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I’ve been gaming for a long time and I suppose I consider myself an old school gamer. All the recent talk about old school stuff has gotten me to look at what old school things do I still use in my games. The top of the list had to be Non-violent Magic Items.

Back in 1983, Lewis Pulsipher and Roland Gettiliffe wrote a Dragon Magazine article about Non-violent Magic Items. In the article, they claimed that almost all the magic items were directly related to combat or domination. Looking through the 3.5 SRD list of magic items, I have to say this is still true. They also state that in an non-technological society that some magical items would be constructed for the rich and powerful for either practical or luxury value. I tend to agree. Why would the most powerful wizard in all the land able to make the most terrible of weapons settle to have his tea always cold? Couldn’t he just make tea cup that always keeps his tea warm? I think it is more than likely.

Let’s take a better look at why non-violent magic items are likely. First, most games are run in a magic rich environment. In 3.5 it even seems this is truer as commented on in a recent blog entry I've read.(I can't seem to find the blog, you know of one, please let me know, I want to cite them) There never seems to be a shortage of magic item. Second, in many ways magic items are the technology. It may be why some technologies such as gunpowder never really catch on or not developed in the first place. And lastly, why should people create items that are only related to war? I can’t think of a reason. People will usually pay good money for something help even a minor burden.

So what should these items be like? I’ll give you a few of my favorites from the original article

A 9-inch round iron pan with the runic S embossed on the handle. Any food fried in this pan is magically spiced to the cook’s taste

A one-inch obsidian cube and a metal tuning fork four inches long. When the fork is struck, the sound is reproduced from the cube as well as from the fork, provided the cube is no more than three miles away.

A glass ball (several colors possible) about two inches in diameter. When someone breaks the ball, places is or her face and upper body in the resulting colored smoke, and thinks about the kind of cosmetic treatment he or she desires, it will. be instantly accomplished. One person per ball, cosmetic effect only.

If a player wanted to actually produce one of these items, I’m not sure what the cost would be, but if they are able to craft wondrous item, then I think they should be able to try.

Personally, I’ve found the inclusion of these items to be fun for the party. It always interesting what they try to use them for. Sometimes they are just fun to give characters a bit more flair.

All magic item are from the following source

Pulsipher, Lewis and Gettiliffe , Roland. “Non-violent Magic Items: One hundred ways to keep players guessing“ Dragon Magazine #73 May 1983: 36-40

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PatrickWR's picture

total agreement

I'm in total agreement with you here -- check out a couple items that I recently introduced in my sandbox fantasy campaign.

The Belt of Torra Norrith -- This finely crafted, thick leather belt increases the carry capacity of the bearer by one magnitude (flexible to allow for different rulesets).

Ice Powder -- What it's name says; a little bit sprinkled into standing water will create a small ice cube. Dump a trunk full of the stuff into a lake and you're likely to see an iceberg.

bonemaster's picture

Re:total agreement

Interesting items, I may have to borrow that ice powder sometime.

I'm going to say something here people may or may not agree with and that is there are many ideas just waiting to be reused/reborn in all the old Dragon articles from the 80s. So much in fact, that sometimes when someone says "hey I have a new idea", I find myself thinking, you know I think I've heard of something like that before in an old Dragon article. Of course sometimes that gets me one of those "you have just officially annoyed me" looks.

jonathan's picture

AHAH! I've finally found your blog!

... added to my blog roll ...

This great. This should be a whole series. How about how magic items, violent and not, have changed over the course of the game's history? Or... how do magic items compare in D&D vs. other RPGs? I'm _so_ coming back to read more, tyvm.

jonathan's last blog post... The New Cleric is the Old Cleric (Part 3)

Chris Tregenza's picture

Where is the magical Cesspit of Drinking Water?

It makes sense that humans (and other species) would invest a lot of their magical energies in making better ways of killing other people. It is what we have done for tens of thousands of years.

But humans have also invested in things that are vital to saving lives as well.

Clean drinking water / disposal of human waste is a problem that we still face today. A magical cesspit that purified human waste into water would be a great boon. How about a Scarecrow of Insect Slaying that keeps pests off a field of crops?

This trend towards weapons and armour has increased. In 1st Ed AD&D there were lots of quirky items that were occasionally useful, ever-flowing bottles of water and the like. But with 3.5 magic item creation rules, these became too expensive to buy and if found in treasure, to valuable to hold on to. (See my full rant on the subject Ye Olde Worlde Magic Item Shop.

Spells also have the problem of being too combat focused. I think it is OK that the PHB has mainly combat spells, as combat is a major part of the game. But I would love to see a supplement of day-to-day spells for village priests and hedgerow wizards. Spells that everyday folk need such as blessing fields, curing sick cattle, removing ruts from a road, midwifery, weather prediction, harvesting crops and so on. Characters would never use these but GMs would be able to create a far richer magical worlds.

bonemaster's picture

@Chris - Yes, people have

@Chris - Yes, people have been creating bigger and better ways of killing people all the time. Still even with weapons getting the lion's share of research time, there are always those who develop labor saving devices and those with money and power still want to have luxury of some sort. I'm sure there would be a profit driven wizard that would be more than happy to try to invent these items.

That's an interesting idea about day-to-day spells. I think when cantrips were first introduced in pages of Dragon magazine so long ago. Many of them were of utility value and would fit into that category. Once you have spells for day-to-day, you would then have something to base day-to-day magic items on. I think I'm going to have to file this one away.

Lew Pulsipher's picture

I'm glad you enjoyed that

I'm glad you enjoyed that article. I enjoyed reading some of our old items, haven't looked at it in a long time.

Lew Pulsipher

Talmerian's picture

Non-Violent Monster Uses

I have always taken umbrage at the misunderstood Gelatinous Cube. Really, in the end result, Gelatinous Cubes are better than dogs or goats as vacuum cleaners! Although they are way less pettable (Heh, pettable). I had a wizard's compound where they had trapped a Cube in an antechamber to the main dining room. All the table scraps went to the cube, it was the perfect trash receptacle. It was also interesting when the players found that secret door.

I think certain 'Monsters' can be more interesting when their ecological niche is thought out. Why wouldn't dwarves and underground dwellers employ 'Cube Wranglers' in order to keep their homes clean. It seems they'd be a simple solution to a sewer system as well.

Daekle's picture

Mundane but fun items.


The way my group has played over the years has mostly been in the interest of fun. I've allowed them to take time away from the campeign (e.g. wasting time) doing things that seem generally fun.

Such as the time I used a completely mundane item, a sign that was sentient and wrote notes to people. They argued with it, yelled at it, attacked it (innefectually) and finally tried to steal it.

I think the article is right, more fun little "trinkets" could be interesting decour but watch out for players like mine who'd rather spend an adventure inside a bag of holding (oh god is it a long story) then actually continue the campeign.

As for my little addition your list of mundane items. "The porta-jon of holding".

Jay Staudt's picture

Intelligent items

I once DM'd a situation where a talking wall sconce helped the party escape imprisonment by telling them how to get out. As a result, they felt somewhat indebted to it and when they found out it was actually a halfling imprisoned inside an inanimate object, they made it a side quest to help free him in return. So intelligent non-combat oriented items are another avenue to explore as a DM, as I think players somehow feel less inclined to toss aside or get rid of an item that has a personality.

About bonemaster

bonemaster's picture


Bonemaster (aka Jeff Uurtamo) is a long time RPG gamer. He started playing back in early 1980s. The Bone Scroll is his latest attempt to give something back to the gaming community.


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