Give an Unfortunate Player Competing Sentient Magic Items

Wizard of Adventure Arvindh shared this great idea on the Roleplaying Tips Discord for making a character’s life…interesting:

I have a player with an over-possessive sentient bow called Nuji.

There’s a lot of jealousy.

This woodelf has two named bows. One, an inheritance. The other, looted from The Room of Living Legends.

I run a ‘jealousy’ clock for this PC. When he uses the other bow instead of Nuji, the clock ticks up. And Nuji can speak up at… inopportune times.

The antics this PC does to keep his bow assuaged is ridiculous!

This is a great idea!

Competing sentient treasures will definitely make a character’s days busy, haha.

We can also use sentient items to encourage roleplay. For example, it might be less scary for a shy player to talk with their magic boots (i.e., the GM) than speak up and address the whole group.

Sentient items can also serve as one of your in-character proxies. When the party needs a clue, warning, setback, or other event, you can have the item play a role.

Or what about two characters, each with a sentient magic item? Interesting combinations arise there, with items that oppose each other, help each other, are jealous of each other, and so on.

In my book, GM Mastery: NPC Essentials, I recommend turning sentient items into full NPCs. For example, give them a history, personality, goals, short-term needs, friends, and enemies. This extra depth helps transform willful magic items from caricatures into (non-player) characters.

For the deeper roleplayers, we can use sentient treasure to highlight or juxtapose the wielder’s internal conflicts. The item can ask questions, challenge the character, or demonstrate to make its points.

For example, the woodelf might have strong family values, leading the PC to hold onto his inheritance. However, Nuji constantly urges the character to reconsider his familial loyalty by highlighting the character’s ongoing challenges, vulnerabilities, and instances of mistreatment at the hands of his elders, which we weave into the unfolding narrative.

A final thought. Following the second rule of DungeonCraft, give such rival sentient magic items secrets. Make them the source of ongoing surprises, twists, and hooks by revealing over time their opaque histories and the things they know.

Thanks for the fun idea, Arvindh!

Have more fun at every game!

P.S. When you are ready, here are +4 vorpal ways I can help you with your campaign:

+1 Use Campaign Logger to Make Prep & GMing Easier
For GMs of any system looking to run deep, detailed, and immersive games, Campaign Logger lets you take session notes at the speed of thought in your unique GMing style while improving your preparation experience so you can focus on the parts of the game you enjoy the most.
Get your free Campaign Logger account here.

+2 Take the Free GM Organization Challenge
Stop the confusion and frustration of not having what you need to prep and run games at your finger tips. Become an organized GM in just one week:
Enroll at no charge here and start getting organized.

+3 Get the Demonplague (with 62 5-Star Ratings so far)
A complete level 1-20 campaign D&D 5E adventure path that offers intense roleplay, sandbox and hexcrawl play, cunning combats, and fiendish monsters.
Click here to see more details and to order.

+4 Get More GM Loot
Visit the Roleplaying Tips DriveThruRPG store, or browse books and courses to level up your GMing at the store.

Art credit: warmtail.

Join a private community with Johnn