Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Magic sword menagerie

I love magic swords. They're one of my favorite parts of the game, let alone one of the elements I find most compelling in fantasy literature and media at large. To my great delight, there are more than enough boutique magic swords available on blogs and forums throughout the internet that can be dropped into a campaign. But sometimes you just need something fast. Or maybe you want to finally try to make a true TSR-vanilla dungeon and only use the tables found in the official material. You can generate a bunch of swords using the magic sword table but many of them are repeats and almost all have just flat passive bonuses. 

For a long time I’d just hand-make a little bonus feature or two for the sword and move on. I had the thought of coming up with lists of potential subfeatures for each special sword in B/Xian D&D but it always seemed like too much time and energy. 

But time and energy be damned, I did it anyway. That's what love is all about.  


Sword +1, +2 vs. lycanthropes 

  1. A lycanthrope's true form is revealed in the blade’s reflection. 
  2. The sword confounds a lycanthrope’s senses, granting a +1 bonus to surprise rolls when encountering lycanthropes. 
  3. Hitting a lycanthrope for max damage reverts them to their base form and prevents them from changing back for one turn. 
  4. Using the blade to cauterize wounds left by a lycanthrope prevents lycanthropic infection. 
  5. The wielder of the sword can smell lycanthropes, regardless of what form they are in.
  6. As long as the blade is drawn, lycanthropes in the immediate area are unable to summon animal allies.
  7. The sword enhances the wielder's primal instincts, granting +1 to listening checks and giving a 70% to successfully track creatures when in the wilderness.
  8. Once per day, the sword can cast a silver sheen out to a 30’ radius for up to a turn. Metal weapons become silver while within the sheen.

Sword appearance ideas

  • Extra wide lugs hook around either side of the blade to prevent a crazed lycanthrope from working its way up the length of the sword.
  • The blade arcs dramatically, reminiscent of a crescent moon.
  • Deep silver inlays decorate the blade with esoteric patterns.

Sword +1, +2 vs. spell users

  1. Glints on the jewel pommel show the relative location of nearby spell users.
  2. Hitting a spell user for max damage forces them to save vs. wands or be unable to cast spells for the next hour.
  3. Hitting an MU or elf with the weapon allows the wielder to learn the spells of the highest level they have memorized.
  4. 50% chance to deflect magic missiles and other magic projectiles; on a percentile roll of 25 or lower they are shot back to the caster.
  5. Sword has the power to sunder magic wands, rods, and staves with a single blow.
  6. Defensive wards on the hilt protect the wielder from charm, sleep, and hold spells as long as the sword is in hand.
  7. On a successful hit, the wielder can choose to forego dealing damage to instead shatter magical protection caused by spells and scrolls (including the Shield spell and “Protection from...” effects). Spells with a radius or that affect an area instead of an individual are treated as having AC 9.
  8. Attacking a spell user in the same round they are preparing to cast a spell disrupts the spell casting, regardless of if the attack lands. If the attack is successful, the wielder has a 2:6 chance of not disrupting the spell but instead being able to redirect the spell to a target of their choice.
Sword appearance ideas
  • Iridescent blade, like an insect’s carapace.
  • Baroque design; possibly more of a work of art than a weapon.
  • Blade is composed of many small glittering shards fused together through unearthly means.

Sword +1, +3 vs. undead

  1. The sword can serve as a conduit for turning undead. When an allied cleric turns undead and is within eyesight of the wielder, the sword can simultaneously turn undead as a cleric of one level less than the allied cleric. This ability can be used once per day.
  2. Spending a round brandishing the sword creates a burst of radiance that causes undead in the immediate area to become vulnerable to mundane attacks for an hour.
  3. Driving the sword through the chest of a victim killed by a ghoul, wight, wraith, specter, or vampire prevents them from being raised as undead. The effect also works for necromantic magic.
  4. Anyone within sight of the sword gets +2 to saves against an undead’s supernatural fear or charming effects.
  5. Hitting an undead creature with less than 10 hp automatically destroys it.
  6. The wielder gets to save vs. death to avoid an undead’s experience-draining abilities.
  7. Slaying an undead with this weapon also puts to rest all the undead creatures the target created.
  8. The sword has three sigils near the base of the blade. If the wielder touches one and issues a mental command, they activate to function as a scroll of protection from undead. After a sigil has been activated, it becomes inert. The DM may allow the sigils to be repowered, perhaps requiring a high-level cleric and the same cost and time requirements as it takes to scribe a scroll of protection from undead.
Sword appearance ideas
  • The entire sword is made of pure obsidian.
  • Red gems are embedded in a dark metal blade. Spikes and skulls decorate the hilt.
  • The weapon is a saber, with a basket hilt shaped like a ribcage and a grip made of polished ivory.
Sword +1, +3 vs. dragons
  1. The wielder is able to speak with all kinds of dragons, regardless of whether they share a language. Additionally, from speaking with a dragon the wielder can intuit if the dragon can cast spells, and has a 50% chance of identifying what spells they know (rolled individually for each spell).
  2. The sword is partially made from a toxic substance known to enervate dragons. On striking a dragon with the weapon, the dragon receives a -1 penalty to attack and damage rolls. Another successful attack the next round increments the penalty to -2, and so on for each subsequent round. The penalty is removed if the wielder fails to damage the dragon on a subsequent round. Dragon’s with 7 HD or less are unable to fly with a penalty of -3 or greater, dragon’s with 8-9 HD are unable to fly with a penalty of -4 or greater, and 10+ HD are unable to fly with a penalty of at least -5.
  3. Followers of the wielder of this weapon get +2 to their morale score when fighting a dragon.
  4. Take the higher of two damage rolls when dealing subdual damage to a dragon.
  5. Once per hour, the wielder can leap 60’ in the air. Falling from this height after leaping doesn’t incur damage, and successfully attacking a creature after jumping (either by landing on an opponent below or thrusting at a flying creature) deals double damage.
  6. Bathing the sword in the blood of a recently slain dragon grants the wielder experience equal to the dragon’s HD x 100.
  7. The wielder gains 10 temporary hp when entering combat against a dragon. The temporary hp can exceed the wielder’s maximum, and are depleted before their standard hp. The hp are lost when combat ends.
  8. The first time the wielder is hit by a dragon’s breath weapon they survive miraculously unscathed, taking no damage.
Sword appearance ideas
  • Massively oversized anime-scale sword.
  • The blade is etched such that the surface looks to be covered in hundreds of tiny scales
  • A heavy knight sword, the blade striped with various colors. Each time the sword slays a dragon, a new stripe forms of the corresponding color.
  • The blade has a flared, undulating tip; useful for getting under scales.
Sword +1, +3 vs. regenerating creatures
  1. The weapon leaves sickening black wounds. Creatures hit by this weapon can’t regenerate the damage it deals. Natural healing doesn’t work either.
  2. The sword is repulsive to regenerating creatures, and forces them to make a morale check when it is first drawn and again when first taking damage from it.
  3. On a max damage roll, the wielder can choose to sever a limb of a regenerating creature (1. L arm 2. R arm 3. L leg 4. R leg). Severing an arm reduces the number of arm-based attacks the creature can make per round by 1, whereas severing a leg reduces move speed by half.
  4. The sword pulses vividly when near spontaneous regeneration, imbuing its wielder with its own vitality. Every time a creature regenerates while the wielder is within 30’, the wielder also regenerates that much hp.
  5. The blade takes on a greenish hue when regenerating creatures are nearby.
  6. The wounds left by the blade immediately harden into bulging, crusty scars, limiting mobility. Each time a creature regenerates after getting hit by this weapon, they get a -1 penalty to attack, to a maximum of -5.
  7. The sword stimulates the wielder’s own regenerative abilities. +2 bonus to natural healing.
  8. Dipping the blade into a pool of water turns it into acid over the course of 10 minutes. Up to 10 cubic feet of water is affected at a time. Large bodies and running water are unaffected.
Sword appearance ideas
  • Broad, fat blade; looks like a giant meat cleaver.
  • The edge of the blade is serrated like a bonesaw.
  • The blade is corroded and tarnished but the rest of the sword being in perfect condition.
  • Oversized billhook.
Sword +1, +3 vs. enchanted monsters
  1. The first time an enchanted creature is hit with the weapon, they must save vs. wands or be knocked slightly out-of-phase with reality, unable to move or attack the next round.
  2. After observing an enchanted creature for at least a round, the wielder can intuit how the creature was summoned or animated, who if anyone controls them, and what their purpose or goal is if any.
  3. On a natural 20, target enchanted creature must save vs. wands or be deactivated (if a construct or otherwise animated by magic), turned (if undead), or banished (if summoned) for the next 1d6 hours.
  4. Spending your round pointing the sword at an enchanted creature causes them to save vs. wands or be bound in place and unable to move (but can still attack) until you get hit or take another action. This effect has a range of 100’.
  5. Efreet and djinn defeated by this weapon become bound to the sword and forced to serve the wielder for a week and a day. Efreet and djinn servitors are vengeful of their master, and while they follow the letter of their commands they will attempt to subvert the intent. Only one creature can be bound at a time.
  6. Once per week, the sword can switch places with a dimensional outsider from the far reaches of the astral plane that serves the wielder. The outsider lasts for a number of turns before disappearing equal to the wielder's HD, or until its hp reaches zero or is dismissed by the wielder. When it disappears, the sword reappears in its place. The outsider appears as a disorienting insect-cephalopod hybrid with waving tentacles and an iridescent carapace that hovers a few feet above the ground. It has the stats of a grizzly bear, can communicate simple ideas telepathically with the wielder, is immune to mind-affecting spells, and has one of the following features:
    1. Telekinesis at will Energy attack—range 60’/120’/180’, damage 1d8, usable twice a round in lieu of attacking. 15’ aura that functions as a scroll of protection from magic.
    2. Casts Confusion on creatures it successfully hits.
    3. Immune to nonmagical damage.
    4. Charm Monster usable once per hour. Duration of charm is one minute. If a creature succeeds on their save they are immune to this effect.
  7. On dealing maximum damage to an enchanted creature, the wielder can choose to leave the sword lodged in the target. The creature must save vs. wands or fall under the control of the wielder. The wielder is unable to attack or cast spells while the sword is in the target, and must maintain concentration on the creature. Creatures with fewer HD than the level of the wielder may make another save at the end of every turn, and creatures with HD equal to or higher than the wielder’s level may make a new save at the end of every round. On a successful save, the creature spends their next round dislodging the blade. Godlings, greater demons, and other particularly powerful creatures are unaffected by this ability.
  8. The sword shutters in the presence of enchanted creatures. The length and intensity of the shuddering alerts the wielder of the creature's approximate power level (weaker than the wielder, about as strong as the wielder, stronger than the wielder, or much stronger than the wielder).
Sword appearance ideas
  • The entire blade is hewn from a single crystal. 
  • The sword is an ancient ritual weapon made of stone, predating all known civilizations.
  • The blade is made from a murky purple substance that swirls like liquid encased in glass. Every now and then a glowing rune forms somewhere on the surface before fading a few moments later.
Sword +1, casts light on command 30' radius
  1. The wielder can point the sword toward the sky to create a beacon that can be seen up to 3 miles away.
  2. Once per day, the wielder can issue a command and cause the sword to release a blinding flash of light. Everyone that can see the sword within 60' must save vs. wands or be blinded for 1d6 minutes. Characters or creatures that have their eyes closed or don't need eyes to see are unaffected.
  3. The light the sword creates causes magical illusions glow faintly and become slightly transparent, revealing their nature to everyone in sight.
  4. The light is not perceptible by creatures with infravision. Adventuring parties that use the sword as their sole lightsource do not lose their chance to surprise randomly encountered creatures.
  5. Light can function as a protection from evil spell once per day.
  6. In addition to producing light, the sword can also swallow light on command and create a 30’ radius of darkness.
  7. Creatures with sunlight sensitivities like orcs and goblins are affected by the light of the sword as though it were sunlight. They tend to hate this and will target the wielder first.
  8. The light from the blade reduces the chances of being surprised by invisible and ambushing creatures like crab spiders and wererats to 1:6.
  9. The sword can “throw” a nimbus of light up to 60’ away. The nimbus casts light in a 30’ radius as it travels, and if it hits a creature they must save or be blinded for a round.
  10. +3 against shadows.
Sword appearance ideas
  • The entire sword is made of hardened light.
  • Light emits from a jewel on the pommel.
  • The sword doesn’t actually emit light, instead conjures large luminescent motes that float around the blade.
  • The hilt is made from a single crystal, cut with precise angles and planes to refract light from any angle.
Sword +1, locate objects
Once per day, the sword grants the wielder the ability to detect objects in a 120' radius, as per the locate objects spell.
  1. Sword can be folded origami-style anywhere between the size of a shortsword and 2-handed sword.
  2. Pommel opens up to reveal an extradimensional secret compartment; can hold up to 30 pounds of material as long as the objects can fit in the coin-sized opening.
  3. Helpful readout on the blade shows location of the sun, direction of magnetic north, relative altitude or depth (dungeon level), and the distance and direction of the last place the blade was planted in the ground. 
  4. The sword has a remarkable acoustic conductivity. Holding the tip against a door or the floor and listening at the pommel gives +3 to hearing noises rolls; also good for a makeshift stethoscope.
  5. Cutting an esoteric symbol in the air above an object makes it so that it cannot be located by magic or discovered by chance. This only works on reasonably sized objects—not landmarks, locations, or things so big they are unmistakably conspicuous. Only one thing can be obscured in this way at a time.
  6. Blade unravels into a cord 30’ long that can grab hold of objects and follow the wielder’s commands. The cord can support up to 50 pounds.
  7. When outdoors, holding the small lens embedded in the pommel of the sword up to the sun projects a bird’s-eye map of the immediate area. Chances of getting lost in the wilderness are reduced by 1. Doesn't work on cloudy days where the sun isn't visible.
  8. Ingenious design of the sword’s crossguard allows it to be broken apart into individual specially shaped pieces which can serve as thieves' tools. The sword’s daily use locate-objects ability can be used instead to grant a thief the better of two rolls when using the sword’s thieves’ tools.
Sword appearance ideas
  • Antenna stick out of the crossguard like a radio receiver.
  • Arcane circuitry runs along the length of the fuller.
  • A magnifying lens is embedded within the base of the blade.
Sword +1, flames on command
When activated, the sword bursts into flames, casting light in a 30' radius, granting +2 to regenerating and bird-like creatures, and +3 to plant creatures and undead.
  1. Can shoot out a scorching beam 1d3 times a day; 2d8 damage in a 60’ line, save vs. breath for half.
  2. Once per day, the sword's magic can incarnate a 4 HD fire elemental (taking the form of a phoenix, dragon, human warrior, etc.) under the wielder's control. The elemental lasts for up to one turn or until its hp reaches 0. While the elemental is active, the sword loses its flaming ability and just acts as a sword +1. 
  3. Rolling a natural 20 attack creates a burst of flame, dealing an additional 3d6 damage to the target. Everyone within 10’ except for the wielder saves vs. breath or takes half damage.
  4. Plasma arcs around the blade, hot enough to melt through metal. The wielder can forego dealing damage to the opponent on a successful attack to instead melt through the opponent’s weapon. The wielder can also spend a turn to cut a man-sized hole in through thin stone or metal walls.
  5. Raising the sword overhead releases a flash of heat that ignites all exposed nonliving flammable material in a 50’ radius.
  6. Dragging the tip along the ground creates a shallow wall of flame that functions like a pool of flaming oil, lasting for two rounds. The sword cannot be dragged and used to attack in the same round.
  7. The flame is actually righteous lightning, allowing the sword to fully harm creatures that are otherwise resistant to fire.
  8. Holding the sword unsheathed protects the wielder from fire as per a ring of fire resistance. The sword temporarily loses its magic powers if it gets wet, and if the wielder gets submerged or covered in water they get -2 to attack and damage rolls until they dry off. If the wielder also wears a ring of fire resistance, the effects stack and the penalties from getting wet are negated.
Sword appearance ideas
  • Flame circles the blade in a neat helix.
  • A flamberge, aflame.
  • The sword does not actually produce fire but instead glows super hot.
  • A heavy bronze broadsword with flame jetting out of a decorative dragon head at the hilt.
  • When activated, the blade itself becomes a sword-shaped wedge of solid flame.
Sword +1, drains life energy
On a successful hit, the wielder can choose to drain the target's life energy. In addition to taking damage, the target loses one experience level or hit die. The sword may drain a total of 1d4+4 levels before becoming a normal sword +1. 
  1. When this weapon kills a creature, the blade absorbs part of their essence and the wielder gains 1d6 hp plus 1 hp for every HD of the creature.
  2. The sword stores the soul of a claimed victim. The soul can be talked to, though it is likely unwilling to be of any assistance to the wielder. Only one soul can be stored at a time. The soul can be used in several ways:
    1. Power the sword, granting a bonus equal to the soul’s old HD to attack and damage for the next 1d6 attacks.
    2. Be summoned as a phantasm. Hp equal to the number of HD the creature had; only vulnerable to silver weapons and magic attacks; otherwise attacks, damage, AC, and non-spellcasting special abilities the same. The phantasm lasts for one hour or until they’re hp is reduced to zero. Phantasms will begrudgingly follow the wielder’s commands, but have a 1:10 chance of turning on the wielder. 
    3. Invigorate the wielder. The wielder gains 1 hp for every HD of the creature, gets +1 to attack rolls, gains +30’(10’) additional movement speed, and is inured from fatigue caused by things like dungeon exploration and wilderness travel. The effect lasts for one day.
    4. The soul can be transferred to another creature or entity who might make use of such a thing, such as a demon or evil high priest.
  3. Humans slain with this weapon become ghouls under the wielder's control. The ghouls stick around for 1d6 days before going off on their own. The number of ghouls the wielder can have under their control cannot exceed their max number of retainers, but don’t count toward their follower total.
  4. Spectral weapon; ignores armor and other tangible nonliving matter.
  5. Fearsome affect inflicts -2 morale to intelligent enemies.
  6. The ghoulish blade leaves wounds that numb the victim. On a successful hit, the target must save vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for one round.
  7. The sword protects the wielder from lethal poisons, diseases, and other save or die effects. The wielder must still make saving throws against death/poison as normal—if they fail they remain alive as if nothing happened, but they will die if the sword ever leaves their side.
  8. The sword stores the experience it steals from its victims. The HD drained by the sword can be used to restore levels lost by energy drain.
Sword appearance ideas
  • The blade is a hellish crimson as though cast from solid blood.
  • Pale mist falls from the blade like frosted breath. Maddening black runes are seared over the surface of the blade in incoherent patterns.
  • The hilt is covered in carvings of tiny faces all crying out in agony.
Sword +1, wishes 
The sword grants 1d4 wishes, which must be spoken aloud by the wielder. 
  1. When the last wish is used, the entire sword turns to diamond. The sword fractures too easily to be used effectively as a weapon but can be sold for 25,000 gp.
  2. Whosoever wields the sword occupies a special place in the inscrutable fate of the universe. Extraplanar and deific entities recognize the wielder on sight and may potentially take a special interest in them.
  3. A cult of 3d4 hooded acolytes forms around the wielder. The cult follows the party from place to place; sometimes trailing them and sometimes just cropping up wherever the wielder settles for a while. The cultists develop rituals and traditions based on the wielder’s mannerisms and build strange effigies in their likeness. They don’t directly obey the wielder, instead choosing to interpret statements and commands as portentous dictums that they dissect with talmudic intensity. Should the wielder demonstrate that they value a certain behavior, the cult will adapt it into their practices; for instance, if the wielder shows a great love for fighting and combat, the cult would become militant and seek to defeat the wielder’s enemies on the field of battle. If the wielder shows a particular financial shrewdness and desire for wealth, the cult will orient itself around accumulating money through savings and calculated business ventures.
  4. When the wielder sleeps with the sword under their pillow, they have bizarre dreams of distant lands and impossible places. Any time the wielder travels to a different world, plane, or dimension, they have an intuitive understanding of where they are and the basic gist of their current locale.
  5. The reality-bending qualities of the sword suffuse the wielder with miraculous power. The wielder gains the ability to cast spells as a cleric of equal level. The spell slots don’t recover on their own; instead, the wielder must perform a 1-hour ritual that can only be completed on the last day of each month.
  6. Swinging the blade leaves a dazzling afterimage—when the wielder misses an attack, the target must save vs paralysis or get -4 on their attacks for one round.
Sword appearance ideas
  • The sword is utterly resplendent, nearly glowing with unsuppressed majesty.
  • It looks like a normal sword when you’re staring at it, but out of the corner of your eye it shifts and warps like something from a dream.
  • At the center of the sword’s crossguard is a micro-universe contained within a golf ball-sized cage. There are a number of swirling galaxies in the micro-universe equal to the amount of wishes remaining.
Sword +2, charm person
The sword grants the wielder the ability to charm others, as per the charm person spell. This can be done up to 3 times per week. 
    1. Wielder can issue a one word command once per day; 2d8 Hit Dice of creatures of 4 HD or fewer must obey.
    2. The wielder’s loyalty score and maximum number of retainers both increase by 1.
    3. The wielder’s gets +2 to reaction rolls when attempting to petition human NPCs or hire new followers.
    4. The weapon grants the owner a supernatural mastery of all forms of etiquette and imparts substantial conversational ability. They can easily fit in and assimilate to any sort of social situation.
    5. Slowly pulling the sword from its sheath draws all attention to the wielder.
    6. Pointing the eye on the chape of the sword toward a creature of 4 HD or fewer allows the wielder to read their thoughts. This can only be done for 1d6 rounds per day.
    7. The wielder is able to read and speak two additional languages of their choosing.
    8. Animals adore the wielder.
    Sword appearance ideas
    • The hilt is carved to look like many nude bodies in the throes of ecstatic union.
    • The sword is lavishly decorated with jewels and filigree. The decorations are excessive, just on the verge of garishness yet somehow remarkably tasteful.
    General magic sword qualities 
    1. Nearly weightless. Does not contribute to encumbrance.
    2. Flies to the wielder’s hand on command.
    3. Wielder can make the sword vanish or turn into something innocuous like a wristband or needle.
    4. Spell storing. The sword can store a number of spell levels equal to its modifier.
    5. Unbreakable. Can withstand an infinite amount of force without bending or breaking.
    6. The blade waves and whips around like a snake. Attacks ignore shields.
    7. Sword beam. 1d10 damage, range 50’/100/150’, usable a number of times per turn equal to the sword’s att/dmg bonus.
    8. Unless surprised, the wielder always goes first in initiative.
    9. After landing a successful attack, the wielder can choose to mark the target creature. Once marked, the wielder can sense the general whereabouts of the creature at all times. Only one creature can be marked at a time.
    10. The sword grants the wielder enhanced reflexes and reaction time in combat. If the wielder doesn’t attack on their round, they get +1 to their AC and are impervious to projectiles javelin-sized or smaller (including magic missiles) until their next round.
    11. The sword can hover or glide horizontally 120’(40’) for up to 1 minute at a time before falling. The wielder can leave it hanging in the air while they do something with both hands or ride it like a surfboard.
    12. The sword produces a toxic mist or film. On a hit, the target must save vs. poison—if they fail, they take 1d6 damage at the beginning of the next round unless they spend their round writhing in pain.
    13. The sword has a special significance to a creature type or group of NPCs (of a specific nation, religious sect, lineage, etc.). The wielder gets +2 to reaction rolls and would largely be revered and respected by individuals of that type—and reviled by their enemies.
    14. When this weapon kills an enemy it completely destroys the body, either by disintegrating it, causing it to explode in a burst of gore, or simply making it blink out of existence. Enemies get a -2 penalty on morale checks for the rest of the encounter after the wielder makes their first kill.
    15. Superpositional. Swinging the sword causes it to exist in several places at once, making it look like the wielder momentarily manifests several additional arms all attacking in different directions. The sword ignores AC bonuses granted by dexterity, as well as the displacer beast’s ability, the mirror image spell, and similar effects.
    16. The blade is wreathed in an enervating miasma. Hitting an opponent saps their strength, imparting a -1 penalty to attack and damage for the next turn. 
    17. The sword is made from an incredibly cold substance, or draws in heat from its surroundings. The sword can extinguish flames up to 10’x10’ by swiping through them and counts as a cold-based attack against creatures with such vulnerability, like certain molds and oozes.
    18. The sword rends or corrodes armor. Armored creatures that are hit with the weapon get a -1 AC penalty. If the penalty becomes equal to the AC granted by the armor (for instance, if a creature wearing chainmail gets hit four times), the armor is completely destroyed.
    19. On a damage roll of 1, the sword shatters the opponent’s weapon. If the opponent isn’t holding a weapon, they lose one of their attacks their next round.
    20. Dancing sword. The wielder can toss the sword and make a mental command, which causes it to fly around and attack creatures on its own. It uses the wielder’s stats for attack and damage rolls, and cannot be targeted by attacks. The wielder controls where the sword goes and who it attacks, but is free to wield other weapons while the sword is dancing. The sword can dance for up to three rounds before flying back to the wielder. If the sword and the wielder are more than 30’ apart from one another, the sword falls to the ground inert.
    General cursed sword qualities
    The features listed here could be used instead of or in addition to a cursed sword’s typical attack/damage penalty. It is assumed that characters are unable to lose or discard cursed swords and are incapable of wielding other weapons. Breaking a sword’s curse typically requires no less than a remove curse spell, and cleansing the sword entirely takes substantially greater magic.
    1. The wielder’s dominant hand withers into a black claw. It can’t be used for anything except holding the sword.
    2. The sword lets out a high-pitched whining, wailing sound whenever it is drawn, enough to alert nearby creature’s of the wielder’s presence.
    3. On a natural 20 attack roll, dozens of blades identical to the sword pierce out the target’s body, dealing triple damage to the target and everyone within melee range of them including the wielder. Creatures except for the target get to save vs. paralysis for half damage.
    4. The sword is incredibly heavy, weighing five times as much as normal.
    5. In combat the sword binds itself to the wielder's hand with thick iron cords that won’t come free until either the enemies or the wielder is slain.
    6. Every time the wielder misses an attack by 5 or more, the sword ricochets and makes another attack against another random creature in range (potentially the wielder).
    7. If the wielder dies, their soul becomes trapped in the sword forever.
    8. Each day, the wielder must kill a man-type creature or else age 1d10 years.
    9. The sword is entirely unable to kill living beings. Any time the wielder lands an attack that would reduce a creature to 0 hp, the attack automatically misses. Undead and constructs can be slain as normal.
    10. Every time the wielder uses the sword in combat, there is a 50% chance that a glowing crack will form on the blade. Once four cracks have formed, the sword will shatter, freeing the wielder from the curse but releasing a powerful demon that was trapped within the blade.
    11. The wielder is unable to gain experience from treasure, though they are still figured into the dividing of experience (essentially, their share is “wasted”). Instead, they gain 20 times the normal experience from defeating monsters.
    12. The blade of the sword is broken. At the beginning of each day, the wielder can restore the broken blade by channeling their hit points into the sword. No more than 8 hp can be channeled into the sword at a time. Every time the wielder lands an attack throughout the day, they can choose how much damage is dealt to the target (not exceeding what would otherwise be maximum damage for the weapon), drawing from a pool of damage points equal to 5 times the amount of hp channeled into the blade that morning. Once the pool has been depleted or a new day begins, the blade breaks once more. The broken blade does not incur any penalty to the attack roll, but can only deal 1 point of damage on a successful attack.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2022

    Dwarf race-as-class variants

    This is the second installment in the B/X race-as-class variant series. Elves can be found here.

    My approach to dwarves is slightly different than to elves. Makes sense to me, since elves and dwarves should be distinct from one another as well as humans. The result is not necessarily a list of dwarf "variants" but instead a table of variant features that mechanically distinguish dwarf PCs while still preserving that sweet core of archetypal dwarfness we all know and love.   

    All dwarves start with Infravision (60’) and have a 2:6 chance to detect construction tricks and room traps. Players roll twice on this table to determine additional features:

    1. Hard head. Your head is harder than a cannonball. You can shrug off all but the most dire damage it sustains. There might be some physical indication of this feature, like ram horns or a block-shaped cranium.
    2. Magic tools. You have a set of magical tools you can work with to quickly repair damaged equipment. Once per day, you can fix a broken object as per the mending spell. You can also use the tools to magically repair damage to equipment, even from non-mundane sources like oozes or rust monsters. It takes an hour to repair equipment for each -1 penalty it accrued. The strange tools only detect as magic when you work with them. Otherwise, they just seem like normal dwarf-tools.
    3. Pack mule. Your endurance and near-supernatural packing skills means heavy loads are no problem. You can carry an extra 500 coins (or 5 extra inventory slots; etc.) of treasure and equipment that doesn’t count toward your encumbrance.
    4. Perfect spatial reasoning. You have an extraordinary sense of scale and direction. You can determine lengths and distances at a glance, and can throw and catch with almost perfect accuracy. +1 to ranged attack rolls.
    5. Heigh-Ho! You can sing a song to make any hard manual labor you’re doing, like clearing stone or building a structure, take half the time. Other dwarves working with you can sing along to also get the bonus, even if they don't have this feature.  
    6. Keen senses. You are particularly tuned-in to your surroundings, especially in constructed and subterranean environments. You have a 2:6 chance of listening at doors and through dungeon walls that are less than a foot thick, which you can detect when searching.
    7. Tinkerer. You love toying with contraptions and gizmos. You have a 3:6 chance of detecting room traps when searching, and a 3:6 chance of salvaging something useful from deactivated trap mechanisms, mechanical constructs, or other sorts of complicated machinery.
    8. Gourmand. Dwarves are already famous for their vast appetites and expansive cuisine, and you’re more of an adventurous eater than most. You can safely consume just about anything you can get your mouth around and with adequate cooking gear you can prepare a passable meal from even the most meager ingredients (within reason—you can turn grass and boot leather into food, but not dirt or rocks). You’re a pretty slick cook in general to the extent that the food you make would knock the socks off a common peasant and impress even a haughty aristocrat.
    9. Azer. Despite what is commonly supposed, Azers are not dwarves from the “elemental plane of fire” (which doesn’t exist), but instead a special class of pyrogenic dwarves who practice ritual flame eating and are said to be born from magma... Your skin is shiny bronze and your hair is either red-orange or blue like a gas flame. You are unharmed by normal fire and extreme heat. Additionally, you get +2 to saves vs. fire magic or breath attacks, and take 1 less point of damage per dice (these effects do not stack with fire resistance granted through magic). You can also chug a flask of lantern oil (doesn't need to be lit) and spit it out like a flaming oil attack at a range of 10’, ignoring armor. Strong spirits work the same but the flame is shorter lived, only dealing damage on one round instead of two. As a consequence, water is repulsive to you. You get a -2 penalty to attack and damage rolls when wet (bring an umbrella) and if you’re fully submerged you must save vs. death or pass out and sink like a stone.
    10. Riding goat. You are the proud owner of a trained dwarfish riding goat. However stubborn it may be, the two of you share an indelible kinship. HD: 3 AC: 7 Att. Kick x2 (1d6) or Ram (1d8+1). Move 120’ (40’) can climb steep surfaces and navigate difficult terrain at full speed. If given a run-up of, 20’ you can forgo your attack and make the goat charge, granting its ram attack double damage. Morale 12.
    11. Geomancy. You are versed in the esoteric art of dwarven geomancy. When underground, you can accurately determine what dungeon floor you’re on, and you can spend a turn performing a dwarfy dousing ritual to get a rough approximation of where corridors you can see lead—whether they go to dead-ends, continue forward, turn, branch, open up into a room, etc.  
    12. Berserker. Epigenetic hatred of monstrous humanoids burns at the very core of your being. +1 to hit and damage against monstrous humanoids and giant types, and unless you are restrained or succeed on a Wisdom test you attack them on sight and cannot run from battle. The bonus improves every three levels, becoming +2 at level 3, +3 at level 6, and so on. You have a badass mohawk.
    13. Percussive technician. You have a knack for making sure things work properly. You have a 2:6 chance (modified by the situation) to make damaged machinery function again by whacking it with a hammer a couple times. Also, your base chance for opening a stuck door is 2:6 before any strength modifiers. Attempts you make to open a stuck door or even force one off it’s hinges generally don’t produce enough noise to alert nearby monsters—you’re a good enough handydwarf that just a tap is all it takes.
    14. Blood of Stone. A dwarfish way of saying you’re tougher than a bag of nails. You get +2 starting hp and +1 additional hp every time you level up. You also only need to rest every 12 exploration turns instead of every 6.
    15. Wayfarer. You’ve explored some faraway lands and have picked up a couple languages on your travels. You can speak Gnomish, Goblin, Kobold, Hobgoblin, Orc, Bugbear, Ogre, Dragon, and one additional language of your choosing. You also do not have to rest the usual one day out of every week when traveling overland. 
    16. Dwarven thrower. You specialize in a Dwarven fighting style that emphasizes throwing big weapons. Any melee weapon becomes throwable—even weapons you are not typically able to wield due to your size. Range: 20’/40’/60’.
    17. Indomitable. Dauntless doesn’t even begin to describe it—you can’t be put down for nothing. Once per day, you get a free reroll of any save. If you fall under the effects of supernatural fear and mind-controlling spells, you can make a save at the end of each subsequent round to end it.
    18. Metal teeth. You got your chompers replaced with well-crafted metal denticles. You can chew through anything up to the toughness of iron.
    19. Gemstone eyes. In place of eyes you have two beautiful, glittering jewels. In addition to functioning as normal dwarf eyes, they grant full-color darkvision with a range of 120’ and allow you to instantly appraise the value of gems and other treasure items.
    20. Roll twice, ignoring repeated results.

    Variant of the variant: Dwarf Clans

    Another way to spin this if you want specific dwarf class options (like elves) instead of random table rolling: roll or pick two qualities from the list. These are now the qualities associated with a specific dwarf clan. Repeat this process a couple times until you have enough dwarf varieties to be satisfied.  

    Now, for example, the various clans in your campaign are goat-riding trollslayers, fire dwarves with metal teeth, jewel-eyed geomancers, wayfaring gourmands, and hearty stone-bloods with ram horns. During character creation when a player rolls up a dwarf, they decide what clan they want their character to be a part of and thus possess those features.

    Dwarf science

    Dwarves are rarely idle. At home, when they’re not eating, sleeping, or drinking ale, they’re hard at work. Another thing about dwarves: they are incredibly productive. Ridiculously so. 

    The typical amount of maintenance and upkeep required to keep a dwarf society up and running only takes so long. And so they commonly partake in a practice they refer to as “dwarf science” (sometimes translated as “stupid dwarf tricks”):  essentially, large-scale projects, oftentimes of questionable utility, that require high amounts of ingenuity and industriousness to complete. 

    Dwarf science spans a wide variety of endeavors, such as megalithic Antikythera computers, baroque fortress defense mechanisms, meticulous life-size statue replicas of famous battles in dwarf history, and increasingly ridiculous and elaborate methods of channeling and transporting magma. 

    At 9th level or above, when a dwarf PC constructs or acquires a stronghold and other dwarves come to live there, dwarf science can begin.

    The dwarf PC has some control over what sort of projects get worked on, but in truth most dwarves are too self-directed and dwarf society too diffuse to effectively stick to doing projects for someone else.

    Only one dwarf science project can be commissioned by a dwarf PC per year. The rest of the time, it is assumed that dwarves are doing their actual jobs or pursuing their own projects.

    Examples of the sorts of dwarf science projects that can be commissioned are as follows:

    • The extracting and processing of marvelous materials (create equipment made of mithril, adamant, alchemical quicksilver, or other such materials with unique properties)
    • The engineering of war machines both great and terrible (create wondrous weapons, powered armor, advanced and/or autonomous siege engines, catapults, ballistas, etc.)
    • The creation of Vehicles of terrific capability (create advanced seafaring vessels, landships, clockwork autonomous caravans, etc.)
    • The contriving and arming of fortress security measures (develop various tricks, traps, and defense mechanisms to thwart sieges and invasions)
    • The crafting of wondrous items (plumb the archaic depths of dwarf ancestral knowledge to create magic or otherwise fantastical items)
    • Other areas of development not immediately relevant to the interests of the adventuring dwarf (civic infrastructure, art & architecture, etc.)

    Rough approximations of what can be accomplished in a single project period:

    • 20 weapons or gear for individual people*
    • 5 things that could be used by 5 people, or 5 things that greatly enhance the capabilities of one person (like mech suits or single-occupancy vehicles)
    • 3 somewhat elaborate fortress defense mechanisms or 1 very elaborate one
    • 1 vehicle or vessel that can hold 20 people or more
    • D10+10  single-use wondrous items, d10 single-purpose items with charges, d6 single-purpose items or multi-use items with charges, or d4 multi-use items
    • 2 large-scale public works or 1 very large-scale public work—work with the DM to define what these are and what they’re for. They can have some situational utility (ie a pneumatic chute system for easy transport of messages and small goods, stables for animal training, rudimentary hydropower dams) but they would otherwise attract more dwarves to your stronghold and boost morale.

    *people here referring, of course, to dwarves 

    The base time and manpower requirement for any of the above projects are 1 year (52 weeks) of game time and 25 dwarves. For every additional 25 dwarves working on the project, the time is reduced by 1d4 weeks (4 weeks being rounded up to a month). For every 1000 sp invested in the project, the time is further reduced by 2 weeks. No more than 50% of a stronghold’s dwarf population can be assigned to work on the dwarf science project. The minimum amount of time it takes to complete a project is 3 months, accounting for research & development as well as production times. Dwarves who work on the project cannot be taxed the typical 10 sp per year for citizens of PC domains. Situational occurrences such as raids, resource scarcity, and lack of morale may impact cost and production time, as per the DM. 

    Larger-scale projects can be accomplished as long as the time, cost, and manpower scales are adjusted accordingly. Dwarf science may also require rare materials, resources, or expertise that would necessitate (of course) an adventure in order to acquire.

    It should be noted that the dwarf science rules have not been playtested and may need some adjusting. Do the rules also require some amount of handwaving and work on the DM's part to fill in some gaps? Sure. But that's just in-keeping with the stronghold and domain rules from B/X. I'm not lazy; I'm just keeping the tradition alive.

    The three wonderful dwarves featured throughout this post were made by Goran Gligovic. Check him out. 

    Next: Halflings. 

    Friday, October 14, 2022

    Elf race-as-class variants

    Whenever I talk with new school D&D players about B/X, the biggest sticking point for them is always race-as-class. That’s understandable. It’s a big departure from what they’re used to. I like race-as-class; in an assumed human-centric world, it gives the sense that demihumans are thoroughly distinct. 

    The special thing about fighter PCs is that they’re good at combat. The special thing about thief PCs is that they’re sneaky and have a bunch of thief-type skills. The special thing about an elf PC is that it’s an elf. To someone who likes a level of normalcy in their campaign so that the weird has room to be weird, that’s enough. 

    In 5e an elf has more in common with a human or a dwarf if they happen to be fighters than another elf if that elf happens to be a bard or druid. That doesn’t sit right with me. 

     Hawk the Slayer didn’t assemble a team of five generic fighter PCs. He gathered an elf, a dwarf, a giant, and that other guy. The variety of fantasy races represented was what made them interesting. I just saw Hawk the Slayer by the way. Terrific movie. 

    With all that being said, more variety among the demihuman races is not always bad. The Adventurer, Conqueror, King System and this post from the esteemed Dr. Jeff Rients posit that demihumans ought to have their own classes exclusive to their respective race. It’s an intriguing idea, and while I’m not particularly crazy about ACKS’s execution (no disrespect to the system; I’m just physically incapable of being interested in anything called an “elven nightblade”) it’s a solid enough idea that I was inspired to take a stab at it myself.  

    Early on in the conceptual stage, I realized that the unique features that characterize the demihuman classes, like the dwarf’s ability to recognize architectural quirks or the elf’s immunity to ghoul paralysis, are rather easy to replicate and play around with. Instead of coming up with distinct classes for each demihuman, it was much easier and facilitated more creativity to come up with variations of the same classes. And this has the added benefit of keeping demihuman classes more thematically cohesive. You maintain that thing I brought up earlier where the special thing about an elf PC is still that they’re an elf—not an elven shardwhisperer (or whatever).

    "A strange individual, to be sure..."
    Starting with the elf, I took their class features and swapped them out with features of comparable utility. Each is flavored as a different elfy archetype. Treat all the numbers and granular details of the class like saves and equipment restrictions as the same as the base class. 

    All elves have infravision and a 2:6 chance of hearing noises.

    1. Fair elf. You are from some bizarre elf city, like a floating kingdom or domed arcology.  Fair elves are haughty and gracile, and more often than not spend the majority of their lives far removed from the concerns of human civilizations. Fair elves that leave their society typically do so as part of (or to avoid) some inscrutably complex social or political circumstance in their homeland, or simply to accumulate novel experiences that add texture to their long existence.

    Immune to ghoul paralysis. 2:6 chance to find secret doors. 

    Fair elf PCs have a 2:6 chance of having their starting weapons and armor be of quality elven make, meaning they have equal durability though half the weight of standard equipment. Roll only after purchasing gear at character creation. 

    1. Sylvan elf. You hail from a massive, ancient forest as yet untouched by man. Sylvan elves eschew civilization in favor of small nomadic communities. They are generally aloof, capricious, and fascinated by human customs though they have little regard to adhering to social strictures. 


    Animals can understand you. Immune to charming spells and creature effects such as that of a dryad or nixies. Climb and Move Silently 4:6 when in the wilderness. 


    Sylvan elf PCs have a 2:6 chance of starting with an animal companion from their homeland. 

        1. Elephant bird. Stats as draft horse.
        2. Royal stag. Stats as riding horse.
        3. Dire lynx. Stats as war horse. 
        4. Cooshee (elven hound). Stats as wolf. Their bark can be heard a mile away or more, but they only do so to warn their master.

    The animal companions are smarter than their mundane counterparts and will obey your commands to the best of their ability. They are entirely faithful and never break morale. You only get one though, so if your companion dies that's it.

    1. Sanguine elf. You are an exile from the Vermilion Isles. The demon-worshipping sanguine elves shun all others and to seclude themselves in their remote island kingdoms as the ages roll past outside. Millenia of decadence and isolation have led them to pursue exceedingly baroque and horrifying forms of supernatural hedonism.  

    Alignment must be Chaotic. Drugs and other other non-magical mind-altering substances require twice the effective dose to work on you. Immune to level drain. 2:6 chance to detect enchanted creatures in a 5’/level radius. Successfully detecting an enchanted creature grants you insight into their nature (demon, elemental, undead, etc.) but no specific details about their identity or intention.  


    Sanguine elf PCs have a 1:6 chance (rolled on a 1) of being a cenobite: your Charisma is reduced to 2 and you are generally disdained by all, but you can only be killed by magical attacks. Anything mundane that would normally kill you instead drops your hp to 1, knocks you out for a turn, and reduces your total HD by 1 (your level stays the same). Grotesque ritual mutilations are both among the greatest gifts and harshest punishments of the Vermilion Isles. 

    Sanguine elf PCs also have a 1:6 chance (rolled on a 6) of being a member of the ruling bloodline. Once per level, you can call upon a demonic benefactor to assist you in a time of need—a "Get Out of Jail Free card" for any sticky situation you and your allies might find yourselves in. The demon's help is rarely given for free. Oftentimes they require an offering in exchange, or a favor to be claimed at a later date...   

    1. Dawnlander elf. You are from—or claim to be from—the mythic Dawnlands, a Shangri La-like place spoken of in legend. Dawnlander elves are active and adventurous, eager to live and work among humans but never staying in one place for too long. They are often drawn to the sea, and typically find success in the more exciting seafaring ventures like leviathan hunting and piracy.

      Immune to diseases both mundane and supernatural. Detect room traps or other unseen dangers in a 10’x10’ area 2:6.

     Dawnlander PCs have a 2:6 chance of starting as a pirate. Roll up your old pirate crew (see the pirate statblock). You don't know where exactly the treasure's buried, but you know your old captain has the map. You're familiar with (and perhaps have a reputation at) the major pirate havens. 


    1. Boreal elf. You hale from the frigid northlands. To outsiders, it appears that the stoic and severe boreal elves lead sparse lives, cloistered monk-like in their icy strongholds. But in reality, their kind has a remarkably complex societal structure filled with all sorts of particular customs and rituals that are entirely lost on outsiders. The boreal elves have the reputation of crafting heartbreakingly beautiful objets d'art, which are coveted the world over by men and elves alike. 

    Immune to the effects of cold, both mundane and supernatural. Boreal elves possess the Boreal Aura: a supernatural ambiance that can be manipulated to function as psionics. You start with two psionic powers, and your power dice is improved one step (1d4 becomes 1d6, 1d6 becomes 1d8, and so on). Any time you were to suffer a breakdown, you suffer a shock instead. You learn magic as though you were one level below. 

    Boreal elf PCs have a 2:6 chance of being trained in the grueling spiritual practice of their kind. Through discipline, breath control, and aura manipulation, you have total control of your body temperature and heart rate, can maintain balance in virtually any position, hold a single pose indefinitely, walk on your fingertips, sense the aura of other living creatures (only surprised on a 1:6), snag projectiles out of the air (1/round, must have a hand free), and explore dungeons or travel the wilderness tirelessly without the need for rest. In order to benefit from these features, the PC must engage in intense meditation that leaves you unable to memorize spells for the day.

    1. Lunar elf. You are from the moon. Lunar elves are eerie and ethereal, often quiet and prone to bouts of reverie. Their detached yet dignified mannerisms and strange appearance (platinum or silverwhite hair, eyes, and skin that seem to glow faintly in the dark) make them the most alien of all the elves, though it can be said their proclivities lend them an unmistakable mystique. 

    Immune to sleep spells. In place of sleeping, lunar elves enter a dreamlike trance that leaves them semi-conscious yet oblivious to their surroundings. Begin with an extra first-level spell. Once per day, a lunar elf can exchange a memorized spell to cast any 1st level cleric spell. 

    Lunar elf PCs have a 2:6 chance of having an important relationship with an etheric lunar entity. Under the light of a full moon, you can enter a trance to commune with this entity. During the trance, you can ask 1d4 questions and receive truthful though not necessarily specific answers. The entity knows much, but is not generally concerned with the affairs of mortals and so will not be able to provide answers on specific individuals, local politics, or recent events. After communing with the entity, you must spend an entire day resting.


    And a bonus elf, available only to players who have run an elf PC to 4th level.

    1. Shadow elf. You are from the Plane of Shadows. Little is known about shadow elves, other than that most seem to reside in the eternally twilit forests of the shadow realm. How or why one would make their way to this world is unknown. You certainly won’t get an answer out of them. Human scholars believe shadow elves to be one of the many living permutations of shadow planes' id. Elves believe that each shadow elf is an umbral counterpart of an elf that lives in the prime material plane. While the two may never meet, they share an inextricable bond that transmits vague impressions of one another between dimensions. 


    Immune to shadows’ strength drain. 90% chance to hide in shadows or move silently provided dim light or darkness. Access to the Illusionist spell list. Shadow elves cannot recruit hirelings or construct strongholds. 

    Note: I foresee some readers taking issue with the fact that the class variants have a 2:6 chance to start with an extra feature. Elves are strong enough starting out as it is, so the chance of another benefit can throw the balance even more. In my home games I like to let players start new characters with an added boon or feature from their background, usually in exchange for some starting wealth but sometimes just for free, so I wanted to give these elves a chance to start with something extra as well. If you're more orthodox with your character generation you can skip the bonus feature rolls. 

    Up Next: Dwarves.