Wondrous Item auto-reject advice #4: Item Ought to be Not-An-Item


RPG Superstar™ 2011 General Discussion

Contributor

(Last year I compiled a list of things that would instantly disqualify your item. I'm going to post them one by one as we approach Round 1 of this year's contest.)

4. Your wondrous item really ought to be something other than a magic item, such as a monster, hazard, spell, template, or plot device.

Every year we get a lot of submissions that are basically plot devices—things that you'd use to assassinate the king and conceal the assassin, and so on. Your wondrous item should not be a plot device. If you can only see one specific use for the item, and especially if you can't see PCs (whether evil or good) having a use for this item, and if the item is more a story element than an item, try a different idea.

We also get submissions for items that merely create dangerous conditions or augment all the monsters in an area, such as "this creates a pool of lava/green slime/acid" or "all creatures within 100 feet gain the fiendish template." These don't need to be wondrous items; they're better off as localized magical effects. If your item works better as a permanent magical effect rather than something a creature could wear or carry, try a different idea.

We also get submissions where the item gives you all the powers of a monster or a template, or turns you into something that has monster abilities. This is a bad concept for an item (it's also a variant of the Spell in a Can problem, as we already have spells like beast shape and elemental body that give you monster abilities, and an item that does that is an SIAC without actually referring to the transformative spell). If your wondrous item's description reads like a Bestiary entry, try a different idea.

Remember, you're designing a wondrous item, not some other game rule disguised as a wondrous item.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Not much to add to this one. The only thing I'd reinforce is to make your item important...i.e., a vital part of why that effect is contained or activated by the item. If what you're describing could just as easily be a new spell...or it's basically creating/conjuring/calling-into-existence a new monster...etc., you're really not designing just a wondrous item anymore. You've crossed the streams too much. Go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to make the item the focus...rather than the effect it produces.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Sam Kisko's Migrus Locker is something of a counter-example here, a winner that breaks this rule. The locker itself is forgettable; it's the creepy migrus creature that grabbed people's attention. But I don't think that's a stunt that anybody else could repeat.

And, to whoever came up with "every creature in 100' gains the fiendish template": that's something I'm stealing for my campaign.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2009, RPG Superstar Judgernaut

Chris Mortika wrote:
Sam Kisko's Migrus Locker is something of a counter-example here...

That particular item made it into the competition mostly on a good, core idea and flavor. It got cited repeatedly for its sparse mechanics, though all the judges acknowledged it had just enough to properly define it (i.e., a cat with construct traits). But even so, Sam took a lot of risks on it. He basically made the very definition of a monster-in-a-box (which is normally a variation of a spell-in-a-can and worthy of rejecting). He also made his item something most PCs would not want, which sometimes translates into another bad design decision, because it limits the appeal and usefulness of the item for game purposes.

I think a lot of people drew inspiration from the Migrus Locker, though. It certainly captured everyone's imagination. And all the judges really wanted to see what the author would be capable of doing in the later rounds of the competition. So Sam walked a fine line and his flavor and idea won out in the end.

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Neil is correct, this is hard to elaborate on any further.

That won't stop me from trying though...

Be very careful about designing items that grant the owner special class features and abilities of a different class. I don't mean items that augment a classes existing powers, but rather items that grant special class abilities powers to characters who do not have that class at all.

For example, a mantle that "lets you wildshape like a Druid of X level", or an eyepatch that "allows you to use an evil eye hex as if you were a 4th level witch."

Now note.. I could be wrong and Sean is free to disagree with me, and if I am wrong I apologize in advance.

That being said, I don't think it will fly well. Just like using monster powers and templates. It crosses certain streams not meant to be crossed, and I've seen entries like this go to File 13. Just be careful.

Contributor

Jim Groves wrote:
Now note.. I could be wrong and Sean is free to disagree with me, and if I am wrong I apologize in advance.

You're not wrong, and that's a significant enough problem that it gets its own auto-reject topic. :)

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
4. Your wondrous item really ought to be something other than a magic item...

I think you wanted a bit of negation in there somewhere...

Contributor

ajs wrote:
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
4. Your wondrous item really ought to be something other than a magic item...

I think you wanted a bit of negation in there somewhere...

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what you mean, but... no, my sentence is correct.

These bits of advice are things that get your item REJECTED. If your "item" is really a plot device, condition, monster template, or hazard, you should write out its game rules as a plot device, condition, monster template or hazard, rather than as a magic item. And once you've written it out in that format, you should realize that because it's a plot device, condition, monster template, or hazard, it isn't a magic item and therefore you shouldn't submit it to R1 of RPG Superstar--any more than you'd present a feat, spell, or archetype as your R1 wondrous item submission.

Thus:

4. Your wondrous item really ought to be something other than a magic item...

Means "your item isn't really an item, and therefore will be rejected."

It's worded a little archaically, but it means what I want it to. Perhaps a simpler form is:

4. Your item isn't a wondrous item, it's actually a monster, hazard, spell, template, or plot device.


I like the latter definition as opposed to the topic title. Still, I'd like to know more about hazards and templates.

Contributor

Lava is a hazard. Green slime is a hazard. A part of a dungeon that causes a magical backlash on all spellcasting is a hazard. A magic item that creates a pool of lava wherever you set it down, or a patch of green slime, or an area of magical backlash is a hazard disguised as an item.

Half-fiend is a template. Vampire is a template. Werewolf is a template. A magic item that gives you the powers of a half-fiend, vampire, or werewolf is a template disguised as a magic item.


Sean K Reynolds wrote:

Lava is a hazard. Green slime is a hazard. A part of a dungeon that causes a magical backlash on all spellcasting is a hazard. A magic item that creates a pool of lava wherever you set it down, or a patch of green slime, or an area of magical backlash is a hazard disguised as an item.

Half-fiend is a template. Vampire is a template. Werewolf is a template. A magic item that gives you the powers of a half-fiend, vampire, or werewolf is a template disguised as a magic item.

AH.... Thanks!


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Would an item that is a piece of furniture be considered a Plot Device?

Does an item HAVE to fit the archetypal "I pulls it out of my pocketses and uses it in da dungeon" usage pattern?

As a hypothetical example, would a 100 lb easy chair that compels the person sitting in it to tell the truth be considered a wondrous item, or a plot device?

How about a pillow that casts Deep Slumber whenever it's in contact with the subject's head?

Theoretically, such a pillow is an assassination device; the person sleeping on it, if not woken up by someone else (who removes the pillow) wouldn't wake up.

Plus, you get serious style points for using it in combat. ("You went into the Chasm of Terror. And hit the King of the Trolls over the head. With a pillow.")

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AdAstraGames wrote:

Would an item that is a piece of furniture be considered a Plot Device?

Does an item HAVE to fit the archetypal "I pulls it out of my pocketses and uses it in da dungeon" usage pattern?

As a hypothetical example, would a 100 lb easy chair that compels the person sitting in it to tell the truth be considered a wondrous item, or a plot device?

How about a pillow that casts Deep Slumber whenever it's in contact with the subject's head?

Theoretically, such a pillow is an assassination device; the person sleeping on it, if not woken up by someone else (who removes the pillow) wouldn't wake up.

Plus, you get serious style points for using it in combat. ("You went into the Chasm of Terror. And hit the King of the Trolls over the head. With a pillow.")

Not necessarily, but they would not be superstar items either. Mostly because a SS items are geared toward adventurers. An easy chair is not something that can be taken with a party, and getting a person to your Bat-cave to detect a lie would not be very useful. Such an easy chair would be useful in a court or a guild house, at which point it probably is a plot device.

The pillow, though portable, makes for a good night's rest (primarily) which is an aspect of adventuring that isn't very adventurous. Unless your party uses exhaustion rules, needs extensive healing or lots of random encounters most parties put resting in the narrative assumption part of the game. Secondarily, pillow as a weapon, you have a good idea, but it is SiaC or a joke item (& not-superstar :)


So, "Not usable in an action-adventure movie" should be considered a fatal flaw.

The Pillow of Deep Slumber isn't really a SIAC: It's delivered by a touch attack (drawback), is single target only (drawback) and doesn't have charges (major advantage). Most spells that require a touch attack don't require saving throws...

On the other hand, it's probably overpowered. Touch attack SoDs are very powerful in Pathfinder. See the Giggle-Smack of the Fey Bloodline Sorcerer for one example.

It probably isn't *quite* a joke item...but no, you'd look askance at any adventurer who geared up for combat by readying a pillow. :)

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AdAstraGames wrote:
So, "Not usable in an action-adventure movie" should be considered a fatal flaw.

We're writing for an action-adventure game, right?


Starglim wrote:
AdAstraGames wrote:
So, "Not usable in an action-adventure movie" should be considered a fatal flaw.
We're writing for an action-adventure game, right?

Yes and no. Some magic items are nifty because they don't allow someone to be Teh Ninaj, but because they allow someone to be effective in other contexts, or because they have a lot of appropriate theme-goodness.

Whether or not they're worthy of super-stardom is a matter of the judges.


Finding the line on this whole "monster template" is somewhat important to me in this competition.

It would help me if you compared what you've said here as if you were judging... say....

Cloak of the Manta Ray
or
Cloak of Arachnida

Do these violate this rule in your eyes?

Contributor

They're walking the line. However, I think you can see the diff between "item gives you the powers of a spider, bat, or manta" and "item gives you the powers of {insert monster template here}, yes?

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32 , Star Voter Season 7

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Every year we get a lot of submissions that are basically plot devices—things that you'd use to assassinate the king and conceal the assassin, and so on.

These types of items, in particular, have a problem because they tend to make the adventure they're in less fun. They're the GM side of the GM-Player arms race. When the PCs need to solve the King's murder, the Players need to have a mental grasp on what the assassin might have been capable of. When the GM invents a new item that specifically creates a situation the Players will be confused by, it makes the game more frustrating for everyone but the GM.

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