Return of the Weapon Gem, 5th Edition

Header Image by Scarypet.

One of my favorite little mechanics in 3.5 D&D was the Augment Crystal system. It was a minor system introduced in the Magic Item Compendium that allowed you to customize your magic items. Actually, that book is JAM-PACKED with new and interesting mechanics just waiting to be explored by aspiring designers (…foreshadowing?…). Augment crystals, relics, runestaffs, synergy bonuses, and magic item sets? Please, ma’am, can I have some more?

Anyway, augment crystals. Anyone who played games like Diablo, Bloodborne, or even Monster Hunter will recognize this idea. Weapons have slots into which characters can insert crystals that imbue that weapon with magical powers. In the Magic Item Compendium, these crystals were graded as Least, Lesser, and Greater, gaining power as they went up in quality. They gave a variety of benefits, including energy damage, illumination, and life-drinking; as well as weirder options like the Phoenix Ash Threat, which dealt damage over time, or the Witchlight Reservoir, which granted benefits based on whether it was exposed to sunlight, moonlight, blood, or wine.

It was a neat little system to allow characters the option of customizing their magic weapons on the fly so that they could give themselves a tactical benefit in combat. No longer would you be stuck using your nonmagical handaxe against the fire elemental because it’s immune to your Flametongue. Now you could just slap in your Lightning Assault crystal to gain some electricity damage. Then, after the battle, you can switch it out for your Illumination crystal to light the way for the rest of the dungeon.

To be frank, I’m REALLY surprised that this system hasn’t made a comeback in 5th edition. Since it has eschewed the “weapon properties” system, as well as any concrete rules for crafting magic items, I would think that a system that allows you to customize your own magic items would be welcome.

So I made one.

All augment gems are included in the Magic Item Archive on my downloads page.

Augment Gems

Perhaps they contain some small essence of the outer planes within them. Or maybe these crystals are mined from the bodies of massive titans and refined in ancient dwarven forges. Or stranger still, perhaps they were created by crystallizing the blood of powerful spellcasters after their death. Regardless of their origins, augment gems are small crystals that, when attached to armor, shields, or weapons, imbue them with magical power.

Equipping a Gem

As an “use an object” action on your turn, you can either attach or remove an augment gem from a single suit of armor, a shield, or a weapon. Each item can only sustain a single gem at a time. If more than one augment gem is attached to a single item, neither function until one is removed. Once a gem is attached to an item, it imparts its special properties onto that item.

Instability

Augment gems do not require attunement, as requiring attunement would eliminate their on-the-fly nature. Instead, augment gems are what we might consider “unstable” magic items. They possess raw, unrefined magic that doesn’t tend to cooperate well with other magics. If you carry more than three items enhanced by augment gems, their magic begins to react in strange and potentially dangerous ways. The actual result of this should be left up to the DM, but ideas include an anti-magic field, damage to the wielder when they touch the items, or even something more…explosive.

This should be communicated clearly to players when augment gems are introduced, so that they know their limitations.

Augment Gems in Your Campaign

Okay, so I’ve talked about the augment gem rules. But let’s instead talk about actually integrating them into your campaign. Just how should augment gems be used? Should you supplement your magic item rewards with them, or should they replace traditional magic items entirely?

In the end, it’s up to the DM. However, if it’s me, I’m going to use the following system.

In standard D&D, magic item creation is left exceptionally vague. In general, it’s understood that players shouldn’t be creating magic items on their adventures, and should instead be finding interesting ways to use the magic items they come across. I actually like this method, and I’m going to double down on it. But with a twist.

In a campaign that uses augment gems, most magic items are relics of a lost age. They’re not crafted, but reclaimed from delves into ancient ruins and tombs. The Flametongue that you find is an ancient tool, and no modern mage could possibly craft an item of that quality.

Instead, your civilization has invented the augment gem. Regardless of the actual crafting method, augment gems are the magic items of the modern era. Rarely will you find a merchant selling a Cloak Of Elvenkind, but many will carry a few gems in their inventory.

In this way, you create two separate methods of acquiring magic items. Traditional magic items are “Discovery” items. You find them when you go into dungeons, just as you normally would. Augment gems then become “Mercantile” items. You might find some when looting the corpse of a dark knight or when pickpocketing the guard captain, but the primary method of acquiring them is through trade. It should be common for players to pick up one or two gems between adventures.

In the spirit of this method, I’ll include the general pricing guidelines for magic items. Increase or decrease these values as appropriate for your campaign.

Rarity Value
Common 50—100 gp
Uncommon 101—500 gp
Rare 501—5,000 gp
Very Rare 5,001—50,000 gp
Legendary 50,001+ gp

 

Augment Gem Examples

The following augment gems are examples of what can be done with this system. Create additional gems at your leisure. The following items are also intentionally broad in design, and DMs should be encouraged to refine them for their campaign.

9

Chameleon Gem

Augment Gem, rare

This gem’s color and shape appears to be constantly changing, though further inspection reveals a simple round stone within the illusion. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object can cast the disguise self spell at will without consuming a spell slot.

Elemental Assault Gem

Augment gem, rare

This gem is infused with raw, unchained elemental power. When attached to an object, attacks made with that object deal an additional 1d6 points of acid, cold, fire, or lightning damage. Each elemental assault gem can only be infused with a single element, which is chosen at the time of its creation.

Elemental Shield Gem

Augment Gem, rare

This gem is infused with rigid, structured elemental energy. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object gains resistance to acid, cold, fire, or lightning damage. Each elemental shield gem can only be infused with a single element, which is chosen at the time of its creation.

Exemplar’s Gem

Augment Gem, uncommon

This gem seems especially light and easy to handle. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object gains proficiency with the Acrobatics and Athletics skills if they did not already have it.

Gem of Ant’s Strength

Augment Gem, uncommon

This gem seems especially heavy, leaving dents in wood and metal when dropped, but is light as a feather when picked up. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object’s carrying capacity increases to 30 lbs x their Strength score.

Spellslinger Gem

Augment Gem, uncommon

Looking closely at this gem reveals arcane writings flowing across its surface. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object can cast a single cantrip. The cantrip is chosen when this gem is created.

Gem of Arcane Steel

Augment Gem, very rare

Whenever you touch this gem, it discharges a small amount of arcane energy that causes a startling shock. When this gem is attached to an object and you hit with an attack made with that object, you can immediately sacrifice a spell slot of up to 5th level to deal additional force damage. The additional damage dealt is equal to 1d8 + an additional 1d8 for each level of the spell.

Gem of the Sky Rider

Augment Gem, very rare

This gem hovers about a centimeter above the ground at all times, never quite touching down. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object gains a fly speed equal to their walking speed.

Screaming Gem

Augment Gem, rare

This gem is constantly vibrating, and emits a soft hum. When attached to an object, attacks made with that object deal an additional 1d4 points of thunder damage as the object lets out a loud shriek. Creatures made of inorganic material, such as stone, crystal, or metal instead take 1d10 points of thunder damage.

Spellguard Gem

Augment Gem, very rare

No matter how hard you try, you can’t quite touch this gem, as if it has a shield of force around it at all times. When this gem is attached to an object, the bearer gains advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects, and spell attacks have disadvantage against them.

Traveler’s Gem

Augment Gem, uncommon

This gem will occasionally blink out of existence, reappearing where it was a half-second later. When attached to an object, the bearer of that object can teleport up to 10 feet as a bonus action on their turn.

Vampiric Gem

Augment Gem, very rare

Touching this gem is painful, though it seems to glow with a strange green light whenever touching living flesh. When attached to an object, attacks made with that object deal an additional 1d8 points of necrotic damage. In addition, you recover a number of hit points equal to the necrotic damage dealt.

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