Magic items can completely change how your RPG campaign works! They’re a great way to reward your players, as they can boost PCs and even give magical abilities to anyone. AND they’re fantastic to give exposition of your setting, for sharing and expanding on the world lore. But, creating interesting DnD magic items can be tricky. So let’s look at five easy tips that will improve your games!
Five tips to make the best DnD magic items
1. Theme your DnD items to where they come from
Why do we play RPGs like DnD? Because we enjoy epic stories, right? Well, give a story to the magic item too! For example, if your players are looting a very cold place, make sure to include a magic item that’s related to ice (either to make it or melt it!). But you don’t have to stop there if you want to go deeper! You can also tie a magic item to specific people, organizations, or events. A straightforward way to do this is simply adding some kind of engraving on the item that gives some hint to the players. Or you could make its shape distinct enough that the players will be able to recognize it if they see it depicted in some ancient tome or painting.
“Why should I do all of this if I just want my players to shoot fireballs?” Well, looting is part of the adventure, so if you make the process of finding something interesting, the whole adventure will be better! But here’s another tip to make the item mechanically more interesting…
2. Match your magic items to your party classes!
As a player, there’s nothing more frustrating than finding hard-earned loot only to discover it’s useless to them. Treat your player’s character sheets and backstories as a wishlist and make sure all items fit what they want (and can use) with their characters. For example, a spellbook will be useless to the party if there’s no wizard. And if all of your players are birdfolk, boots of flying are probably as useless as boots of walking!
However, a mechanically useless item might still be an interesting one to find if it has a good story! It makes sense for a wizard tower to have spellbooks, even if they are useful to the party. Of course, you can also include items with the only purpose to advance the story or hint at future plot points —this is useful information! And, of course, magic items tend to be expensive, so your players can always sell the ones they can’t use. Although, if you’re giving them items they can sell, make sure to give them the opportunity to do so as soon as possible… otherwise, they might forget and end up carrying dead weight for the rest of the campaign! And speaking of using items…
3. Remember that utilities are often even better than weapons/armor
When we think of magic items, we imagine swords, shields, wands… you know, the obvious stuff. But weird utilities are often even better! A magic sword can only be used for combat, which can be pretty limiting, depending on the style of campaign you’re playing. But even simple utility items can have multiple applications! A bag of glowing powder could be used as a light source, to blind enemies, and even for fancy house decoration. Items that cast the grease spell can be incredibly useful in combat, but in many other situations too —it’s all up to your party’s creativity! So, feel free to give swords and shields to your players, especially the ones that enjoy combat the most, but don’t forget to give them more flexible items too.
4. Don’t be afraid of making your DnD magic items fragile!
Powerful magical items don’t have to be invulnerable! You could give them a flaw (that your players may or may not know) that could break them under certain special circumstances. Now, you have to be careful with that and make sure your players don’t feel like you’re “taking their toys away” just because. Make sure to foreshadow that the item can be fixed… after a quest, probably! Sure, the local artificer might be able to repair it for a price, but where’s the fun in that? And powerful items are probably beyond the skills of a local artificer anyway. It’s probably a good idea to do this only with significant or beloved items. Not (only) because breaking your players’ hearts is fun, but because if a minor item breaks, your players might just ditch it without a second thought. Looking for a way to make an item more significant for a player? Well, the next tip is perfect for you!
5. Tie your items and loot into your players’ visions of themselves – or challenge them!
We talked about making items that are useful to your players already —but looks are important too! A cleric will probably refuse to wield a sword engraved with their rival god’s symbol, for example, even if that sword is a perfect match for the character’s abilities. If your players see themselves as knights in shining armor, then make sure they have the armor to match that vision. And as they advance and become stronger, make your players look increasingly badass and they will also feel more badass. This is a trick from MMORPGs, but if it works for them, why shouldn’t it work for us?
You can subvert this too, and use magical items that challenge your players’ view of themselves. What if you create magic items with interesting conditions? For example, Michael Morcock’s Elric of Melnibone had incredibly powerful swords which required blood sacrifice in order to use. Put that in the hands of a paladin and tell them it’s the only way to save the world, then watch them freak out! It’s a great way to challenge your players, and encourage the PCs to reaffirm, or waver from, their beliefs.
Homebrewing tips: How to make magic items 5e compatible?
Ok, so now we know how to make a magic item that is interesting and fun to use. But we haven’t talked about balance yet —and balance is a very important part of having fun! So, let’s take a look at two ways of making your DnD magic items balanced for 5e!
The easy way: modify preexisting DnD magic items
This is the most straightforward way to homebrew your own 5e magic items and make sure that they’re still basically balanced in the game. Just take an item that already exists and… reimagine it! For example, an Amulet of Health might become a ring, a circlet, or a cloak. A Rapier of Puncturing might become knuckle dusters, a scimitar, or even a bow —depending on the player you’re trying to reward— all while keeping basically the same properties.
Similarly, you can tweak a power to help out a member of the party. For example, you might turn a “ring of jumping” into a “ring of levitation”, if all the other characters can fly and they’re being left on the ground.
Full homebrew of 5e magic items
Want to go further than just tweaking pre-existing items? Always make sure you keep things balanced. In 5e, this is measured by Rarity level —common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and legendary. That helps you correlate which spell or bonus, essentially, the item is capable of performing.
The list below helps you match a one-per-day spell level to a magic item.
- Common magical items should have max spell level 1
- Uncommon items should have max spell level 3
- Rare items should have max spell level 6
- Very rare items should have max spell level 8
- Legendary items should have max spell level 9
For additional variations, remember that items can be consumable (like potions) or persistent (like rings and crowns). You might also choose to create a Very rare item that allows you to cast a lower level spell multiple times a day.
If you’re creating an item with a persistent bonus to attack, armor class, or saving throws, then instead, the rarity defines the suggested level of that bonus.
- Uncommon items should have a maximum bonus of +1
- Rare items should have a maximum bonus of +2
- Very rare items should have a maximum bonus of +3
- Legendary items should have a maximum bonus of +4
For example, a legendary shield might give an additional +4 to your AC (in addition to the base AC of the item), whilst an uncommon longsword might give an additional +1 to attack.
If you want to get even fancier, you can start digging into special materials like adamantium, or even your own homebrewed magical metals, to create even more unique and special items! Just remember to make sure that all the PCs are having fun and feeling spot-lighted!
Looking for a list of cool DnD magic items?
If you need fun DnD items fast, or you’re looking for a DnD magic items list for inspiration, then definitely check out the Vault of Magic from Kobold Press! It’s an incredible 5e supplement filled with hundreds of new magic items to shake up your table! And it has all sorts of DnD magic items, from weapons and armor to utilities like cloaks and rings. But my favorite has to be the Fabled Magic Items section —a list of unique items that scale in power with the characters! These are amazing tools to introduce elements of the story or the setting. So, what are you waiting for, go get the Vault of Magic supplement!
How do you create DnD magic items? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!