Writing Lore: Who really owns that sword?

I have been really pushing the mechanical aspects of the game, so for today I’d like to address something that is more lore related. Creating lore is probably the most rewarding aspect of Dungeon Mastering, with the growing dependency upon modules, this aspect is being forgotten. In worlds such as Forgotten Realms, people are so obsessed with canon lore that they spend more time looking for somebody else’s work than just sitting down for a moment and writing it on their own. The more WE know about the world, and how it works the better, and players appreciate a unique spin (or even a stolen one) on an old idea. The problem is that people are at a loss when they are staring into the abyss of a blank page, how does a DM create something from seemingly nothing? That answer is simple, we ask ourselves questions.

So the fighter has a magic sword. Typically this is as far as the idea goes, unless the DM adds stuff to it, which he should! A Sword+3 is kind of like calling the gal who works at the tavern “Serving Wench #4”, but I am going to assume that you know all of this already. We can add an adventure seed by asking one simple question, who owns this? Chances are, especially with a powerful item, it ISN’T the PC.

I suppose this question leads us to define the weapon even further, who constructed it? In my worlds, once in a while a very skilled craftsman can create a +1 weapon; a king can gather the finest materials in the land and have a weapon constructed that is capable of great things! There are always exceptions to the rules, but for the most part, magical weapons are relics of a lost civilization, or the fantastic creations of the great fantasy races, the dwarves and elves. In this case, as they are longer living races, perhaps they see ownership and lending differently than humans do?

Is it a far reach for a fighter to defeat a powerful enemy and claim his sword as his own? We all know that the enemy was one dubious fellow who deserved what he got, but where did he get the sword+4 from? Maybe it was looted and stolen from the crypt of a great hero of men, and the sword had been gifted to this hero by the elves, who allowed the sword to be buried with him. Now, how do you think that they will react when they see the PC carrying it around?

In the land of Dwarves, they have long memories and have lost much of their culture, are they going to look kindly upon a man finding a relic that had been lost and who refuses to return it to them?

Now I am guessing that this is going to create some drama at the table, because PCs aren’t willing to drop torches and store bought junk never the less a cool magic sword that they righteously feel that they had earned. How they keep it is up to them and you, perhaps the dwarves will allow it to stay with the character if they perform a brave act which furthers their cause?

Elves are a secretive race, the player characters will no doubt be arrested while a long drawn out discussion may eventually turn into a trial, assuming that they are cooperative, which probably won’t happen. Maybe the players will escape with the sword, maybe they won’t? Being forced into a situation that they don’t want to be is fun! Do they engage in combat with the elves, further convincing them that the party is evil, or do they find some other means of resolving the situation nonviolently?

Do you hear the voices? Perhaps the sword itself can communicate to the loremaster what had happened, that the PC had saved it from committing vile deeds? The weapon need not be intelligent as defined in the DMG, but it can still have a voice that speaks to those who know how to listen. Maybe there is even a hidden power in it? The sky is the limit! And stories like this make an item more than just a string of numbers on the Character sheet.

Perhaps the lore master charges the player to return the sword to its dead owner who is terrorizing the countryside in the form of an undead creature? Perhaps the loremaster is full of beans, and though he says that it should be returned, using the sword to slay the previous owner is enough to quiet the creature as it sees that the blade has betrayed it . . . then again, maybe it will refuse to betray it.

All of this from one question, who REALLY owns the item? Once you start with a seed, and ponder its implications the lore will flow from you, and I guarantee you that your stories will be better than anything that Wizards of the Coasts will ever publish.


Brooser Bear said...

Hey, Ripper, this is a great piece on the aspect of D&D that I didn't do much with. In Moldway Expert rules, there is a short, but informative section on Magic Swords, their personalities, sentience, and intellect. I never got to magic swords or did much with magic items. I had unique magical items made for my game, but they were mostly mundane - Whip of Stunning for the slave overseer, a magic needle that never misses thread for the clumsy Bugbear. Did you ever see the section on Magical Artefact in Gygax's DMG? You can really sink your teeth into it. It has a random table for determining bizarre side effects from using the artefacts. A good deal of genetic mutations and insanity. Second edition toned it down significantly, got rid of most weird and nasty side effects, and released it as the Book Of Artefacts.

RipperX said...

My favorite dragon articles were Greenwood's Bizarre of the Bizarre series. He would take things that generally get ignored, like spell books, and turn them into this really big deal! You didn't have to play Forgotten Realms to get into the series, this was stuff that you could do yourself which really appealed to me.

I especially liked the things that made every day life easier, using magic as technology is always an interesting discussion at my house. Players who can think of ways to use these items masterfully always get respect at the table, everybody else is like, Okay, we really need this guy at our table.

Did the DMG leave out side effects? I've never noticed. Treasure as adventure has always been an option to me, not to say that I don't have lots of "run of the mill" stuff, but like encounters, where you've got your basic ones, but they don't mean anything if you don't have the grand finale, a magic item serves that purpose too.

Brooser Bear said...

Wow! What awesome concepts - Magic as Technology and Treasure as Adventure. I never thought that way, though I had a couple of ideas in the similar vein - Dungeon Labyrinth in which the adventure takes place is really the story flowchart - Rooms are events and encounters, and corridors connect them.

If you hadn't done so, get yourself Gary Gygax's DMG, the one with the big red Efreet on the cover. Gygax had his own touch, his own feel for the game and it come through in his writing.

RipperX said...

The 1st Edition DMG is required to run 2e properly. The 2e DMG, I don't feel, tried to replace it; just emend some of the items that were in there.

Brooser Bear said...

Then you know the amazing Gygax sections on Magical Treasure, the Artefacts, and his Appendices, which were edited out of the Second Edition DMG?

Let me ask you, did you find any difference between the AD&D 2nd Edition DMG and the AD&D 2.5 Edition D&D?

RipperX said...

I ignore much of 2.5, it sought to remove classes from the system, which to me was the first fracturing of the game. I think that 2.5 and above changed the language of the game itself, making it harder and harder for gamers to talk to each other.

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