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LibrariaNPC's picture
Magic Item, MacGuffins, and Signature Item

Here's something that's been stewing away for a while as I slowly work on plots for my games (if my group will ever agree on a time to meet this holiday season), and I'm hitting a debate.

I've seen many claim that magical items, syrneth artifacts, or any other item of "power" should be classified as a Signature Item. My concern here: how would you handle magical items that don't fit into the regular rules of just adding bonus dice?

As an example, we have rules for "Dracheneisen" weapons that cause additional damage to monsters and glow when close to monsters. There are suggestions about how to use them in the game and what should be done to get one, but the debate then stands: is this a Signature Item of some sort, or is it just a physical reward with specific bonuses?

I'm bringing this up because I'm on the fence about other non-mundane items. A part of me wants to implement a cost for them (like an Advantage) as they do offer benefits that are both mechanical and story-driven, but I feel odd requiring it because these are physical items that can (and should be, for plot reasons) be taken away.

Some examples that came up (due to seeing them in other campaigns) were objects to allow you to see in the dark, a glass that is always full and never spills, a compass that doesn't point north (pointing options vary), a spyglass that shows you your heart's desires, a runed weapon that calls storms, and the obligitory list of Montaigne Puzzle Swords with semi-magical effects (like the ghost handle).

Some items I feel are more plot devices (like the globe that provides light and chases away nocturnal monsters, and is the key to an ancient tomb, or a clockwork "compass" that works like a radar for syrneth sites), while others are clearly for the benefit of the character.


Really, in the end, it boils down to this: how do YOU handle non-Signature Items that offer benefits? Do you turn them into advantages of their own (and if so, how do you feel they are scaled), or are they general "rewards" that can be easily taken away? 

Follow-up point: how do you handle a Signature Item that "evolves" over time, such as a weapon being imbued with a magical power or a family heirloom signet ring that unlocks doors? (Examples are way out there on purpose)

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"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

Easl's picture

You can always do both; when a PC acquires a choice Syrneth artifact, you can give them the option of (a) paying points for it, in which case it becomes part of 'their story' and generally has some level of plot immunity, or (b) not paying points for it, in which case, anything goes.


Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I would make the item available to 'purchase' through a Story by unlocking its abilities. Create a 'cost' similar to Signature Item and define the abilities within the rules of the game. I'll be doing this for a suit of Dracheneisen Armor. Some interesting abilities other than adding Dice are as follows, and I recommend most should cost a Hero Point unless very basic. When they have paid for the story they 'unlock' the potential.

1) Spend a Hero Point to allow 9s to count as 10s for a Scene (The old wound effect)

2) Spend a Hero Point to activate the items "Virtue" (For specific purpose items)

3) Spend a Hero Point to Cancel the spending of a Danger Point

4) Spend a Hero Point to use a (specific) Duelist Manever for an Action 

5) Spend a Hero Point to use a (specific) (sorcery) power once (May use once / day or something)

6) Spend a Hero Point to recognize an unknown language written or being spoken for a Scene

7) Spend a Hero Point to change your current Approach to (specific) Trait and/or Skill (once / scene)

Just some samples

LibrariaNPC's picture

This is actually why I'm on the fence; a part of me wonders if the actual events that transpire should warrant the acquisition of said items (and therefore be easily taken away) or if they should actual require the purchase via Stories (and therefore have the same protection as Signature Items).


Honestly, I kind of liked the sporadic Syrneth Artifacts that had quirky abilities, but requiring that each be purchased is a concern of mine. I'm not sure if it'd be too much of a copout to keep progression slow or if it'd over-emphasize the items.


I do admit that "unlocking" potential in items is an awesome idea. I got some resistance when I was considering it or unlocking different types of potential in other discussions, so I'm curious your views and how you're scaling them.

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

Wolfflin Huyghen
Wolfflin Huyghen's picture

Spend a Hero Point will be nice to activate them. But we preffer "plot devicers" allowing you to do impossible things, not really usefull all the time and that feed the ambience. To sum up, the classical origins of a wonderfull adventure. Really difficult to find, really versatile and only one for character at the end of the campaing:

Like "The unstopable mechanical butterfly", "the spyglass that allow you to see undersea" or .Puzzle Swords to "draw impassable lines in the sand".


Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

Going by some of the Hero examples in the Heroes and Villains PDF, it sounds like things such as Syrenth Artifacts and various mystic macguffins (apart from dracheneisen) are meant to be handled under the Signature Item Advantage.  One of the Heroes has a Syrenth Puzzle Box as her Signature Item, so in her case it's probably "activate the Advantage and then narratively describe how it does what it does."

It feels like they're trying to get away from how 1e handled various artifacts, which made them less 'wonderous' and more along the lines of 'fancy trinkets that have a neat trick.'  So by keeping such items the domain of the Signature Item Advantage, it 1) requires the player to make an investment in having their "cool toy" and 2) cuts down on general rules bloat by using a fairly streamlined set of rules for what the various "cool toy" does while 3) encouraging the player to get creative in describing what their nifty item does.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog

Salamanca's picture
If you introduce an item and they end up with it, they end up with it. If you don't want them keeping it, you should have planned for it to be destroyed in use or run on a finite number of charges or the property of someone they dare not steal from. Outside of that, it's just a perk of completing an adventure. No need to distill it into a cost, story or other "XP" expenditure.
Harliquinn Whit...
Harliquinn Whiteshadow's picture

I disagree in some cases. While sometimes, the story 'reward' will be an item, sometimes I want to introduce an object to see if the party is even interested in uncovering more about it (If it's meant to be something worth more points later). In that case, sure they have the item but it will require investing XP into it to unlock full potential. This could be 1 XP (If it's simple) or more XP if it's more complex. However, everyone will want to do this differently.

That said, any 'Item Stories' like this are in addition to any Hero Stories going on and do not replace or supplant those.

For example: The group found 3 pieces of a suit of Dracheneisen Crusader armor from the Crusades. The group had to determine whether to Sell It, Turn it over to the Die Kruezritter, or Keep and recover the other pieces. The 3rd option means it's a long story (in conjunction with other player stories) to do so. Keeping it but not doing the story means it's just some armor pieces with no special abilities

Donovan Morningfire
Donovan Morningfire's picture

I'd kind of disagree, only because there's the option to make the Hero's acquistion of said item be a Retroactive Story.

Granted, the tricky part comes in just how useful said macguffin is, and how many steps it should cost to purchase.

Perhaps the upcoming Pirate Nations book will provide some examples much as the 1e Pirate Nations book did of Syrenth items that were neat but generally not super-potent.

Dono's Gaming & Etc Blog

LibrariaNPC's picture

Granted, the tricky part comes in just how useful said macguffin is, and how many steps it should cost to purchase.

This is the very part that I've been struggling with. Some items that players acquire are a bit odd to even try to find a point cost; some may be overpriced while some may be underpriced, and others can really be "priceless" (i.e. "How many points is Excalibur worth?"). 

I'm hoping to see something in the future, but at the moment, I'm leaning toward the following approach:

Signature Item: Add another element of "Spend a Hero Point: Item performs a specific function attributed to the item at creation." This way, the item still gains all of the protections of Signature Item, and it also gains whatever the perk is. For example, take Jack's compass for Pirates of the Caribbean: carrying it around might make you feel better and more confident (bonus dice), it might take a bullet for you (reduced damage), and it also serves it's purpose (automatically pointing to what it is you want to find).
I don't feel adding this is going to change anything very much, and it is a bit more fitting to what we have seen in the Heroes and Villains book.

Empowered Signature Item: Basically, what happens if you have a Signature Item that gains power somehow, such as your mother's amulet that now lets you speak to animals? Basically, I'm approaching it as a Sorcery purchase to replicate the specific effect, but it cannot be improved upon, nor are the usual penalties imposed. Should the item be lost, though, the benefits are lost.
In the aforementioned example, the player would need to purchase Sorcery to acquire Mother's Touch. While they do not have any of the downsides, they lose the ability once the amulet is removed.
(Note: I haven't decided a good approach for items that replicate specific advantages, like Strength of Ten; a part of me wants to offer a Discount like those offered in The Dresden Files under Item of Power, but I feel it could get a little too crunchy).

Non-Signature Item: I'm approaching these like items acquired in 1st Edition. The item serves it's specific purpose, often at the cost of a Hero Point, and nothing else. A player may make this a Signature Item in the future, but until then, it is at the same risks as a non-Signature Item, which means it can be easily stolen, destroyed, or simply stop working.
For example, say a player finds a gauntlet made of a strange crystal that, when worn, allows them to perform feats of strength with that hand when they spend a Hero Point. Should the gauntlet be removed, the ability to use that is gone.

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

Giasone Vodocci
Giasone Vodocci's picture

More magic items from "The Devil's Due" advantage

LibrariaNPC's picture

While I am glad to see the additions, I'm uncertain about the and their balancing act (as "The Devil's Due" often has a grisly cost). It seems that any item that has a special, magical effect should be a 4 point advantage, and not granted the perks of Signature Item. Not quite sure how I feel about that.

Granted, it does put it in line with the non-Sorcery psuedo-magics (Seidr and the like), but I haven't been quite sure how much I liked those.

"Smilies exist because no one's bothered to create a sarcasm font." --Lost_Heretic

BluSponge blusp...
BluSponge blusponge@verizon.net's picture

It seems that any item that has a special, magical effect should be a 4 point advantage, and not granted the perks of Signature Item. Not quite sure how I feel about that.

Absolutely agree.  Signature Item should always be something you have to add on top of any additional features an item possesses.  We can quibble over the Advantage costs (personally, I think it should be more a Story Step cost but that amounts to about the same thing), but I don't like redundancy. 

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