Eclipse D20, Townsaver, and Urbs Vigilis

Long roads the Sword of Fury makes
Hard walls it builds around the soft
The fighter who Townsaver takes
Can bid farewell to home and croft

                                              -Saberhagen, the “Song Of Swords”.

Back in the early 1980’s Fred Saberhagen published the Books Of Swords They’re about a set of twelve powerful magical blades, unleashed into a rather low-magic and low-tech future-fantasy world by the (not terribly powerful) gods for a game. As such… they had quite specific individual powers and weaknesses, tended to move from wielder to wielder, and were very easily confused – for the most part being distinguished only by a symbol on the hilt. I’ve heard that part of that was because the original (fairly good) stories were also intended to provide the background for a computer game (that apparently never came to pass, alas), but I’ve never bothered trying to confirm that. This particular query was about how to build a sword like Townsaver – a sword that imbued it’s user with superhuman speed, strength, and endurance as long as he or she was defending “unarmed folk in a held place” – but which compelled it’s user to continue the fight as long as those folk were threatened and would not allow him or her to fall to anything short of an (undefined) “killing blow”, no matter how wounded. He or she might drop dead as soon as the fight was over though – especially since many of the swords seem to be quite draining to use.

Now in the books, the Swords were pretty much absolute unless turned against each other. Not even the gods were beyond their power (which did not make the gods happy when they found that out) although the “Emperor” could resist at least some of them (according to Saberhagen’s notes for other writers contributing stories set in his newly-opened universe, the Emperor was a manifestation of the universes Creator – the True God – and so was above all rules). Even worse, they had a tendency to control the user. If you were confronted with a situation, and decided to hit the “use sword” button… the sword would do what it did, and it didn’t matter if some of the targets were friends or allies, or if you tried to stop, or throw the thing away. D20, however, puts a great deal more stress on player agency and has a LOT more magic to boot. That makes a major difference.

Look at “Farslayer“. You picked it up, decided who you really hated, and threw it – and it stabbed whoever it was in the heart (or their focus item for Demons), no matter where they were or (presumably) what defenses they had (how this would stack up against d20 defenses is unknown). It hit with considerable force, and was a blade of very fine quality – but it didn’t seem to have much in the way of other enhancements. It didn’t do extra damage or give bonuses to your attacks beyond being really tough and sharp. Of course, in the books no one had a lot of defenses and the pesky thing was now stuck in your enemies corpse – wherever that was – all ready for someone in their entourage to pick up and use. Worse. you could be pretty vague about your target. “Whoever just used this thing to kill so-and-so” would work just fine.

But THIS IS SPARTA D20!

Well, lets see… The swords are supposed to be about a meter long, double-edged, and can be used with one hand. In d20 terms that’s a longsword, call it +2 for sheer quality, and say it hits with Strength 26 – far more than any normal human. But it automatically stabs the target in the heart. What does that do?

Well, it’s perfectly possible for someone to be stabbed in the heart with a knife, or sword, in the real world. It’s even survivable sometimes with modern medical care. In d20 all this means is that you rolled a critical hit and maximum damage (unless you presume that some parts of the body are somehow just “off limits” without a special power, which is kind of absurd). Farslayer is (at least in d20 terms) a Longsword. Most people throwing it seemed to use both hands, so I’ll presume it was used two-handed. That will make it… 16 (2d8 maximum) +24 (+12 effective Str Mod x2) +4 (+2 Enhancement Bonus x 2) = 44 damage.

That’s not bad – but it won’t make most experienced characters stumble, much less kill them. It certainly won’t stop anything with regeneration, or – for that matter – lacking a heart. It doesn’t even block Raise Dead. If I was making a d20 version I’d probably throw in some extra damage – at least enough to force a save versus massive damage – but this just isn’t that impressive an effect in d20 terms. Sure, it killed Hermes in the original books, but the rest of the books “gods” (other than the true God) died because some people started to doubt their divinity and they got less attention then they used to. Those were some pretty fragile “gods”.

So if you want a functional d20 sword that’s like Townsaver… let us create the relic Urbs Vigilis, the Sword of Guardians.

  • Blessing, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost (2 CP), Multiple Blessing (Specialized for Increased Effect, affects up to (Charisma) targets, Corrupted for Reduced Cost (4 CP) / Only works on unarmed folk whom the user is defending, only grants the Blessing ability, only to allow the recipients to transfer their actions to the wielder.

Here we have the swords greatest power. If you’re defending ten cowering children against the oncoming monsters… you will be getting up to eleven full actions every round to do it with.

  • Grant Of Aid with +8 Bonus Uses, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to restore hit points, only while defending others (6 CP).

The blade can’t keep you standing forever – at least not in the face of the kind of attacks that d20 throws around – but it can keep you up for quite some time in a normal fight.

  • Inherent Spell with +8 Bonus Uses: Aspect Of The Beast (Boar) (The Practical Enchanter) coupled with Disguise Self (your appearance does not change despite the Aspect Of The Beast spell), Specialized and Corrupted / only works when you are defending unarmed folk who are contributing actions to you, automatically takes up the first bonus action when so activated. For ten minutes/user level the user gains +4 Natural Armor, the “Sword” is considered a Natural Weapon (1d8, 20/x2, cannot be disarmed or sundered, requires no proficiency), +10′ move, Str +4 and Con +6 (6 CP).

When defending unarmed folk the blade grants toughness, skill, speed, strength, and endurance. Unfortunately, this replaces your normal physical racial modifiers, so its most effective on races that don’t have any. You also cannot be disarmed – and cannot put the sword down, even if you should wish to surrender. This is not always an advantage.

  • Returning, Specialized and Corrupted / only works for the sword itself (which keeps turning up again), not the user (2 CP).

Urbs Vigilis has been won, lost, and wielded in a thousand battles over the centuries. No matter how thoroughly lost – or “destroyed” – it seems to be, it soon turns up again somewhere where the helpless and unarmed are threatened.

  • Imbuement with the Improved, Superior, and Focused modifiers, Specialized and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / the would-be user must learn of Urbs Vigilis’s name and history, must at least attempt to fulfill its purpose by defending the helpless and unarmed, and must perform at least one mighty deed in the defense of others to be able to use this power. So long as those conditions are fulfilled, however, the blade gains a bonus of +(Users Level / 2, rounded up). The user may select special weapon powers in place of some of those “pluses” if he or she desires, but such selections are fixed for each user.

Urbs Vigilis – like all relics – depends to some extent on its wielder, but is an extremely formidable weapon in the hands of a high-level user – and that power will be available as long as the user does protect unarmed folk when they turn up. Carrying it is usually well worth it.

  • The sword does carry a disadvantage however: it (fairly obviously) comes with an (-3 CP) Compulsion or Obligation to defend otherwise helpless folk.

That gives Urbs Vigilis a net cost of 25 CP – or 4 CP as a Relic. As usual for a 4 CP relic, it’s a fairly major device, capable – in its specialty – of having a pretty major impact (as well as shredding the action economy).

I suppose the sword could be exploited – take along a dozen small-animal companions and let them all donate their actions to you – but that’s why Blessing is a game-master-permission-only power. In this case… all you need to do is rule that they don’t qualify as “unarmed folk whom the user is defending” (if only because you’re intentionally taking them into danger). Overall… this is pretty definitely a “light-side” item, created to promote the spread of civilization and the protection of noncombatants. Any paladin should be proud to bear it.

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