In this series, we look at infrequently used or little understood magic items described in the Dungeon Master's Guide plus giving you some creative uses and reasons to include them on your character's inventory.
Like spells, there seems to be a list of magic items that are considered crucial to an adventuring party -- cloaks of resistance, rings of protection, and potions of cure light wounds, for example. With hundreds and hundreds of magic items to choose from, some magic items are going to get short shrift. But what should players and DMs do when the random treasure table turns up something unusual? Toss it and move on? Maybe they can open up their minds and build a character (or adventure) around particularly interesting magic items.
In the conclusion of this series, we examine a couple of the more corner-case special weapon abilities that exist in D&D -- bane and merciful weapons.
First off, the obvious -- bane weapons are designed for one thing and one thing only, which is killing a given creature type or subtype. If your campaign is chock full of a bane weapon's particular hated foe, then you're in luck. If not, then you may have a weapon that sits on your party's shelf of 'items to use later' or that is immediately sold for something more useful. Before you store or sell that bane weapon, here are a few ideas that may encourage you to keep it.
- A ranger that gets a bane weapon that matches one of his favored enemies has hit the mother lode, gaining a minimum +3 bonus on attack rolls and a +5 bonus on damage rolls against that type of creature. Even if the bane weapon doesn't match the ranger's list, consider making sure that he's the one that receives it during the split of treasure for some serious incentive to choose that creature type when he advances a level and gains another favored enemy choice.
- If your character hasn't before considered a life as a bounty hunter, gaining a bane weapon is a great way to help define and fill out his personality. Now he hunts and slays dragons, giants, undead, or whatever for fun and profit.
Bane Weapons for the DM
If a bane weapon appears in your campaign, consider altering the flow of the game slightly to better incorporate the weapon into the game.
- If you roll an unusual or rare creature type as the bane weapon's designated foe, such as air outsiders or plants, it may be time to put the character and his allies up against such creatures. Not only does it give the character who possesses the weapon a chance to shine, it also gives you as the DM a chance to mix up the creatures that your PCs face. After a while, everyone gets a bit tired of facing orcs and goblins. If your PCs have to deal with waves of vermin or armies of constructs, then so much the better!
- As a way to inject more versatility and flavor to a bane weapon, consider giving it the added ability of letting the wielder become aware of the weapon's designated creature type within a reasonable range, such as 30 feet. This can unbalance the game to a degree if allowed to go unchecked, so consider saving this ability for more uncommon creature types such as fey, vermin, or some of the various outsider types.
- Alternatively, you could add that creatures attacked by someone wielding the appropriate bane weapon must make a Will save or be shaken or even flee as if suffering the effects of cause fear.
At first glance, merciful weapons may seem too 'passive' for most adventuring parties. The fact that the deal only nonlethal damage may mean that merciful weapons get little use in a game or are rapidly sold or swapped for something more aggressive. Here are some ways to use merciful weapons with your characters:
- If you're playing a character that has taken a vow not to kill (see the Book of Exalted Deeds for more on this), then merciful weapons are a great way not only for you to stay in the fight but also to attack and defend yourself without holding back or taking attack roll penalties for using lethal weapons to deal nonlethal damage.
- As referred to above with bane weapons, a character coming across a merciful weapon may consider a life as a bounty hunter, police officer, bodyguard, or other profession or focus that requires opponents be captured alive and (relatively) unharmed. A ranger armed with a merciful weapon can defeat his favored enemy all the more quickly, as can a rogue adding the merciful weapon's extra die of damage to her sneak attack roll.
Merciful Weapons for the DM
Just because a weapon is merciful doesn't mean that it can't be a thorn in the player's side or a great hook for further adventures. Despite the name, a merciful weapon still inflicts pain. Perhaps your archvillain carries a merciful weapon that he uses viciously (yes, irony) on his own minions -- often with little or no warning. Save a moment during the archvillain's monologue where he does such a thing and watch the horror on the players' faces. The same logic applies if the archvillain captures a PC and uses a merciful weapon to torture the character -- pulling out the lethal items only when the character refuses to talk.
That's it for this series. I hope that some of the ideas offered here spurred you as a player or DM into keeping some of those weird magic items in play, allowing them to breathe life and creativity into your campaign. Of course, I'm still trying to find a good use for that trident of fish command … .
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Monster Manual IV, and the Tome of Corruption (from Green Ronin Publishing). Eric also is a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Dragon Magazine, and this website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.