Monday, November 07, 2005

A Treasury of Magical Weapons

Are you tired of yet another +1 sword? Have you given out a +2 sword only to have it wreck your campaign? Fear not, there's a better way to create more imaginative weapons that won't unbalance your game!

It's Only a +1 Sword...

Many games describe magical effects or items in terms of "plusses" to attack, damage or defense. While this is easy to quantify and requires minimal effort from the GM, it can result in very bland items that mean little to players.

New Fudge GMs and players often try to do the same thing in their Fudge games, only to discover that it can throw things way out of balance. In Fudge even a mere +1 can be very powerful. This can leave people at a loss to convert their favorite adventures or characters, and may even convince them that Fudge is hopelessly "broken."

I went through this same process in several Fudge games and learned the same lessons. This set me on a search for alternatives and sparked discussions on the Fudge List discussion group. The result is in this article.

Having cut my teeth on D&D, I am personally fond of random tables and lists of things. Since this article is targeted primarily at other GMs who come from such backgrounds, I have presented it as a set of tables you can roll on or pick from.

Try the Handy Dandy Sword-o-Matic!

For an instant item, roll one or more properties from the following lists, or just pick something that looks like fun. These lists can easily be expanded by looking in your favorite FRPG... especially AD&D.

(You do have a d30, don't you?)

Basic Abilities

  1. Magic weapon can strike otherwise invulnerable creatures (JH)
  2. Unbreakable artifact
  3. Never rusts or becomes dull
  4. Grants 1 Fudge Point per combat
  5. Grants Great weapon skill (not useful if you are already Superb)
  6. Wielder is never affected by wound penalties during a fight
  7. Tiebreaker power, ties go to the wielder for one point of damage (JH)
  8. Automatically parries one blow per round
  9. Silvered weapon, can strike were-creatures (PM)
  10. Cold iron weapon, negates magical spells & defenses
  11. Glimmers in the presence of specific enemies
  12. Intelligent talking weapon
  13. Floats on water; handy if you can't swim!
  14. Boomerang ability (when thrown)
  15. Truthful weapon, wielder can see through lies and illusions
  16. Shatters opposing weapon (or shield) on any "tie"
  17. Grants two attacks per round; also lets wielder run quickly
  18. Grants +1 armor to wielder
  19. Grants the ability to see in utter darkness when wielded
  20. Holy weapon: wielder must serve a god, but gains the ability to work miracles, possibly other powers. It is not wise to abuse these abilities.
  21. Wielder can become invisible by spending one Fudge Point
  22. Legendary blade, impresses NPCs who wish to help the wielder
  23. Legendary blade, dismays certain foes, causing fear and possibly flight/surrender
  24. Holy Blade, wards against evil enchanted creatures
  25. Grants Legendary strength to wielder
  26. Immunity to fire/acid/cold/whatever (pick ONE)
  27. Grants Superb leadership
  28. Exudes a palpable sense of dread (Great will to resist, causes -1 morale)
  29. Cleaving: no penalty when facing multiple foes

Damage Bonus

  1. Grants +n advantages; each advantage negates one '-' die (MW)
  2. Grants +n bonus dice; each bonus die ignores '-' results (B)
  3. Grants +n re-rolled dice (MW)
  4. Roll n dice, count only the highest four (E)
  5. Has a 1/6 chance to do one bonus point of damage (MW)
  6. Grants flat +1 bonus (this is a very rare and powerful weapon)
  7. Cleaves through armor like butter.
  8. Makes solid blows, all grazes are treated as wounds (JH)
  9. Flaming, double damage versus "cold" creatures; also useful as a torch, or for lighting fires
  10. Frosty, double damage versus "hot" creatures, grants wielder immunity to temperature extremes
  11. Destiny, weapon will slay one specific creature with a single strike, but after that becomes non-magical
  12. Drinks souls, each five points of damage dealt grants the wielder one Fudge Point
  13. Bane, any of the above damage types, but only against a specific class of creatures
  14. Scale-piercing, ignore Scale difference, wonderful against dragons and giants
  15. Delivers painful wounds, wound penalties are doubled
  16. Any natural roll of +4 automatically severs a limb
  17. The weapon finds a "chink" in armor and bypasses it on any relative degree of +2 or better.
  18. Sunblade, weapon glows so brightly it causes permanent blindness to foes. If they avert their gaze, wielder may strike unopposed at difficulty Poor. Wielder is immune to the light and can see normally.
  19. Might, wielder gains +2 scale for the duration of the fight.
  20. Peacemaker, weapon causes loss of consciousness on any successful strike (even if it does no damage) as if incapacitated. Unconsciousness lasts one round, plus a number of rounds equal to the relative degree of the hit.
  21. Hammering weapon, stuns foes for one round, they can defend but not attack
  22. Darkenblade, wounds inflicted never heal
  23. Holy blade, double strength bonus against evil enchanted creatures
  24. Inflicts disease on any Superb strike (resisted by Health)

Curses

  1. Always appears in your hand in a fight, whether you want it or not
  2. Constantly sings or murmurs to itself
  3. Forces the wielder into battle (Great Will roll to resist)
  4. Drives wielder berserk in battle (Great Will roll to resist)
  5. Causes hostile reactions in potential foes
  6. Destined to betray wielder at inopportune moment
  7. Backbiter, on any naturally rolled result of Terrible or worse, weapon strikes wielder with relative degree +2
  8. Causes bad luck in non-combat activities
  9. Weapon is watched by powerful evil entities
  10. Weapon is the "focus" for some evil god, who demands service
  11. Weapon has an evil reputation, causing distrust
  12. Weapon turns wielder into undead, very slowly
  13. Frost weapon, causes wielder to be uncomfortable in warm weather
  14. Once taken up, cannot be sheathed until it draws blood
  15. Weapon drinks blood, no game effect other than to horrify any onlookers. Bonus: it is self-cleaning.
  16. Practical joker weapon sometimes makes embarrassing comments, like "Help, I've been stolen!" or "You're ugly, and stink too."
  17. Weapon powers are unreliable, and sometimes they do not function
  18. Special powers only work for one hour after weapon has tasted blood, or for one day after killing someone
  19. Weapon is very heavy, requiring Great strength to wield (and reducing damage bonus from strength by two points)
  20. Weapon is absurdly decorated in gold and jewels, and it seems like people are constantly trying to steal it
  21. Owner attracts the attention of members of the opposite sex only when unwanted, but never when desired
  22. Weapon merges with the wielder's hand and can never be removed without severing the member
  23. Very powerful weapon leaves wielder weak and fainting after being used
  24. Destined to slay wielder's beloved
  25. Grants wielder an undesired or embarrassing skill at Legendary
  26. Wielder takes on appearance of weapon's infamous creator and is fated to fulfill the same destiny; is mistaken by everyone for the original, and even magical creatures are fooled by it
  27. Wielder afflicted by seemingly unrelated events; random nosebleeds, attacked by chipmunks, etc.
  28. Wielder becomes vulnerable to silver, cold iron, asthma, etc
  29. Wielder has -1 on all spell resistance rolls
  30. Dancing weapon, forces wielder to dance

Credits

B - Bill E - Eppy JH - Johann Hibschman MW - Mitch Williams PM - Peter Mikelsons

Using a method like this virtually guarantees that no two weapons are alike, so each one should be a rare treasure. Very powerful weapons can be balanced by severe curses. But minor weapons can still be interesting: a magic sword which detects lies and illusions and which glimmers in the presence of enemies is still very useful, especially if that's the only magic weapon the party owns. Also weapons are more interesting if each one follows a "theme" and has assorted minor powers that fit that theme.

Conversion Tips

If you are converting an existing item, the first question to ask is "why am I converting this?" It if is something in a module, consider just tossing it out and creating an entirely new replacement. If an items already has a history in the campaign however, you may need to convert it.

Often in a game supplement, a magic item will have a grandiose name, a cool picture, a vivid history... and then note lamely that, "this is a +2 sword," or, "a staff of striking." In other words, the mechanics often don't fit the description. So toss the mechanics that were a kludge in the first place, go back to the original description and devise something unique and cool. This is Fudge; you are limited only by your imagination. For that matter you may not even need mechanics, just take the plain text description and picture and use that. Undefined and mysterious magic is by far the most intriguing.

For arms and armor, consider how it is used: does the character use it primarily for offense, for defense? Does he use some abilities and ignore others? Does he have a reputation for rolling well or poorly when using it? Does the item tend to play a major decisive role in the game, or is it just another tool? What you want to do is capture the flavor of the item. Give it powers that reflect how it is actually used, and how much difference it makes. A +4 sword sounds powerful, unless the warrior already has +17 in bonuses from other sources, in which case it is almost negligible.

Also consider how the rest of the campaign is converted. How do character abilities and enemies compare to the originals? Have you rebalanced the campaign in any way? Be sure to rebalance any items in the same degree, otherwise a strict power-for-power conversion may be unbalancing.

Finally, in some games characters carry a virtual arsenal of generic, nameless, and often expendable magic items. Consider "thinning" the arsenal to a handful of the most salient items. What is it that identifies the character? That is what you want to focus on.

Once you have decided what to discard and what to keep, and how much it needs to be rebalanced, give it a name, a history, a reputation, a theme, some quirks. Do this before doing any conversion. It needn't be elaborate, a paragraph is fine, but each item should have its own unique personality. Now, keeping in mind the character who wields it, the general power level, how it is used, and the theme/history, give it unique powers that support and reinforce each of these. And as a final touch, throw in a quirk or two, something very minor that doesn't affect combat balance, but that makes it even more unique.