Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Intelligent Magic Items

A post many years in the making!

After finishing that "Knights in Orcus' Service" post and knocking around ideas for the other Chaos patrons in my setting, I realized I needed my own rules for demon weapons. Creating these items for my home game, I've been forced to cobble things together haphazardly. It's been rather annoying and nothing has felt quite right, so this is my attempt to streamline the rules for my home games - in whatever version of D&D I happen to be playing.

After using these rules several times in my home game, I feel good enough about them to post up. If I change them in the future I may come back and edit this.

First, let's examine the books I already have:

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness - The rules for Demon Weapons are cool as fuck, and clearly inspired by Elric. "Slays any unit it hits" is a bit much though. The magic effects from the Chaos Weapons section are good and the artwork is of course fantastic.

Awesome, but it will need some massaging to work within D&D.
We will come back to it later.

The Metamorphica Revised - The 'Ficto-Technica' section has tables for magic items. The best table is the one on pg. 208, "Demon-Possessed Items":

This will come up later on. 
Just get it, it's $10 for the revised pdf or get the classic version FREE!

AD&D DMG - Pages 166-168.

The standard to which all others are compared! Tables for personality and special goals are fantastic, but the whole system is pretty complicated and you have to flip back & forth. As usual, it could do with a bit of organizing.

I will be using the DMG as the baseline. From there I have attempted to streamline the mathematics and make things a little simpler while calibrating for my home setting.



0: Start

Per the DMG - we begin with an existing magic item. It could be a standard book item or one of the DM's own devising. This system was originally for magic swords but could be applied to anything: other weapons, wands, rings, armour or whatever.

From there, a simple 6-step process:
1: Roll for item INT
2: Roll for Alignment
3: Roll for Special Abilities
4: Roll for Special Purpose
5: Roll # of Languages Spoken, if applicable
6: Calculate EGO & Personality Strength

1: Intelligence and Capabilities (%)

We begin with the base tables from the DMG to see if it has intelligence and a mode of communication, and determine starting EGO rating:

01-50: No intelligence. Stop here.
51-75: No intelligence, but a strong alignment. Roll on Step 2 and then stop.
76-83: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
84-89: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
90-94: INT 14, EGO 4, speech
95-97: INT 15, EGO 5, speech
98-99: INT 16, EGO 6, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
00: INT 17, EGO 12, speech/telepathy, read magical writings

Or, if you are going to make an intelligent item anyway, use this chart expanded to the full percentage range to avoid a lot of rerolling:

01-31: INT 12, EGO 1, semi-empathy
32-56: INT 13, EGO 2, empathy
57-76: INT 14, EGO 3, speech
77-88: INT 15, EGO 4, speech
89-96: INT 16, EGO 5, speech, read nonmagical languages/maps
97-00: INT 17, EGO 11, speech/telepathy, read magical writings

EXAMPLE - I begin with a magical +2 sword. I have no particular plan for this item, so let's see what the dice give me on the top chart. Rolling for intelligence I got a 91, lucky! This sword has INT 14, EGO 3 and the power of speech.

2: Alignment (d20)

If you use simple law/chaos alignment like I do, just ignore the good/evil component of the result.
Remember that all cursed weapons are Neutral.

1-5: Lawful Good
6: Lawful Neutral
7: Lawful Evil
8-11: Neutral Good
12-15: True Neutral
16: Neutral Evil
17: Chaotic Good
18-19: Chaotic Neutral
20: Chaotic Evil

Simple alignment: if Chaotic, 30% chance of a demon item
AD&D alignment: if any Evil, 40% chance of a demon (or daemon or devil) item

Unintelligent but Aligned Items
Simple: Can be wielded or held by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if alignment matches exactly. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference.

AD&D: Can be wielded by anyone, but activated & special abilities only work if all non-neutral elements of the item's alignment match the wielder's (a Lawful Neutral item can be used by anyone Lawful). This doesn't work in reverse - a Lawful Good item can only be used by Lawful Good characters. Plain +x items are reduced by one 'plus' for every step of alignment difference on either axis.

Intelligent Items
Simple: Handling an item of opposite alignment deals damage equal to item EGO. Handling an item one 'step' away (item or wielder is Neutral) deals 1/2 damage.

AD&D: All non-neutral elements of the item's alignment must match (as above), or handling the item deals damage equal to item EGO.

Demon Items
Can be used by characters of any ethos, all the better to corrupt them to the forces of darkness.

EXAMPLE - I use Simple alignment in my game. I rolled a 5, indicating the sword is Lawful.

3: Special Abilities

Roll for abilities based on item's INT:

INT 12: 1 detection ability
INT 13-14: 2 detection abilities
INT 15-16: 3 detection abilities
INT 17: 3 detection abilities, 1 extraordinary power

Detection Ability (%)

01-08 - detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages 10'
09-16 - detect traps 10'
17-24 - detect undead 20'
25-30 - detect opposing alignments 10'
31-36 - detect similar alignments 10'
37-45 - detect precious metals, kind and amount 20'
46-54 - detect gems, kind and number 5'
55-66 - detect magic 10'
67-69 - detect illusions 10'
70-74 - detect secret doors 5'
75-80 - see invisible 10'
81-85 - locate object 120'
86-93 - roll twice, ignoring this result or higher (add 2 EGO)
94-00 - roll for extraordinary power (add 2 EGO)

Extraordinary Power (%)
01-06 - determine direction and depth, 1d2/day
07-14 - enlarge/reduce on wielder, 1d2/day
15-21 - spider climb for 1 turn, 1d3/day
22-28 - clairaudience for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
29-35 - clairvoyance for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
36-40 - ESP for 1 round, 30' range 1d3/day
41-46 - charm person on hit, 1d3/day
47-50 - knock, 1/day
51-56 - strength on wielder, 1/day
57-61 - invisibility to item's enemies for 1 turn, 1d2/day
62-66 - levitation for 1 turn, 1d3/day
67-70 - fly, 1 hour/day (add 1d3 EGO)
71-75 - illusion as the wand, 120' range 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
76-80 - x-ray vision for 1 turn, 40' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
81-86 - telekinesis for 1 round, 1d2/day (add 1d3 EGO)
87-90 - telepathy, 60' range 1d2/day (add 1d4 EGO)
91-94 - teleport, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
95-97 - heal, 1/day (add 1d4+1 EGO)
98-00 - Roll twice, ignore this result again (add 2 EGO)

EXAMPLE - INT 14 gives 2 rolls on the Detection Table.
I rolled 03 - "detect shifting walls/rooms/sloping passages," and 71 - "detect secret doors." Not bad!

4: Special Purpose of Intelligent Item (d%)

Every intelligent item should have a special purpose. 
All these goals are filtered by alignment. A lawful sword that must 'defeat or slay' will only select chaotic enemies of its chosen category, etc.

01-15: overthrow opposite alignment (or "maintain balance" if Neutral)
16-85: defeat or slay:
     16-22: divine magic users (incl. divine entities, etc)
     23-30: arcane magic users (incl. magic-using monsters)
     31-37: fighters
     38-44: thieves
     45-55: all non-human monsters
     56-63: particular creature type (humanoids, undead, demons, etc)
     64-71: particular race or kind of creature (elves, orcs, ghouls, etc)
     72-78: servants of a specific deity
     79-85: everyone!!
86-92: defend a particular race or kind of creature
93-00: defend interests of a specific deity

Intelligent items generally prefer to use their powers in pursuit of their special purpose, but will do so for general tasks as long as they are kept happy. Using the item in opposition to its special purpose (aiding those the item wishes to destroy, etc) provokes an immediate personality conflict.

EXAMPLE - Rolling for Special Purpose, I get a 75 - "defeat or slay servants of a specific deity." Since the sword is Lawful, I decide to randomly select from the Chaotic powers in my setting. I end up with INMA, EMPRESS OF THE WORLD, a petty god worshipped by degenerated elves.

5: Languages Spoken

It's assumed the item can understand its wielder in any case. This determines the number of languages the item can speak aloud, if it is able. Per the DMG:

# of languages (%)
01-40: One
41-70: Two
71-85: Three (+1 EGO)
86-95: Four (+1 EGO)
96-99: Five (+2 EGO)
00: Six (+2 EGO)

What Language? (%)
Here is a chart from my game as an example.
01-15 - Imperial (aka Common Viridian)
15-20 - Alryan
21-25 - Antillian
26-30 - Dunael
31-35 - Ghinoran
36-40 - Skandik
41-45 - Tharbrian
46-50 - Amazon
51-55 - Altanian
56-60 - Avalonian
61-65 - Orichalan
66-70 - Old High Viridian
71-72 - Wild Speech
73-74 - Skeletongue
75-76 - Duvan'Ku
77-87 - Grimscribe
88-91 - Demonic
92-93 - Wild Elf/Bog Elf
94-95 - Lizardfolk
96-99 - Chthonic Elf
00 - Something really old/rare (draconic or something else cool)

EXAMPLE - Here I rolled fairly low, a 15. The sword can speak one language. I rolled Wild Elvish and decided it was made by the elves to destroy the heretical cult of Inma!

6. EGO Modifiers & Personality Strength

1 - Begin with item's starting EGO score as per Step 1.

2 - Add 1 EGO for every magical 'plus' an item has. Double this bonus for weapons that came into the process with special abilities (a +1 sword adds +1 EGO, a +3 sword of sharpness adds +6 EGO, etc) 
If the item is some weird thing from an OSR blog with no pluses you must use your discretion. Eyeball a power level between 1 (+1 sword, simple misc. magic item) and 10 (+5 holy avenger, staff of the magi). If you're completely stuck roll 1d10, or 1d6+1d4, or whatever.

3 - Include bonuses from Step 3 and Step 5, if any.

4 - Add the item's INT + EGO together to find its Personality Strength (PS).

EXAMPLE - The sword started with EGO 4. Add 2 for the sword's +2 bonus.
Total EGO of 6.

"Xyrxidon" Sword +2, Lawful
INT 14, EGO 6, speaks wild elvish
Detect shifting rooms/walls/sloping passages in 10' , detect secret doors in 5'

Resolving Personality Conflicts

Personality conflicts arise when the intelligent item's desires are not being met by its wielder. These contests are resolved with Personality Strength scores. 

The wielder of an item has Personality Strength equal to their INT + CHA + level.  This diminishes as the character suffers damage. The experience level component of this formula is reduced in proportion to hit point damage suffered.
The DMG explains it quite Gygaxianly, it's actually less math than it seems. The DM needs to calculate this just once (and when the character gains a level). Find the character's hp breakpoint at which the item's PS is higher than his, and make a note of it. There is no need to keep track of floating modifiers, since they don't matter most of the time.

EXAMPLE - Tjarg the Fighter is 5th level with 9 INT, 9 CHA and 30 hp. He normally has a Personality Strength of 5+9+9 = 23. For every 1/5 of his total hp he loses (6 points in this case) he deducts 1 point from his PS - so at 24 hp his PS is reduced to 22, at 18 hp it is 21 and so on.

If Tjarg is using our +2 sword above with its INT 14 & EGO 6 (PS of 20), you can see clearly at 12 hp he is tied with the sword and once his hp reaches 6, the sword's personality is stronger than his! All Tjarg's DM needs to do is write down "Tjarg loses contest w/sword at 6 hp."

As long as the item has a lower Personality Strength than its wielder, it can make its desires known and refuse to use its abilities if frustrated, but has no power over the character.

When an intelligent item has a PS higher than its wielder it may dominate him at any time. It may force him to attack certain opponents or allies, refuse to strike foes, force him to surrender or to drop it, etc. The likelihood of this happening depends on the relationship between item and wielder. It may make other additional demands - encrustation with gems, a fancy scabbard or case to be stored in, other efforts toward favoured causes, things like that.

Optional Rule for Personality Conflicts:

One thing I don't like about the DMG rules: it is trivial to roll up an intelligent weapon that will never win a personality conflict! This doesn't seem that exciting to me. Maybe you want a bit more uncertainty in your game?

It requires a bit more note-taking. The DM must note the wielder's Personality Strength at multiple breakpoints. Perhaps full hp, slightly hurt, half hp and near death. Keep these notes nearby for reference. When a personality conflict arises, the DM rolls 1d8 for both the item and wielder, adding it to their PS scores before resolving the contest.

EXAMPLE - A magical boon has increased Tjarg's INT and CHA scores to 10. His Personality Score is now 25. His humble sword can only win a battle of wills when he has 0 hp left - not very useful! Instead, the DM notes his Personality Strength at 12 hit points (PS 22) and 6 (PS 21).

During a difficult fight Tjarg gets hurt badly, reducing his hp to 11 (therefore, PS to 22). His sword has new plans for him and attempts to take control. The DM rolls 1d8 for each of them. Tjarg gets a 3, totaling 25. The sword rolls an 8, totaling 28. Today isn't Tjarg's lucky day...

I have not tested this idea very much. It would have to be calibrated. You could make it more or less random by changing the size of the die. If you used a d4 or d6, upset results would be rare. A d20 would make the whole thing way too random. d8 or d10 seems like a nice middle ground - the die roll will count for about 1/4 to 1/3 of success or failure, with the remainder upheld by statistics. Just enough that one can't be certain all the time!

Optional Rule for Different Versions of the Game:

The DMG rules are calibrated for players with certain statistics. Probably using 4d6 drop-the-lowest method, or perhaps something more generous than that. From the anecdotal evidence I've seen, successful AD&D PCs tend to have 1, 2 or even 3 exceptional statistics (15 or over), with the rest hovering around average. Consider this when calibrating the PS of your intelligent items.

If you play B/X and use 3d6 in order, for example, maybe you would reduce all item PS scores by 10-20% to balance out the lower stats.


This system will generate intelligent items that are slightly different from the DMG version in some ways:

Section 1 - Ignore "no intelligence, but strongly aligned" and this is exactly as per the DMG, I just condensed the math for you.

Aligned items being commonplace adds a sense that they were created for a real purpose. Picking up a wand of fireballs that only works for Chaotics, an Evil sword of sharpness, or a suit of armour made by a Lawful cleric helps to embed these items in the game world.

Section 2 - I rearranged the order of the alignments so that law, neutrality and chaos were grouped together, but the chances of rolling a given alignment are still the same. Effects of opposing alignments are standard for AD&D 2-axis system, and extrapolated from there for simple alignment. [EDIT - I had to fix this. Before damage was impossible if the wielder was Neutral, lame]

Effects of aligned, but unintelligent weapons are my own. 
Demon weapons will occur about 6% of the time, and be explained in a later post.

Section 3 - The first table is BTB.

Extraordinary Powers are more likely (7% instead of 2% BTB), but the really powerful ones will occur less often so this seems fair. Some of the better Extraordinary Powers now add extra EGO to the item. This is fair, since rolling up an item that lets you teleport or fly every day seems like a really big deal!

I reworked the abilities so they fit my game better and have more variety. Sloping passages and trick walls are rare in my dungeons (unlike in the old days) so I combined them into one result, then I added some other cool abilities, etc.

Section 4 - Basically the same but I added more purposes to the table to give it some variety.

I removed "special purpose powers," so you'll never get a disintegrate-on-hit sword, but those were only going to happen 0.02% of the time anyway, so who cares?

Section 5 - BTB, I just included the EGO modifiers to make your life easier.

Section 6 - BTB, I just helped with the math.


This is already getting long, and even more tables are coming up so let's quit while we're ahead. Rules for Demon Weapons coming up in the next installment!