Nithingsbane

Physical Description

Approximately three and one half cubits long from tip to pommel, this longsword's hilt is composed of magically hardened walrus tusk, and its quillions and pommel are composed of steel plated with silver. An inscription in an archaic dialect of Giant circles the pommel, reading Ic eom heold (lit. "I am loyal"). The blade is straight, has only a single edge, and exhibits a broad, extremely distinct temper line on its surface. An etching runs from the down the flat of the blade on each side; each is an inscription in the same Giant dialect as that on the pommel. They read, respectively, Uprære ic þine freawine ("I will exalt thy lord") and Niþingesbana. This last inscription does not translate well into Common; the second element of the word, bana, is readily enough translated as "killer" or "slayer," but the first element, niþing, of this compound word can have a wide variety of meanings based on its root, niþ, ranging in association from "strife" across "violence," "contempt," "oppression," "grief," or "ignominy." A niþing, then, would presumably denote a personage associated with one of these meanings of the base word. One viable translation of the name, among many, would be something akin to "Bane of the Ignominious One." Whatever its meaning, this inscription is generally treated as the weapon's name, when it is discussed by loremasters.

History and Provenance

The blade Nithingsbane, also known as "The Retainer's Blade," "Traitor's Bane," and "Cowardslayer," was created between one thousand and twelve hundred years ago, probably in the northern reaches of the modern-day Aureshan Empire, in one of several petty human kingdoms in that region. Its kingdom of origin was destroyed by an influx of orcish invaders into the area between two and four hundred years after its creation. The most likely artisan to have produced this weapon is a priest of Derena belonging to a royal court in the area, and the longsword is believed to have been wielded by the hero Dæghrafn, possibly a paladin of Derena. Several long epic poems and romances, most notably Se dæghrafnessang (lit. "the Lay of Dayraven"), recount how this warrior led a band of volunteers in the defense of a narrow pass through the northern mountains, delaying an orc horde for a full three days in order to buy time for their king to shepherd the remnants of his people to safety. From there, the weapon falls out of song and story for roughly three hundred years, after which it is known to have surfaced in the hands of a knight belonging to a band of adventurers who ventured in pursuit of a group of cultists serving a powerful demon prince. Numerous individuals have since wielded the blade, and on at least four occasions it is known to have been awarded by one or another ruler to various liegemen in payment for exceptional bravery. Its whereabouts are unknown at the time of this composition.

Many scholars speculate that this weapon, as potent as its reputation suggests that it may be, also bears a curse. Its wielders share a history of dying violently, often in battle against impossible odds. Some of the blade's most famous wielders, such as the aforementioned Dæghrafn, are also reputed to have been famously perceptive judges, with a predilection to dispense merciless justice to the unrighteous.

-- Excerpted from "Nithingsbane," in Heroic Weapons of the Barbarian North, a Compendium: Volume 4, Blades of the Noble Dead, by Sharihyar yn Juluk al Krisa, sub-librarian of the Imperial Archive.

Nithingsbane, the Retainer's Blade

+1 axiomatic cold iron longsword; AL LN; Int 17, Wis 17, Cha 10; Speech (Common, Giant, Dwarf, Celestial), telepathy, darkvision 120 ft., and hearing; Ego score 16.
Lesser Powers: Zone of truth 3/day (CL 3, Will DC 13 negates), Item has 10 ranks in Bluff (total modifier +10) and Sense Motive (total modifier +13).
Greater Power: Invisibility purge (30 ft. range, CL 5) 3/day.
Other Powers: At its own discretion, Nithingsbane can function identically to a stone of weight (loadstone) (see p. 276 of the Dungeon Master's Guide); it can also use ghost sound at will.

Personality

Nithingsbane is a quintessentially lawful neutral blade, and detests any hint of weakness in its wielder. It was created as a weapon to be used only by a retainer truly loyal to his king, and as such it harbors a deep and abiding intolerance for cowardice, treachery, or dishonorable behavior of any sort in those who carry it into battle. It tends to be both wiser and more intelligent than those into whose hands it falls, and it is not shy about dispensing advice to its wielders, often in scathingly sarcastic language. On the rare occasions when it finds a wielder who measures up to its very stringent expectations (usually a lawful neutral or lawful good character with a Wisdom score of at least 18), it is friendlier, and instead comments merely upon the wisdom or folly of a given course of action, rather than upon the personal qualities of its wielder. Almost as a rule, Nithingsbane administers its criticism and "advice" through telepathy rather than speech.

A character who is willing to humble himself or herself to the domineering blade's criticism and allows it to offer schooling in the proper behavior for its wielder can usually win its (grudging) respect after demonstrating that he or she is learning from the experience, and a demonstration of true incorruptibility or valor can even coax forth a hint of admiration from this extremely proud weapon.

However, in a pinch Nithingsbane will accept any non-chaotic character as its wielder. Particularly weak-willed individuals in this position quickly find that the sword is capable of making their lives a living hell, since the Retainer's Blade has a sufficiently high Ego score to force many of them to do its bidding. Even if it fails to assert outright control over its wielder, Cowardslayer is more than capable of living up to its name by activating its ability to behave as a stone of weight, and thereby hampering any attempt to flee from battle. Moreover, the sword is not above using its ghost sound ability to prevent its wielder from skulking past an opponent instead of fighting, and has even been known to combine this power with its Bluff skill to make it seem as if its bearer is picking a fight. Thus, characters that are not worthy to bear the sword either become heroes (and hence, worthy to bear it) or corpses in short order. In truth, it somewhat hurts the blade’s feelings that it has never been offered the name "Heromaker," but it would sooner be smashed apart than admit this to anyone.

Strong evocation [lawful]; CL 15th; Craft Magic Arms and Armor, order's wrath; Price 64,830 gp; Cost to create 32565 gp + 2579 XP

Adapting the Blade to Your Campaign

Nithingsbane is a blade associated with the faith of Derena, a deity in the Tolrea campaign setting, who accepts lawful neutral and lawful good clerics. Depending on your setting, you may find it necessary to change the blade's association. Feel free to substitute any LN or LG deity granting access to the Law and Protection domains.

Otherwise, this weapon should fit easily into any campaign with a LN deity granting Law and Protection among his, her, or its domains, like the ones described above, and with some region containing the ruins of a human kingdom or kingdoms destroyed by a horde of orcs (or some other monstrous humanoid of your choice). Substitute for "Tolrea" the name of the world you are using instead, and change references to Derena to the appropriate deity of your choice.

Interacting with Nithingsbane

As an intelligent item, Nithingsbane is in effect an NPC in addition to functioning as a potent magical sword. Serious disagreements between the sword and its wielder will almost always prompt a bid for dominance from Nithingsbane, and even if its wielder succeeds at the subsequent Will saving throw, the blade is likely to withhold the benefit of its greater and lesser powers until such time as its demands are met.

Nithingsbane remembers much of its history, but prefers not to speak of its past beyond the most general terms. A direct question, along with a disposition of "helpful" from the blade towards its questioner, is required to coax information out of it - for example, it would require a question like ("Is it true that you were once wielded by the heroic Dæghrafn?") in order for a PC to receive a terse, "Yes, I was." Repeated questioning could induce Nithingsbane to admit not only that it was wielded by the individual in question, but also to mention that he was not a paladin (of Derena or otherwise), that the sword had to use its powers to stop him from fleeing battle, and that Nithingsbane wasn’t very impressed with him. Nithingsbane starts out with an attitude of "unfriendly" to anyone who isn't a lawful-aligned cleric or paladin (in which case the blade is merely indifferent), and is openly hostile to chaotic characters, so it may take some time to butter up enough that the sword is willing to talk.

A bardic knowledge check to recall information about Nithingsbane starts at DC 20 for basic knowledge about the weapon's properties. This level of knowledge is more likely to come in the form of nuggets of information about its past wielders - for example a success against DC 20 with bardic knowledge might convey the information that, according to legend, few men can bear to tell lies to the blade's wielder when he or she sits in judgment (reflecting Nithingsbane's zone of truth power), or the character may remark that past wielders were noted for their valor in rearguard actions (owing in fact to the blade's ability to function as a stone of weight when its wielder tries to flee from battle). Successes against higher DCs impart more detailed information.

In case of a legend lore spell or other comprehensive divination effect, offer the following information with regard to Nithingsbane's history:
Nithingsbane was created 1200 years ago by Ansel Grimbald, a high priest of Derena. It was intended to be wielded by the head of the royal army, a paladin of Derena who had sworn service not to a king but as a protector for his people, and who served in peacetime as the king's justicar. Dæghrafen took up the blade when his commander was killed by a stray arrow from an orc, and attempted to flee the battlefield as his fellow soldiers began to rout.