This isn’t a new idea. You’ve probably seen these yourself either online or at gaming stores. But, if you are like most people, you probably never considered just making them yourself. I want to say that they are easy and fun to make, and once you start you’ll never want to stop.
Sample Image Taken From WoW
Draw a picture of a sword. You can do this! If you really don’t like drawing, there are tons of free images on the internet. Print this image on some heavy cardstock. I like to use images 3.5″ x 2.5″ (half the size of a 3×5 index card), but any size will do.
Now create the stats for a magic sword. It can be a super uber unique intelligent weapon or a lowly +1 sword. Give it a name. Maybe even add some history. Print all this on the back of the card stock. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how to properly align the paper in the printer.
Now cut it out. Ta-da! You now have a custom made card to hand out to your player. This is 100 times better than simply saying “You found a +1 sword”.
You can do this with armor, shields, trinkets, jewelry, all sorts of things. There is no reason not to make cards for non-magical items as well. Many items have significance beyond their functionality. A crown or scepter belonging to an ancient lord is a great way to start a quest, and having a card with a picture of the item makes it more real and more interesting.
Characters with an arsenal of magic items are often unimpressed with low level magic items. I hate seeing this, as I think all magic items should be special. However, when they already have a +3 weapon, why should they be excited by a +1 sword? A cool name an awesome picture will make any weapon more special. Maybe they’ll want to keep it just to look at the artwork once in a while. Maybe it will inspire them to give such items to favorite henchmen. Maybe they’ll just throw it away. But I think it is fun to try and see what happens.
A Word of Caution
World of Warcraft and similar online games have amazing artwork to use for inspiration. However, I would suggest not using their artwork directly, even in your own games. I’m not an expert on copyright law but any such use is probably a violation. Using a sample image on a blog hopefully falls under the scope of a review, but transferring copyrighted images to your players may be a different matter.
After committing this idea to pixels, I gave it some more thought. First off, there is one potential drawback to printing the info on the back of the cards. By printing the info, you are implying that what is there is everything that can be known about the item, telling players that there is no reason to consider that there might be more to it. For instance, a ring of air elemental control may initially appear to be nothing more than a ring of feather fall. It is only after further testing, identification, or time spent with the item that the additional abilities become known.
A better method might be to simply leave the back of each card blank and let players write the info there themselves, as that info becomes known.
I think it would be a wonderful idea to take this approach even further. Make cards for every piece of treasure (magical or mundane) that the players could run into. Simply listing all the treasure found isn’t nearly as exciting as seeing images of the loot. A line item of “a small gold statuette of a dog” is probably heard by most players as “a hunk of something or other probably worth around 100 gold”. A card with an image makes this item much more substantial.
Ideally, I would make dozens of cards each for all the common items, like armor and swords, so I could hand out unique cards for each item. Then have cards for all the other magical items from the DMG and mundane items from the equipment lists. Organize all these cards in an index card box and it should be an easy matter to locate cards for all the items the party finds after a battle.
Often times, the group will detect magic on the lot and then seem disappointed that there are only one or two magic items, seemingly not even noticing the non-magical loot. By having the visual of a stack of cards emphasizes the fact that the group actually found a lot of loot without having to give out excess magical items just to fill the expectations of the players.
In any case, I think this would be a fun addition.