07 November 2011

Masterwork Weapons

I've been playing around with an idea in my head- what if, instead of having a "plus" level and (maybe) a unique power to magical items, what if you did away with the plus altogether?

What if the big draw was the fact that it was magical, instead?

I haven't playtested it, but I can't imagine that there'd be any real problems simply porting it into a game. You could shift the bonuses to attack and damage on to the fighters' base values (so that a fighter who's "supposed" to have a +1 sword and armor could have an innate bonus to attack, damage, and armor class instead), and then have the occasional monster reduce damage if it was struck by a non-magical weapon. Something like how (as I understand it) certain monsters in OD&D simply couldn't be hurt by anything but magical weapons.

So there'd be value in a "boring" magical sword, for example- it'd still have the properties of a "magical" item (being constantly razor-sharp, resistant to breakage, resistant to magical destruction)... but you could have a normal smith create it. Hello, masterwork weapons. Nice to see you again. Why don't you take a seat.

You'd have to modify store-bought adventures and settings a little, sure, but it wouldn't be hard. Just take the boring swords and axes that don't get any cool powers and make them masterwork weapons. Now they're well-forged weapons with a certain value, but it makes sense that there's stacks of them lying around instead of being kept in a box while the enemy warriors are running around with mundane weapons.

In this scheme, there would be two categories of magical weapons and armor: the "regular" masterwork type that's a cut above regular weapons without contributing to power creep, and then "unique" items that are sentient, or return when  thrown, or whatever it is they do. And here's the real benefit: The items are important for what they do, instead of what stats they boost.

It's something to think about, anyways.


  1. I agree!


  2. I think Grognardia or someone did a post a while back on how the + 1 item robs the game of magic and breaks the mold of unqiue and poetically magical non-weapon items. I like Michael Moorcock's habit of making 'mundane' magic weapons (nice contradiction in terms) special due to their being crafted by smiths of other races or great renown. Your idea of superior crafted weapons is a great counterpart to this.

  3. Color me interested, Tedankhamen. I'll see if I can't dredge up the post and see if I can't get something awesome from it.

    I haven't forgotten about you, Mr. Fictive, it's just way too late for me to try and take in anything remotely interesting- I'll read and comment tomorrow :)

  4. I was disappointed when 3e actually defined masterwork. It didn't seem special enough.

    Back in 2e I used to say that +1 weapons and armour were "masterwork" and that each and every master smith forged at least one as proof of their mastery. Hence why there were so many in any fantasy world. Enchant a masterwork weapon and it would become +2. Likewise there were some otherwise perfectly ordinary weapons and armour out there that had been enchanted as well so just looking at the "magical vortices" surrounding the item with detect magic could, at best, only allow you to guestimate its power.

    Masterwork items require extra cost and effort in their production but some master smiths put this effort into everything they make, becoming grandmasters of their craft and sought by anyone and everyone to produce items for them, much like Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill.

    Of course to our ancient ancestors the process of forging an item itself was inherently magical. This gives us legendary smiths, such as Wayland, who not only produce masterwork items with the ease that lesser smiths put to common items but when they make the effort to forge a masterwork item it is invariably unique, named and granted a purpose. Truly magical.

  5. http://awesometome.googlecode.com/files/Tome%200.6.1.pdf

    Link is to a compilation of D&D3E homebrew by The Gaming Den. There's an interesting chapter in the "Book of Gears" section that talks about decoupling the magic powers of magic items from numerical bonuses.

    IIRC their method was to keep item qualities (fiery sword, staff of ice, spear of lightning, etc.) an aspect of the item itself, but to scale any numerical bonuses derived from the item to the character level of the wielder. Rationale: the more personal mojo/skill/experience a character had, the better able he was to harness the power of his magic weapon.

  6. I also like to disconnect "mastercraft" from "magic." I understand the requirement (I think in 3E) that all magic items must be mastercraft; if you are going to enchant something, make it something beautiful, effective, and lasting.

    I think it's cooler to be able to enchant anything, though.

  7. Actually, our group regularly uses this idea. We were always big on the flavor items and setting-enhancing effects. Small things like a pillow of sleep (don't touch it with exposed flesh!), ever-strumming instrument, espada of vanity (always shiny, glows faintly, and its magics intentionally draw the attention of others to it and its owner). Wonderful stuff.