Homebrew Highlight: Ancestral Weapons
Read the original article here.
“These look like good blades. They were not made by any troll, nor by any smith among men in these parts and days; but when we can read the runes on them, we shall know more about them.”
-Gandalf, The Hobbit.
I love naming my weapons in fantasy games. A name gives a weapon personality, much like the weapons in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. When I play Dungeons & Dragons or fantasy games like it, I want my weapon to be just as unique as my character, but eventually a cool new magic weapon is up for grabs, and I have to choose between continuing the adventure with the weapon that is important to my character, or the magic weapon that will help my character in the long run. However, with the “Ancestral Weapons” rules, players no longer have to make that tough decision.
“Ancestral Weapons” is a homebrew rules supplement for D&D 5e, by Matt Vaughan from Dungeon Rollers, which allows a player to have a weapon important to their backstory become more powerful as their character progresses through the adventure. This allows the ancestral weapon to become as unique as well-known fantasy weapons like Glamdring or Orcrist from The Hobbit. It also gives the players another way to have their characters feel special in your campaign world.
Using Ancestral Weapons in Your Game
“Ancestral Weapons” talks extensively about how an ancestral weapon is meant to be used for a character whose starting weapon was passed down to them through their family or a mentor, but this can be very limiting. However, the inherited weapon restriction can be expanded for use in classes that are based around a personal weapon. In some of my campaigns, I’ve found the “Ancestral Weapons” rules work well for Pact of the Blade Warlocks, Paladins, and some Fighters. But an ancestral weapon can be used for any class; a quarterstaff carved from the tree at the heart of their forest is just as special of a weapon to a Druid as a holy sword blessed by their god is to a Paladin. And if nothing else, the weapon upgrades provided in the supplement can be used to create balanced, homebrew magic items for the party to find, or the upgrades can be applied to a weapon by a talented blacksmith for a price.
The Spirit Point System
Spirit points are a special property of ancestral weapons that allow characters to “purchase” upgrades for their weapon. The supplement has several rules for spirit points — how many a weapon should have at any given time, how to overwrite upgrades and so on. One of my favorite parts about spirit points is once the weapon receives its 20th spirit point, it automatically receives 5 more, signifying the weapon has reached its greatest potential. In my mind, this is when the weapon achieves some form of sentience, but that is up for the player and DM to decide.
One of my favorite things about the Spirit Point System is that acquiring them is based on story moments, not level. This encourages players to role play character moments and be willing to commit to incredibly heroic (or incredibly evil, depending on alignment) deeds. Some of my favorite character moments in my campaigns led me to awarding spirit points to that character.
The Upgrades section is my favorite part of this supplement. The upgrades are broken up into tiers of play, with more powerful upgrades being available at later levels. This allows the ancestral weapon to remain somewhat balanced throughout the campaign. While some of the upgrades seem a little overpowered, a lot of them are fun and give the weapon interesting flavor. Some of my favorite upgrades are the “wards” which give the character advantage on saving throws against certain conditions (I’m notoriously bad at failing saves against the Charmed condition, regardless of what character I play) and the Doomerang upgrade. Doomerang allows you to throw your weapon and have it return to you at the end of your turn, damaging your opponents on its trajectory, in case you feel like being Thor or Captain America.
This section of the supplement gives your ancestral weapons a bit of personality and character. While they only have minor effects in terms of gameplay, many of these traits and personalities are fun and provide good theming for the weapon. Some of my favorite are Soldier’s Saviour, which always points the character in the direction of the closest source of alcohol, and Read Script, which allows the character to read a language significant to the history of the weapon (I tend to keep this language secret from the player until it becomes relevant). Chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide also has good information on special traits a magic item can possess that give it more character.
“Ancestral Weapons” is a great homebrew supplement for creating magic weapons in D&D. The Spirit Point System, upgrades, and ancestral traits make it easy to create an interesting magical weapon that is fun and relatively balanced for any given tier of play. However, if you’re a DM looking to use these rules for your campaign, I recommend expanding the weapons beyond the parameters of being a family heirloom because it will allow for more use in your game. If for nothing else, the supplement provides a great system for creating fun magic items for your campaign. “Ancestral Weapons” is currently available on the Dungeon Master Guild for $4.95, so please check it out! Now it’s your turn. Do you have a favorite supplement for creating magic items? What is your favorite magic weapon currently available in D&D 5e? Let me know in the comments below! Cheers!
Want more tabletop content? Check out the original article and my blog here.