Polishing a Plus One Sword

Finding the magic in the least magical of treasures

Dan Phipps

3/6/20243 min read

Special thanks and bibliography: Conversations with Brian Yaksha of Goatman's Goblet and Josh Hittie of Ostrichmonkey Games, Playful Void “Boring Swords and Interesting Swords”, Mindstorm “Adding Congruency to Anti-Canon Worldbuilding

There is no shortage of interesting, powerful, stand out magic swords, shields, rings, and helmets littering the various abandoned places in a given adventuresome setting. But what do we do with the plus one sword? Generic, boring, waiting to be replaced when a plus two sword comes along. Is it even magic, or just slightly better made?

But: there is magic in even the humble plus one sword. Not as a cutting implement, but as a vessel into which you can safely pour your excess lore, your half-baked worldbuilding, your foreshadowing and forgotten histories. No need to slow down your game with dry and dusty exposition when you can say it with a sword!

The Sword of Vibes +1

The main thing to know about the Ecclesiast of Dormund is that they’re bad news. You could spend an afternoon writing out their rumored history, their role in shaping the world, and the threat of their eventual return. A charming bit of worldbuilding that may or may not come up in play, depending on how things go.

But when it comes to conveying what this Dormund fellow was all about, all you need is a Sword of Vibes. In this case, the Dormund Knight’s Sword, forged of blackened steel and perpetually wet with blood from its fuller. You can find it in a treasure chest, safely packed with skulls like some kind of gruesome styrofoam peanuts. Incidentally it does plus one damage on a hit.

The Sword of Truth +1

Disclaimer: OK so we’re gonna cheat on this one, this also does fire damage - which is only slightly more interesting than a typical plus one sword.

Anyways I’m gonna tell you a secret: ghouls are weak to fire damage.

It’s not a very interesting secret, but most folks who encounter ghouls don’t stick around to experiment on them. Also most necromancers are not only willing to kill people who know that fact, but will raise the corpse when they’re done.

Bad news for a Ghoulkiller Knight, but a fantastic opportunity for the adventurers who put a stop to their shambling corpse and retrieve their flaming sword for the trouble. It also deals +1 damage.

The Sword of Problems +1

Except, of course, walking around with a flaming Ghoulkiller Knight Sword is what got the necromancers involved in the first place. At least there will be ample opportunity for this blade to do what it does best! Which is, of course, to deal +1 fire damage.

The Sword of Mystery +1

My personal favorite, the sword that has nothing to do with a world you’ll ever see. Forged in a bygone era by a smith from a distant land. A puzzle that has forgotten its answer, a reminder that ancient people had problems that rhyme with your own. Someday, it whispers, everything you know will be dust and the only thing that will remain is metal and stone, buried in layers of history with a fraction of a story to tell.

The Dragoons of Qandour wielded swords such as this. This one has 6 notches etched in the guard - their significance died with its wielder. It deals +1 damage.

The Sword of Fashion +1

Sometimes a sword is cool because it bears the weight of history. Another reason a sword can be cool is because someone out there is making cool swords.

Etched with raindrop damascus steel of yellow and purple meteorite, its handle proudly displaying the maker's mark of Aubergine BladeHaus. It premiered on the runway at Xanthan Fashion Week. You don’t wear this sword, it wears you. It’s numbered 43/250. It also does +1 damage.

Fit & Finish

I stopped myself from doing too much to make these swords mechanically interesting, but just by naming these swords and using them to say things about the world they are in, it becomes much easier to find inspiration to give them something more to do than +1 damage.

Sometimes a fun idea for magical treasures pops into your head fully formed, but I haven’t been burdened with too many of those flashes of inspiration. For me, it needs to be interesting in other ways before I can figure out what it ought to do, and by that point it’s frankly okay if the poor thing just performs slightly better.