Click here to read/view the table of Lesser Magic Items
Reproduced below for reference is the text of my original article (with a few new edits).
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In the introductory module B2 Keep on the Borderlands, Gary Gygax wrote, "If only two or three player characters are to adventure, be sure to have a non-player character or two go along, as well as a few men-at-arms. In addition, give the player characters a magic dagger or some magic arrows and at least one potion of healing - family bequests to aid them in finding their fame and fortune when they go against Chaos" (pg 2).
This is great advice, but instead of standard D&D items, why not give each new character a more unusual low-power magic item? Some examples are provided below in the form of a table. Have each character roll a d20 for one starting item. Simply re-roll if it is a type the character can't use due to class restrictions. After an item is used, replace that entry with another of your own devising. Many of the items below have charges or doses, and are intended to be used up and replaced by greater magic items found while adventuring. These items were designed with Holmes Basic D&D in mind, but should be usable with any old school D&D rules, and can also be used as standard monster/NPC treasures.
1. Brazen Head - Appears as a human head of brass. Once per day, if fed five gold coins, it will relay one local rumor, which may or may not be true. It must be carried uncovered or it will start wailing. It will also talk randomly while adventuring, providing advice or commentary that may or may not be helpful.
2. Dungeon Dust - A jar of desiccating dust harmful to the "cleanup crew": slimes, oozes, jellies, puddings, molds, gelatinous cubes, etc. A successful hit with a handful inflicts 2d6 damage. Contains 1d6+2 handfuls.
3. Foxfire Lantern - The interior of this hooded lantern contains a living phosphorescent fungus. The lantern sheds light in only a 5' radius, but it will never go out as long as the fungus is fed rations daily. To keep the lantern lit the character owning it must always buy and carry an extra supply of rations.
4. Golden Throat - A potion that vastly improves the imbiber's parleying skills for 6 turns, giving a +6 on reaction rolls. The flask contains 1d6 + 2 doses.
5. Harpy Axe - If this hand axe is thrown and does not strike a target in range (30') it will return to thrower's hand, up to three times per day. Harpies are said to enchant these to be reusable during aerial combat.
6. Healing Salve - One dose will heal 1 hit point per character per day. Additional doses during that same day have no effect. Comes in a jar with 1d20 + 20 doses total.
7. Hearing Cone - A small cone that enhances the ability to listen at doors, +1 per charge used. The number of charges to be used must be chosen before listening. Has 1d100 charges.
8. Heat Shield - This shield has the power to Resist Fire, once per day, as the Cleric Spell. After being exposed to fire 1d20 + 20 times it reverts to a normal shield.
9. Image Mirror - Once per day this ordinary-looking steel mirror can store the reflection of a creature, which can be used later that day as a Mirror Image (per the M-U spell). The image will imitate the motions of the wielder, and as the spell it disappears if touched. After 1d20 + 20 images the mirror loses its power.
10. Loadstone - A small stone carved in the shape of a mule. If a charge is expended, the wielder's movement rate is improved by one category for the rest of the day. 1d20 + 20 charges.
11. Lucky Rat's Foot - The mummified foot of an albino Giant Rat. It allows the re-roll one Saving Throw of choice per day. It absorbs the bad luck and loses power after 1d6 + 2 successful re-rolls are made.
12. Mask of Restfulness - This soft mask is worn over the eyes while sleeping. It doubles overnight healing, but the character cannot be awoken unless the mask is removed, in which case benefit is lost for that night.
13. Nimble Feet - Boots that allow the wearer to strike first during one combat of choice each day (giving a dexterity of 19 for purposes of Holmes Basic initiative). After 20 + 1d20 combats the boots lose their power.
14. Nutcracker - This small (1') wooden construct remains inactive until a command word is spoken. Once activated, it will serve the character, including in combat. It has the following stats: AC4, 1 hp, attacks as a Normal Man with a miniature sword for 1 point of damage. Fights at +2 vs Giant Rats.
15. Miniature Item - A large item magically reduced to palm-sized. Once per day it can be commanded to return to full size or shrink. The speaker of the command word must also touch it to cause the change, which is slow (1 turn). Once enlarged it will not shrink until the next day, and vice versa. It will change 1d20+20 times before remaining full size. Roll 1d6 for item: 1= 10' Ladder, 2= Wagon, 3= Small Boat, 4= Large Chest, 5= 18' pike, 6= 10' Boulder (rollable by combined 36 strength).
16. Resolute Arrow - A sturdy arrow that never breaks whether it hits its target or not, and can always be found
17. Ring of Escape - If placed against a stone ceiling, this ring will expand to the diameter of a man-hole cover and provide a magical passage upwards to the first space above, up to 30'. The tunnel is easily climbable by anyone that can reach the ceiling. After use, a command word will cause the ring to appear at the top of the passage. It will function only once per day, and has 1d20+20 charges.
18. Thirsty Waterskin - Once per day, this ordinary-looking waterskin will locate the closest fresh, drinkable water.
19. Troll Cheese - This loaf-sized lumpy green cheese tastes "off" but is edible, and provides enough food for one person to survive for one day, although no hit points are gained if resting. Furthermore, the cheese will regenerate overnight if not fully eaten. Stomach acid prevents the consumed portion from regenerating inside the eater. Fire, including cooking, will destroy it.
20. Vermin Slayer - A sword +0, +1 vs ordinary or giant vermin such as insects, spiders, rats and bats.
The Brazen Head is a variation on the item of the same name from medieval lore. Holmes had another version in Room I the Sample Dungeon.
The Foxfire Lantern is inspired by the phosphorescent fungus found in Room L of the Sample Dungeon. There is a real-world glowing fungus called Foxfire.
The Harpy Axe is inspired by one of the earliest D&D games I played in. Our characters, riding on a magic carpet, battled harpies wielding returning axes. Thanks to Donald S., our DM.
Troll Cheese is inspired by a "dwarven cheese" I remember reading about in a fairy tale long ago.