…and some other magical items.
The second part of the setting’s title, which actually has nothing to do with this kind of weird looking movie by a similar name, is the blades part. Every society that created swords created stories about supernatural swords, and they are part and parcel of the fantasy genre. Excalibur, Narsil/Anduril, Thorn, Longclaw, the Sword of Gryffindor, the Sword of Truth; but more appropriate to this setting are the Green Destiny, Honjo Masamune, Kusanagi, the Grass-cutting Sword, Gan Jiang and Mo Ye, and other legendary weapons from East Asian myth.
My touch-point for magical blades, though, is the Green Destiny as it appears in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
An ancient, battered artifact that is nonetheless legendary and, in the hands of a skilled wielder, pretty much invincible. I love that the Green Destiny is more than just a MacGuffin, but it has it’s own history and legends that have accrued around it. I also liked how it drove the story – when taken and used by someone who lacked wisdom, it could do tremendous harm.
Obviously, my Dragonblade setting has a lot of fives – five elements, five main types of dragons, and yes, five legendary blades, each of them roughly corresponding to one of the elements. There are more than five magical blades in the whole world, of course, but there are five that will drive the story as it is now. How things turn out, for the player-characters and for the world around them, is bound up in the stories of these five blades.
In game terms, each of these is a maxed-out +3 weapon, and the blades change shape depending on who is wielding them. The wielder can choose any bladed weapon from those in which they are proficient, and the Dragonblade will appear for them in that form. So if, for some reason, a wizard was wielding one of the Dragonblades, it would be a +3 dagger in her hands, but if a barbarian wanted to wield one of them, it could be a glaive for her.
I decided to roll randomly in the DMG for the blades major and minor traits, a flaw and quirk for each, and also something of their history. I’ll avoid spoiler territory for the most part, even given the fact that I doubt my players will read any of this (here, the spoilers would be how to find the blades, rather than what they do). Anyway, here is what I have for two of the Dragonblades in addition to being a +3 weapon:
The White Dragonblade is currently in the form of a mythological spear. It was originally forged by human civilization that is now lost. It is marked with archaic, barely-legible runes, and is highly ornamented. It is utterly unbreakable, even by other magical weapons or powerful spells. When it is attuned to you, your AC increases and you regenerate. When used, there is a loud sound like a huge gong being rung.
The Black Dragonblade is currently in the form of a huge flanged mace. It was made by tinkerers, and incorporates a lot of odd gears and functions, and it was wielded by a famous hero in the past named Vajra. When attuned it renders you immune to disease, and on a hit it deals an extra 1d6 damage. Also when you strike with it, you hear snatches of ancient song.
Other Magical Items
I plumbed the interwebs and found some interesting magical items that I look forward to adapting. I also went through the magic items list in the DMG and reskinned where I felt I needed to do so. Again, though, because I am drawing on mythology and legends that my players (and probably most American players) don’t already know about, I can steal more freely from the real world. If I say the Philosopher’s Stone, everyone knows that from Harry Potter. If I talk about the Cintamani Stone, though, fewer people will know what to expect.
There also some really interesting, even zany magical items, like the Monkey King’s Compliant Rod (Ruyi Jingu Bang).
Think about how you’d adapt this to 5th Edition D&D: according to legend, Ruyi Jingu Bang is able to change in size and mass, from 20 feet tall to the size of a toothpick, and it can weigh up to 17,550 pounds. I’m still not sure exactly how to represent this in-game, but it’ll probably just be the kind of magic item that is awesome if you can find clever uses for it (crossing chasms, carrying around behind your ear, as a huge lever, to pin someone to the ground beneath its weight, etc.) In addition, it is a +1 adamant staff, since legends say it is impossible to break. I also rolled randomly, and got that it tarnishes when in direct sunlight, and that it is decorated with a faint spider motif (monkeys would be too obvious). It is associated (in my setting at least) with an evil deed, and also with a named villain, but has since been put to heroic use. I’m thinking maybe someone cut down the World Tree and made the staff out of it, and then it was stolen…by a vanara who would later become king?
Alchemy is a huge deal in every culture touched by Daoism – medieval Daoism was deeply concerned with coming up with an elixir of immortality, and like in the West people drank all sorts of awful things, experienced heavy metal poisoning, and so on. But given the flexible nature of the metaphysics for this setting, I decided to simplify potions significantly. Healing potions are “restore balance potions“, as they balance the humors and qi-flows in one’s body. Yang qi potions are a combination of the DMG’s potions of climbing, potions of energy, and potions of jumping. Basically, you drink the potion and it responds to the situation – if you start climbing, it boosts that; if you have fatigue levels, it restores them; if you jump, it’ll boost your jumping, as in the DMG. Yin qi potions, on the other hand, combine darkvision, stealth, and swimming (as yin is associated with darkness and water). They are responsive to your situation in the same way.
Not wanting the setting to be entirely Confucian/Daoist, I decided to adapt an idea from Hinduism. Astras are weapons of the gods, given to heroes or avatars of those gods to wield in battle. One example from mythology would be Agni’s weapon, the Agneyastra fire-arrow. This arrow (or probably an endless quiver in game-terms) rains fire and death down on Agni’s foes. I thought it would be cool if each of the gods has an astra, sort of like an advanced form of a favored weapon – except that there is only one in the world.
Of course, at the moment, there are no gods…
Maybe that’ll change.