It’s something of a necessary evil that magic items aren’t that magical in a standard d20 game. Special abilities are listed by cost, after all, and trying to give an in-game explanation for what the heck the +5 on a longsword +5 is can give even an experienced GM headaches. That’s the price one pays for playing a game where the mechanics link up so tightly, and really it’s not that bad – but every so often, we’ve all wished for magic items that weren’t quite so cut-and-dried. Enter Scavenger Studios’ Unusual Magic Items.
Unusual Magic Items presents thirteen new magic items, all of a variety that you’ve never seen before. In fact, these strange things have no real unifying theme other than how odd – and in some cases, downright bizarre – they are. For example, the Sling of the Scalper makes the wielder and his victim less real to everyone else, while to them everyone else becomes less real, effectively isolating them together, whereas Bonegnawer’s Fang removes a randomly-determined bone from an enemy. Weird-o-matic!
The strength of the book is that each item is fairly unconventional in what it does. Most accomplish things that are completely unrelated to combat encounters (though there’s at least one item here that’s very combat-focused, and others can be used that way), being much more esoteric in what they accomplish. That said, none of these are powerful to the point of being unbalancing; that’s not where the book’s problem lies. Rather, the problem is that eschewing the standard method for d20 magic items is a double-edged sword. The standard information regarding magic items is entirely absent here – don’t expect any information on how to craft these magic items, for instance, nor their aura, market price, caster level, etc. It really works much easier if you simply think of all of them as being minor artifacts.
Beyond that, the book did have some technical errors. I saw at least one sentence, for example, that was left unfinished, and in a few places it seemed like salient details were missing (such as a poison that reduces the victim’s Intelligence by “?????????????”). It also would have been nice if there’d been bookmarks to each of the magic items, though I mention that for a book this brief only because I think all PDFs should have them.
All things considered, Unusual Magic Items has its heart in the right place – it does a good job presenting new items that are outside the proverbial box. The problem is that in doing so it loses the familiar and reliable trappings that come from being in that box, and that might cause trouble for GM’s who play by the book. A smattering of errors doesn’t help much either. That said, these are all minor problems that can be overcome with minimal effort, which makes it a shame that the authors didn’t go and make that effort themselves. Still, the strange thingamajigs here are quite flavorful, and in a d20 game, which so often devolves into little more than combat via algebra, that’s a bit of magic all by itself.