Last Updated on March 3, 2022
No one likes a nasty surprise. If you find yourself constantly ambushed by owlbears, grabbed by goblins, or otherwise set upon by foes, fiends and horrors, consider investing in a Weapon of Warning and never be surprised again.
Weapon of Warning
This magic weapon warns you of danger. While the weapon is on your person, you have advantage on initiative rolls. In addition, you and any of your companions within 30 feet of you can’t be surprised, except when incapacitated by something other than nonmagical sleep.
The weapon magically awakens you and your companions within range if any of you are sleeping naturally when combat begins.
Cost: 50,000 gp
Requires Attunement: Yes
Variation: Any weapon
Weapons of Warning were introduced to D&D in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide. While their rarity is only uncommon, the benefits they provide are significant – something their 50,000 gp price tag reflects.
Weapons of Warning Features
Gaining advantage on all initiative rolls is a huge mechanical bonus. However, items that grant advantage on initiative aren’t massively rare in D&D 5e; the Rod of Alertness and Sentinel Shield also confer this benefit.
The most noteworthy boon provided by a Weapon of Warning is the fact that, unless you’re incapacitated by something other than nonmagical sleep, you and any allies within 30ft of you essentially become immune to the surprised condition.
Being virtually impossible to get the drop on is a tremendous advantage in a game where the average combat only lasts three rounds. Being surprised (meaning you can’t move or take an action or reaction on your first turn of combat) could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The rules don’t specify how the weapon warns you of impending combat, beyond the stipulation that it does so magically. This means the DM could choose to flavor this effect in any number of ways that could differ from one Weapon of Warning to another.
A Spear of Warning, crafted by a circle of druids and inscribed with protective runes, might hum like a swarm of bees when enemies approach; a Battleaxe of Warning tainted by demon blood might have limited sentience, which causes it to howl a gleeful challenge whenever it senses foes nearby.
In The Hobbit, the ancient elven blade Sting is definitely a Shortsword of Warning, glowing bright blue when orcs and evil things approach.
The ability to avoid the surprised condition is powerful enough that some DMs question whether Weapons of Warning are overpowered. However, it’s worth noting that, because surprise has a very specific mechanical connotation in D&D 5e, a weapon of warning doesn’t free your players from the concept of being surprised itself.
Ambushing gnolls could still successfully surround a party with a Weapon of Warning. The party would simply be immune to the effects of being surprised, and combat would begin as normal. It’s powerful, yes, but doesn’t turn anyone carrying such a weapon into a precog.
Overconfident players who decide that, because they’re immune to surprise, they won’t be setting a watch that night may awaken to find…
A gang of local halflings have stolen all their belongings.
Powerful fey spirits have cast the sleep spell upon them, rendering the weapon’s warning ineffective.
They are still lying prone on the ground without their armor on as a band of rampaging orcs charge them from the treeline.
A Weapon of Warning is not a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. It’s designed to give your players an edge in situations where even an extra bonus action to cast Expeditious Retreat could mean the difference between a close call and becoming a dragon’s lunch.
Where to Get a Weapon of Warning
Thanks to its 50,000 gp price tag, the opportunity cost of buying a Weapon of Warning from a vendor means you’re passing on some pretty cool stuff. What stuff, you ask?
How about a war galley for a cool 30,000 gp? You’d even be able to crew it with a band of 40 heavily-armed mercenaries for 100 days (assuming your DM lets you use the hireling prices in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide).
Given the fact you can set yourself up as a literal pirate king with 50,000 gp, the Weapon of Warning starts to look a little less like a smart purchase.
That’s not even taking into account how hard it would be to find somewhere to buy a weapon like this (or someone powerful enough to craft one for you), although you might try…
In the grandest magical item shop in the known universe, a sprawling labyrinth of curiosities beneath a great golden dome. Staffed by Githzerai mages and guarded by Golems made of pure diamond.
A mysterious peddler who, once every century when the moon reaches the ninth state of ascension, sets up a humble stall beside a long-disused road. The peddler’s eyes glow pale gold and none of the items are priced in currency.
The Weapon of Warning costs “One Treasured Recollection”, meaning that when the player takes possession of the weapon, they lose an important memory from their past (and proficiency with one skill related to that memory).
The underground auction hosted once a year by the most ruthless thieves’ guild in the city.
Of course, if you have the necessary formula, exotic materials, gold, skills, and time to spare, you could make any bowstaff, nunchucks, or antimatter shotgun (sometimes the DM says yes to stuff when they’re not fully paying attention) into a Weapon of Warning. You could even imbue it with extra effects, like a +1 or +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls.
Thanks to a trend in game design that I think we can attribute to video games like Breath of the Wild, Skyrim, and Diablo III, modern D&D makes it a lot harder to buy something in a shop than to take it from an enemy’s cold dead hands, or from their treasure vault.
As such, it’s much more likely that you’ll find a Weapon of Warning in a dungeon or cursed temple than in your local Fantasy Costco.
If you’re a DM who likes it when their magic items make sense within the world, here are a few places where your adventurers might find a Weapon of Warning.
A longsword, buried in the trunk of a tree. The players notice the leaves of the tree rustling as they approach. It is a treant, awakened by prolonged contact with the sword. It will not give up the sword unless convinced to do so (perhaps to protect the forest) and will attack anyone who tries to remove it. The Treant is made more dextrous by the blade, and not only gains advantage on Initiative and Immunity to surprise, but also an extra attack each round.
A dagger, tucked under the bed of the greatest duelist in the land, now retired.
A warhammer, wielded by a living saint. She is rumored to be unkillable, and her army is headed this way.
A spear, its haft carved by the druids and its tip wrought by dragonfire, carried by an ancient paladin who stands watch, waiting for the day when the dragon returns to the forest.
Because of how powerful the ability to negate surprise is, you probably don’t want to put a Weapon of Warning directly in front of your players until they’re around level 7-9. This is also the time when they’re likely to be dealing with kingdom-level threats, and be finding the kind of money that lets them recruit armies, raise strongholds, and maybe even splash out for some enchanted gear.
This is a great item for any class, but Rogues probably benefit from it the most – both mechanically and thematically. It’s worth making sure that, if you want the Weapon of Warning to go to a specific player, make sure the type of weapon you choose is one with which they’re proficient.
Common Questions About Weapon of Warning
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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.