Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dissection of a Rejected Magic Item

Still doing the Magic Item Open Call for the Ref book.

Some people have requested more about what I consider a "good" or "bad" (well, "unsuitable", really) magic item. Because theoretically the magic items should be quite varied, posting a good item or two isn't going to be helpful because I'd say "Like that, but different enough to not remind me of it!" (plus I'm worried it would end up being the best of the bunch which would mean when people got the book it'd be all downhill from there...)

But throwing up a bad item to be taken apart has its own issues. There's the not-insignificant chance that people will really like it and I'll just look like a dick for saying "mmm, nope." Also, who the hell is going to appreciate me taking their rejected entry and basically using it as a punching bag publicly?

Zzarchov Kowolski!

"This item is really based on LotFP alignment and levels, so I probably won't ever use it for anything if not LotFP so I don't mind it being used as a teaching cadaver."

So, here's Zzarchov's item, cut and pasted from his original email:

Mace of Pazuzu
This item is a metal rod and four serrated flanges, crafted from a shiny grey metal with a sickly purple shine in the dim light. The flanges are covered in intricately flowing geometric designs with inlaid copper. It has no grips and suffers a -1 to hit in combat due to the lack, though with some tar and leather this could be fixed.
It has been used as a weapon for some time by a number of cultist nuts and petty warlords from central Asian villages. While you can kill someone with it, it is somewhat similar to swinging an expensive camera around by its strap and smashing it into someone's nose.  This is a key to an ancient vault belonging to beings from parallel dimensions to our own,  natively sharing only our dimension of height and treating time as width.
The item is warm to the touch and emits low levels of harmful radiation, secretly causing cancer after being held for two hours times the wielder's constitution score. The cancer will be fatal in 5 years.  Every additional 2 hours x con score, more tumors form and the time until death is halved. Anyone who suffers broken skin from the mace has a % chance of developing cancer equal to the amount of damage they received from the blow (with a 5 year death frame the first time, and halving each additional time).
This is not its power.  It can unlock a door that exists in multiple places at once.  Any magic-user casting detect magic while holding the key will be able to sense a door within a few yards and seconds away.  If the key is moved to that location it will unlock a vault of knowledge gaining everyone with a chaotic alignment within about 1200 miles a d4 levels.  Any neutral individual in range will lose the need to sleep and will be unable to feel empathy (becoming sociopaths).  Any lawful beings will disappear for the d4 result years before re-appearing in their relative position to the planet (having experienced no time loss).  The individual who opened the door will lose the result of the d4 x their level from their hit point total.  If they are reduced to zero hit points or below their mind is obliterated.
Or you could just beat a werewolf to death with it and then wonder why your hair and teeth keep falling out.  Your choice.

My response (probably a bit rushed because I'm trying to get through these and I still haven't responded to over 50 entries):
Problem with this item is it's very easy to predict how it will effect play. Pretty much nothing PCs do will make any difference, their interaction with it was determined when they chose their alignment.
I think something a bit more interactive would be better.

I'm getting a lot of items like this. "There's this thing which if it's activated STUFF HAPPENS!" With some of the items, the stuff that happens is rather boring, and with some of the items, the stuff is not boring, but still "STUFF HAPPENS."

The first problem here is that the item's arc in play is completely predictable. A Referee introducing this item in play must absolutely be OK with the big effect the item has, and expect it in the campaign, because it really doesn't do anything else. (I'm ignoring the cancer effect in this explanation, because it's a simple "trap" and effects which happen over years are unlikely to really impact actual play.)

So the mystery, the anticipation, on the Referee's end is just down to a binary outcome: Activated? Or Not?

If players find out what this item is and how it works, they too have had all the mystery wiped away and it's all down to Activate? Or Not?

There's no real interactivity. There's at most two steps. "Do the players find out what this thing is?" and "Do they activate it?"

The item needs to retain a sense of mystery and unpredictability. Referees deciding to place one of these items in their campaign should not have a good handle on its impact. From the Referee's standpoint, even knowing every word of the item's description, there should be no way to anticipate what will happen when an item is in play.

This item? Everything that happens is effectively pre-ordained. Once the "door" is opened, the effects are set and uniform based on decisions made at character creation. The only question is whether the user dies or not.

The second problem here is the question... is the effect fun and exciting enough that a Referee wants these effects to trigger? The ideal is an item that inspires the Referee to introduce the item just to see what happens! I know I'm in danger of losing my "authority" by asking this question, but does anyone reading this want to subject their campaign to this effect? A 1200 mile radius is HUGE. HUGE. This is effectively throwing your existing campaign out and having a whole new setting. Sometimes you want to skate on that dangerous edge, but sometimes you don't.

Anyone here want every inhabitant in their setting for over a thousand miles in every direction either hopped up on power, or becoming Patrick Bateman?

So, yeah, didn't accept this one.

(There was recent discussion about NSFW, and I just want to say that in my mind, Woolcott completing her ritual results ultimately in OUR REAL WORLD. Sure, it's not happening very quickly, but an entity like the Progenitor isn't going to quibble over years vs. centuries. No great upheaval necessary if that's the way you want to play it.

There's the great freeze caused by the Cerulean Slime, but that's a different issue - you have to go through a fair amount of effort for pretty much no reason to achieve that sort of issue, plus it takes long enough that something could be done.)

Now items appearing in adventures by myself and others will reflect principles contrary to what I'm asking for the Ref book, but I think there is a difference between an item that's presented in the context of a greater adventure and an item presented as a stand-alone representation of what LotFP items can be.

(comments can be left here)