Excerpts 11/05/2004

Complete Arcane
By Richard Baker

Nothing distinguishes the Dungeons & Dragons game as much as the presence and power of arcane magic in the hands of player characters and villains. Sorcerers and wizards hurl spells that can blast their foes with fire, ensnare their minds, or hurl them into distant planes. Bards weave mystic melodies of beauty and strength, instilling their allies with hope and courage or binding their enemies in terrible dooms. All characters make use of weapons and garments enchanted in countless different ways, reinforcing their native talents with the spells and powers of magic belts, swords, boots, cloaks, or rings. This book contains information for both players and DMs -- from new base classes and monsters to guidance on running an arcane campaign. Our sneak peek offers a look at the new prestige classes, arcane feats, alternate magic item types, and spell lists contained within.

from Chapter 5: Magic Items

Alternate Item Types

Everyone knows that potions are peculiar magical concoctions that come in tiny vials, scrolls are long rolls of parchment covered with strange symbols of power, and wands are slender sticks that can deal magical mayhem on command. However, in the creation and use of magic items, form follows function, and there's no reason that potions or scrolls can't be created in less conventional forms so long as they still function in the same manner as their standard forms.

Creating a magic item in an alternate form is generally not as efficient as using the standard design. Potions are created as small cordials because spellcasters, over centuries of experimentation, have found that a tiny swallow of enchanted brew is the best and easiest way to make a one-use effect usable by anybody, without requiring any magical training or skill. Crafting an item in an alternate form thus requires that a spellcaster possess both the standard creation feat for the item's original form and the Craft Wondrous Item feat, both used in conjunction to allow the creation of variant potions or scrolls while maintaining the benefits of potion and scroll creation pricing.

While it's possible to introduce new item creation feats into a game, so long as new forms of existing magic items follow all the rules for use as their original forms, new rules shouldn't be required. A potion in the shape of a tile you snap to activate is mechanically identical to a potion you drink -- you need no special magical training to use it, its magic is used up by the activation, and using it is a moderately distracting physical task that provokes attacks of opportunity from any nearby foes. The tile might be slightly more useful in some situations (underwater, for instance, or in the hands of a creature that has no way to ingest the contents of a potion vial), but the difference is too minor to justify the existence of a Craft Magic Tile feat. Tiles and potions both fill the same game niche.

Alternative magic item forms are a good way to add flavor and mystery to your campaign. If one culture is known to craft magic tiles instead of potions, foes from that culture will be distinct from other opponents. After the first instance in which player characters encounter NPCs who use tiles to obtain combat benefits, they will come to recognize such items as the tools of a particular nation or foe. ("Look, that assassin was carrying Abkathian potion-tiles. The Abkathians must be behind this!") Be careful not to overdo this sort of variant material, though -- the classic forms are classic for a reason, and if your players end up with no idea what forms magic items in your campaign might take, they could spend more time worrying about that than they do enjoying the game.


The standard potion is, of course, a vial filled with a magical libation, designed to be consumed by anyone and having the following characteristics.

* Single-use only -- once consumed, the potion is gone.

* Limited to spells of 3rd level or lower.

* No special magical training required -- anyone can drink a potion and gain the benefit of its magic.

* Must be physically manipulated in some way (unstoppered or broken, then consumed).

* Must be in the user's hand to be used.

* Use provokes attacks of opportunity.

Within these broad guidelines, though, a number of alternate potion forms might be possible.

Magic Fruit: Apples and pomegranates with magical properties are commonplace in mythology. A potion-fruit might consist of a slice or section of a fruit steeped in a magical libation that produces its effect when consumed.

Magic Tiles: A small ceramic tile inscribed with a magic rune could hold a potion-type effect. When it is snapped or broken in one's hand, the effect is released.

Skull Talismans: The skull of a small animal (a bird, mouse, or rat, for example) is enchanted with a single spell. When crushed in one's hand or underfoot, the skull talisman releases its stored effect.

Spell Wafers: A thin wafer of specially prepared bread or dough, stamped with a holy or arcane symbol, can hold a spell as well as a potion bottle can. When the wafer is consumed, the stored magic takes effect.


Unlike potions, scrolls require magical training (or the ability to mimic such training by means of the Use Magic Device skill) to use properly. The essential characteristics of a scroll are as follows.

* Single-use only -- once it is read, the writing that makes up a scroll is gone.

* Spell completion device -- only a spellcaster can readily use a scroll, and he might need to make a level check to read a scroll of a spell level exceeding the maximum level of spell he can normally cast.

* Usable by means of the Use Magic Device skill.

* Must be physically manipulated in a complex way (held in the hand, unrolled, and read).

* Must be in the user's hand to be used.

* Use provokes attacks of opportunity.

Some common alternate scroll forms are described below.

Gemstone: A complex series of gestures and sounds is completed with a specially prepared gemstone in hand, and the spell stored within it is released when the final words are spoken. Like the parchment on which a scroll is scribed, a gemstone is emptied by casting but can be reused again.

Incendiary: A spell is stored in a special mix of powders and glyph-covered paper. To use an incendiary, a spellcaster speaks the last words of the spell while simultaneously igniting the prepared device (usually by means of a minor magical property of the incendiary form that requires no additional action to activate). The incendiary is consumed in a brilliant colored flash or haze of strangely coiling smoke, completing the spell.

Macrame: A spell is held in a small, complex weave of precisely tied knots. The user pulls apart the knotted square by choosing the right strands while speaking the spell's activation words.

When a scroll is found in the course of a campaign, deciphering its magical text is usually the first step to using it, but since variant scroll forms that don't have spells stored in written form can't be deciphered with read magic, they must be identified with a successful Spellcraft check (DC 20 + spell level).

New Types of Items

The basic types of magic items described in the Dungeon Master's Guide -- armor, weapons, potions, scrolls, rods, rings, staffs, wands, and wondrous items -- are not necessarily the only types of magic item possible. In Faerûn, the world of the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, magic tattoos, magic runes, and contingent spells are common magic items, each crafted in the same manner as a standard magic item and requiring its own unique item creation feat (Tattoo Magic, Inscribe Rune, and Craft Contingent Spell). Rune magic is described in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, magic tattoos are described in Races of Faerûn, and contingent spells appear in the Unapproachable East sourcebook (and are included in Complete Arcane for use in any D&D campaign).

When is a variant form of an item different enough from the basic form to warrant an item creation feat and item type of its own? In simplest terms, whenever one of the essential game rules about making or using the item is changed. All three of the item types mentioned above are fairly similar to potions (each is a one-use magic item that can be used by anyone, regardless of magical training or aptitude), but each device alters one of the essential characteristics of potions. For example, it takes only 10 minutes to inscribe a magic rune, and runes can be made into simple magic traps. A tattoo takes 1 hour to scribe, and doesn't provoke attacks of opportunity when activated. Contingent spells can be set to take effect automatically, with no additional action on the bearer's part. All of these differences change the items' characteristics enough that they cannot be reproduced by the Brew Potion feat, and so new item creation feats are warranted for them.

Contingent Spells

A contingent spell is a single-use, one-spell magical effect instilled within a specific willing creature. It doesn't take up space on the body or have a physical form, and it remains inactive until triggered (similar to the effect created by a contingency spell). Once triggered, a contingent spell takes immediate effect upon the bearer (or is centered in the bearer's square if the spell affects an area). A character must have the Craft Contingent Spell feat (see page 77) to create contingent spells.

Triggers for contingent spells are usually events that happen to the bearer of the spell, and can include death, contracting disease, exposure to a breath weapon or to energy damage, falling, exposure to poison, exposure to a dangerous environment (trapped by fire, plunged underwater, and so forth), succumbing to sleep or fear effects, gaining negative levels, or being rendered helpless, deafened, or blinded.

The market price of a contingent spell is: spell level x caster level x 100 gp. A contingent spell must be prepared in the presence of the person to bear it, and the bearer is subject to the same restrictions as the creator (unable to cast any other spells while the contingent spell is being prepared, must be present for 8 hours each day, and so on). Once assigned to a bearer, a contingent spell cannot be transferred to another creature, although it can be destroyed (see below). A contingent spell is tied to the bearer's body, alive or dead, and stories circulate among adventurers of contingent spells remaining quiet for hundreds of years on a slain bearer's remains, only to suddenly activate when the proper trigger condition arises.

If the bearer of a contingent spell is the target of dispel magic, the contingent spell might be permanently dispelled (but not triggered), as if it were an active spell in effect on the target creature. In an antimagic field, contingent spells are temporarily suppressed as all other magic items are.

At any one time, a creature can bear a number of contingent spells equal to its Hit Dice. Attempts to apply additional contingent spells beyond this limit simply fail.

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