Customizing Magic Items

PDF: The Forge of Moradin

Uthul Swordbreaker entered the Forge of Moradin, taking care to bend down so that he would not bash his skull on the top of the open doorway. Inside, a dwarf with a mane of carefully braided brown hair was being tended to by a gnome in patchwork robes of violet and blue. As the gnome carefully fed broth to the dwarf, Uthul saw the strain in the dwarf’s attempts to drink, the look of pain in the man’s face, and the splint that was used to set his recently broken arm.

Instead of interrupt the feeding, Uthul took a few moments to inspect the Forge. It was a well-kept shop: part smithy, part shrine to the dwarven god of creation. This confused Uthul: what god would desire to be so close to the sweat and grime of their charges? But then again, the flatlanded folk often believed things that made no sense to Uthul.

“Hero of Morning Gate,” the dwarf finally said, forcing himself to rise from his rest. “You should have knocked. I do not enjoy making others wait.”

Uthul nodded. “Next time I will do just that, stonekeeper.” The dwarf arched an eye at the formal term, but quickly disregarded it. The gnome took a place under the dwarf’s arm, and the two of them hobbled to Uthul.

“I don’t think we ever properly introduced ourselves,” The gnome spoke, his breathy voice a stark contrast to the deep booms of Uthul and the dwarf. “My name is Zook Timbers, enchantment expert, master of the arcane, soothsayer, and traveler. And this–”

“Rurik.” The dwarf replied briskly. “Servant of Moradin.”

“My name is Uthul of the Swordbreaker clan,” The goliath stamped on the floor firmly with his staff, as was tradition for a formal introduction. “And I desire your services.”

“A customer!” Zook exclaimed.

Uthul reached toward his back and unstrapped the shield that rested there, presenting it before them. “Yes. This shield would be better with runes.” The shield was not old, but it was covered in dents and scratches, with strange stains that were never washed out, and more than a couple spots of emerging rust.

Rurik scrunched his face up, as if bearing an awful smell. “I know nothing of the old giant magicks. But we can enchant this shield, if you’re able to pay.”

The three of them bartered for a time, discussing timetables and cost. After everyone was satisfied, Uthul kneeled before Rurik so that he could inspect the shield. A comfortable silence settled, as Rurik ran his calloused fingers up and down the simple shield, as if trying to make out a pattern in its forging.

“Ah,” He finally said. “It wants a gift.”

Uthul said nothing. He knew better than to interrupt a stonekeeper at work.

“It knows that you are a man of few possessions.” Rurik finally said. “But it wants one anyways. I think it’s afraid you will discard it one day, and so it wants a sign that you will care for it.”

Uthul raised an eyebrow. He had heard of dwarves who could speak to the earth itself, but never anything like this. “Very well,” He mumbled, fishing through his pockets until he found the only childhood possession he still carried: a small bluish stone with a singular rune carved into it.

Zook smiled knowingly. “That will do quite nicely, I think.”

On a dew-dotted morn at the edges of Wanderden, five battered adventurers returned from what was considered a suicide mission: they sacked the fortified position of a powerful and insane necromancer, hoping to slay him before he could complete his vile rituals. It was only by their own wits that they managed to survive to a man; and even as the party reveled in their new found status as heroes, they were still troubled by one thing: What the hell were they going to do with all of their new loot?!

I gave my players a couple of suggestions, but all suggestions were moot the moment the words “Magic Item Shop” left my mouth. They were immediately hooked on the idea of spending their hard-earned cash on new equipment, and three of them rushed to the Forge of Moradin to commission enchanted shields.

This put me in the difficult position of having most of my party equipped with the same +1 Shield, which seemed to be a good way to make their new items seem mundane and boring. So I took a deep breath, and threw out my notes. The above story is what happened. I asked something from each of my players, such as a gift, or a promise.

These prompts created a fun roleplaying experience for my players, and beyond that they created an air of mystery around their new items. “Every enchantment comes out a little differently,” I told them. “And however you respond to these prompts will influence that.” In the end, my players ended up with more interesting items that they remember for their story in addition to their mechanical benefits.

Why Unique Magic Items Are Awesome

Variety and uniqueness is part of what makes any RPG entertaining. It’s the reason that the first question I hear asked at character creation is “what class is everyone interested in?” We want our characters to feel special, and our equipment is an extension of our character. When it comes to specialized items like a Broom of Flying, its uniqueness is implicit and immediately understood. However when you look at generic items like a +1 Weapon, it becomes a lot harder to make those distinctions. When an item’s only purpose is to provide a numerical bonus, it can be easily forgotten that you wield an incredible magical feat in your hands.

In my games, I give unique properties to any magical item that the party might get another of. If that item is being bought specifically, I try to tailor it to be as thematic to the character as possible. If it’s simply found in a dungeon somewhere, I try to make it more general so anybody in the party can pick it up. My goal is ultimately to make a weapon memorable and iconic to that character. A +1 Weapon feels disposable, but a +1 Weapon that glows around undead can still be useful even after the party starts having to make hard choices about attunement slots.

The new properties don’t have to be dramatic either! The Dungeon Master’s Guide has a lot of ideas for how to tweak magic items. If I’m in doubt, I pull a lower-level spell out of the Player’s Handbook and give the wielder of the item to cast it once per rest. Uthul’s shield, for example, gives him the ability to cast Enlarge/Reduce once per long rest, and glows in the presence of powerful rune magic. This fits in with Uthul’s backstory, which is heavily tied into the half-giant Goliath people. These kind of details help to develop a theme about a character, which is much more interesting than getting A Better Shield.

Using The Forge of Moradin

To help you bring this style of item creation to your game, this post comes with a write-up of the Forge of Moradin. It contains some notes on Zook and Rurik to help you roleplay them, and has a large list of prompts to help get your creative juices flowing.

The Forge provides a way for your players to spend their money, and additionally as a way to provide quest hooks. If the players want to buy a powerful item, that’s going to require powerful components from a far-off land. It’s an easy way to get an adventure rolling that I’m a big fan of – since it can take you almost anywhere you want.

The Cost and Timetables table is filled with values almost completely ripped off from the DMG, the economics of the campaign might necessitate some tweaking. You might also consider alternative forms of payment, if your players are strapped for cash.

I usually say that Zook and Rurik can only take as many orders at once as there are party members – to ensure that everyone has the option to get a magic item if they want, but also to ensure that the players don’t feel like they can dump all of their equipment and then wait for a month to collect (I keep a calendar for my games, so my players are always very aware that while they wait, the bad guys are making progress). This forces the players to prioritize what items they want to have enchanted, which makes the item they finally get more meaningful.

Final Thoughts

Customizing magic items is not a hobby for the perfectionist. I’ve always found that it takes a lot of tweaking, with new powers emerging as the story continues or occasionally a sheepish apology as I nerf a weapon that in retrospect was a bad idea. When in doubt, start small, and don’t feel like every item needs to blow the party’s socks off. Over time, whether you like it or not, the item they enchanted will get replaced in their hearts by something new and shiny. That’s fine, but this method adds a personal touch to their equipment that helps bring a little more magic to your magic items.

Because I find cramped notes on character sheets hard to read, I use Matt Mercer’s Magic Item Template on cardstock to create nice little notes for my players about their items. I highly recommend people do this with anything more complicated than a wand (and even with a wand, since players tend to pass them around!).

Finally, if you’re ever on a first date and are in need of a list of “getting to know you questions”, the prompts on the write-up do a fantastic job!

PDF: The Forge of Moradin