The Clothes Don’t Make the Man and the Weapons Don’t Make the Woman, Part 2
By Cape Rust
In the last installment I left off talking about some easy ways to get rid of mundane items that might be overcoming player characters in your game. In this round I want to talk about those magical iconic items that are much more insidious. Those powerful or intelligent magic items that become so iconic that everyone at the table only remembers the item, not the character that carried it. On the surface this still seems like an easy problem to solve. The easy solution is if you as a GM are worried about an item overtaking a player role playing their character, just don’t give them the item. If only it was that easy…. Some other solutions might seem easy, but as things progress and players get involved, things that seemed fool proof turn out to not be player proof.
The use of aligned items is one of those ideas that starts out airtight but can quickly deflate. Here are a few caltrops your players might throw down on a road to cause a blowout. You would not believe how quickly that lawful good Paladin of the god of lawful goodness will become a black guard for a really cool or really powerful item. If alignment is not a big deal in your game, then powerful aligned items are easier to fall prey to. One way to slow this leak down is to ensure that the item is very painful for characters who do not share its alignment, but if alignment shifts are rapid in your world then those restrictions become void quickly. I enjoy having characters experience alignment shifts and crisis’ of faith, but when it is solely for the purpose of using a weapon then I get a bit upset, especially when it is that player who only wants a hack and slash game or Mrs. Sneaky, Stabby, Sneaky who only wants to steal and stab stuff. When those players all of the sudden become interested in digging deeper into their character’s alignment, GM beware.
Now these items can be a wonderful way to break a player out of their normal role. It’s amazing what happens when a character picks up the very powerful item and all of the sudden you have to pull them aside and let them know that they are now true neutral and all of their actions must be balanced or not only will the powerful magic that fuels the item dry up, there will be other effects as well. I don’t like doing this unless it’s with a player who really trusts me; after all, if the player wanted to play a neutral character, they would have done this from the beginning. If you go this route, provide an out, pick the right player or avoid it all together.
Intelligent items come with their own unique set of problems, especially if they are smarter than the character, which they normally are. I’ve seen intelligent items used as that NPC that seems to know everything that needs to be known at just the right time. GMs, don’t act like you haven’t included that NPC in a few of your games… This situation works well until the players stop thinking and just start following the intelligent item, or never question how the item got so smart and what its goals are. This can further lead to situations where the all encompassing knowledge of the smart item and the sharing of that knowledge could ruin an encounter the GM spent hours preparing. Then there are those times where the GM has to shut the intelligent item up so that the players have to think for themselves, then the players start not trusting the item, because it wasn’t there for them when they needed it. Not having to keep as many stats for the NPC-like intelligent item has its advantages, but like anything else, it can quickly blow up in your face. I did see one GM who made an intelligent item that was really stupid; that kept the players on their toes for sure.
When it’s all said and done, items and iconic items are not The Devils Candy. Players and GMs need to keep an eye on these items and manage them. If one of your players start to lean on or depend on one of their items, pull them aside and discuss it. If they become defensive, leave it alone, there is no reason you should pick a fight. If that player’s defensive nature is effecting the rest of the group, just come up with encounters that negate an items effectiveness or move that item out of the spotlight. Anti-magic fields are an easy fix, but if these start popping up too much, the players will get suspicious. No matter how you choose to deal with the problem, deal with it. If you see the signs, address it right away. Problems like this are never fun to deal with, but the longer you let it fester, the worse things get. There is a good chance that you as a GM will go into siege mode and start withholding more and more cool magical items because you are afraid the situation will repeat itself or spread to other players. If this is a recurring problem for your group, have the players play intelligent magic items. Make it a fairly short game, but use that game to show them that no matter how powerful the item is, if there is no stat bag to swing it, it just becomes a really powerful paper weight.