Aligned Swords and Cold Wars

I started reading Smart Things, or How Many Magic Swords Are There? by Rick Stump over at Don't Split the Party, which analyzes how common magic swords are in AD&D. Rick uncovers some surprises based on the random treasure tables, like...
"Holy Moley, over 1.2% of all magic items are talking swords! That means, if you use the random treasure charts, talking swords are almost exactly as common as Potions of Healing."
Sure, it's a relic.
But why bother with just this...
It's a great read if you're interested in 1e AD&D magic item distribution and answering why everybody and their duck has a magic sword.

I read something in the alignment section, and my mind took an offramp. Based on the treasure tables, 75% of magic swords with alignments are either Lawful Good (25%), Neutral Good (20%), True Neutral (20%), or Chaotic Neutral (10%). If you just look at the Good alignments, 50% of aligned magic swords are good. And the obvious conclusion follows:
"Advantage - the good guys. Implication - most aligned swords are made by/for good guys."
And I asked myself, "Why?"

Why do an overwhelming majority of intelligent magic swords play for the good guys' team?
  • Are good guys simply that much better at magical enchantment?
  • Have the good guys been systematically destroying evil artifacts faster than the bad guys make them?
  • Do the bad guys always try to build all-powerful doomsday weapons instead of mundane magic swords?
Or, and here's where the Cold War angle comes in...
  • Do the bad guys not need the best technology because their endless horde of volunteers can eventually overwhelm any force?
  • Do they know that evil lurks in everyone's heart, so they only need to tap into that to convert people to their cause?
  • Would a misinformation campaign have a higher return on investment toward ruling the world than the effort required to forge an intelligent sword?
Disclaimer: Granted, we're talking about alignment in the AD&D absolutist sense, which I don't use much, although Detect Evil (aka Paladin Radar) has caused some entertaining scenes in the past. And we're talking about AD&D random treasure tables, which spawned from very few creative minds without much analysis. And let's not even mention that a magic sword usually proves most effective in the hands of a Hero, a solo specialist on a specific and lonely path to do good outside of society - a description which screams Chaotic Good to me, but they only make up 5% of aligned magic swords.
...when you could get volunteers
enough for several armies?


What if the bad guys have conceded the arms race voluntarily in favor of capturing the hearts and minds of the commoners? What if proselytizing rhetoricians could sway people into logically supporting the bad guys without all that fancy and expensive technological investment in magical artifacts? What flavor would that impart to your game world?

How would your heroes need to adapt to fight an ideological conflict rather than relying on tactical superiority, technological equipment advantages, and optimized damage output? Would the subtlety of this campaign work?

Would you have fun playing in a world like this?

Thanks for reading!


  1. Swords are made by civilized men to fight the forces of chaos trying to encroach. Dragons, Liches, Beholders, and Mind Flayers don't use swords but swords are made to fight them.

    1. That's a fair stance to take, though I think Mind Flayers and Liches could use a sword if it fit their purposes, especially one with relic-level powers. Then again, anything goes when prefaced with "In my campaign..."

      What about Hobgoblins? They're disciplined warriors and default to Lawful Evil. They recognize the rule of law, and one can argue they're civilized based on that alone. With enough training, they can forge a blade and cast a spell as well as Humans. Shouldn't they be armed with the best technology they can manage? Surely they have the intelligence and the will to industrialize into a war machine nation and make the latest technology widely available if it helps them achieve their goals.

      And =boom=. There's a nation in the fantasy cold war game.

      Now, are they xenophobic and goblinoid only, or are there other racial factions vying for power within the empire? Hmm...

  2. If we're looking for reasons to keep the status quo, I would say that villains powerful enough to make magic swords aren't going to trust their minions with that sort of power lest they turn the tables. Realistically though, Intelligent swords seems like the perfect way to keep your lieutenants in line.

    1. Provided you trust the sword's intelligence to keep your lieutenants in line, that's a great idea. And I'm totally stealing it for a game sometime in the future. **grin**

      And that opens up where the intelligence comes from. Are you binding a soul to the sword? Summoning an extradimentional being? Or are you creating an entity out of the concentration of magic used to make the sword?

      If you're binding an entity or soul into the sword, is intelligent sword manufacture an evil act since you're severely restricting an intelligent entity's freedom? If that's the case, maybe some of these good-aligned swords were made by bad guys to remove heroes from the game board.