Sunday, August 21, 2011

RPG Items with real-life components

I once sat in on a session of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign where the Dungeon Master had created an innovative way to get his players into the game. When he gave some of his player characters magical items, he gave the players a real-life item that corresponded with the in-game item. The one that I thought was especially clever was a chess set that, in game, one of the characters was playing against a ghost. The character would move a piece, and then the ghost would move a piece. In real life, the DM used a small magnetic chess set to represent the magical chessboard. The DM would make the ghost's moves, and the player would make his character's moves.

Another item in this campaign was a magical deck of cards, and each card did something different. This is similar to the famous D&D item, the Deck of Many Things. In this particular version, the deck was for a D&D card game, but other DMs may want to experiment with tarot decks, 52-card playing card decks, and any other decks they may have.

This inspired me to try my hand at creating some D&D items that could have real-life components. This seems like a great way to get the player into character, while also offering a unique memento of the RPG campaign. The idea is to come up with something that any DM can make without having to be an artist or spend a lot of money.

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Ghazg the half-orc barbarian crouched in the mouth of the cave, looking back to check on his teammates as they waited in the undergrowth on the hill. Before moving in, he took a carved wooden box from his pack and opened it, checking the paper dolls within. He took out one that was colored to look like flames, then put it back in the box. "Let's go," he said.

"What's with the paper dolls?" asked the rogue.

"Watch," said the half-orc. He put the box into his backpack, picked up his battleaxe, and charged inside.

The fight against the dragon was intense, and when it was over, the rogue walked up to the half-orc. "That dragon's breath barely did anything," he said, incredulous.

"I wouldn't say that," said the half-orc. He took the box out of his pack and opened it, and lifted out the paper doll. It was crumpled up and blackened, and it collapsed into ash and blew away.

The Paper Dolls of Protection may not sound like much, but characters will find them very handy. They are a set of paper dolls in an ornate box, with each doll decorated to represent a different sort of damage: one doll is on fire, another is frozen, a third is being electrocuted, etc. The first time a character takes damage from each damage type each day, the corresponding doll will absorb some of the damage on the character's behalf. This works as a one-time damage reduction. The dolls magically reappear each night and can be used the next day as before.

In real life, the box can be an old cigar box or other cardboard box, and the paper dolls can be decorated as simply or as colorfully as the DM is able (or has time).

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The wizard knew he was in trouble: separated from the party and hopelessly lost in the dungeon. Each stone corridor looked the same, and he could sense hidden presences moving beyond the reach of his Light spell. If he did not meet back up with his party soon, he would become a permanent fixture.

He took out a small leather bag and opened it, removing a sticky lozenge. With a small pop, a tiny blue djinn appeared, floating in the air next to the lozenge. "Oh give me!" it said, reaching out for the sweet.

"Not so fast," said the wizard, closing his hand. "First, scout these tunnels and let me know where my companions are."

The djinn looked from the wizard, to the wizard's hand, to the dark tunnels. "Deal," he said, and zoomed off. The wizard waited for a minute, then two, and the djinn reappeared. "Found them!" he said. "You go back about fifty paces and take a right, then past two doors and take the tunnel to your left, then climb up a slope..." As he spoke, the wizard opened his hand the djinn greedily snatched the candy and gobbled it down. The djinn kept talking with his mouth full, trying to explain the directions, but the wizard could tell that it would be too difficult to find his way on his own.

"I'll tell you what," he said, removing another candy from the pouch. "You get another one if you take me there."

The favorite candy is a way for a character to summon a helpful spirit, whether it's an imp, a djinn, a faerie, or something more exotic. In return for a piece of candy, the spirit will perform a task for the character. The spirit is addicted to the candy, and the character is the only one who knows the recipe. As such, the two have an uneasy truce thanks to the spirit's sweet tooth.

The in-game recipe for making the candy should be fairly exotic, with difficult-to-find and/or expensive ingredients, so the character should only have a few pieces of candy at a time. If the character ever ends up creating so much of the candy that the DM is losing control of the game, the DM should feel free to have the alluring scent of the candy attract something more dangerous than the spirit. This new spirit also has a sweet tooth, but its teeth are a lot bigger, and it doesn't feel like making a deal...

The real life component to the candy is a bag full of colored glass playing pieces for a board game.

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