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I apologize ahead of time for this question. But it came up in tonight's session. Lets say that you have a Helm of Brilliance, and a Longsword +4.

The helm states that if you use its ability to create a flame blade, it retains its previous abilities and gains the flame blade. Now... the next part is where when looking online no one knows what the flame blade was ever supposed to be, so the consensus is... use the Flame Toungue sword.

Next.... the Flame Tongue sword has +4 against undead... (see where this is going?). So What my friend is trying to tell me is that because it says it retains its previous abilities, that the +4's would stack with each other effectively making it +8 vs Undead.

So, have I just been playing wrong all these years, or is my friend correct? I basically looked at him like he was crazy, and there is no mention of weapon bonus stacking in AD&D anywhere on the internet to indicate otherwise, Thanks.

This would also apply to any weapon with multiple combat bonus attributes even without the helm involved. So if it was a regenerating, cold based, undead creature of some kind, The flametounge would be +1, +2, +3, +4 for a total of +9. This seems ridiculous to me. But if I am wrong, I can accept that. I have never had this question come up before when were played originally decades ago.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For the record disregard specific numbers or bonuses, I guess they might be off, just the concept is what I want to clear up. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2018 at 3:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Take the tour. Thank you for a great first question that has me scratching my head and rooting through books! I hope you receive a satisfying answer. Thank you for participating and have fun. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2018 at 3:51

4 Answers 4

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First of all, the helm gives the properties of a sword of flame, but such a sword is not really defined in the DMG. However, you are okay to interpret it as Sword +1, flame tongue, as discussed in this question.

Either way, the text itself does not explicitly mention that the effects would stack. It states "in addition to any other special properties it may have", which may be interpreted as having those properties and these properties as well; so +4 sword is a +4 sword; and it is still +4 against undead.

A RAW answer is difficult to give, as the tone of the AD&D game (including 2e), gives the main decision power to the individual DMs, and the books are considered guidelines and not strict rules. Our group, which had a 2e campaign starting from level 1 and reaching levels 12-14, refrained from stacking effects, as the highest bonus for any weapon in the DMG is +5 (with the single exception being frost brand that is +6 against fire-using/dwelling creatures). Even the bonus for weapons of the avatar of Tempus, god of war in the Forgotten Realms setting, is +5 (Faiths & Avatars, page 158). Our group felt that extremely high bonuses really unbalanced our game.

PS: Note that in the 3e, the helm simply granted the flaming property, which was just an additional 1d6 fire damage, so no stacking of pluses. That might also be a good choice as a balancing rule.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ (I'm a little surprised this is a thing. Is there, like, a helm of brilliance in a low-level module or something so that this issue arose all the time?) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2018 at 15:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, but we had discussions of stacking issues from various effects. For example in Planescape, where the weapon bonuses dropped when the characters travelled to the planes, casting spells to replenish bonuses, or developing custom magic items, were things we discussed. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jun 3, 2018 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: For example, the 4th level Enchanted Weapon spell explicitly mentioned that it can stack with existing bonuses as long as the sum did not go above +3. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jun 3, 2018 at 15:47
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Quoting from the "Sage Advice" column by Skip Williams from Dragon magazine issue 147 (July 1989, page numbers refer to 1e DMG):

Magical swords gain the powers of a flame tongue sword in addition to their own. If the sword was a flame tongue weapon to begin with, double the effects of its powers when used with the helm (see the DMG, pages 145-146 for the helm and page 165 for the sword).

Since the description of the flame tongue offers nothing else to double except the bonuses, these sentences seem to imply that the bonuses would stack.

PS: I can not really agree with the advice of Dragon's sage, as you can read in my other answer. However having found about this semi-official source, I wanted to post it as well to be impartial.

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These questions came up in the AD&D1e group I was playing with in about 1981. We concluded that the Helm of Brilliance gave the properties of a Flame Tongue and that these did stack with any existing properties of the sword. So, for example, if you had a +4 sword and were using the Helm's properties against an undead opponent, you would indeed get +8 to hit and +8 damage.

This was, of course, a matter of DM interpretation, since the rules don't say one way or the other. One of our reasons for this is that the Helm of Brilliance is a dangerous item to wear. The last paragraph of its description, on p.146 of the 1e DMG, says:

If for any reason the wearer fails to make his or her saving throw versus a magical fire attack, he or she must attempt another saving throw for the helmet without magical additions. If this is failed, the remaining gems on the helm will all overload and detonate, causing in multiple whatever effects the gems would normally have.

That rule was regarded as a balancing factor. It would have made sense to fire off most of the gems as soon as possible, so that such a detonation might be survivable, but I could never bring myself to waste all that firepower.

A separate piece of interpretation on the Flame Tongue was that you only got the highest of the applicable bonuses; they did not stack together.

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In the dmg are examples of other swords:

sword +2, dragons slaying, this has a +4 bonus against any sort of true dragon. It inflict triple damage against one kind of true dragon. ( ie: 3d12+4)

So it seems at least the damage do not stack, based on the example given; but maddeningly enough, every description is just slightly different to cast doubt, it’s no legal document.

Now to attack, or thac0, the dmg states there are no limit to the number of modifiers to thac0. So by RAW it seem attack bonus will stack.

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