Legacy Weapons in 5E: Brigid’s Hammer

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.

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