RPGaDay2020 Day 22: Rare – what do you do with all those rare monster parts?

RPGaDay2020 graphic
The original RPGaDay2020 prompts graphic by @WillBrooks1989

Yesterday in RPGaDay2020 I looked at the Akorros sport of Push.

Today the theme is Rare. And what could be rarer than dragonhide, or the breath of a manticore, or eye of newt?

Well, not all as rare as each other, but they have something in common – they can be harvested from monsters while out and about, probably at great risk to life and limb. Surely they must be worth something?

Conversely, what do you make a magic item from? Surely it requires some magical and/or mythical ingredients – the rarer the magic item, the rarer the ingredient or ingredients needed.

This is a question Scott Rehm @TheAngryGM has been asking on his blog on and off over the past couple of years. And he’s just put out another post on it which looks like it’s getting pretty close to a usable system. Go read the blog thread – there’s only 12 posts or about 60,000 words on it so far…

Oh, you want a quick summary?

Well, the basic premise is that magical crafting and creating of magical items and treasures is a major trope of fantasy, from “eye of newt and tail of frog” to Aragorn getting Andúril reforged from the shards or Narsil. But the DMG has very minimal information – really just costs and time – and although Xanathar has a bit more information and more suggestion of special ingredients, it is still extremely vague and hand-waving:

If appropriate, pick a monster or a location that is a thematic fit for the item to be crafted. For example, creating mariner’s armor might require the essence of a water weird. Crafting a staff of charming might require the cooperation of a specific arcanaloth, who will help only if the characters complete a task for it. Making a staff of power might hinge on acquiring a piece of an ancient stone that was once touched by the god of magic — a stone now guarded by a suspicious androsphinx.

Xanathar’s Guide to Anything

That’s okay as far as it goes, but it doesn’t answer the “I’ve got this dragon skin – what is it worth, what could it be used for?” type of question, and it puts all the strain of coming up with suitable quests and keeping them balanced between items on the GM.

Larry Elmore's Basic Set red dragon
Larry Elmore’s Basic Set red dragon (c) WOTC

If only there was some system which could give guidelines on what to do with items harvested from monsters and on quests. Which could give the GM ideas of things to leave around which have value other than coins, gems, jewellery and artwork. Which would help work out appropriate recipes for crafting particular items.

That’s the challenge The Angry GM has taken up. And in his latest couple of posts he is getting very close to a full-blown balanced system.

  • He has gone through all the magical items, working out what each type of item should cost (in number of ingredients).
  • With the help of his cat (check the post for the pictures if nothing else) he has come up with a list of 20 qualities which capture the different ingredient traits needed by magic items.
  • And he has just gone through all the items in the PHB and come up with a list of all the materials you need for each.

From this, you can (in theory at least) determine that an item needs a certain set of materials to create the basic version you might find in a shop or commission from a craftsman, and then decide the extra traits which need to be introduced to make it more special – either magical or just more valuable.

As he says in that last blog post, it feels like this is almost a complete crafting system – close enough that I can start playing with it and planning how to bring it into my campaign. I’m looking forward to the next (last?) few posts in the series, but until then it’s already starting to look really exciting and useful and inspiring. Check it out.

Come back tomorrow for Day 23, and we’ll go right to the Edge.

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