I’ve decided to do a semi regular series where I discuss older fantasy novels and how they relate to my role-playing.
I first read Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords in the mid to late 80s. I read both the Book of Swords, and their follow-up the Books of Lost Swords. Last month I re-read the First Book of Swords, and hope over the next year or so to pick up the rest of the series again.
From the Amazon.com description:
The gods decide to devise a Game of great fun: their colleague Vulcan forges 12 magic Swords, each with a different power, and scatters them across the world. Play begins in grand and gloriously violent fashion as Swords are gathered and used to control chance, enhance fortune, and change destiny. The holder of a Sword wields power undreamed — power to change the world and the holder.
If you haven’t read this series, I highly recommend you pick it up and give it a try. A very well-developed world, and an entertaining story. As it says, there are twelve swords, each with different powers, but also with different weaknesses. And that is the fun of the story, getting to see each of the swords, and seeing how they work, and how they compare and interact with the other swords. Of course, while it discusses their creation, this first book only touches on four or five of the swords.
I read this book near the time I was attempting to learn to create and run my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign. As a Dungeon Master, my style at the time fell strongly into the hack and slash/Monty Haul style of gaming. These powerful swords offered an amazing selection for me to choose from. At the time I came up with game versions of all twelve, though only one or two ever made it into a player’s hands.
Here are the names of the swords: Coinspinner, Doomgiver, Dragonslicer, Farslayer, Mindsword, Shieldbreaker, Sightblinder, Soulcutter, Stonecutter, Townsaver, Wayfinder, and Woundhealer.
In most cases, the names describe the sword’s ability, though I confess I do not remember exactly what Soulcutter does, though I know it can’t be very nice!
Within the novels, most of these swords were extremely powerful. In game terms they qualify as artifacts, and if I created stats for them now I would treat them that way, but at the time, I basically gave them each +5 to some category of roll, and left it at that. I chose +5 because I felt it was making them equal to the Holy Avenger, and chose what rolls they would affect based on how the sword performed in the stories.
Somewhere I still have a notebook with the stats written down, but it is buried in the archives, but here is one quick example. Coinspinner, also known as the Sword of Chance created good luck for its wielder, and on occasion would simply transport itself away to a new owner, or just to somewhere it could be found again.
My version of Coinspinner provided +5 to saving throws. While this made a great sounding sword to give as treasure, it was very powerful, and certainly unbalanced.
With a bit more experience as a DM, Coninspinner would probably look more like this:
Coinspinner +1 Long Sword. When rolling saving throw, roll an additional d6. If d6 is even, add d6 result to saving throw, if d6 is odd, subtract d6 result from saving throw. At the start of each game day roll d10, on a result of 1 Coinspinner has teleported away to some random location somewhere else in the game world as chosen by the DM.
I suspect the chance for bad luck would have most players hoping for that 1 to show up and take the sword away. The even/odd computation will lead to a small positive increase to saving throws over time, though not enough to be over powering. Combined with the fact that the weapon isn’t likely to remain with the character for long, the weapon is relatively weak, and some might even classify it as a cursed item. Which is why I kept the focus of the weapons bonus/penalty activity away from its direct use in combat. Of course, this concept focuses more on the idea of a Sword of Chance instead of staying true to the book version of the sword.
So, pick the book up, give it a read and maybe you’ll be inspired to come up with some unique swords for your own campaign.