On Friday we talked about "god weapons" and things to do when handing them out to your players. Only, there seemed to be a lot of interest in games where you had special weapons that actually weren't all that special. No mechanical bonuses. No god like effects. Just a weapon that is famous and thus highly desired and the challenges that that could bring around. With that in mind, today I'd like to talk about just how we can create that effect.
Give It A Name
The best way to make something stand out as special in your game is to give it a name. By this I don't mean "Sword of Swiftness" because that isn't a name; it's a description of the sword. "Sword of Swiftness" makes me think it is a sword that grants the wielder some ability to be swift. "Swiftrunner" on the other hand, now that's a name.
Think about it. How many people in your game have names? The PCs do for sure. The NPCs do if they're really important. Some unimportant ones might have first names, but I'd be willing to wager that the majority of actual things in your game - stores, people, items, etc - don't actually have names. This is true in works of fiction of all kinds. When something gets a name, it is probably going to be important in some way. If nothing else, it tips the reader off that "hey, someone thought this was important enough to give it a name. Maybe I should pay attention to it."
Give It A Personality
When you look through history, mythology, and stories, very few swords are named things like "Bob." In most cases a weapon will have a name like the one I gave above - Swiftrunner - or something else that evokes a personality. Use that, give the weapon a personality - even if it has no mechanical effects - and stay true to that personality with other aspects of the weapons design. Swiftrunner should feel very different in your players' minds than the Sword of the Red River. Just from the names one of those evokes the image of a more narrow and quick blade, while the other makes me think of a more brutal weapon that makes tearing wounds and is made solely for killing.
At Least One Standout Feature
Not just a name is needed for this weapon. It also needs a description. You want to, at least once, go into detail when describing the thing you want to stand out. Either in a write up you hand the players, or the first time they see it. Just like giving something a name, giving something a specific description makes it stand out in their minds. A "Sword" or even "a katana" all evoke common images in our head that we then personalize internally to fit the scene. A "Swiftrunner is a rapier with a longer than normal blade. The hand guard is in the shape of wings swept back for a dive with finely detailed features adorning the entirety of the hilt. There is a light tinge of green to the blade when it catches the light. Despite its storied history in service to the king, the blade looks newly forged without a single mark on it from the actio it has seen" on the other hand, makes it hard to picture the blade as anything but that specific object. After all, we just described it.
Which reminds me.
Give The Weapon A Story
This one isn't true for all things, but stories are another good way to mark a weapon as special before you give it out. There is a "this is an awesome sword" and there is "this is the sword that has found its way into the hands of every generation of history's greatest sword fighter in the world." Stories, and having a story, are another way to mark something as special. They're also a great way to hint and foreshadow to your players what challenges they may face now that they possess the weapon. It can also convey the expectations or just make them a part of a cool aspect of the world.
Above All: Use It
The best way to ruin something you marked as special is by going back and referring to it as a generic weapon. If you give a weapon a name, use the name and try to get the player that has it to use the name as well. If it has a cool description, use the description whenever you can. Bring up how the blade is special, let the players know it is special, and reinforce it into the group. Nothing will kill "Swiftrunner" faster as a special item than referring to it as just a sword and not using the story, description, and personality you gave it. You are putting work into these parts of your world, so use it. Even if all it is is describing the player's action as "You thrust Swiftrunner through his chest, piercing his heart and killing him instantly" instead of "You thrust your sword through his chest..."
From the comments on Friday I know some of you guys have ideas for this. This post is also similar to one I made before, but I wanted to keep this focused on weapons/equipment.