Magic Swords & Penetration

Just started a new campaign. Players are very enthusiastic. I'm enjoying myself. If there is a greater rush than GMming, I don't know of it.

One of the players made an excellent rules suggestion which I adopted on the spot, but I thought I'd run past your redoubtable knowledge, experience and grognardery to see if it's been considered before, and if there are any known repercussions.

Let me paint you a vignette. The background of it is that the magician in question has a sword as his Talisman. He's just opened it, and is looking forward to filling it with powerful defensive magics. However, before he can do so, he gets ambushed by an ogre during a vis hunt. (Play had ground down a little, and I wanted to give the party a fight to get their blood pounding again.)

"I stab the ogre with my magic sword!" the player exclaims.

"His magic resistance defends against it", I reply.

He's disappointed. He wanted a magical sword, and his magical sword is now worse than a mundane one. "So I should just use a regular sword against things with magic resistance?" the player queries.

"Many ogre-slayers carry mundane swords for just this reason."

The player mulls for a moment; this is different from the worldview which D&D has taught him. Then, a light gleams in his eyes: "Why don't I just enchant some penetration into the sword, then?"


"The wand of Crystal Dart which the other character is using, has enough penetration to get through its magic resistance; that's the point of the wand. If you put the same spell into the sword, then the spell would be able to penetrate, so surely the sword itself would also be able to penetrate?"

I'm not sure what to respond. I mull it over. On the one hand, he's right; it's absurd to say that the ogre's magic resistance blocks a weapon which is enchanted in such a way as to specifically be able to pierce this magic resistance. On the other hand, if I say yes, what am I agreeing to?

If in doubt, say yes. It teaches your players to be creative. I can always backpeddle later.

"Yes", I say, "I think that's an excellent idea. Why don't you use that as your inaugural lab project?"

The player rubs his hands with glee and dives into the enchantment rules as soon as the fight is done. Half an hour later or so, he looks up at me again with the rapacious eyes of a munchkin who has come up with something he's proud of.

"Do I have to put a magical effect into it?"

"I'm sorry? I thought you were enchanting an item?"

"I am. But all I want is the penetration, which costs a level for 2 points. I don't actually need the effect itself. The more powerful the magic I put into it, the less penetrating I can make the sword's mundane usage. Logically, the best thing for me to do is therefore either to find some banal effect with extremely low level; or simply have no effect at all."

Hmmmm. He's got a point. "That sounds reasonable. Do it." I reach for the doritos and munch a few as the players fall into in-character bickering.

The only problem that I can see, would come from if he now enchants the sword with damage-enhancing effects. (For example, Edge of the Razor). My own knee-jerk ruling on this would be that Edge of the Razor would then need to have its own penetration total built in, as would any other damage-enhancing or negative-status-effect-granting effects.


If there are no active effects that target the sword it shouldn't have any trouble penetrating. That's not a house rule, I believe it's the only sensible interpretation of the rules as written.

Magic resistance keeps active magic away if you don't have a magical effect that targets the blade where do you get a penetration value to compare to the magic resistance to?

[strike]First thought: the pink dot rule is idiotic.[/strike].. but that's not helpful and will derail this thread faster than anything.


Yes, each effect needs it's own penetration. Not really sure how that would work ultimately. It's not something I've ever considered.

I also have never thought of putting just penetration into an item to allow a talisman to be used as a mundane weapon against creatures with magic resistance. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have considered it possible but I think you and your player came up with a good solution.

In my own house rules, magic resistance would prevent the magic from working but the physical object - the sword - would still strike home... but that's a house rules situation.

That is certainly an option.

Plan B (the one out sword fighting enthusiasts tend to favor): enchant something in the POMEL of the sword only. The entire pomel, a ruby in it or whatever. That way the BLADE remains mundane and you can stab stuff with it. You benefit from the Shape of the sword without having to enchant the whole blade. Generally the multiplier of the noble items in the pommel tend to surpass the avantage of the larger sword.

Not to be rude, but the word "active" does not appear in my copy of the rules.

Also, this is a talisman, an extension of the magus. Surely a sword wielding magus has an effect he can enchant into his sword, banal though it may be, that can be used to affect an opponent with his sword. The sword is magical once it becomes invested with vis.

Talismans require an investment of time to be useful, a bit above and beyond the ordinary magical item. He's feeling that consequence now. If he'd created a flaming sword, and put sufficient penetration into it, he probably wouldn't be complaining. It's one of the choices a character makes. Do I start creating a talisman now, or make an invested device or a lesser device to solve this problem. IMO, he's chosen then long view of things. In the short term, he has to use alternative methods to realize his goals.

Swords as talismans...swords get used in combat. What happens when/if the sword breaks?! :open_mouth: Even Excalibur broke...

This is why HoH: S suggests using armor or a shield as a talisman, rather than a weapon :slight_smile:

OK, follow-up question:
A magical sword is enchanted with 2 effects.
A) CrIg 5, R: Touch, pen 16 (basically adds fire damage to sword)
B) PeCo 10, R: Touch, pen 0 (Weeping wound at R: Touch)

can this sword strike a magus with MR 10?

One effect is resisted, the other is not...

Depends on where you view Parma coming into play...and the pink dot.
Some sagas HR that only effects that don't penetrate are resisted. In those sagas, the mundane damage of the sword and the fire damage would penetrate.
In other sagas where magic resistance prevents anything magical from touching, then both effects would be resisted. There's value in both systems. The important thing is that the troupe comes to an agreement on which one they are operating under and then proceed from there. And so, that might be the best way to handle this... Allow the sword's mundane underlying damage to come through, regardless of it being a talisman and being enchanted. When the sword is using an effect, that effect must penetrate to add additional damage. This makes magical weapons less useless against creatures with powerful MR.

There are no examples in the rules of things that aren't spells or effects being resisted. There is no way to calculate whether or not they penetrate unless you make up some penetration value for them.

The rules don't use the term active magic but I can't look through them and imagine that they meant to imply that all enchanted devices are rested as if they had a penetration value of 0. That's not the sort of thing that you'd leave out.

I agree, if the fire did not penetrate the sword would bounce off of parma (assuming that the fire is firmly attached to the sword).

I'll assume the triggering action for the perdo corpus effect is to have the sword shoved in to human flesh. If this is the case the parma only gets a chance to resist after the sword has already hit (it's not too different from a range voice perdo corpus spell, and yes you can use a wand enchanted with this spell to poke a protected creature in the nose without checking for penetration.

I see your point...

Somewhere, and I can't recall where, I know I saw some rule discussion about magical creatures and shapechanged creatures and magic resistance. Does magic resistance stop the claws of a magical lion? Does it stop the claws of a wizard transformed into a lion by magic? Does it stop the claws of a lion that have be enchanted to be flaming? Anyone know where I'm remembering this from?

There is a discussion in the Bjornaer chapter comparing spells to heartbeast to some third state, I think lycanthropy and the shapechanger virtue. I suspect that htis is what you are recalling. Here's what I recall it saying. (you'd want to double check if its important. I clearly remember instances of my memory letting me down before.)

If you've been transformed by spells, the spells need to penetrate. Also, if you are a human transformed into an animal by a spell, then you still can be targeted by corpus spells.

If you are a shape changer then you don't need to penetrate but you're still vulnerable to corpus and mentem spells.

If you are a bjornaer in heartbeast form you don't need to penetrate with your claws and you no longer are vulnerable to corpus spells (I don't recall about mentem).

No, that's not it... because I've never read that before (I only just recently received HoH: MC as a gift) and I feel certain there was some reference to flaming claws.

Regardless... my reasoning in light of this discussion: if a magical creature can physically touch and/or attack a subject with magic resistance without needing to penetrate, than a magical object (such as a talisman sword) would logically also be able to do so. After all, you can pick up a charged item without it needing to penetrate your magic resistance... so you could just as easily be hit over the head with one.

I think it's already been said, but the best way that I've found to run this, across many years of running Ars Magica, is that you only need to be concerned with active effects. So, if you have a Diameter version of Edge of the Razor instilled, you only worry about Penetration when it's active. You can have as many effects in there as you like, and if they're dormant then you don't need to worry.

And if you have a bunch of them active, find the one with the least Penetration and decide whether that penetrates. If that does, they all do. If it doesn't, then it bounces, possibly with a nice clanging sound.

Coming from that D&D background does set you up with certain assumptions, but Ars Magica does have this concept of innate Magic Resistance, which for supernatural entities and those with Parma Magica is an all-or-nothing affair.

One way you might want to look at it is this: Magical beasties are a challenge because... well, because their magical beasties. Your stuff just doesn't work as well against them unless you up your game. You can't just throw any old effect in there and expect it to work because those beasties are worth a little more respect than that. Expecting an elder ogre to be harmed by the kind of sword an apprentice might enchant is just foolhardy.

For what it is worth, that is my opinion too. You cannot resist an inactive effect because there is no effect to resist.

I think I know the one you're talking about. There is a magical creature in one of the books (Can't remember where, but I think I posted the reference before.) that can change shape. In it's normal, magical animal form it need not penetrate with its claws. If it shapechanges then it must. This is specified in its description.


Might be in Legends of Hermes.

If you plan to play it, I would not read the spoiler
[spoiler]The creature in the island of spirits. It is in its character sheet IIRC.
Not a major spoiler, but best to play safe :wink: I had one of the players railing at me for sdays because he read a spoiler of an adventure we had not yet played in a text I sent them. Not on a "gotcha!" way, but on a "that is not good at all" way. Jokingly, but the criticism was there, and he was right[/spoiler]

How about a T: group CrVi effect that grants penetration to all the effects invested in the item?

Present in Magi of Hermes. The flambeau guy wielding an axe has that effect. At an incredibly inefficient level given the power creep of creatures in ArM5 (the current level would only allow him to kill minor enemies that he could smash anyway WITHOUT the use of a magic weapon), but that is beside the point. The effect is there to be used as an official guideline already :slight_smile:


Good find. Perhaps more importantly, note the way it works. You could add +10 penetration to hurt things with Infernal Might and still penetrate with a strike despite having no penetration on the unbreakable part. Even the initial design was essentially done that way. This falls short of an official interpretation of the pink dot issue, but it does suggest where things may be headed.