Simple Ways to Enhance Your Magic Items

From Jonathan

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1184

Siema Johnn!

In todays’ Roleplaying Tips Newsletter, I’ve got the following GM tips for you:

3 Simple Ways to Enhance Your Magic Items

How can we spruce up magic items so they aren’t boring +1 shields? Jonathan Hardin ( shows us how via three quick changes we can make to an item’s properties.

How to GM a Dynamic Campaign?

A reader asks me for help on how to have the game world change in response to character actions.

Two Ways to Kick Adventures Off With Good Roleplaying

In this great reader tip, we discover a pair of specific techniques to spur RP in our sessions.

Announcing The Demonplague for Fantasy Grounds Unity

Before we dive into today’s tips, I wanted to let you know about a new product release.

If you are a Fantasy Grounds Unity GM, then you might be excited to discover my entire level 1-20 epic D&D 5E Demonplague campaign is available via the Fantasy Grounds Forge.

You can purchase the full Demonplague campaign for FGU here.

The entire campaign was coded by Demonplague GM Darren Anderson.

He enjoyed the campaign so much he offered to port it into Fantasy Grounds.

And he did an amazing job. He now receives a portion of each sale as thanks for the huge amount of work, love, and detail he poured into the conversion.

Please note that the terms of service restrict me to only being allowed to sell this via the FG Forge store. I cannot sell, give away, or otherwise provide the FG files anywhere else in any other way.

However, if you purchase the Fantasy Grounds version from the FG Forge, please email me your transaction number and I’ll send you back the full PDF package so you can reference the campaign outside of FGU when desired.

3 Simple Ways to Enhance Your Magic Items

A friend mentioned that what initially drew him to the game was this world of exploration around magic items.

I also play weekly games with my kids and their friends, and in the elementary school years I noticed players mostly enjoyed collecting and exploring magic items.

Magic items become boring if they remain static.

The Shield of Dragon’s Breath does just that and that alone — protects you from dragon’s breath. This leaves little room for player interaction and the fun of exploration.

My tip today is to use the following tools to treat your magical items as toys for your players to discover.

Let’s bring some magic back into the game!

Adjust the Elements

Introduce an encounter that collides the item with an element such as water, fire, earth or wind.

This element activates an unexplored property of the item. In case your players need a hint of this, introduce the property via NPC or book clue.

For example, our Shield of Dragon’s Breath collides with air. Perhaps the wielder can take flight for 1d4 rounds after deflecting a dragon’s breath attack.

Imagine that moment. It’s the creature’s turn. The massive maw opens. There’s a huge intake of air. Sir Valiance raises his shield and steels himself for the attack.

After eternal moments in what feels like a furnace, Valiance lowers his shield, flies through the air, and strikes hard in a surprise counter-attack!

Adjust the Person

In a world comprising different species, introduce an encounter where another person of a different species uses the item.

If your world involves only one species, use an unseen feature like blood type to introduce the change.

The item then responds to its new master and adjusts its properties.

With our magic shield, perhaps it consumes the memories of fallen wielders so it can help future warriors learn from the past.

When Sir Valiance picks up the shield for the first time, it fills their mind with chaotic images of the life of another half-elven knight who bore the item. It’s up to Sandy and other players to pull the timeline together and make sense of the dire warning the shield offers.

Adjust the Time

Introduce an encounter that showcases a new feature of the magic item based on the season or the moon phase.

Perhaps the item changes properties more frequently, such as in daylight and nightfall.

For example, each new moon the shield owner can scry for nearby dragons. It’s a new moon right now, and Sir Valiance melees against nasty thieves’ guild members who want to sell the infamous shield.

Each blow Valiance rebuffs with his shield delivers a sudden and kinetic vision. Full colour, motion, and sound.

It lasts moments. And it returns next time a rogue weapon strikes against the metal boss.

After a few blocks, Valiance’s player realizes he’s receiving the senses of a living dragon! He goes on full defense and waits for more flashes to see if he can recognize the creature’s surroundings.

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A Few Examples

Now that we have a few ways to adjust the magic item, let’s look at a few more examples.


The Dawnsword decreases in size to a handheld item from sunrise to sunset. It looks like the only enemies it will sunder will be the agents of darkness.


This fine silver ring shelters you from prying eyes. Who knew this ring of invisibility grew 500 times heavier when placed in water?


This wizard’s wand is great. It can cast 3 of your favorite spells once a day and is user friendly to any member of your party! But the sound it makes could wake the dead. If only you could find out where that silencer is located….


This pocket watch stores an ability to turn back time 6 seconds, but at the cost of stunning the user for a round. Did you also know that you can use it as a simple light source?


Raise the Staff of the Undying! With this wonderful item and some lucky dice rolls, you single handedly defeated the villain. It’s minions scatter as your party cleans up the lair. And then suddenly, the first day of spring begins and the staff starts the journey to its home. When will you be able to take it up again?

Character Abilities

The fighter’s favorite elven boots leave minimal footprints and footsteps. But did you know that if an elf wears them, the elf can walk along walls and ceilings like a spider?


The Demonlords Compass always points to the closest portal to its lair, but if you read the difficult inscription, you gain health, and all of your weapon damage is wreathed in fire.


Did you really think that Gleaming Armor was only meant to look pretty in the sunlight? As it threatens to blind your enemies in daylight, it jolts your mind with energy. You are going to have to try harder to sleep and rest given the power the armor brings.

Don’t Forget to Leave a Clue

After all of this work in development, it would be no fun if players assume this shiny thing does nothing more than the handbook says it does.

And that leaves the discovery, and the fun, still hidden.

Drop these hints to your players to let them know not all is as it seems.

  • “The item begins to rattle and shake”
  •  “The item takes on another color”
  • “A quiet voice whispers in your hearing originating from your pocket”
  • “A friendly NPC exclaims about the rarity of your find.”
  •  “A hostile NPC attempts to steal the item exclaiming that you mortals have no concept of magic and its power.”

Or quite simply, you share lore in your world through people, places like libraries, and things like sign posts of ruined sites, that items bearing the arcane symbol were always crafted with multi functions.

The Recipe for Fun

As a game master, I want to fashion a dynamic world.

This means giving my players something to play with, secrets to discover, and properties to unearth.

  • Choose any magic item and give it two other properties that can be discovered.
  • The players find it and stow it away.
  • Nudge the players towards the potential discoveries by describing the item using the hints.
  • Keep track of its functions over time and space where the players take the item. Stay consistent.

I promise you one thing. If you succeed at this once, your players will forever tinker and toy with the magic items in your world.

May your Story Continue!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

How to GM a Dynamic Campaign?

RPT GM Anthony asks:

How do you determine a world/multiverse state influenced by the characters’ actions when the adventure is dynamic?

Even more pertinent is do their actions actually affect your world state?

In my games, they are heavily interconnected when the characters are “mid-grade” in level or higher. (For me, 1-5 is low, 6-10 is mid, 11-15 is high, and 16-20 is advanced/pre-epic).

Great question, Anthony. Thanks!

For me, a dynamic world comes down to five things:

  1. People
  2. Places
  3. Things
  4. Events

In game terms for me, that’s:

  1. Cast of Characters (PCs and NPCs including villains)
  2. Gazetteer (notable locations)
  3. Quartermaster (special items, magic items, plot items, technology, etc.)
  4. Events (encounters, Plot Factories, situations)

The fifth thing is Relationships. How do those other four things connect to each other in literal terms and meaning?

For example, a villain might be crafting his evil orc army by transforming weaker creatures at an evil site. The NPC has a relationship to that location, the location has a relationship to evil of some kind, and an army has a relationship to the villain and site.

So when the players effect changes in the world, they are either:

  • Changing the nature of something
  • Changing the relationships between two or more somethings

For example, the good wizard says the PCs can save the world by curing the evil of the place the villain’s using.

Doing that changes the nature of the place. In turn, that affects the relationships I mentioned.

After sessions, therefore, I’m reviewing my session log and seeing if the characters’ actions result in the nature of something changing, or the relationship between somethings changing.

Two Ways to Kick Adventures Off With Good Roleplaying

From RPT GM Steve

Hi Johnn,

I found that when running Five Room dungeons it’s very important to quickly provide a good basis for role playing.

The two things I’ve found that speaks to this are:

1. Eucalyptus_Geometry:

  • Your character should have a reason for adventuring in general
  • Your character should have (or develop) a reason for sticking with this party

2. Becaus789:

I run a drop in game.

At the beginning of each session I have each player write 2-3 sentences about their character at the top of an index card.

Then they pass their card to the left.

Each player writes 1-2 sentences about how they know the character.

It can be as simple as “we shared drinks together once and swapped stories long into the night” to “we’ve been on a few adventures together before, and this is how I feel about them.”

Established relationships can expand upon what they’ve been up to together since last time adventuring together.

Optionally, I can have each player explain their relationship with a particular NPC I’ve briefly outlined who will be in the adventure, often at the very start if I want to start in the middle of the action.

“Barleycorn the Centaur Senator? Oh. She taught me astrology.”

“Very well. We begin at Barleycorn’s court where she has summoned you for a dire need.”

Bam, we’re off and going.

Then repeat the passing until they get their original card.

Then players read off their card.

It’s tremendous fun and starts the adventure off wherever I want, often in the middle of the action.

Think of the beginning of many action movies, like Pirates of the Caribbean. They often start in the middle of an action sequence, in order to hook the audience.

In that sequence I can seed foreshadowing of the coming adventure, establish my antagonist and get the players invested in them, start the players off on their journey, and set the tone for the adventure.


Discuss these game master tips in this thread at the official Roleplaying Tips community forum.