What makes an item intelligent? Where does the voice of a talking sword come from? That enchanted wand that whispers sweet nothings into the ear of a wizard or even the crate of power that my cleric fighter once wielded in a battle? Where are these voices from? How do they have their own personalities and what does that mean to how we run a game?
Let me start with the easiest (and possibly the funniest) answer to the above questions. A humorous anecdote from my own halcyon playing days. My Fighter Cleric was not the brightest of half-orcs that ever came out of the Church of Hades and when he found a crate that told him it was a weapon of awesome power that had befallen a polymorph spell by a wizard he was all too eager to believe the information he was told. He ran into battle with an Ettin from memory wielding the crate and was shocked to find the crate splinter into matchsticks with his first swing. Mind you, the wizard of the parties imp familiar found this joke hilarious. He had been hiding invisible in the crate whispering in my ear the whole time…
|The Magician’s Wand
Image created by Aelin Laer under a
Creative Commons – Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivative Works 3.0 Licence
OK, with my moment of foolishness out of the way (actually I made myself look more like an idiot when I tried to drown and then burn the imp to death as they do not breathe and are immune to fire) let us look more in depth at the origin of intelligent items. Of course, as a GM you can set up something like the above story to add colour and flavour to your game. I have to admit that these many years (it would be around 20 years since that game) passed I still smile at playing that adventure. But there is a lot of depth that can be added into this style of item that will flesh out the weapon. The one thing that you should never ever do with an intelligent item though is underplay it.
God Touched Items
The first of which is possibly the God-touched items that have been granted intelligence by the God imbibing some of its own power into an item that will serve in the mortal realm on its behalf. Good candidates for these items might be paladins holy avengers, cleric’s maces of disruption and anything else that literally lives out the ideals of a god. For example, a God of construction might have a pick axe of raising whilst the God of Illusion may have a mirror of exultant appearance that all are intelligent and have their own personalities.
A God-touched item is indeed a special source of power. The intelligence that inhabits the item is likely to be completely compliant with the belief’s and ideals of the God. In fact, perhaps the intelligence is an aspect of the God’s own personality and thus by speaking with the item you are speaking to the God itself. God’s have big personalities and these items are not lightly made for they take something from the God and there is always a purpose to them. Think about that purpose and have it woven into the personality of the item itself. God’s never say “I might throw a few holy avengers around!” in the hopes that someone might find them useful. there was always a purpose to a weapon like this and finding that purpose can find you the way to represent the item.
Also, think about holy intelligent items of a dead God and what they could mean to a game? It poses an interesting question with a LOT of possibilities that can emerge from it. Imagine if the shard of the God’s being that was placed in that item still lived on. Could the God be resurrected from that item? What a campaign ending that would be. It could be a weapon that the players slowly learn about to restore a great God back to their glory OR the players chase down the evil worshippers of a cataclysmic God and try to destroy the last shard of their being. i think I will have to leave that idea up to your own imaginations because I could write a novel around that idea.
Spirit Bound Items
The reasons that Wizard’s and others do this sort of stuff can vary widely. It might be they are lonely in a tower so they summon a simple astral spirit that enjoys chatting and embeds it into the staff he is making. It might be a spirit of the fey wild that is embedded into a druidic stave that is designed to ensure only an individual with nature in their heart uses the device.
|The Dragon’s Eye Amulet of Ordanth
Photo taken from David Brawley’s Tower of the Archmage blog under a
Creative Commons – Attribution – Non commercial – Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence
There are so many types of spirits out there though and it is this reason that can make this type of device very hard to consider a personality for. Spirits can have totally alien goals and understandings to the need of a fleshy material plane character and so the chances of conflict grow with this nature of device. Rely strongly on the nature and alignment of the device to work on the personality along with the base for the spirit. Elemental spirits will represent the clichés for their element (fiery and angry for fire, slow and monotone for earth, fidgety and flighty for air and deep and emotional for water) whilst the main focus of an astral spirit may not be what is occuring on the material but the repercussions in astral space.
Polymorphed or Sacrificed Creatures
Extension of the Player OR it is Just Magic
|“Ah, the magical drinking cup of Odin!”
Image by Ivan Koritarev under a Creative Commons Attribution – Non commercial – No derivative works 3.0 licence