When the icons were restored to the Churches, Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople (A.D. 847-857) received a vision which told him where the head of St. John was hidden. He communicated this to the Emperor, who sent an expedition to bring the relic to Constantinople. The head was found today in A.D. 850.
One meme that keeps popping up in this corner of the internet is the complaint that the ubiquitous Sword +1 is boring and that magic items should inspire more awe and wonder. I myself have played with systems to try to alleviate this particular issue by imagining the process by which a sword is made. The story of St. John’s Head, however, suggests that giving even a boring old Sword +1 a simple history can transform it from a mere mechanic into a real magical treasure.
What follows is a series of d6 rolls which will provide an outline for the provenance of a magic sword:
Roll a d6. The result will be the number of previous owners. For each owner, roll on these two tables:For example:
Who was the owner?
- Demi-human (1-3 = Elf; 4-5 = Dwarf; 6 = Halfling)
How was it lost?
- Lost in a game of chance
- Owner died in battle*
- Owner killed while adventuring*
- Owner killed by a magical beast (like a dragon)*
- Owner mysteriously disappeared
*On a 1-2 the sword was buried with the owner on a 3-6 it was taken by those who killed the owner, or the sword's fate can be determined by fiat.
As an option, one can also roll on the following table:
How did the next owner receive the sword?
- Stole it
- Won in a game of chance
- Awarded for services rendered
- Found it in a lair
- Found it in a tomb
- Found it in a dungeon
Once each owner is determined, all one has to to do is decide what order they owned the sword and fill in any details that are desired.
I rolled a ‘3’ to determine how many owners a Sword +1 has had. I rolled on all three tables and here are the results:
- 3-2-5 Knight died in battle. The sword was buried with him and was in his tomb when found
- 4-1-4 Noble died adventuring (sword was taken) and was found in a monster’s lair
- 6-4-3 King had it stolen and was found in a dungeon.
Looking at this, I can fill out the details: A king had the magical sword forged, but before he was able to wield it in battle, the sword was smuggled away into a dungeon. A descendent of the king (2nd son?) went searching for the weapon and found it in the dungeon; however, he was killed on the journey home. A knight seeking fame and glory hunted down a beast in the wilderness, in the lair he discovered the sword. He went on to become famous, but died in a battle defending the realm. His sword was buried with him.
Obviously, further details can be added (such as the names of each owner and what lands they ruled and defended). Should this Sword +1 be found in a treasure hoard other than a tomb, one need only add one more layer to the story: monsters looted the tomb and, depending upon which monsters guard the hoard, either don’t know its value, don’t use swords or use it to defend the rest of the treasure.
Regardless, this lowly Sword +1 is no longer boring. It has a story. It was forged for a king. Men died trying to get it back. It took part in a great battle to try and save the realm. It is an item worthy of wonder, despite the fact in it is “only” a Sword +1.