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Old Screeds

Review 2: Swords into Plowshares [23 March 05] A review of a PDF of magic weapons.

"Swords into Plowshares" is a 36-page d20 PDF book of over 55 magic weapons for use in Dungeons and Dragons. It was originally produced by Sean K Reynolds Games as a charity project for the benefit of the National Geographic's Afghan Girls Fund. After sales had trickled out, Sean made the book available as a free download.

The book contains just over 55 entries, with most describing a single weapon. Each entry includes an extensive history of the weapon, including narrative details on the weapon's forging, use, and past owners. About 20 of the entries describe weapons that have unique magical properties; the rest describe weapons whose properties could be easily reproduced with the tables on magic arms in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

For example, Ajaal's Iron Hand is a +1 speed greatsword that can be used as a monk weapon. It was owned by an ogre mage who used it to carve out a small kingdom before being killed by dragons. The weapon is engraved with images and glyphs that tell Ajal's story. It has a market price of 70,250 gp. The story and description is much much more detailed than I am mentioning here.

That's a sense of what the book is. Now, how about using it?

Keep in mind that this is a Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 product, so be careful in adapting it to the 3.5 rule set. Honestly, that is not really a problem, since the rules upgrade did little to magic weapons. There are two things to keep in mind, though. First, weapon size becomes an important factor -- Ajul's Iron Hand is a large longsword, so human-sized folks need to use two hands to weild it, and even then with a -2 inappropriate size penalty. Similarly, the items used by gnomes and halflings are small in size. And second, the philosophy of sentient weapons changed under 3.5: intelligent items tend to have skills of their own, rather than bestowing feats on their owners, and these free-willed items can activate powers and use skills on their own volition.

Very often, when a bard uses his bardic lore ability on a found item, or a spellcaster tries a divination, the DM is flummoxed. She has nothing planned particularly, and it's just a +2 flaming shortsword, for gosh sake. But with "Swords into Plowshares," it is easy to adapt descriptions in the book as backstories for items in your game. The power gamers and munchkins among your players may not care, but these are great roleplay hooks that can reverberate through the game. I especially like the idea (mentioned for several of the entries) that NPCs may recognize the weapon and react to it, rather than to the player character!

Frankly, at first I felt a little cheated that of the 55 entries, only 20 described weapons with quirks or crunchy new powers -- because I came into the book expecting every weapon to be crunchy and new. But on reflection, I am glad for the non-crunchy bits, because it's good to be reminded that even "mundane" weapons can have interesting backstories and descriptions.

And judging the narrative value of those backstories is, of course, a matter of opinion. But some were better than others. I liked those for Angevine, Songspike, and Trophy of Battle. Others were not as compelling, like Deepfarer's Might, a +2 throwing vorpal dwarven waraxe. For such a potent weapon, one expects a story of hurling the weapon at an epic foe and chopping off its head. Instead, the owner threw it at the wrong enemy and then died in a rockfall trap! How pathetic! LOL!

I am, however, disappointed with the item inflation of the work. Of the 55 entries, 22 had a market price under 50,000 gp. 24 were in the 50-100 grand range, and fully 11 reached over 100,000 gp. Maybe I'm unusual in assuming that people spend as much or more of their gaming careers at 10th level and lower. But how many 100,000+ weapons do you need in a non-epic game? And how many people are playing at those atmospheric heights? Do we need a "Degran's Red Blade," with a market price over 200,000 gp? Well, the point is, I really appreciated the lower-priced items, and would have liked to see more of them.

But niggles aside, the real value in the book for me came from the items that made me stop and think. Here are my top six:

  • Arrow of Penetration by Dave Mattingly: An arrow with the mighty cleave ability -- if it kills an enemy, it continues through the body and attacks the next person in line!
  • Beshero's Sling of Thunderstones by Dave Mattingly: Bullets fired from this weapon become thunderstones; use thunderstones as ammo to boost the save DC. Good backstory, too.
  • Dreamblade by Monte Cook: A +1 keen bane longsword that you sleep with -- you can change the target monster of the bane property by choosing to dream of it at night!
  • Dwarven Eye of Power by Jean-Francois and Christian Reyes: A flail (despite being called a morningstar) whose head can be holy, unholy, flaming, or frost, changeable each round as a free action, but only one of the four properties at a time.
  • Net of the Huntress by Dave Mattingly: A +1 distance returning net with a long tether. If it fails to ensnare, it returns, folded! You can also use it as a parachute or a grappling hook, and it is effective against winged creatures, who crash to the ground when ensnared.
  • Sweet Sting by Gwendolyn F. M. Kestrel: A simple +1 Spell Storing whip. But the idea for how to use it is genius -- store helpful spells in it, like Cure Serious Wounds, and flick it at friends! Excellent as a way to extend touch spells to a 15-foot reach, and since it does no damage to armored targets, it's great for staying out of harm's way while healing a fallen front-line fighter.

It is interesting that I picked out my top six faves before looking at prices -- but five of the six are priced under 50,000 gp! Goes to show that clever ideas don't have to be expensive.

And a review on this site would not be complete without a mention of "The Lion's Tail" by Jennifer Kitzman. It's not wemic-related at all, but it is a +2 disruption flaming quarterstaff in the shape of a lion's tail. That earns the PDF a lick from the liontaur!

Review: Many good role-play hooks, a few clever ideas, and its free! What's not to like about this PDF? I rate "Swords into Plowshares" at three paws and a lick. And if you download and enjoy the book, consider making a small donation to the National Geographic's Afghan Girls Fund. Or go buy Sean's latest PDF for charity, Hungry Little Monsters.

Explanation of ratings:

  • One Paw: Broken, badly flawed, may damage your game. Discard.
  • Two Paws: Flawed but not dangerous. May have a good idea or two. Not worth buying or downloading.
  • Three Paws: Excellent ideas despite slight flaws. Good value.
  • Four Paws: Essential and recommended. Seek this out. Use it!
  • With a Lick: Slight or inconsequential feline/wemic content.
  • With a Pounce: Significant feline/wemic content.

Now that I've written my review, let me give you links to two other sets of reviews, which I had not looked at before writing my own: Buyer comments at RPG Now and EN World reviews.

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