The Apparatus: For Fun & Weirdness


There are magic items and weapons you dream about being awarded or looting in Dungeons & Dragons. Sometimes you never get them. But then, there are those rare moments when you do…

When I first got my DM’s guide (way back in late 2017, right? I know, noob) and discovered the Apparatus of Kwalish, I knew I wanted it. I wanted to work it into my story; I wanted to find one as a player.

A large, iron barrel resembling a lobster or crab is how the Apparatus is often described. It seems folks tend to fluctuate between envisioning it as a barrel with steampunk insectile legs or just a straight-up mechanical crustacean. Honestly, I can’t complain about either depiction. Both make for some cool looking miniatures and add spice to gameplay and roleplay.


In my current campaign where I play Cade, a half-orc barbarian/wizard, our DM early on introduced an NPC who was a kind of tinker. Since we began playing, Unearthed Arcana has presented us with the stats for the Artificer class, which I think our DM knew and was using all along. Anywits, this NPC disappeared and our party was tasked with finding him. His trail went cold on the shores of vast underground reservoir where off in the distance the remains of a leviathan seemed to reach out of the waters to consume the energy radiating from a massive spike-like obelisk. As our NPC’s trail went cold, our party discovered the vehicle he had been traveling in–a massive lobster-like metallic device.


I think I literally squeed when it was described. Our DM had crafted for us a version of the Apparatus, one that could hold a party of five and had two extra levers. I made a successful Arcana check relating in character to the I was pretty sure I knew what the machine was and could operate it. My entire party was skeptical. No matter! Cade sat in the driver’s chair, stared at the numerous levers and switches, and got the party underway heading out into the waters via semi-submersible. I pantomimed pulling levers, flicking switches, shifting gear sticks, pumping buttons, and cranking small wheels. It was wonderful.

While the rest of my party was less than enchanted, the DM and I had a good time. Perhaps the aspect most endearing the Apparatus to me is that in a world of magic and gods the insertion of any kind of mechanical science is alien. I suspect many players dislike this item because it feels like a break in the illusion and, perhaps, a slippery slope to eventually playing a game they didn’t sign up for (remember how neat it was in World of Warcraft when goblin and gnomes became tinkers? remember how fucking annoying it was too?). However, in the world of D&D there needs to be intrinsic not just extrinsic strangeness. 

What do I mean by this? Whatever setting you play, there’s what players consider weird and wonderful in the world and what those inhabiting the world do. Just like magic in our real world is a queer thing, mechanical science in a magical world is something that doesn’t fit. It doesn’t belong, and yet, there it is. We need this kind of thing in our games–not too much, just enough to remind us we are dealing with other ways of thinking, seeing, and believing.

That’s my high-concept argument. My low-concept assertion is, the fucking thing is just so cool because it is so incongruous. While I partially agree “Battles with the apparatus are, again, a boring slog, and it still has no features that make it actually interesting,” I’m more interested in the Apparatus for what it can bring as a story element and roleplay opportunity. In one of the campaigns I’m DM-ing, I have written the Apparatus in as a means for a pirate collective to descend to the seafloor to scavenge sunken ships. Players in that campaign could conceivably acquire it and use it to get to and away from the prison of the Big Bad. Point is, “Everything excels in some environment, even if you have to make the environment yourself, and everything is usable given the right setting.” There are so many official magic items and a seemingly endless supply of homebrew ones, it behooves us to find ways to incorporate them. Being overpowered or underpowered is really a mere technicality and the very reason why we retcon things; it in no way takes away from the fun or weirdness, which is why I play–for fun and weirdness.


What are some of the magic items you wish you could encounter? What are the ones you have and how did they turn out for you?





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