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December 15, 2005, 11:49 am

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Michael Jotne Slayer

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Heroic but non-magical items


How may times have you read a book in which a famous hero’s sword is treasured and valued, not because it is magic, or because of its powers, but just because the hero wielded it. The “Sword of Enthar” the great warrior may just be a normal steel broadsword; but because he used it, it will be prized and treasured.

How may times have you read a book in which a famous hero’s sword is treasured and valued, not because it is magic, or because of its powers, but just because the hero wielded it. The “Sword of Enthar” the great warrior may just be a normal steel broadsword; but because he used it, it will be prized and treasured.

In many fantasy books, however, there is more: a sort of “legendary” twist. Often, when a person picks up this sword, he then goes on to do great deeds with it and to fight well. It’s not because it’s magical because it’s not. Who knows why - maybe its because the person is inspired and driven to courage by the knowledge that he is holding the same sword that the famous hero did. Whatever the reason, I’ve recently set up a new thing in my roleplay system that attempts to recreate this legendary/heroic feel.

It essentially says that items become powerful (pseudo-magical) just by being carried by powerful people. Basically, any person of level 7 (in my system there are around 750 level 7 people per 100 million of the population: i.e. it’s pretty powerful and you’d likely be famous if you were that good) can create a heroic item. Unlike normal magic item creation (which can only be done by people of level 11 or higher (2 per 100 million of population)), you need no skills, spells or anything else to do this.

Mechanistically this means that they share up to 20% of their experience with the item, and once it has accrued enough it gains a “pseudo-magical power”. This is minor-ish: for example a +1 to hit; a +1 to courage; a staff glows in the presence of magic, etc. An item may not be increased beyond a PR of 3 in this way (i.e. you can’t create really powerful magical artifacts this way). In game terms it’s a definite advantage to do this.

The other requirement is that you have to be using the item a lot during this time. It could be the weapon you primarily fight with, a ring that you always wear, etc.

Some advantages to this are:

a) It provides a reasonable rationale for having quite a few weak “magic” swords, staffs etc. around (which I and my players like) without removing the “awe and wonder” of true magic items. After all, lots of people can “create” heroic objects but then they’re not that powerful: a true magical item (with big bonuses to hit, special powers, curses, etc.) is very very rare under this game system.

b) It gives a sort of heroic/legendary feel to it.

c) It lets you build them in to the game world. Because they are powerful because they were carried by mighty warriors/wizards/thieves etc. you can say things like “This is the very sword with which X slew the moster Y”. Hopefully you will have mentioned these legends before at some point!

d) PCs can create them themselves (eventually) without spending years of down-time or having special skills. One added benefit to this is that if, e.g. you are playing a second campaign in the same world as one you did previously (with some of the same people), then the “heroic items” possessed by their old characters can crop up.

Additional Ideas (1)

Mmm, Magic, but never enchanted.

To me, this thread also has a similar feel to CaptainPenguins' Boots Too Fine for the Earth. Or my The Art of Healing

The boots are simply... so good... that they refuse to touch the ground. This is due to the many years love and care that Firefly River used to make it. Perhaps that care rubbed off into it to give it its properties. That may be how you could explain these heroic items, as non-enchanted magic. Perhaps you can go even further, and say that this is what TRUE magic is. Enchantments and spells are just a simple imitation. A shadow of this.

Heroic items like these won't lose their enchantments with some spell cast on it, like enchanted items might. They are more permament.

So examples in the citadel are such as The Sadist Dagger, Boots too fine for the earth and The art of healing.

2005-12-15 11:53 AM » Link: [2038#9764|text]
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Comments ( 15 )
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December 15, 2005, 11:50
I posted an idea awhile ago that said something like the sharpness of the blade increases with the skill of the wielder. Was actually going to post an item on it eventually (still will) but basically the item starts out somewhat dull, given to the person at the beginning of their training. I guess you could say it is enchanted. Haven't worked out the details too much, but as the wielder becomes more skilled the sword's sharpness and deadliness grows with it. By the time they are a master swordsman the sword has achieved a few +'s in perhaps speed and damage, but nothing over the top. But the sword is and has been carried by the swordsman since his first training.

I mention it because it sort of goes along the lines you are thinking. I think the entire premise of yours is a great one.
December 15, 2005, 11:51
*sigh* Man, I really wished to create an article featuring the same thing! Pity you did it even better than me.

One optional rule I considered to implement was this:
(Bearing in mind my system is all about skills, and the Personalised Magical Item is a kind of skill too.)

Whatever the item's skill is, anyone other than the master and creator of the item itself has only half the skill at his disposal.

Meaning, (talking D&D for a moment), a common +1 sword must have had a skilled owner/creator, likely a veteran mercenary/adventurer. A +5 sword would have to come from a truly legendary hero.

Plus one not so optional rule:
You cannot make such an item grow more. You did not start it, you can't continue.

The rule can be bypassed (maybe if it was in your family from your father's father's father times), but the point of both is not to rely on existing items too much, but rather create your own legend (so to speak). Alternatively, it could be limited in other ways (requirement on high skills, heroic qualities, etc ). I just want to prevent that 5 mediocre fighters, each owning a sword for some time, produce an excellent weapon.
December 15, 2005, 11:52
Speaking of weapons and heroes all the time, this mechanism, does not have to be used only for them. Even some "ordinary" people might use, even without knowing it...

Note one excellent example I have found.

It surely is another weapon, but not created in combat, nor was it ever used by a hero.

All that is of course an excellent GM tool...
Voted MoonHunter
December 15, 2005, 11:54
Legend is a magic of sorts

Have you ever had a chance to use a "masters" item? This will be sports equipment for most of us, but there are exceptions.

I used a bat used by Willy Mays once. I will swear it was better than any old normal bat. It even improved my feeble batting game. I used a foil that a fencing grandmaster had used for years. It was like it was magic. I was unstoppable. (I also now a firm believers in Italian blades.)

The sense (and weight) of history said item alters your perception, psychologically speaking. That change in perception is responsible for a boost in confidence and a focus of technique.

Because you are using this piece of history, you are now feel part of history. That changes your mental focus some. It may be what is responsible for allowing you to play beyond yourself. You are no longer focusing on the act, you are now focusing on the event (Forest/ Trees sort of thing).

If you feel worthy of using said item, it is a great boost to confidence. That can make or break an athlete or fighter. If you believe you should win more, you will overcome all opponent of the same level of technical expertise, and may even overcome superior opponents. Confidence is more than an ingredient to a miraculous Disney Movie Victory. It is the key to victory every day.

The feeling of reverence you have for said item makes you want to play better, to be worthy of using said item. You do better than when you use a normal item. That increased focus improves your technical skills and your belief that you can use them.

Is it magical or is it psychological? Is there really any difference? The effect is there. So bring on the legendary weapons!

(and grant them pluses based on their power over the character, rather than their reputation).
December 15, 2005, 11:54
Yes, they're all good examples in the items thread: I hadn't read the Sadist Dagger before. Another good example is Siren's latest post: "Hill breaker" which, as well as other things we've mentioned, only has magic effects if the person believes in the legend (I'm not sure if he read this post before doing that item or if it's just coincidence!).

A few more random riffs on the idea (some of which are unfortunately mutually exclusive).

I definitely agree with Manfred that 5 mediocre fighters shouldn't be able to cumulatively produce an excellent weapon! But maybe you don't actually have to be powerful, just brave for some things? e.g. a peasant who takes up a spear to rescue his children and by luck kills some trained fighters could maybe make it could. Probably the highest bonuses shouldn't be given this way.

Maybe the person who created it only gets half the bonus that someone else does. After all, I'm sure Moonhunter was more inspired by using Willy Mays' bat than Willy Mays is: after all, it's normal to him. You could have some sort of sliding scale that the more powerful you are, the less bonuses you get (though you would always get an added bonus for it being your own personal weapon if you'd carried it for years).

Maybe you only get the bonuses if you know who's it is. This would mean that the power of these items would fade in time as the memory of the deeds of their owners faded.

Unfortunately, these ideas are mutually exclusive with Shadoweagle's suggestion that this is what TRUE magic is, with enchantments and things just an imitation. If this was the case then although spell-crafters could probably make very powerful items (e.g. swords with massive to hit bonus), they would usually lack the finesse and subtlety of the powers of these heroic items: in the same way that nowadays we can construct huge buildings/fly faster (in aeroplanes) than the fastest bird but our best chemical catalysts are still in the stone age compared with most enzymes.

You might even get penalties if you were using an item that belonged to a person from an enemy country who you thought of as evil.
December 15, 2005, 11:56
Quote from: "Iain"
Unfortunately, these ideas are mutually exclusive with Shadoweagle's suggestion that this is what TRUE magic is, with enchantments and things just an imitation...

It is, in the end, a question of definition: Is there truly something special about this kind of magical items, past their history? If there is something special (maybe even some spiritual residuum from its master), we may as well call it magic. If not, then those are really ordinary, common items.


Let's examine a theoretical example: I am thinking of a simple peasant-boy, that finds an old crypt, and a sword inside. Being naive, but head full of stories of a legendary hero, he convinces himself that this is THE sword of ________ the Mighty. He may try to use it for heroic deeds. What will happen?

A purely psycological boost can in theory make him a hero! Believing the sword is his ultimate aid to great deeds, he might achieve them, and grow into a hero himself. Perhaps it even passes to someone else later.


As for magic, such an item may not serve everyone and to every purpose; it would probably reflect something of its creator's personality. So you have to be brave and noble to make it work, or it is so great only against a certain enemy the creator opposed at most. This does not hinder any plot hooks (like the misguided good guy, that commit very evil deeds with a noble weapon, or a "curse", making a weapon always hit cruelly some group of people, even if trying to fight subdual). And right, it might confer penalties, if you use a weapon against its "purpose".

That notorious common +1 sword can be used by anyone, for any purpose, by the way.

Would a weapon change with its new wearer? Perhaps, as the hero becomes a leader, and slowly turns into a dictator, will it adapt? Or will it fail to serve him, and even turn against?


I must admit the purely psychological approach sounds a bit nicer for me.

But, if we go for game mechanics, and game issues, I would say magic is better. Why?

- I can well imagine many players to come up with new characters, that "have found a sword they believe to belong to Crunch the Muscular, in effect giving a bonus of +X against...". That can be easily prevented, but still.

- How to turn down someone, that claims "But my character _really_ believes in that effect."? It is easier to check the PCs actual deeds, and decide whether they correspond to a swords purpose (created by the wicked GM in the first place ). If the cool weapon does not perform that greatly, maybe the character is not worthy, or is doing something wrong? Talk of supporting character development.

- Magic is never fully predictable, or the item may be so. It may just not work to day for some strange magical reasons, ("Mana Storm? What's that?"), or may be a quirk, owner's hobby, weakness, or principle or what. Maybe the hero killed hundreds of Orcs, but never harmed a child or a female of this race. You better discover this _before_ facing the Orcish War Priestesses.

In the end, everything is of course a DM call. But I think that magic offers more options for the Game Master. What do you think?
Siren no Orakio
December 15, 2005, 11:57
I had read the opening post, Iain, however, there'd been a bit more floating around in my head.

One of the better implementations I've played with of the 'legend creates power' concept is that presented by the Earthdawn system. Abstracting away from numbers, character growth and magic item use works roughly like this:
As you adventure, you gain a reputation(Legend). You gain power to fit the Legend. An item that you use, and importantly, name, is a part of your legend. To use someone else's item, you must first: 1: Learn the legends around it. 2: Make the item a part of /your/ legend. (In game effects, you have to spend the equivalent of exp.) Items also have levels of effect - your ability to use the item is based on how much it's been incorporated into your legend. If barely, it will only grant minor powers. If greatly, then major powers.

As a quick example of how this works: My character, an Archer, had a bow. This character also had a GM granted quirk of being adept with fire. My bow was simply 'my bow', but in the act of carving the bow with runes, we made it unique from any other bow, in essence giving it a name. Now, my character has settled down, and started playing Adam to a race of people with power over fire. In five hundred yaears, someone finds my character's bow. It will, eventually, grant him great accuracy and let him ignite arrows with a bonus. However, first he must learn my character's True Name, and the name of my adventuring troupe. (Ayn la Mira, Bleeding Roses) To access the next level of the bows power, he must find out how I joined the Bleeding Roses. The next, he must find out how I cured my Horror Marking. For the final level of the bow's power, he must find out the name of the Horror that Marked me, where the 'final showdown' was, and who actually struck the finishing blow.

Now, obviously, this is system dependant, but it provides a relatively system balanced method of bringing legend and deed to the forefront over ritual magic and 'sword +1'.
December 15, 2005, 11:57
Once you have all the rules in place, are they generally known? Is it common knowledge how to gain access to the power or does each person who finds a Heroic Weapon have to stumble through the learning process on how to master this unique weapon?

-Could it be that each weapon holds echoes or clues of past deeds that will lead the new holder to harness the true power. All these things about if the player is worthy is decided by the sword based on character's actions and perhaps even his need or desperation. What good is a heroic sword if it doesn't become heroic in a specific time of justified great need. It might be that great deed that finally releases the final power or clues to its true use.

-If the power control thing is well known then perhaps Bards and Historians play a much more important part of the world. If power is based on legend then the world would probably be super rich in the history and legend of those that came before. The heroic weapon would be a very rare thing, but stories of those that came before would probably be a super important part of the cultures.

Do offspring of the heroes have a better chance of harnessing the power and maybe even increasing it? Insert a list of "Son of..." for many generations and does the relative of numerous ages of legendary acts have an innate ability of some sort? These weapons would most likely be handed down through generations and probably the first born son being the most wanted to carry the legacy.

Could go the other way too, relatives cannot harness the power at all. Nontraditional type approach.
December 15, 2005, 11:57
In all things magikal (and to paraphrase Crowley before he went nuts...all acts of will into action are magical) belief is the key. Belief in yourself and your abilities can push a persons skill in sports, academics, or business, to beyond the stated compentency. Belief of others in you can inspire you to greatness, be you a person with a spouse or a sports team.

The key to magic is belief. If people believe that an item has magical properties, that it is special in some way, then it is more likely that it really is magical/ special in some way. Of course if one skilled wonder worker believes with all his might, it might be more effect than a thousand people who believe only a little. However, combining the two effects together, generates great effects.

Thus weapons/ items associated with a legend or tale will develop magic. The energy of will generated by all that belief can be channeled into the object. All it takes is a little belief in that power for an individual (who feels worthy) to tap into it.
December 15, 2005, 11:58
Belief is one thing, but I like the idea for this one that the weapon would actually have to physically go through the events to obtain their power.

If the weapon gains power from the belief that it was associated with a legend then it really doesn't matter if the weapon *is* that one from legend as long as those believe it is. Is that what you are saying? That belief gives it power?

I think, belief or not, if a weapon has grown with somebody, been through many great battles, has been imbued with heroic powers through its experience, then the weapon should hold the powers with or without a new owner believing in them.

I don't like the idea of belief being the requirement for the powers.
December 15, 2005, 11:59
Another approach, thinking whether the item is even more effective in the hands of a hero.

What if the sword (OK, any item will do, but that's the tradition) becomes in effect a hero's "bodypart"? It is HIS, you see, he used it for ages and relied on it for his life, cared for and even got emotionally attached. Add some magic coming from the process.

To the hero (that has already amazing skills), the weapon is much easier to wield, he does not tire when using it, and is very hard to disarm - as if it was his bodypart. It could also become much harder/resistant to damage. And conversely, if it is damaged, it could have a negative influence on his health... getting weaker or even sick. A small general bonus is optional. Further, the hero may have a 'feeling' for his item, where it is, how it is treated, etc. But without the item, his abilities that are bound to the item could actually weaken!

To some amateur that picks it up later, a part of the hero's skills (that were bound to this item) can become accessible... more if he becomes like the hero in some regard. So knowing much about the item's master is indeed important.
Voted Murometz
January 10, 2014, 23:23
Now *this* is how a sub should be commented on! Good work.
Voted valadaar
April 4, 2014, 10:29
A good idea, and even better commentary.

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