Monday, December 8, 2008

Sword Spirits

One of the many interesting wrinkles implied in OD&D is that all magic swords possess an alignment and have the possibility of intelligence and special powers above and beyond the bonuses they provide when wielded in combat. Given that no subsequent version of D&D follows this interpretation, I'm not as convinced as some that it was intended. Rather, I think it's implied that magic swords alone may possess alignment, intelligence, and special powers, but, as is often the case in the three little brown books, the text is written haphazardly, thereby leaving it open to individual choice as to how to read it.

I have no problem with this particular interpretation and I think, like limiting the use of magic swords solely to fighting men, it adds some nice flavor to OD&D campaigns that employ it. I've been kicking around the idea of adopting it in my next campaign precisely for this reason. As I've explained before, neither magic nor Nature is personified, the former simply being a feature of the universe and the latter being the "stuff" from which the universe coalesced (there is no Creator in my current cosmology).

Interactions between magic, Nature, Chaos, and the gods (at least some of which owe their own existence to a process similar to the way the universe formed) has given rise to a variety of elemental beings, not all of which are as insensate and uncaring as Nature itself. I'm currently toying with the notion that the process of metalworking, which involves (to some degree) the interaction of all four elements inadvertently gave rise to a "fifth elemental" -- spirits that are sometimes drawn into crafted objects, endowing them with magical powers and, in many cases, allow the spirit to exercise its own intelligence and will.

The hows and whys of the process I prefer to keep strange and mysterious, including why it is that these metal spirits seem to manifest most fully only when drawn into swords -- thus giving rise to their more common name: "sword spirits." But I very much like the idea that the fashioning of magic weapons isn't simply a matter of a magic-user deciding to do so by following some hoary formula that always results in a sword +1, +2 vs. lycanthropes. I want magic weapons to be, on some level, accidental in their origins, something beyond the ken of men, elves, and even dwarves (who were probably the first to notice the phenomenon). It makes magic swords special and a little bit dangerous and that's a good thing.

15 comments:

  1. Nice idea. It reminds me of certain weapons in the Warhammer universe which somehow became imbued with spirits of Chaos. The most fun of these was a cannon which would sometimes intentionally misfire, or aim at mistaken targets with malign purpose.

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  2. Absolutely lovely. Do you have to have a wizard on board to make a magic sword, or can it happen in any blacksmith's hearth?

    Rams? Spears are also traditional. I'm having a hard time with intelligent/aligned glaive-guisarmes, though, for some reason.

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  3. I mainly never used intellegent, speaking objects because I didn't want to role play them, and also because I didn't want another npc to have to take into consideration.

    I think I remember one of the cartoonish bits of art in the old blue book or somewhere having a fighter holding a sword that had big bulgy eyes. That was kind of a turn-off as well.

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  4. Note that in the Monster & Treasure Assortments (the original 1977-78 versions, at least) all the listed magic swords have alignments assigned, even where they don't have Int and Ego scores), which reinforces the notion that all magic swords, not just the intelligent ones, have alignments.

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  5. I thought the 1AD&D DMG has rules for chance of sword intelligence. I'm at work, so I can't check at the moment. Still, I never played OD&D and the concept is very familiar.

    Talking swords is a personal turn-off, but think sword empathy or motive is a great dynamic.

    I like your idea of how spirits might get incorporated.

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  6. Ya, pg166 1E AD&D DMG: Unusual Swords. Alignment is in there as well as special powers, like detecting gems, teleportation, etc.

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  7. I like my D&D to be Hyborian in style. Most people would think that would mean magic items would be non-existent, but the Hyborian Age was full of magic - ambit rare and often dangerous!

    I always like the idea of swords being intelligent, as it make them feel more unique, and it seems better then making them just +1 tools. A Normal D&D game would have PCs gathering magic weapons for their magic golf bags, but intelligent weapons dont like being treated as tools or the competition!

    In keeping with that Hyborian/Lovecraft style, I also like to add a corrupting element akin to Stormbringer or the one ring to rule them all! - you know, the price of power.

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  8. I've always allowed characters to name a sword (or a warhorse or armour or staff) and then treat it as a henchman (allowing it to gain experience along with it's user).

    This allowed magical weapons (almost always swords in actual play, although there was one quite famous mace) to be developed in play by characters, rather than being enchanted out of the whole cloth, as it were.

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  9. You said "the process of metalworking, which involves (to some degree) the interaction of all four elements inadvertently gave rise to a "fifth elemental" -- spirits that are sometimes drawn into crafted objects, endowing them with magical powers and, in many cases, allow the spirit to exercise its own intelligence and will."

    This makes a lot of sense to me. I would imagine it would happen like "Herbie the Lovebug". Thousands of cars built the same, but every now and then one is special.

    I can imagine an intelligent sword would be something like Herbie, too. Very willful - a strong personality, and very cheeky!

    He knows what he wants, and manipulates his owners to get it.

    He confounds anyone with the wrong alignment who try to use him or damage him.

    And if he has chosen you as his new owner then there is no getting away from him - he keeps popping up!


    Ray.

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  10. Do you have to have a wizard on board to make a magic sword, or can it happen in any blacksmith's hearth?

    Yes :)

    I prefer to leave this unclear, since I think there's no better way to destroy the magic of an idea than to explain it too much. That said, my feeling is that a magic-user is not necessary, since dwarves count no wizards among their kind and yet still sometimes craft intelligent weapons.

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  11. I think I remember one of the cartoonish bits of art in the old blue book or somewhere having a fighter holding a sword that had big bulgy eyes. That was kind of a turn-off as well.

    Yes, it was a Tom Wham piece in the Holmes book, if I recall. I have to admit, blasphemy that this may be, I was never a big Tom Wham fan, so I am sympathetic.

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  12. Note that in the Monster & Treasure Assortments (the original 1977-78 versions, at least) all the listed magic swords have alignments assigned, even where they don't have Int and Ego scores), which reinforces the notion that all magic swords, not just the intelligent ones, have alignments.

    You know, those M&T booklets are among the biggest gaps in my knowledge of the early days of the game. I never owned them back in the day and I keep finding references to tidbits in there that could shed light on many issues. Perhaps I should hunt them down.

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  13. Ya, pg166 1E AD&D DMG: Unusual Swords. Alignment is in there as well as special powers, like detecting gems, teleportation, etc.

    That's interesting. I knew the rules existed and used them extensively in my youth, but I'd always assumed for some reason that not every sword got a roll on the table and that the rules also covered other weapons as well. Perhaps this was an innovation introduced in 2e?

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  14. I've always allowed characters to name a sword (or a warhorse or armour or staff) and then treat it as a henchman (allowing it to gain experience along with it's user).

    That's an amazing idea. You should write it up and submit it to Fight On! or Knockspell.

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  15. I've always allowed characters to name a sword (or a warhorse or armour or staff) and then treat it as a henchman (allowing it to gain experience along with it's user).

    Yes, how would XP be used for an object? Would it gain abilities? Can it advance levels? I seriously want to know!

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