What Makes a Weapon Magic?
What is required of a weapon before it can be considered magic? This article uses a few "old school" guidelines to hopefully provide us with a fresh look on the question.
What makes a weapon "magic"? I am tired of those good old magic weapons portrayed in fantasy and rpgs. I started to ponder about some new ways to portray magic weapons or enchanted items in general. And as the stories often goes, all I had to do was look back instead of forward. I started to look into some information in history.
People really believed then that some weapons were magical, and some cultures still do. What were their requirements?
If you rule out the those who have aquired a certain amount of fame because they belonged to someone legendary like Adolf Hitler or Julius Cesar, what was left? I came up with these categories of requirements;
It could be the materials it was made of, method of production, producers, decoration, consecration, possesion, accumulation of power, ritual function, martial practise.
I will go trough the categories one by one. I hope that this could be of some help and/or function as guidelines for those of us that wish to create magic items with a new/old look.
Many traditional weapons are said to derive power from having been made of sacred materials. Such materials in their natural state have affinity with the divine, so objects made from them are themselves sacred. Examples: Keris blades of the Indonesian archipelago made from meteorite iron, thought to have been sent by the gods; rhinoceros horns as hilts for Arabian janbiyya, believed to have healing and aphrodisiac properties. The list of ingredients that could be used for the making of different weapons are endless.
Method of Production
The act of making a weapon itself—particularly the forging process for metal bladed weapons—is thought to be a magical process, transmuting the essential nature of the materials such that they acquire new properties not found in their natural state. We find this often taking place in a forging environment where the production is encoded in ritual processes. Example: The forging of Japanese katana blades, in which the smith dons a priest's robes and makes numerous invocation to Shinto dieties.
We also often find that the method of production creates a visible pattern in the finished product, which is itself given specific supernatural attributes. Examples: Hamon on Japanese katana, pamor on keris, wootz patterns on Persian shamshir.
Many cultures regarded weaponmakers and blacksmiths to be imbued with magical power through their craft; their objects therefore inherit some of that power. Examples: Viking swords; West African swords.
Empowering weapons through the application of spiritually significant artwork. This is very common throughout history, with everything from full figural artwork (Example: Hilts from Bali) to talimanic markings (Example: Magic squares on Middle Eastern swords) to prayers and religious inscriptions (Example: Biblical and other Christian mottoes on European swords).
In other cases certain decorative objects thought to impart power are added. Examples: Boar's tusks on scabbards; tiger jaws; gemstones on various European daggers.
With a few rare examples, the overall shape of the weapon itself is thought to be talismanic. the Achinese rencong, believed to spell out the Islamic Arabic invocation bismillah 'in the name of God'.
Making weapons sacred through the blessing of ritual specialists.
Many cultures had rituals to animate weapons, calling spirits or other entities to reside in the weapons themselves.
Accumulation of Power
Some weapons were thought to absorb the strength and heroism of their previous owners, and impart those virtures onto their present owners. Examples: Viking and Medieval European swords. Others could be used to extend and focus a user's personal energy to cultivate spiritual awareness. Example: Chinese internal martial arts.
Certain weapons are considered powerful because they are implements in specific rituals. Examples: Tomahawk peace pipes among many Native American tribes; sacrificial knives of all kinds; fraternal swords in Europe and America.
For some, ordinary weapons can take on ritual importance through the practice of marital arts, which foster altered states of spiritual consciousness. Examples: Bolos in certain Filipino martial arts; rapiers and swords in certain Renaissance schools of fencing.
This article's purpose is to function as an inspiration for write-ups on magic weapons, thus I would like to challenge the lot of us to make a few posts with these guidelines "of old" in mind.
In connection with the quest "What makes makes a weapon magic?" I made this article a codex. It should be fun to see how Strolenites use this article to craft items.
Items • Melee Weapons • Combat
Like magic Methnik's sword passed through that of his foes....All too late, the blade was at his neck, it burnt, stinging like acid, it slivered through skin and muscle. Methnik crumpled to his knees, then to the floor, his eyes greyed over and he heard faint words, maybe those of his foe? 'Your last lesson in this life. Your teacher? A Serivemn'
Items • Melee Weapons • Magical
"O Victorious Maul, send down your fury!
O Hammer of Justice, bring Dalraaen's law!
O Weapon of Righteousness, cast out the unlawful!"
- Magistrate Archivinus Kelstori, Ode to the Gavel
With the patronage of Dalraaen, this heavenly mace is the focus of the Magisterium's strongest order. Its darker roots, however, are hidden even to its wielders, and its very existance threatens the world.
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? Responses (11)
I am not the biggest fan of articles, but this one is short, sweet, concise and full of useful reminders for experienced GM's, as well as great info for less experienced ones. Of course it also makes one want to immediately post a magic weapon! :D
Not why there are so few comments on what really is a good artical.
I think this is an excellent idea.
Me'thinks this needs some BUMPAGE!
If we make it the subject of the next quest, bumped it shall be!
Articles never get much air time. Much the pity, as those tidbits of information contained within can be really useful sometime in play (and usually at an unexpected time).
This article is not one of my favorites. It hits all the bases; but It gets kind of sparse in description in some areas. It seems to lacks a sense of completeness for me. Still all articles need some love. So here it is.
I agree entirely with Murometz on this - short, sweet, and to-the-point - and definitely deserves a lot more attention that articles normally receive
Unusually (and I truly never thought Id say this), but I think MoonHunter is completely wrong. What do you mean "lacks a sense of completeness"? It says everything it needs to say. What more do you want?
Good, useful information - just the sort of think you need to create truly legendary magical weapons
Don't do this often these days - but here goes - 5/5 plus a Hall of Honour
Plus an apology to MJS for missing it back in June 2006
BTW: Making this the subject of the next quest seem like a fine idea
BUMPUS QUESTUS SUPREMUS MAXIMUS!
Nice one, good reminder that magic weapons, and other items and effects in general, need not be the standard hum drum. Reinvests the game with magic and helps GMs. Bumped for justice.
A useful guide on how to make magic weapons that breaks away from the stereotype
As has been said, this is short and to the point. I've been exposed to these ideas in numerous other ways, so I was a little disappointed that there wasn't anything new in here for me. Having said that, this article would be perfect for someone who has been blindly picking up +25 Holy Defenders of Dancing Vorpal Snickersnackiness; something this succinct and well stated should be just the thing to get them thinking about all the things they've taken for granted.
One additional example I was immediately reminded of: the notch at the base of a Kukri's blade is said to be representative of Shiva.
Also: these points are perfect jumping off places for new subs.