In D&D 5E, a magic item has far more weight than in some other editions (even though a +1 weapon is rated as Uncommon but that’s a rant for another time). As storytellers, we want that +1 weapon to be special and the distinctive properties (DMG. pg. 142-143) offer great flavor and mechanical effects, but that’s just one element of it and one that loses much if that magic through the spell Identify or by handling the magic item over a short rest. Keeping those properties secret means more book-keeping for the DM. The middle ground we’ve taken out our table has been putting more emphasis on the narrative descriptor of an item until the player puts the item into use.

(For example, a magical long sword is found and is examined. The DM reveals to the player that the bearer of the weapon is Death’s Friend but they will have to use it in combat against undead to have a better understanding of what that means.)

Here are 20 additional minor properties that have come up at our table that fill some of that middle ground between flavor, curses, and the minor powers of an artifact. As always, adapt them to what works best for your table.

  1. Alternate Form: The item has another, simpler form like a ring, belt, bracer, or similar. As an action you can command the item to change between its two forms.
  2. Blood Price: You must spend a hit die to gain the magical benefits of this item, but may use it freely until you take a short rest. The item still counts as magical even when the other benefits are not active.
  3. Bombastic: Everything you do is louder than usual. Mechanically, this gives you disadvantage to Stealth and advantage when attempting to be noticed or create a distraction.
  4. Burdened: Your base movement is reduced by 5 feet.
  5. Death’s Friend: You count as Undead for magical purposes, including detection, protection, additional damage, or limited use by an undead.
  6. Diet of Worms: You can only regain hit dice from a long rest if you have dined on a common but unlikely non food material of the DM’s choice (e.g. dirt, insects, metal). You may also count that unusual foodstuff as nutritional and nonharmful to consume.
  7. Drunken Fog: Your memory is unclear and details become harder to recall but you are advantage to resist the effects of drinking alcohol.
  8. Evil Eye: You gain +1d4 to Intimidation checks and -1d4 to Persuasion checks.
  9. Fool’s Bargain: You are at disadvantage on attempts to negotiate price.
  10. Hair of the Beast: You begin to grow three times as much hair, even if your race is normally hairless.
  11. Haunted Dreams: When taking a long rest, roll 1d20. On a roll of 1-3, your rest is fitful and you only regain half your usual hit dice.
  12. Hunger of the Beast: Your hunger is increased three-fold and if cannot feed it, take one level of exhaustion.
  13. Life Bound: Once you start using this item, you always know the approximate direction and distance to the item unless it is blocked by means that would block detection spells or if it is moved to another plane of existence. This connection to the item lasts until you or the item are reduced to 0 hit points.
  14. Light-fingered: You gain +1d4 to Slight of Hand checks.
  15. Lizard Touched: You grow scales and gain advantage on attempts to influence (appropriate Charisma or Wisdom skills) beasts and humanoids described as reptilian.
  16. Maximum Effort: You are considered one size category larger for carrying capacity and combat maneuvers dependent on relative size.
  17. Mountain Folk: While in a mountainous terrain, you gain a +1d4 to Athletics and Survival checks.
  18. Skin Rot: You take 1 Hit Die of damage (without Consitution modifier) after taking a Long Rest. Your skin shows unusual signs of wear and decay.
  19. Temperamental: If you roll a natural 1 when using this item, it loses it’s magical benefits until after your next long rest is taken. If this item does not require a d20 roll to use, roll the 1d20 after a long rest.
  20. Timid: You take a 1d4 penalty to saves against Fear effects and gain +10 feet to your movement rate while affected by a Fear effect.

Options to change the impact of Magical Properties at Your Table

  • Aftershock
    • Non-beneficial effects may last for 1d3 days after the item is no longer being used or attuned.
  • Campaign Connection
    • Maybe you’re running Baldur’s Gate – Descent into Avernus and Undead will be a rare encounter. Reskin Death’s Friend into Hell Bound.
    • Mountain Folk won’t fit well in a sea based pirate campaign but reskinned as Sea Legs with +1d4 to Athletics and Advantage to Swim attempts makes perfect sense.
  • Is it Cursed?
    • Can casting Remove Curse remove the negative effects until you finish a long rest?
    • At your table do you reveal a Curse and it’s nature by way of Identify, an Arcana check, or is it a secret kept by the DM behind the screen?
    • Is a Curse accidentally activated by a check of Natural 1 on the d20?
    • How impactful must a Flaw be before it could be called a Curse?
  • Perfectly Ordinary Items
    • Add a Minor Property to an otherwise ordinary and non-magical item like a saddle or a spoon or a book.
  • Mixed Blessings
    • Give a better hint to the players about the enigmatic nature of the property by labelling it a Boon (all good), Flaw (all bad), and Mixed Blessing. If it already has a Flaw, is the benefit of the item enough to entice players to actually use the item? Perhaps an item needs that extra hook to bring it into play more often?
  • Type of Modifiers
    • +1d4: It’s like being affected by Bless for that specific action so won’t stack with Bless, Guidance, etc.
    • -1d4: It’s like being affected by Bane for that specific action so wont’s stack with Bane, etc.
    • Advantage: It’s getting that second chance to do the thing
    • Disadvantage: Sure, it might work but also more likely to get a Natural 1