2024/01/25

OSR: The Treasure Overhaul (?)

Some people have asked for a "Monster Overhaul but for treasure and spells." Here's a very early six-page draft attempt at compressing a lot of classic D&D items into an immediately usable format.

1. Magic Weapons
2. Magic Armour
3. Potions
4. Tools
5. Transport
6. Helms

PDF

Design Challenges

Organization

The plan for the Monster Overhaul eventually crystallized into 20 themed chapters of 10 monsters, an introduction, and indexes.

With magic items, the themes are more clear, but also less interesting. The draft PDF has six sections. The plan is to add themed section, such as:

  • Holy Items (holy avenger, holy symbols, icons...)
  • Wizardly Items (hats, orbs, staffs...)
  • Roguish Tricks (skeleton key, disguise kits...)
  • Elf, Dwarf, Gnome, Fey, Elemental, Dragonic, etc. Items (Boots/cloaks of elvenkind...)
  • Magitech / Sci-Fi (blasters, laser swords...)
  • Horror
  • Aquatic (harpoons...)
  • Mundane treasure (artwork, furniture, gems...)
  • Intelligent Items (talking swords, magic mirrors...)
  • Artifacts

I would also like to expand the current sections with "weird" followup tables. The current pages cover basic, standard, in-common-use items, but the real fun (for me) is weird items with highly situational uses. The compressed Magic Weapon page in the draft PDF could be followed by 1d100 (or more) specific magic weapons. They'll probably be less useful than +2 lightning greatsword, but that's part of the fun. 

This is why some sections repeat the Element d8 table; in the final project, they'll be separated by multiple pages from the next Element d8 table.

Duplicated Effort

The Monster Overhaul has a lot of items in it, and they're placed in a useful context. So does Magical Industrial Revolution, articles on this blog, and the rest of the internet. A book of magic items needs to rely on utility, density, and editorial choice to stand out.

Layers of Flavour

The monster entries in The Monster Overhaul follow a consistent pattern. Think of them as the sponge of the sponge cake. The generic locations are the icing or custard. The really weird tools, like Generic Life Cycle chart, are little bits of flavourful fruit. This isn't the best metaphor, but it will do.

With a book of items, there's a very real risk that the entire book is sponge, an endless series of unremarkable tables. Items do not have agency. They don't want anything.

(Well, intelligent swords might want things, but that's an edge case.)

Signposts

The chapter title pages of the Monster Overhaul serve as landmarks. They break up the text into manageable and navigable chunks. With a book of treasure, the chapters feel either too long (all magic items, all spells) or too short (magic weapons, potions, etc.). This might be alleviated as the project continues.

Readers should be directed to important information on a page. The trouble with tables is that they can blend together. A crucial table that should be used frequently looks, at a glance, like a table that's just for specific situations or optional flavour. In a book of tables, how do you maintain at-table utility while still providing high density?

Power Level

With I like to divide non-weapon and non-armour items into two categories:

1. An item a PC will use all the time, in all situations.

E.g. a Belt of Giant Strength. If a PC gets a Belt of Giant Strength, and it improves their Strength, there's no reason to ever take it off. It's pure enhancement.

2. An item a PC will use situationally. Ideally, in situations not envisioned by the designer.

E.g. a Portable Hole. It might allow for some cool and unexpected solutions to a problem, but it can't assist with every problem.

This is why classic items like a Belt of Giant Strength and Gauntlets of Ogre Power don't appear on these treasure tables. They will appear somewhere, but I'd like to place them with items that enhance a PC in equally permanent most-situations zero-downside ways. Some items from the Tools section might make their way to this proposed section eventually.

Description and Variants

Magic items should feel special. They should have an aura of mystery and wonder about them. This can be difficult to evoke in a game about small integer math and dying in a hole for treasure.

I also want to balance utility with density. Yes, I could make a full-page magic armour description with dozens of adjective prompts and historical references, but is that actually helpful?

Useful Articles

 

16 comments:

  1. You might include simple crafting rules for these item categories to pad (with value!) short chapters

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    1. Ooh, that's a good idea! I want to include potion-making rules for sure, but magic item crafting might be useful too. They can be tricky to balance.

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  2. For my Lore24 challenge I am creating magic items. I think what makes an item interesting is its lore/purpose and a thematic ability. Dark Souls is famous for its evocative item descriptions, for example. Also, cursed items have historically been all downside, but I think there's an interesting design space in using them as a risk/reward mechanic.

    Which is all to say, items are most interesting when they tell a story, evoke the setting, or create an interesting decision. There are countless magic item tables out there already, but fewer carefully crafted items.

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    1. That's a very good approach. I feel like Dark Souls style evocative items also need a strong setting to go with them. In that case, you're not really writing items, you're writing a setting and implying it via items. It's very tricky to do generic items that can be dropped into a lot of settings without tending towards blandness.

      I definitely want to put some ambiguously cursed item in the book.

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  3. I'm one of the ones who has been getting for a Treasure Overhaul. Monster Overhaul is one of my favorite books (along with WWN), and I feel like the more you look at it, the more rewarding it gets, since the each entry can serve as a reskinnable or expandable chassis, even before taking the fruit toppings into account.

    What makes it so usable for me is that it's highly curated and usefully opinionated. Besides my issues with 5e monster design, I eventually stopped using the KP books (Tome of Beasts, Creature Codex, etc) because they were overwhelming. Even with official and fan-made cross-book indices, it was exhausting trying to find the best options. I do not have that problem with Monster Overhaul, and sometimes I find an unrelated entry that serendipitously will work even better with a bit of reskinning.

    With treasure books, navigation of the tables is an issue, but so is the sheer volume. You can't just flip to a page of weapons in Griffon's Saddlebag or something and quickly hone in on what you want - you are going to be reading huge amounts, trying to process a lot of highly qualitative features (or, contrarily, a table of straight mechanical bonuses), and the odds that you retain much of that for next time are slim to none.

    So that is my hope here - for a helpfully curated and opinionated volume, designed for searchability and extensibility. To the comment above, I also prefer items that level and evolve with their characters, perhaps by adding gems or runes or whatever, rather than being part of a rotating pool. Heroes don't trade in their swords, their swords grow to reflect their power.

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  4. Monster Overhaul sparks so much as you read. you read what the elemental wants a whole image takes shape, an entire backstory. Would sets of gear do the same thing here? So lists of items carried by someone, would that evoke similar images. One item is cool, but dead bodies and sketchy merchants carry more than one thing and I don't always have time to cook up a list if they have just met someone on the fly.

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    1. Sets is a great idea! 1d100 Dead Adventurers, with their gear (with page # references or unique items). Or a series of sets (Battlefield, Dungeon Sump, Mooncrash, etc.)
      I definitely want to include Dungeon Merchants. They can be a little silly, but they're such a fun idea.

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    2. I love it, mooncrash sets and dungeon merchants. Sign me up! I wonder if there's a place for "disposition" as well. So magic swords could have a table of moods but if I want to know what my dungeon merchant is feeling like I could roll on the intelligent sword mood table. In other words, intelligent sword tables become proxies for people or even steeds?!

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  5. I think magical item contexts is a good category to see more generative material on the archeology of the magic item in a setting, like who made this, what did type of magic items did they make, what motifs are common, etc.

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    1. This Hammer is of the highest craftdwarfship. It menaces with spikes of bronze, etc etc.

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  6. I love bestiaries and I loved the Monster Overhaul.

    I'm less passionate about objects and so mine (and probably many more) people interest will be lower as well.

    Yet I agree that unve tjng good items is hard. Few years ago after one of your posts I tried to come up with 10 pirate artifacts and they were all lame. When I try to find a good reward for my player I always fail, the line between useless and overpowered is too narrò. And giving them +x item seems boring. So such a book WILL be usefull.

    I dislike items with è native effects. If I'm a master it is one are thing to keep track of and and as a player it sours my joy of getting a new shiny toy.

    I love items that are so powerful that they warp the world around them amd slot create a dungeon as protection around itself.

    I have a giant list of items and substances I have compiled over a decade of browsing the Web. If you want can send it to you.

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    1. I think that it'd be tricky to make a hypothetical "Treasure Overhaul" book with the same scope/size as the Monster Overhaul. It'll be a smaller project for sure.

      Sure, if you have a giant list, feel free to send it to coinsandscrolls [at] gmail [dot] com. Alternatively, since it seems like a useful thing for lots of people, why not make it a blog post?

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    2. Sent. I wanted to start a blog for some time now but never thought it would be good enough

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  7. The Monster Overhaul was my favourite acquisition of 2023. It is fantastic! This Treasure Overhaul sounds like a great project too. Generating interesting items out of the air would be wonderful! If we could decorate them or have hints of their history too... wow! d4 Caltrops has useful tables.

    Belt of Giant Strength always on is a bit boring; there should be conditions bound to it. The more powerful the item, the more annoying to use it should be.

    Mounts could be treasure? Pets? Vehicles? Constructions? Drugs? Strange herbs?

    Is there a way of making treasure types (A, B, XX, etc.) better?

    "I search the body" by theme?

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    1. A smart and quick way of making treasure maps cool?

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    2. Generic treasure maps would be amazing, i might end up actually giving them out if i had some ready to go hahaha

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