Bring on the magic!

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The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886 Hello friends! Let’s talk about magic items. If you’re a GM, are you placing them in your adventures? If you’re a player, are your characters finding them in their delves? I hope so! Magic items are fun to discover and use, and if you treat them as…


I see you slipping that ZineQuest news in there! I just finally did my backing run this morning, and you have to go and throw another one on the pile. Excited to see what you’ve got planned.

Here’s a little hint: I expect you’ll have a credit in it if you want it!

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I just want to thank you for continuously plugging The Grind as much as you have. I don’t think we’d be nearly where we are without your support!

And of course the upcoming zinequest offering is an automatic backing from me.


The feeling is mutual! We’re very thankful that you and your crew put as much effort into supporting our game as you do.


The Confer Belief/Instinct/Trait effects give me that Stormbringer vibe. It might be cool to make one that goes both ways. I like the idea that the character and the item could each influence the other. You could even engage it in some kind of conflict to master it, or to become a slave to it.

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Have you ever tried to apply such kinds of magical effects to locations (like shrines, spirit wells) or events (holy days, sacrifices, weird weather), or other non-items?

What about granting camp or town checks?

What about changing age or the effects of age?

What about changing how you gain conditions? For example, injured only by silver (or the grind) or never exhausted from exposure to cold. I suppose that’s a special ability, maybe just more limited? Vice versa for treating, like you must eat double to recover from Hungry and Thirsty or -1D recovering from angry or afraid if you don’t also drink wine.

I haven’t systematically, but that is fruitful design space. I’d be careful about camp/town checks. There are level benefits that grant those things, so I wouldn’t say it’s verboten, but checks and lifestyle cost are fundamental currency in the game. You have to use great care when fiddling with them.

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I’ve been mulling hard about weather-based magic effects, so this list is helpful. Thanks for the warning, not competing with level benefits makes total sense and i must admit I never thought of it.

One thing I began doing in a TB campaign inspired by 3rd Ed Forgotten Realms was including the concept of ‘masterwork’ human weapons along the lines of elven and dwarven minor magic arms and armor. As humans are a very warlike race (they demand your land a lot of the time), a particularly well made blade might just be sharper or harder on occasion, when it really matters.

Masterwork Weapon of the Armies of Conquest

Forged in a bygone age of war by those who wielded lost techniques of weaponcraft, these sturdy implements are often found among rusted lesser specimens in old barrows or cave hoards. Blades once polished bare veins of dark color and are remarkably sturdy. Hafts are well-weighted and balanced. Effect: When sharped or maintained (an Ob 1 armorer test) these weapons provides +1D Fighter skill supply in combat. Once used this advantage is lost until the weapon is once again maintained. Type: Minor magic weapon.

My favourite item from a game I was running was a knife that let you disarm others of things that weren’t traditional weapons. Things that were intrinsic, or even something like “evidence”.

(It was a bit of a macguffin in that it was some initiatory regalia from the Ancient Empire That Built All This Weird Crap and was stolen from some lizardmen who were using it as part of a tantric practice intended to transform them into dragons.)

I thought that extending the application of an existing ‘power’ (that of disarming) to other areas was a pretty cool magical power that built on the systems that players were already familiar with.

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I have also added Instincts (not replaced) as a kind of magical twist. I felt pretty bad about replacing existing instincts since they are major characterisation points and a place where change is in the control of the player.

I’ve done the same with traits although these did occupy a trait ‘slot’ (and suppress the previous trait if required).

It occurs to me that trait/instinct replacement or augmentation might be a good ‘cost’ associated with magical items. Howling Black Runeswords should give opportunities in the mechanics for Elric-like behaviour!


We’ve got one like this in Roost of the Condor Queen. :slight_smile:


I have some truly weird and cursed magic items in Lots o’ Loot. Here’s one of 'em:

The Hearth Stone
A rough-hewn stone marked with a sigil that glows when activated. This chunk of stone was once part of an ancient gate.

Effect: When activated with the command word, the Hearth Stone glows and confers the benefits of entering Town phase—fresh rations spoil, characters who qualify for a level gain do so, and everyone without a condition may make a Nature test to gain the fresh condition (this does not cost a turn). The stone then grows dim for one season, after which it may be used again.

Inventory: Pack 1

From a DriveThruRPG review: “This list is brimming with items that are funny, evocative, and insidious. Many of the more powerful items exact a price for their use, or cause complications that drive the action forward rather than neatly solving problems for the player. Looking forward to weaving lots o’ this loot into my campaign.” —Michael O.


Torchbearer does well with magic consumables and equipment — rather than magic armor and weapons.

I’m thinking Animated Backpack. Everlasting Candle. Giant’s Waterskin. Lembas Bread. Haversack of Holding.

These are the things I think make the biggest difference in Torchbearer. I mean, no one can deny that a dragon slaying sword is very cool, but in Torchbearer sometimes the difference between life and death is whether or not you packed a good rope.

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One thing I would suggest about “life improvement” magic items (and I don’t know if this is already on your mind) is to try not to completely remove the danger of light, food, and inventory without some kind of trade off. It can take some of the oomph out of the game to not have to deal with these things anymore. It can be more interesting if they modify how these problems manifest.

Like maybe an Animated Backpack has a Hiding nature, and occasionally it attempts to hide from monsters (and PCs), or goes down a different hallway. Or maybe an Everlasting candle works by drawing light from other sources, causing torches to go dark or snuff out with a twist.

Creating special twist conditions or trade offs gives these items personality, and are especially important if they obviate the constant pressures of the adventuring life.


Powerful items including weapons and spell effects are super fun. The twist mechanic means easy come easy go, which in practice leads to a Tolkienesque magic item scheme where artifacts of great power find their way into ditches or the clutches of lower level monsters. As with most loot in Torchbearer there is really no reason to hold back. Go nuts!


Your Hiding Backpack reminds me of the Luggage from Discworld!

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