Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Intelligent Swords in AD&D 1e - What's With the Ego Trip?

While designing / building / hacking together a campaign for AD&D 1e, I find myself digging out rules that I didn't use my first time playing, or used and then discarded. Sword Ego was one of the second type of rules.

I see where the roots of Sword Ego comes from - it's 100% Strombringer.

From my perspective - intelligent swords are cool in very small numbers, and swords that are stubborn or jealous or have other personality traits can be a nice tool for a campaign, but I don't think Sword Ego is appropriate for most D&D campaigns.

My issue with Sword Ego is the whole Swords Versus Characters conflict:

When a sword possesses unusual charactiristics it has a personality which is rated by combining its intelligence and ego scores. The sword will, of course, be absolutely true to its alignment, and if the character who possesses the sword is not, personality conflict will result, i.e. sword versus character. Similarly, any sword with an ego of 19 or higher will always consider itself superior to any character, and a personality conflict will result if the possessor does not always agree with the sword's dictums.
The personality strength of a character is: INTELLIGENCE + CHARISMA + LEVEL OF EXPERIENCE. Note level is reduced by 1 for every group of hit points of damage taken equal to the character's average number of points per hit die for total levels of experience (rangers, for example, getting 2 dice at 1st level). Example: A fighter of 7th level has 53 hit points: 53 + 7 = 7.6 - for every 8 points of damage he or she takes, his or her personality strength will be lowered by 1.
Whenever personality conflict occurs, the sword will resist the character's desires and demand concessions such as:
-removal of associates, henchmen, hirelings, or creatures of alignment or personality distasteful to the sword
-the character divesting himself or herself of all other magic weapons
-obedience from the character so that the sword can lead the expedition for its purposes
-immediate seeking out and slaying of creatures hateful to the sword
-encrustation of gems on pommel, hilt, scabbard, baldric, or belt and a special container for its safekeeping likewise of precious substances
-magical protections and devices to protect it from molestation when not in use
-that the character pay it handsomely for  a11 abilities and powers the sword is called upon to exercise in behalf of its possessor
-that the character always take it along on all occasions
-that the character relinquish the sword in favor of a more suitable person due to alignment differences and/or conduct 
At any time that the personality score of a sword exceeds the personality score of the character who possesses it, the sword will dominate its possessor, and it can force any or all of the above demands or actually cause any of the following actions:
1. force its possessor into combat
2. refuse to strike opponents
3. strike at its wielder or his or her associates
4. force its possessor to surrender to an opponent
5. cause itself to drop from the character's grasp

Most of the above takes choice out of the hands of the player. Nothing above adds to the game, unless the campaign style is one "fuck the PC". Also, tracking the PC's "personality strength  with the up and down of HPs.

I don't have issues with intelligent magic items, but they should be played more like an NPC it's own wants and desires, not solely there to screw the players.

What were your experiences, if any, with Swords with ego?


  1. In my D&D game I had a cleric to the war god get an intelligent vampiric sword. It whispered into his mind constantly, and he went on a quest to get the "Dreaming Scabbard." When he sheathed it in that, it slept.

    Lots of fun. The rogue did not appreciate the slithering psychic whisper of the sword when it hissed "I will drink the dark one." Good times.

  2. Yeah, I think it can be a potential for an adventure. I am reminded of one of the Kedrigern novels where a woodsman finds Panstygia, Blade of Darkness (also known as Louise) stuck in a tree. It set up the whole adventure.

  3. I used an intelligent sword that was forged with dragon parts and was instrumental in a battle vs. dragons. It had been lost and found many times over hundreds of years and being intelligent, it had matured to the point that it wouldn't purposefully endanger it's wielder in day-to-day business. But, it was *very* serious about slaying dragons! And it had a bit of a sense of humour leading to a number of slap stick encounters. I was especially careful to watch the player's reactions and there *did* come a time when the sword made an exit from the game, to be lost in time once again.

  4. The magic sword rules are interesting in that they are one of the few rules that can be directly traced from the original 100% Arneson versio, through OD&D to Gygax's AD&D rules. The original rules are in the First Fantasy Campaign, and when they were written, EGO was a normal stat that all characters had. At that time stats ranged from 1-12 and a ability check used a d12 (to roll under). In those rules, a character would make an ability check with EGO + BRAINS versus 2d12 to see of the he could avoid the influence of the sword. Even failure just resulted in the character being encouraged to take an action; it wasn't mind control.

    Of course, Gary took that idea and turned it into a rules nightmare. Yet another example of why I don't play AD&D.

  5. I hate intelligent magical swords 99% of the time. They are cool with a genuine head's up that sometjing like "This is the sword blood drinker, the eater of kings wielded by krax the mighty in the last age" that was just wrested from the dead(er) hands of Lord Black. Sitting scattered in a treasure hoard,among the remains of a previously unkbown foe, or mostly unguarded chamber they simply rot.

  6. They work just fine in settings where intelligent magic items are known to be exceptionally dangerous objects. It's not like characters *have* to use them. They're no worse than cursed items in that regard. Just make sure the players know that not every piece of magic kit they come across is guaranteed to be wholesome and good for the soul so they exercise proper caution.


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