On Intelligent Magic Items

Even back in the very earliest days of my RPGing career, it never made all that much sense to me that the only sorts of magic items that could be intelligent were swords. Perhaps the most famous intelligent magic item in fantasy literature, The One Ring, bucked that particular restriction:

The One Ring

Forged by the Dark Lord Sauron many centuries ago, the One Ring is filled with a portion of his malignant will. It has an INT of 17, an Ego of 17, and an alignment of Lawful Evil. It will make its wearer invisible whenever worn, and will also allow the wearer to dominate the will of any creature wearing one of the other 19 Rings of Power at any distance. It has a special purpose of reuniting itself with the Dark Lord Sauron and ruling the world.

That said, the intelligent magic item is not otherwise unknown to fantasy literature, whether it is the Singing Harp from the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, the crown of the former king whose will allows him to dominate his descendants and rule the kingdom through his puppets, or Aladdin’s magic carpet. So breaking it out of the intelligent sword mold is a simple enough thing. In fact, it’s one of the things I built into the magic item section of the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Game Masters Toolkit. You could have an intelligent ring, an intelligent wand, etc.

That begs the question of just how an intelligent item comes to be. Surely there is something that could happen during the magic item creation process to imbue the item with intelligence, but in most rules that’s not spelled out at all. Even in the Adventures Dark and Deep™ Players Manual, there’s one way listed in the rules that it could happen (roll a 00 on the mage spell reincarnation table), but it’s explicitly stated elsewhere that there are other, undefined, methods.

I’ve wondered what those methods could be. I didn’t want to bake them into the rules, since that’s exactly the sort of thing that a game master could use to make his campaign world oh so cool and sinister and interesting. But that doesn’t stop me from speculating.

There are basically two possibilities. The intelligence comes from a (formerly) living person, or the intelligence is unique to the item. In the former case, some sort of necromancy could bind the soul of the person to the item, or it could be an accident of the means of death, or an act of utter Will from someone who simply refused to die.

Is Carpet really an eternal
prison for the trapped soul of
some poor sacrificial  victim?

For the latter, it would most likely be either an accident or a deliberate function of the way the item was created. Does tapping into the positive or negative planes at the moment of creation do the trick? Is it due to some rare and unusual material (gem, metal, etc.) used in its construction? Is some variation in the spells normally used responsible? Perhaps there is a unique spell that is unknown to most mages, that creates a new personality for the item.

Maybe it’s a hybrid of the two. Maybe if a human sacrifice is attendant to the creation of a magic item, that is enough to imbue it with intelligence. That need not mean the personality of the sacrifice is transferred, of course, unless the ritual goes awry in some way. In which case, the item might well seek revenge against its creator/slayer, and that could be a very interesting plot twist to a campaign indeed…


Also, please don’t forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

1 thought on “On Intelligent Magic Items

  1. One of the 2e age Dragon Magazines had an article all about magic rings in this particular vein. Not intelligent per se, but deceptive and powerful and ensaring.

Comments are closed.