Review: Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium

Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is a must buy for any 4e D&D Dungeon Master.

Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium

  • by Jeremy Crawford, Stephen Schubert, and Matt Sernett
  • 160 pages
  • Hardcover
  • Price:  $29.95 US ($34.00 Canada)
  • Release Date:  September 20;  available now at Premiere game stores.

I have long been a critic of the way magic items were implemented in 4e D&D.  Most of them are dull, they’re not very powerful in most circumstances (yet are  overpowered in multiples), and most of them just add complexity to already complex PCs in the Paragon and Epic tiers.  The restriction on the number of magic item Daily powers that a PC could use (one per day per tier, plus one additional per milestone) was kludgy at best. In addition, the distribution of magic items was largely taken out of the DM’s hands and placed into the player’s.  They could easily purchase or make any magic item available if they had enough gold.

The lack of power of magic items was by design, and as of late 2009, there was no indication that the designers were going to change matters.  However, in December of 2009, Peter Schaefer posted on his blog on the Wizards Community site, a post called “Magic Items:  The Items We Can’t Publish”.

Peter wrote that the designers couldn’t publish powerful non-artifact magic items because it would break the honed balance that 4e had.  I disagreed:

Why not create a second tier of magic item…something like ‘Lesser Artifact’. I think it has precedence in previous editions, and it would be nice to not have to ‘make up our own’. Why not make a DDI article, or a short book (it doesn’t have to be a 160 page major work or anything).

I for one as a DM miss ‘cool’ items like the Ring of Shooting Stars…and I’d buy a book like this in a heartbeat.

Give the DM’s a little credit…we might not have time or imagination to create cool magic items…but we can control what the PC’s access in the game.

I don’t know if my response had any impact at Wizards, but the following autumn, Essentials was released, including rule changes to magic items where they were available in Common, Uncommon and Rare rarities, and the distribution of  Uncommon and Rare items was solely under the discretion of the DM.

However, Rare items were still, well, rare and no different than they were previously.  I was hoping to see a product that would really crank up the coolness and power of magic items, and soon enough, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium showed up on Amazon.com.  I was excited, then disappointed as it was announced at DDXP that the book had been removed from the release schedule.  I’d hoped that it would show up in DDI, but as spring turned to summer, nary an item to be seen.

Then out of the blue, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium was back on the schedule and now it’s here!

When I was at PAX, I was graciously given a copy of the book to review, and I’ve been reading it cover-to-cover over the past week.

Bottom line, it’s everything that I’ve been hoping for.

In addition to the expected chapters on magic armor, weapons, implements, and other gear, there are additional sections on artifacts and curses, story items and mundane adventuring gear.  Included in the appendices are rules for hirelings and henchmen, tables for generating stories for your magic items and rules allowing for upgrades to magic items (or even non-magical items) as treasure.  Finally, the book ends with a good index of all the magic items in the book sorted by level, rarity and slot.

New (mostly) magic items fill most of the book.  Unlike the previous Adventurer’s Vaults, each item has extensive fluff text; according to the designers, the fluff came first, mechanics later.  Some of the fluff is particularly evocative. The Hide of Worms is armor crafted from inch-long worm castings, and legends are told of adventurers using the Hide of Worms armor to burrow into the ground, enticing enemies to follow and eventually be buried alive.

Mechanically, the new magic items don’t seem too fiddly, with Rare items being a bit more complicated and powerful. They are also are much more cool than previous items.  There are a lot of new Common items, which expands the inventory again of items that can be purchased and created by PCs.  A significant amount of magic items have a strictly non-combat focus as well.

Commentary from Mordenkainen himself fills the book.  Not only does he have a significant piece at the start of each chapter, but also makes insightful comments interspersed with the items themselves.  He does come across as being something of an arrogant ass at times though.  🙂

Not only are the new magic items cool and occasionally powerful, but many of the classics return:  Armor of Etherealness, the Mace of Disruption, Maul of the Titans, Candle of Invocation, Rod of Absorption, Wand of Wonder, Helm of Brilliance, Eyes of the Eagle, Cloak of the Manta Ray, Ring of X-Ray Vision, Bottled Smoke, Decanter of Endless Water, Iron Bands of Bilarro, Potions of Cure Light, Moderate and Serious Wounds and Dust of Disappearance.

One complaint I do have is that in many aspects, instead of replacing the current item (like Gauntlets of Ogre Power), a new item of a different ‘strength’ is introduced (True Gauntlets of Ogre Power).  Other examples include the Greater Staff of Power, or Lesser Cloaked Armor.  I think it would have been better to just replace the item with the improved version, especially considering that they did exactly this with the Potion of Clarity.

In addition to new magic items, new mundane items are featured in the book.  Several ‘new’ superior armor types are introduced including ring mail, banded mail, splint mail and full plate, which have new properties like Tough (found on studded leather and full plate, which cancels the first critical hit against your AC in an encounter).

Some new weapons are introduced as well, although many of them have been previously published.  These are here for the use of players who only have the Essentials books.  It’s a bit annoying but it’s a pretty minor part of the book.  However, some new feats are added featuring new abilities with the new weapon types for Essentials characters.  The ‘Strike’ feats in particular I find interesting in that they add some ‘after the hit’ tactics choices for classes that use the Power Strike power.

Implements get some love as well via Superior Implements, with a variety of properties.

Some comments on individual magic items of note:

  • The Rod of Absoprtion (a Rare item) is pretty powerful in that as an Encounter power it can deactivate a creature’s aura, and it cannot be reactivated (save ends).
  • The Emerald Tome of the Devourer (Rare) has a power that gives additional item bonuses to attack and damage…but if you don’t kill it by the end of your next turn, you take damage equal to your healing surge value.  If that drops you to zero hp, you die.  Woah.
  • Wand of Wonder (Rare) has a rider on any Daily attack power, determined on a d6.  My only complaint is that there aren’t more options.
  • Helm of Seven Deaths gives you a bunch of power options depending on using gems that power up when you kill living creatures.  Kind of like a demilich actually. 🙂
  • The Potion of Invulnerability is, IMO, mistakenly listed as a Common potion for 200 gp at Level 10.  Considering that it grants the character resist 25 to all damage until the end of their next turn, I think that’s incredibly powerful in repeated doses.  I expect that it’ll be switched to Uncommon in a future errata.

The chapter on Artifacts and Curses includes rules on using artifacts in your game.  This is a repeat from the DMG, but the DM’s Kit didn’t include material on artifacts so most of the information is…essential (sorry) for Essentials DMs.  However,  Mordenkainen’s does introduce for everyone non-intelligent artifacts like the Book of Infinite Spells which allows a Wizard to choose to ‘memorize’ ANY wizard power (once).

Item curses are a great addition to the game, and brings back some classics like the Backbiter Spear, Gauntlets of Fumbling and Necklace of Strangulation (though the latter isn’t nearly as deadly).  Although the book provides rules for simply removing the curse, it also suggests using alternative methods (like bathing the item in the breath of a red dragon).   A great way to use these is to attach them to Rare items…powerful, yet with drawbacks. 🙂

Story Items are introduced for the first time here.  These items, while similar to artifacts, aren’t quite the same.  Story Items are powerful, but are used to overcome specific story based challenges, whereas while artifacts have goals, their powers can be very useful in other circumstances.  Examples are: Blessed Weapons, which allows a unique creature to be destroyed when otherwise it couldn’t be; True Names, which reduces a creatures level by 5, allowing it to be more easily defeated (or to even have a chance at it).  Possibly my favorite is the Ring of Mortal Delights (read Ring of Three Wishes).  This is not a good thing to have.

The chapter on Adventuring Gear introduces (or reintroduces) classic mundane items like the crowbar, iron spikes, and the all favorite eleven ten foot pole.  It has a sidebar on how to use improvised mundane gear, and purchasing buildings (though those were more fleshed out in a DDI article by Robert J. Schwalb).  This chapter features my favorite art piece, an adventurer using a 10 foot pole.  Some additional Alchemical items finishes off this section.

Finally, the book ends with an appendix on Hirelings and Henchmen, previously published as an Unearthed Arcana article by Robert J. Schwalb.

The bottom line is that Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium is to Adventurer’s Vault as the Monster Vault was to Monster Manual 1.  This is what the Adventurer’s Vault should have been in the first place.  Still, it is good to see that Wizards of the Coast is responding to their customer’s demands.  DMs coming from an Essentials onramp instead of the PHB/DMG/MM will get a bit more out of this book than other DMs, although the repeated material is about nine pages out of the 160 in the book.

Should DMs who primarily get their crunch through DDI get this book?  I would say yes.  Although you will be able to get all of the magic item stat blocks through DDI, you will be missing the fluff, and there is a lot of it.  You’ll miss the rules for Story Items, which I think are some of the coolest things in the book, and you’ll miss Mordenkainen’s commentaries.  Unlike the Adventurer’s Vault, which I’ve barely looked at, let alone read cover to cover, this is actually an enjoyable read.

At DDXP earlier in the year, Wizards of the Coast announced that they were going to focus on fewer books, but those that come out would be of high quality.  They’ve had a good track record since then and this is another home run.

 

 


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd


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About Arcane Springboard

I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd
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