Tuesday, September 23, 2014

OK, So Your Sword is Smart - but What Kind of Smart?

  I've been talking about intelligent swords for a the last week or so and I want to move on to a question that I don't think was ever addressed in the main books - where does a sword's intelligence and alignment come from and what is the nature of its intelligence?
  Since I like to be contrary, let's start with - what is the nature of the intelligence within a magical sword?
  Personally, I can think of four broad possibilities:

  First, it is a fully sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Second, it is a semi-sentient or barely-sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Third, it is a non-sentient intelligence from 'elsewhere'.
  Fourth, it isn't a true intelligence at all, but a 'trick of magic'.

  What I mean by 'a fully sentient intelligence from elsewhere' is - the creator of the weapon places the intelligence of a creature into the blade. This could be, oh, the soul of a person, angel, or devil as appropriate to the alignment of the blade.
  Archbishop Clemenza prayed over the elderly figure in the bed. Once a bold, dashing young man of fearsome strength and fulsome heart Sir Jerrod the paladin was greatly diminished by age. The aging paladin had come to the archbishop a year prior, begging the prelate for the chance to continue to serve the Church and fight evil. After prayer and a Commune spell the archbishop had begun preparing a sword. Now he stood ready - by his own desires Sir Jerrod's soul would go on to its reward but a small part of his mind and personality would stay on this plane within a new holy sword, spending decades more fighting evil....
  Zazzur the Red always felt most at peace surrounded by his own legions of the undead, but even the dread necromancer needed assistance other than that of zombies. He had spent weeks sacrificing prisoners to the fiends he served until the price had been paid. Now, as they last strokes of the hammer fell upon the fel sword being forged at his own command Zazzur summoned an imp. The tiny devil appeared, grinning, within the circle. Soon it would fulfill the dark pact by entering into the sword and giving the weapon a malevolent intelligence. Zazzur's captain of guards would be even more formidable than before, and more compliant to Zazzur's will....
  These weapons would be intelligent in a very real way; they could hold a conversation, provide (alignment and intelligence appropriate) advice, perhaps even recall periods of history or locations they had lived through.

  When I talk of semi-, barely-, and not-intelligent from elsewhere I am talking about, oh, minor elemental spirits, lesser demons, devils, and angels akin to larvae, and the types of spirits that animate golems. 
  Grandmastersmith Beornthein continued to chant the prayer of joy in Old Dwarvish as the sword blade turned straw yellow along the back, cherry red on the edge. He felt the movement of the minor spirit from the living rock up through the anvil and into the blade. He switched tot he prayer of thanksgiving as he allowed the blade to cool and continued the prayer an hour later as he picked it up to hone the edge for the first time. As he grasped the tang he felt the whisper in his mind; the earth spirit, now a part of the sword, knew its duties and was ready to serve.
  Unlike the earlier mentions, these swords would be truly intelligent, more more akin to a very bright animal; they will understand their duties, even enjoy them; they will feel some emotions, etc. But their conversation will be limited to their tasks (and may be just 'feelings' communicated to their wielder) and they will have no real advice, history, etc. to share.
  The line between barely-sentient and non-sentient is going to be broad and hard to define but will probably be between speech/telepathy and just empathy.

  Finally, weapons that aren't truly intelligent at all but imitate it are going to exist.
  Alissa the Mage was done. The great debt she owed to the warrior was now paid in full with the blade she handed to him. It was as skillfully made as possible and enchanted as he wished. The warrior smiled with appreciation as he test the blade's balance. Holding is up he asked the sword itself,
  "Can you speak?"
  A faint voice, obviously from the blade but seemingly distant, answered in a flat tone devoid of emotion,
  "I can"
  "Who am I?" asked the warrior.
  "My master" responded the sword.
  Beaming, the warrior slipped the sword into its sheath and bowed to Alissa.
  The 'intelligence' of these weapons is much more akin to a computer program; a series of 'if, then' statements that have more to do with how a Magic Mouth delivers it message than with actual thought. These weapons are essentially incapable of a discussion, let alone advice or a personality.

  In my campaign all of these different types of intelligence are possible and exist. Typically the 'dumbest' intelligent swords are the third or fourth type of intelligence with the middle tier being second or third type and only the top blades (a 16 or 17 intelligence) being type one - but that can vary. A sword may have been more powerful and has declined with misuse, or it may grow from a simple type 4 into, over long years, a type 2 or even type 1 intelligence.

  Also, perhaps a sword with a 17 Intelligence and a Lawful Neutral alignment would 'play dumb' when wielded by a lawful Good or Lawful Evil owner. Sure, it is allowed, but the sword might not like it!

  And this leads us to personalities; a type one or two blade might very well have a developed personality and become, in a very real way, more like a hireling (or even henchman) than a tool or weapon. Think of the possibilities!

Next time - only swords?