If the Shoe (or Whatever) Fits….

I’ve always been fond of magic items that were very much a product of their histories. You know there’s a story, and there are relatively intuitive ways to figure out what that story is. (And not just “Ask the item”, either, even if it does have intelligence or a talkative spirit.) But there’s one element of magic items in many fantasy stories that just doesn’t fit with unique histories, and that element is “One size fits all,” whether by magical resizing or just by having plot-holes woven into the fabric.

Now, it usually doesn’t stretch the suspension of disbelief too far; a suit of armor designed for a D&D elf isn’t going to fit a D&D halfling. But not all Medium humanoids are sized alike. Heck, not all humans are sized alike, as I was reminded to my annoyance tonight when discovering there was only one pair of zipoff pants my size in an entire sporting goods store. And there are a lot of ways to take advantage of potentially inconvenient sizes when dealing with magic items.

One, of course, is to play up the history of specific magic items, particularly in systems and world where the history matters. Original owner was one of those guys whose muscles have muscles? On just about anyone else, the stuff hangs, requiring several layers of padding or a case full of belts to work around. The original recipient was a human child? It should fit anyone about the size of a human child, but it might not fit them well, particularly if they’re built like small adults; I know from personal experience that a youngish girl can shop on the boys’ side with no problem, but once you hit adulthood height may not be a problem but the shape might be. By seeing how the thing fits, or doesn’t, the characters trying it on can intuit what the original owner might have been like.

Similarly, there’s the issue of distinctive patterning; its prior owner probably had her own aesthetics, whether they fit with those of the person now acquiring the gear or not. Color, pattern, material (within reason), style—all of them can tell you something about the person who once wore it.

There’s another, subtle GM-specific benefit to thinking about the original sizes of things like armor and magic (or normal) clothing, and that’s if you’re the kind of person who sometimes but not always uses random treasure generation. Want to be able to hint at your players that a piece of loot was specifically chosen for them? Here’s how: when you’re ran-genning things like clothing or armor, include in your random calculations prior owner size, since odds are it’s not going to fit quite as well with any of your PCs. But when you’re designing an item specifically for a certain recipient, or just plain designing it specifically, make it something that fits, whether the individual it fits was its intended user or Definitely Its Old Owner.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to try to make the stuff that doesn’t fit perfectly technically wearable anyway. Worst that happens is it looks a little odd; the warrior-woman having to deal with the old-time hero’s armor featuring a fully integrated Codpiece of Compensation, the fellow with a cloak that needs to be folded a bit before being put on, you get the idea. It doesn’t need to be game-destroying to get this kind of flavor across, just interesting and maybe a touch of a challenge.

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