Is this a +3 dagger I see before me?

23 09 2009

If there is one thing that put me off D&D when I was into role-playing, it was +3 daggers.  Not +3 daggers in general but a +3 dagger specifically.
Back in the second coming of my role-playing career, I used to organise a small quarterly convention (that was conveniently located in a pub).  I brought together a whole range of local companies that ran PBMs (play-by mail games for those that only know how to communicate electronically).  Companies came from up to 100 miles away and players travelled from all over the UK (and we even had a visit or two from abroad)…but I digress.
One day, a small group decided to role-play.  As the genial host, and being nosey too, I decided to wander over to see what they were playing and to show a genuine interest.  I got within six feet when one player stood up, shouting, “But it’s my +3 dagger.”
I edged closer as the group calmed him.  It transpired that during an encounter, the player dropped the aforementioned weapon off a small boat and into the middle of a lake.
What struck me then (and my memory is so vivid it is as if it were yesterday) was:

  • Not that he lost the dagger. 
  • It was not that he loved the dagger.
  • It wasn’t even that he stood up shouting and attracted unwanted attention.

No, my overriding memory was that this dagger, that he was so loathe to lose, that he so obviously cherished, was called his ‘+3 dagger.’  Not his ‘golden dagger,’ or ‘Sting,’ or even his ‘magical dagger.’  No, it was his ‘+3 dagger.’
I have difficulty in the way D&D attaches magical attributes to items.  Players don’t covet magical weapons that cleave orcs asunder.  Too many want the short-sword that gives a +2 attack bonus on kobolds.
I gave a player a magical item recently (I’m a new GM with my group – see separate posts) and I thought I’d start as I mean to go on.  The player took the item.  The conversation went something like:

‘Is it magical.’
‘You can detect it is magical.’
‘What does it do?’
‘It is magical.’
‘But what bonuses does it give me?’
‘You don’t know yet.’
‘But what do I write on my character sheet?’
‘The standard stats for the sword.  When you are aware of its magical properties, I’ll let you know.’
‘Is it for goblins?’
‘When you are aware…’

I don’t want the stats to get in the way of the role-play.  When the time is right, the sword will behave in a set way and the player will know what’s happening.  Then I’ll give him the stats.
That +3 dagger was directly responsible for me avoiding AD&D and D&D3.  I can’t exactly blame it for my lack of 3.5, but you get the point.  The trouble is, so many players are like that youth all those years ago.  Who can I blame for that?  Well I’m not so sure. 
As far as my group is concerned, however, the metagaming with magical objects stops here.

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5 responses

23 09 2009
greywulf

I remember running an old, silly game where the players found a chest full of clothes. I reeled off a few items then said “….. and a pair of plus fours”.

“PLUS FOURS!” the players cried out, and they started fighting for that most wonderful of items. I mean, nothing back then was +4. They didn’t care what it was or what it did. They wanted ’em.

And that’s how we ended up with a Fighter wearing a pair of golfing trousers.

True.

23 09 2009
Swordgleam

I dunno. If I want to be immersed in the RP and not metagame, I’ll play something like Wushu where the mechanics can’t possibly get in the way. When I play D&D, it’s because I want a roleplaying game, emphasis game, where crunching the numbers is half the fun. What’s wrong with that?

24 09 2009
abstractxp

My blogs always champion the point that players play the game they want.
If a group wants to metagame and powergame then that is up to them. For me, and this is just for me, I like to role-play. If the group don’t like the way I GM, then it is me that has to change or move on – not them.
Having said all of that, I don’t see D&D as a game that has to be metagamed – but for some reason it attracts players that like to metagame. It’s a chicken and egg thing, and I have no idea which came first.

25 09 2009
Friday Links for September 25, 2009 | Moebius Adventures

[…] Next, you have a similar article from the AbstractXP blog… Again, a +3 dagger is just a dagger with a +3, but it could be so much more. It should have a history or at least a name to inspire fear and stories in your enemies and friends. It’s definitely a trap that many D&D players run into as far as magic items – focusing on the properties of the item and not the item as his or her character would perceive it. Yet another area where some “crunch” is needed for better roleplaying. You can read the whole article here. […]

28 09 2009
Putting the Wonder back into Wondrous Items « Sea of Stars RPG Design Journal

[…] a lot of articles on this theme -such as Bringing Back the Magic and the brilliantly named “Is this a +3 Dagger I see before me?“- and I wrote about a related subject in Fantastic […]

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