Friday, December 12, 2014

Magic Item Advice 1/3: longsword of fireballs

Bobgar the dwarf often wishes he could cast fireball when he's facing a lot of weak opponents. But he's a fighter, and not exactly the brightest or the most charismatic fighter either, so investing skill points in Use Magic Device would be a very long and frustrating road toward fireballing kobolds. Why can't he just have a sword that lets him use fireball three times a day? That's how often Bobgar fights evil monsters on an average day, so it should be enough.

Bobgar consults his wizard friend Lolrond (an elf, of course) about magic items, and the wizard, who knows the rules of magic item creation like the back of his hand, tells Bobgar that creating a longsword of fireballs is possible, provided that the GM permits it.

Let's have a look at the resulting item! (I'm not going to explain why a dwarf would want to use a longsword, though.)

I'll walk you through the basics. As per Bobgar's specifications, the item will be a longsword that casts fireball three times a day. That's quite easy to do just by following the advice in the Core Rulebook. Below are some important things to remember:
  • The Price includes not only the spell used but also the base item, in this case a masterwork (+300 gp) longsword (+15 gp). What is very important to remember is that the Cost entry also includes the full costnot halfof the mwk longsword! The sword has also been enchanted as a +1 longsword (+2,000 gp).
  • The activation method I'm going to use is command word. The spell used, fireball, is a 3rd-level spell and the default CL is 5th (the lowest possible level to cast fireball). The longsword only has a +1 bonus, so I can use the CL for the spell.
  • The price of a command word spell effect is spell level × caster level × 1,800 gp. However, a spell effect that can be used three times a day costs 3/5 of that. So, the price of the fireball component of this item is 16,200 gp.
  • A mundane longsword weighs 4 lbs. and I see no reason to make this item any lighter or heavier.
And here's the result:
Longsword of Fireballs
faint evocation; CL 5th
Slot none; Price 18,515 gp; Weight 4 lbs.

Three times per day on command, this ornate, ruby-studded +1 longsword can shoot out a fireball, as the spell.
Craft Magic Arms and Armor, fireball; Cost 9,415 gp
Is this item Superstar? No, far from it. This is what I'd call a 2-star (out of 5) item. You get one star for submitting (can't win if you don't submit!) and a second star for getting the math and presentation right. Unfortunately, it's only the 4- and 5-star items that have a realistic chance of making the Top 32.

It's very important to remember that the magic items in the CRB were not created for RPG Superstar. Very, very few of them would rank as 4- or 5-star items by my standards. The CRB is mostly useful for checking how the items are formatted (e.g. you italicize the name of the item if you repeat it in the Description).

The item is so short that it doesn't have many flaws, but it has two flaws that are quite serious (and a number of smaller problems).

The first major flaw is that the item is a SiaC (spell in a can). The item is a SiaC because it just casts a spell instead of doing something unique and creative. Even if the fireball was green and cubical, the item would still be a SiaC.

What may be less obvious is that it's also—in my personal opiniona SAK (Swiss army knife). Those who are familiar with the term may disagree with the classification because the Sean K Reynolds's original definition of SAK didn't mention weapons. So, this new definition of what the term SAK encompasses is mine and may not be accurate, but please bear with me.

Why I'm calling it a SAK is that the base item (longsword) has an effect of its own, that of being a sword, a melee weapon. If you slap a fireball on a sword, you get two effects (being a sword and casting fireballs) that don't have very much in common, mechanically or thematically. To escape "the SAK trap" as I call it, the item's effects need to have a thematic or mechanical connection, preferably both.

Of the above, thematic connections are easier to do and probably require less work and creativity. You just need to figure out if there is, for example, a deity that likes both swords and flames. Shouldn't be difficult to find one. Then you tie the different effects of the item to the different aspects of that deity, for example. I'll discuss that in more depth in part 3 of this series of articles.

Mechanical connections and synergies are more difficult. Below are a few examples of such mechanical connections/synergies, where A is one effect and B is another.
  • A creates a circumstance (create a puddle of magical liquid?) which B takes advantage of (electrocutes everyone standing in the puddle?). My RPGSS 2014 item could be considered a multi-effect item that avoided being a SAK because I used this technique.
  • B is an extension of A. A is what the item usually does, but if you do X, then B kicks in and is a sort of a super version of A. I'll use something like this to make the item more interesting in part 2 of this series.
Check out parts 2 and 3 of this series to see how the longsword of fireballs evolves into a blade of slashing nova, and finally, into aurora's edge.

Discuss & debate

Is the longsword of fireballs really a SAK? Or is a new term needed now that weapons and armor (whose base item has a function of its own, unlike wondrous items) are legit round 1 entries?

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