Quick Thoughts on Magic Items in Emberwind
I posed a question on the Emberwind Discord this morning: what about magic items? The game doesn’t currently have rules for them, and I somewhat understand the argument for their exclusion. This is, after all, a game that is designed to be approachable by new players, and the combat rules, where I have typically seen the most use of magic items in other games, is plenty crunchy. On the other hand, magic items are a staple of fantasy fiction, so their inclusion seems like a fun idea.
Before I dive in, though, I’d like to establish the goal of this approach. First, I want to leverage the mechanics already present, partly because I’m not sufficiently confident in my skills to want to tinker around with major changes to the system, but also because I want to keep these additions to be approachable by newcomers. Second, I want them to mean something different to how typical fantasy games represent them. I want abilities to remain the starring feature of the character, not something the game expects you to have, lest you fall behind in efficacy. To that point, magic items should be rare, possibly even unique, and worthy of their own quest. Third, I want to have the options available to make them stand out as otherworldly, weird objects.
How to make a magic item (and what not to do)
A magic item can be anything – a deck of cards, a sword, a suit of leather armor, you name it. The magic item’s abilities should mimic the Keepsake system – a consumable bonus that refreshes after a period of time. The Hero’s Guide has a list of good Keepsake abilities, so use them. Another idea I had was to allow the use of a Class Action outside of the wielder’s Class, once per Milestone (I suggest sticking with the abilities tagged General) or allowing a different Maneuver to the one they possess, again once per Milestone. Any of these should work, although if your table allows the use of different Class Abilities, the GM should be alert for “super-combos” that entirely break the balance of the game.
I would not recommend emulating D&D and just slapping a static +1 on the item. I want the usage of magic items to be strategic, not just something you can call on consistently.
How to make a magic item… weird
Option 1: Minor Effects
Think about something weird or cool the magic item could bring to the character’s story. These minor effects shouldn’t have an effect on skill checks or combat outside of some extremely clever usage, but they should provide a strange, possibly whimsical element to the fiction.
- A deck of cards that shuffles itself when nobody’s looking
- A suit of armor that never gets dirty
- A cloak that can billow dramatically, as if caught up in an imaginary gust of wind, upon command
- An otherwise normal-looking sword that, when swung, makes sweet lightsaber noises
If you have a copy, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for D&D 5th Edition has a lot of inspiring examples.
Option 2: Living Items
Taking a cue from 13th Age, perhaps your world’s magic items have a degree of self-awareness. Perhaps the magic that lives inside of them bestowed upon them limited intelligence, enough for them to communicate via flashes of emotion.
Come up with a compelling personality quirk like likes the sound or rhyming couplets or can’t resist pulling harmless pranks on other party members. They don’t compete with the character’s established personality, but having a bit of a give-and-take between item and wielder has excellent roleplaying potential!