Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays from the Ziggurat of Mirth!
See. This is what happens when you get carried away with the vacation from your real job – you forget to make a post for your blogging job.
So by now, you will have hopefully been successfully greeted in a seasonal manner (at least once) and have indeed had a happy holiday. In order to not further disappoint my editors, (and, might I add, what benevolent and merciful overlords they are), I thought I’d write about something that’s like a holiday gift from 5e – trinkets.
I know it’s a stretch, but trinkets remind me of a mainstay of holiday decor – Christmas tree ornaments. And while this feature of character creation in 5e is sometimes overlooked as a minor add-on, or simply designed for fluff, the nature of the trinket is actually a great opportunity for design. The trinket is the best opportunity for dungeon master creativity in the entire character creation process. It’s basically a free gift.
Here’s how trinkets are supposed to work: as part of the Player’s Handbook and thus part of the character creation process, the player is allowed to choose, or have the dungeon master assign randomly, one from a list of 100 peculiar items that are listed. None of the items are supposed to have a game effect as far as the rules go. There are no combat, ability, or spell bonuses applied as a result of having a trinket. The idea is that the trinket is to stay in the background and used as a jumping off point for adventure, either by being a part of the story the dungeon master is telling, or by incorporating it into the PC’s background as a sort of “Easter egg”.
Now the items in this list are pretty random. As an example, I’ll give you the trinkets that each of the PCs in my own campaign acquired:
- The half-elf druid has a glass globe filled with constantly moving smoke. She wears it as a pendant.
- The dwarf sorcerer has a glass bottle filled with a dead sprite.
- The dragonborn fighter had (I’ll explain in a moment) a mechanical crab that crawled about on its own, when no one was looking.
Pretty random, right? A dungeon master might be hard pressed to work these into a story in some meaningful fashion. However, I found a use for trinkets that while a little outside their original intent, work well to move forward a PC’s story, and give the PC a second chance.
You see, I made trinkets “Get Out of Death Free Cards”.
Let’s sidebar a moment. Combat in 5e can be almost as tough and brutal as the combats in the 1st or 2nd edition AD&D. I hate to see well constructed PCs bite the big one due to a bad roll of the dice, or some other accidental occurrence. In order to counter this kind of event, I’ve determined that in my campaigns, the trinket will at some point save the PC’s life. I didn’t tell my players my intended purpose for the trinkets until one of them actually died. Of course, the mystery is a bit spoiled then (particularly if the PC’s death is public), but the look of relief on the player’s face is priceless. Of course, the trinket’s power is only available once, and when the PC is brought back to life, the trinket no longer has any power (in some cases the trinket might disappear or be entirely used up).
In my campaign, only one of my PCs has used their trinket – the dragonborn fighter. When he died, he found himself on the ship of souls, journeying to the afterlife. If you’re worthy, you stay onboard and arrive at an island paradise. If you’re not worthy, you get tossed into the sea of souls, floundering for eternity.
So, while the dragonborn is awaiting his judgement, his trinket (the mechanical crab), comes to life. Scrambling across the dragonborn’s still body, it hunts around until it finds his heart. Then, the crab burrows into his chest and gives his heart an electric shock, reviving the dragonborn.
In the afterlife, the dragonborn experienced this as finding a crab on the deck of the ship. He thought little of it, until it began to crawl towards him aggressively. Scrambling up his pant leg, it climbed him and burrowed into his chest, just like the material one did. With a start, the dragonborn sat up, having been brought back from the afterlife.
Of course, a boon like this really has to come with a drawback. I’ve established that some minor game effect takes place when a PC is brought back to life by her trinket. In the example with the dragonborn above, the price for his resurrection is that he now suffers disadvantage when fighting any arthropod – crabs, crayfish, insects, spiders, etc. This karmic penalty will stay with the PC until the end of his days, and should provide great opportunities for role-playing.
I do have plans for how to the trinkets of the other PCs might work (should they die, of course), but I won’t spoil those now, in case they happen upon this blog. However, if one of my PCs meets their demise, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Final Thoughts – If you decide to use trinkets in this fashion, here are some brief tips to keep in mind:
- Write down what trinket each of your PCs has acquired
- Come up with a clever way to work that trinket into the death of the PC (should it occur)
- Come up with a minor disadvantage or very limited penalty for the PC after being brought back to life. This can be a generic penalty, or one specifically tied to the nature of the trinket
- Remember that trinkets used in this manner are one time boons!
So until next time, hold those trinkets close, because the dungeon master rarely hands out gifts and your trinket might just be the most precious.
The Ziggurat is now Closed.