Enchanting as a campaign element

This article is a part of a series on how to customize your campaign without really doing too much laborious work.  Each article outlines an idea or a series of related ideas or concepts, each of which when fully considered and blended into your campaign will help to make it unique and more fully realized. 

D&D and most gaming systems that I’ve had experience with do not really address most of the specifics of how enchanting works.  The system provides a list of material components, a cost of construction, and the amount of time it takes for someone capable to craft the magic item.  Kinda of bland, kinda boring, and very, very vague.

What details or information am I talking about without getting too specific?  What can be added without creating a lot of work?

3Let us consider, then.  Is magic in an enchanted item like compressed air?  Does it take a more powerful compressor (a higher level crafter) to jam more magic stuff into the item being made?  So a +1 sword might be easier while a +3 sword takes a more powerful and skilled enchanter to add enough magic to make it stronger?  It is a reasonable explanation, and it can lend itself to ideas such as items being over-enchanted, over-inflated if you will – and prone to catastrophic failure.

Is magic in an enchanted item like compressed air?

An alternative to this would be that there are more powerful magic elements that take a more capable caster to control.  Still vague, but it might infer that there are common, more easily managed powers that can be infused to create more common magic items.  As a created item become more powerful, perhaps the sources infusable magic become increasing rare or more difficult to obtain and control.  Since magic weapons go from +1 to +5, it is not hard to visualize 5 different unique magic essences, each one increasingly more challenging to gather and to bend to the will of the enchanter.

I also like the concept of spirits being bound – willingly bound, preferably, through a challenge or a sacrifice – to give magic items particular properties. This in turn would allow the weapons themselves to be bound to an individual and end up with a very involved creation process – good stuff for rewards.  Anyhow, this isn’t generic enough and would take a lot of work to fully form, but striking someone with my Howling Sword of the North (which was made with the spirit of a friendly frost wolf) sounds pretty cool.

Maybe you can spark an entire campaign off of how magic items are made

Adding structure to how enchanted items come to be created might add more flavor and personality to your campaign.  It also might help you create content branded to your view of how magic exists.  And if you can give some logic to how enchanting magic items work, you can also give it a story, a background, and maybe you can spark an entire campaign off of how magic items are made.

Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Is magic unlimited?
  • If magic isn’t unlimited, can it be horded or controlled?
  • If it is limited, it is regional or limited to the current plane of existence?
  • Are magic weapons powered from a different energy than holy weapons and other gifts from the gods? (I will touch on this in more detail in another post.)

The deeper you develop systems like this, the more unique your campaign becomes and deeper the pool of inspiration you’ll have to draw upon when creating a story that only you can tell.


Gaming Terminology: Obscure mapping terms

I’ve been a fan of maps and mapping for a very long time.  I have had a huge collection of 15-minute maps dating from the late 1800’s and into the early 1950s for many years.  I have acquired quite a few of the avaiable Sanborn insurance maps for the many small communities around where I live.  Basically, I love cartography and any excuse to own an old map is good enough for me.

Recently I have discovered some embarrassing failings in my own knowledge about the words used to describe a map.  For instance, what would you call this?

I searched on ‘cartography terms’ and failed to find it.

I drew this, but at the time I didn’t even know what to call it.

It is inserted into the upper-right hand corner of a map to add some illustrative beauty to it.  But what does one call it?  I mentally thought of it as an artsy-wingding, but when you actually create one, it does make you more curious.  I searched on ‘cartography terms’ and failed to find it.  It isn’t any better when you search on ‘parts of a map.’  I eventually gave up and never found a good word to describe what I’d drawn.

map_art_labA few weeks later and completely by accident, I stumbled across the answer in a book named ‘Map Art Lab’ which details over 50 art projects related to maps and mapping.  Because these sort of additions are artistic in nature, the authors had managed to find and share the term.

Artistic mapping flourishes held away from the map are called cartouches.  It sounds like car-tooshes when pronounced.

Generally this is limited to an authors or publishers shield or badge, but might also extend to peripheral artwork away from the map, such as strange sea beasts in bodies of water or 4 windy corners.   The introductory image is an example of a cartouche.

Artistic mapping flourishes are called cartouches

As long as we are on the subject, I know of another rarely used cartographer’s term.  Most professional maps have a border going all the way around the cartography.  These are called ‘neatlines,’ presumably because they keep the map neat looking.  I’ve occasionally seen the neatline made so that it contained scale markings, making it doubly-useful, but usually they are merely decorative.