Mysterious fane on the banks of the Sea of Ohkotsk

Mysterious fane on the banks of the Sea of Ohkotsk

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Legendary Weapons Old and New

A blade is a blade is a blade, yes?


Some weapons are indeed forged in factory fashion, intended for the armories of keeps or to put teeth into a rag-tag force of conscripted farmers.

Some weapons are “off the rack” as it were, work-a-day tools in the kit of professional soldiers.

But some weapons…

Some weapons are great.

Some weapons were forged in circumstances mysterious or arcane. 

Some are artworks, the life’s work of a great master of the forge.

Some weapons were forged amid blood and fury – more birthed than made.

Yes, some weapons are great.

These legendary blades are storied – at times their names are remembered long after those of the warriors who wielded them.  It seems as though it was the weapon itself that wrought great deeds, as though the weapon was the hero – or the villain – that shook the world.

And sometimes it was.

Such weapons may be lost, but they will be found again: and when they are found, there will once again be great deeds to be sung.


[Inspired and informed by the article "A New Approach to Magic Weapons" by Michael Williamson, published as the Treasure Chest column in White Dwarf issue #73 (Jan 1986).]

Legendary Weapons Old and New

Part 1 : Determine the point value of the weapon

(random or choose):

Legendary Smith (1d10)

Age: 1 per 20 years (10d100)
+1-5 for each major event in which the weapon played a notable part (1d5/20 years)
+10 for any great events in which the weapon was a major player (10% chance per 100 years)
            + 1 per 3 levels of wielder if weapon was favoured for the major part of career (1d10/100 years)

Add for dramatic circumstances of forging (1d10)
Magic weapons add +10 per +1 or special power (flaming, slaying, etc)

Sum the above to get weapon point value total.

Legendary weapons are very focused and thus have only 4 primal alignments.  Select based on history or roll 1d4:
1. Good
2. Evil
3. Law
4. Chaos

Legendary weapons are not aligned in the magical sense, so can be wielded by anyone – but more powerful weapons may well detect as their alignment where appropriate.

Legendary weapons are infused with a sense of purpose.  Roll or select according to what is appropriate for the weapon’s history:

Defend the weak
Defend the law
Defend freedom
Defend oppression
Destroy a force for evil
Destroy a criminal society
Destroy an institution
Destroy a force for good
Fight cruelty
Maintain stability
Foment anarchy
Create fear/hardship
Kill all evil beings
Kill all criminals
Kill all officials
Kill all good beings

(Most entries will need to be detailed according to the setting: for example, destroy a force for evil might be interpreted to mean the weapon’s purpose is to destroy the followers and temple of a particular evil god. Destroy an institution might mean the weapon’s purpose is to kill all members of a particular aristocratic lineage, or it might mean the weapon is working against the institution of slavery)

All legendary weapons have names.  In some cases the name will be inscribed on the weapon itself or on a special case, but in others the name may be unknown in which case the services of a sage or diviner may be required.  Detect magic will identify the weapon as very special, but not reveal the name or properties.  Spells such as Speak With Dead (to ask the former owner) or spells that access knowledge from the outer planes may reveal the name, or knowledge as to where it may be found.  Information found by a sage may be fragmentary, or may only point to where the name may be learned (i.e. triggering a quest to learn more about the weapon and unlock its power).  Intelligent weapons may be able to communicate their names to their wielders, but may or may not be inclined to.

Part 2 : Using the weapon

Weapons infused with the power of their history and great deeds have names and can be called upon to aid the wielder in times of trouble.  The wielder calls out the name of the sword and rolls to attack as normal.  Only a single attack is possible.  If the attack results in a hit vs target AC, but the target requires special weapons to hit, subtract points from the weapon as follows:

1pt silver
2pt magic weapons
2pt/+1 for targets that require specific bonus to hit

Roll damage as usual, then subtract points from the weapon at 1pt per additional hp damage required to kill the target until the weapon’s current point value reaches zero.

The sum of the points spent is the % chance the weapon will break (-5% per magical plus or special power, e.g. flaming, vorpal)

The weapon will regain points up to its maximum as determined in part 1 at a rate of 1pt per 2hp damage dealt in the service of its purpose – random fights do not regenerate the weapon’s points, but if the wielder is working toward a goal that matches the weapon’s purpose hp dealt in fights directly related to that goal will do so.

If the wielder consistently favours the weapon while pursuing goals that are in line with the weapon’s purpose, when a major goal is achieved (i.e. plot impact is high, challenge was high) the weapon may gain 1-5 points.  The weapon also gains 1pt for every 3 levels the wielder gains while using it as a favoured weapon.  These points add to the weapon’s max total.

Part 3 : Special features

As legendary weapons gain in power, they may evolve and develop additional powers.  For each 10pt of power, roll 3d6 once on the following table:

3        Special power: 3d6 lightning
4        Special power: either flaming (1-3) or frost (4-6)
5-6     Special power: defending (any magical bonus can be assigned to AC instead)
7-13   Add magical +1
14-15 Speaks (if no INT score, will communicate only animal urges in favour of purpose, calculate Ego to
                        determine wielder’s ability to resist)
16      Special power: Intelligent: add 1d4 INT
17      Special power: Persuasive: add 1d4 CHA

18      Special power: Extra Ego: add 1d4 to Ego score

Monday, 22 September 2014

Franklin's Curse

(With apologies to Farley Mowatt [5])

It is now three weeks since we became trapped in the ice, he wrote, hand trembling and knuckles aching.

He paused to warm his fingers over the lamp before continuing, breath misting in the flickering light.  When he took up his pen, a film of ice had already begun to form on the ink.

The natives, who at first we found quite friendly and hospitable, have long since become inexplicably hostile so that we can no longer rely on them for help of any kind – much less for help in supplementing our supplies with fish and hunted meat.  Stores are dwindling, even fuel must be ruthlessly rationed in this treeless land.  The men are growing weak in both body and spirit, and I pray God that –

There came a knock, and when the door was opened Simmons – once a bluff veteran boatswain, but now gaunt and nervous – stood clutching his hat.

“Cap’n,” he started, then trailed off uncertainly.  He was a shadow of the man who had set sail from Plymouth so long ago.  When at last the tension seemed unbearable he spoke again, eyes fixed on his frost-bitten feet and voice a hollow whisper.  “We’ve lost another one sir, Jennings.”

With a soft oath he stood up from his desk and reached for the ship’s Bible.  Though, given recent events, he was no longer sure it would do any good.


In 1845, two brand new steam ships left Greenhithe, England under the command of Captain Sir John Franklin and set sail for Greenland and the islands of Canada’s north in search of the fabled Northwest Passage.  They were never heard from again. [1]

What could possibly have happened to erase the lives of 134 brave men so completely from the annals of exploration?

Perhaps the answer lies in the shadows of the North.  Imagine…

Imagine a time nearly 1000 years prior to the doomed Franklin expedition. Imagine the Americas lush with life, rich with cultures growing, rising and falling again without ever imagining the strange civilizations of the Romans, the Chinese, the Egyptians far across the Atlantic.  Until the coming of the Norse.

Imagine how startled the people of the Americas must have been to see those hulking men and their hard-bitten women wade out of the surf and onto the shores of what they called Vinland. Imagine the wonder to see people with bright yellow hair, blue eyes, and full beards.  Imagine the curiosity when they noticed that these strange people used tools – and weapons – fashioned from some shiny, hard material unlike any to have been seen in the Americas before.

And imagine the horror when some of the men chose to import not only their technologies, but their habits:

Drinking, fighting, raiding.

Oh yes, the Norse did well trading with the peoples who lived in the far north – furs, narwhal ivory, perhaps even soapstone jewels.  And what did they give in return?  A few trinkets. [3]

Disputes over the value of trade items were certain.  Tempers were sure to flare.  What if:

What if the Dorset people were not as helpless in the face of Norse invasion as they seemed?

What if they brought to bear forces the Norsemen couldn’t possibly understand?

Imagine the Dorset equivalent of the Inuit Angaqok, or shaman.  Imagine him (or her) singing softly in his tent, the rhythm of the drum, the scent of strange incenses smouldering in the whale fat lamp.

Imagine his body smeared with arcane sigils, with paint compounded from unwholesome things.

Imagine his journey to some shadowy region of the Dream, to bring back a nightmare. [2]

Perhaps at first those brash young Norsemen laughed in the faces of the Dorset traders when they demanded something more for their goods.  Perhaps they spat at their feet, took their goods by force, killed those who objected.

At first.

But then the nightmare came, perhaps entering the first of them like a miasma.  Perhaps it waited, hunger growing.  Until at last, on some dark night, the young man’s eyes went blank and he turned on his neighbour with a snarl – teeth snapping and claws grabbing, until his beard was wet and red, the hunger subsided, and mortal consciousness returned.

He fled of course, terrified of the price his victim’s family might exact, but not before the thing had stepped across the chasm and into another of the band.

And so it continued: gruesome death after gruesome death.  Madness in the barrow-lands of the frozen North, until at last there remained only one.

The nightmare could not be sent back, not now that it had entered the world.  But the Dorset Angaqok could trap the thing and seal it up: his fellows hunted the last remaining Norseman like a beast, and like a beast he fled across the tundra, howling.

But they caught him, and killed him, and with great ceremony they sealed him – and the nightmare beast – into a cairn of stones.

Time passed, and the Dorset people changed, moved: no longer the brave arctic travellers, they settled into more comfortable lives as the Algonquin of the pine forests of the South and East.  And the secret of the wendigo left the tundra with them.

In time, the Inuit came to take their place among the islands of the Arctic.  But they knew nothing of the danger that lurked. 

Until Franklin came, with his men, and eager for the secrets of the North they opened the cairn.

They opened the cairn, and the thing emerged into the world once more.  And they were never heard from again.

Decades later: the ships are found, the dead uncovered.

It’s big news, but what if…

What if it wasn’t just brass and papers they brought back?

What if they brought back something…darker?

And this time without the Arctic wastelands to keep it safe.

References and notes