I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed my post from a couple weeks back about adapting the magic systems from Final Fantasy games to work in tabletop. As you may have noticed, I’ve been giving a lot of my attention to video games for the past few weeks. And while this is strictly a tabletop blog, it’s always more fun to write when I can write about something which is already on my mind, as opposed to trying to force myself to write about something I’m not really interested in at the moment. When I try to force it like that, I just end up doing a half-assed job. Besides: combining tho relatively unrelated things is always a great way to come up with some creative ideas.
I’ve always been a fan of the Zelda games published by Nintendo. And while I lost interest in new titles after literally falling asleep during the endless sailing of Wind Waker, I still regularly go back to re-play the games published before that. And the best among those, as well as my personal favorite game of all time, the The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I could go on for pages about why this game is so good (and I’m pretty sure I have) but that’s all beside the point. Like most Zelda games, A Link to the Past contains a multitude of items which the player must collect in order to complete their quest. Some are pretty standard fare, while others are so unusual that they never really showed up again in later Zelda games.
I’ve always wanted to play a Zelda themed tabletop game, but never really encountered a group that would be right for it, or a system which would fit it well. (Though I am aware of the D20 Zelda system). None the less, there’s no reason elements from the games can’t find their way into your Pathfinder or D&D campaign!
The bow and arrow are kind of a weak start to this post, since they’re already pretty standard fare in fantasy adventure games. However, in LttP, the player must eventually acquire silver arrows. These are significantly more powerful (equivalent to about two or three times the damage of normal arrows, if I recall) and are required if you wish to defeat the game’s final boss. The idea of a creature which is immune to anything but a certain kind of arrow is interesting. But, I’ll grant you, not particularly special.
Now this is a little more interesting. Boomerangs are a fascinating and exotic weapon which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a tabletop game before. And while its real-world use is far less impressive than the fantastical variations found in anime and video games, the mundane item is none the less worth thinking about on its own. With regards to the boomerangs specifically show in A Link to the Past, however, they were primarily used for two things. First, when they struck one of the game’s bad guys, the character would normally freeze in place for a few moments, unless it was particularly powerful. Secondly, the boomerang could be used to retrieve items which were out of reach.
That second use might be a little too video-game-y for a tabletop game, but a “Boomerang of Freezing” or “Boomerang of Time Stop” could be a really fun item to give to your PCs. It would allow them to dispose of enemies in a much stealthier manner if they can be quick about it, or could provide an important edge during a large combat. The only thing I would change is that, like a real boomerang, this one shouldn’t return to the wielder if it hits something.
This is probably the single most peculiar item which appears in LttP. None the less it has gone on to become one of the most iconic tools in Link’s inventory throughout the series: the hookshot. In its function its pretty simple; you hold onto the handle with one hand, and can fire a heavy-duty spearhead attached to a chain from one end. The spearhead lodges itself in wood, and some other surfaces, and the chain then retracts, pulling you towards whatever object you hooked on to. It was a lot of fun to use in the game, and was probably the only fantastical item which was mechanical, rather than magical.
In a tabletop game, I don’t think this has quite as much potential. Firstly, the nature of a tabletop game doesn’t really allow for Zelda-style puzzle solving, which is largely what the hookshot was used for. Secondly, while it could certainly still be used as a climbing implement, I think players would probably have some questions about how it works. If the spearhead is buried deep enough into a surface that it can support a character’s weight, then how is the character ever able to remove it?
Maybe that problem could be solved by replacing the spearhead with a magical adhesive which comes un-stuck with a command word? If that was the case, then this could be a game-changing item for low level characters. It’s almost as potent as a fly spell for avoiding obstacles. They could use it to scale walls, cover gaps, easily hide on ceilings, and so much more! Though perhaps a ‘grip’ mechanic would be in order. Something like they can only hold on to it for a number of minutes equal to their strength modifier?
I’m funny when it comes to gunpowder in my campaigns. For the most part, I prefer to avoid guns. I’m sure it can be done very well, but it takes away from my preferred flavor of gameplay. Despite that, I have no problem with cannons, or explosive devices like bombs. I like the idea that a major city might have one or two people in it who make explosive devices, and sell them at a high price. Players would have a difficult time carrying more than a few at a time, but if they could get them into a strategic location, they could blast their way through a dungeon wall, or obliterate a powerful monster.
The magic dust was a bizarre little item. Functionally, it was really only needed once in the entire game, as part of a little side-quest to halve the amount of magic each of your spells consumed. But it also transformed some of your enemies into different kinds of creatures, making them much less dangerous, or even helpful! And that sounds like a blast to me. The players find a small leather pouch which appears to be filled with glitter. Anytime a handful is sprinkled on something, the GM comes up with a random, wacky effect. And after a few handfuls, the pouch is empty, preventing it from becoming over-used.
A rod which shoots fire from it is just about the most mundane magical item I can imagine. But when I think about the Rod of Fire in LttP, I realize that its primary function wasn’t in combat. More than anything else, it was used to light torches, and that I find interesting. What if a fantasy adventure game had a Rod of Fire which was able to shoot a ball of non-magical fire up to a great distance. Maybe 60 feet. If this fire struck an enemy, the damage it dealt would probably be minimal. The primary use of such a rod would be lighting something flammable, like a pool of oil, or a thatched roof cottage. Because of its limited function, it could have more uses than we’d normally allow with a similar item. Perhaps 10 uses per day, or 20, or even an unlimited number.
The ice rod in A Link to the Past is (obviously) very similar to the fire rod. So I see no reason why it shouldn’t be converted in the same way. It shoots a blast of freezing air up to 60ft, and covers anything it touches with a layer of ice. The trick with this is that it might be far more useful, or far less useful, than the fire rod, depending on what the GM wants ‘a layer of ice’ to mean. If it can actually freeze an enemy solid, then it should probably have more limited usage than the rod of fire. If its not powerful enough for that, but could instead be used to trip an enemy on a ice-slicked floor, then it could have unlimited uses as with the above.
Um…I’m not really sure what to do with this one. Or with any of the medallions, actually. They cause some extremely powerful magical effects. In the game, the Bombos medallion causes a pillar of fire to spiral outwards from your character, followed by dozens of explosions which kill absolutely everything on the screen. If I were to include these three medallions in a game, I think the only way to do it would be to boost their power way up, but make them extremely difficult to use–and probably more likely to be in the hands of a villain. The Bombos Medallion, for example, can only be used during a lunar eclipse. It causes a pillar of fire to descend from the sky, and spiral outwards from the location of the caster until the end of the eclipse. Its destructive force could easily level a city. This is the hydrogen bomb of a fantasy world.
Interestingly, the Bombos medallion is the only one which actually has a powerful effect. The other two medallions have impressive animations, but are functionally single-use items, which are needed to enter certain dungeons in the game. When you use the Ether medallion, lightning comes down from the sky to strike your sword, and a dozen orbs of light start to spin around your character. In the game, all this does is allow you to is illuminate invisible walkways. It also opens the entrance to Misery Mire, but that’s not very easy to translate.
In a tabletop game, the Ether medallion can only be used during a solar eclipse. It creates 12 balls of light which can be moved only by someone holding the Ether medallion. These balls of light are permanent creations, and can never be unmade. The light they emit functions as a True Seeing spell, destroying any illusions or invisibility spells which may exist in the area.
In the game, this is even less useful than the Ether Medallion. It literally has only one function: opening the entrance to the Turtle Rock dungeon. Given the fact that it not only causes a massive earthquake, but also creates lightning which arcs across the ground, I am not sure why this item doesn’t harm enemies. Well fuck that, we’re changing it.
The Quake Medallion can only be used when all of the planets are aligned. When this happens, the wielder can create a titanic earthquake which will devastate the landscape, and cause one major geological shift. By exerting a great force of will, the wielder can attempt to control what form this geological shift will take. Perhaps a towering mountain range will rise from the earth, or a dizzying crevasse will open at the wielder’s feet. Truly powerful wielders could even use it to create a permanent intersection with the elemental plane of earth.
Truth be told, in the game, the only use for the ‘magic’ hammer is to pound in giant pegs which block your path. I guess they must be ‘magic’ pegs, which nobody can climb over. I can’t think of a good way to convert this to a tabletop gaming system, but there’s no reason to ignore the idea of a magic hammer. It’s a cool idea. Just use it to smash walls, or giant rocks, rather than pegs.
While the Ocarina would come to play a central role in the Nintendo 64 Zelda games, in A Link to the Past, it was a pretty minor item. After the player completed a relatively simple side quest, the flute could be used to summon a miraculously strong duck which could whisk Link to a number of set locations on the world map. While that, again, is pretty video-game-y, I think the idea of a musical instrument which summons animal companions has a lot of potential. Not only is it flavorful, but it has the potential to grow more useful over time. Lets say that the flute has a simple song inscribed on it, which will summon a horse for the character to ride. But if the character decides to invest more time in the instrument, he can discover other songs which summon other types of animals to come to his or her aide.
The hammer is an ostensibly magical item which turns out to be pretty mundane in function. The opposite is true of the bug catching net. Supposedly it’s just a mundane net, owned by a kid who likes to study insects. But clearly it’s quite a bit more than that, since it can be used to deflect balls of magical death fired at you from sorcerers.
While I don’t see that being really useful in a tabletop game, one of its other uses in LttP was catching faeries. In the game these are used as an ‘extra life,’ but in a tabletop game their use could be more grounded. Perhaps faeries are required to cast a single spell for anyone who captures them? Could be a fun alternative to always telling your players that they need to find a wizard.
I’ve already written absofuckinglutely extensively about language, so I won’t return to that concept here. The Book of Mudora allows Link to read tablets written in ancient Hylian, which often causes a big effect. Since it apparently magically allows him to read a different language, what about a book which does that same thing? Either the book allows the wielder to read one specific language, or all languages. It functions by touching the book to a sample of writing which you would like to read, then opening the book. Whatever page you open to will have that same writing on it, but you will magically be able to read it.
While the Hookshot is definitely the most peculiar item to appear in A Link to the Past, I think The Cane of Somoria is probably the most interesting. At least in terms of its potential tabletop applications. Using the cane creates a block, very much like a standard stone block which might be found in numerous locations throughout the game. The block can be pushed around, or even picked up and thrown. Only one block can be created at a time, but if the cane is used while a block is already created, the block is destroyed, sending blasts of energy in four directions.
Now, a tabletop game is never going to be able to support puzzles the way a zelda game can. Putting blocks on top of buttons, or pushing blocks around so you can use them to climb, is simply not interesting in a tabletop game. But that doesn’t matter, because the ability to create a block out of nothing is both strange, and useful. Players could find a multitude of applications for it, even if you were to remove the ability to cause the block to explode. Though, regarding that, I think perhaps instead of beams of energy, the exploding block should simply send shrapnel 10ft in all directions.
The Cane of Byrna is, unfortunately, not as interesting as its red counterpart. At the cost of rapidly draining your magical energy, it makes you invulnerable to any kind of damage. I suppose the best way to adapt this for tabletop would be to make it usable only by casters. Upon using it, they become invulnerable to any kind of damage for 1 minute, at the cost of the top half of their remaining spellcasting ability for the day. As an example, if a Wizard has three 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell remaining for the day, they lose their second level spell, and one 1st level spell of the GM’s choosing.
If I had to give A Link to the Past one criticism, it would be that some of the items should have been more useful, and had less overlap. Functionally, the Magic Cape is identical to the Cane of Byrna. It drains magic extremely quickly, and in turn makes you invulnerable. The only difference is that it also makes you invisible, and allows you to pass through a certain kind of in-game hazard called a ‘bumper.’
Capes of invisibility, or capes which allow you to pass through walls, are hardly ideas foreign to fantasy adventure games. I have nothing of value to add.
The Magic Mirror was part of the game’s central mechanic. In order to work properly in a tabletop game, the entire campaign would need to be designed around it. (Or, at least, the entire adventure where the mirror was featured). Essentially, A Link to the Past had two similar world maps: the ‘Light World’ which was the game’s primary setting, and the ‘Dark World’ which had been corrupted by the villain. Many of the game’s puzzles involved strategically traveling between the two worlds, which the mirror allowed the player to do–though only in one direction, from the dark world to the light one.
I think it would be really fun to build an entire campaign around the concept. Have an alternate universe where everything is much worse. For example, in the game’s main world, a dragon is attempting to destroy the kingdom. The same is happening in the dark world, but on top of it, the king is a tyrant. The players could find a way to gain audience with the goodly king, then use the mirror in his throne room to change realms, and take the tyrant by surprise!
Again, tabletop games are not well suited to Zelda style puzzles. So you can’t have a ton of rooms in your dungeon where the players must use their shields to reflect a beam of light onto the right spot. However, in LttP, the mirror shield is largely used to deflect lasers, which got me thinking: what about a shield which can ‘bounce’ a spell back at the caster?
It couldn’t work 100% of the time, of course. The wielder would need to identify that a spell was being cast, and they’d need to get between the caster and the target for it to work. And perhaps the shield would only work 1-5 times per day. But it could be a very interesting magical item for a party to have. Fighting an evoker? No problem, bounce those fireballs right back. Doing battle with a necromancer? Bang, she just finger-of-death’d herself.
The Pegasus boots allow link to charge up, and dash quickly in a straight line, which is a little more interesting than boots which simply make you move more quickly. Perhaps these boots could double the effectiveness of a character’s charging maneuvers?
Note that the power glove (lol, obscure product placement?) doesn’t necessarily increase Link’s carrying capacity, only what he can lift. I find that much more interesting. Sure, with enough bags of holding, encumbrance stops being a problem for players. But they can still only lift so much weight. But with these amazing gloves, they could lift boulders equal to four times their weight! That would be pretty cool.
This post ended up going on for far longer than I intended, so I’ll wrap it up quickly here. I will note that there are a handful of items I skipped because I honestly can’t think of anything to say about them. I mean…the lantern? Whoop-de-doo. It’s a lantern. They cost 2 silver pieces and are part of most adventurer’s starting gear. But if you can come up with a neat way to adapt the lantern, or the jars, or the flippers, etc. to a tabletop game, leave it in the comments! Or if you’ve got a better idea of how to adapt one of the items listed above, leave that too!
EDIT: Oh, holy shit, this is my 200th post. Go me!