Intelligent Swords are OVER RATED!?

Hello, please excuse the topic title I was practicing my clickbait verbiage.

Onto the thesis:

It seems like the only items that have souls/personalities/intelligences within them are swords.

I don’t have the numbers in front of me to prove that, but it feels correct to me.

Elric’s sword was intelligent I think? There’s some in the OSR stuff more than modern I think, please let me know from the OSR perspective.

Why not other objects?

How about the door to a room at an inn? Now your party has a sentient door as a valuable npc to get info from.

How about an arrow?

Now you can fire an arrow into somebody and the sentience in the arrow connects the minds of the archer and the target, some crazy psionic ranger stuff.

Or how about an intelligent cloak?

Now anybody can be Dr Strange, or Spawn (please list any additional characters in popular media with the “giant dramatic cape) trope).

There’s also the lesser version of all this “animated” objects. Which ALWAYS makes me think of something a little more expressive through its form. Like when a cup gets “animated” it acts like a cup would. When a sword gains an “intelligence” it’s more like a unique individual within an object. The Sword in the Stone animated movie has the archetypal examples of what I imagine for animated items.

So what other objects would work as “Intelligent Items”?

Does The One Ring count?

Do you know of some that already exist in some adventures or something?

Thank you for reading this preposterous post and have a good day - whoever has made it this far.

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I think I’ve mentioned this before on a stream but I use the magic sword tables (including Intelligence and Ego) for all magic items. Didn’t we also see an intelligent magic item in The Dark Tower that wasn’t a sword? Or am I misremembering?

these tables?
This sorcery?
Still seems pretty sword-centric though, I gotta roll up some other sentient objects because it sounds like fun worldbuilding.

I think the practical reason why so many intelligent items end us as weaponry is that it’s sometimes tough to convince a veteran player that a talking doodad isn’t more trouble than it’s worth.

Don’t get me wrong I love the idea of more varied intelligent items, but I think you’d have to make the utility of something pretty apparent to get some people to bite.


Those tables! I will usually already have the main abilities of the magic item sorted so I use those tables to supplement and then toss out/ignore anything that doesn’t apply.

Great point!
Hard to turn down a magic weapon even if it won’t stop jabbering or trying to possess you.

It could maybe change the dynamic if the intelligent item can become more powerful or more effective if the player deals with the intelligent personality of the thing.
Like a mechanic to reward RP with obvious mechanical bonus.

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I think you could definitely play around with concepts like this but I wouldn’t want to turn RP into a constant fishing for extra goodies. It could be very possible that an item might hold back or refuse access to some of its powers if the wielder isn’t on the same wavelength, so to speak.

It’s pretty common to see those intelligent sword generators with NPC goals/ideals slapped on to flavor them up, but is there some preexisting table or resource we could use to determine what happens when they achieve their goal?

A sentient sword’s goal is something like
“Be used to slay a great wyrm”.
When a player strikes the killing blow…maybe the sword becomes more powerful? Maybe it enhances the wielders stats permanently somehow in a Highlander-esque lightning strike?

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I swear I think we just talked about this on a stream but my feeling is that if the item has a specific goal and it fulfills that goal, it goes away, or is destroyed, or simply becomes inert. My touchstone for that is the barrow blade from The Lord of the Rings.

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Maybe that’s why it’s on my mind haha, I can’t recall though.
Didnt know about the barrow blades, pretty cool.
So they basically “pass on” after achieving their goal, that makes sense. Seems tough to pull off in a game when things are so unpredictable unless the goal of the item lines up with the goal of the wielder anyways

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I’m not sure. How comfortable are you with something not reaching its full potential?

Just to use as an example:

The Barrow Blade

magic dagger +1 / +3 vs The Witch King of Angmar DMG 1d6 + SPECIAL
SPECIAL: if the dagger lands a successful attack against the Witch King, it deals 4d6 damage and then disintegrates.

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Nice! That seems fun! I’ve done a weapon statblock on a small scale like that where it’s a crystal tipped spear that hits for like a d8 on the first hit in a mini explosion then it’s just a basic staff.

Regarding the thing not reaching its goal I’m fine with it that, it happens. I’m trying to think from a stingy player mindset who may well not want to pickup a sword with extra RP to deal with and then it wants to be brought somewhere way out of the way.
To Terences point, just trying to find the balance points between making it worthwhile to interact mechanically but also spur some weird fantastical feeling RP.

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I think the key point is “out of the way”. This stuff should be part and parcel of the context of the world and central with that. rather than a hanging chad that goes nowhere. In the case of the Lord of the Rings, the Witch King is very much a present and practically existential threat and they loom over the world until they are finally defeated. They aren’t sitting in some out of the way tower somewhere off on the edges of the map.

For a veteran (or any) player, there will always be a bit of an implied question of whether the juice is worth the squeeze but, assuming these items are connected to powerful forces, there should be personal and worldly incentives for at least considering using the item to do the thing it was meant to do.

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So after all this invigorating discourse, what do you think about the OVER RATED-NESS of Intelligent Swords?

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I’m going through go contrary and say UNDERRATED because I don’t see those mechanics used much presently. They went out of fashion fairly early on (maybe because of the factors that you and @Terance mentioned) and, while they get dredged up now and again, I don’t see them appear much out in the wild. Do you see them much? Have I missed all the intelligent magic swords that have been littering the grounds beneath my feet?

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I think I gotta agree with you, as a whole I don’t see intelligent items much in play. If I DO 99% of the time it’s a sword though.
Guess that’s just the way it is to try to get another hook in front of a player it better have some PAYOFF!

I still might have to think on the topic and at least get a roll table going for some intelligent rugs and tables.

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In my game, I had a magic book that was possessed by a spirit. Conceptually, the book was meant to guide adherents through the spaces and lore of a religious temple. The problem was that the temple was abandoned and the party found the item a millennia later. By that time, the spirit had gone a bit mad in isolation. It still had information to share but some of it was no longer true and it now was somewhat mercurial.

When I ran the book, it was mostly passive but it would sometimes offer up commentary that was parts wisdom and parts demented commentary from the peanut gallery. The party seemed to accept this and didn’t attempt to bargain with it.

Ultimately the spirit merged with the holder of the book when the holder was dying from an owlbear attack. It later lept from that host into the workings of a walking war-machine (think War of the Worlds) and departed. It’s final fate was never determined.

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That’s awesome, I think an intelligent book might be the runner up for most common intelligent item behind sword.
Love that you kept it subtle, but distinct (like a fresh Spindrift) and it didn’t overstay its welcome.
KEYS to an intelligent item I think.

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That Book is a great example of an intelligent item done well.

Here is my 2 cents about intelligent items, thinking about it from a DM’s perspective. 99% of the time they are not worth it. I am a proponent of doing very few things in a game but doing them very well. If I am going to have an intelligent item I want it to actually have an intelligence. I want it to have goals, desires, motivation, personality, a psychology, opinions, a will. That’s an NPC. An NPC that is always around. An NPC that is always around is a PC played by the DM.

If an intelligent magic item isn’t that important, doesn’t do much, rarely is impactful to the game, then I just don’t want it in the game. It just muddies the waters.

Personal preference but;
Intelligent items, crafting, alignment, domain play, fame rules, sanity, corruption, divine intervention, fate, familiars, ‘pets’, the list goes on… I don’t want them in my game unless they are important and done very well.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”


This thread has reminded me of one tidbit from a dungeon I make a long while back.

The Road Scholar’s Guide to Interesting Attractions: This heavy two-foot by one and a half-foot tome is bound in blue dragonscale and has its title written on the cover in gold leaf. The book rests on one of the reading tables where it is apparently attached by sovereign glue that has been pasted to its back cover. The book’s pages tend to rustle restlessly as it sits atop its prison and occasionally the book will flip itself open to draw attention to itself. The Road Scholar’s Guide is a dangerous book for the curious personality. It has within its pages tales and tidbits about local dangers and treasures for wherever a traveler intends to go. Some of these items in the tome are helpful hints but a canny reader can tell that the book has a sinister intelligence and is trying to bait them into deadly traps and into the lairs of dangerous monsters.

It was in the library of a mobile dungeon that once conquered players could uses as a home base that traveled with them. Surprisingly whenever I mentioned that the book was trying to get their attention they usually at least looked into it. Then I got to roll on my way difficult encounter table lol