Weapons of Myth and Might
When Arthur pulls Excalibur (or possibly Calibur) from the stone, he begins a journey that will last the rest of his life. He doesn’t have to wait until he is already a 17th level Paladin (or whatever). Tolkien is full of swords that become magical because they were used by heroes (rather than the other way around). Whether or not it appears much in myth, the idea of an item carried by a character which doesn’t quickly obsolete as they advance is a persistent one in RPGs.
In 3rd Edition, there was a Weapons of Legacy book, which was a great idea with awful execution. The problem was that buying weapons was meant to be a money-sink for characters. (DM David has a great series on the use of gold and economic controls in early editions of D&D, and the legacy effects of those rules.) This meant that the Weapons of Legacy rules had to build in strange rules like mysteriously spending gold to improve a weapon that was supposed to level with you, and taking ability penalties for wielding your chosen weapon. Strange stuff.
The idea, though, is a good one. Maybe it’s not a weapon, but many heroes have an item that is identified with them from the beginning: the hide of the Nemean Lion, Captain America’s shield, Orpheus’s lyre, The Tarnhelm, or anything made by Weyland Smith or Masamune. If your weapon was made by Hitori Honso, why would you want to give that up as your own power grew? If your weapon wasn’t made by someone awesome, why are you telling stories about it?
In other words, we’re in the business of telling stories, and the items in our stories are part of that.
5th Edition Magic
As a DM, the hardest thing to wrap my head around about 5th Edition is the de-emphasizing of magic items. They’re still part of the game, but it’s not assumed that every character will have a dozen of them by 12th level. In fact, DM David (again) has a great level-by-level breakdown of magic item and treasure distribution. Short version: at 11th level, a PC should have accumulated about 21,000 gp and at most four permanent magic items (including, maybe, a very rare), which can’t usually be purchased. In Pathfinder, the assumption is 82,000 gp, which should include a weapon, armor, a cloak, a ring, boots, two slot-less items, and one miscellaneous item (maybe a hat, or gloves, or bracers, or a staff, or a couple of wands, or something). Much of that Pathfinder gold will have been spent on buying or improving magic items. Much of that 5th Edition gold will have been spent on… other stuff. Training languages or tool proficiencies, maybe. Buying a house. Dumping into a vault and swimming in. (I imagine I’ll write another post about that, later.)
In other words, in 5th Edition, if a character’s item levels with them, it’s much easier to simply give out a little less treasure to make up for it. It’s not supposed to by a money-sink.
If the progression is usually uncommon/uncommon/rare/rare/very rare/ legendary, then it’s easy enough to adjust for legacy items by making it legacy/uncommon/uncommon/rare/rare/very rare, for that character. Their legacy item grows with them, becoming (eventually) legendary. They don’t need another legendary item, and the one they have is all the more cool because it’s been with them all along.
Legacy weapons are different from “legendary” weapons in that legendary weapons (and artifacts) start out powerful, with their full slate of abilities accessible by their wielders. Legacy weapons, on the other hand, improve at certain levels (or after certain milestones, depending on the campaign).
Hacking Legacy Weapons into My Game
One of my players chose the singular curiosity “You carry your grandmother’s enchanted sword; it does +1 damage and will fly to your hand if you will it,” except that she wanted a hammer. Her family are smiths, and a hammer made sense. In play, she realized that having it fly to her hand was Thor-like, so we incorporated that. This gave us our first legacy item: Brigid’s Hammer.
Weapon (light hammer), Legacy (requires attunement by a follower of Brigid)
This light hammer bears an image of the symbol of the goddess Brigid on its face, and can be used as a holy symbol of that goddess. Such hammers were gifts from the goddess to favored artisans, meant to aid in their work at the forge. These hammers hide a secret, however: when wielded by adventuring followers of the goddess, the hammers grow from a minor magical tool to an item of legendary power.
You gain a +1 bonus to damage rolls made with this magic weapon. In addition, you can use your action to cause it to fly to your hand. If you do, you can make an attack against a creature that is in your space or grappling you. As you gain additional levels, the Brigid’s Hammer gains the following additional properties.
Whisper of the Forge. When you reach 4th level, you can use the Brigid’s Hammer as a focus to cast fabricate without using a spell slot. You may not do so again until you finish a long rest. In addition, when you use the hammer as part of a crafting tool set, your proficiency bonus to create non-magical items is doubled, and your daily crafting limit is raised to 15gp.
Light of the Goddess. When you reach 8th level, the Brigid Hammer grants you a +1 bouns to attack rolls made with it. In addition, you can cast the cantrip light on the hammer as a bonus action.
In my campaign, this will happen a little earlier, when the PCs defeat a major foe opposed by the goddess.
Construct Bane/ Construct Boon. When you reach 12th level, attacks made with the Brigid’s Hammer deal an additional 2d8 lightning damage to constructs. You can choose to use the hammer as a focus to cast cure wounds, targeting a construct. If you use it in this way, you may not use either power again until after you finish a short or long rest.
Sentience. When you reach 17th level the Brigid’s Hammer becomes a sentient neutral item with an Intelligence of 11, a Wisdom of 16, and a Charisma of 15. It has hearing and darkvision out to a range of 120 feet. The weapon communicates telepathically with its wielder and can speak, read, and understand celestial. While you are attuned to it, the Brigid’s Hammer also understands every language you know.
Personality. Brigid’s Hammer speaks in a ringing, metallic voice, but does so rarely. Its purpose is to advance the desires of Brigid, and to the end it seeks to defend the chosen people of the goddess and aid its wielder in crafting exceptional items. It seeks to bring about invention, rather than destruction, despite being a weapon of war. Once it achieves sentience, the hammer expresses true joy at being used in a forge, and gives its wielder suggestions for improving items they craft together. It may even be possible, at your GM’s discretion, for Brigid’s Hammer to enable the crafting of certain magical items.
Brigid’s Hammer is made to be passed on, but each wielder must unlock its full potential for themselves. As soon as ownership is transferred, generally by gifting the hammer down a family line, any abilities that it has gained disappear.
Conflict arises when the wielder attempts to use the hammer to destroy a construct or other mechanical creature. While it will allow itself to be used to harm constructs, it will never destroy them, and always encourages its wielder to try to reform or reprogram, rather than scrap, them.
Maybe they don’t work for every player, or every game, but I love the idea that my player has the option to grow her weapon in a way that fits with her background and helps connect her to her goddess. It will take a little work from me, to make sure that she’s not slightly overpowered, but not nearly as much as it took to put together a Weapon of Legacy in 3rd Edition. I build a few for a group I played with and I had to use a spreadsheet, and run that spreadsheet by a friend who designs video games for a living. I think that this maps out, power-wise, on the magic item curve, and it means that I can get away with giving my players even fewer random magic items, which is good for me.
Next time: The Nanite-Blooded Sorcerer!