Living With Your Intelligent Magic Item

So you’ve just picked up a new magic item! It’s one of a kind, blasted useful, and best of all, it does something none of your friends’ fancy artifacts does: it talks. Yes, you’re the proud owner of an intelligent and probably rather snarky magic item. But pretty soon, you’re going to discover the one disadvantage of part of your gear having a mind of its own—that mind isn’t always going to agree with you, and this item’s probably got the power to back it up.

How do we keep this from turning into as drawn-out a battle as any you’ve ever faced?

First, consider personality. Remember the difficulty you first had finding people who could tolerate each other well enough to even travel together, let alone trust each other with their lives? You’re dealing with the same potential problems here. A magic item and its owner with different ethics, different approaches to life, or even different ideas of what constitutes fun are probably going to clash—and if the item has telepathy beyond wielder-range or the ability to vocalize, the squabbles may extend beyond the two of you. With this one, just treat it like you would a standard personality conflict—and no, I don’t mean kill it and loot the corpse. It IS the loot!

Consider also its purpose. Magic items created towards a specific end tend to be particularly obsessive about getting their goals met; it’s part of their crafting. And even if you’ve picked up an item whose purpose you’d agree with, you might not agree on methods—for instance, the cloak that wants to make you a stable leader might not be as tolerant of traitors as you are. If the item’s interested in something you’re not so fond of, you might want to consider finding a way to frame your own actions as in pursuit of that goal, maybe even see if there’s some part of it that you can get behind. More importantly, you’re probably going to need to find some aspect of that goal that can help with your own cause, because magic items aren’t very good at give without take.

Then there are the ones who have track records with prior owners. Particularly good track records. Do you have any idea how hard it is to live up to someone else’s memory? “Ivory let me drink blood!” “Kyrie would have protected those people!” “You’ll never be the leader Seraphen was!” Worst is that those are the normal responses, and the whiny-kid-sound of them isn’t that big an exaggeration. On the other hand, some of them might be looking for someone different from a prior owner, and reminding them of That Person is going to open its own can of worms.

We can’t just let them walk (roll?) all over us. It’s time to take charge.

Be very cautious when arguing with a magic item; some have more leverage against you than others do. If you’ve got a weapon with even partial animation, you never know when it’s going to try to mess up your swing in battle. Some of them might even be able to assert dominance over your actions; intelligent magic items are not for the weak-willed! Even if they can’t assert personal control, they might be able to do things like increase their apparent weight or display their powers when you’re trying to be low-key. And then there’s the talking—you can’t get privacy, or the silly thing might get stolen. The standard talking ones won’t shut up (and may make a point of telling secrets or embarrassing stories about you, or just blurting things out at inopportune times), the telepathic ones won’t get out of your head, even the ones that just use images might hijack your dreams. And they’re stubborn; made to last can often mean made to be patient, particularly on older weapons.

This doesn’t mean you’re without options, just that you’re going to need to cultivate patience, skill and dirty tricks. If the item’s senses only function through you, cutting it off might be a very effective means of persuasion. Similarly, finding a place to lock away one that tries to take over your mind, even if you know you’ll come back later, could serve as decent leverage. If the two of you agree on purpose but not implementation, or if it’s extremely dedicated to its role in life, you may be able to threaten not to help achieve its goals until it changes how it goes about them. If worst comes to worst, the threat of destruction or reforging might also help it change its mind.

And don’t forget positive reinforcement. Figure out what it wants, and find ways to offer that in exchange for cooperation. I once saw someone offer a dread weapon its favorite kind of foe if it would teach him how to control it, and succeed. Some items talk about their previous owners just as a way to remember them; give them chances to do so in that light rather than just complaining about what they did that you don’t. And you can learn a lot from their tales; using the chance to spread those as a reward for good behavior will benefit both of you.

Dealing with a new magic item can be difficult, but knowing how to back up your position will give you a better chance of coming out ahead. Good luck!

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