Tome to Table: Godsteel in “The Chalice”

This week I finished reading The Sword, The Ring, and The Chalice, a fantasy trilogy penned by author Deborah Chester; it forms the smaller part of her Mandria/Nether cycle, alongside the four Queen’s Gambit novels. I enjoyed this series quite a bit! The lead character, Dain, is the elven heir to the throne of Nether, a frozen kingdom blessed by relics of the gods and their ancestors. Dain and his sister flee their home as children, too young to remember the treachery that leaves their mother dead, their father missing, and their uncle seated unjustly on the throne. Settled in the neighboring kingdom of Mandria, what follows is a story of tragedies and opportunity: as Dain’s guardian and sister become caught in the middle of a dwarven war, he encounters the human lord of the nearest garrison and makes himself useful. This earns him the ire of many, for — as an elf — he is a heretic who does not worship as the Mandrians, and — as a bastard — he is afforded few rights and less respect. In time, Dain proves himself a loyal and noble young man, and his esteem grows in the community… in the eyes of all save those of the crown prince, Gavril. There’s a lot more to the story from there, and these three books are filled with knights, a tournament, poison and betrayal, war, gods of light and dark, sorcerers, a princess turned bandit, and much more. The story isn’t the fastest moving, and it spends a lot of time focusing on Dain’s isolation and the warmth of finding a new home with new family to accept him. I don’t know that it technically falls into the category, but this series certainly bears the fingerprints of the romantic fantasy genre at the least. Regardless, it is still an adventure tale, and you’ll find plenty of bloodshed and swordplay inside, as our heroes Dain and Alexeika pursue and wield magical artifacts that give them an edge over the hideous Nonkind, soulless monstrosities born from the unsanctified dead. Speaking of magical items, I want to spend some words on the swords in this series. The fabled ancestral blade of Nether is Mirengard, missing in action… the ancient sword of Thirsthold — hidden from sight — is Truthseeker… the freshly smithed sword made with magical dwarven ore and hubris is Tannengard… the black and rune-encrusted sword of a fallen Noble family is Severgard. Four separate magical swords (minimum, unless I forget others!) make an appearance across these three books, with the materials and construction of three of them playing pivotal roles in the development of the story. Tannengard is a tainted weapon and it nearly damns the king before falling into his son’s hands, while Mirengard must be reclaimed and held with faith if Nether is ever to be reclaimed. There’s a lot going on with these swords, and though Chester never delves too far into their origins or what they’ve been used for in the past, there’s a lot implied and hinted at. I was particularly enamored with the way the book distinguishes simple magicked blades (great tools), from Godsteel blades (forged with powerful, tainted metal that invigorates and saps the will). It feels like rarely, if ever, do we think about the roots of our magical weapons at the tabletop. I could harp on D&D and it’s clones here, sure, and the idea of doling our magic rings and magic shoes and magic belts by the truck load, but I’m confident that a similar problem would be found if I examined the indie community’s attempts at fantasy gaming for half a second or more. I wonder how much story could be wrung out of tired old “+1 Swords” if we let them breathe, and highlighted where those bonuses come from… Is it the metal, taken from the first — and lost — mine of the dwarves? Is it divine craftsmanship, smithed by the goddess of the forge herself, handed down to her human lover? Perhaps the blood of the great beast it slew in ancient times, now soaked into the blade? I’m enamored with the idea of enchanted blades drawing their power from the same source. What if bathing the steel in the blood of a monster is what filled a sword with with power… and then every magic sword in your game bore the name of the beast whose power it had consumed. The bog-blade, Ettercap, with its violet edge and lingering wounds. Tarrasque, a zweihander, well-oiled and constantly hungry for war. A thin, jewel-studded throwing knife of impossible grace and precision; a knife called Wyvern.

Anyway, here’s some stuff about Godsteel from The Sword, The Ring, and The Chalice and some thoughts on simple ways to use willful, deadly, magical steel in Dungeon World or Burning Wheel.

Godsteel • Forged in ancient times, predating even the elves and dwarves, godsteel hums with a chorus of overwhelming power. In the wrong hands, this choir drowns out the wielder’s own will, leaving them an obsessive, wrathful, paranoid parody of their former self. Godsteel weapons are impossibly sharp, and driven by the will (or hunger) that lives within the blade. They burn with white fire in the presence of nonkind — the monstrous revenants of the dead and soulless. Godsteel tools purify what they touch, invigorating and energizing those who handle them.

In Dungeon World, godsteel can be represented with with a few custom moves.

  • When you stand in the presence of undead influence, your Godsteel weapon burns with white fire.
  • When you hack & slash or defend with a Godsteel weapon, you fight like something not of this world and can affect your foes appropriately. This may mean standing toe to toe with a giant, rolling damage with Advantage and +piercing against mortals, or similar. When you make one of these moves, intone to your GM: “How does the godsteel prove itself?”
  • When you carry a Godsteel weapon and hope to wield it, you must understand it’s song. Create a Bond representing what it wants from you; the GM will tell you what that is. At the end of a session where you fulfilled this Bond, increase the Bond by 1; lower it by 1 if you did not.
  • When you wield a Godsteel weapon in a situation where you can hear its chorus growing ever louder, inviting you to join its choir, but instead refrain, roll-Bond.
    • On a 10+, weapon’s song rings in your mind as it fights you, but you stay its blade.
    • On a 7-9, choose: you are seduced by its song and give in, marking XP and taking +1Bond — or, you cast the weapon aside now, where you stand, disarming yourself and taking -1Bond.
    • On a 6-, the Godsteel’s power corrupts. It twists in your hands to pursue its needs, and it whispers secrets to secure its future.

In Burning Wheel, you may represent Godsteel by modifying some of the numbers already associated with weapons, and using some of the tools already available to us.

Godsteel weapons count as Superior Arms and use the appropriate profile found in the Burning Wheel Gold book. In addition to this, Godsteel weapons are modified thusly:

  • Increase the weapon’s Power by +2
  • Increase the weapon’s VA by +1
  • Decrease the weapon’s Add by -1 (to a minimum of 1)
  • Godsteel weapon’s possess a B5 Sword skill and G4 Will. It will use these to Help the wielded in battle, to focus their mind… or to disobey and distract them, should their actions disregard the weapon’s designs. Speaking of…
  • Godsteel weapon’s each possess a single Belied that was hammered into them and breathed to life in the forge; it is the purpose their creator’s dreamed for their work…. Tannengard will see it’s enemies destroyed, Truthseeker will pursue justice above all, etc. If you help your Godsteel pursue its Beliefs, it will accumulate Fate. If you use your Godsteel weapon to accomplish your own Beliefs, it earns Persona alongside you. It will spend these for you as long as you continue to serve its song. It can also use these against you, if need be…

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