Magic items are a staple of any fantasy genre game or story, plus others genres as well. From the humble potion, to the mighty god-slaying sword. But something that crops up time and time again is how to actually use the item you have found. Some, like potions, are obvious; open bottle and drink. But what about others? Today, I’ll be suggesting some other ways magic items can be activated or even deactivated, which is useful for cursed items or those that give off a signature that can be tracked or followed.

  1. Activation on correct use – The item powers up when used correctly, such as a crown being used to coronate a king or a sword to kill. This prevents someone from turning on the items power by just holding the item or passing it to another. This is followed by a brief period of time when the items powers can be used.
  2. Activation by the correct user – Like Excalibur being pulled from the stone, only the correct person can use this item to its fullest. This could be a broad scope, such as a species, or tailored to a particular individual, such as the daughter of the Emperor, or the third son of the dark lord etc.
  3. Activation by time – This item can only be used for a brief period of time, such as at night, during the day, or rarer events, such as an eclipse. During that time period anyone can use the item and its powers, barring other restrictions it may have
  4. Activation by location – In a similar way to “Activation by time”, this item will only work or turn on when in a certain location. This could be a particular country or a temple complex. Removal from this location can either turn off the items powers and abilities temporary, or it could be a permanent de-powering.
  5. Command word/phrase – This is the one most are familiar with, a particular word or phrase is used to activate the items powers. If the item has various powers, each would have its own word or phrase. Not only do you have to know what the word is, but what language it is spoken in as well.
  6. Sound – Similar to a command word, but a particular sound is required. It could be a roar of a lion of a pure tone of a particular bell.
  7. Light/Dark – A type of light is required to be shining on this item for it to work. It could be sunlight, moonlight, green light, or pure radiant light. The inverse of this is an item that only works when a certain type of darkness covers it. This may prove problematic for those that require light to see and use the item in the first place.
  8. Key item – A second item is required. It could be that this secondary items only purpose is to activate the first, or it could be an item of power in its own right.
  9. Construction – When found, this item is in several parts. Only when brought together, maybe only in a particular order, will its power be yours to command
  10. Gesture – Either the item is moved in a certain way or you draw your finger across it in a particular pattern.
  11. Pressure – Similar to gesture, but the item must be pressed in a certain way; in effect, you are using an on/off switch or solving a puzzle on the items surface
  12. Blood/lifeforce – To bond with its user, an amount of blood must be given up to the item. This may have to be your own or from another “volunteer”. This may be taken to an extreme level and require a living sacrifice. The viler the item, the more it requires.
  13. Temperature – The item requires heating or cooling before it can be used. Outside of this temperature range, the item either doesn’t work or becomes unpredictable in nature
  14. Memory – You have to offer up a memory to power the item. The more important the memory the more power is given to the item. This memory may or may not be returned after the item is powered down. Some items allow you to choose the memory, others, especially the more evil items, pick for you. Some have been known to not take memories, but to change them…
  15. Emotion – In the same vein as memory, but you give up an emotion. This may be temporary or permanent.
  16. Sensory – One of your senses is turned off. As with others this might be permanent, or just whilst the item is being used
  17. Service – Suitable more for intelligent artifacts, to use this item, you must agree to a bargain. This bargain helps the item in some way, such as furthering its goals or releasing it from captivity.
  18. Combination – This item requires more than one method to release its power. It could be a key item and location, or blood and command word. If it has multiple powers each oe could have its own method of activation


Each of these options has their own advantages and disadvantages. They can also be a source of adventure on their own. Imagine this, you find the artifact required to kill the BBEG, only to discover that it requires activation at a certain location and time period. This time period is only a few days away and is the other side of the world…


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