Review: Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium

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Okay, so no one sent me a free copy (thanks for nothing…sheesh!) but I had a lot of fun reviewing Neverwinter last month, so I thought I’d pass along my thoughts on the latest hardcover offering from Wizards of the Coast for D&D 4E – the much anticipated but not entirely alliterative Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium (or MME as I’ll refer to it throughout this article)!

Before getting into the meat of the book, I have to say that I’m intensely relieved that this book came out. If you’re like me, you were never thrilled with the way that the Daily powers of magic-items played out. Essentials corrected that by instituting a rarity system instead, but it was very poorly supported at first. If Common magic items are supposed to be what the PCs are finding more than 50% of the time, then I needed a big bunch of Common magic items at all levels. And Rare items of various levels were equally needed.

When this book was first announced, I thought, Perfect, here they come. And then the book was canceled. We were told we could expect the contents to show up, possibly in altered format, as various D&D Insider articles, and I remember thinking that, if Essentials was supposed to be the gateway for new players and DMs, it was a lot of expect them to find this vital info by subscribing to DDI.

The book suddenly appeared back on the schedule during GenCon, I believe, and now it’s out, ready to assist DMs not only with scads of new items, but also with other things I’ll talk about.

Fluff vs. Crunch

You already know that it’s a book full of magic-items, so it follows logically that there are tons of new items of all different rarities. What sets this book apart from other 4E magic-item books immediately is the Fluff vs. Crunch factor. There’s always a desire to balance story and role-playing elements (Fluff) with rules elements (Crunch). Previous books of this ilk for 4E have been pretty dry, reading a bit like a technical catalog with occasional sidebars to give a bit of story for a specific item.

MME is far more balanced in this regard. Every item has a blurb of description, a bit of legendry, or a story to tell. Just reading through these items should give a DM plenty of story potential for the items that they choose for their games. And it may be that items will be valued as much for their story value as for their abilities. As cool as a set of True Gauntlets of Ogre Power are, how much cooler are they if the PC learns that they’re the only one of a kind in your campaign, having been forged by Vaprak the Destroyer during the Dawn War?

Nostalgia Factor

This book is full of nods to those of us who’ve been playing D&D for a while. It’s got quotations from Mordenkainen all through it, giving us a glimpse into the mind of the Archmage of Oerth. From snarky comments about his warrior comrade Robilar to wistful musings about his fellow wizard Otiluke, Mordenkainen’s words bring the world he lives in to light. It’s not a pleasant world…the Archmage is far more bitter and cynical and ruthless than, say, kindly old Elminster, but it’s fascinating to get a so-obviously Unaligned character’s point of view.

Beyond these references to PCs and NPCs of the original Greyhawk campaign, we see plenty of magic-items from D&D history here for the first time. Such wondrous creations as the Robe of Useful Items, the Mace of Disruption, the Rod of Beguiling, the Wand of Wonder, and the Periapt of Wound Closure have all returned, giving me a definite grin on my face, every time I come across one. You whipper-snappers may not remember these, but I certainly do.

And tremble at the return of some much-missed artifacts, such as the Book of Infinite Spells, the Hammer of Thunderbolts, and the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty! When I was kid, these names alone filled my mind with ideas for stories, and I hope they’ll excite the imaginations of D&D gamers for years to come.

And Much, Much More

Beyond the cavalcade of magic items, you’ll find that other parts of D&D have found their way into 4E via MME. Do you miss Ring Mail, Banded Mail, Splint Mail, and Studded Leather Armor? Well, they’re back! Other non-magical gear one can find in these pages includes caltrops, a crowbar, and the much beloved 10 foot pole…a steal at 1 gp! There are also new trade goods, prices for buildings, and new alchemy.

Also making a return through MME are items players are sure not to have missed – Cursed Items. Instead of being a random screwing, however, Cursed Items are now much more story-driven and can be applied to useful magic-items…which can then be de-cursed to make them useful again.

One brand new element here is the idea of Story Items. It’s been said before that Artifacts are items that shouldn’t be given out randomly…they should always be part of the story. Story items go one step closer – they must be part of the story, because they break the game rules. There’s no rule for a magic beanstalk, a harp that sings on its own, or a chicken that lays golden eggs…but through Story Items, you can bring a story to life. One of my favorite of these elements is a True Name. I love the idea of something being compelled by its True Name, but I’ve never seen it implemented well. Here’s how…make it a story item and don’t sweat the rules.

There’s a very cool sections on Hirelings and Henchmen, something that were so intrinsic to early D&D that an extremely popular comic strip (Nodwick) spun out of the idea. In short, Hirelings are essentially Minions that serve the party for a fee, granting some useful power, such as lighting a torch or carry gear in dungeons. Henchmen are sidekicks who work with the party, having motivations of their own, and granting abilities, but also earning their own experience points.

There’s also a much too small section on coming up with stories for magic-items. A couple of die rolls could indicate that your Shielding Longsword +1 was crafted to end a war but ended up starting one instead and that it is completely transparent. Go fig!

To Sum Up

Unlike Neverwinter, which I recommended but wouldn’t think of as essential, I think no gaming group should be without this book. There are tons of new Common and Rare items, something the game was sorely missing, and some fantastic new rule-sets, not to mention just a ton of ideas. My favorite gaming books are those that don’t just give me new rules to play with; they’re the ones that inspire me with new stories to tell.

With MME, I can imagine lots of DMs are going to have lots of ideas for a long time.

Your Turn

Have you read this book? Do you agree or disagree with me? Is there something that’s returned that made you squee with glee, or are you disappointed that the Frost Brand sword you had in earlier editions has been gimped? Let us know.

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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