by Rob Heinsoo
The true magic items of 13th Age are meant to be quirky. But if you’ve played several times with the same magic item, its originally-funny quirk may not seem that special anymore. A good magic item quirk is a license to roleplay, and if you or someone else in the group has exploited a quirk in a previous game, you may not want to go back to the well.
Of course some of the quirks we wrote up weren’t actually funny or interesting to begin with. A bloodthirsty weapon (13th Age core rulebook, page 290), has the quirk “has a taste for red meat.” Turn the page to puissance and you’ll find the quirk “tremendous appetite for meat.” Apparently that was the best we could do at the time.*
But you can do better!
When a character gets hold of a bloodthirsty weapon or a shield of resilience, don’t feel like the quirks we assigned are part of the rules of the game. Treat them as examples, the way we provided examples of backgrounds and One Unique Things, and see if you can come up with something better that will feel right and fit your current campaign.
The next character in my game who gets a bloodthirsty sword is going to get the quirk “Seeks peaceful resolutions against the sword’s wishes.” The next person who gets a shield of resilience gets the quirk “Remembers and quotes poetry by obscure writers of the 11th Age,” and I’ll be inviting the player to focus that, if they wish.
You don’t have to do all the work yourself. I wanted something different for the helm of the undaunted hero in my game (published as “favors traditional battle hymns.” The player who’d won the treasure suggested “Over-rationalizes everything,” which felt like a great way of explaining a hero getting to make a save at the beginning of their turn and also being a bit obnoxious about it, so yes, player input accepted!
Just remember that the quirks are meant to be something of a surprise, not a commonly understood piece of the way the world is known to work. It’s OK to make items change their minds! Maybe a true magic item will change its personality over time, responding to events in its association with the player characters. Maybe a character’s magic item quirks aren’t existing in isolation, maybe the items ‘talk’ with each other and shift to gain more influence. Maybe an item will express a strong opinion about trading places with an item owned by a different member of the party!
You probably have a sense of how much attention magic item quirks should get in your campaign, but that’s probably a rule-of-thumb that could be broken once or twice by exceptional events. Quirkify!
*I talked with Jonathan about why so many of our original quirks are about meat-eating or vegetarianism. He reminded me that our quirks were originally heavily influenced by the Yelmalio and maybe Humakti geases from RuneQuest. The Yelmalio geases had all kinds of stuff about not eating birds’ eggs and other elemental magic prohibitions, and we probably didn’t quite veer far enough away from our original concept.