A Truly Magic Item
Too often it seems special items are seen as simple tools. Magic weapons give an enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls, magic wands are basically spell batteries, and so on. Technological oddities tend to be much the same, if not more so.
I’d like to see this change. Magic items, technological marvels, mechanical servants, magical constructs, mental structures, they all can be fantastic. In fact, I think they should be.
This pretty much describes how I think that magical creations should work. They should not be obligatory components purchased at MagicMart as part of the character Christmas tree, but should be special, revered, and fantastic. (And as a corollary, I don’t think that magic items should make those without them obsolete, as described here).
I could go in a lot of directions with this blog post, including talking about magic items in my Elder Scrolls conversion for Savage Worlds (shameless plug!). But instead, I’m going to show an example of a truly magic item by taking a detour from tabletop gaming to talk about one of the best adventure games of all time: King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow by Sierra Entertainment (and in case you were wondering, all the King’s Quest games had puns in their titles). There are several magic items in the game, most notably a magic map that lets Prince Alexander teleport between islands. But the one I hold as the gold standard is the “Mirror of Truth.”
There are two special uses for the Mirror of Truth depending on which ending path you choose. In one, you arrive at the wedding of your true love, Princess Cassima, only to find that not only is she going marry the evil Grand Vizier, but that she’ll happily give him your head as a wedding present! Just as the guards are about to kill you, you can pull out that Mirror of Truth:
It’s not Princess Cassima, it’s the Grand Vizier’s genie in disguise! The illusion immediately breaks and the guards are ready to arrest the Grand Vizier for treason (of course, he runs away and you’ll have to chase after him to save the real Cassima).
Now maybe you’re thinking that the outcome was fairly predictable. It was a mirror that showed who a person truly was, even if they had a powerful magic illusion to disguise themselves. But the thing is, the mirror is not limited to just breaking illusions (or in D&D terms, being a Wondrous Item that grants True Sight on self). And that’s where the beauty of it lies.
In another possible ending path, Prince Alexander goes into the underworld to rescue Princess Cassima’s parents, who were murdered by the Grand Vizier. In order to win back their souls, Death gives Prince Alexander a challenge: Although he has heard every sad tale uttered by human lips and seen every atrocity the world has ever known, he has never once shed a tear. Alexander will win back their souls only if he can make Death cry.
Although the nearby spirits lament that it would be easier to turn fire into ice, you can have Prince Alexander choose the right weapon. Pulling out the Mirror of Truth, he exclaims “If your existence has been all you say it has, then Truth alone shall be my sword!”
That is what makes this a truly magic item. Not fancy stats or cool special abilities for your character, but a sense of mystery and the ability to aid the heroes in truly epic tales.
I can imagine many other possible uses for a Mirror of Truth. Perhaps it shows abstract representations of oneself, or who one will become. Perhaps it shows the chains of damnation (like Jacob Marley had) that they unknowingly carry. Maybe it shows the truth about how one is destined to be king. Or perhaps it shows the inevitable death of the hero who wants to be immortal. The key is that it’s not completely understood. You can’t read the item’s statblock and know everything that it is capable of doing. It’s not that it’s undefined, it’s that it can’t be completely known. That’s what makes a magical item a truly fantastic creation.