CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What's In a Name

Weapons of Legend

Throughout the history of fantasy literature special weapons have always been named. Frodo had Sting, Drizzt had Icingdeath and Twinkle, and Michael Carpenter had Amoracchius. Named weapons have been popular in gaming as well, turning that +1 longsword into something a little more. I participated in A recent creative challenge where we were given a name and had to describe a special weapon, and that got me thinking about these traditional fantasy tropes.

So I’m going to start with the 800lb elephant in the room, which is how the proliferation of magic items in D&D, since 3.5, and Pathfinder have taken a little of the special out of magic weapons.  When you can buy a +1 weapon at any corner store or pay to have a wizard enchant it to become even more powerful, finding magic items in a trove has now become a matter of trading up. It really takes certain something special out of finding an item of power.

I have to admit as a gamer who started in 2nd edition, this is one of the few things that sometimes tweaks my grognard buttons. I understand that modern D&D is now superheroic high fantasy, but I occasionally long for the days when the glowing sword was something special. But the question is, does that mean we can’t have special or hereditary weapons in either D&D or Pathfinder? To that I answer with a resounding no.

First off, named weapons are as much a roleplay choice as a mechanical choice. A weapon with a moniker is so because it has a achieved a certain notoriety.  Sure you could trade up from that Frostreaver – a +1 Battle axe – to that spiffy new +2 battle axe with no name and no history. Or you could very easily sell the +2 battleaxe and increase the legend of Frostweaver by enchanting it even further. This requires a certain buy in from the players, but it’s not impossible.

The other option is weapons that are already more powerful than you standard enchanted items. Rules for intelligent items have existed for a while but they add special meaning by being unique in the face of a world with magic at every turn. Hrym is a great example of an intelligent weapon in Pathfinder. You can find him in the Pathfinder novel Liar’s Blade and its follow up Liar’s Island.

In an attempt to take some of the prevalent magic from the game, Pathfinder has also added rules for scaling items. This allows for characters to still scale well with the CR system of the game while allowing actual magic items to be rare. This is when you can start having a scaling family blade that a player has from level one. Or you can give them a named magical weapon that is more powerful than the base scaling weapon a player gets.

I haven’t played many other systems, but a few brief sessions using Savage Worlds and FATE lead me to believe that they can handle lower magic worlds better. This in turn would allow magical weapons to seem all the more special, hopefully in a way that lends them to being named. The IronKingdoms RPG – which I’ve only perused and never played – also seems to cover a world in which magical weapons would be special.

Now that we’ve gotten past which system can handle the mid to low ranged magic that allows for magical weapons to be special and deserving of a name, let’s look at how a weapon gets its name. I would say the most common way a weapon gets a name is from some deed its wielder achieved with it. Giantslayer, Dragonsbane, The Demon’s Last Breath are all name that describe a deed a weapon may have performed.

Some weapons are named for the powers the posses. An axe with ice powers may be called Frostreaver. A dagger that always finds a vital spot might be called Kidneypunch. With hundreds of special abilities to choose from you’ll see a wide variety of weapon names. Even weapons with a same or similar ability might be named differently. Two different flaming swords might be called The Salamander’s Kiss, and Firelight.

Some other things to consider may be the look of the weapon. A dagger called the Angel’s Tear may harm evil outsiders and look like a teardrop. A weapon may be named for its creator or the wielder that made it famous in the first place. Or a weapon might be named after the fiercest creature it ever killed. There are thousands of ways to name a weapon but they should all have some sort of special meaning.

Whether you play a high or low magic game, medieval fantasy or modern fantasy, there is always a place for named weapon. How have you used named weapons in your game? What has been the favorite name of a special weapon? Where have players found these weapons of legacy?

Just like a named weapon, each article written on the CRB is special. If you have added to your gaming repertoire with what you have found within this blog please consider becoming a contributor. Monthly donations of as little as one dollar can be made to my Patreon. A one-time donation can easily be made to my paypal. Every bit helps me keep the lights on so I can concentrate on bringing you the content you deserve.

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  1. Funny thing, I have the exact sword displayed in the first image of the article, the one with the dragon-like head :D

    1. Stock art for the win. Finding good pics is hard too. Usually google search for usable with modifications. But this one was a good one.

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  3. In my Curse of Strahd game where I played a Paladin, I took a rudimentary Greataxe that I had found in the wild, asked a Smith to fashion my Scimitar onto it instead and turn it into a Scythe. Because my character was inexperienced and arrogant, he took into upon himself to name this new weapon and, because he was ordained by the Order of the Silver Dragon, he named it the "Talon of Argynvost".
    Later on in the story, he was given a +2 Greatsword by one of his ancestors. Even though it had significance to him (not to mention better damage), I still made him use the Talon. Why? Because it fit his character better. He was trying to make his stamp on the world, and was doing so through the weapon that he named himself. The Talon had no magical properties. It didn't have a +1 or anything. It was a simple, 1d10 slashing scythe weapon (we gave it Glaive rules). But it still fit his personality better than anything.
    He still carried the +2 Greatsword until the end of the adventure, where he returned to his Monastery and wall-mounted it.
    He STILL uses the Talon of Argynvost.

    1. Nice. I like interesting character development like that.