Weird Magic Items I Wish I’d Used

Originally posted on

Thanks to whatever weirdness inhabited the heads of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, fantasy gaming has some really bizarre stuff baked into its history. I’ve gamed long enough to use a lot of that weirdness (including my personal favorite, the deck of many things), but there’s still so much more out there. Here’s a quick list of some of the fun items in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder that I’ve always wanted to slip into an adventure but have never quite been able to make fit.

The Apparatus of Kwalish

Have you ever thought, “Boats are nice and all, but I want to travel the high seas in a claustrophobic robotic lobster?” If you haven’t, this magic item isn’t for you. The apparatus of Kwalish (known as the apparatus of the crab in Pathfinder and other OGL-derived RPGs) is a metallic barrel that transforms into mechanical crab capable of carrying up to two medium-sized creatures. Ten levers allow control of the apparatus from the inside, but here’s the thing – none of them are labeled. That means you’ll only get used to the thing by dropping it into the water and pulling levers randomly.

Apparatus of Kwalish
More undersea vessels should look like robotic crustaceans.

The apparatus of Kwalish is interesting to me because it’s been a staple of D&D since the publication of the first Dungeon Master’s Guide back in 1979. That’s notable because it’s a pretty straightforward mechanical device and many D&D players I’ve spoken to would rather gouge out their eyes than mix sci-fi with their fantasy. Despite that, the item has been in every core iteration of the game since.

I haven’t used the apparatus because despite my constant desire to include more aquatic adventuring I never get around to it. At the very least, someday I’m going to have an encounter with a couple goblins who have attached flamethrowers to the thing’s claws.

Marvelous Pigments

So you’ve got this jar of paint, and you can use it to create any sort of object you want as long as you can draw it. Aside from being one of the few things in 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder that makes Craft (painting) a useful skill, this is a great item to unleash the inner cartoon fan. Need a quick escape? Draw a door. Want to immobilize somebody with a creative sneak attack? Draw an anvil on the ceiling just before they enter the room.

Marvelous Pignments
The jars themselves give you inspiration.

As of the 1st edition Pathfinder Core Rulebook, the description for marvelous pigments states, “The pigments are applied by a stick tipped with bristles, hair, or fur.” According to lead designer Jason Buhlman, everybody involved in the editing process wrote in the same note: “You mean a brush?” Buhlman then went back and checked old editions of D&D and found that the same sentence has been used in every edition, all the way back to the 1970s. Even when it comes to language itself, D&D is clunky, counterintuitive, and yet oddly charming.

Portable Hole

If marvelous pigments draws inspiration from Looney Tunes, the portable hole is 100% ripped out of that cartoon world. This is exactly what it sounds like – you throw the hole down somewhere and create an instant hole. Want a pit trap? Done. Want to break into a vault? Done. Want to hide from your enemies in an impossible way? Good news – the portable hole can be closed from the inside. That means you can climb in, reach out, and pull the hole into the space you’ve created. If that breaks your brain, welcome to the club.

Portable Hole
Yes, that’s Wile E. Coyote. What other picture would I use?

One of the reasons I’d love to introduce a portable hole into my game is because it has some interested side effects when used alongside another favorite magic item of mine, the bag of holding. If you place a bag of holding into a portable hole, you create a rift into the Astral Plane that destroys both items. But if you place a portable hole into a bag of holding, you can also suck all creatures within 10 feet into the Astral Plane. Is a dragon rampaging through the village and can’t be stopped? If you’re willing to risk dying in the process, you can use this handy trick to pull you both into another dimension.

I once had a gnome assassinate a king by crawling into a bag of holding, ambushing the king in his bedchamber, and then hiding in the bag with a bottle of air until the coast was clear. I should have just had him crawl through a portable hole.

Alchemy Jug

As far as a I know, this is a new magic item that first appeared in 5th edition D&D. The alchemy jug is a one-gallon jug that can call forth a variety of different liquids, including water, wine, beer, poison, acid, and…mayonnaise.

Alchemy Jug
Okay, D&D. If you want to win me back as a customer, your magical mayonnaise-producing jar is a good start.

That last one is an anachronism, since a typical fantasy RPG is explicitly set in some sort of vague Middle Ages/Renaissance mashup but Wikipedia tells me that mayonnaise wasn’t a thing until the 19th century. However, the D&D genre is filled with anachronistic items and descriptions. Myrlund’s spoon creates food that tastes like “warm, wet cardboard” (how does an apprentice fighter know about cardboard?). The ring of x-ray vision implies that people in the world of Greyhawk knows what x-rays are – and that, like the creators of Superman, they don’t know how they actually work (x-rays won’t show you jack if you don’t have a receiver!).

Moreover, I’m just really fascinated by the introduction of mayonnaise to a fantasy world. Did the original creator of this item travel to Earth and fall in love with the stuff? Does the demon lord Jubilex watch over a vault of mayonnaise in the paraelemental plane of ooze? Or was the item created accidentally, with mayonnaise coming into the world as a result of a curse?

If I bring the jar of alchemy into my Pathfinder game, two things will change. First, you’ll need to put some liquid into the thing to get anything out – otherwise, it’s just a jar of conjuring liquids. Also, I love the idea of a PC being able to literally turn water into wine. Second, anybody who gets doused with two gallons of mayonnaise will need to make an immediate Fortitude save or be sickened, because…ugh.

Oh yeah, and there might be a random table to determine what comes out of the jug. Because the more I look at D&D and the games it inspired, the more I have come to realize that few things fit the style of game that I enjoy playing better than having the GM say, “make a mayonnaise check.”


Images: Wizards of the Coast, Warner Brothers

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