View Full Version : The Coolest McGuffin

2011-08-24, 01:25 PM
Most games have one, in some fashion or another. Whether it's a seed of the world tree or a magical chain capable of binding the gods, or just the cliche legendary weapon, objects often play as large a role in a story as the setting and the villains.
My next campaign is in need of a mundane-looking item that has fallen into the PCs' possession following the murder of a higher-level, ex-adventuring inventor pal. I'm extremely flexible in terms of function since the game is still very much in the conceptual stages; I just want something cool.

So, what's the neatest, most memorable (and by necessity, powerful) McGuffin you've seen featured in a campaign?

2011-08-24, 01:52 PM
Might I point out that MacGuffins work better in videogames than Table games?

That said, if you're willing to take videogames as examples, check my white text.
7 Chaos Emeralds, or 7 Dragon balls, depending on where you were and which series came out first there (Sonic went super first in Canada/US!)
A magical Paint brush that can create or destroy.
An electromagnetic pulse-er device that can calm/heal sea animals.
A collection of mushrooms/flowers capable of making you big/small/firey.
The Spartan Laser when endless ammo is active. Or the Halos.

2011-08-24, 02:27 PM
A cool McGuffin? I've always been fond of things which are useful, unique, fun and are easy for the PCs to get attached to.

Something like, inheriting the Inventor's Tower or a vehicle of some sort. If you make either upgradable, the PCs will keep it until you take it away or the campaign ends.

2011-08-24, 02:51 PM
The characters will of course inherit the inventor's domicile as well as a heaping helping of magic items and knicknacks to go with it, but to drive the story onward, I like the idea of a nondescript but fascinatingly dangerous item - the object the individual was murdered for - to fall into the hands of the PCs, making them the new target.

Temet Nosce
2011-08-24, 03:03 PM
An actual lucky coin, not in the sense of luck bonuses, but in the sense of altering reality itself for the user. Either by holding it, or changing things related to the user by flipping.

A small, comfortable pipe that when smoked actually destroys a tiny part of reality, while extending the smokers life indefinitely.

A seemingly normal bag of holding which actually links to a space that contains things lost to the world (I.E. the moon as it goes through its phases).

A knife that can severe not just physical matter, but concepts.

... To tired to ramble more.

2011-08-24, 03:16 PM
A plain-looking gnarled wooden staff. When used, it summons a meteor down on the desired location. And not the crappy meteor spell either, an actual meteor that can completely wipe out an entire country and devastate an entire continent. To be extra funny the staff itself registers as a very weak magic item as it is only the key/targeting mechanism for the actual magic device that summons the meteors.

Any kind of bladed weapon that can cut anything. Mechanically it would ignore any hardness, DR, armor, etc. If you hit something with it, said item gets cut, end of story. Can also cut magical barriers, ghosts, and the souls of the living too (thus anyone who loses a body part to this weapon can never grow it back, anyone killed by it is gone for good, etc.). Critical hits from this weapon are insta-kills, even on something immune to critical hits.

Glasses/monocle/replacement eye that lets the character "see" the life force (or equivalent for constructs or undead) flowing through the target and attack it directly. All attacks that hit are automatically considered criticals. Combine this with the above item for even more fun.

Head of Vecna.

2011-08-24, 03:31 PM
Most of the things in this thread strike me as very neat, and potentially powerful but do not scream "McGuffin!"

I'm not exactly a wellspring of information either I suppose as our games don't tend to heavily feature McGuffins. The general stuff from media and video games is easy to get to, though I would say that looking at Final Fantasy games could work well for this.

The idea that came to mind when I was reading the thread was:
A pocketwatch (which should send up warning flags since those shouldn't exist) that is tied to the life of something very important. You can tie it to whatever person/being you feel is appropriate to your game. The God of time is always a good choice of course. The watch has to be wound up regularly to keep that being from dieing. The person carrying the watch is functionally ageless, and perhaps doesn't need to eat/sleep etc. Perhaps if the watch is ever allowed to completely wind down to nothing, the bearer takes the place of the powerful being/God that the watch was tied to, however the watch is then scattered to a random person on the plane and the being is bound to never directly interact with the watch or bearer in any way.

In a past game I have used a McGuffin that was a Schema and body sample that combined Warforged with Undead and was being used in a plot to bind the essence of a dead god into an undeadforged body.

2011-08-24, 03:40 PM
Heh… I would make it ordinarily innocuous (but useful enough to keep- a magic compass or a watch, say) until you do or say something particular. Leave a hastily scrawled concealed note to get them to do it, of course. Then have it do something very surprising.

Things that come to mind:
-Shoot out some tendrils, grab the inventor's cat, and eat it. Reveal what it does with/to the cat afterwards. How long after is up to you. Could be a mini-Warforged-minion-maker!
-Make a copy of one of the players. Illusory, but capable of independent action and thought. Might get some Shadow Evocation and illusory spells to boot.
-Start assimilating some of the nearby gadgets.

I think something that would also be really cool is a Bag of Holding (much higher capacity than normal) that has a gigantic mechanism on the inside. It can extend various parts of this out of the bag. I'm picturing, for minor stuff like moving itself around, a mechanical spider that's got the Bag of Holding as its abdomen. But it should be able to put out much larger destructive stuff.

2011-08-24, 04:52 PM
The elemental orbs.

Each orb has a direct link to it's respective elemental plane and allows you to draw immense power from that plane.

One guy who got his hands on the fire orb managed to draw so much power from it that his blood outright turned into lava, he damn near became fire itself just from constantly drawing energy through the orb.
Also, Intensified Searing Fireballs...at will.

Bastard even went so far as to do some sort of Fusion Dance with a flipping volcano when he started losing.

And that's just one of them.

If you use all of them at once...yeah :smalleek:

2011-08-24, 05:35 PM
One of [insert powerful outsider here]'s close possessions, given to the inventor as a thank-you by [outsider]. If a powerful enough wizard with the right spell had it, he could use the bond to drain [outsider's] magical powers and use them for EVIL.
And guess what? Coincidentally, a powerful wizard with a shady organization is planning to do just that.

2011-08-24, 06:00 PM
Spoiled for references to Curse of the Crimson Throne

Sial (NPC cleric) had his own artifact version of Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion called the Bone House, gifted only to the most devout worshipers of Zon-Kuthon. Once we, uh, lost him in the Star Tower, the summoner realized that we still had his stuff. Got like a 42 on the Bluff/UMD/whatever to use it. It was epic. :smallbiggrin:

2011-08-24, 07:33 PM
"A magical Paint brush that can create or destroy"

It was the most awesome we had in my campaigns. The problem was not falling in wrong hands, since it required a big ammount of willpower to create something that would last, and even more to erase something; but letting it slip into the hands of someone with the willpower and creativity similar to the goddamn batman.

Then that game Okami came, and it took away some of the magic behind it...

2011-08-25, 05:48 PM
The soul of a poet, trapped in a jewel. The assonance in his verse is such that in the hands of a bard, it can be used to travel the planes. Though, only the outer ones.

2011-08-25, 06:38 PM
How about a weapon that was possessed by a demon, then had Imprision Possessor cast on it, traping the fiend?

Archpaladin Zousha
2011-08-25, 06:55 PM
Currently in my brother's campaign we're actually chasing a series of McGuffins. The issue is that the Wise Old Emperor disappeared some time ago, leaving the throne room sealed, so a new Emperor can't be crowned. The only way to open the throne room is to retrieve several ancient tokens once owned by the allies that formed the Empire back in the day, and place them in special niches on the wall beside the throne room door. We've almost completed the dwarves' token, which was an ancient harp. The problem is that we're now in the midst of a three-way struggle for it: the barbarian warlord Glendon Hardfang, who currently holds temporal power through military might, but lacks legitimacy and is viewed as nothing more than a usurper, the powerful elf mage Zoldorn, who doesn't have a legitimate claim to the throne, but has been actively endeavoring to recover the tokens by recruiting adventurers, and the dwarven mafia, who don't care two hoots about whose arse is in the Imperial throne, but rather want to reclaim the old dwarf holds in the Troll Mountains and hopefully crown a new King of the Dwarves to restore their race to its former glory. We were originally recruited by Zoldorn but now we're working with the dwarves.

2011-08-25, 08:03 PM
How can no-one have said the One Ring, yet?

2011-08-25, 08:16 PM
In a campaign I was in the party was coerced into finding a delivering an old book written in an obscure language no one knew. The wizard in the party, who had a big black male chicken, used Comprehend Languages to read it. It was written in the mysterious language 'English' and was titled "The 100 Things To Do to Be A Successful Evil Overlord". He told no one, and then the player had to leave. So none of the remaining characters knew what they had. XD

2011-08-25, 09:45 PM
A dangerous arcanist's tower appears near the PC's home. The arcanist may turn out to be evil, or may have any number of reasons for coming here. Whether by slaying the owner or diplomacy, the PC's gain access to the tower-which is far larger than they thought. It contains near-infinite unexplored space, and the 'tower' portion can appear anywhere in the Material Plane. What other secrets could be found there?

I may make a campaign of this, I like it already.

Hida Reju
2011-08-25, 10:23 PM
I always like the Jinn or Genie that must be guarded against the evil wizard/ruler/demon getting it to wish for things to shatter the current reality.

Usually it was a D&D wish spell that can be granted once per century or something that had much greater scopes with little to no drawbacks. IE you could wish for true immortality or an artifact of ridiculous power.

So you have to escort the Jinn to make sure it is not taken prisoner or if it is captured recapture it before a certain planetary alignment.

2011-08-25, 10:38 PM
I had an idea for a post apocalyptic campaign once, wherein the McGuffin would be...a McMuffin.

2011-08-25, 11:09 PM
The inventor's personal homonculus. It can be bound as a familiar, if someone desires. It understands language, but doesn't speak, and is generally just helpful all around. (It knows things the inventor knew. And if you speak the correct phrase, it will write them down...)

A pair of boots, worn maybe twice. They're fancy make, and good quality, but otherwise unremarkable, and they emit no magical aura. (They've been somewhere the inventor's been, or been somewhere the inventor wanted to go. With the proper spell, the boots will lead their wearer to the location. Not compel, just... guide the wearer the right way.)

A key that doesn't fit any lock. (Except the right doors.)

Glasses that don't magnify or correct vision. (But will reveal a single thing.)

The deed to a small plot of land in the city, with nothing built on it. (But the fact that you own the land is still important somehow.)

It shouldn't be inordinately powerful - in fact, its power shouldn't even be apparent to start. This is the sort of thing you can grow plots on.

Archpaladin Zousha
2011-08-26, 12:44 AM
How can no-one have said the One Ring, yet?
I don't know if that really counts, since they're not questing to FIND it like a traditional McGuffin. They've already GOT the thing, they're just trying to find a way to DESTROY it. :smallconfused:

2011-08-26, 05:03 AM
But they are constantly attacked by other groups who want to take it away. Sometimes it does get stolen, then they have to get it back. That's ver MacGuffiny.
Even though we actually know what the Ring does, and what would happen if the wrong guys get it, which isn't MacGuffiny at all.

2011-08-26, 10:12 AM
My favourite McGuffin was a device (we never actually knew what it looked like I think) that could be used to open a Gate, in an otherwise planar-locked setting. The awesome thing about it was that it was, during the whole campaign, located inside our dwarf fighter (who started out amnesiac with no knowledge of how it got there). Various powerful factions were trying to obtain it, which would probably mean killing our hairy little buddy, with intents of letting a demonic invasion into the world. At the campaign's finale, the dwarf sacrificed himself by jumping into the cauldron of an active volcano right when the gate had been triggered to open, causing the invading demons (that turned out to be actually robots from another dimension (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DoingInTheWizard)) to meet a stream of lava as they entered the world, wiping out their ground forces. :smallamused:

I had an idea for a post apocalyptic campaign once, wherein the McGuffin would be...a McMuffin.
In a tartan-patterned cup! And it should make awful bagpipe noises if anyone in the vicinity so much as thinks about eating it! :smallbiggrin:

2011-08-26, 10:19 AM
I had two McGuffins I really enjoyed in the game I'm running now.

The first was a person. The players were supposed to work with him to find out what he was up to. I killed him in session 2 and he was unrezzable.

The second was the heart of Karsus (http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Karsus). He broke magic and was turned to stone in 2e. I figure that by now what's left has been eroded into a grapefruit sized rock. Occasionally you can hear the echo of a heartbeat coming from the rock and if left alone, it leaves a damp, reddish stain on whatever surface it was resting on. Oh and it can act as a power source for 3rd ed magic, which is crazy powerful in my 4e game.

Story time! Since the PCs aren't old enough to know 3e magic, they gave the heart to Elminster. Elminster decided he was powerful enough to take on Lord Shadow (leader of Netheril. He was also Karsus's student, so think about how old and badass that makes him). Elminster was going to kill Shadow and leave the players at his respawn point to jump Shadow and murderize him for good. Instead Shadow teleported to the room they were in, covered in blood and holding the stone. And that's how they nearly TPKed. Only one PC got away. Two are dread wraiths. The other two are dominated. Final session is tonight.

2011-08-26, 02:32 PM
A sealed box, can't be opened no matter what the players do. The bad guys want what is in the box. It doesn't matter what it is, since the players will never directl interact with the contents of said box.

This is the classic McGuffin. See Pulp Fiction for similar.

2011-08-26, 03:17 PM
A dangerous arcanist's tower appears near the PC's home. The arcanist may turn out to be evil, or may have any number of reasons for coming here. Whether by slaying the owner or diplomacy, the PC's gain access to the tower-which is far larger than they thought. It contains near-infinite unexplored space, and the 'tower' portion can appear anywhere in the Material Plane. What other secrets could be found there?

I may make a campaign of this, I like it already.

So, you saw Krull, too?

2011-08-26, 03:28 PM
So, you saw Krull, too?

Never heard of it! Convergent evolution happens a lot in storytelling, after all.

2011-08-26, 03:40 PM
I don't know if that really counts, since they're not questing to FIND it like a traditional McGuffin. They've already GOT the thing, they're just trying to find a way to DESTROY it. :smallconfused:

I would still count it as a McGuffin.
And to me it is the perfect example of what a cool McGuffin should be, it does not have to be a very unique item (a ring is not ^^), it does not have to have superpowers of awesome, what it has to have is a good backstory.

To me the backstory is the overall deciding factor if a McGuffin is cool or meh.

2011-08-26, 09:35 PM
A small round crystal, about hand sized.... egg shaped, with facets. When whoever is holding it talks, facets seem to flicker in time with the sounds, brighter if the sounds are louder. It has a faint aura of magic that grows slightly more powerful when the holder is talking.

Sufficient research or trial and error will reveal that it can cast just about any magic, if given the proper command. Commands are given verbally with a brief description of the desired effect, and in verse or rhyme. More powerful effects require more words / longer verse.

"A light to banish the night" casts an empowered light spell.
"A ball of fire / is my desire / in the direction of that orcish liar" casts fireball
"That disease is quite tragic / And horrible in appearance / so break the magic / that sickens my ally Vince" casts cure disease (or break curse or whatever) on Vince.

And so on and so forth.

2011-08-27, 01:40 PM
J-H, do you mind I borrow that idea, but require that people freestyle rap about whatever they want to happen? Pretty much what you said, but less serious.

2011-08-27, 03:43 PM
If you're feeling especially cruel
You might modify that neat tool-
Give the magic more strength
(Or at least longer length)
If limericks are used as a rule.

They're fighting a sorceress cunning,
And too proud to simply go running?
They'd best watch that meter
If they want to defeat her.
Perhaps give a bonus for punning!

2011-08-27, 04:09 PM
So far, (in any actual games) my favorite McG were these super super rare crystals that powered ancient technology normally way above what we could use (we stole the name from stargate and called them ZPMs).

The twist at the end was that they could reproduce themselves like seeds/trees if given the right circumstance.

EDIT I should mention they were super cool because they can power things like mega death rays...

2011-08-27, 08:49 PM
J-H, do you mind I borrow that idea, but require that people freestyle rap about whatever they want to happen? Pretty much what you said, but less serious.

Go for it!

2011-08-28, 12:13 AM
None in my campaigns (at least yet), but just an idea.

A small, brass framed hour glass. Rust has started to build up on an end, with the other sparkling fresh. If the party thinks to flip it and start the sand moving, the rust slowly vanishes, as the other side does the reverse and begins to age. Somehow, the wizard came across the literal Sands of Time, and took a small amount. Now, the only effect they can get out of the sand is the case itself aging or the reverse. The McGuffin was a paired set, the Sand of Time and a bracer, designed to harness its abilities.

The thief (assassin) that killed the mage took the bracer, assuming it was the only piece. Which means that the party has one half, and their enemies the other. Maybe toss in a disaster that requires the full power of the device to avert (possibly due to the loss of that sand, the essence of the cosmos is unbalanced, and begins to tear itself apart. People from different eras of history and future show up and all hell breaks lose), either forcing the party to make a deal with the devil or wrest the piece from the big bad.

2011-08-28, 01:00 AM
I really like the idea of the lucky coin, brought further. Essentially whoever held it would be as immortal as possible. If a boulder got catapulted at him the thing would literally switch course once it got near enough to him. If he fell off a castle, 5 minutes before a farmer with a hay cart would have the sudden urge to go and park where the guy is going to fall. He wouldnt be completely immortal, if he fell that distance, and there where no hay carts, flying creatures or anything that could possibly save him in time then he would die. SInce its a coin it would be small and easy to loose, or rather easy to steal. and though its very powerful, only one person could use it at a time. this would get the players to try to think about how in any given situation who needs it more, and also there is the element of dropping it or an enemy interfering when they are tossing it to each other in the middle of battle.A warrior can use it to parry every attack from a great demon lord, but he will have to survive on his own in order to give the rogue the coin so he can pick an impossible lock.

I also like the idea of a completely chaotic dangerous uncontrollable powerful device. For instance an orb or button when pressed/concentrated on begins to meld the immediate area with a random plane. It starts a certian distance away and intesifies as it gets closer to the bearer. In otherwords if it chose the plane of fire 50 feet away the walls would start heating up. then next turn they would become super hot, and the air next to them would heat up. then the walls burst into flames (without taking damage), the air next to it becomes super hot and the third area heats up. Finally at stage 4 the original area becomes pure fire, fully melding with the plane of fire (returning to 100% normal, undamaged after the affect ends, whenever it does). Eventually the elemental plane will make its way to the caster (thus making them have to be aware of allies who are in the effect, and that if he uses it for 1 minute he will be ingulfed in flames). This this has the power to destroy a mass of people, the effect could instead destroy whatever is there instead of just transmorgifing it. So as assassin could lock a kings doors and use it and burn everyone in, making it a powerful risky weapon. Even greater if you have a means to become immune to the plane (once it engulfs the caster, if they dont die maybe it will spread. making it possible for someone immune to the plane to use it long enough to engulf the entire world). It would also maybe choose other planes. rather than worrying about heat, the air thickens till it turns to stone, or liquid. the room fills with positive energy till things get so healed they explode , or its filled with necrotic energy. or if it chooses a lower plane Nearby demons might notice. perhaps it has the added effect of driving residents of the plane insane. So when you start using it Ghosts (astral plane), elementals, demons, or angels start appearing out of nowhere and attack people (indiscriminatly). Thus making it a fun "oh ****" button if the party is in trouble.