Last Updated on January 22, 2023
What’s a trinket? What does it do, and if it doesn’t boost my Hexblade Sorlock’s DPR by at least 0.5, why do I even care? From creepy curios to charming tchotchkes (not technically alliterative, but it’s Thanksgiving this week, so I’m already pretty deep in the pumpkin spice lattes if you know what I mean), trinkets are one of my favorite parts of building a character in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
I also think they’re criminally underappreciated and overlooked, not only as a way to add flavor to your own character but to tie them into the larger world — something of which dungeon masters, myself included, fail to take full enough advantage.
So today, through a series of examples, random tables, and references to genre-defining epic cinema like Gore Verbinski’s 2003 masterpiece Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and underappreciated cult classics like Gore Verbinski’s 2006 sleeper hit Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, I will be explaining why trinkets should be the most important part of your next D&D campaign.
Ready? Let’s go.
What Is a Trinket in DnD 5e?
Trinkets are small, simple, sometimes magical items with a touch of mystery about them. Players can roll for them when they make a new character, or the DM can use them to stock dungeons or a creature’s pockets.
Some trinkets are slightly magical, and others can serve as a hook to draw the PCs into a mystery or adventure. Alternatively, they can simply serve as interesting (or mundane) items that help illustrate a character’s personality, their backstory, or the nature of the world around them.
There are 100 trinket options found in the Player’s Handbook for players to roll on when they create their character. Alternately, if a character is from a particular setting or the campaign is focused on a particular genre of storytelling (like horror, or whimsical fantasy, for example), the DM or player could elect to use one of the other lists found in other 5e coursebooks and campaigns.
There are Trinket tables found in the 5e Player’s Handbook, the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, Curse of Strahd, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, Eberron: Rising from the Last War, Lost Laboratory of Kwalish, Acquisitions Incorporated, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, and The Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
Alternatively, a dungeon master can create their own background tables for their homebrew campaign to better reflect their own world.
How To Use a Trinket When Creating a Character
A trinket sits apart from a regular piece of equipment, weapon, or magic item in that it doesn’t have any obvious mechanical application. It isn’t going to boost your ability scores or AC, make you deal more damage, or help you cast spells.
What a trinket does, however, can vary depending on the trinket. Some trinkets help you come up with your character’s backstory.
A character who carries around a small portrait in a locket of the boy they left behind them in a kingdom far away feels very different than someone who wears four severed and mummified elf fingers on a string around their neck. Trinkets are a great way to add unexpected flavor to a new character. They help you break the mold a little — not too drastically, but they can add a new dimension to an adventurer in ways you might not naturally think to do yourself.
DM Advice: Trinkets as Theme
From the DM’s perspective, I think one of the best ways to use trinkets is as a way to show your players what the world they live in is like and make them a part of it. Let’s look at some options from the Curse of Strahd trinkets table (an ostensibly gothic horror affair) and table for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight (a more whimsical adventure filled with fairies and carnival games).
Curse of Strahd Trinkets (20-40)
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight (11-20)
The difference in tone, theme, and relation to elements of the world (the undead in CoS versus trinkets that play upon the fey folk in WBtW) should be pretty evident.
You also don’t have to create a d100 table for your campaign; a d20, perhaps fleshed out with a few options taken from existing tables, should suffice. By tailoring what players carry with them to the style of game you want to run, you can further weave your players’ characters into the fabric of your game.
Of course, if you like this idea, then there’s no reason to stop at just the theme…
DM Advice: Trinkets as Plot
Pirates of the Caribbean — both Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest — do a great job of using trinkets, first to establish character and theme before then leveraging them into focal points of the story.
The Aztec Gold Medallion that Elizabeth takes from the unconscious Will Turner at the start of the first film is a classic trinket.
It’s a pretty, mysterious, but ultimately meaningless gold medallion for most of young Elizabeth’s life — a haunting, slightly macabre reminder that the world is a mysterious place full of dangerous pirates, as well as the fact that she herself is drawn to that world. Then, the inciting incident of the film sees the medallion take center stage as the MacGuffin that draws out Captain Barbossa and his “crew of miscreants” from the Isla De Muerta and sets them on a collision course with Port Royal.
I can’t think of a better way that a small, seemingly inconsequential item “touched by mystery” can be leveraged by a storyteller to be an integral part of an adventure. Do this to your players’ trinkets: curse them, make them keys to lost cities in the deep jungle, send ruthless villains after them, and generally use them to make the players’ lives hell. It will make your players so much more invested in the events of your next arc to think that an object of such immense power was just rattling around in the bottom of their bag the whole time.
It’s also worth noting that a few trinkets (like PHB result number 84, “A receipt of deposit at a bank in a far-flung city”) already function more as plot hooks than magic items but are no less touched by mystery. Exactly what awaits your players in that bank vault on the other side of the world is entirely in your hands, and it’s your responsibility to make the players want more than anything to find out. I find that having someone else steal the receipt from them is usually a good start.
However, you can take this approach even further with a touch of homebrewery and a lesson learned from the next (and frankly the last good) Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
A compass that doesn’t point north. It’s just one part of the offhand, comedic introduction we get to Jack Sparrow along with a pistol with a single shot — an offhand comment designed to get a laugh and show us a bit of the character and how the world at large perceives him. I can 100% see a player introducing their bumbling new Swashbuckler rogue with the throwaway line “oh and his compass doesn’t point north.”
But it’s more than that. Jack’s compass starts out as some harmless, ostensibly useless trinket, but we slowly uncover first that the compass leads to the Isla De Muerta and then in Dead Man’s Chest that it shows you the way to the thing you want most in the whole wide world. That’s, frankly, an insanely powerful magic item that shapes the plot of the whole second and fifth movies of the franchise. And it starts out as a throwaway joke.
I think that if you could pull off the same thing in a D&D campaign, it would be very well received. Plenty of trinkets in D&D 5e have a hint of magic about them, and I can guarantee that if you slowly reveal to the players that the sentimental bauble they were carrying around their necks for half the campaign was actually an object of immense power, it would really freak their beans.
Homebrew Corner: Turning Trinkets Into Magic Items
While trinkets are undoubtedly “touched by mystery” and may in many cases actually be magical, there’s almost always a sense of plausible deniability to trinkets. They may be magical, or they may be rare and interesting junk. On the other hand, if they are actually magical, their mysterious nature makes it hard to gauge their actual powers. This is why, as I mentioned in the previous section, trinkets make such good plot devices and MacGuffins — keys, fragments of powerful items, or artifacts of great power that can slowly begin to be awakened.
For example, a piece of crystal that glows faintly under moonlight (result number 3 on the Player’s Handbook trinket table; see below) could be magical. It could be the last missing shard from a device used to find a lost city that can only be reached by crossing a bridge of solid moonlight over a toxic lake, or the key to unlocking a vault that holds a dracolich, or even the Sunsword if we want to use a literal example from one of D&D’s most famous modules: I6 Ravenloft.
Even if you don’t want to make a player’s trinket into a doomsday device or a magical MacGuffin, I think they make great sparks of inspiration for magic items that feel more, well, magical. Magic items in D&D 5e are known quantities; sit down with one for an hour of attunement, and you know what it is and how to use it, including things like how many charges it contains (if any) and if it explodes when you run out. There’s no mystery, and everything is meticulously balanced within the same mechanical frameworks that encompass character abilities and spellcasting. All very neat but not very magical.
I think that, by looking at some of the trinkets throughout various D&D 5e sourcebooks and giving their inherent magical nature a bit of a boost, we end up with some much more mysterious, dangerous, and interesting magic items than you usually run into in your average dragon’s hoard.
Pixie Pocket Workshop
PHB Trinkets, no. 34
A vest with 100 tiny pockets. Fill every pocket on the vest with coins, and leave it wrapped around a miniature model, toy, painting, or representation of something (a toy boat, a rag doll, a 3’’ statue, etc. Overnight, pixies will arrive and, in exchange for the coins, will leave behind a real, life-size version of the model. The object, creature, or person lasts for 1d4 days or until someone in any way criticizes its craftsmanship or quality (this could involve calling a person or animal ugly or misshapen) within earshot of the vest, at which point it reverts, and the person who spoke is attacked by 3d6 pixies.
Fingers of Death
PHB Trinkets, no. 9
A rope necklace from which dangles four mummified elf fingers. Snap one, and speak a creature’s true name, causing them to fall into a deathlike slumber until one of their fingers is cut off.
Bad Hair Eternity
Curse of Strahd Trinkets, no. 11-12
A wig from someone executed by beheading. Place it on the severed head of a corpse, and ask it three questions about what it knew in life that the spirit of the severed head must answer truthfully.
Most D&D 5e setting books and campaigns contain a section for rolling trinkets, which vary in terms of tone and origin depending on the location and themes of that campaign. Below, we’ve got the 100 options available in the Player’s Handbook, which range from the whimsical to the grotesque.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.