Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Evocative +1 Sword Replacements

So I've complained in the past about the profoundly lame effect of "+X" magic weapons and armor on a game.  I don't take it back.  In the Vaults of Pahvelorn game my 7th level thief has a 'magic sword' made of elf metal - it is one of the few magic weapons in the party.  It doesn't do much except glow in moonlight and hurt certain undead that are immune to non-silver weapons.  That's enough though. 

Magical swords are a very D&D thing, everyone wants one, and why not - they're pretty cool.  The problem with weapons that give a bonus to attack and damage is that they become expected, and lack any kind of excitement, weirdness or mystery.  I don't want magical items to be commonplace and I don't want them to be dull, ready for replacement when the next level of 'plus' comes along.  I want my magic slightly terrifying.  Beyond not being flavorful 'plus' magical weapons simply create an arms race between player treasure recovery and monster armor class.  This is how many an MMO works.  It's not that being 80th level is better then being 60th, it's just that the dungeons you've raided give you equipment that cuts the necessary .5 more seconds of killing a creature of the same level. There's nothing wrong with this approach in a video game, especially if cool graphics back it up, but in a table top game combat mechanics are frequently boring.  I firmly think that player interest and excitement is held by the discovery of mysterious artifacts that do specific things and tell specific stories.  One needn't make magic items perfect for every player in a tabletop game, because as a GM one can tailor their odd powers can to the events at hand.

Below are 10 magical swords with powers that are somewhere in the range of +1 to +2 and should actually be interesting.  Some are vaguely unsettling, others very situational and others potentially annoying.  I think the list can be easily used to make even better swords (improved bonuses and no side effects) or cursed weapons (worse side effects).

Name & Description
Phantom Sword - Seemingly brittle and ancient, this blade is haunted by the spirits of its past wielders.  After the first round of combat (where it is useless) a shimmering spectral blade coalesces around the weapon’s blackened core of rotted iron.
Ignores up to 5 points of armor, but does not affect natural armor or magical warding.
Haunted by the souls of ambitious warriors, may push wielder into berserker rage. Save vs. Wisdom after 1D6 rounds of combat.
Searing Sword – a blunt blade of blackened steel, the magic of this weapon heats it to red hot as battle continues.  As it begins to glow and crackle, runes of power shine menacingly on the blade and pommel.
Each combat round after the first the searing sword gains a +1 cumulative damage bonus and may ignite flammable objects.
Each combat round after the first the weapon heats, burning the wielder for damage equal to its damage bonus. Heavy gauntlets reduce this by 1.
Necromancer’s Spine – A white metal weapon, usually a smallsword or rapier, with etchings of bones and mocking skeletons along its blade.  The weapon’s magic  is not strictly martial, but humanoids slain with it will quickly rise from death and battle on behalf  of the sword’s wielder.
Humanoids killed with the sword will return from death in 1D4 rounds to serve their killer as undead thralls.  Without necromantic training these undead will serve for 1D4 turns after rising.
Sometimes the dead raised by the Necromancer’s Spine will turn on the sword’s wielder after battle.  When no enemies are available to attack the sword’s thralls must check (1 in 6 chance) or turn on their master.
Glass Sword – clear, translucent or solid and smoky these swords of alchemical glass were once made in numbers to equip the legions of the ancients.  They are preternaturally sharp, and on a solid strike are capable of easily bisecting even an armored enemy.
Exploding damage - on a strike doing maximum damage the weapon will do an additional die of damage. This effect stacks, with every roll of maximum damage allowing an additional die.
On an attack roll of 1 (or if used to hack or pry at stone, metal or wood) even alchemical glass may shatter, destroying the weapon.  Roll a 1D6 and on a 1 the blade shatters.
Headsman’s Blade – A huge unwieldy two handed sword, engraved with at least one pithy maxim about the inevitability of death, and encrusted the decorative silverwork depicting skulls, scales and law scrolls this sword actively seeks to behead enemies.
On an attack roll of ‘20’ the huge sword will cleave the head of any enemy with HD of up to double the wielder’s.  This is usually fatal.
The Headsman’s Blade is difficult to use even for a trained warrior of great strength and it’s wielder will strike at a -1 to hit.
Living Blade– A paddle of wood, more club than sword, it is carved with a pattern of thorns and leaves.  The weapon is still alive and its magical thornwood edges bite and tear at enemies just as a steel blade would.  The Living Sword also possesses the ability to grasp and entangle opponents.
When an opponent rolls a ‘1’ to attack while facing the Living blade, their weapon has become entangled the Blade’s tendril to be snatched and cast 1D4x10’ away.
The weapon has a mind of its own and becomes frustrated when it fails to kill an enemy in combat.  At the end of any combat where it does not kill an opponent the blade will tear at it’s wielder’s wrist drinking 1D4 HP of blood.
Warded Blade – Well crafted from the finest steel, etched with righteous glyphs of power, these weapons are forged for holy warriors.  They revile and repel magic, offering great protection from the corruption of arcane magic.
All spells cast against the wearer of a Warded Blade require a Save vs. Spells by the Caster to invoke. This is in addition to any other save attempts against their effects.
All arcane spells cast by allies of the wielder require a Save vs. Spells by the caster to succeed.
Stone Cleaver – A heavy blade of gray stone cracked and reeking of elemental power this weapon is carved from the heart stone of a powerful earth spirit and inlaid with geometric sigils in black marble.
On a successful strike the wound will begin to petrify, slowing the victim and making them strike last in any subsequent round.
The petrifying power of the cleaver works on the wielder as well who will have a -2 to initiative (or always strike last in a round if using group initiative – though before the cleaver’s victims).
Cold Iron Sword  - resembling a bar mace, the cross section of this pitted iron weapon is cross shaped, and the whole item has a crude unfinished look. The Sword’s rough appearance derives from its manufacture.  Cold forged from raw meteoric iron, uncorrupted by the earth it is capable of banishing  devils, demons and other outsider entities.
When any creature of non-terrestrial origin is struck for maximum damage, it is instantly banished to its home plane.
Outsider creatures hate this weapon, and can sense it’s presence.  Regardless of their original intentions they will seek to destroy it, either demanding it be turned over to them or slaying its owner to seize it.
Blooddrinker Blade – Sinuous and red, with a hilt of tarnished brass and ten glyphs of diabolic power along its blade, the Blooddrinker feasts on the souls  those it slays and allows its wielder to regain his strength by devouring any scraps that remain.
After battle the owner of the blade may lick the blood off of it regaining 1 HP as long as it has struck an enemy.  For each enemy actually slain with the blade it will heal 1D4 HP.
Wielding a Blooddrinker blade takes its toll on the wielder as well as the weapon’s victims, and the sword will syphon 1HP per HD from any future HP rolls made by the wielder.


  1. so when do we get to start seeing these. what level characters do you think should start getting cool toys like this?

  2. We've needed a post like this for a long time.

  3. I like the fact that this also solves the whole "how do I trick players into using my amusingly horrible cursed weapon" issue, by building a minor curse into every useful magical weapon.

  4. Very nice.
    Btw, I read something like 3 years worth of OPDs last night, The Brittlestone Parapets was easily in my top 5, which is to say, tied for first place. Better still, I have a place in my gothic setting that is basically the same thing, so i can just drop it in there.

    1. Dude! That means a lot re: Brittlestone. I thought it was fun, but don't think of it as great, though I like anything with an adorable owlbear family, let me know who it works out if you use it. Also finish Level II of that minotaur mansion and put it in a PDF someday - it's good.

    2. Ha, yeah, I plan on finishing it this year.

  5. Hi Gus, I like the swords. I'm feeling like ret-conning the +1 Sabre my players got at the Obelisk.

    Can I play the sword game? I've just finished Virconium and have been thinking about something like this:
    Baan: This blade is made of advanced metals but is otherwise quite plain. Upon 'activation' ignores two points of armour (including creatures with heavy natural armour) and rolls two dice for damage taking the highest. On the second round of combat the user suffers a -1 to hit penalty as the vibrations begin to numb the wielders arm. The wielder must roll under CON or this penalty persists for the rest of the day making fine manipulation with that hand impossible

    +1 vote on the Brittlestone Parapets too. I know it's not ASE but it fits and I've got it tucked away for a rainy day.

  6. Nice work on these. Perfect for my home campaign. Begone +1/+2 swords welcome tainted magic swords! One of my current players has just ditched a sword that aged his character by d10 years on a 1, he rolled 4 natural 1s in a session and aged 27 years. The elderly 61 year old PC then had to be retired…good times!

    Oh and another +1 to Brittlestone nice vibe going on in that little adventure.

  7. Nice article. Adding it to my favorites list.

    Calum, the Baan was a favorite of mine too, back when I first read The Pastel City. I introduced one to my game. I'd have to dig deep to see how similarly I statted it out, but I'd guess yours is more balanced.

  8. I love these! Good stuff. In my dungeon-crawl game, I've been trying to give weapons and other items of loot some flavor with minor enchantments and better descriptions of what they look like.

  9. Great job. I like my magic to work the same way you do. I dislike the magic items arms race, also, especially in the newer editions. Way to go!

  10. These are terrific! I have been doing something similar; only one character in my group has a magic weapon after months of playing. Essentially a vorpal trident, it must be immersed in seawater every 24 hours or it begins draining the wielders body, d4 Con each day of the first week, d6 the each day of the second, etc.

    I do, however, use the 3.5 'masterwork' quality slightly more liberally, reigning it in with ad&d magic item to-hit requirements.

  11. Look up a copy of the Lichway from White Dwarf 9 (1978) - a scan of it is here: http://fightingfantasist.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/lichway.html. It has one of the best "+1" swords - the Bloodletter (Room 10) - a +2 sword with a hidden compartment with a Stone of Disability - which reduces the sword to +1, and reduces the bearer's abilities/saves/etc. by 5%

  12. Love this idea and all your examples. It inspired me to come up with a few of my own: http://www.ruleofthedice.com/2014/03/another-collection-of-1-magical-swords.html

    Great ideas! Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Christ, how faggy. I agree that swords having a +1 tacked to them isn't exciting, but the "all magic items must have a drawback because my preteen fantasy novels said MAGICK is SPOOPY" bullshit is absolutely pathetic. You sound like a roll of toilet paper when you drop your drawers, bend over and squeeze a steaming pile of this onto the gaming table. Keep this smug garbage out of grown-up gaming circles, please.

    1. You sure are creepy and angry about a post on how I like to play elfgames. Plenty of people seem to like the ideas here, yet somehow you need to use caps and homophobic insults. Are you an 8 year-old?

      Since you have no actual critque or response beyond squawling rage I'll just say you can play your games however you like, but aslo fuck off.

  14. Here is a +1 mace: The fat head: A mace with a head in the shape of a fat human head. It's mouth will bite anything put into it, hard enough to crush a finger. It will swallow metal chewed this way. Feeding it a dagger Worth of metal makes the head fat which grants it a +1 bonus to hit and damage. Feeding it again will not increase the bonus but the head becomes even fatter and is now -1 to inititaive. Each week of not being fed it sheds a daggers Worth of metal through its magic metabolism. Attack rolls of 20 against enemies with metal Equipment or skin means the head has bitten off a piece (and grown one step fatter).

    I'm stealing the glass sword, it would be interesting as a class of magic Equipment, if made more fragile it could act as an expendable resource of sorts, no reason to risk it vs. weak enemies but perhaps it will save your Life vs. a tough one. I can see glass Shields or armor having a similar effect. I would also add that any dispell effects shatter them instantly.

  15. I ran into this just now and couldn't resist mentioning something I remember did pretty much the same with even less effort. It was the old Warhammer Fantasy Battle supplement Realm of Chaos (Vol. 2, probably), which included a whopping d1000 table of magic swords. Here and there, there were individual descriptions, appropriately creepy, which instantly gave the (mechanically pedestrian) weapons loads of character. Like so: "Frost Sword, unheated in an unflame of frost and quenched in a pool of flame." "Forged out of the solidified tears of 1,000 maidens." Sometimes a description like that is all that an artefact needs to be treated as unique.