Since I’m preparing for my first real 5e campaign next week, I’m kinda into the preparing stuff. And since I read HotDQ now, I address some issues early, to be able to counter them. And this time it was the magic items at the end, I’d like to include one of the items early as ‘the stolen treasure of Greenest’ kind of thing, so my players can looking forward to it (they keep track of the plot, so this info will be around for a long time).
Non-consumable Magic Items were in some editions a necessity and sometimes you’ll just find a sword. The DM will say ‘That sword has a magical aura’, after checking it with Detect Magic, then comes the identify process and wow, you got a longsword +1. While in 3e Detect Magic was a 0th level spell and in 4e a use of the Arcana skill, the ability to see magical auras came back into 5e in form of a 1st level spell/ritual. So before you go to the short/long rest, a ritual caster might take a look at the stuff you collected from your enemies and dungeons.
You can say a lot about 4e (I personally played that editions until the playtest came), but at least there were descriptions to all magic items in there, which already emphasized the idea, that magic items were special and the best: No further work for the DM. In 3e you had a toolbox to customize magic items, which doesn’t really fare well imo, but without any further lead on how magic items could be remotely more interesting than their stats.
In the playtest and I’m sure in the DMG, too, there are a few pages to customize your magic items. If you as the DM are lazy, you can simply look into it and make easily magic items, which gets more interesting for your players without adding something to the stats. If you’re a player, these things might make your gear much more likable and you should ask the DM if you may customize that item yourself.
For now I’ll go into the stuff, WotC already considered:
Creator: The creator of the item and its culture says a lot about the appearance of the item. A elven sword would most likely be more thin and light than a normal counterpart, while vines and leaf ornaments are adorned. A weapon of a ifrit may be made out of black iron, while orange and red colors prevail the rest of the color scheme. And a gnomen weapon might look like well-used and tattered, so a thief won’t steal it. Even some side effects (like base temperature) might be different.
Nature: This contains the purpose and the mark it left. An item like a sword of truth would definitely leave a mark in legends and history, while its purpose could be to be a ceremonial weapon for court. The axe Giantbane would definitely have a history of slaying giants, while the lance Eternal Ice might be a present from the Prince of Frost, leader of the winter feys.
Minor Properties: These are tiny little boons items could grants, even though in the playtest some were stat-wise benefitting, which I kinda disliked. A shield with ‘guardian’ would grant +2 initiative, while a longbow with ‘compass’ let you only know which way is north. I do think, there can be a bit of power, but it shouldn’t be as brief as a bonus to one or more stats. A ‘floating’ breast plate which actually helps you swim? That’s cool! And the best, it stacks with any other properties the item already had.
Minor Quirks: A item might have a quirk, which usually doesn’t downgrade its innate power, but makes it a bit less conformable to use. Like a ‘confident’ belt, which makes you feel stronger, a ‘loud’ maul, which always thunders when smashing the ground or an enemy or a ‘muttering’ magic book. Some were either bothersome, like ‘hungry’ which meant that the item can only use it’s properties when tasting fresh blood that day or ‘possessive’ which meant that you can only attune that specific item.
If you run that whole process every non-consumable item, they’ll become more interesting. But there are some other things you might consider, here two of my personal choices:
Personality: Even though not all magic items are intelligent, most of them were created for a specific reason (like Nature already covered). So even without real intelligence an item might see a calling. When creating the orcish item ‘Dwarf Smasher’, then that item might not attune to dwarfs or might give disadvantages to attack rolls, when there is a dwarf nearby, but not the target of the attack. These can play out benefiting, too, in giving advantage to an attack roll, when attacking a dwarven leader.
Oddities: Sometimes a item can be odd, without having a real quirk. Like the fact, that the Great Sword is only about 4 feet long, but has a blade twice as big. Or that the armor has hatch to make it easier to relieve oneself. Or a spelling error at the runes. Or even a missing comma. Even a minor oddity might bother the new owner for a whole life.
For now I’ll simply make the items at the end more interesting and let’s see if I stumble onto something else which seems to be interesting enough to share.