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Variations on an Eldritch Theme: Trophies

…and see this sword?  These are dragon’s teeth in the pommel, and this hilt is its claw!  See there was this dragon and…” ~ An Adventurer bragging about a Trophy

While running a D&D 4e game for some friends recently, I’ve had to deal with an issue that is bit vulgar.  However, I am fairly sure that I am not the only Dungeon Master that had to arbitrate it.  The junior Player of the group has pretty much decided that his fighter is, in essence, a “big game” hunter.

It all started when the young fighter was introduced to the rest of the adventuring band, who had already been playing a couple sessions.  The new Player-Character found himself fleeing from a pack of starving wolves through a wintry forest, and happened to run head-long into the rest of the adventurers, who were kind enough to help him deal with his furry issue.
weapons transparent pic
After the fight was over, the battle was over, the fighter insisted that he was going to skin these wolves, and take their pelts back to town to be made into a cloak.  Shrugging at the time, I declared that to properly skin an animal was a Nature Skill check with a moderate DC.  So the new warrior brow-beat the ranger until he agreed to butcher his way through five gray wolves.  And when the character arrived back in town, proceeded over to the local clothier, paying some of his new-found adventure loot, to have the frozen pelts tanned and sewn into a massive cloak.

But, of course, this was not the last time this sort of trophy gathering would happen.

When the adventurers succeeded in killing their first dragon, a young white one, the fighter once again wanted trophies – this time a claw and some of the dragon’s teeth.   Realizing that there was no going back once I had set precedence with the wolves, I again let the ranger use a moderate DC Nature Skill check in order to play dentist to the dead dragon.  And again, when the young fighter got back to town, he went straightaway over to the local blacksmith, and had the dwarven craftsman forge a fine new sword, and to fashion the teeth and claws into the pommel as decorations.  And the fighter paid twice the gold he normally would have for the weapon, but the Player felt it was worth it to his Character – if for nothing else, than something to impress the wenches down at the local tavern with.

So it occurred to me that taking trophies might not be such a bad thing after all, and might even be worth considering as a magic item.  And so now there is a new item type in my campaign – trophies.

What are Trophies?

A trophy is not a magic item by itself, but rather an enhancer for a magic item.  When added to an already existing magic item, it increases the “oh wow” factor of that item, by making it look more impressive.  Typically, trophies come from very powerful creatures, such as dragons or demons, which are usually solo “boss” type enemies.

Because of their impressive appearance and nature, trophies add a bonus to a “social” skill checks, such as Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate.

But not every tooth, claw, or tail spike is going to count as a trophy.  If you did that, it would encourage Players to turn their Characters into blood-stained butchers, dismembering every monster that they kill.  Rather than that, Dungeon Masters could hint at a would-be trophy, taking care to make special note of it when the monster is described – and preferably while the monster is still alive and kicking!

For example:

As the dragon raises its talon-ed claw, you notice that one of the talons is larger and gleams like a razor.  And when it slashes at you, the talon extends even longer from its sheath, whistling like a sword as it rakes at your chest!

Once the creature is dead, a Perception Check can be used to hint that a trophy can be harvested.

  • Perception DC (Moderate; based upon monster’s level): The Character notices that the monster’s [claw, tooth, scale, etc.] is of particular note and might be a trophy.
  • Nature DC (Moderate to Hard; based upon monster’s level): The Character manages to harvest a trophy from the carcass.

Arcana or Dungeoneering skills could be substituted for the Nature skill, depending upon the monster’s origin (natural, aberrant, elemental, etc.).

Once harvested, a trophy can be added to a magic item to gain a bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate checks.  The bonus is based upon the level of the monster, and the skill that it enhances should be decided ahead of time by the Dungeon Master.  An appropriate Knowledge skill check will reveal which skill a trophy will modify, so that the adventurers know which Character would benefit best from adding the trophy to his regalia.  Typically, the enhancement is a +2 trophy bonus for Heroic Tier monsters, a +3 bonus for Paragon Tier, and a +4 bonus for Epic Tier.

The cost to add a trophy to a magic item is around 10% of the base item’s value, and must be done by a skilled NPC artisan.  Trophies are useless by themselves, and must be attached to a magic item before they work.  In my campaign, trophies can be attached to Head Slot items, Shields, Implements, and Weapons.  Common sense should prevail here, and a Character that wants to attach a massive behir’s horn to a little wooden wand should be discouraged.  Of course, that same horn might be completely appropriate for a helm crest or a shield spike.

Trophies should be very special, and as such, cannot be sold or traded.  They have no market value.  The magic in them is attuned to the adventurers that slew the ferocious creature, and should enhance their renown.  Trophies, therefore, are really tied to a Hero, and when not in the slayer’s hands, a trophy is merely an unusual bit of decoration.  Usually, only one trophy can be active on a Character at any one time, but Dungeon Masters might make a special exception in some cases.


Trophy (Magi Item Enhancer)

  • Special item harvested from a very powerful and solo “boss” creature.
  • Requires a Knowledge Skill roll to take a trophy.
  • Can be added to magical Head Slots, Shields, Implements, and Weapons.
  • Costs 10% of the item’s base value to “enhance” it with a trophy.
  • Adds a +2 trophy bonus to one social skill: Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate.  Item bonus increases to +3 at Paragon Tier, and +4 at Epic Tier.
  • Cannot be traded or sold, and are unique to the renown of the heroes that slew the powerful creature.

There might be other trophies that would modify other Skills, but I felt that they would be most appropriate to effect social skills, in order to amaze NPCs and grant greater renown to the Heroes.  Please feel free to comment regarding this magic item variant, and I would welcome your feedback and recommendations.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


4 Responses to “Variations on an Eldritch Theme: Trophies

  1. Swordgleam says:

    My Iron Heroes character does something similar. The party has been killing a lot of minotaurs, and every time, he takes their horns and crafts them into something – statuettes, necklaces, and what have you.

    I personally prefer this as a fun bit of character fluff that sometimes lends a situational bonus. Adding mechanics to trophies just makes them feel too videogame-y to me. I’d rather say, “Hey, we just killed this dragon, I bet its claws would make an awesome necklace” and feel proud of my cleverness than say, “Oh, a dragon. Hey ranger, make a nature check to figure out which part of it is the trophy and what it does.” Besides, setting up trophies in this way puts the onus on the DM to create and place them, rather than letting the players naturally come up with ideas for trophies as they kill beasties.

  2. Michael says:

    I had a similar response in that I started thinking about Fable 2, and showing off my trophies to townsfolk to impress them and raise my reputation. So, I get the videogame feel this might induce in some players, but I still thought this idea was really cool, obviously well thought out and could really work for some players.

    My thought is that it gives a cool hook for a player to use to add to their roleplaying while also giving a (minor) mechanical benefit that might entice a “rollplayer” into a little “role-play.”

    .-= Michael´s last blog ..“All This and Brains Too” Part Two =-.

  3. Swordgleam says:

    Michael, I see what you’re saying, but to me, this turns the roleplay into rollplay. Instead of crafting trophies because it fits the character, it becomes just another item slot to be filled in a prescribed way.

  4. I hate to say it, but I think you’re both right. For reluctant role-players, the process of adding a trophy to an item and then using it to “wow” the locals in a social setting might be helpful to bring a shy player out of the corner a little bit. By the same token, players that have no trouble role-playing might just view using trophies as just another item to slot into their characters. It all boils down to what’s fun in your campaign and what works with the group of players you have around your table.

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