Impractical Applications (Anathema)

This week, I talked about intelligent magic items and how to implement them. This is a topic near to my heart, as I’ve spent the last few months dealing with a double-edged sword of my own design. Allow me to introduce you to Anathema, my primary example.

They're at it again....

This little charmer was the result of several weeks’ conversation with one of my muses, originally as an attempt to bring the then-quietest member of my group farther into the action. (By the time he demonstrated he didn’t need the help, I’d already committed.) As magic swords of its type go, Anathema is exceedingly ordinary-looking, with practically no ornamentation; the only thing remarkable about it is its color, a uniformly marbled black and gold. This understatement masks the fact that Anathema is a literally world-breaking artifact, capable of unmaking almost anything with which it comes into contact, and dangerous enough that its sheath has to be a powerful magic item in its own right.

Anathema knows this. Technically, its intelligence is not the sword itself, but the paired gods of the sword, also referred to as Anathema. The fact that there are two comes from how the sword was created—it is an alloy of two diametrically opposed materials, kept together only by the powers of the two gods crafting it, and this inherent self-opposition is what gives it its powers and its gods their personalities. Using it is of itself a danger; side effects include being a target for demon attacks, the risk of unmaking parts of the world, and the ire of Fate itself (though its wielder isn’t quite sure what that means yet).

There is but one thing Anathema can agree with itself on: the wish to fight the Powerful Things of the world, the ones that cannot be killed by normal means. Lesser creatures, even those with great skill, are an insult to its abilities; undead creatures born from what it destroys are either a personal affront or a chance for a rematch. (Anathema can’t agree on which, just that both come to the natural conclusion “Kill it!”) Almost everything else is subject to debate for debate’s own sake; Anathema has been known to get into prolonged arguments from both sides of an issue, its component selves even going so far as to switch sides every so often during the argument.

There are two other things Anathema can usually agree on: that it is the greatest weapon the world has ever known, and that inactivity is boring. It mercilessly teases other, less self-aware weapons, and is known for its collection of obnoxious timekiller songs, including “The Thing That Doesn’t Die” and “9,999 Unkillable Things in Your Way”. Anathema was made for the hand of the most stable of a caste of warriors; it’s not hard to tell why. Will its wielder go mad with power? Or just lose his mind to the incessant singing?

In my game group, Anathema elicits mixed reactions. One member wants to destroy it (or maybe harness its power). Another mistrusts it. Still another envies its wielder due to his apparent plot-importance (a thing I have been trying to discourage, as I had planned ways for the group to destroy the Powerful Things they’re up against before conceptualizing Anathema; the sword just makes it easier). Its wielder would rather deal with it as a character than as a weapon, and prefers not to use it if given a choice.

But it’s there, inspiring plots and annoying both PCs and the god of its sheath. Artifacts may come and go in this storyline, be invented and then forgotten, or just never acquire names—but I don’t think anyone will forget Anathema.


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