Last Updated on January 22, 2023
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.Jabberwocky, Lewis Carroll
Of all the magical swords and arcane items in Dungeons & Dragons 5e inspired history, fiction, and myth, the Vorpal Sword is easily among the most powerful.
This legendary magical weapon is drawn from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 nonsense poem Jabberwocky, which appears in Through the Looking-Glass. The poem – as well as referencing the fearsome Jubjub Bird and the frumious Bandersnatch – twice makes reference to the hero’s “vorpal sword”.
While Carroll never actually clarified what vorpal means, the word has firmly entered the lexicon of fantasy gaming, and is often used to refer to swords of great power capable of slaying enemies with a single blow.
Weapon (any sword that deals slashing damage), legendary (requires attunement)
You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. In addition, the weapon ignores resistance to slashing damage.
When you roll a 20 on an attack roll with a Vorpal Sword, assuming the target creature has at least one head, you cut it off. If the creature needs its head to live (it’s not a hydra, for example) it dies.
If the creature is immune to slashing damage, it is immune to this effect.
Also, creatures without a head, creatures that don’t need a head, creatures with legendary actions, or creatures so large that the DM rules that a single sword blow couldn’t sever its head are also immune. Such a creature instead takes an additional 6d8 slashing damage from the blow.
Applicable Weapons that can be vorpal swords include…
First of all, the Vorpal Sword’s +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls alone makes this a fearsome weapon. While +1 swords are common enough (and +2 magic weapons routinely make their way into a fighter or paladin’s backpack by the time they get close to 10th level), +3 magic weapons are almost always items of legendary power.
Then, we have the Vorpal Sword’s other abilities.
Overcoming resistance to slashing damage is a huge benefit, as the three “physical” damage types (bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing) are the ones that most monsters (especially inherently magical or undead ones) have resistance to – apart from poison, I think.
Then, you have the Vorpal Sword’s party piece. Being able to decapitate an enemy on a natural 20 (Note: the sword’s coup de grace ability does not activate on a critical hit like a Nine Lives Stealer, so a Champion Fighter or a Hexblade Warlock don’t get a bigger chance to lop off heads with a Vorpal Sword) is insanely powerful.
In the hands of a 20th level fighter, who can attack four times per round, the chances of you landing a critical hit (and decapitating the BBEG in a single, devastating blow) are delightfully high.
Keep in mind that (likely as a result of many ruined playtests) there are plenty of caveats that prevent you from instantly annihilating the final boss in a single hit.
Also, the DM’s ability to rule that a creature is too big for a Vorpal Sword to decapitate is definitely, 100% the result of someone at Wizards of the Coast’s weekly D&D night chopping the head off a Tarrasque on the first round of what was supposed to be a four-hour combat. Just saying.
Still, even if your target doesn’t qualify for instant decapitation, an extra 6d8 slashing damage will usually go a long way towards getting the job done regardless.
How Much Does a Vorpal Sword Cost?
As it’s a legendary item, the chances of you finding a Vorpal Sword for sale in your local Fantasy Costco verge on slim to none. However, track down the right magic item dealer, powerful archmage, or perhaps a certain beholder who delights in collecting rare items, and you may well be able to find one (it’s very much up to the DM whether you’re buying the Vorpal Sword, or if there are several blades with this property strewn throughout the world) for sale.
While this is probably a case of “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it”, our Magic Item Pricing Guide offers some useful advice.
Legendary items can go for 50,000 gp (the same price as building and outfitting your own castle) or more. In the case of a Vorpal Sword, we’re definitely going to be playing in the “or more” space.
You could take a +3 Magic Weapon as costing 50,000 gp and tack on an extra 10,000 gp for every “special ability” the sword possesses. Tally up the base sword, the fact that it ignores slashing resistance, and its decapitation features, and we’re looking at a “modest” starting price of 70,000 gp.
Finding someone with a Vorpal Sword who’s willing to sell it, however, is going to be a much greater challenge than scraping 70,000 gp together.
DM’s Tip: If you want to give one of your player’s a Vorpal Sword but think their character’s a bit underleveled to be hauling around a legendary item, consider reducing the weapon’s base bonus, removing the fact that it ignores slashing resistance, and even consider getting rid of the extra damage against creatures immune to the decapitation effect.
Lesser Vorpal Blade
Weapon (any sword that deals slashing damage), very rare (requires attunement)
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. When you roll a 20 on an attack roll with a Lesser Vorpal Blade, assuming the target creature has at least one head, you cut it off. If the creature needs its head to live (it’s not a hydra, for example) it dies.
If the creature has more than 100 hp, is immune to slashing damage, does not have or need a head, has legendary actions or resistances, or is so large that the DM rules that a single sword blow couldn’t sever its head, it is immune.
Where Can I Find a Vorpal Sword?
ItIt’s much more likely that you’ll find a Vorpal Sword than buy one, and such a piece of treasure would make a fine prize to place at the end of a long and challenging dungeon.
While a dragon or a beholder may be content to leave a Vorpal Sword buried (or sitting in pride of place) in its hoard, any humanoid BBEG is going to quickly recognize its power and start putting it to good(?) use. Fighting a powerful Death Knight or Oathbreaker Paladin who wields a Vorpal Sword could make for an incredibly tense, nerve-wracking fight, with an appropriately juicy reward at its end.
However, dungeon masters beware: make sure that an enemy with a Vorpal Sword doesn’t come out of nowhere. There’s very little I can think of that would be less satisfying for a player than finally locking swords with the campaign’s boss, only to be instantly decapitated on the first round of combat.
In the original source material, Through the Looking-Glass, the Mad Hatter tells Alice that the Vorpal Sword is hidden somewhere in the Red Queen’s castle, and that she will need it in order to pass through a gate guarded by the deadly Bandersnatch.
While there’s no reference in the works of Lewis Carroll that vorpal blades specifically behead their targets, the original poem and the fact that the blade is now located in the Red Queen’s castle (a character famously fond of lopping off heads) is probably the origin of this mechanic.
Hiding a Vorpal Sword away in the palace of a murderous monarch, who uses it as their favorite method of state-sanctioned beheadings, is a great nod to the original work that could make for a whole adventure in of itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Vorpal Swords Sentient?
No, unlike many other legendary magical weapons and artifacts, the Vorpal Sword is just a very, very dangerous weapon.
Do You Need To Attune to a Vorpal Sword?
Yes. You must spend a Short Rest practicing with a Vorpal Sword, after which you become attuned to the weapon. Any class of character can attune to a Vorpal Sword.
Is There More Than One Vorpal Sword?
While many legendary magical items are one of a kind, there’s nothing to say that there aren’t multiple Vorpal Swords throughout the world. The rules for Vorpal Swords do not refer to a single, specific blade (like the magical weapon Blackrazor, for example), and a Vorpal Sword can be a Greatsword, a Longsword, or a Scimitar, implying that there may be more than one of them out there in the world.
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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.