Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Truly Random Charges for Magic Items

Just a thought. Rather than generating the number of charges remaining when a wand (/rod/stave/misc. charged item) is discovered in play instead:

Pick (or roll) a number between 1 and 20.
Each time the wand is used, roll a d20.
If the number matches the pre-selected one, the wand is out of charges.

  • If the wand was a looted object and/or previously used against the party by someone else, pick 2 numbers.  {reflecting depletion through use, duh.}
  • If the wand was crafted by the wizard him/herself: pick 1 number, roll d30 when used.  {This incentivises crafting by PC wizards, and reflects a maker's mastery of his own creation. "I know every nut and bolt and cog; I built it with my own hands!"}

Why bother with this rules wrinkle rather than "xd10 charges"?

Because - contrary to what contemporary D&D orthodoxy would have you think* - magic is chaotic, unpredictable and will probably let you down at exactly the worst possible moment. This variant models the uncertainty of a world without fuel gauges on magic items.

In addition, it's engaging in play: every time a wand is used there's a chance (rolled by the user, no less!) that it blows a fuse and reverts from throbbing arcane phallic extension to useless decorative back-scratcher.

* Post-scarcity D&D? *pshaw* There's no way a plan that goes "bind the power of Kaos to bootstrap an industrial revolution" ever ends well.

Hat-tip: Zak S for Lucky Number Kung-Fu.

Bonus Factoid: According to the magic items chapter of the One True DMG (AD&D1E) there's a 1% that any wand discovered is rigged to 'backfire' when used. Whether this is due to malignancy on the part of the creators, or the innate perversity of magic, or just down to thaumic decay over time, is undisclosed. And quite what 'backfire' entails is left for the GM to determine. (cue evil laughter)


Unrelated: Oh look. A DNDClassics pdf purchase site. Looks like WOTC decided to do the blindingly obvious after four years of fighting the tide. What was that line about even a stopped clock being right twice a day?


  1. That is a nice idea. I never liked keeping track of charges of magic items.

    And that motto about the rules serving the game, not vice versa, is to the point, I think.

  2. I like that - it reminds me of Brendan's 'abstracting missiles':


    Incidentally, have you seen Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG? I've got a feeling that you would like its take on magic, on on treasure.

  3. @Lars: Ta. I'd glad its not me howling lone heresy here. :)

    @DrBargle: Oooh, that's clever. Reminds me of Necromunda's ammo checks (which are an old fave of mine).

    Haven't sprung for DCC yet. I think part of it is fear of the sheer volume of 'wish I'd thought of that' Goodman's opus is likely to induce.

  4. "I think part of it is fear of the sheer volume of 'wish I'd thought of that' Goodman's opus is likely to induce."

    That is the entire bloody OSR, for me. Back in the day, I'd think of some half-arsed idea and be quite proud with myself. Now, I know that someone else has thought of it first, has done it better, and probably went and got a bunch of pretty pictures to make it look nice too! Every other blog post or .pdf I read is 'heartbreaker trumping'!

  5. Great idea,

    I am all for chaotic magic, wizard should roll for each spell they cast (yet in DCC is a little too much ;))


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