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I'm running a high-level campaign where two players brought to the table two very powerful and costly intelligent items, which they filled with every kind of spell they could need. They also gave them a special purpose to be able to get the best stuff around. My question is, by RAW, does the special purpose have to be chosen among the ones provided in the column (for example: defeat this kind of creatures) or can it be chosen by the player? Because I think that the purpose of "keeping Player X alive" is a bit too cheesy and almost cheaty.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. With almost any question, more information is better, and it's sometimes good to explain how you got to asking the question. For instance, what sort of guidelines did you provide for PCs spending their starting cash? Exactly how high level are these dudes that can afford such extravagant magic items? That sort of thing. Anyway, even if you don't edit the question, the title question remains an interesting one. Thank you for participating and have fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 24 '17 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Also, having intelligent magic items exert their dominance upon their bearers is the topic of this question, and how intelligent items employ their powers on the bearers' behalves is the topic of this question. Both might be of further interest.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 24 '17 at 14:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good luck getting into any kind of interesting D&D adventure while wielding an item whose explicit purpose is keeping you away from danger. I'd say run with their cheese, take a hint from the Dungeon World rulebook, and "Show a downside to their equipment." \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Oct 24 '17 at 15:50
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If you are the GM, its your job to allow or disallow any custom created magic item. You could simply tell them right away that they have to pick a purpose other than that, or that they actually have to roll a purpose on that random table, you could ban the item and tell them to come with something else closer to what has been officially published instead, or outright ban custom magic item creation.

The Magic Item Gold Piece Values table is a tool for GM's and authors to design magic items, players will always try to obtain the cheapest magic item possible using that table, sometimes even using wrong calculations and/or not considering a similar existing magic item. Like using a Can only be wielded by Half-elves restriction to reduce the price by 30%, creating infinite re-usable magic items (potions of infinite cure light wounds, or arrows of true strike), or even attempt to break the action economy assuming that the item's abilities should be used automatically instead of requiring a Standard Action.

What I would do, personally, is simply to change who the weapon must protect. The player would have to designate a different person as the protectee. Not only that, but a weapon that has an existing purpose of protecting someone will attempt, at all costs, to protect that person in combat or outside of combat. At the cost of ignoring the wielder commands to do something else (like attack an enemy), which then would require a Will check versus the weapon's Ego, or casting spells when they are not needed, so the protectee is safe from surprise attacks and assassins. The higher the item's Ego, the more it will try to force their personality into the wielder.

Remember, intelligent items are still NPC's under your control:

Magic items sometimes have intelligence of their own. Magically imbued with sentience, these items think and feel the same way characters do and should be treated as NPCs.

As the GM, if you think an item is too strong, you can change it. Of course, you still want to be fair with your players, but that doesn't mean you have to allow in the game everything they come up with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Intelligent items!= custom items \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 24 '17 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Overall a great answer, but I do not think protege is what you want. Protegee means something close to student or apprentice. Protectee means someone being protected. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Oct 24 '17 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The sword is protecting someone, no? \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Oct 24 '17 at 19:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras: I think TimothyAWiseman is simply trying to say that you are using the wrong word. Someone who is being protected is not a protégé, but a protectee. \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Oct 25 '17 at 7:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sentient wrappings can be a lot of fun* sick is why the DM designs them. *fun meaning can cause disruption, lead to quests, have a falling out with your blade etc.... \$\endgroup\$ – Garret Gang Oct 26 '17 at 16:31
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It's not just the ones on the list

Table: Intelligent Item Purpose has a number of sample purposes that a magic item might possess

Which implies that there are more options than just that. However any options beyond those listed would certainly need to be subject to DM approval-- there's no indication that all purposes are valid. Furthermore, some ways of making items can only make those from the list, such as the impart mind spell.

It should be noted that some people interpret 'choose one' to mean 'choose any purpose', but 'choose one from this list' is an equally valid reading, and obviously preferable given your goals.

The purpose given is pretty reasonable

'Defend my servants and interests' is a valid purpose, as long as you pretend to divinity, as is 'defend blue-haired halfling multiclass druid/wizard theurges' . 'Keep John Alive' seems reasonably in the same vein, except it's likely to go horribly wrong, I, Robot (the movie) style.

Intelligent items aren't custom items, and the primary reason for getting them is the incredible flexibility they provide, ostensibly without the need for GM oversight. That said, they are extremely powerful, and can easily disrupt a campaign where other players are making poor character design choices. You said you are trying to run an epic campaign, so I doubt at-will Limited Wish, Greater Glyph of Warding, and Resurrection are the biggest problems you are facing, but it will still be one of the many problems if someone tries to make, say, a monk with a forward-ported Vow of Poverty.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the first point, but I don't think a purpose like "keep my wielder alive" is really viable. It's not cheaty per se -- it's just boring and fails to be an actual purpose. Keeping its wielder alive is an implicit part of many of the other purposes, but is not a proper purpose in and of itself. A purpose is supposed to be a greater task that the item aspires to achieve or uphold. You could just as well assign a purpose of "to be used" or "to kill things". \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 24 '17 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym 'kill everyone but me' is an actual option. I agree both are attempts to be boring, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 24 '17 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Use me to slay" is different from "Use me to slay EVERYONE ELSE". That's more interesting than just 'kill stuff' or 'protect my wielder', because it means conflict, and also has a historical precedent in the likes of the Muramasa blades, or the less well-known Norse sword Dainsleif. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Oct 25 '17 at 2:07

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