Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Limiting magic items that are too awesome

It looks fun now
but wait until
book 11.
This is for those of you who want to give people cool items but who don't want any 'Sommerswerd problems'.

This is what I mean.  A recap...

In Lone Wolf 2, you get the uber Kai weapon the Sommerswerd.  This weapon gives you +8 to combat skill, absorbs all hostile magic used against you and deals double damage against undead creatures.  It means that you go from a the scared prey of the helghasts who spent all their time up until now skulking in the countryside, running from overwhelming opposition and having people sacrifice themselves for you to a super warrior who kicks major butt in the final battle and then obliterates a darklord, one of the most powerful creatures on Magnamund.

However, since you don't have to do book 2 to do the other books, in every book after that, you may or may not have the Sommerswerd and its huge bonus.  This led to balance problems.

'Joe Dever has said that the sword's bonus made it difficult to create balanced statstics for enemies that would challenge someone with the blade but would not make the book too difficult for someone without it.
Some attempt was made at balance. Beginning in the Magnakai series, some battles turn out to be more difficult if the Sommerswerd is used, which is reasoned either by its divine presence alerting Lone Wolf's foes, or having them use high-powered weapons which cancel out the advantages the sword offers.'
Everyone likes cool stuff, but it is important that it does not completely unbalance the game either by making it too easy or by making it impossible for the player who isn't lucky enough to get the item (and if you can't do that, just do the decent thing and kill them off early as to not waste their time).
The magic items in Advanced Fighting Fantasy are pretty good at not being too powerful, so you could have a look at that.  Other ways of making cool magic items that aren't too powerful:
A ring of fire would
go down well here too.
Give them one specific use in the gamebook (one of Ian Livingstone's favourites) - such as the Ring of Fire in City of Thieves, the cyclop's eye in Warlock of Firetop Mountain or any item that Yaztromo sells in Forest of Doom.
Make them versatile but not very powerful - the pocket myriad in Citadel of Chaos is a good version of this.  You can use it in several situations but it is rarely the best option.  You can do this one of two ways - either it has a lesser effect than a better item or it has the same effect but only on a certain die roll.
Limit their uses - give an item charges or make it one use.  The ring of communication in Keep of the Lich Lord has only 3 uses.
Put a cost on the use of the item - similar to limiting their uses.  You can use the item as many times as you like but it will drain one of your stats such as crushing the herbs and using the sleep and invisibility spells in Daggers of Darkness.
The item only works on a certain die roll - either the roll is completely random or you need to succeed in an ability check to use it.  There's a scene in Fabled Lands where you try to resurrect someone but the spell requires two ability checks.
The item comes with a penalty - the ring of confusion in Island of the Lizard king comes with a -2 skill penalty which balances out its ability to let you see through illusions.
The item could have beneficial or baneful effects - either you roll a die each time or the situation does not match the item, sometimes it works like a charm and sometimes it spells destruction.  The deck of many things is a classic example.
The item can only be used by certain people - There's some restriction based on race, alignment, ability score or pretty much anything that means that it can only be used by certain people.  The Singing Death in Sword of the Samurai gets more awesome if your honour is high.


  1. Hi Stuart! Just like to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work.

    1. Many thanks for the praise, Mike! Glad you enjoy the blog!

  2. It was an error of Joe Dever's to treat the Sommerswerd like a standard special item in the first place. It makes no logical sense (in- story) for Lone Wolf to exist past book 2 without the Sommerswerd. Either he found it, or died in the attempt. All players should start with it as a standard piece of equipment, whether or not they actually completed book 2.

    1. You make a good point. It would have also saved Joe Dever a big headach of trying to work out what to do in all situations without the Sommersword.