I've always loved wondrous items. I think they're the best category of magic items, primarily for their utility uses. While a magic weapon deals primarily with offense and magic armor deals primarily with defense, no one can generally say what a wondrous item does without investigating the item itself. They also allow the most creative freedom in their creation, as they are not restricted by rules governing other magical items. They also happen to be the first and easiest magic item that a player can create.
Wondrous items are very flexible in that they can emulate most other spells, but since they are not spell completion items, aren't subject to most rules regarding the Use Magic Device skill. Any schmuck can use a wondrous item with minimal fuss, making them particularly useful for fighters and rogues, whose inability to cast spells makes them prime candidates for enhancement through magic items. I've seen characters whose primary source of damage and combat strategy revolved completely around wondrous items. He would craft them and then use them almost exclusively, eventually phasing out his own class' attacks and abilities. It was a surreal thing to witness.
The wondrous items in the book are fairly straight forward and not usually too complex. But that doesn't mean that an enterprising DM has to use them. I've recently introduced into my Pathfinder game a long-dead wizard who was a bit of a nutter, and he created a number of wild wondrous items. The wizard's sense of humor is a little off, so as a result his creations tended to have rather peculiar features. For example, the first item they found was a trinket that could cast lightning bolt once a day. However, it had to be charged at exactly 10pm every day when a magical storm occurs overhead and strikes the trinket. Anyone touching it at the time obviously would have a very bad day. If the trinket is indoors at the time or is otherwise unable to be charged, it breaks forever. This may seem not worth the trouble, since it merely recreates a spell, but the party is only level two at the moment, and so a spell they can only reach at level five at the minimum is extremely powerful to them. Of course, I get to have fun cause I told them I would be watching them like a hawk and the moment they forget to charge it at the proper time or are holding it at the time, bad things happen. I plan to introduce more eccentric wondrous items as time goes by.
I've seen a wondrous item used to save a character's life against all odds; I've seen a campaign completely turn its ending around based on a wondrous item's properties; I myself have written entire adventures around a wondrous item. Beyond that, I don't have much to say about them, other than they're fantastic. How about you? Have any good stories involving wondrous items? Ever designed one you were particularly proud of? I'd love to hear some comments! Thanks for reading, stay tuned tomorrow for "X is for Xenophobia".
D&D 3.5 Wondrous Items
Pathfinder Wondrous Items