DM Workshop: Memorable Magic Items

“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.” – Walter Winchell

That line paired with the rapid bip-bip-bipbipbip of a telegraph began many a news broadcast in the mid 20th century.  Mr. Winchell’s rapid fire, staccato delivery became iconic.  The opening line and his delivery style became memes of their time.  But, we’re not here to discuss the history of broadcast journalism.  I was just fishing for an opening for this article and that phrase came to mind.

What we are really here to talk about is designing memorable magic items for D&D.  Since our heroes have finished one adventure and are en route to their next one, I thought it might be a good place to take a break from the campaign log and share some of my DM creativity with you.  So, today I am going to walk through how I personalized the two magic weapons they have just acquired.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide supplies some great tools for this. Starting on page 141 we have the section on Special Features for magic items wherein we find several random generation tables for “Who Created It Or Was Intended to Use It?”, “What Is a Detail From Its History”, “What Minor Property Does It Have?”, and “What Quirk Does It Have?”.  At the end of the magic items listing, on page 214, we find the section on Sentient Magic Items followed by the section on Artifacts.  There is also a fantastic column on this subject over at the Tribality blog entitled Make It Personal – Magic Items & Your Campaign.

I definitely didn’t want these PC’s to have accidentally picked up a pair of artifacts right off, but giving their new toys sentience intrigued me.  Even that seemed a little too “Monty Hall”1 for low level PC’s; but, then I recalled a nifty trick used by Matt Mercer in Critical Role, and copied by Mark Hume for High Rollers2.  What these fine gentlemen have done is create signature magic items for their characters which evolve as the characters level up, or pass some pre-determined milestone or condition.  You see, part of good DM’ing is the art of recognizing other people’s good ideas and stealing incorporating them in your own game.  I would give these weapons three active states: Dormant, Awakened, and Enhanced.

OK, so, let’s start with the bow.  Recall, if you will, that I had described it as made of an unusual wood with vine-like carvings all along it.  Part of making an item memorable is giving it a unique look.  It wasn’t until after that session that I decided to tinker around with these a little.  So, let’s go to the tables starting on page 142.  I rolled up Elves as the creators (duh!), it’s history has a Heroic detail, there was a Hidden Message somewhere on the item as its Minor Property, and it had a Possessive quirk to it.  This is a lot of good seed detail.

I also wanted to allow for possible sentience as well.  The random tables for this start on page 214 of the DMG.  The dice gave me empathic Communication, hearing and normal vision out to 120ft, a Neutral  Good alignment, and Protector as its special purpose.  With these two sets of information  I was ready to bend my creative energies to the task.  Here, briefly, is what I came up with.

2860cbc8045f73b9fd66c7754e01b41bThe bow is an Iharan Wild Spirit Bow.   It was created by a tribe of elves that lived in the ancient kingdom of Ihara.  These bows were created to be faithful companions to the tribe’s far ranging sentinels.When first encountered even the identify spell will show that this bow appears to be simply a +1 longbow.  After the Wild Spirit Bow has been possessed, attuned, and used for a period of time (meaning the wielder has reached 4th level) the bow may become awakened. I set three conditions. Either the bow comes into contact with a strong source of magical energy (like the spell forge in LMoP), the wielder scores 3 critical hits with it, or they use the bow in the course of heroically protecting another creature.

Once awakened the bow will “introduce itself”.  Its name, “Nimhyr”, will appear amidst the carvings along the inside of the upper arm.  It will also begin to  exhibit properties similar to an Oathbow (DMG p183)3.  The command phrase will also appear among the carvings.  Wild Spirit bows are so named because they were infused with the essence of wilderness spirits.  Thus, once awakened the bow is now intelligent, though not much more than a beast (INT 8, WIS 13, CHR 10).  It communicates via empathic sense impressions and small sounds that mimic those of small woodland beasts. It will develop an attachment to its wielder much like a pet imprints on its owner.

If used regularly after being awakened the bow may reach a more enhanced state.  I made the condition for this 5 killing shots to the designated quarry from the quasi-Oathbow feature.  Once so empowered the wielder may choose one natural damage type (acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, thunder) at the end of a long or short rest. The next 2d10 shots from the bow will do an additional 2d6 damage of that type.  The wielder may choose to make an un-enhanced shot which will not count against the total.

That’s pretty neat,  I think.  It starts small and will eventually pack a lot of punch.  Let’s move on to the staff I gave the monk. Remember, I had described it as made of petrified wood and unusual metal.  Starting with the Special Features tables I rolled Elemental Earth for the creation (serendipitous), a Religious history, the Guardian  minor property, and a Metamorphic quirk.  The sentient items tables gave me telepathic communication, hearing  and darkvision out to 120ft, Chaotic Good aligment, and the Creator Seeker purpose.  With these in mind I came up with the following.

1484453767882What Tenzen found is in fact a sanjiegun of the Crystal Order, a monastic order extant during the time of the Iharan kingdom.  The Crystal Order were an order of itinerant, traveling monks who revered the Elemental Chaos as the source of all substance in the material  realm.  They gave their initiates imbued weapons to function as guardians, companions and mentors on their journey.  Once so equipped the monks were sent forth to walk the lands and “experience the elements.”

When first attuned to a worthy initiate the staff appears to be nothing more than a +1 staff. After the owner reaches 4th level the staff may become awakened if certain conditions are met (contact with a strong source of magic, three finishing blows, or they survive a blast of elemental energy).

Once awakened the staff will “introduce” itself the next time the initiate sleeps.  The initiate will dream of meeting a master of the Crystal Order named Xia Lao.  When the monk awakens they will see the name worked amidst the swirls of the petrified wood grain.  If one stares at the staff for any length of time they will notice the grain patterns slowly shift and move.  After being awakened the staff exhibits properties similar to a Staff of Striking.

Xia Lao is an intelligent staff (INT 15, WIS 12, CHR 11).  While the initiate is awake it can communicate only through brief image flashes.  While the initiate sleeps it will communicate via dreams.  It will act as a Guardian, giving the initiate +2 to Initiative rolls. Once it learns how much time has passed it will insist the initiate seek out whether the Crystal Order still exists.

When Xia Lao is satisfied that the initiate has progressed sufficiently in their training (reaching the next adventuring tier after awakening the staff) it will become able to act on its own.  It will take on the properties of a Dancing weapon. Note that the Striking and Dancing properties do not stack quite as well as the target marking and elemental damage of the bow.  That is, when Dancing, the staff cannot also add the extra Striking damage.  However, it does give Tenzen the ability to deal with two opponents at once.

OK. That’s it for this visit to the DM’s workroom.  What do you think, gentle readers?  Are these interesting items?  Are they overpowered? Under powered?  Until a feature actually appears in the game it is subject to change.  As of this writing they are not yet awakened.  I may change the awakening conditions.  My intent was for them to awaken at or near when the heroes would reach 5th Level.  What are some nifty magic items you’ve encountered?

I leave you with this cool fight scene involving a three-section staff.


  1. Monty Hall (or sometimes Monty Haul) – a gaming term for a style of play in which the characters wind up with an over abundance of cool gear and magic items.  It is a reference to the former host of a TV game show called “Let’s Make a Deal” in which contestants would often win amazing prizes with very little effort. 
  2. If you are unfamiliar with either one of these excellent live D&D webcasts, I highly recommend them.  They are immensely entertaining.  Both are available on Twitch and You Tube. 
  3. It doesn’t act entirely like an Oathbow, but for the sake of article brevity I have left out some details.  If there is any interest I will publish PDF’s of these weapons for general consumption. 
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Keeper Of Obscure Knowledge, Designated Official Noetic Theorist, Professional Artificer of Noospheric Intermediary Constructs

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Posted in D&D 5e
2 comments on “DM Workshop: Memorable Magic Items
  1. Mr Volare says:

    I like the idea of players finding a signature weapon and growing with it. Especially if they don’t get a specific say, which can create a puzzle of sorts.

    I still sometimes get in a bind with too many carrots and not enough stick in games. I ran a game for several years that ended with the coterie of adventurers running a small kingdom. I sorta sidestepped my blunder of “giving them the world” by having their mentors direct them to gift their glut of magic items to enhance their most trusted lieutenants. Fortunately my players, being adventurers rather than politicians, looked forward to dropping everything they couldn’t carry and heading back into the wilds again.

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