Back in the day we would play with “card items.” These would usually be powerful items, not from a book but, from the mind of the DM, who would write the powers of the item on the back of a 3 by 5 card, and draw an image of the item on the front.
In that era (1979) D&D didn’t have feats, or skills, or special abilities. If you were a fighter you had a better hit table, and could wear armor. If you were a mage you could cast spells. it was the magic items that made your character unique. They were also what saved your butt as you went up against more powerful monsters.
The Talisman of Anarchy
I seem to remember picking it up at a convention in 1981 or so. Sketched in colored pencil on a yellowing 3″ by 5″ card, at over 30 years old real time, this thing is truly ancient in game time.
Here is the front. Not too impressive by today’s standards of art from any source book. Not bad for someone with a three by five card and some colored pencils. This is before the days of Google and photoshop. I like the symbols, think these could be used to connect this item to gods, cults, and cultures of the game world.
After scanning this and looking at the larger image I noticed a few details I hadn’t seen before. Like the small star of David in the center. “Actual size” is written on the bottom edge.
The Talisman of Anarchy A/E
When anyone touches this talisman s/he must make a save (at -5) against magic or become totally Amoral Evil. If so, the user will lie about the powers of the talisman, saying it only gives a better save against magic, which it does, +3. If the user does save s/he will take 2D20 points of electrical damage before s/he learns of its powers. It’s other powers are; Suggestion, Confusion, True Sight, and Lightning Bolts of 10D6 strength. It also gives the user an insatiable desire for sweet pickles stuffed with peanut butter.
Now on the back we get the real power of the Talisman . Wow this thing is pretty good! Who cares about the “totally amoral evil” part. Nobody plays that stuff, and besides from a monster’s perspective this describes just about every player character right?
And the best part is the last line: “It also gives the user am insatiable desire for sweet pickles stuffed with peanut butter.” Now there’s something I can role play!
While the last power is somewhat silly, I feel this where magic items can add a lot to a campaign. Adding flavor, even if it tastes like pickles and peanut butter, and motivations:
We must storm the castle and seize lord Beumonts supply sweet pickles!
What this item really needs is a small drawback, something to make you think twice before unloading those 10d6 Lightning bolts.
The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, has a mechanic called: Spellburn, which allows wizards to attempt more powerful feats of magic with the drawback of chancing corruption, which causes potentially permanent mutation.
D&D 5e also offers traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. I feel any Magic item of reasonable power could influence its owner through traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.