Last Updated on February 10, 2023
Whether you’re looking to make a fledgeling adventurer’s first magic weapon or trying to forge a blade to slay gods and maybe even end the world, this article will give you everything you need to know to homebrew your own magic swords as well as our top tips for making them fun, memorable, and powerful (but not too powerful) magic items that your players will remember for years to come.
How To Create a Magic Sword in D&D 5e
If you want to reward one of your players with a unique, homebrewed magic sword, you can either modify an existing magical item or create a magical sword from scratch.
Modifying a magical item to create a magical sword is the simplest way to do this and can be done for a number of reasons, including making a weapon more or less powerful to match a PC’s level, suiting the PC’s skill set and class, or just giving the item a unique flavor to fit its backstory, the setting, and tone of the campaign.
For example, you might take a Trident of Fish Command and easily convert it into a Rapier of Fish Command, keeping the magical item’s mechanics the same but altering its base form. You could also take the process one step further and modify the weapon’s function slightly to create a weapon suitable for the captain of a local order of Kenku knights: the Rapier of The Crow Guard.
Rapier of the Crow Guard
Weapon (rapier), uncommon (requires attunement)
This magical rapier is adorned with feather motifs. It has 3 charges. While you carry it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to cast dominate beast (save DC 15) from it on a feathered beast with an innate flying speed. The rapier regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn.
Proficiency with a rapier allows you to add your proficiency bonus to the attack roll for any attack you make with it.
The other approach is to create a magical sword from scratch rather than modify an existing item.
Creating a magic sword from scratch is slightly more complicated, but if you have a clear picture in your head of what the weapon looks like and can do, then translating that into the D&D 5e rules is relatively straightforward.
Things to consider beforehand:
The basic concept, including an idea of the weapon’s history, who made it, and why. All of these details can help inform what the weapon does.
Who’s this weapon for? There’s not much point in giving a magical greatsword to a party made up of a wizard, bard, and rogue. You don’t have to tailor an item perfectly to suit a player character, but it’s generally a good idea to make sure that someone in the party can at least pick it up by the right end.
How powerful should it be? Giving a party of 20th-level adventurers a +1 magic sword probably won’t set anyone’s world on fire, but giving a party of 1st-level adventurers a legendary magic item or an artifact might literally set the world on fire. Ensuring magic items are appropriate for PC level helps make sure the players feel like their new item has value and should ensure your game doesn’t become totally unbalanced.
As a tip, I like to give PCs items that are slightly too powerful for their level. This makes them feel like they really got their hands on something cool, but it doesn’t throw the game too far out of whack. It’s like buying shoes for children; always go a size bigger because they’ll grow into them before you know it.
When you create a new item, you’ll need to set its rarity. This is a good way to align the weapon’s power level with the players who’ll be using it. If your weapon doesn’t cast a spell but instead creates some other effect, you can find a spell with a similar level of impact and use that to set rarity.
I also find that when it comes to weapons that can cast multiple spells (or produce multiple spell-like effects) per day, add up the total to compare with your max spell level.
Three Tips For Homebrewing Better Magic Swords (With Examples)
There are plenty of different ways to homebrew your own magical swords for your D&D 5e game, and a dungeon master will probably create dozens of them over the course of their time in the hobby. If you’re just starting out as a dungeon master, haven’t had much experience with homebrewing your own magic items, or just want some inspiration for your next piece of magical loot, here are three tips I try to keep in mind when designing a magic sword (with some example weapons that I’ve used in my own games or have sitting in my notes ready to go the next time my players go kicking down the monsters’ front door looking for loot).
Swords Inspired by Monsters
One of the best places to go looking for new ways to inflict great and terrible violence is the natural world. Humans in our world have been drawing inspiration from nature for centuries, not only when it comes to the ways we make our weapons and armor but also how we think about warfare.
Just think about the Roman testudo formation (meaning “turtle”) and how effective it was for Channing Tatum.
Or what about scale mail? Or synthetic spider silk made into body armor? Or Viking berserkers who used to strip naked to become “one with the wolf” before charging into battle?
Inspiration in the manufacturing of arms, armor, and martial traditions is a huge part of our world, and we don’t even have fire-breathing lizards, ethereal snake women with magic powers, or literal giants. It makes sense, then, that the magical artisans of long ago would have looked at the monsters of the world around them and drawn inspiration from their abilities.
As such, let me present a magic sword inspired by one of my favorite (and my players’ least favorite) monsters: The Rust Monster.
Weapon (longsword), uncommon (requires attunement)
Though this magical blade is dull red and caked in rust with flakes constantly dropping to the floor, it always maintains a razor edge. The weapon has 3 charges and regains 1d3 charges. When you make a weapon attack against an enemy wearing metal armor or wielding a metal weapon, you can expend 1 charge to instead strike their equipment. Instead of dealing damage, choose one of the following effects:
- The target’s AC is reduced by an amount equal to the damage rolled for the attack divided by 2 (minimum of 1). If the target’s AC is reduced by more than 5, it is destroyed.
- The target’s weapon incurs a damage penalty equal to the damage rolled for the attack divided by 2 (minimum of 1). If the weapon’s damage is reduced by more than 5, it is destroyed.
Swords That Do More Than Deal Damage
For the same reason that I don’t like simple +1 magic swords, magic weapons that just increase the amount of damage the wielder can inflict aren’t especially exciting from a design perspective. They don’t really give the player anything new that they can do, and therefore, they aren’t likely to be as exciting.
I’m not saying every magic sword should come with four different active abilities for the player to track, but martial characters often lack things to do on their turn other than just “move and hit,” so giving them some new options regarding how they hit and what they can accomplish with a simple attack can make a new magic sword more interesting.
I’m especially partial to magic swords that give martial characters new ways to control the battlefield or gain additional mobility. This is where I also like to steal mechanics from video games, movies, and TV.
Weapon (rapier), rare (requires attunement)
This magical rapier with a blade adorned with silver leaves grants a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls.
The rapier also has 3 charges. As a bonus action, you can expend a charge to cause the weapon’s blade to momentarily transform into a vine coated in razor-sharp thorns. The weapon gains the Reach property (15 feet). When you hit a target that is size medium or smaller with a weapon attack, it must succeed on a Strength check contested by your Strength (Athletics) or be pulled 10 feet toward you and be knocked Prone.
The rapier regains 1d3 charges at dawn.
More Than Just a Pointy Stick: Make Swords Part of Your Campaign World’s Culture, History, and Politics
Lastly, this is more to do with worldbuilding and preparing for your campaign than mechanical design, but I promise that if you follow this step, it will do wonders for your entire homebrew campaign.
It’s very easy to get wrapped up in making a cool fantasy sword or something inspired by the last anime you watched only to realize once you hand it off to your players that it doesn’t fit into the tone, history, or cultural fabric of your world at all.
A glowing purple sword that lets you grow extra limbs made of swirling smoke and darkness whenever you draw it is indisputably awesome. In a gritty, low-magic setting where wizards are burned at the stake by fearful peasants, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb.
You should make sure that whenever you make a new magic item of any kind it fits into (and hopefully reinforces) the tone and themes of the campaign you’re running. A sword that speaks aloud the thoughts of a creature as long as its blade is drenched in their blood is a great fit for a Ravenloft campaign, but it’s definitely an off-color choice for a one-shot about teen wizards off to college… similarly, grinding a magical skateboard down the grand staircase of Castle Ravenloft to do a sweet kickflip over Strahd’s head is objectively cool, but it might just undermine the atmosphere of gothic horror a smidge.
Not only is the right magic weapon a good way to reinforce the tone of your campaign, but it’s also a great opportunity to get your players involved with the history of your campaign: its politics, culture, religion, etc. Weapons like this can even confer nonmechanical benefits or penalties.
Does owning a particular type of sword (maybe one that glows green or blue and makes a cool bbjwwwjjjmmmmm-djjrrrrmmmmmm noise when you wave it around) mark you for death in a fascist empire? Maybe this type of weapon is known for killing slowly, thus pleasing the devotees of an evil goddess of pain. Perhaps these blades belonged to the champions of a conquering army and are universally feared as a result.
Maybe just being able to pick this hammer — I mean sword — makes you “worthy,” or drawing it from a stone confers the right to rule. You don’t have to make every magical sword your players find the key to resurrecting some long-lost kingdom, but tying your magical swords to the politics and culture of your campaign world can be a lot more interesting than another pointy stick that does +1d8 fire damage.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.