Friday, 23 September 2022

BECMI Intelligent Swords

During a recent discussion on the NSR discord server the subject of intelligent magic items popped up, and I was immediately reminded of the rules for generating intelligent swords in the Frank Mentzer Expert Set.

Drawing of a  magical—possibly intelligent—sword by Larry Elmore

There are other, similar rules for intelligent swords in Moldvay. Seeing as this is the go-to old-school ruleset (and likely the basis for any similar rules in OSE or Basic Fantasy), I'm ignoring those. Likewise—as with my [positively ancient] post about dwarf clerics— this is a paraphrasing of existing mechanics. I'm not adding anything original here.

...and yes, it's swordtember, so I suppose the timing is germane.


A concise and updated interpretation of Moldvay's B/X sword rules are available via the OSE online SRD. Big thank you to Tim B. of the NSR Cauldron for bringing that to my attention:


To randomly determine a sword's intelligence, roll 1d20.

On a roll of 13 or less, the sword is not intelligent.

On a 14 or higher, roll again and consult the table below:

1d20IntelligenceCommunicates via...Magical abilitiesLanguages
1-67Telepathy, with holder only1 Primary
7-118Telepathy, with holder only2 Primary
12-159Telepathy, with holder only3 Primary
16-1810Speech3 Primary1-3
1911Speech3 Primary + read magic1-6
2012Speech3 Primary + 1 extraordinary + read magic2-8


The majority of intelligent swords speak telepathically to anyone holding them. They answer questions to the best of their knowledge and ability, and only if drawn.

The same applies to speaking swords, except they speak aloud in one of its known languages. These are determined by the DM, though speaking swords automatically speak their alignment language.

Speaking swords are not necessarily literate: only swords that can read magic can also read any of the languages it can speak.


Roll 1d20 to determine alignment:

01-13    Law
14-18    Neutrality
19-20    Chaos

Detect Alignment only works on a sword while it is being held: a sword of opposing alignment to the holder of the sword inflicts damage against them, at the following rate each round:

Alignment of HolderAlignment of SwordDamage each round

Primary Powers

Roll 1d100 to determine the sword's primary powers, re-rolling duplicates:

d%Primary Powers
01-10Detect evil (good)
11-15Detect gems
16-25Detect magic
26-35Detect metal
36-50Detect shifting walls and rooms
51-65Detect sloping passages
66-75Find secret doors
76-85Find traps
86-95See invisible
96-99Roll for 1 extraordinary power
00Roll twice more on this table

Unless otherwise noted, primary powers are useable as often as desired (once per round).
  • Detect evil/good: Either detect good OR evil (not both), as per the cleric spell. Range of 20'.
  • Detect gems: Can locate an enummerate all gems within 60' range via pointing and its preferred communication method.
  • Detect magic: As per the spell up to 3 times per day.
  • Detect metal: Can detect any type of metal within 60', by pointing. Cannot determine quantity or amount.
  • Detect shifting walls and rooms: The sword points towards any of these architectural features within 10'.
  • Detect slopes: As above, but for sloping passages.
  • Find secret doors: 3 times a day and with only a 10' range [note: that is pretty pathetic, suggest extending to 60')
  • Find traps: Traps of all varieties within 10' are detectable if the holder wills it, up to 3 times per day.
  • See invisible: Locates all invisible objects and creatures as the wielder wills it (no noted limits or restrictions)

Extraordinary Powers

Roll 1d100 to determine the sword's extraordinary powers. Duplicates are to be re-rolled, except in the case of extra damage and healing:

d%Extraordinary Powers
31-35Extra damage (duplicate allowed)
41-45Healing (duplicate allowed)
89-97X-ray vision
98-99Make 2 more rolls on this table*
00Make 3 more rolls on this table*
* Additional rolls of 98 or higher are to be ignored
Unless otherwise noted, extraordinary powers are useable thrice daily only.
    • Clairaudience: Wielder is able to hear through the ears of a creature within 60' (up to 1d6+6 turns)
    • Clairvoyance: Wielder is able to see through the eyes of a creature within 60' (up to 1d6+6 turns)
    • ESP: Wielder may listen to the thoughts of any one living creature within 60' (up to 1d6+6 turns)
    • Extra damage: When commanded, the sword does quadruple damage for 1d10 rounds. If this power is rolled again, the power of the effect increases to 5x damage (and 6x if rolled again etc.)
    • Flying: Wielder may fly up to 120'/round without tiring, for a maximum of 3 turns per use.
    • Healing: Regenerates up to 6 points of damage to the wielder per day, at the rate of 1 hit point per round. If this ability is rolled again the healing amount increases by 6 (then 12 etc.), though the rate remains the same.
    • Illusion: At will the wielder may cast phantasmal force
    • Levitation: The wielder may levitate up or down at a  maximum rate of 60'/turn (up to 1d6+6 turns)
    • Telekinesis: The user may move up to 200 lbs of weight by mere concentration. (no range or duration given, nor how fast it can be moved: suggest walking pace, within 60', and for as long as the wielder is able to concentrate)
    • Telepathy: As ESP, with the added bonus of communication being 2-way.
    • Teleportation: The wielder of the sword may cast "teleport" once per day only.
    • X-ray vision: Wielder may see a distance of up to 30' through solid materials, with the exception of lead or gold. By concentrating for a full turn they may inspect a 10' x 10' area, revealing the presence of any traps or secret doors.

    Ego & Willpower

    Intelligent swords possess personalities of their own, and the strength of that personality is measured by their ego score. This is generated by rolling 1d12: a score of 1 indicates weak character, a score of 12 the most forceful of personalities.

    The sword will attempt to assert its will over that of its wielder. the sword's willpower is determined as follows:
    • Add the sword's intelligence to its ego
    • Add one to this total for each extraordinary power
    A PC's willpower is determined by combining their intelligence and wisdom together (for a maximum score of 36). However:
    • Reduce by one for each HP damage received (maximum 8)
    • Subtract 1d10 points if the wielder is of a different alignment to the sword.
    Swords will attempt to gain (temporary) control of the wielder on the following occasions:
    • The first time they are handled
    • Whenever the wielder is wounded
    • If  the wielder acquires another magical weapon
    • If the wielder attempts to give the sword to someone else
    • If an incident related to its special purpose arises (see below)
    The DM compares the current willpower levels to determine whether the PC loses control to the sword or not. When under the control of the DM, the character is consider to be an NPC. The sword relinquishes control once the conditions of the control check are met, or until the sword is satisfied. Here are some typical actions of an NPC under a sword's control:
    • New magic weapons are discarded or ignored.
    • The wielder charges into combat to win glory for themselves and the sword
    • Money is spent on embellishing the sword or its scabbard with gold and jewels etc.
    • The character is forced to surrender the weapon to a more worthy wielder
    • The sword forces the character to fulfil its special purposed

    Special Purposes

    Special Swords are each made to fulfil a definite purpose. As in classic tales of fantasy, these weapons are  carefully placed in circumstances where their destined wielder will find them. Some prosaic examples of special purposes were provided by Mr Menzer:
    1. Slay a character type (such as clerics)
    2. Slay a monster type (such as gargoyles)
    3. Slay a specific being
    4. Slay a race type (such as demi-humans)
    5. Defeat a specific Alignment

    Special swords have a score of 12 in intelligence and 12 in ego (they rarely occur randomly). 

    Special Swords gain the following alignment-determined abilities when used in service of their special purpose:

    • Law: Chaotic opponents struck must Save vs. Spells or be paralysed.
    • Neutrality: wielder gains +1 to all Saving Throws while fighting for the special purpose..
    • Chaos: Lawful opponents struck must Save vs. Petrification or be turned to stone.
    * * *


    NSR Cauldron Discord Server:

    Really, really old post about dwarf clerics for BECMI:

    OSE sentient swords at their online SRD:

    Another approach to intelligent swords will be linked here when I've finished writing it for Iconoclastic Flow:

    My mailing list, please subscribe:

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