What Do I Know About First Impressions? Vault of Magic (5e OGL)
It’s magic time! Or more specifically, it’s time to write a first impression article for Vault of Magic, the D&D 5e supplement from Kobold Press that introduces an entire volume of new magic items to the game. Why is this a first impression instead of a review? Mainly because any book that has a ton of individual entries on a single topic (all spells, all magic items, all monsters) can make a standard review daunting. It’s hard to compare every item to existing items for greater commentary on balance and niche, so I’m going to look at this from a slightly less analytical standpoint.
I was not provided with a review copy for this product and received my copies via the Kickstarter that I backed. I have not used this product in any game that I have run or played. I am very familiar with 5e D&D from both a player and DM’s perspective, and I have used many Kobold Press products in my games in the past.
Most of the items in this book aren’t going to be too graphic, but there are still several items that drink blood, have to be bathed in bodily fluids, or might be derived from various organs. Additionally, some of the artwork reflects blood and organs. If viscera aren’t your thing, you may want to skip a casual perusal of this work.
What’s In the Vault?
This first impression is based both on the PDF and physical version of this product. The book is 242 pages long, including a credits page, a seven-page table of contents, three pages of ads for different Kobold Press products, and a full-page OGL statement. The physical version is a hardcover, with both a gloss cover and pages. It also has heavy solid color endpapers. Up to the point of this writing, the binding feels solid and strong.
The artwork is the same high-quality work that is common in Kobold Press products, among some of the best fantasy artwork to be found in roleplaying games. There are several half-page pieces that introduce new chapters, as well as one to three pieces of artwork per page of the various items. There is a lot of artwork, but not every item that is detailed gets its own illustration.
The Vault’s Layout
The book has the following sections:
- Armor & Weapons
- Potions & Scrolls
- Rings, Rods, Staves, & Wands
- Wondrous Items
- Fabled Magic Items
- Appendix: Item Tables
There are several sidebars that explain where these magic items might be found in Kobold Press’ Midgard setting. Most items are new, but there are a few reprints that come from some previous materials.
This is the section that most people will immediately think about. There are lots of ways to protect and destroy in this section, but there are some quirks that I like that come through. There are common magic items that do things like allowing a character to add cantrips to their repertoire. There are weapons that don’t have a bonus to hit but have other magical properties. I like the design space for this kind of exploration.
There were a lot of guest designers that contributed to this book, and it’s fun to delve into the credits to see what guest creators made what magic items. Gail Simone, one of my favorite comic book writers, contributes one of my favorite items, a club made by a teetotaling cleric to punish anyone using alcohol, which has special abilities when used against someone currently intoxicated.
There are some interesting interactions with the attunement rules with some items. For example, there is a set of daggers that are matched that require attunement and are presented as a single magic item, but there are also items like the Crook of the Flock and the Shepherd’s Flail, which both require attunement, but gain additional powers when both are attuned to the same person.
I’m a fan of potions and scrolls, because as consumable magic items, you can play gift-giver a little more freely as a DM, because the item might be wildly overpowered, but it’s only going to function once. This section also introduces some new consumables, bezoars, magical food and drink, and troll’s blood.
Bezoars are items regurgitated by some kind of supernatural creature. When you swallow them, they stay in your system for a set of time, and at the end of that time, you take some acid damage as you regurgitate the item, and the magic is gone. As a neat bit of additional bezoar lore, because owlbears eat about anything, owlbear bezoars often have a curse that triggers in addition to its other effects.
Troll blood, when used to create a consumable magic item, can give you regenerative powers, but it also acts as a mutagen, triggering an effect from an included chart. Also, you can “over regenerate” to the point that your body pops and you die. That’s fun.
Another theme in this section of the book is a set of scrolls, each one keyed to a different type of creature, which can summon a creature and allows you to negotiate with that creature. Versions of this type of scroll exist for aberrations, fiends, celestials, and fey. These creatures are only bound long enough to negotiate, but if a bond is forged, the scrolls create consequences for breaking any agreement.
Spellcaster Toys (Wands, Scrolls, Staves, Rings, You Know)
This is one of those areas where it’s not always easy to pick out some of the best parts. Many of these items, to varying degrees, are delivery systems for spells that don’t use up spell slots (although there are obviously exceptions). There are some fun items that manage to bundle together some spell effects to tell different stories that we see with the core magic items.
For example, since the Plane of Shadows has such a strong place in the Midgard setting, we get items like the Umbral Band and the Umbral Staff, which plays with seeing in the dark and casting a host of darkness and shadow-based spells. I’m also a big fan of the Seelie and Unseelie staves. We don’t see as many fey-associated magic items, and it’s fun to see items from the opposing courts make an appearance.
I enjoy wands as versatile tools, and I like that there are a lot more “tool” style wands. In 3.5 when they served as extra low-level spells, I think we lost a lot of the flavor of someone that might carry five or six wands for very specific tasks. For example, we get wants that can determine depth or direction, put out fires, or cause drinks to ferment. I like that kind of utilitarian magic in wands.
Catalogue of Wonders
The next section is filled with wondrous items, which is D&D’s “catch-all” for any powerful, unusual, or simply weird items. I enjoy the fact that many of these items have similar forms to existing magic items, meaning that players won’t immediately know what these amulets, cloaks, boots, bags, or books are. There are some meta-utility items, such as manuals of golems for crafting the lesser golems outlined in the Creature Codex.
Some of my favorite items from Tales of the Old Margreve transfer over to this book. For example, Baba Yaga’s Cinderskull and Worg Salve. My players had a lot of fun with bearfolk characters using worg salve to make them more wolf like, while also being bear-like to begin with, although the version in this book removes the addictive quality found in the version contained in Tales of the Old Margreve.
The concluding section of the book is fabled magic items. These items are like design work we have seen in the past in books like D&D 3.5’s Weapons of Legacy, the hoard magic items in Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, and in Critical Role’s Vestiges of Divergence. These are special magic items that have an initial power, and then gain additional abilities at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th level.
Each of the items has a few paragraphs of history, to give the item some additional weight. It’s noted that these items can have similar histories with different “proper names” when appearing in different campaign settings, and most of the entries I have read are not overly tied to the Midgard campaign setting itself.
Despite being very rare and potentially very powerful, you can easily arrange for players to find these items when they are adventuring at tier one and let them expand in power as the player’s gain levels.
How Useful is the Appendix
The appendix is about 15+ pages of tables, but the tables take the magic items from this volume and combine them with the magic items from the SRD, allowing the random tables to award the full breadth of magic items if you are mainly concerned about including the DMG and this resource in your campaign.
I love having toys to give out to players. I want players to be excited about what they get, so I like to have a wide range of magic items and rewards to hand out. My initial impression is that I’m not going to be disappointed with this product for campaign play. There are a few items that I think got a little loose in focus, but for the most part, it’s exciting stuff.
When this was in the planning stage, I was hoping to get expanded origin, history, property, and quirks tables for magic items, because I like hanging those details onto a magic item, but the tables in the DMG can eventually start to tread familiar territory. I can see why it may not have made it into this product, however, because even though it’s a broad concept, those tables, and the concepts in general, aren’t included in the SRD, as far as I can tell.
I would definitely back another book like this (and I have, from at least one other company). Kobold Press’ delivery has given me confidence that if they can consistently deliver engaging monster books, magic items books should be strong showings as well.
What I would love to see in future magic item books is an index of magic items by rarity. One thing I’m very interested in is to see what kind of design happens on the extreme ends, for example, common magic items versus legendary items, without an index, it makes that kind of analysis more difficult.