Player Creativity in RPGs

Lets talk about magic items. Back in early editions of D&D each magic item had its own rules that where often completely different from every other item. Now items are built to a standard mold with common powers. While this removes a lot of the problems that arose from them I find it also removes many chances for player creativity.

For an example of what I mean let me tell you a story my father told me about his campaign.

The players had earlier found a bag of pebbles that where dehydrated water. Add 1 drop of water and each bead turns into 1 gallon of water. (Or something along those lines.) The players then encounter a large humanoid monster, an ogre I believe. Knowing that it would be a very dangerous fight one of the players thought quickly and threw the entire bag of beads into it’s mouth and drowned it.

Is this fair? Well it takes some sort of check to throw the beads into the creatures mouth. It also only works on monsters with mouths large enough to throw the beads into, yet small enough to drown from it. Additionally the item is destroyed by this: If the players make this a standard tactic then simply stop giving them more of it, or at least make them think long and hard about trying this. (Ask me about my opinion of easy crafting in RPGs some other time.)

I can see why they have done this: It is a response to the abuse from earlier editions. Look up a few tales of flying battering rams, Oil of Blasting powered Gnomish flying machines and other such shanagins. When DMs & writers see players abusing magic items our first instinct is to say NO. But really this just adds artificial limits doesn’t it? I think it would be better to add limits in the game word: How do you navigate a battering ram around tight turns? The gnomish flying machine is at least as dangerous as a rocket and you only have to look up some youtube videos of early rocket tests to see what that can lead to. Additionally you’ll have to deal with gryphons , hippogriffs and wyverns who view the sky as their domain.

Anyway, I’m disappointed a bit with 4e items. All I seem to get are bigger magic swords, shields and armour. Whatever happened to the random magic items that made you go OOOhhhh? They may be in Adventure’s Vault as I don’t have it, but they sure are not in the core books.

Anyway, until next time Stay Geeky.


Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 11:16 am  Comments (2)  

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  1. I also love the old-school D&D magic items. The game has drifted a fair bit between editions, becoming more focused on balance and predictable, gameable results in 3.x and (especially) 4E. A fair amount of gameplay in the earlier editions were focused around experimentation and creative problem solving, the “old school” style of gameplay, which can be a fantastic experience but has its own set of problems (which I won’t go into here).

    In short, I understand why the old highly exploitable but fun spells and magic items have been reworked or pushed out of the new rules, but I do lament it.

    If you’re interested, check out Cugels’ Compendium of Indispensable Advantages, a supplement for the Dying Earth RPG (as you may know, the original magic system – and indeed, many of the spells – for original D&D were lifted right from Jack Vance’s Dying Earth novels, and the RPG captures its feel perfectly):

    Even if you don’t play Dying Earth RPG, you can still totally adapt the magic items (which are fantastic, and completely in line with “dehydrated water pellets”) to D&D or other fantasy RPGs. I used the book extensively in a FATE-based game I ran in the Planescape setting.

    • Thanks for the tip: I was just planning on using old editions of D&Ds magic items, since if it isn’t a combat item the edition’s rules don’t really matter anyway.

      On another note I’m really hoping to attend Hammercon, but it has a habit of falling in the middle of my midterms.


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