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DM of the Rings XVII:
Of Dubious Value

By Shamus
on Monday Oct 16, 2006
Filed under:
DM of the Rings


Lord of the Rings, Tentacle monster, player apathy.

One of the things I loved to do in our campaigns was give out magical items which were interesting but mostly useless. We’ve been trained by movies that if you find some seemingly unimportant bauble, then the story will later create a situation where it will be the key to solving a problem in an unexpected way.

My favorite was a rope I gave them that untied itself the moment you let go of the knot. It was pointless, but enough of a novelty that they hung onto it. Another was a chalice that would purify any water you put into it. It was sort of a magical water filter which could turn a glass of swamp sludge into mineral water in about five minutes. Another was a magic staff which had only one property: It could be placed tip-down on the floor and it would keep itself balanced.

Once in a while they would haul out one of these magical booby prizes and actually put the thing to some unexpected use. I always loved when they did that.

Comments (80)

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  1. Tranquil Rage says:

    In a not-too-serious campaign I was DMing, I gave the party’s wizard a scroll of Detect Plot. When cast, it would cause a 10-foot long, flashing neon arrow to fall out of the sky and point in the direction the party should go, or at a person they should talk to, or at an object they should investigate. He never did use it though.

    In this same campaign, the villian’s favorite spell was “Little Cloud of Doom,” which followed the target around about a foot above their head, rained on them, and repeatedly said “Doom!” for 24 hours straight.

  2. John M. Burt says:

    My all-time favorite magic item was like this: deep int he dungeon there is a sword in a stone. Any Detect spell can tell you it is dripping with magical power. Problem was, it really was the Sword int he Stone, and no PC was ever going to pull it unless they happened to be the True King of the Britons….

    This was invented by someone who happens to toiday be my therapist. Make of that what you will.

  3. Matt says:

    Heh, I remember when, after spending/buying some loot post-dungeon-raid, I asked if there were any magical items for sale. The only one I could afford was a magical chair, which let you sleep for less time and get the benefits of a full night of sleep. So spellcasters could keep watch and still get their spells back. It also changed size for travel/different races.

    The catch was, when you tried to leave the chair, you had to make a will save to overcome the magical comfort you were experiencing. If you fail, you are stuck for 5 rounds/30 minutes out of combat. No taking a 20. Sometimes, this led to a chair being dragged by the party while our wizard shot fireballs at a pursuing mob from the comfort of the ultimate chair. Pretty damn silly fun.

    And then there was this talking book that kept trying to sabotage the party…. but it knew really useful stuff….. Oh man. Magical items are the best; I can’t wait for either an electronic, full-player driven D&D played online, or a very open ended rpg (so you could have literally anything).

    And then there was my masterwork longspear, with a manipulate rope enchantment. It had a mithril cable attached to the haft that I could use for rope grapples as an extra attack each round. When the DM gives you an enchant weapon scroll, use it in ways he won’t expect. It took 2 dungeons for the DM to start using stuff that was strong at grapples (after the first mage we ran into only cast 1 spell, he got pretty miffed. And everyone else told me to use featherfall; it would be SO much more useful as a level 1 enchant (or was it 2?)). /rant

    TL;DR magic items are awesome. Abuse the crap out of them.

  4. Manly necklace guy says:

    We once found an item made specifically to kill any member of my species that touched it, as well as securing itself and not being removable by a member of that species, but it was defective so all it did was make me kind of sleepy. I convinced the DM that being sleepy would make my character flaw of “following violent impulses like an idiot” less so because that was tied to adrenaline and no one is both adrenaline-rushing and sleepy, and it became my signature item for the cost of a couple speed points.

  5. Anachronist says:

    One of my characters actually had a self-standing staff like Shamus described in his endnote. It gave a +2 bonus to balance checks. My character never needed to use it for that, mostly its purpose was to serve as a handle for an everburning torch because my character had normal vision.

    Another favorite “useless” item was the Axe of Healing, which would inflict 1d6 healing at the same time it inflicted 1d6 damage. It turned out to be useful against undead (because healing does damage to undead). And if the DM allowed, you could deal subdual damage with the blunt side to heal a character, sort of. I have no idea how this would work in v5.0 though, I haven’t played D&D in years.

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