Having a magic sword is one thing but having an intelligent magic sword is a whole new level of coolness. So far there are no mechanics in 4e Dungeons & Dragons for creating intelligent magic items. However a creative DM can always introduce one as he sees fit.
Continuing our look at magic items that began in yesterday’s article What’s a +1 Sword?, today I’m going to share some of the pros and cons I’ve experienced by introducing an intelligent magic item to my campaign. Over the years I’ve have many games that included intelligent items. It’s not something I would recommend for everyone, especially new gamers, but it can add a new and unpredictable element to your game.
I suspect that the forthcoming Adventurer’s Vault 2 will reintroduce us to intelligence items. There are also a few intelligent artifacts in the DMG if you need an immediate fix. Until then here are some of the pros and cons that come with intelligent items in D&D.
Introducing an intelligent item into a party gives the DM a means to dispense information that may not otherwise be attainable. The item may have knowledge limited to specific topics like an ancient historical period, a monster’s weaknesses or arcane magic. The DM may decide to just leave the extent of the item’s knowledge vague. This way if he needs to provide the PCs with important information and doesn’t have any other reasonable in-game method in which to do it he can simply have the item inform the party.
Most intelligent items have a special purpose or a special power. When the right conditions are met the weapon gains a power or bonus it doesn’t normally possess. If it’s been designed to defeat a specific creature type then perhaps it glows in their presence, or its enhancement bonus doubles when fighting them, or it scores a crit on a 18-20 – but only when fighting that specific creature. In all other circumstances it’s just a regular magic sword. This can be particularly useful if the focus of a campaign revolves around fighting that items specified foe.
Intelligent items often possess utility powers in addition to their primary magic. These are usually spell-like powers that the user can trigger as needed. This could include the ability to expend a healing surge during combat, open a locked door, decipher a foreign language or offer a +2 bonus to a skill check. This added bonus makes intelligent items that much more desirable to PCs. It also can address weaknesses that the party may have if they’re lacking a controller or a leader.
If a PC find an intelligent item it may change his life for the better. Simple possessing the item may carry beneficial in-game consequences. The extent of any such benefits are up to the DM, but it should be relative to the item’s level and its importance to the overall story-arc.
Talking to Yourself
Intelligent items generally have some kind of ability to influence their wielder. This may be some subtle form of manipulation like showing the PC things as he dreams. In other cases the item’s desire to control the PC may be blatantly obvious. In either case it presents a challenging role-playing obstacle. As the DM you don’t want to force the PC to play his character a certain way, but you need to demonstrate that the weapon has some level of control. Even an item with a noble purpose may try to force its own will on an unsuspecting PC.
If an item is average most of the time but exceptional when battling a specific creature type then the PCs may start to seek that creature out. This in and of itself is not a bad thing but it can take a carefully planned campaign and derail it in a hurry. A PC who would rather hunt werewolves than find the kidnapped prince has clearly lost interest in the bigger story arc. If this new goal is the result of some kind of influence over the PC by the item then it can become an interesting sub-plot, but if it’s just a power hungry PC who wants to feel more powerful then this is a problem.
If the intelligent item can talk then the game may revert to episodes of the PC talking to his weapon. This may seem funny the first couple of times, but it gets stale quickly. This is especially true if the PC and the item disagree. If a PC spends more time talking to his intelligent item then the other PCs then it’s time to reevaluate the addition of an intelligent item to the party.
If an item is intelligent then there’s a strong likelihood that it has a reputation. Powerful magic items don’t stay secret for very long. A PC who brandishes an intelligent item in full view of everyone is asking for trouble. It may want to be found by someone other than the PC. If so it may call out to others, especially if the item can communicate through telepathy or speech. In this scenario the item may call out to others or simple announce its presence and let the rumour-mill spread the word. If the PC is able to resist the items attempts to control him or if the PC won’t abandon his question in order to do what the item wants then such an item will try even harder to find a new owner.
Have you ever played in a game that had an intelligent magic item? What has your experience like? Are rules for intelligent item something you’ve missed since the launch of 4e or do you think it’s an unnecessary mechanic?