On a sea washed spit of barren stone, on the bleak northern face of the frost glazed Thillonrian Peninsula, Three gigantic swords, ancient and worn, uprightly pierce the shore rock and stand in silent, unknown vigil beside the grey ocean.
Far larger even than the weapons of the greatest giants, the hoary blades, tarnished and pitted by millennia, are known to few, and are less than dim legend to most. Fractured tales and tattered bits of folklore tell of many stories attached to the mighty war brands.
Ullsepas of Seulm, The tale-gatherer and diviner, may Zagyg forgive his prying, related this to the Lord Grenell, Herzog of the North Province, in a secret missive sent by courier eagle.
“As was claimed by the Kettite before he succumbed to the duress of inquiry, a triad of mighty swords, unoerthly in dimension, does indeed stand beside the bitter sea. Their design encompasses many of the elements of the most ancient sword patterns of the pale Suelish barbarians which infest this cold and dismal place, but no creature which walks this world have I seen which could wield blades such as these.
At my first attempt to divine somewhat of the nature of the swords, I was struck down as though I were but an overreaching novice, though all wise precaution had been taken. The Lore imp I had summoned to aid me was burned to ash instanter. I lay senseless upon the black stone for hours, my mind filled to agony with visions I could neither understand, nor retreat from.
I saw endless boreal wilderness. I saw monsters of legend, vast, iron horned, brazen scaled. I saw men at feast, at love, and at war, but not men as we know, greater, without limit. My senses filled with time and smoke and the calling of crows, and the sting of salt water. But over all boomed and rolled the dark laughter. Wild and unending, deep with mirth and madness, beyond the understanding of mortal men.
When at last the vision waned and I again commanded my own form, I stood and found I was no longer alone on that barren shore. Squatting on his long shanks atop a sea spattered boulder was an old man of appearance most dire and strange. Though the cruel wind froze the spray where it fell upon the rocky shore, he wore no clothing other than a rough kilt of seal leather. His fan-like beard and unkempt mane of hair were snowy white, but they did not hide the sky blue eyes, wicked and distant, he turned upon me.
“Are you of the Cruski?” I asked him.
He gestured towards the standing swords with a rune-scribed arm, if the markings were tattoos or scars I could not tell. He spoke in the common tongue, heavy with the accents of the north.
“You seek to know the swords, many-cloaks? There are tales upon tales that speak of the swords. Some of them are so.”
The nails of his long, knotted fingers were heavy and sharp, like the talons of the golden sea eagle.
“I will tell you one, southern bird.” He slid down from the boulder and stood upright, a full head and a half taller than I.
“You know of Kord, of Lerg, of Beltar, Lendor and Syrul, do you not, wizardling? Gods of the cold people, but not the first.”
He gestured past me, to the swords.
“There were others before them, older”. He pointed to the nearest of the towering blades.
His fingers twisted, they formed a runic symbol I did not recognize.
“The sword of Thoar.” He said, as an invocation. I observed that the runes wrapped around his arm in a continuous spiral from wrist to shoulder.
He pointed to the second sword. “The sword of Vor.”
He looked at me for a moment as his arm slowly arched to the last of the swords. “The sword of Uld.”
“These are forgotten gods? Gods no longer worshiped?” I asked of him.
“What is worship to the Gods? “ He responded. “Gods have no need of worship. It is for men who crave favor of the Gods, as the lowly wolf rolls on his back and bares his belly to the greater.”
He looked at me for five slow breaths with an expression of deep consideration on his face.
“The Three have been gone from here since long before the restless ones sailed south, to empire and decadence. Some say that they were driven out by their children, the young gods. Some say that they have gone to search between the stars for their stolen wives. Or that they have gone avyking against the gods of other worlds. Some say their swords were driven into the stone to mark their defeat and banishment. Some say they stand in remembrance of a great victory. Some say the Three themselves did thrust the swords into the oerth, to mark the way for their return. So that they would not forget from where they had come, or the wergild that was owed them.”
As he spoke, I watched as the blue of his eyes washed outward over the whites, until, save for the pit black pupils, his eyes were blue entire.
“Some of what is said is so. Some is so, but not so. It has been so long that even the truth has been worn by time.”
I will admit to you, Lord, that I felt fear and trepidation in the presence of the man. He smelt of wild and preternatural magic, and no little of it. If there was not madness in his glacial eyes, there was at least contempt of sanity.
Even as he spoke, I had begun a spell to hold him, so that I might more easily put him to the question and thus gain answers more clear in their meaning. He knew what I meant to do, I think, even before I began the binding. My power and skill in the Art is not small, as you well know, but I think he had but toyed with me from the beginning of our encounter.
He stooped suddenly, and with the nails of his bare hand, he slashed into the very rock beneath our feet, a rune of unknown meaning.
“Story time has ended little bird. Fly away now, before the ice takes your wings!”
In that moment before the completion of my own spell, I was suddenly seized by unseen talons and born up and into the sky. I felt mighty wings sweep the air above me, though I could see nothing of the creature which carried me. I believe that somehow the old man had called one of the tremendous eagles of the etheric plane to do his bidding and remove me from his domain.
The eagle carried me for many leagues before I was able to work my hands free of its grip and dispel the magic which had summoned it to this plane. I faced great difficulty in making my way alone through the hostile wilderness. It was some few weeks before I found a city worthy of representing civilization.
I consider now that our compact is dissolved. I will not again dare that uncaring land or face the inexplicable sorcery of the white-haired man. Not unless sufficient recompense and formidable allies be made available to me. If you would have further attempts made in this regard, send to me the Knight of Tatters and his winsome fey vassal, along with Slyr the Sharper and brother Fastandus and also thrice the coin formerly agreed upon.
Though the true nature and history of the Three Swords is uncertain and left to the Dungeon Master to determine, and to alter to fit his own campaign, some facts can be established.
The Swords create a powerful Magical Alteration Zone extending for approximately one mile in all directions, including to seaward, and also below ground level, and above into the sky.
The effects of the zone change according to the seasons in a steady pattern throughout the year. The Dungeon Master is free to assign alteration effects and months as he sees fit. (See the link in the Old Guard Guide sidebar to find the original post concerning Magical Alteration Zones.)
In addition, Wyrd Greyhawk’s version, The Swords of the Old Gods, presents the possibility that any characters coming within visual range of the ancient blades may chance Atavistic Possession.
The primal, elemental nature of the power of the Swords may magnify the inner nature of the player characters. As a characters choice of Class reflects who they are as a person, the PC’s class characteristics and stereotypical behaviors will become exaggerated and dangerously unbalanced.
When first sighting the Swords of the Old Gods, Player Characters must Save VS Magic, taking into account their individual Magical Attack Adjustment bonuses or penalties derived from their Wisdom Scores. Those who fail to save have fallen beneath the influence of the Swords.
A fighter may become a Shield-Biter. In this case, he always resorts to violence first to solve any problem. He gains +1 to hit and damage. He acts without regard for his own safety or that of his companions. He may continue to fight to -10 hit points. He also has a 15% chance of going battle mad in any combat which lasts more than six rounds. This is analogous to berserker rage and the shield-biter will attack all present until slain or subdued.
A thief may become a Magpie. Such a thief steals compulsively and without digression from friend and foe alike. A magpie becomes obsessed with anything denied him, a treasure item, a bottle of wine, a girl, etc. All thieves’ skills are boosted by 25%. Practicing the art of thievery becomes the be-all of a thief in the throes of atavistic possession.
A cleric may become a Godsman. In every situation requiring even the simplest and most inconsequential decision, the cleric will require time for theological reflection, to ensure that his actions do not conflict with dogma. A godsman casts spells at two levels higher than his actual experience level. He will also attempt to convert others to the worship of his god or gods at every occasion.
A magic-user may become an Eldritch Seer. He then perceives directly the lines and flows of arcane energy about him at all times. This results in a constant Detect Magic ability which never ceases. The magic-user casts spells as though two levels of experience higher than his actual level. He insists on using magic for even the most mundane tasks. He develops a disregard for all things not related directly to magic, and an obsessive need to possess any magical item he encounters. There is a 15% chance that some form of madness, chosen randomly from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, may strike the magic-user for every day that he remains in this state.
Once a character has fallen beneath the influence of the Swords, the Dungeon Master may wish to pass the player a note explaining the behavior changes he must portray. As with cases of PCs controlled by spell or monsters, the other members of the party who remain unaffected will have to figure out what has occurred and how to deal with it on their own.
Once affected by the power of the Swords, characters will remain so until they move outside of the area of effect of the Swords magical alteration zone. At this point they are allowed to attempt to Save VS Magic a second time. If they fail this second attempt, they will remain subject to the Atavistic Possession until such time as a Remove Curse spell may be bestowed upon them.
It should be noted that the atavistic possession bestows a sense of great freedom from social constraints and a feeling of clarity of purpose which is most gratifying. Those characters which are under its effects are unlikely to be co-operative with anyone seeking to return them to normal.
*The pics are of a Norwegian monument commemorating the battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. I bumbled into them whilst tooling about the internet and found them inspiring. Dig it.