Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Magic Swords I Have Known #1: the Sword of Kas

I considered expounding on my particular fascination with the sword as a weapon, but then realized I would not be saying much more than what has already been written by the likes of Richard F. Burton in his Book of the Sword introduction. Suffice is to say, people dig swords, and generally, the same people drawn to fantasy are those drawn to the “romance” inherent in the weapon.

Black blades have long been “all the rage” when it comes to weapons in fantasy fiction…nothing says “badass” quite like a blade that’s been darkened to an “ebon hue.” Probably the first such weapon I can remember was the flaming black sword, Dyrnwyn, from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. Last one I read about was probably Black Steel by Steve Perry (sci-fi, sure, but featuring black blades).

The Sword of Kas, I believe, is the first original black blade featured in a D&D publication…if I am mistaken, someone please correct me. I don’t have the original supplement Eldritch Wizardry in which it first appears, but in the DMG it is described as a black short sword. It’s the equivalent of a +6 vorpal weapon and carries a number of special abilities as well as several drawbacks.

This is the kind of magic weapon I like: it has a name, a history, and a personality. Just like Blackrazor or Stormbringer, the Sword of Kas has its own motivation and raison d’etre. This is something a DM can build a campaign around, if one is so inclined. And the great thing about the drawbacks (in this case, malignant artifact effects), is it really forces a player character to answer the question, “what am I willing to pay to use this item?”

I’m not a big fan of 3rd edition’s “Legacy Weapons,” and I really don’t like the way artifacts are handled in BECMI…far too limited in my opinion. I really like the idea that a weapon, piece of clothing, or severed body part can be imbued with the divine power/unholy might of its former owner, and thus become an item of immense power and great peril. Weapons like the Sword of Kas and Blackrazor that “break” the standard rules are what really define Old School D&D for me. For me, I like the inconsistencies of this approach; it’s what makes OS gaming organic and very “non-wargamey.”

I’ve actually never included the Sword of Kas in any of my campaigns…the title of this post refers to magic blades that I’ve read about or inspired me, ones that I’ve crafted for games and ones that I haven’t. I plan on this being a series: just thought I’d start it off with one from D&D canon.

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