An adventure in D&D can offer numerous different types of events and end in myriad ways that don’t include battles. The characters might be tasked with navigating a trap-filled dungeon, sneaking past snoring guards at the city gates, solving a mysterious theft, recovering a stolen crown, or charming a diplomat from a foreign realm. There can be social encounters that must be handled well, songs that have to be performed with skill, and cliffs which require deftness and skill to scale.
Don’t bring a dagger to the swordfight
However, D&D is ultimately a game about battles. For most groups, successfully completing a quest means having fought at least once along the way, and the great majority will have taken part in plenty of fights before the campaign concludes. This means that many players are keen to equip their characters with the best possible weapons, ideally magic ones.
What’s more, D&D is also, in its basic form, a fantasy game, with a default setting that leans heavily into a territory established by dozens of authors in hundreds of famed novels. There are flaming dragons and hideous trolls, curious fey and deadly demons, castles and dungeons, and heroes who ride around and encounter all these fantastic sights. And if you see a poster for a film or the cover of a book that features any of the above, it’s very likely that you’ll also see a heavily armoured person who’s wielding a sword.
There are plenty of reasons why this is the case. Swords were prominent in medieval warfare, they’re used in many peaceful ceremonies, and they’re also strongly symbolic and can be found as indications of status in thousands of emblems and logotypes.
But I like to believe that there are other factors behind the frequent appearances of swords in fantasy settings. For example, swords are inherently stylish in their fundamental form: uncomplicated, elegant, and lethal. Hence, it’s no wonder that they look so dashing in the hands of a D&D character.
This article offers a quick look at some of the most dangerous swords found in the game. By dangerous, I mean the sword’s essential capability to deal damage in combination with its other powers.
A considered collection
As most D&D players with an internet connection know, there are countless websites on which one can find guides to the best magic weapons for each type of class, expert advice on how to use them to the best possible effect, and a plethora of homebrewed weapons with dazzling arcane powers. The authors of these sites sometimes have massive expertise gained from decades of active playing, and there are also those who employ maths or use computer simulations to deduce which weapons that are the most efficient in different circumstances.
Rather than trying to outdo any of those resources, this particular list aims present a more simple and basic but also specific round-up as it’s limited to the core rulebooks and includes only swords. Essentially, the blades included in this article are based on the writer’s understanding, background, preferences, and – as usual – whim! But don’t let that deter you: if your characters tend to choose swords as their go-to weapons, you might find a novel suggestion here, or even a weapon that might prompt a whole character idea! So hold on to your shield and leap into the list of excellent swords for your present or future character.
Most of these renowned (and often fabulously designed) swords are not especially dangerous compared to most other magic weapons – unless you happen to be a dragon, in which case I recommend that you start running!
Granting the wielder a measly +1 on attack and damage rolls against non-dragon, the bonus to damage rolls turns into a staggering 3d6 when the blade hits a draconic creature. This additional damage can become colossal if the sword is used by someone who has multiple attacks, and even more so if the aforementioned character also has an increased chance to roll crits. Boosted by only a couple of low-level spells and potions, a high-level character in our group managed to deal over 200 in slashing damage in a single round against an ancient green dragon. That was a memorable session, to be sure (especially for the unfortunate dragon!).
Other swords that belong to the same category include Giant Slayers, which (as you guessed) add plenty of damage when they’re used again creatures of the giant type.
Known as the sword coveted by every D&D paladin that has ever been created, this mighty blade is a tool of glorious destruction in the hands of a gallant knight. Usable only by paladins, a Holy Avenger is basically a +3 magic weapon that spells doom against fiends and undead creatures by adding a lovely 2d10 radiant damage to each hit against such beings. Even a lich would be forgiven if it thinks twice before attacking anyone wielding a thing like that! Better still, the sword also grants friendly nearby characters a protective aura that improves their saving throws against spells and other magic effects. Toss this to the paladin in your group and watch as they instantly become the other characters’ best friend!
I include the Luck Blade here only because it’s tremendously dangerous, in its own weird way. This kind of sword can look like anything and offers the wielder a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls. Once per day, it also allows the wielder to re-roll a roll, be it an attack, a saving throw, or a skill check. So far, so normal, and so rather dull. However, the blade also comes imbued with 1d4 – 1 charges that be used to cast the spell wish. Yes, that legendary ninth-level spell. Which, given the spell’s ability to do astounding things, is mildly nutty.
And given that there’s nothing that prevents the wielder to use an action to cast this spell in the middle of a battle to, for example, slam their opponent with an eight-level spell out of nowhere, this blade is very dangerous (but still, as stated above, rather dull).
Nine Lives Stealer
A true D&D classic, this weapon is notorious for two things: being truly deadly and for looking like it’s been crafted by a blacksmith who loves all things goth. For some reason, it’s also always been among the most sought-after swords in our group, possibly because of the aforementioned design. It’s a +2 weapon with a special twist that has spelt the end of many a monster. Its unique power is as follows: if you roll a crit against a creature with 100 or fewer hit points, the creature must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or die – just like that. The sword can slay creatures instantly in this fashion only 1d8 + 1 times, but that’s enough to potentially turn the tide when fighting a dangerous opponent with a poor Con save, such as a hostile wizard.
This might just be the most prized (and feared) of all swords in D&D. Its powers are few and simple but terrifying, and merely its name can be enough to make a hardened barbarian shiver in their fur-lined boots. Basically a +3 sword with a nasty twist, the weapon ignores resistance to slashing damage. This is an excellent feature in itself given how common such resistance is among powerful monsters, but the sword’s real wickedness kicks in when you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll, in which case you sever your opponent’s head. Is it brutal? Definitely. Is it totally overpowered? Quite possibly! Personally, I would advise against allowing to end up in your player characters’’ hands. However, if you really want to instil some fear in your players, let the face an opponent armed with this weapon (and make sure they know what they’re up against!).
I know – I said that this would be limited to the core rulebooks, but we’ll make one quick dash over to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything so that we can take a look at a very cool sword (of sorts) that’s featured there. Not actually a physical weapon, this item is created by a second-level spell. It allows a sorcerer, warlock or wizard to conjure an illusion of an ink-black sword-shaped shadow that has a range of nice features beyond its ability to dish out damage. To begin with, it’s a magic weapon (no surprise there!), counts as a simple weapon, and the caster is automatically proficient with it. Its blade deals a whooping 2d8 psychic damage on a hit, which is neat as this is one of the least resisted damage types in D&D. But there’s more! The sword has the finesse, light, and thrown properties – and when it’s swung against a target that’s in dim light or darkness, the attack roll is made with advantage!
That’s a lot of goodness packed into a single illusion. Obviously, there are lots of trade-offs, such as the very idea of using a kind-of-melee-weapon when you’re a spellcaster. However, the sheer coolness of the shadow blade is not to be ignored. It’s also not there until it’s cast, which can catch an opponent off guard if the DM is in a good mood.
Let’s end this list with the sword of swords! Blackrazor is a phenomenally dangerous sword for a number of reasons – and not only to those who are on its receiving end. Its most prominent feature is that it’s sentient and inhabited by a dark-hearted soul with only one desire: to devour other souls, specifically those of the creatures that are slain by the sword. Given the sword’s impressive powers, this is likely to happen frequently! Blackrazor is a +3 weapon that lets you be aware of other living creatures nearby, protects you from becoming charmed or frightened, and funnels the life essence of slain opponents back into you in the form of temporary hit points – and grants you advantage on all checks for as long as you retain those hit points. That’s a lot of bonuses! Just keep in mind that the sword has an affinity for undead creatures, so if you use the sword against such beings, the sword hurts you instead – and might even turn you into a shrivelled, soulless husk!
Those were but a few of the many magic swords that can be found in D&D! There are many more to be discovered by would-be heroes who rummage through the loot in lairs or break into secured and secluded vaults. What will you let your players’ characters find?