Spell Focus Items, Hidden Functions and Superscience

Derek Holland

I was rereading the article in Dragon 111 on spell focus items (Good Stuff, For A Spell) and it hit me that the author missed an idea, one that has implications far beyond that sort of magic item (even into technology for Mutant Future and other science fiction games). This idea can be boiled down to a question- can a magic item have more than one function? A simple example would be a Staff of Striking (a cleric item) that is also a Staff of Wizardy. Its function changes depending on who holds it. A more complex example would be a Ring of Protection that also provides the power of Boots of Speed or a Chime of Opening with a command word (or action). Those powers are usually detected by Identify, but not always. A Misdirection spell can be used so that the item looks mundane or that it only has one power, or set of powers like a staff or rod. The only person who knows of the item's full potential is the creator and anyone they tell. Hidden functions can mean the needed magic item for a quest may very well be in the possession of the PCs already. They never knew the items real power and may never know everything that it can do.

For Mutant Future, such superscience items would be more of the norm. The PCs should expect that the things they dig up have power far beyond what the PCs can easily access. The more they study the item, with the potential for disaster, the more functions they may discover. Even something like a pistol or can of beans may have abilities that would make them worth much more than their weight in gold. The pistol may have a weak deflection field, a mapping and motion detection system, an energy detection system and can tell the holder when they are ill or hurt. All those functions are possible in one artifact. The can might be able to sterilize food, check its nutrient levels and detect radiation and chemical contamination. Those artifacts and most, if not all, of the others may have some of those functions "hidden" from their owners. They aren't truely hidden usually, just so non-intuitive that most people don't know they are there.

Back to magic, some items may have hidden functions that are protected by more than just a lack of knowledge. Dragon 263 has an article on magic items, Blessings in Disguise, that are cursed so that people who use them have to go through some sort of trials to gain access to their real powers. Give them several trials and the item may unlock powers that level along with the characters.

And a couple more ideas for spell focus items. These devices are those that allow a caster to spontaneously cast whatever spell(s) the item has in exchange for a spell of equal level. Some act in a similar manner to metamagic rods. (And as I said before, I really wish they had included the idea in 2e).

Though the examples in the article are all permanent items such as amulets and rings, there is no reason to exclude scrolls. Scrolls in first and second edition were different from those in third. Some had spells but many had powers of protection that didn't map to any existing spells. Spell focus scrolls act as metamagic rods, but obviously only for a single, or few, casting. This allows the DM to see if the idea can be used within their campaign before handing out something permanent.

The other idea is spell synergy. I have mentioned that a few times and provided a few examples. Plant Growth http://skirmisher.com/node/3316 Wall of Stone http://skirmisher.com/node/3354 Unseen Servant http://skirmisher.com/node/3379 and a few different spells http://skirmisher.com/node/3487 Spell focus items could allow the use of two or more spells to cast spells in synergy. The wielder would have to decide when using the item if they want to use one spell slot (the simple spontaneous version) or all of them (the synergy version) at the time of casting.