29 July 2017

There Are No Bad Magic Items!

I was listening to three 2nd generation referees of D&D* discussing the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh editions of Basic D&D and Expert D&D (B/X) when a certain magic item came under discussion. The Helm of Telepathy description from the Basic rules is cited here (emphasis added):
Helm of Telepathy: This item looks like a fancy helmet. The wearer of this helm may read the thoughts of any creature within 90' by concentrating on that creature. To make the helm work, the wearer must concentrate on the creature and not move. The wearer will understand the creature's thoughts, and may "send" thoughts to the creature; however, the creature may refuse to respond.
For reference Holmes' Blue Book, an edition with which all three claimed to be familiar, states creature or characters. Going even further back, OD&D's Book II reads any creature. So the ridiculed part about any creatures is nothing new, though it is held up as such. Additionally, the jokes about how useless this was as a magic item went on for a full couple of minutes and included jokes about convincing a herd of docile bovines to wander off the road and stop blocking traffic.

Really? Let's set aside the observation sapient beings are creatures too. So making an attacking pack of wild dogs see their pack leader as a wounded deer or a bloody raw steak with your powers of telepathy doesn't sound useful? Making a hungry owlbear see an empty hallway as he searches for the hapless PC who disturbed his rest doesn't sound like a great idea?


I'd tell them the same thing I told a player who wished to play a thief-acrobat in my campaign. Yes, you absolutely can play an acrobat but understand something right up front. I do not write specifically to your tight-rope walking or tumbling skills. Finding a use for those is up to you. I set up the situation and you figure out how to get around it and get your thieving hands on the nice, shiny gold-pieces and gemstones at the end.

Your players will surprise you every time. Throw the gear you can't figure a use for into your dungeon anyway ... because they can! They will! As a referee I like creative play and I'll reward it accordingly. Don't allow your limited thinking to limit your players. You're only one person and there's a whole team of them.

*meaning they started playing with Holmes or B/X but before 2nd edition. 


  1. I don't know if it is meant to be a mental illusion projector, but you could say it is at your table. I think it's probably "just" a communications device, which is wondrous enough as it is!

  2. I agree, it is open to interpretation. I'm assuming communication indicates meaningful communication, in whatever form that takes. Just as a druid can communicate with a squirrel using "Speak With Animals," to cite another example.

    Plus, I was running with "telling animals the grass is better over there" example the conversation I overheard contained.

    But, yes, it would be just appropriate to rule "you get a sense of rage from the beast when you try to communicate with it ... roll for initiative!"