I have a box problem. 90% of all my original magic items either are boxes, or are inside boxes. I try to hide it by making them interesting shapes, but ultimately a box is a box.

It has gotten to the point where if I even so much as mention a box, the words "a box, must be important!" can be heard around the table.

How do I break my box habit, and what alternatives do I have to boxes?

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say 'what alternatives do I have?' what beyond 'everything that isn't a box' do you mean? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 8:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chund While I see where you are coming from, previously questions referencing magic items have explicitly required a system tag. \$\endgroup\$
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 10:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the context of holding treasure that adventurers find, most English readers will interpret “box” as a wooden shipping box, or assume a chest is actually meant. Just for clarity, you might want to paste your comment’s explanation into the question. (Or might not, since it seems to be getting useful answers just fine.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 20:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a similar problem, only it is pools, wells, fountains, buckets, etc of liquid... and my players have their characters run screaming in fear, metagaming be blasted. \$\endgroup\$
    – nijineko
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Those comments should really be edited into the question, so it wouldn't be so WTFey on the first read. A paragraph like "I mean small wooden hinged boxes, often ornate and the size of a music box. If they are cylindrical or hexagonal they are probably not hinged but have a recessed lid. Music boxes, jewelry boxes etc. all being of the usual size and type. Magical music boxes that cause slumber or madness, boxes containing tessellated armor (in which case the box itself is part of the magic), boxes containing tiny teleportation circles used for sending messages..." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 17:09

5 Answers 5


Think about where the real life equivalent of those items would be stored. Closets, safes, on peoples person, drawers, jewellery boxes, etc.

However, you have a situation where your players are excited for what comes next. Just to challenge your thinking for a minute, why not continue hiding the best loot in boxes? It's exciting for your players, and it removes tedium of searching.

"You see a box..."

Players excited

"[long prose about what a nice box it is]"

Players on the edge of their seats

"It has some kind of puzzle/lock to open it"

Players desperate to get it open

"You open it and get nice items!!"

Players overjoyed!

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems to have left out the poison trap that nearly kills the rogue ... ;-) ... that comes right after players desperate to get it open Tastes differ. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do like your approach although this can backfire hard if the players cannot solve the puzzle or do not care for those. In addition most puzzles work best if the players have them in front of them, so you should prepare a printout or something similar \$\endgroup\$
    – Chund
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Put whatever you want in front of motivated players, they will figure it out if they think there is loot :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 22:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I propose expanding the list of hiding places with a) plants like trees or bloom, and b) things (like jewellery) attached to animals (cats, dragons), as these can interact on their own with the players. \$\endgroup\$
    – syck
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 22:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @syck Please do not force me to catch a dang cat >:3 Feel free to edit the post with whatever suggestions you can think of! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 23:01

Well my last Splittermond (a high fantasy system in Germany) GM liked to hide things in litterally anything. I remember one time he hid the key to a dungeon, which held additional loot in the s***pile of a beast, whilst heavily implying that the ratpeople, which inhabitted the area, were eaten by said beast about 3 days ago.

  1. Basically take whatever is in the room normally and think about two or three things which can be opened and used (and maybe manipulated) to store/hide items. Like a collar which can be opened, a book with a hole cut into it, the underside of a table, having a hidden cache etc. Since you are handling magical items they can massively vary in size and can therefore be hidden in the small above mentioned places.

  2. On the other hand, if your players already check every box in sight, fill those with the inhabitants belongings and/or food, whilst having his staff hanging over the doorframe the PCs just passed through, and have therefore not seen while peeking into the room. Basically saying, that if they perceive your hideouts to be obvious, make them obvious, but hide the really valuable stuff in completely other places.

  3. You can always replayce the word "box" with similar words which just sound more divers to imply that you are changing :P So a chest, a cupboard, a (insert material) container or satchel come to mind.

Hope you can use any of these techniques. I personally try to go for 1. as often as possible if i have the time to prepare and revert to 3. if i have to improvise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Huh. In the "non-obvious" category, it occurs to me that a room is simply a very large box... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 1:46

You seem to have managed to condition your players to get excited when finding 'boxes', you can leverage this to your advantage by leaving some nasty surprises instead of treats in said 'boxes' to help alleviate this expectation.

Though on the other hand while having some table trends is not the worst thing if you do want to dole out treasure in a form other than boxes you can always have them pick equipped treasures/items up from enemies or they can receive them as rewards from quest givers. (Though in a manner of speaking both of these are still boxes, just ones that have opinions and move around)

The best alternative I can suggest (copying an idea from a game I was in) is to have unique salesman/shop/chain that sells your quirky original magic items for a variety of things (not gold). My gm had setup the shop for us to just have other stuff to keep in mind as we went around with our questing as we were looking out for random monster parts or relics/coins just to get homebrew magic items that had heavy RP value (and almost no extra combat value).

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    \$\begingroup\$ We are probably a little unorthodox in that from an ethical point of view the group refuses to loot corpses, and I hardly ever use quest givers. Very useful, otherwise, though! \$\endgroup\$
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 9:40

A box by any other name

As you said, you can change the shape, but in the end a box is a box. Which raises the question, what is a box? Functionally, a box usually keeps items hidden, protected by environmental hazards, and makes it harder to get them.

Of course, there are variations; an energy field will allow the item to be seen, a cardboard box will offer almost no protection against fire, and a lidless box won't even stop pick-pocketing.

What if you remove all constraints? The item can just be mounted on a display, easily removed, or possibly some kind of rack (this would work nicely for weapons or armor). Not too bad but it might get boring.

Relaxing two constraints offers more variations:

  • Hidden: the item might be a spell, written in a book that's easily accessible; it only takes time to figure out what it is.
  • Protected: a vase of oil can keep the sword from rusting
  • Hard to get: Runes on a wall can make it hard to figure out how to cast the spell but an illustration of a mighty fireball makes the function obvious (and the green dragon nearby might damage it if not dealt promptly).

and so on; you can pick one major attribute and one minor for even more combinations, or think of additional attributes that make the box a box for the specific scenario.

For example, another feature of a box is that once opened, it remains open; perhaps the item is just the help of someone (human, animal, deity etc) and it's a continuous challenge to keep the friendly.

All in all, it's easier, instead of trying to think of "something else", to try and think what features defines what you want to replace, and then get rid of it. Having said that, there's nothing really wrong with a box: it's an element of surprise, builds up anticipation, and presents a small challenge to finally get the reward.


Treasure can be found in the most unlikely of places.

To throw a challenge into the mix, "boxes" are not always the place to find things. In the magical realms of beasts and dungeons, treasure can be found anywhere. From being presented on plinth, encased in some odd material, or surrounded by some obviously deadly trap...

In the centre of the room you can see a stone jutting out of the floor, and resting on top is the most beautiful pair of gauntlets you have ever seen. However, as you move into the room, you notice the wreckage of previous adventurers; their mangled skeletons strewn about the room. Clearly this treasure is protected by something...

Or, on the complete opposite end of the scale, an ogre that has set up residence in an abandoned dungeon has hoarded some impressive treasures that it collected from previous adventurers.

The Ogre stumbles backwards, the realisation that it has actually been defeated in battle finally sinking into its thick skull, and it crashes backwards through a stone wall. As the dust settles, the rock and bricks tumbling over the corpse hit something metallic. On closer inspection, you realise there is weaponry, and armour, strewn about, somewhat carelessly. It seems the beast collected the more impressive items it came across in its lifetime...

Treasure doesn't need to be "stashed away", or stored in any containers. It can simply be in a location that is unnoticeable until the time is right.

That said, the most likely of places can often even hold deadly surprises...

You don't need to "abandon" the boxes. As you mentioned, the players often get excited whenever a "box" is mentioned. You can use this to your advantage, and drop a nasty surprise on them, in the form of a Mimic. In my experience of playing D&D, my regular DM will hide a mimic in places that we would least expect it, and jump us when we least expect it. An odd door, seemingly out of place or surprisingly ornate, or overly plain compared to the rest of the dungeon. A wheelbarrow on a service elevator into an exaction site. Or a box, in a conspicuously obvious position, that immediately catches the attention of the whole party.

The box could even be a Red Herring. It contains nothing. You can use this reaction from your party to throw a spanner in the works. Currently, they expect the "box" to be important, because so far, it usually is. What they don't expect is anything else.

Trapping your "boxes" occasionally can throw the party out of their normal reaction. Whenever a "box" is mentioned, it will instead incite a feeling of uncertainty. Is it a box? Is it a trap? Is it a mimic? They won't know until they find out.

It is important to use this sparingly however. Don't make it a 1 in 3 chance. Just every now and then, once in a blue moon, just enough to make them do a double take.

"Woah hang on... remember that one time in the dungeon where it turned out to be a mimic? Let's be careful."


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