Swords. Why does it always have to be swords?

Excalibur. Stormbringer. Sting. What ever their name, magic blades have held the hearts and imagination of fantasy gamers since the dawn of RPGs. Unfortunately this has led to a somewhat warped and unbalanced view of magical weapons. In most fantasy campaigns I have been involved in over the last 30 years almost every magic weapon was a sword. Part of it is our training from fantasy literature. This has overflowed into the average "treasure chart" most games used, which generated weapons from monster stashes. An overworked and ill prepared GM just takes what the dice rolls up, which is a sword. Players respond in kind; Fighter types drool and pick up any sword, Mages go straight to the staves, and clerical fighters head towards anything that looks like a mace. Which is kind of strange, since fighters can use any kind of weapon and might specialize in non swords, would not magic weapons be made for these other fighters? And in the European Mystic traditions, the sword (or knife) is as valid a tool as a stave. Any adventuring type magic user might have picked up some skills, so why not a sword with the same abilities as a magic wand/ staff. And let us face it, most clerical types, who can harm another, do not have a real aversion to spilling blood. Yet clerical mystic weapons are normally maces - even in game systems where there isn't a class prohibition. So why isn't there a +5 Quarterstaff Holy Avenger out there? Do Gods of Law abhor all weapons other than swords? I have had a fellow player risk every players' character just to save his +1 Halberd because it was a magical non sword. There are just problems with this lethal lack of variety.

What to do about it? Well there is the spending of a few extra moments when you roll up the loot or take the "generic pile", by adding names and "brief" histories to the items. However, since you will be adapting what exists, you will just be getting enhanced swords. The one advantage of this is the players will be using folklore and history skills to possibly identify items they have found.

Like so many things in gaming, by spending a few scant minutes more will add a huge amount of results in the game. And it all starts in the background. Spend a few minutes to assemble a list of Master Craftsmen who had made magical items -and associated schools or works. Work out a thumbnail sketch of their personality, preferences, and foibles. Once you select a Master Craftsmen (or craftswoman), select a hero or several heroes who have wielded the weapon and build up a sort of history for it. (These heroes are usually pre-made and part of your setting's history, so you know the great hero of the Bromian war was Valdemor). Once you create the list of Craftsmen and get the hang of the concept, this is no more trouble than just dropping a name and historical brief and takes almost no additional time.

So now you will develop a weapon item with abilities both real and folkloric (things the story say it can do, which may or may not be true), and a nice little history that is tucked into your world. You can even add the folkloric abilities as powers, as things people believe to be the truth becomes the truth magically speaking. So legends born of epic critical hits or some odd use (such as the weather always changes when the weapon is drawn) can be added to the weapon AND to your game world.

I have found that by taking the few extra moments to make the weapon unique, there is a profound respect for each and every piece of mystic weaponry in the eyes of the players. A lowly +1 weapon is not nearly so insignificant if it had once be wielded by a mighty hero and been instrumental in the overthrow of the Dark Goblin King. (Okay, so the folklore abilities were +2 vs. Goblins and +3 vs the Goblin King). Besides, the resurrected Goblin King will be sure hot to get his hands back on it; just to make sure that some hero wielding it does not stop him again. Add to this that anyone wielding this weapon would be seen as a natural leader to stop the Goblin Hordes, adds a great deal of spice to a fairly low level weapon.

In addition, by taking the time to make each item and relic unique, the unpredictability works wonders keeping the troupe on their toes. Every item is treated carefully because you might not know everything it can do. It also adds to a sense of wonder that magic should have, even in a world with prevalent magic.

Since the GM will be thinking about "mixing it up", you can keep the weapons appropriate to the species, culture, and historical period they come from. So a magical Gladius from the Imperial period, or a bola of burning from the desert nomad, or Elven Spears of Light and Law to fight the orc horde, are now options, without having to work out epic items.

So even if it has to be a sword for thematic reasons, you will realize it does not have to be a generic enchantment. With a little time and effort you can change "standard" magic items into something special. So it might be a magic sword, but it is not going to be a generic magic sword.

Last Aside: One side effect of the process is that players stop harassing the GM for new and more powerful magic items every session or so. They will come to the understanding that each one takes time and thought. This allows the GM to keep the number of magic items to a minimum in the campaign, while still keeping the players properly enthralled with the campaign story and their cool swag. This also keeps the "arms race" of the campaign down to a respectable level (See Speed Limit )

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