Silvered weapons

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Some foes, such as lycanthropes and wights, are immune to standard weapons but vulnerable to silver, and most or all versions of D&D include silver versions of various items in the equipment list. OD&D prices silver arrows at 5 GP per arrow (compared to a quiver of 20 arrows for 10 GP), and Moldvay prices silver daggers at 30 GP (ten times as much as the standard dagger). Silver crosses are also available for 25 GP (the simple wooden variety is only 2 GP).

However, treasure hunting adventurers are not very price sensitive regarding mundane equipment, so increased cost does not have much effect other than during initial equipment buying. Thus, there should be some trade-off to using a silvered weapon other than just costing more initially. Otherwise, players will just outfit everyone with silver versions of everything, and then combattants will be assumed to always use silvered weapons, just in case. Most things that are unproblematically better are boring. So there should be some reason to not use silver weapons all the time.

A silvered weapon is not actually made of solid silver. Rather, it is an iron or steel implement that has silver bound to the blade in a process similar to gilding. Perhaps a ritual and some hedge magic or blessing is also required as part of the procedure. As it is used, the silver wears off. This process of wearing off is actually critical to the effective functioning of the silver weapon — you are essentially leaving traces of poison in the argyrophobic  creature.

A “silver die” (d6) should be rolled along with every damage die. On a silver die roll of 1, the silvering process has worn off, and must be re-silvered. Needing to roll an extra die also draws attention to the use of a silver weapon, making it more of an explicit choice, and less of a default. This makes silver arrows potentially more cost-effective than most silvered melee weapons (though note you can’t effectively fight with a ranged weapon if you are in melee). Also, a miss with a silvered melee weapon will not potentially degrade the weapon, but an arrow that misses may be damaged or lost. So the value comparison is not direct.

Most metal weapons can be silvered. The cost (following Moldvay) is ten times the normal weapon, and takes a skilled smith one week to complete. Given the cost of silvering, it makes sense to only use silver weapons when they are likely to make a difference. This is in effect a form of melee ammunition.

Silvered plate armor is available too, at the same cost multiple. Argyrophobic foes will generally prioritize attacking characters that are not wearing silvered armor, and will usually take a penalty when attacking combattants armored in silver (though this varies based on the specific creature). Silvered armor will also wear out in a similar manner (a silver die should be rolled per attack that is landed on the wearer).

15 thoughts on “Silvered weapons

  1. Billy Billerson

    Good point. I used to equip everyone with all silver weapons in POR. Not sure I like the extra dice-roll…

    How about:
    a) silver weapons don’t keep an edge/point as well–half damage against non-silver-sensitive opponents
    b) silver blades tend to break/bend, especially if they hit an opponent’s armor. Natural roll of 1 on a to-hit and it warps and must be repaired.

    1. Brendan

      Those are both good alternatives. In a game where all weapons do 1d6 damage though (from dagger to long sword), I think it would be hard to justify half damage from silver. Damage to the weapon on an attack roll of 1 would work well.

      If you don’t like the extra die roll but do like the system outlined in the post, you could just use the damage roll itself to determine when the silvering wears off (a damage roll of 1 when attacking with a silvered weapon or a damage roll of 6 when someone in silver armor is hit).

    2. Keith Davies

      Rolling a 1 for your damage might mean the silver is basically gone, but it also makes for low damage and lose silver — insult and injury in one package, as it were.

      Letting it happen on a six means at least you get full effect for it when it wears off.

    1. Brendan


      That was actually my first draft of this idea (rolling after combat), just like how I wrote up abstracting missile ammunition. However, I decided it would be better to err on the side of scarcity salience. It is easier to relax a rule like this than it is to tighten it up later. Rolling after combat is also easier to overlook, I think.

      Also, losing access to silver in the middle of a fight could be seen as a feature, as it makes deciding to carry a backup silvered weapon more important, and also can increase the tension of a fight with argyrophobic foes.

  2. LS

    I like this. I, also, have noticed that silver becomes the default for everything as soon as the players have a bit of gold in their purse.

    1. Brendan

      In folklore, isn’t “cold iron” just iron? The d20 SRD made it so that it has to be specially mined underground based on what I just read, but implements crafted out of it only cost twice as much as normal. Is there another thing that makes cold iron more expensive?

    2. 1d30

      Cold iron is, as far as I can tell, just iron.

      Requiring a special type of iron or smelting process is just dumb 3E Half-Wight Dragoncow bullshit.

      As for the silver weapon thing, I suggest that silver weapons get all bent or blunted and require repair after being used for a fight. A damaged silver weapon is -1 to hit and damage. Magical silver weapons don’t get blunted, much like magic weapons in general, which is one good reason to use them.

      This could be extended to nonsilver weapons. After a fight all weapons used have a 1 in 6 chance of getting blunted.

      Alternately you could have the silvering of a weapon wear off on a natural 20, and likewise the silvering on armor wears off if you get hit with a natural 20.

    3. Keith Davies

      @Brendan: enchanting it gets wicked expensive.

      @1d30 I know ‘cold iron’ is really ‘just iron’, but D&D (3.x anyway) plays it otherwise, and it can be useful to have at least a few weapons made of it, same as silver.

    4. Gus L

      I always figured that “cold iron” was iron that had been cold forged and had never been smelted. That is to say meteoric or ingot iron which is rare, and since it’d be mostly untempered it wouldn’t work well for blades unless it was a really special meteorite…

      I like these silver rules, but I think the 1 in 6 is pretty huge chance. I’d think you could just make it an additional effect on rolling a 20 with a silver weapon.

    1. Brendan

      I wouldn’t say it’s a problem so much as an uninteresting distinction that is not worth worrying about unless there ends up being more to it. Or maybe I just use too many monsters with specific weaknesses.

  3. Psychochild

    Another option would be to make the weapons exceedingly rare, so that you couldn’t just pick them up at the corner foundry in any village. I like the idea of them requiring hedge magic or a minor enchantment. Or, maybe even make them require a huge amount of magic to produce, so that they are really rare; might be a cool adventure hook where the players have to go beg a lord to borrow his ancestral weaponry to take down a nasty foe.

    Personally, I’m not fond of having a lot of resistances like this. Especially if you try to make weapons of limited use, you just encourage the “backpack full of special purpose swords” problem which I’m not fond of. So, I’d rather have the items be rare rather than them be fragile.

    1. Brendan

      I kind of like having many resistances like this, actually, as it makes monsters less about HP/AC and more about some theme (which you have to discover within the game). I kind of wish the choice about what weapons to carry for the fighter was more like the choice of what spells to prepare for the magic-user, though I realize the game does not support this very well.

      That said, I like the variation on rarity rather than expendability, and I think that is a great way to do it.


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