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Old 07-03-2020, 01:09 AM   #1
David Bofinger
 
Join Date: Jan 2018
Location: Sydney, Australia
Default Why Magic Items

I've often heard people complain about certain kinds of magic item, and GMs banning them. But what kinds of magic item make the game more fun, and need to be in the game? I'm going to suggest: maybe none of them.

The magic items can loosely be divided into:
  1. Those that enhance their wearer's capabilities relative to a mundane item, such as a +2 sword.
  2. Those that provide capabilities similar to those a character might have.
  3. A few items provide a capability superior to the regular spell and might be seen as a combination of 1 and 2. e.g. Blur or Stoneskin.
  4. Those that provide a capability not otherwise available, such as a flaming sword.
All these items, except perhaps for Category 4, take the focus off the capabilities of the characters and put it on the capabilities of their toys. And there aren't many items in 4.

Magic items might also be an issue if you want to e.g. allow the PCs to be enslaved digging tunnels in Aelfheim. Some players won't mind losing their entire inventory, others will find it very upsetting.

A huge problem in TFT with magic items of Category 1 is that it channels characters away from certain changes to the character. I'm ST 11, I have some experience and I'm thinking ST 12 and a larger weapon might be a good idea. But I have this magic +2 short sword, so really that isn't practical. The characters golden handcuffs stop him going that way.

Magic items are in games mostly because they are in fiction, particularly fairy tales. But the role they play in fiction is often just, "She blew in the magic leprechaun's ear like the magic mentor had told her to and the leprechaun solved all her problems." It's not great RPG. It's usually not even great fiction.

I'm still trying to think why I would want to have magic items in my game and right now I can't see it. A modest proposal: delete all magic items from the game. Or: change them unrecognisably, to do something that's actually desirable.

Thoughts?

Last edited by David Bofinger; 07-03-2020 at 08:02 AM. Reason: Left something out
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Old 07-03-2020, 01:47 AM   #2
Celjabba
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Luxembourg
Default Re: Why Magic Items

I think some of the primary factors for "Why Magic items" are :

-because players are human and enjoy getting shinny things
-because it boost performance on top of character growth
-because it allow a sense of differentiation, of personalizing the characters
-because it is seen as an achievement and/or something you can show off
-because it is a symbol of victory, a memory
-because 'free' loot is perceived as 'cheaper' than abilities purchased with xp, and therefore 'better' at beating the system

If you want to enforce having the focus on the capabilities of the characters, getting rid of most magic items is a good step, but better make sure your players will be happy with that approach !

Last edited by Celjabba; 07-03-2020 at 04:05 AM.
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Old 07-03-2020, 07:57 AM   #3
Shostak
 
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Bofinger View Post
All these items, except perhaps for Category 4, take the focus off the capabilities of the characters and put it on the capabilities of their toys. And there aren't many items in 4.
Consider mundane weapons and items: they expand the capabilities of a character. Take the armor and sword from the hero, and he's not going to be all that impressive. The weapons and armor, torches, and boats, are all technology that expand the capabilities of characters. I don't think that they take any spotlight away from the characters. Functionally, magic items are also technology.

You are right that taking gear away (even mundane gear) can rub some players the wrong way. But if you provide ways for them to get out of their predicaments with what is at hand, they might ultimately enjoy the process more than just hacking and blasting through it. The closest thing TFT has to signature gear (a GURPS term) is the staff, which is darned hard to take away from a wizard using RAW (for my staff nerfs, read here). Taking away signature gear is a staple of the kind of fiction that serves as a touchstone for games like TFT.
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Old 07-03-2020, 08:46 AM   #4
Kromm
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

I'm rarely seen on these forums, but I can tell you "why":

Modern CRPGs and MMORPGs.

Most new blood to tabletop gaming comes from that world; many moldy oldies like me spend time there. In that context, equipment is as much a part of your character "build" as your innate abilities are, and while some such games have items degrade and need maintenance, few outright take gear away – and those that do only ever do so temporarily. That thinking has entrenched itself in our hobby and now we just have to live with it! Gamers build characters around always having access to their weapon of choice, and in systems where there are mechanisms to start with magic items, as in TFT, they build characters around those, too.

I often encounter this outlook on the GURPS side of things, and it has been steadily growing in popularity over the 25 years I've been the Line Editor (and the 35 years I've played the game). The "tells" that it comes from digital games – other than the timing (those years have seen the release of more and better digital games, and their mainstreaming) – are the terms gamers use. The people who like their item-centric "builds" tend to use the language of digital games, not the tongue of the tribe I joined when I started gaming in 1979.
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Old 07-03-2020, 08:47 AM   #5
hcobb
 
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

TFT is too occidental with the split between muggles and madmen.

What if advanced techniques with mundane skills were considered magical in an oriental sense? So an Unarmed Combat expert would be able to beat ghosts to death with her mana-enchanced bare hands. Then she wouldn't need a magical sword.
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Old 07-03-2020, 04:23 PM   #6
Skarg
 
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

There are as many different perspectives as there are gamers.

My own perspective started out as enjoying the idea of magic items, because they seemed shiny and cool and exciting and I'd seen them in fantasy books and films. At first, they seemed to contribute to characters and be fun to find and add new types of situations, and they enabled some characters to do far more than they could hope to without them.

That lasted maybe about three years of heavily playing TFT.

But what happened was that PCs and their allies got magic items one way or anothre, then met foes with magic items and looted them. And they sold them and commissioned more and better ones. In order to challenge these characters, there almost needed to be foes who also had magic items. Who would tend to get killed and looted, adding thousands and thousands more to the net worth and therefore the magic arsenals of the PCs.

In other words, magic item proliferation, wealth and power rose very quickly even after the GM tried to limit how much there was to loot.

And the result of PCs being so well equipped that they were overwhelming to foes without magic items just got greater and greater. Combat with foes who were not a group with strong magic tended to be extremely low risk, but combat with foes who had magic items either needed to kill PCs and/or destroy their items, or else they added more magic items to the PCs' ever-growing arsenals.

Players started voluntarily only bringing relatively light arsenals of magic with them, both to try to keep things more interesting, and to avoid attention from the world's toughest (most magic-equipped) foes.

And it did have a flavor for us at that point very much like David was saying: The characters' abilities were much more about their magic toys than about the characters themselves. And we did not enjoy that much.

Since then, I've tended to greatly prefer campaigns with low or no magic items, and/or rules which limit or add drawbacks to their use, such as fatigue costs or breakdown rules.
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Old 07-03-2020, 09:08 PM   #7
David Bofinger
 
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

As a weaker form of eliminating magic items, what if we replaced the Rule of Five with the Rule of Two, or One?
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Old 07-04-2020, 01:46 AM   #8
JimmyPlenty
 
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Default Re: Why Magic Items

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Bofinger View Post
As a weaker form of eliminating magic items, what if we replaced the Rule of Five with the Rule of Two, or One?
I have thought out this, but I remembered that with each extra spell on an item, it is exponentially more expensive to make. An item with 5 enchantments would be incredibly rare, and solves its own problem.
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Old 07-04-2020, 01:49 AM   #9
JimmyPlenty
 
Join Date: Dec 2017
Default Re: Why Magic Items

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kromm View Post

Modern CRPGs and MMORPGs.

Most new blood to tabletop gaming comes from that world; many moldy oldies like me spend time there. In that context, equipment is as much a part of your character "build" as your innate abilities are, and while some such games have items degrade and need maintenance, few outright take gear away – and those that do only ever do so temporarily.
They are also used to items being very disposable. I think this may even have had some roots in the RPGA when people used to trade magical items with one another. It had the benefit of creating a community, but with the caveat that magic became much more mundane.
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Old 07-04-2020, 09:15 AM   #10
larsdangly
 
Join Date: Dec 2017
Default Re: Why Magic Items

It's only 3 talent points for a martial artist to learn Hammertouch (or some other spell); maybe that's a good way to have supernatural powers without magic items.
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