There’s probably nothing a D&D player covets more than a shiny new magic weapon. Perfectly balanced, wreathed in subtle enchantments… preferably glowing — a good magical weapon is a wonderful thing.
As a dungeon master, however, it can sometimes feel tricky finding the right weapon to give your players — the perfect quest reward that’s steeped in history, radiating arcane power, perfectly tailored to the bearer.
But what if nothing fits the bill? What if nothing sparks joy?
That means it’s time to fire up the forge and homebrew yourself a magic weapon.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at how to make your own magic weapons in D&D 5e and how to make them an engaging and memorable part of your next campaign.
Why Should I Create My Own Magic Weapons?
Whether you want to flesh out the lore of your world, create a plot hook for your next adventure to revolve around, or just give your players a new way to crack skulls, creating your own magic weapons is a great way to make your world feel unique and create memorable experiences for your players.
A lot of people think of magic weapons as a way to give their players new abilities, a slight mechanical boost, or to help them compensate for some glaring deficiency in their characters’ toolset.
However, your magic items can do much, much more for you than that.
I break this down in more detail here, but in essence, a magic item is a part of your world. It’s a part of your world that your players are going to care about a lot because it’s also a badass flaming greataxe.
Magic Items as Worldbuilding and Tone
Magic items, just as much as setting, NPCs, factions — or anything else in an adventure — all help establish tone and build out the history of your world.
There’s a reason that the magic items strewn throughout a low-level, middle-of-the-road high-fantasy adventure like The Lost Mines of Phandelver are very different than the ones you find in a horror adventure like Curse of Strahd.
Magic items and what they do can be a huge part of how you sell the tone and genre of an adventure (or an entire campaign) to your players.
If you want to sell the idea that magic is rare, misunderstood, and dangerous, have your magic items do unexpected, upsetting things.
I run a campaign that embraces this approach to magic, and the fighter just found out that his new magic sword sometimes makes giant poisonous snakes burst out of his enemies’ corpses.
The snakes haven’t turned on him yet, but he’s starting to get nervous.
On the other hand, if you want a more classic, high-magic fantasy experience, then magical items that do everything from the mind-bending to the mundane (people using Driftglobes instead of torches, a Sending Stone in every house) are going to go a long way toward selling that tone.
Making Magic Items Makes Memorable Experiences
When looking around for cool new magic equipment to stick in the next pile of treasure your party stumbles across, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of the pedestrian, mechanically safe +1 or +2 (or even +3 if we’re feeling really daring) weapon.
A little bit more damage and a slightly higher chance to hit. So, so, so boring.
Personally, I think magic weapons should be exciting and dangerous — they should make your players feel like they have a piece of history in their hands. Like they’re carrying an artifact of great power.
I think they should make your players feel like perhaps the historical figures who wielded the unfathomable power to forge such weapons were a few runes short of a teleportation circle.
At least, that’s how I approach it in order to create a very specific type of campaign: the sort of campaign where messing with magic feels like touching a live wire that might shock you to death or give you an extra head just as soon as it’ll do what you want.
No matter what kind of effect you’re looking to achieve, I think magic items are a unique way to give your players rewards that go beyond basic stuff like leveling up.
You get to effectively give your players a new facet to their character.
When this works, the right magic item becomes just as much a part of how the player thinks about their character as that character’s prepared spells or feats. So why on earth would you ever give someone a +1 magic sword?
Making your own magical weapons is a great way to flesh out the lore of your world, reinforce the tone of your campaign, and add new and interesting dimensions to your players’ characters.
But how exactly are you supposed to go about making a magical weapon?
How Do I Make a Magic Weapon?
We have some official advice presented in Chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the DM’s Workshop. The official D&D 5e rules give two suggestions for creating your own magic items.
First, it gives advice on modifying existing magic items — turning a Ring of Frost into a Ring of a Different Damage Type, for example, or transplanting the effect of an item onto a different piece of gear.
The chapter suggests turning a Holy Avenger into a flail. This is all pretty good advice as it really doesn’t take too much to make a player feel like a particular magic item was destined to fall into their hands.
The second part of the section deals with how to make up your own magic item that doesn’t break the game.
This is largely accomplished with a chart that assigns a different level of rarity to various numerical bonuses and seems to suggest the best way to make a good magic item is to have it cast a particular spell.
While my thoughts on +x bonuses are well known, spellcasting as a way to grab pre-made, balanced elements for a new magic item is a great place to start.
You can even go one step further and disguise the fact you’re using a specific spell; just recreate the effect.
Rather than saying, “This magic axe lets you cast burning hands once per day,” say, “This magic axe lets you spew forth a torrent of fire once per day.” and so on.
Then, if you want to give your magic weapon a little extra spice, the DMG chapter on Treasure contains the following excellent tables for fleshing out the history, identity, and strange little quirks.
You can pick from some or all of the lists, roll randomly, or just use them as inspiration for your own series of tables.
If I was starting a new campaign with a specific tone, I would absolutely write up a table or two full of magic item quirks and appearances that specifically reflected what I wanted to evoke from the world.
Whatever powers, properties and quirks you give your home-brewed magic items, make sure you make them feel unique, memorable, and like they’re a part of your world.
Pull it off, and you’ll be creating something your players will never forget.