Adventure Hooks: The Legendary Sword Masters (Part 1)

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 25, 2012

Every hero needs a teacher. It’s a common part of many origin stories; the hero is taught by a washed-up has-been who used to be a great master in his day. Of course the hero doesn’t usually know of the master’s glorious past or the fall from grace that led him to his current predicament.

Training isn’t really a part of the mechanics in 4e D&D (although it was in the previous editions). However, creative DMs can come up with any number of reasons for the PCs to need special training in order to achieve the latest campaign goals. The idea of training and refining skills isn’t limited to just low-level adventurers. No matter what level your PC happens to be, there’s always something he can learn from a legendary sword master.

The key to making any interaction between a PC and a teacher interesting is for the master to be a fully fleshed out characters with a story of his own – the more quirky and eccentric the better. Shrouding a legendary sword master in mystery and intrigue is a sure way to get players interested. Throw in a compelling story motive and suddenly the PCs will do whatever they can to find the legendary sword master.

To help get you started here’s an example plot hook for working a legendary sword master into your game.

  • A powerful enemy has returned after a long absence (maybe a demon that was banished a generation ago?). This villain is on the verge of destroying civilization. The only way to stop him is to learn a special fighting style that only a select few sword masters know. The PCs must find one of these legendary sword masters and then convince them to teach the PC the special technique. But convincing the sword master to train the PCs may be more difficult than expected.

Below are examples of six legendary sword masters, each with a background and personality. These six are just the first of many we’ll share in the coming weeks. Feel free to use any or all of them in your next campaign. No matter what kind of adventure you’re running, I’m sure you can find a way to slip one or more of these legendary sword masters into the story. Have fun with them.

1) The Refined Wild Man

During a lavish social interaction the PCs are introduced to society’s upper echelon. One of the men they meet is an exceptionally refined man who clearly has some Orc in him. However his mannerisms, dialogue and personality are absolutely befitting someone of his position in society. It isn’t until one of the PCs recognize a symbol on the man’s cane that they suspect he’s actually a legendary sword master. But that man was a wild-eyed barbarian who led hordes of screaming savages into some of the bloodiest battles ever fought. How could he possible be this prim and proper now?

[Inspired by the Count of Monte Cristo (the book or movie) this is indeed the legendary sword master. After he conquered his enemies and acquired more wealth than he could ever spend he decided to undertake an even more difficult challenge – becoming a party of civilized society. Using his enormous wealth he’s distanced himself from his past. None of his social peer suspects his true origins.]

2) The Golem

On his final adventure, the sword master defeated an evil Wizard. But before the Wizard was killed he sent the master’s soul into a nearby iron Golem. The Golem is bound to the Wizard’s old dungeon and master’s spirit has been trapped in the clumsy iron body for decades. When the PCs find the Golem the master readily accepts the opportunity to pass on his skills to a worthy apprentice. As the PCs become more adept the master becomes happier.

[The master learned long ago that his spirit can be easily freed from the Golem’s body – all he has to do is kill someone. When he does, the victim’s body will be restored to life and the spirit of the master will change bodies with the victim trapping the victim’s spirit inside the Golem. The master has been waiting for a worthy vessel to find him and the PC is exactly what he’s been waiting for all these years.]

3) The Stage Performer

A stage performer happens to share the same name as the sword master the PCs seek. He’s easy to find as the lead member of a famous acting troupe. If the PCs watch him perform scenes with weapons (which he does in almost every show) they realize that his movements are exaggerated and not those of a true warrior. When asked about his background he laughs off any suggestions that he is the legendary master they seek. He explains that it’s an unfortunately coincidence that’s both helped and hurt his career. He assures them he’s not the one they seek. Yet something about his performance has at least one PC convinced that if this man’s acting is as good as his swordplay then he could indeed be the master hiding in plain sight.

[This could easily be true or false as the story demands. Keep the PCs guessing. If he is the master then the PCs will have to figure out what they can offer him for his services as a teacher. After all he’s rich and famous, what else could he possibly want or need?]

4) The Blessed Paladin

Finding this legendary sword master isn’t difficult. This Paladin established a monetary to his deity and welcome all who are faithful. His skills are still sharp but he has other… issues. He talks to his sword, which he believes is the voice of god talking to him. Of course no one else has ever heard the sword speak and the Paladin explains that it is a test of faith. If you believe you too can hear the wisdom of his deity through the enchanted blade. He’s willing to teach anyone who converts to his faith but part of the conversion means accepting the Paladin’s sword as a direct conduit to his deity. Any doubt of this absolute truth will immediately anger the Paladin and he will forever banish blasphemers.

[Is he mad or blessed? DMs should have fun with this one. Any PC who converts should have his new faith tested repeatedly. Some of the monks who serve the Paladin will try to trick the PCs into questioning the sword validity which will lead to expulsion. Yet there is still a chance that the Paladin is indeed blessed.]

5) The Circus Performer

The PCs believe that the sword master they seek is living out his twilight years as a circus performer. The anonymity of the circus is an ideal place for a man trying to hide from his past. If he’s here the PCs will have to find him. Remember, he doesn’t want to be found. He could be anyone. The most likely candidates are the sword swallower, the knife juggler/knife thrower, and the strongman. But in truth it really could be anyone.

[If the master misses his former life than he’s likely doing something that will keep his sword skills sharp, however, if he’s still trying to distance himself from his former life he’s just as likely to be someone who doesn’t handle weapons at all like an acrobat, animal handler or even ticket taker.]

6) Danger Sense

It seems odd that a legendary swordsman like this one would seek solitude and give up the comforts someone of his impeccable reputation deserves. The PCs heard that one reason this master has been so successful is that he possess a danger sense that alerts him when trouble is near. When they find him wandering the woods he was already aware of their approach. He’s willing to train them and at first things seem fine. As the party travels with the master they are attacked numerous times and each times his danger sense alerts them. However, after a few days the master senses dangers that never materializes. Where are the dangers he’s sensing? Why are there no attacks?

[The master’s danger sense, although 100% accurate, warns him of false danger as often as it warns him of real danger. Over the years this has made him quite paranoid. He knows that he gets false readings (something he is very embarrassed about and won’t reveal to the PCs) but the false feelings are indistinguishable from genuine danger so he has to treat them all seriously. After a few days of this the party gets less and less rest and everyone gets really edgy and paranoid.]

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1 Adirassi April 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

I’ve slightly used this for my campaign. in the game i’m running, the characters are part of a mercenary guild that is run by two men who were legionnaires in one of the strongest militaries in the last war. these men teach them the style of fighting that military used, and one of the characters (the second in command) is the prince who was ‘K.I.A’ in the great war. he’s nescesarry to getting into the final country..

2 Mike Karkabe-Olson April 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Cool ideas. I like them!

3 Sunyaku April 26, 2012 at 1:22 am

Similar to the golem notion, a Dancing Blade that is an intelligent weapon would make for an interesting teacher. Then you could throw such a teacher it into any loot pile.

4 Victor Von Dave April 26, 2012 at 5:38 am

Excellent ideas and love the Count of Monte Cristo reference 🙂

@Sunyaku – I did something similar to this in an old campaign, where a PC swordmaster’s mentor was a one-armed, outcast Githyanki with a very powerful magic sword. It turned out that the sword was intelligent with a powerful ego that had subsumed its host’s, and speaking through the Githyanki the sword itself was the true teacher.

5 Quirky DM April 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

These are great adventure hooks. Really well done. Thanks for some good inspiration and some future adventures for my group.

6 northierthanthou November 29, 2013 at 7:45 am

…I’m always fond of the mentor as a potential enemy, a master whose benign intent cannot be taken for granted. Perhaps he intends to help; perhaps not.

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