Cyphers, Trinkets, and Potions—Oh My!November 17, 2018 Off By TK
Welcome back, adventurer! Last week we discussed entrements/subtleties, context in cultural foods, and infusing spirituality into festivals. This week is all about our favorite underappreciated gifts for your players, such as single-use cyphers, trinkets, and potions.
So put away the wands and set down the spellbooks. Let’s get to it!
Why Does The Mage Get all the Fun?
Sometimes the Game Master wants to spice up the items their party finds when they’re looting a damp goblin hold or a soot-coated dragon’s lair. Yes, your wizards could use another Wand of Winter or Tentacle Rod, but have you considered gifting a fun single-use magical item to your more martial folks to let them in on the fun of incinerating their enemies from a distance?
Enter the cypher, a single-use item that has been infused with considerable power. While not every fantasy game includes these items in their Rules As Written, it is logical to assume that a world where swords have both keen edges and lighting bolts shooting from the polished blades, would also have room for a polished stone that, once thrown, explodes into poisonous gas or triggers an earthquake. Hand your barbarian a ghostly rose that grants her freezing breath once ingested or your thief a mysterious scrap of onyx that allows him to tumble through walls for ten minutes. Items like these can lead to interesting predicaments that your players may need to roleplay their way out of. See what manner of trouble your party gets into when given the chance.
A Family Heirloom
Trinkets are, in the most general of terms, intended as devices to expand the plot or add another facet to a character. Perhaps it is a locket with a broken hinge or a blonde curl pressed inside of a book of prayers. The most important thing is that it is an otherwise unassuming item with a secret story.
If you’re having some trouble figuring out a relevant way to explore your players’ past, consider adding an unknown magical property to the signet ring they wear on a necklace or the bracelet their father gave them. Is the tattered book of rhymes their mother bequeathed to them actually a warlock’s stolen pact book? Does the single white leather glove from a former friend give your wizard the ability to see the previous hour through the eyes of anyone he touches? Does, perhaps, that ring of keys fit in any lock available and potentially unlock secrets of the universe?
Is This Cherry Flavored?
Many is the party that stores potions of healing by the dozens, in preparation for a rainy day that never seems to come. Obviously it is in your best interest to place players in situations where they are forced to use these potions, rather than hoarding them, but your party’s knowledge of potions should also not be limited to those that close wounds or cure poisons. Any physical condition and obstacle that your body could suffer should have a potion that can cure or overcome it, so get creative with what your players find while rifling through a witch’s hut. Perhaps there is a flask that allows them to breathe underwater, age a handful of years, or double in size.
Of course, you can be sure that there are potions that give you even more free rein to experiment. If your player didn’t bother to identify the mysterious red tincture, don’t punish him with a poison (aka hit point tax): surprise him with a potion that sends swarms of insects from his mouth whenever he speaks or an oil of “enhanced perception” that covers her body with hundreds of unblinking eyes. You can be sure that players will be delightfully torn between trying every potion they find and taking this as a lesson learned.
That’s all for this week, adventurers! Next time, we’ll chat about encouraging your players to engage with the story in the ways that make them most comfortable.
About The Author
TK is a speculative fiction writer and part-time eldritch horror. They can be found as a cast member of The Demonplague, Unearthly Twilights, The Land Between Two Rivers, and Hell’s Belles on the Don’t Split the Podcast, WebDM, and Dungeons & Dragons networks, respectively. Their gothic and cosmic horror stories can be found at tkjwrites.com and very soon in print in a collaborative set of short stories and comics with artist Kayla Cline. TK themself can be found on Twitter @tkjoinsthefray.