One of my favorite DM tricks these days is to take an existing magic item and change its physical form, often into something less useful or more finicky. It’s not only limits the power level of certain items, it adds a lot of personality the campaign. Often these items become treasured not just for their powers, but for their uniqueness and character.
For your pleasure, here are a few examples:
Hookah of Healing – I think this is the first one I did. It operates as a normal staff of healing, healing 1d6 of damage to any number of individuals, but each target can only be so affected once per day. Unlike the staff, the hookah requires a bunch of setup time and is more bulky and fragile. I created this after watching my players use a staff of healing in a long running campaign, and I noticed it often got passed around at the camp site after a day’s adventuring. I thought it would be funny to reinforce that usage and limit the actual combat usefulness in a later campaign by introducing the hookah of healing.
Plate Mail of Water Breathing – I think this usually comes in ring form, but this enchantment just feels so obvious for plate armor. It’s always the heavily armored fighters that get very skittish around water. They’d love magic armor that solves that problem, right? And yeah, it is basically an old-timey scuba suit – it’s not like it weighs less or makes you an expert swimmer, but you can slowly walk across the bottom of a lake. In my campaign, it was heavily styled to resemble a crab.
Plate Mail of Feather Fall – This one just hit me as I was writing up the previous one. The water breathing armor came from a real campaign, but feather fall also feels like a natural enchantment your heavy armor wearer might like. Hm, what other rings can we turn into plate armor?
Thorned Crown of Regeneration – I know, it’s a bit biblical. The idea is that it’s basically just like a ring of regeneration, but very fragile. I mean, it’s made of twigs! Similar to the hookah this removes the combat usefulness of this item and forces it to be used strictly in the aftermath. You could wear it into combat, but my players were never willing to take that risk. They even spent a considerable sum of money having a custom water-tight metal box made for it. Hm, that would be an interesting way to discover it – sunk at the bottom of a lake or well in a water-tight lead box.
Pottery Wheel of Commanding Earth Elementals – OD&D lumps all the elemental summoning/controlling items into one group and says that they “all are rather bulky and require one turn to set up or store away”. In which case, a “stone” of commanding earth elements seems pretty weak. So let’s play it up – get that wheel set up and start making a pot for the elemental to emerge from! We can also do this with the other elements: Bow of Commanding Fire Elementals (not like a bow that shoots arrows, but a bow for starting fires), Bellows of Commanding Air Elementals (very big, requires two people to operate), and Shovel of Commanding Water Elementals (you have to dig until you hit the water table).
Camp Stool of Levitation – Clearly not quite as useful as boots. It’s not like you can just click your heals and up the cliff you go. It’s still portable, but you’ve got to get it out of your pack and sit down to activate it. And the visual image of a floating person sitting on a camp stool is just delightful.
Table of Teleportation – Unlike the helm, this is meant to transport an entire party. Of course, the entire table and all the chairs go with them. I’m imagining a big heavy wooden table with some solid chairs, not something you want to idly use to take you to random locations. Maybe if you know of a castle or cave near your destination where it could be safely used, it could cut out a lot of wilderness travel.
OK, I admit, some of those got a little silly. Still, I think the idea in general has a lot of legs, and I challenge you the next time you roll up a random magic item to stop for a moment and think of what physical form you could change it to that while perhaps not quite as useful, is at least far more memorable.