NPC Hook: Intelligent Weapons

In yesterday’s post, we plotted out the intelligent device, the first in our series looking at intelligent items in RPGs. That one was straightforward with lots of examples from fiction. Today, we’re going to look at something a bit trickier – the intelligent weapon.
Why are intelligent weapons more difficult than other intelligent items? Simply put: in most games, weapons get more use and are more tool-like than other items. The genie’s lamp doesn’t serve any purpose other than to house the genie (though it would be pretty entertaining to see a party light the lamp in a dark dungeon…). In addition, magical weapons are usually non-verbal, making personality and influence difficult to convey. And worst of all, an intelligent sword is often bad-ass even without the intelligence.
So how do we fix this to make intelligent weapons more developed as NPCs? I think there are three key things you can do to ensure personality in your intelligent weapons:
  • Provide Motivation – First and foremost, ensure that the weapon has a motivation. What is it’s end goal? What is it’s reason for existence? This doesn’t have to be a particularly deep reason, but it does need to be something tangible. One of the best examples is Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer which has the basic motivation of consuming souls. It’s not deep, but it provides clear guidance to the GM: “if there’s an opportunity to drink a soul, let’s push the player to do so.”
  • Provide History – Providing a history for the weapon can add depth to the weapon’s personality. An intelligent blade forged by a sea-faring pirate race will have a different flavor than one forged by a group of Amazonian warriors. This can be expressed in the weapon’s personality by creating a preference for certain environments – or even causing physical illness in other environments!
  • Create a Relationship – Like motivation, creating a relationship adds richness to the weapon’s personality. Quickly establish the weapon as either saving or endangering the PCs’ lives (or those of their loved ones). Boom – immediate, visceral connection formed. Or the weapon passes from parent to child upon the parent’s death allowing the GM to pass some of that parental relationship to the weapon.
There are handful of gimmicks that you can also try to add a bit more personality to your intelligent weapons:
  • Other Player Control – Borrow a page from games like Wraith or Better Angels and put another player in charge of the weapon’s personality. This takes some of the burden off the player whose PC owns the weapon (and helps to mitigate the potential conflict of interest while reducing work on the GM’s part!).
  • Personality Matrix – Build a simple personality matrix that indicates concepts like hunger, annoyance, etc. Roll at periodic times and use the result as a roleplaying prompt for the weapon. Rolling annoyance might result in the weapon creating fatigue or nausea for the PC until whatever the root cause of his annoyance is resolved.

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