Player: What’s in the chest?
DM: You find a +1 staff.
Player *yawns* ok, next room…
In this week’s article we will detail, step by step, how to create memorable magic weapons that players will want to keep throughout the campaign.
For this article I owe a debt to Charles Rodgers, whose Dragon Magazine #180 article, “Not Another Magic Sword”, from 1992 has always stuck with me.
This may seem like a no brainer, but often DM’s will dream up some epic weapon to place in their campaign and never give pause to what weapons their players actually use. It is anticlimactic when your fighter triumphs after a series of grueling quests to find the sword of legend to be a longsword when he’s spent all his feats to specialize in the greatsword.
What is the weapon made of? Is there a material that fits the weapon’s theme or history better than regular wood or steel? The idea is to create a weapon so unique and interesting that your player will wield it throughout the campaign.
- Baatorian Green Steel (A&EG p13)
- Gehennan Morghuth-Iron (A&EG p14)
- Starmetal (CArc p141)
- Pandemonic Silver (CWar p136)
- Thinaun(CWar p136)
- Dwarvencraft Quality (RoS p159)
- Blue Ice (Frost p80)
- Aurorum (BoED p38)
- Frystalline (BoED p38)
- Serren (BoED p38)
- Solarian True-Steel (BoED p38)
- Adamantine (DMG p283)
- Darkwood (DMG p283)
- Iron, Cold (DMG p284)
- Silver, Alchemical (DMG p284)
- Mithril (DMG p284)
One thing I have learned as a DM, what I think is cool, isn’t always what the players think is cool. When you custom-make a weapon, have the player in mind. Ask yourself what would fit with the player’s concept. For example: if the weapon has the bane property, is it for a creature that the ranger has as a favored enemy?
Note: if you’ve exhausted the powers in your DMG be sure to check out the magic Item Compendium or DMG2 for new options.
What can you add to the weapon to make it unique while not drastically changing its cost or power level? Flavor is anything that adds to the coolness factor of a weapon without any serious in-game benefits. These elements are what will make the weapon memorable. Examples:
- screams when it delivers a death-blow or critical hit
- smells of brimstone or another distinct scent
- vibrates or hums when polished
- whispers something in a forgotten tongue when unsheathed
- moves during the night, nothing drastic, but the weapon is in a different place than the pc placed it before going to sleep (though still close to the PC).
Note: see signature traits in DMGII p229 for more ideas.
What does the sword look like? Can you find a picture that matches your idea of the weapon? If you have any artistic ability, draw the weapon on a piece of sketchbook paper. This is where the Rodgers article really shined; he detailed each piece of the sword making sure to talk about the rare materials used. He drew a mental picture of the blade, hand-guard, handle, pommel, etc.
Adding a history to a weapon will deepen its role-play value while not increasing it power level. In addition, if you make the weapon a bit of mystery, it will provide further quest possibilities, and allow character with bardic, or traditional knowledge skills to flex some RP muscle and use a skill often times overlooked.
This one could be up to the PC, but if you have a player that shies away from role-play, you may want to name the weapon for them. Possibilities:
- Carved into a wooden weapon
- Runes on the blade
- A sage, cleric, or arcanist recognizes the weapon and knows its name (think Elrond in The Hobbit when he recognizes the Foe Hammer and the Goblin Cleaver)
- Perhaps the weapon whispers its name the first time the PC picks it up.
- Maybe the former wielder tells the PC prior to death. This provides an interesting role-playing angle if the PC gets the weapon after slaying an enemy (as they normally do). Perhaps the dying orc king takes the barbarian pc’s hand and wraps it around the hilt of his magic great ax and whispers the name in orcish or broken common as a gesture that the player is worthy of wielding it. While this idea really only works for honorable villains, it is still a cool option.
Increasing Power Over Time
I feel that it adds something significant to a PC’s experience if they keep the same weapon over time. Of course, this idea won’t apply to all players, and you as the DM will be able to judge that for yourself, but as a whole, having a weapon that grows in power with the pc helps to enrich the storytelling process. Not to mention, you’ve put all this work into creating an awesome item, you don’t want your player to sell it off when he reaches the next level. This idea is common among fantasy literature, heroes don’t trade in their signature weapon, so why should your players?
Possible routes for increasing power:
- Legacy Weapon (Weapons of Legacy)
- Legendary Weapon (Unearthed Arcana p162)
- Item Familiar (Unearthed Arcana p170 )
- Bonded Item (DMGII p231 )
- Ancestral Relic (Book of Exalted Deeds p39)
- Forgo treasure on an adventure and have the player’s deity or a potent caster empower the weapon
Player: What’s in the chest?
DM: You find an ornately fashioned, darkwood staff roughly five feet long. The shaft has images of orcs fleeing a flaming village. The head of the staff is carved in the likeness of a ruby-eyed red dragon that snarls and breathes a gout of illusory flame as you remove it from the chest. Draconic runes just below the dragon carving spell out what you assume to be a name.