This is the second of three blog posts about my first in-print article for Paizo, “Lost Relics of the Crusades.” I thought I’d discuss a bit about the process of developing the mechanics of my items. In part, this is the “meatiest” part, because the specific, mechanical effects are what the PCs apply every single time they use an item.

I had plenty of word count for all of these items. Most magic items must fit in a very small word count (such as the 300-word limit of Paizo’s RPG Superstar magic item design contest). Here, I had 750-800 words for each of the five different relics. Because each had to fit on its own page, I didn’t have any carryover of words (that is, I couldn’t make one entry 500 words to make another 1,000). I had to include both the item’s mechanical powers and compelling backstory into each item’s word count, and that did give me something I could play with: some items could have longer mechanics and shorter descriptions, or vice-versa. I elected to go with a combination of both.

For the armor, I knew that I wanted to make something a mounted character would love. What do mounted characters love to do? Charge! What keeps them from doing that effectively? Their own allies! Specifically, the ones who won’t keep their animal companions out of a decent charge path. So I thought a fix for this would be nice, like a short-range teleportation effect that would allow a charger to “jump” across a distance filled with allies, difficult terrain, or such. Because this is an artifact, I didn’t need to worry much about balancing the number of times it could be used; I just made it useable once every time you charge, even if you spend all day charging. This also let me be pretty generous with the armor’s default powers, so I made it +2 greater spell resistance armor and thought about whether that spell resistance is something the rider could enjoy, too. Normally, spell resistance is a hindrance, not a benefit, as even your allies have to overcome it (and your cleric ally failing to heal you when you’re in single-digit hit points really makes you wish you didn’t have the spell resistance at all!). So I didn’t want to share the mount’s spell resistance with the rider all the time; I made it shareable only when desired, and only against certain harmful types of spells that matched the armor’s flavor (light and shadow spells). I threw on the blinding property at will because that also seemed to fit with the light-based nature of the item and is rarely actually useful, as you often have party members nearby who don’t want to be blinded (perhaps next time they’ll reconsider getting an animal companion in your charge path).

For the axe—which I’d been told would be a good candidate for an intelligent weapon—I knew just what I wanted. Having designed a bunch of intelligent items recently, I knew one of the best, cheapest powers you can give an intelligent item is bless weapon. That’s a very specific spell, as only paladins get it, but every melee character appreciates it (and by using the axe, you’re already identifying yourself as a melee character). Bless weapon is a pretty well-balanced spell because it takes an action to cast in combat; the reason it’s so good in an intelligent item is because the item casts is for you and you don’t require any action at all (you can get on with the killing!). And as a 1st-level spell, it’s very cheap cost-wise to include in an intelligent item. So I included that, and the rest of the powers sort of fell into place when I’d settled on the demon-killing focus of the axe. The lesser restoration effect is better than just against demons, of course, and add a bit more value to an already very-cheap-for-what-you-get weapon.

The ivory rod, I felt, ought to be useable by many different kinds of spellcasters. The existing rods that are most useful to spellcasters—all my spellcasters have at least one—are metamagic rods. So I thought this should work like that, perhaps by giving free metamagic increases to spells cast (by “free,” I mean no increase in spell level or cast time). Even though this is an artifact, having unlimited metamagic of any kind seemed much too strong, so I decided on two important limits: it could apply only a metamagic feat the wielder already had (so there was a feat cost), and it could only be used a limited number of times per day. That actually makes it fairly weak for an artifact, I think, but I didn’t want to throw more in—I already knew I had to explain how this jeweled rod was actually a reliquary of a poor saint, as discussed in the previous post, and that would require a fairly lengthy backstory. So I left it as is, even a bit underpowered for an artifact. Not all artifacts are game-breaking.

The jawbone stumped me for quite some time, until I actually thought about what the jawbone looked like. I realized its 16 teeth perhaps could have 16 different powers, costing a tooth each time. That was way too many powers, so I gave it powers based on the kind of teeth (4 incisors, 2 canines, 4 premolars, and 6 molars). I research a lot of stuff online for my adventures anyway—such as how a medieval mill works for Raging Swan’s “Dark Waters Rising”—but for this I spent an awful lot of time researching teeth. Anyway, I gave each type of tooth a power based on what the tooth does, colored with the overall design of this being a diplomat-saint’s jawbone. Because I couldn’t have an artifact be completely destroyed after 16 uses, I needed to include a bit about how, like Mary Poppins or Pete’s Dragon, the jawbone goes off to help someone else as soon as a user is done with it.  Which actually makes it really, really easy to get the artifact into the PCs’ hands, too: it just shows up full of teeth, its tenure with some previous user complete.  Because the jawbone has lots of options and powers, this ended up being very long on the mechanics side and short on the story side.

The holy book also stumped me, so I had to do some research on who Iomedae was and what a holy book about her had to say. As a result, my lore for this item is pretty steeped in existing canon—Lymirin is a saint in the canon already, and Iomedae’s eleven trials are already listed out. Whereas 16 different powers seemed too many, 11 seemed about right if they were all short, so I set about brainstorming powers that were each about as powerful as a feat and would be useful for a cleric or paladin. This was much harder than it sounds; if something was pretty discrete and about the power level of a feat, chances are it already was a feat. I didn’t want my item to just give out feats, so some of the powers seem pretty cobbled together as a result (+1 to overcome SR and…on…Will saves! Yeah, that’s tangentially similar!).  I didn’t want this to be an artifact, but a regular magic item, so I needed to pick a value for it. A bonus feat that doesn’t cost an item slot is 10,000 gp (such as the ioun stone that gives the user the Alertness feat), and this one lets you pick one of several feat-like options each day (but only one at a time, and not the same one twice in a row—I thought about having to take all 11 before you could take one a second time, but that seemed like way too much bookkeeping). So I increased the value by 50%, and that felt right.

From my read-through of the final print article, it seems that all my mechanics came through intact, even on the pricing. So I must have hit the mechanics just right.