In roleplaying, we often spend a lot of time talking about or going after legendary items. This is also true of fantasy (the one ring), science fiction (kyber crystals), comics (the infinity gauntlet), and anime (the dragon balls). Characters often seek them out, adventures often hint about them, and sometimes dungeons and bosses have one. For a character to own a legendary item is really for them to be carrying around a piece of history. These sorts of items should not come along everyday and when they do, they come with a great deal of both power and responsibility.
Legendary items can vary greatly depending on the type of roleplaying game you are engaged in or the character that you are playing. Usually, legendary items are either a part of the back story of the world in which you are playing or they have an individual story of their own which is provided by your source material. Creating your own legendary item is also a fun option but keep in mind that a balance must be kept between giving your player something useful and giving them something that makes them way too over powered.
Now when it comes to creating legendary items for fantasy worlds, like D&D, one of my first thoughts is, “Has this kind of item ever been used before?”Sometimes I think back to other fiction I’ve read/watched but even more often I think about a few of the legendary items that claimed to have existed in our real world. You might be thinking that a real world item might come off as lame or uninteresting, but I can assure you that human history is often a lot more exciting and inspiring than most people believe.
With that being said, I think it’s time for a few examples. And I want to be clear that just because I have listed these items here does not necessarily mean that I believe all of these items existed. I have simply made this list because of their popularity, their back story, and their contrast between one another. I have also picked these items because I believe that every one of them could have a very interesting fantasy adventure attached to them. Here they are in alphabetical order.
The Ark of the Covenant
According to legend, God gave Moses the exact instructions on how to build the ark during his time on Mount Sinai. It was to be a wooden box, plated with gold, and then topped with a cover adorned with two cherubim. It was designed to be carried by the vanguard of the Israelite army as a symbol of their power and faith. Depending on which account you believe, the ark was also a storage container for the Ten Commandments, texts from the Hebrew Bible, Arron’s Rod, and a pot of manna. Without going too deeply into the history of the ark which is long and interesting, it was eventually either hidden away from the Babylonians or captured by them and taken to secret location in 587 BC. From that day until the present, it has never officially resurfaced. (But we all know that “top men” are working on it.)
The Armor of Achilles
According to legend, Achilles’ mother Thetis begged the god Hephaestus to provide replacement armor for her son before he was to fight Hector. In response, the god gave her the finest armor ever made, including a magnificent shield, which was said to be impregnable. (Except, of course, for the feet which were not protected by armor back in those days.) The shield in particular was said to have been of immaculate quality and was described by Homer himself as “a round shield depicting the earth, the sea, the sky, the sun and the moon, the constellations, and several images of faming, dancing, and harvesting”. As best as anyone can tell, the armor was taken by Odysseus after Achilles fell and was later given to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus. It was apparently used by him until his death when it was then lost to the annuals of history.
Perhaps the most famous sword in European history, Excalibur or Caliburnus in Latin, is almost as riddled with stories and legends as King Arthur himself. It actually has two origin stories, one involving the sword in the stone and the other involving the lady of the lake. In both cases, Arthur has to prove himself worthy as “the one true king” to obtain the sword. Excalibur has also has picked up many descriptions over the centuries, including the phrases “Take me up” etched on the blade on one side and “Cast me away” etched on the other. It was said to have a shining blade being brighter than thirty torches and have a jewel encrusted hilt with diamonds, topazes, and jacinth. According to the legend, it was buried with Arthur on Avalon and was never wielded again.
The Bow of Hercules
According to legend, Hercules or Heracles was the bastard son of Zeus and a mortal woman. After surviving several assassination attempts on his life as a child, Hercules would eventually marry and start a family. However, he was eventually driven to madness by Hera, Zeus’ divine wife, and would kill his own wife and children within that madness. As punishment for his crimes, it was decided that Hercules would serve King Eurystheus for a period of ten years, eventually increased to twelve, and during this time he was given the famous twelve labors. Just as these labors were about to begin, Hercules was supposedly given his famous bow and arrows from the god Apollo. He would later go on to slay the Hydra of Lerna and would dip some of his arrows into its blood to make them extremely poisonous. After using the bow in many of his adventures, Hercules would eventually pass the bow and the arrows on to his best friend, Philoctetes, just before his death. Philoctetes would later go on to kill Paris with the bow during the Trojan War. After that, the location and history of the bow and the arrows are lost.
Seal of Solomon
In this context, seal really means ring and it was said to be made of silver and have a Star of David symbol on the facing. According to legend, the ring allowed Solomon to command demons, devils, genies, and speak with all manner of animals. It is also believed that Christian tales about the ring would later demonize the Star of David upon it as a symbol of evil and the occult and that might be where the idea of the evil pentagram originated. Either way, the ring itself is referenced in many stories and some believe that it was buried with Solomon.
The Book of Thoth
Now there are actually believed to be more than 36,000 Books of Thoth. Thoth was worshiped in ancient Egypt as the god of knowledge and many of these books appear to have been written in his name as a form of devotion. However there is said to be, but never proven, one particular Book of Thoth which contains a spell that allows the caster to see and talk to the gods. This book was supposedly in the possession of the Egyptian Prince Neferkaptah for a time but, after his suicide which was said to be brought on by reading the book, it was buried with him. In an odd/interesting little side-note, the magical Book of Thoth was also cited as the inspiration for the original Tarot Cards.
Sword of Attila
The last item on my list is the Sword of Attila, also called the Sword of Mars or the Sword of God. According to legend, the sword was actually found in a sheep field and, after the shepherd had unearthed it and gave it Attila, the warlord would eventually go on to accomplish his greatest deeds. Many historical accounts say that the sword was a perfect weapon in Attila’s hands and it was “like an extension of his arm”. After his death, the sword went missing for more than five hundred years but supposedly resurfaced in the hands of Hungarian nobility. However, recent work done on this sword which currently resides in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, suggest that the sword was made at least three hundred years after Attila’s death and is therefore a fake.