Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are Only Swords Smart? And, if Not, What does this Mean? Part II

  In the last entry in this longer-than-I-expected series on intelligent swords Ishowed that the DMG clearly shows that a lot of other things besides swords can be intelligent. I also spoke about the possibility that smart swords are smart at least in part to allow fighters to use magical abilities they otherwise couldn't.
  While you are free to disagree with me about why swords are smart so often the first point seems to create a puzzle; if it is relatively easy to give inanimate objects intelligence, why is it astonishingly rare outside of swords? I mean, sure, the idea of fighters needing an intelligent proxy to get magical effects to work explains the wealth of smart swords it doesn't explain the dearth of, say, intelligent staves.
  But you know what does explain why non-fighters have virtually no intelligent items?
  Personality Conflict.
  The more powerful the intelligent item the stronger an Ego it has. The intelligent item may very well strive with its wielder for control; when that happens the items compares its personality score [Ego + Intelligence] to the personality score of the wielder, which is [Intelligence + Charisma + Level of Experience] with the higher number winning.
  Since the average fighter probably has an average Intelligence and an average Charisma, they are often in a position where their Personality score is, effectively, 20 + Level so a powerful sword with a high Intelligence and a high Ego can only be safely wielded by a high-level fighter.
  As a matter of fact, this kinda' explains why so many powerful swords seem to be holy swords - with their absurdly high Charisma paladins can safely wield very powerful weapons at a much lower level because their number is, effectively, 30 + Level.
  I can hear you now. You're saying,
  "But, Rick, wizards need a high Intelligence. Indeed, to be capable of casting really high level spells - the sort you need to make the items we're talking about! - they need an Intelligence as high as a paladin's Charisma. You seem to be arguing for more intelligent items that aren't swords."
  Nope, the opposite, and here's why.
  Loss of hit points = temporary decrease in Personality score. Combined with the naturally high Ego scores that non-swords will tend to have and this means clerics and (especially) magic-users are at greater risk of losing a personality conflict at a key moment.
  Here's two examples.
  First, an actual character from my Blackstone campaign and his sword.
  The sword Gatekeeper was forged by a Mage House during the height of the Ruby Empire. This two-handed blade is +4 to hit and damage and has the ability to Detect Extra-Planar Creatures within 60' at all times. Its special purpose is to destroy extra-planar portals and creatures and once per week it can, on touch, close any form of extra-dimensional portal. Gatekeeper has a 13 Intelligence and is Chaotic Good. The sword's Ego is 10 giving it a personality score of 23.
  Doomsman is a 13th level fighter with a 12 Intelligence and a 15 Charisma. His personality score is 40.
   And here is an actual character plus a conjectural item.
  Altonar's Stave is a Staff of Power with an Intelligence of 17. Rather than having special powers, Altonar's Stave has just the normal capabilities of a Staff of Power plus it can read maps, Read Magic, and speak and read Common, Elvish, and Gnomish. It can also communicate with its wielder telepathically. Altonar's Stave is Lawful Neutral and has an Ego of 20 for a personality of 37!
  Lohr is a 14th level magic-user with an 18 Intelligence and a 10 Charisma. His personality score is 42.

  OK, so in each case the wielder can easily 'overpower' the personality of the item they are using, right?

  Let's look at Doomsman and Lohr a bit closer.
  Doomsman has a 16 Constitution and 70 hit points. His HP/level average is 5.
  Lohr has a 9 Constitution and 30 hit points. His HP/level average is 2.

  For Doomsman to have his Personality score drop low enough for Gatekeeper to dominate him he will need to lose more hit points than he has.
  For Lohr to have his Personality score drop low enough for Altonar's Stave to dominate him he will need to lose 12 hit points.
  So Doomsman really doesn't need to worry about Gatekeeper 'taking over' because he'll die first. But if Lohr loses more than 40% of his hit points the staff can 'take over'.

  Now, if we swap items so Lohr is struggling with Gatekeeper and Doomsman is striving with Altonar's Stave then Doomsman would have to lose 20 hit points to lose a personality struggle while Lohr would have to lose... 20.
  The drop in personality scores is much sharper for non-fighters.

  So it looks like the low average hit points of magic-users (and to a lesser extent, clerics) makes them vulnerable to losing personality contests with intelligent items as they take damage.

  We also have to consider another fact - since magic-users can use things like staves and wands without the need for a proxy the only was an intelligent item would be of use to them is if it were intelligent enough to be able to, oh, Read Magic, or speak and read many languages, etc. In short, for having intelligence in an item to benefit a magic-user the item must have a high Ego score, making the magic-user more susceptible to losing personality conflicts.

  So why aren't there more Staves of Power with magical intelligence? Its to dangerous!

  Next time: part III