MacGuffins Work: Destroy that thing!

What? Why are we destroying things? Shouldn’t we be focused on creating them?

Well, I’m a big believer in conservation of energy. If you are creating something in one place, you’re likely destroying something else somewhere. There’s a balance to the universe. But it’s not one of those things I’ve ever seen covered for things in role-playing games.

johnny-automatic-squirrelHere’s an idea of what I’m after. Let’s say your PCs stumble across a cache of weapons in a dungeon. Putting aside the question of how they got there in the first place, let’s assume that they were gathered by the world’s largest squirrel. You can substitute another monster of your choice, but squirrels are attracted to shiny things and weapons are shiny, so… squirrel!

So our squirrel has gone through the dungeon before your party and pulled together a collection of items. I’m going to assume that some of those items are damaged or partially destroyed. Why? Because if they were left in the dungeon, they were carried there by some other hero or villain – and that other hero or villain is no longer present to claim the items. Why not? Well, we could say that they just dropped the items and ran because they were scared of a giant squirrel. Or we could guess that they probably died in some horrific way and the items were all that’s worthy anything of what’s left.

Cheery, isn’t it? Imagine all those items you leave behind when your character dies… and all the happy squirrels who are collecting your stuff after you’re gone.

Wait, I got distracted… SQUIRREL!

We could be kind and say that some of those weapons are actually in good condition. Let’s even say that 50% of the cache is in relatively good condition. The other half are damaged in some way. Let’s see how…

D20

  • 1-10: Good condition
  • 11: Burned
  • 12: Melted
  • 13-14: Broken
  • 15-16: Chipped
  • 17: Digested
  • 18-20: Rusted

Let’s say I have a few damaged weapons in the pile…

  • johnny-automatic-sparrow-axe-barrelheadSword (burned): The scorch marks are easy to see on this old sword. Someone dripped oil along the blade and lit it on fire, but the oil must have burned extremely hot to have actually scorched the metal of the blade. It won’t withstand a solid hit unless it gets some maintenance first…
  • Axe (melted): The rough shape of this lump of metal hints that this might have been an axe blade at some point, but it’s been warped. Some sort of acid has burned through the weapon, leaving drips of steel where the edge once was.
  • Dagger (broken): This dagger has seen better days. Though both the hilt and the blade are in the pile, the blade has been snapped at the base of the handle. The whole weapon would have to be reforged into a single piece again to make it useful.
  • Crossbow (chipped): This poor crossbow was used in hand-to-hand combat, with large chips and dents where it was used to block a melee weapon multiple times.
  • Arrow (digested): The odor emitted from the broken arrow speaks to the relatively recent place it was found. Perhaps it was inside a giant beast or something used it as a toothpick. But either way, all that’s usable is the arrowhead itself.
  • Sword (rusted): This short sword sat in a puddle for a long time before it was moved here. None of the other pieces has been corroded like this.

Not every weapon should be nerfed in this way, but I think it adds more of a realistic spin to finding collections of old weapons in dungeons – don’t you? At the very least it can help increase suspicion in your players. What caused this damage? And if you use it effectively you can actually use these descriptions to inform older events in the dungeon… What could have digested an arrow or melted that axe? Hmmm…

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