To ‘reskin’ a creature or an item is to give it a new appearance in such a way that it changes how it interacts with players more in a stylistic way rather than in a mechanical one.
One of the great creative joys of running a game of Dungeons & Dragons is magic items. I have yet to meet a DM who hasn’t home brewed at least one magic item for their table. It’s more of an art than a science to build a magic item and many of the items in the DMG bear the mark of previous editions, creating questions like why a Cloak of Protection +1 and a Ring of Protection +1 give the same benefits and require attuning but one has a rarity of Uncommon and the other Rare (answer in many cases – earlier editions had different ways of handling available ‘slots’ for magic items, so that a PC wouldn’t be wearing five cloaks and stacking their benefits).
One way to brainstorm a reskin is a design model out there known as SCAMPER. It’s a good starting place for coming up with something that feel unique and different, but already comes with a set of mechanical characteristics. If nothing else, it’s a method that helps generate creativity by looking at that magic item in a new way and inspire something truly special for your players. It’s a useful tool to start with but in no way the only one.
- S – Substitute: Change something without diminishing the product or process
- C – Combine: Merge two ideas or components or devices
- A – Adapt: Tweak or overhaul components to respond to change
- M – Modify / Minimize / Magnify: Change the size or shape to put emphasis on a different aspect
- P – Put to alternative use: Change the setting of use or who uses it
- E – Eliminate: Streamline, tone down, or strip it down to be sleeker and faster
- R – Reverse: Change the order or process
I’m going to try and stick with Uncommon examples straight from the Dungeon Master’s Guide as much as I can for a useful starting point.
This is the easiest one. Magic long swords and short swords seem to be the default in a treasure horde for magic weapons. It’s simple enough to swap that for a mace or rapier if you are planning for a PC.
- Gauntlets of Ogre Power can easily become a Belt of Ogre Power if it fits the look and feel of your party.
- Why must all potions come in a bottle? Why not have a Blue Cheese of Greater Healing, crafted by a Cleric of Yondalla?
- Maybe an ‘Eat Me’ cake instead of a Potion of Growth? After all, how often does one find a Dragon Slayer Glaive?
Some of the quirks in the DMG (pg 142 – 143) are enough to count as a secondary function of a magic item. If that isn’t enough for you, combine an uncommon item with the ability to cast a cantrip. Maybe add a limit of once per long rest on a 1st level spell effect?
- A fighter armed with a +1 crossbow is pretty cool, but what if it could cast Magic Missile once per day and have that guaranteed hit?
- Slippers of Spider Climb that allow that can be used to cast Web once per day work with a theme without being as powerful as having a Wand of Webs as well.
- Healing potions that have an extra little effect for 10 rounds like Resistance to Fire or Advantage to Strength Checks (and increase it’s value from 50 gold to 200 gold for that extra ability).
Combine a magic item with a Feat or just part of one (very useful if you want to test how a given feat will impact your game).
- A Wand of the War Mage +1 that also functions as an Elemental Adept and ignores Fire Damage Resistance
- Boots of Elvenkind that increase your speed by 10 feet while you are attuned to them,
I caution against combining two or more Uncommon items (particularly if they are both require a character to attune to them) without adjusting for a higher rarity, reflecting the rarity and value to a PC.
This is for when an item doesn’t fit the setting or campaign that you might be running. \
- Boots of the Winterland are great for Icewind Dale but completely out of place for Tomb of Annihilation and adventuring in the Jungles of Chult. But they can be adapted to Boots of the Jungle (I actually substituted it for a wide brimmed hat, decorated with a band of lizard skin and various animal fangs) that grant resistance to fire damage, ignore difficult terrain in jungles, and can tolerate temperatures of up to 95 degrees F (35 C) without any additional measures, hence they won’t require that double ration of water needed to avoid hot weather penalties (or perhaps the DM rules that it gives advantage to that CON save).
- Running Princes of the Apocalypse? Adapt a Dragon Slayer Longsword to an Elemental Bane Morningstar!
- Descent into Avernus can take that Elemental Gem and make it a Fiendish Gem that summons a Barbed Devil instead of an Elemental or just make it summon some creature of CR 5 that works for the environment the campaign takes place in. Imagine smashing a brilliant diamond and having a Celestial Triceratops at your command for an hour …
For adapting or substituting different damage types, see the caveat below under REVERSE …
MINI / MAGINFY
This can be a cosmetic change that’s all flavour and the size difference makes no mechanical difference at all (but never underestimate the cleverness of a player).
- Oversized Gauntlets of Ogre Power
- A magical +1 sword that looks like it came out an anime
- A Thimble of Endless Water
- Toothpick of Lightning
It could be an object that more than one creature could use at a time.
- An oversized cloak of protection that only grants protection to three attuned creatures if they are within 10 feet of each other
It could be made slightly more powerful or weaker by this size change
- A Bag of Holding that belonged to a giant, so it can hold up to three times as much but also weighs 45 pounds instead of the normal 15 and looks more like a backpack on a medium creature.
- A Mini Broom of Flying that can only carry 200 pounds but has a flying speed of 80 feet (40 feet if burdened with 400 pounds) – perfect for multiple gnomes to ride or a lightly encumbered scout
- A Figurine of Wondrous Power that is disguised as a statue for a villain to activate during the epic encounter
PUT TO AN ALTERNATE USE
Give a new twist to a familiar magic item.
- Gloves of Missile Snaring instead become Gloves of Deflection, affecting melee attacks instead of ranged – or for something more mystical, Gloves of Spell Catching that works only against spells that require an attack roll.
- Gloves of Crafting, instead of Thieving, that grant a +5 bonus to a particular tool proficiency like Carpentry or Blacksmithing.
- Bracers of the Sword Master, granting the attuned wearer proficiency with swords and a +2 bonus to damage rolls while using such weapons
- Boots of Dwarvenkind, while wearing these boots your tread is extremely steady, granting you advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks and on Saving Throws that would knock you prone or push you back.
Remove the magic item entirely and make it universal
- Night Soot (three uses) comes in a tin and will grant the user 8 hours of darkvision when applied to their eyelids (for the DM who doesn’t like Goggles of Night)
- Gemstone of Triumph – When ground to a fine dust and sprinkled over a non magical weapon, it grants a +1 magical bonus to that weapon (DM’s choice if this is a permanent improvement for that group that hasn’t gotten a single magical weapon that is actually used by someone or make it a limited use of 1 hour)
- Chain of the Righteous – If wrapped around the hilt of a weapon over the duration of a long rest, the chain confers a magical bonus of +1 (does not stack with other magical bonuses to hit).
- Tea Kettle of Water Breathing – Upon drinking tea from this enchanted kettle, for the next 24 hours you may speak a command word that creates a bubble of air around your head that allows you to breathe normally underwater.
This is the one that requires a little more thought. The rarity of items that deal elemental damage is roughly related to the commonality of the damage type. Fire and Poison (and resistances to both) are extremely common but not so much the case for items that cause (or creatures resistant to) cold or lightning damage. For example, the Rare Flametongue adds 2d6 fire damage and sheds bright light for as long as the wielder desires. The Very Rare Frost Brand adds only 1d6 of cold damage and sheds a small bright light in cold and extinguishes non magical flames. If you choose to reverse or substitute a different elemental effect like damage or resistance, be mindful of the balance and frequency of the new damage type (more things are resistant or immune to necrotic damage than force or radiant). So where do you put a Corrosive Hammer that deals +1d6 of Acid damage for rarity?
Sometimes it is just easier to go with a thematic reversal (and yes, I dug into the Rare items on this one …)
- Mace of Hope (instead of Terror) – has 3 charges to cast Bless and grants the wielder advantage against Fear effect for one minute when the Bless spell is cast.
- Belt of Elvenkind – your Dexterity increases by +2 (to a maximum of 20) and you have advantage on Charisma (Persuasion) checks made to interact with Elves. In addition, you have advantage against Charm spells and effects, darkvision out to a range of 60 feet, and can speak and read and write Elven and Sylven.
As always, go with what works best at your table and may this little brainstorming session help inspire something new and different for your game!