My gaming group and I recently started a high level Pathfinder campaign (15th level) and we were given a large sum of money to buy magic items with. At first I thought that it would be fun to go on a little shopping spree, but after a short while I started to realize that a good 90% of the items were just spells in another form. Which in turn caused me to start thinking (that's never a good sign), didn't magic items used to be a lot cooler or am I just realizing that they aren't that great after all? You see, I'm playing a wizard in this game and nearly every item that I came across in the book was just another way for me to cast a spell that I probably already had, so what was the point of having all these magic items if I can already do that stuff? Granted, it allows me to do MORE, but it's essentially what I'm already doing. This prompted me to go back and see if my memory was fading with old age. Maybe magic items weren't all that cool and I was just fooling myself all these years. Maybe magic items were just spells for people that weren't cool enough to play wizards.
So I broke out my trusty 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide to do a little research.
The first thing I looked for were items that mimicked spells that a wizard could cast without needing the item.
I came across quite a few actually, and that disheartened me. Made me feel that I was wrong all these years. Most of the potions were just liquid spells really. But then I turned the page and lo' and behold, there were so many magic items that no wizard could easily mimic! Sure, they could cast similar spells, but the items here were so much more powerful and interesting. Just look at some of these things: Wand of Enemy Detection, Wand of Metal and Mineral Detection, Alchemy Jug, Bag of Beans, Broom of Animated Attack, Bucknard's Everful Purse, Candle of Invocation, Instrument of the Bards, Jewel of Flawlessness, etc etc etc.
These are examples of items that can do more than a wizard can. There are even more items to be discovered that are 10x more powerful than in the newer games. Even the wands that replicate wizard spells are more powerful than they are now! Now, you get a wand that basically casts a single spell up to 50 times. Now, that is nothing to sneeze at, but it's also not very interesting. Lets take a look and a few of the more interesting ones:
Wand of Fire
Wand of Frost
- Ice Storm
- Wall of Ice
- Cone of Cold
Wand of Illumination
- Dancing Lights
- Continual Light
Wand of Polymorphing
- Polymorph Other
- Polymorph Self
You can kinda see a trend here. When they designed magic items in 1st Edition, they went with a theme. If you were going to make a wand of fire, you were going to give it several fire-like abilities. This is WAY more powerful that what you can get now. Now you need to have 2 or 3 or 4 wands to replicate that. AND, wands could be recharged!
I can see that, specifically with Pathfinder, they tried to make a rule system so a spell caster can create any magic item in the books, but in doing so they have removed any uniqueness and flavor. It's been reduced to a simple, generic formula to create a spell multiplier.
This is just one more example of how RPG's are moving further away from creative gaming and towards static rule-based gaming.