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by Mike on 26 July 2021
Here's a simple and lazy way to create unique magic items that fit well into the story, act as great vehicles for secrets and clues, excite players, and matter to characters.
First, choose an item. Often this will be a weapon or piece of armor but it could be something else if it fits your goal.
Second, think about the history of that item. Who built it? Where did it come from? You can use the tables on page 142 of the Dungeon Master's Guide or pages 13 and 14 of the Lazy DM's Workbook to fill in a history and creator of the item but often it works best if it's tied to the history and creators that make sense in your adventures and campaign world.
Third, if it's a weapon or piece of armor, give it a +1 bonus. If the characters are above 10th level you might consider +2 or even +3 if you're very generous.
Fourth, give the item the ability to let the character attuned to it cast a spell they can't otherwise cast. They can do so once and the ability recharges on the next dawn. If you want to choose randomly, page 14 of the Lazy DM's Workbook has a table of 50 random spells you can roll on. Or, instead, choose a spell from the [Player's Handbook] or any other 5e resource you trust that fits the item.
Choose a DC or spell attack bonus that fits the power of the item; somewhere between +4 and +8 for the spell attack or DC 12 to 16 for the DC. Likewise, to change things up, you can change what type of action is required to cast the spell. Perhaps someone finds a knight's sword that can cast true strike as a bonus action instead of an action.
You can also use this opportunity to choose spells that characters often don't take the time to prepare or cast. Many spells aren't ideal when compared to the others in their spell level but when they can be cast for free on an item they suddenly become useful again.
Finally, give the item a cool name so it feels epic and unique in the world.
As an example item, we have "Moon's Sliver". This is a rapier wielded by the drow swordmage priestess at the Temple of the Moon. Our heroic rogue finds the blade in the priestess's coffin as her mummified body hands it to him, knowing he is worthy of the blade. Moon's Sliver is a +1 rapier forged from beams of moonlight by the drow bladesmiths. When attuned, the character wielding the blade can use an action to cast the spell Moonbeam once with a DC of 13. The blade regains this feature at the next dawn.
It takes hardly any effort to make magic items like this yet such items add a tremendous amount of flavor to the game and go well beyond a typical and boring +1 weapon or piece of armor.
Use this technique to build fun and unique items in your own campaign and watch your players smile as their characters wield them in their adventures.
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