Thursday, May 18, 2023

My Top 10 Favorite D&D Magic Items (Part I)

Since "My Top 10 Favorite D&D Monsters," Parts I and II, were so well received last week, I thought it might be fun to follow them up with a couple of posts in which I talked about my favorite magic items. As with the monsters, I'll try to stick to magic items that are unique to Dungeons & Dragons, though, as you'll see, several of the items in question were inspired by prior works. All of these items come originally from OD&D or AD&D, but then that should hardly be a surprise to anyone reading this. Sadly, almost none of these magic items had an illustration to accompany it in its original appearance, so these posts won't be quite as visually appealing as their predecessors.

10. Sword +5, Holy Avenger

First appearing in Supplement I to OD&D (which, not coincidentally, also introduced the paladin class to the game), the Holy Avenger is, in the hands of its intended user, a very potent weapon, conferring 50% magic resistance in a 5' radius, dispelling magic in a 5' radius, and dealing +10 damage against chaotic evil opponents. My fondness for it is colored, no doubt, by the fact that my first D&D character eventually obtained this mighty weapon, which he used to good effect in his battles against the forces of the Abyss. The Holy Avenger is arguably overpowered even by AD&D standards, but it brings with it a lot of flavor, which is more than can be said of most magical weapons.

9. Elven Cloak and Boots

This is a bit of a cheat, in that it's actually two items, but, because the Holmes edition of D&D listed them together on its miscellaneous magic items table, I tend to think of them as a unit. Conferring near-invisibility and silent movement respectively, the elven cloak and boots were probably inspired, at least in part, by the cloaks Galadriel gave to the Fellowship in the first volume of The Lord of the Rings. Despite this likely origin, I'll always consider them distinctively D&D magic items, because of how commonplace they were as a treasure in low-level adventure modules. They're also pretty darned useful.

8. Sphere of Annihilation

How's that for whiplash? The sphere of annihilation is a favorite of mine for two reasons. The first is that the use – or misuse, depending on your point of view – of this magic item played an important role in a campaign I refereed to great success in the early to mid-1990s. The second is that the sphere, like many of the best magic items, is both powerful and unpredictable. Successfully employing it depends on a magic-user's level and Intelligence score and, even under ideal circumstances, there's still a reasonable chance things will go awry. Plus, opposing magic-users can fight for control of the sphere, which always struck me as pregnant with potential.

7. Gauntlets of Ogre Power

This is another staple of low-level adventure modules and understandably so. Not only are they quite useful to fighters, they have a nicely mythic quality to them, like something Siegfried might have found in Fáfnir's hoard. Gauntlets of ogre power also play an important role in the history of Morgan Just, a character from the earliest days of playing D&D with my friends. 

6. Figurines of Wondrous Power

I suppose this, too, might be considered something of a cheat, because it's actually a category of magic item, coming in seven different forms. In truth, that's precisely why I like them. There's something very fun about the fact that these are magic items that can appear again and again and yet never be precisely the same thing twice. Equally fun is the fact that they're little animal statues that come to life and perform useful tasks for their owner. The figurines remind of something that might appear in a fairy tale and I think that's just great.


  1. Figurines eventually came in far more than seven varieties, but even the classic ones are just that - classic, and easily on my own top ten. They might have had some fairy tale roots, but I always thought the main inspiration was miniatures, either wargaming or later roleplaying ones. Most likely small toys as well, given that Gygax was obviously using them at his table as critters like the rust monsters and bullette show. Wasn't hard to find more naturalistic animal toys in similar sizes back then.

  2. Gauntlets of Ogre Power have a nicely mythic quality to them, perhaps because Thor wore Járngreipr (“iron gripper”) gauntlets to wield Mjolnir.

  3. They’re all flavorful, especially the figurines, but only the sphere of annihilation is iconic to me, as a unique manifestation of the influence of the weird on D&D, especially as it’s not an artifact but a generic item that apparently is not uncommon for MUs to make.. I would love to read how it managed to play an important role in your campaign, as it always seemed to have limited utility and I don’t remember seeing it used much in play. I wonder how it got used in the original campaigns of D&D’s creators/developers.

    Will you have a post about your favorite Artifacts and Relics?

    1. Perhaps, but, if I do, I'll probably limit it to Top 5 or even Top 3, since there are so many fewer of artifacts and relics.

  4. Nice picks James, and the Holy Avenger makes my cut too. Here's what I came up with.

    1. Staff of the Serpent (Snake-Staff). I have to put this at #1 because I got so much mileage out of evil priests with snake staves, whether the python or adder version.

    2. Vorpal Sword. It really deserves to be #1.

    3. Helm of Brilliance. You get 10 prismatic sprays, 20 walls of fire, 30 fireballs, and 40 light spells out of this thing.

    4. Instrument of the Bards (all seven versions). Now this is the power of music!

    5. Staff of the Magi. I mean, everything it can do. And that retributive strike.

    6. Eyes of the Eagle/Eyes of Minute Seeing. These two are a tie, and possibly the most underrated magic items in D&D.

    7. Horn of Collapsing. Can be used indoors, outdoors, or underground for different effect, but always efficient.

    8. Mirror of Life Trapping. The perfect prison.

    9. Sword +5, Holy Avenger. I agree with James, this one can't be omitted, and I did play a paladin for a long time.

    10. Ring of Invisibility. A bit of a banal choice, but an honest one.

  5. I love these lists. Keep them coming

  6. At our table, we once had the "Cloak of Elvis-kind" and the "Boots of Elvis-kind." I no longer remember what they did. Let you make moves like Elvis, maybe?

  7. Great topic! The Holy Avenger might have been my favorite item, because the paladin was my favorite character type. I fell in love with the "idea" of the virtuous knight when I saw the film, Camelot, as a child, with Richard Harris as King Arthur, and the great Italian actor Franco Nero as Lancelot, torn between the love (philia) of his king and his love (eros) for Guinevere. (Younger people might know Nero from his memorable roles in more recent films, Die Hard 2 and John Wick 2). The character of Lancelot also appeared in John Boorman's excellent film, Excalibur, which had an equally memorable cast: Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Liam Neeson as Sir Gawain, Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon, Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance, and Nicholas Clay in the role of Lancelot. To cap that off, I had the pleasure of reading (and studying) Thomas Malory's novel, Le Morte d'Arthur (penned in 1469) when I was in college. Put it all together, and I always wanted to *be* Lancelot. (Still do.) While Arthur earned the right to wield Excalibur, I would have gladly taken up the Holy Avenger.