How are you supposed to handle identifying magic items in Dungeon World?

How are you supposed to handle identifying magic items in Dungeon World?

How are you supposed to handle identifying magic items in Dungeon World? And how much of the rules knowledge do you expose the player to?

Suppose there’s an item that does something special when you tap it against a rock. Should the player be given this rule right away, or only when he actually identifies it? Suppose he taps it against the rock when he doesn’t know what it does, and triggers the effect through trial and error. Do you give them the rules then, or just describe the fictional effect and leave it at that?

For most games like D&D I would leave all of the metagame knowledge behind the DM screen, but DW is big on just revealing all of that to the players, so I’m not sure what to expect here. But it doesn’t make sense for the player to just know these things.

12 thoughts on “How are you supposed to handle identifying magic items in Dungeon World?”

  1. You could always drop hints and clues along the way, nothing serious. If the player stumbles upon a smaller hint for example when its close to a rock the magic item (Gives off a barely visible glow/Vibrates slightly) trigger there curiosity to further explore the cause and effect.

    For example In my Last Dungeon World There was a Magic Item called Gideon Box but when it opened nothing was inside (The Gideon Box was an ancient dimensional box to the after life and when you were confused it could help you by leaving brief messeges from the afterlife nothing serious) so when players were having a hard time the box would make rattling noises and i didnt tell them it was the box they explored and deducted after a while that was the cause and started understanding over time about how it worked. 

  2. I wouldn’t give them anything for free. If they tap it against a rock I tell them what happens. Not why it happens, just what does. 

    About how to identify magic items: 

    “Vitus: I got a 10 on my spout lore about this gilded skull.

    GM: You’re pretty sure you recognize the metalwork of Dis, the living city.

    Vitus: …and? I did get a 10!

    GM: Right, of course. Well, you recognize a few glyphs specifically. They’re efreeti, marks of a fire spell, but they’re different, a kind of transmutation magic. I bet if you cast a spell into the skull, it’ll turn it into a fire spell.

    Vitus: Magic missiles of fire—hurrah!”

    OF course you then ask them how they know this, where they learned it. 

  3. I feel that you’ve answered your own question at the end there. “It doesn’t make sense for player to just know these things.” so just do what makes sense. If the character accidentally activates a magic item, tell them the effects but not the cause. I’d also keep the mechanical stuff behind the curtain until the characters (and players) have a firm understanding of how specific items work.

  4. I don’t really think you can tell someone a Move without telling them what the trigger condition is. Otherwise, how would we know that the trigger actually was met? 

  5. When I made custom moves I wold write the trigger on one side of an index card.  When they made the move they got to turn it over to find out what happened.

  6. I’ve done it a variety of ways, just depends on the story you want to tell.

    The “don’t tell them what it does and make them figure it out” is very Gygax and in-keeping with the AD&D pastiche of DW RAW.

    But equally valid is the 4th ed. approach that magical swords are common knowledge and it’s not hard to deduce their properties with a little time (i.e., after the battle the GM tells you what it does).

    I played a World of Dungeons game in which all magic effects were done by commanding elementals/spirits and magic items were created by permanently binding a spirit into the item, so when we found a magic ring the spirit communicated telepathically to whoever touched it. Of course, it would only work if you did what the spirit wanted. 

    Basically it comes back to there’s no One Right Way to do it, and not every item has to be handled the same way. Just follow the fiction and as long as every one is having fun, you are doing it right. 

  7. In practice, a magic item is generally only as magical as the information the player has about it.   (The exceptions are the one or two items the GM is consciously using to drive the fiction.)

    As a player, indeterminate magic items are usually only interesting for a session or two.  After that, the indeterminate item gets dropped into the backpack or, if used regularly (e.g. a magical weapon), any unknown abilities become forgotten, including by the GM – within just a few sessions those abilities have effectively disappeared from the game.

    If you’re giving a character a magic item, let the player know the item’s powers within the first couple of sessions of owning that item, and keep back only those aspects that are genuinely important to the fiction.  You have enough to keep track of without having to manage the characters’ magic items for them as well.

    Hand details on magic items over to the players (where that agency belongs), thereby saving those magical features from becoming dead fiction and freeing up your energy for running the rest of the game.

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