I just sold off some books and CDs at a used book store (Last Exit Books in Kent, Ohio, a great place) and got enough for some beer money (as well as wine money for the wife, a flashback to selling textbooks in college…) as well as the above. I saw another copy at a used book store a few months ago so I wonder if someone stumbled upon a storage unit filled with them.
I’d never heard of it before — it was published in 1993. The interior art, which is by the author is pretty terrible. He must have had a rad vector art program on his IBM 486 and used that. The cover is hand-drawn though and an order of magnitude better than the interior stuff (sorry no scans but imagine the goofy designs from the cover here ramped up another notch, more or less looking like the weapons that came with He-Man knock-off action figures).
The magic items are actually not that bad though. Some have non-combat powers, and some have powers that just plain weird — like the “singing” shield, which compels other magic items to listen and not operate normally. So basically it dispels other magic items temporarily, but the singing effect makes it unique. On the other hand many of the items are crazily over-powered (save-or-die effects, shooting multiple fireballs, items +5 or even +6, etc.), making it less useful for most campaigns. The blurb on the book boasts “over 1000 magic items” and in fact this is true. It does not even require counting variants within magic item types. That is, the author would not count a “girdle of giant strength” as five different items just because it might be of hill, frost, fire, cloud, or storm giant strength. There are literally over a 1000 entries, and some have multiple variants, so there are a ton of items. The only problem is that maybe 1/2 of them are so powerful they’d only be used in a high-level campaign, which means most DMs will have no use for them.*
Although these items are all weapons and armor, maybe half of them grant powers that are not really combat-related. I really like magic items like that. Also, there are a number of cursed items, which is OK by me. I rarely find my players just picking up and trying out unidentified items, since I’m running a version of D&D that has a pretty robust version of the “Identify” spell, but a few of the cursed items would make excellent adventure hooks. For example, there is an “Axe of hacking” which transforms the user, the first time it is used in anger, into a nearly unstoppable killing machine, hasted and unable to stop attacking until there is nothing alive in a one-mile radius. A one-man Death Frost Doom.
There is also an appendix of mostly pointless tables — a % table of random monsters, consisting mostly of the standard Monster Manual creatures, with “subtables” for giant and dragon types (really?), a random alignment table (!), and other similarly pointless tables (all presumably to be used to determine the purpose and qualities of special/intelligent magic items).
There is also a column devoted to an optional rule for “great weapons” — oversized weapons that basically no character can use (you need to roll a height of 6’6″ or more, and a weight of at least 240 pounds, and an exceptional strength, and be a straight fighter class). It’s pretty hard to see the point of these, if the author really expects no more than one in a thousand PCs to be able to use them.
So really you get a bunch of new magic items, some of them pretty cool, some just Monty Hall overpowered, and bunch of tables you don’t need if you have the DMG, and an optional rule that makes very little sense. Well, it does date to an era before the OGL (which made it easier for professional game designers NOT employed by TSR to publish D&D stuff) and before blogging (which has made the internet lousy with free new content).
The back of the book promises three more volumes for other kinds of magic items, and while I have not seen any evidence they were published in hard copy, they are now available as pdfs from the publisher “Stainless Steel Dragon”. In fact I got a PDF copy of the “Volonder megadungeon”** a few years ago (I am no longer sure if that was a prize from some online contest, or part of a bundle I bought to benefit Doctors without Borders back when Pakistan had that terrible earthquake) and I thought it was sort of neat although it also suffered from terrible vector graphics. It looks like Mr. Volden is still cranking out D&D material, and you can find more stuff on the usual RPG-pdf-selling sites, e.g. http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?author=Jon%20Volden . The covers of his works give a good sense of the vector graphics he uses, although he is also a photographer and uses bikini-clad models for covers now. He also has a few things on Amazon.com, such as a pair of books of riddles (which judging by the sample riddles and reviews are pretty horrible and were thrown together to cash in on interest in riddles following the latest film of The Hobbit).
So, I’m not exactly disappointed with the book I got, since I saw it as just as much a curiosity as a game aid, and as I write this I see Mr. Volden even signed this copy, so if you can pick up a copy dirt-cheap go for it. On the other hand you can get three compilations of unique magic items that are at least as imaginative at Lord Gwydion’s blog. So I’d skip the Tome of forgotten magic items unless you are just into seeing some DIY stuff from before the golden age of the OGL, the OSR, and blogging.
*Ah, but I guess the author would. He apparently has been running one campaign since 1982 which has taken his players to 30th level: http://rpggeek.com/rpgdesigner/25550/jon-volden
**Yes, his adventures and maps all appear to use made-up names that are based on his name. “Voldaria,” “Age of Volondor,” etc.