, and why? Add a few details and maybe a minor magical effect that makes the item stand out so that a player appreciates having it. You do not need to give every random item a backstory, but having a class of items that shares a reason for existing in a campaign makes them meaningful. Give items a place in a culture, a role that can create plot hooks or just be interesting. “These are from this culture and were made for this reason” reduces the sheer boredom of a random, nondescript magical item.

The following are some examples just to get you inspired, from no particular setting, that I have newly made up to show you the potential of minor magic weapons and armours. These can be used in any D&D adjacent game with minimal adjustment.

Skarn Blades: Skarn blades are long, slender daggers and short swords with a wavy shape like a kris made by the nomadic tribesmen from the Ebon Waste, a vast remote desert covered in black sand. These weapons are made from obsidian and have snake-skin grips. They add +1 bonus to hit and damage, and leave behind jagged black scars that even magical healing cannot remove. Only a few are long enough to be wielded as short swords. One has been found used as a spearhead. They are made by the poor desert tribe’s eyeless shamans, old crones known for their wisdom and cunning, to be traded, helping the tribe gain enough money to buy vital supplies from caravans. Skarn warriors who have won a few battles often get awarded one by their chieftain. These savage warriors can be recognized by the black spiral scars they carve into their cheeks upon receiving their obsidian blades. It is common for them to end up in the hoards of ogres or other humanoids who have met the nomads in battle, or in the tombs of dead nomad warriors.

Seething Blades: A seething blade is made in a rare confluence of magical circumstances by the suppressed hatred of a person denied the chance to gain vengeance on an enemy. Fueled by hate and frustration, they hold on to the raw emotional energy from a person who feels wronged and unleash that rage on anyone they are used to strike. The force of this power turns these ordinary weapons into +1 items. Wielders must make a DC 9 a WIS check to hold back tears of rage and frustration when using these blades in combat as the emotions of the original owner rush through the mind of the wielder. If a seething blade is ever used to give the original owner emotional closure by avenging that person, the blade loses its enchantment, turning back into an ordinary, non-magical weapon. Seething swords, daggers, and axes of many types have been recorded in the annals of sages.

Beast Armour: Made by savage seers from the cold North, these crude hooded cuirasses of boiled hides and bones are made from the pelts of savage beasts such as bears and wolves slain in ritual hunts dedicated to the gods of battle. Each one is covered in sigils drawn in the beast’s blood. Counting as +1 hide armour, they magically make the wearer’s head and face look like the beast whose pelt it was made from when the hood is worn, and allows the wearer to howl or roar like the beast to frighten enemies during battle. They can be found in the tombs of tribal chieftains buried with their retinue of warriors to guard them in the Afterlife.

Howling Blades: made by goblin witchdoctors, these crude +1 throwing knives have jagged edges and bone pommels shaped like the head of an animal such as wolf, lynx, or bear. When one of these blades hits a target, the barbed edges make it nearly impossible to remove without causing an additional 1d3 damage as the weapon snags the flesh of its target. But what makes them more frightening is that the carved heads on the pommels begin to continuously howl like wild animals on a hit, making it easy to track fleeing targets who have been struck by these daggers. The best warrior or chieftain in a goblin tribe may have one or two of these daggers, and a witch doctor may have a brace of them jangling from a belt. When not used in combat, they are used for hunting, helping to track an animal that flees goblin hunters. These knives are commonly found in larger goblin lairs where one or more witch doctors support a tribe.

Storm Shield: The tribes of the Violet Jungle far to the south wear no armour due to the heat and humidity of their lands, so they use large shields of made of purple wood frames and purple dyed animal hide, with jingling silver bangles that startle the enemy and just wear bronze morion-style helmets and greaves when fighting. When a warrior takes the head of an especially ferocious enemy for the first time without help, the shaman of the tribe may enchant the warrior’s shield so it is a +1 item and has a minor illusion to make the silver bangles hanging from the shield sound like a storm once per day when the user charges an enemy. It is common for warriors in this haunted jungle to be buried with their full gear, so digging one up is easy. But beware, the Violet Jungle holds a spark of dark energy that sometimes turns the dead into ghouls…

The Claws of Assad: Scimitars made by the famous smith Assad the Great, these swords have broad, gently curved blades of perfect balance and incomparable sharpness. Assad made at least 300 of these scimitars during his lifetime, signing the blade of each one, using skin from a lion to wrap the hilt, and embedding a lion’s fang in the pommel. Although not at all magical, each one of these swords is so finely made of such high quality steel that they provide a +1 bonus on attack and damage rolls. Beware, these blades are frequently imitated by inferior smiths, there are many counterfeit weapons that look like the Claws of Assad. Legend says a small number of them are indeed magical, having the power to sever limbs with ease. The claws are highly prized by collectors, being found in the homes of wealthy merchants and nobles, passed down in powerful families for many generations.

Dreamland Arrows: The secret to making these ancient fey weapons is lost to the mortal realms, only being known to those who dwell in the realm of dreams, but the remnants of these arrows, crude looking arrowheads of carved flint, can be found on ancient battlefields where the Sidhe battled the Fomorians or other enemies, their wooden shafts rotted away long millennia ago. Fastening one of these arrowheads to a shaft of hawthorn wood can turn it into a +1 arrow, quarrel, or dart. Travellers in the Dreamlands may be able to find whole quivers full of ancient arrows of this type with pristine shafts and iridescent feathers. Legends say a primordial archfey smith lost in the Dreamlands still makes these primitive weapons.

On a natural to hit roll of 20 one of the following effects occurs, then the arrow disappears into the Dreamlands.

Roll 1d6 Effect

1-3 The target must save or lose 1 attack. .

4-5 The target must save or be frightened for 1 round.

6 The target must save or fall asleep for 1d10 minutes.

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About the Creator

Samuel Wright

I am a writer & tarot reader in Oregon. I'm a TTRPG fan, love all types of sci-fi & fantasy books, movies, & games, & read voraciously. I write a variety of content, mostly RPG blogs. Tell me where you found my page.

Art by Google/Unsplash

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