by Drew Bittner
I love fantasy.
Mostly that's because I love the great toys that fantasy writers get to play with – invincible swords and magic rings, invisibility cloaks and crystal balls, musical instruments and tomes of eldritch lore. Magic items are fundamental to epic literature. A book of these items seems like a must-have for anyone who loves this genre of fiction – and I'm no exception. With this in mind, writing GURPS Magic Items 2 was a remarkable experience.
The first step in writing a book is fleshing out the proposal. A good proposal is like a blueprint; you know how much space you've allowed each section and you work on filling up each one. Some things were mandatory: swords and weapons, armor, wizards' and thieves' implements. The rest was pretty much up to me, though my editors suggested several new "shops." Holy Magic, Politics, Pets and Animals, Books – all of these survived the first cut, which removed Underwater and High-Tech Magic entirely for lack of space. Subterranean, Space, Nonhuman and Polar Magic were other shops I toyed with doing, but they didn't even get into my original proposal.
With my own items, I followed a consistent pattern: I invented the name first. Sometimes it was based on a pun, such as the "Elephant Trunk" or the "Air-Loom." Those outraged by my flippancy can blame Piers Anthony – Xanth got me started. Lists of names, sometimes with thumbnail descriptions, were jotted down on any piece of paper within reach. Grocery bags, bank deposit notes and scraps of notebook-paper littered my desk by the time I was ready to rough out the first draft. Any time I was waiting in line at a store or at a traffic light, out came the pencil and more names got added to the growing stack.
Some names and descriptions were borrowed from fantasy fiction. This is inevitable; virtually any magical item imaginable has been invented, used and enshrined in a book somewhere. I did my best to avoid ripping off any writer's particular work. On that level, I think I succeeded; at least, I doubt anyone could name the objects I "borrowed" from my extensive reading list. Most of them underwent fundamental changes in appearance, ability and background.
Next I made up a computer template:
CATEGORY (swords, armor, necromantic, etc.)
DRAWBACKS (if any)
Every object created went through this stage first. For most I left the Component Spells and Asking Price until later, as these required research and number-crunching, neither of which is my forte.
Once the basic item-outline was done, I rechecked Magic Items to make sure I hadn't duplicated Chris McCubbin's work. After a month or so, I probably could have recited most of the items in Chris's book from memory.
For each surviving item, I worked out how it could function in game terms (this took a lot longer than I expected), and noted possible component spells and what I thought it should cost. When I got my first draft back for revision, a lot of changes were made, many of them suggested by my editor; some items, however, I'd rethought in the meantime. The second drafts were generally far superior to the originals.
Overall, I was very impressed with the ingenuity and creativity displayed by the respondents, and I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to send them in. If some of the items in the book look familiar, that's probably because a number of submissions used similar themes – I reviewed dozens of sword descriptions alone. When two ideas were extremely close and I wanted to use one or the other, I chose the best-written presentation; if the submissions were equally well drafted, I broke the tie by looking at the postmark's date. The submission was edited and included (sometimes with changes) in the book's first draft.
If there's a Magic Items 3, we'll need even more submissions.* Please don't be shy about sending in your work! Reading over gamer-supplied items was a pleasure. Your best bet, if you want your idea to get the consideration it deserves, is to do the following:
DO type up your submission. Typed submissions are easier to read than even the neatest handwriting, and they look far more professional.
DO develop specific ideas for an item. Several submissions suggested generic "invisible swords," "rings of total mind control" or equally ill-defined ideas. There might be the germ of a good item, here, but we need more than germs for the book. On the other hand, a good suggestion might be: "Nightsword – By day, this appears to be an average thrusting broadsword; by night, the blade becomes shadowy and translucent, deceiving opponents and costing them -2 on all Active Defense attempts." That reads a lot better than "Invisible Sword."
DON'T embed an item-suggestion in the text of a letter. Item submissions should appear on separate pieces of paper, for the sake of convenience and readability. Sending a short cover letter, one or two paragraphs, is an excellent idea; just don't put your item submission on the same page. But . . .
DON'T just copy an interesting magic item from some other game book.
DO include your name and address on every page you send us. Some submissions could only be identified by matching paper and typeface with a cover letter, and the two were not always right next to each other in the stack. If you want proper credit for your work, please include this information on every page.
These suggestions do not guarantee that we'll use your ideas, but they'll improve your odds!
When I think over writing the book, the hardest and easiest part was introducing each shop. Designing the NPC proprietor/vendor characters for each shop was a breeze. Each required a little story and plenty of characterization, all brief enough to stay readable. The introductions were a bear, though. As most of the chapters expanded on previous shops, it became difficult to rephrase the superlative chapter introductions in Magic Items while adding anything meaningful.
Cursed items were the most fun to create. I like challenging players with devious magic, especially when they're starting to feel overconfident. Cursed items make even the boldest adventurers move a little more cautiously.
In particular, I'm rather proud of the swords Acclaim and Infamy. As far as I know, that idea was original – at least, I can't recall ever hearing of items that conferred a wholly fictitious reputation on the owner. Likewise Intimidator, which makes people afraid of the holder. They aren't combat powers, but they can add a lot to noncombat encounters and enrich a gaming experience.
Enriching and enhancing a fantasy campaign is what Magic Items 2 is all about. Happy gaming!
* Editor's note: Yes, there probably will be a Magic Items 3, though not until at least 1993. But if you think of an item, by all means, submit it! The ground rules: We can't acknowledge or return submissions; all submissions become property of SJ Games. If an item is used, the first person to suggest it in usable form (as explained above) will receive credit in the book and a complimentary copy.
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