I was going to write another blog post about ‘You’ve never had it so good’, but someone put something in the Discord chat that made me start thinking about something else. How we play role-playing games (RPGs) today is very different to how we played them in the past. When I was first starting out with either Basic Dungeons and Dragons or 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, we very rarely role played often just controlling a whole party of characters round the latest dungeon. But there was something which we were really obsessed with…what was it? Well magical items of course!
Magical Items from 1st Edition AD&D
More important than levels?
I’ll probably write more about levels and advancement, believe me, you have it good now! Although experience points were important, we rarely used the same characters more than once and often just made up new characters for each game. The emphasis in those days was introducing new character and class combinations, especially if they mirrored those from the recent films or books which we were reading. I always thought that character levels were actually not important and I frequently would populate low level dungeons with kobolds, goblins or shambling skeletons. When the rules became available for younger dragon types, there would always be one lurking on a pile of treasure at the end of the adventure. And that was what we wanted to make our characters … will glow with magnificence.
My favourite items
I’m actually going to indulge myself here. I wanted to let you know what my favourite items were to put into the dragon’s treasure for the players to grab at and even sometimes fight over.
Girdle of Giant Strength: If you were a fighter then then you would be willing to wear a girdle in order to get the strength bonus this item gave you. Yes , I know it was really a belt, but I did think initially it was girdle! The were one girdle per giant with the progression, I think, going from Hill Giant to Storm. Coupled with Gauntlets of Ogre Power, these items made any fighter lacking 18 strength full buffed and even able to hurl rocks at the enemy. Let the rogue lock pick the locked door? No way, I’ll just rip it off its hinges!
Figurines of Wondrous Power: My memory of these is probably lacking. I do remember there was an owl and some goats, but my favourite was the Onyx Dogs. I’m sure these turned into some sort of War Dogs and you might have even been able to ride them? Small and fixing to a belt easily, it was like having your own pack of dogs at your disposal. If things got rough, or someone started to run, then it was time to ‘Release the hounds!’
Bag of Holding and Portal Holes: I’m not sure we ever played encumbrance in those days, we probably carried so many items that we would probably not even be able to walk! From 12 spikes for keeping doors open to the 10ft pole everyone had, there was always a problem where to put everything. Bags of holding and portable holes certainly eliminated these problems. Either it could carry everything or there was a lovely little dimensional space which you could virtually live if you wanted.
+1 Flame Tongue Swords: Wow, this was certainly a great find to come across within the dungeon. Initially the +1 nature of the sword didn’t appear to be that satisfying but when you realised that it had other modifiers for different types of monsters, then things got exciting. I think it was actually +4 against something, maybe undead, but not completely sure. Coupled with this was the fact that it burst into flames once you spoke the magical phrase. I am smiling now as I remember that the magic phrase for almost all these weapons was ‘Flame on‘ in various languages – the Human Torch would be proud of his legacy!
And finally – The Staff of the Archmagi! I might have got the title of this incorrect since when I did an internet search many other staffs appear with similar names. I remember that the staff could absorb incoming spells and this could be used to ‘recharge’ the staff. It also allowed the user to have additional spells to cast, as well as being a +1 staff for combat. The staff had limited chargers, about 25 I think, and if you went past this amount while absorbing incoming spells then they whole staff would explode! Similar to that doomed moment in the Belgarion series of books when someone utters the forbidden words of ‘BE NOT!’ I dreamed of taking down the huge final boss by standing up, the lowly magic-user who had been virtually useless since they had cast their final spell some time ago, absorbing an incoming spell and exploding the staff taking them, the boss and probably the rest of the party to the after life. Those were definitely the days!
I will always remember fondly those initial adventures within the dungeons of first edition AD&D. Once that final battle had been completed and the gold distributed and the players eager looking eyes gazing at me as I, as the DM, read out the fable list of items which laid on the floor before them. What would they get? Well I didn’t want to disappoint them – they had done really well…