A follow-up on this Q&A regarding the origins of the Holy Avenger and similar "holy" weapons in the Forgotten Realms, and in D&D more generally. As noted there, the Realms have experienced several in-narrative events created to coincide with, and explain, rules changes that came with each new edition of D&D -- the (first) Sundering, the Time of Troubles, etc. Magic and magic items have often changed between editions. How have paladins' "holy" weapons changed from edition to edition?

I am looking for lore applicable to the Realms; mechanics that have a more-than-purely-numerical impact; and especially any demonstrable relationship between former and latter. Put differently: I don't care that an item originally provided a +2 to hit but was changed to a +3 later on. I'm looking for major differences of function that would have meaningful implications for in-game narrative.


1 Answer 1


Well then, let's go through the editions. In all versions of D&D, the holy sword is a magic weapon (with high "plus" value) that grants extra powers to a Paladin:

  • 0E Greyhawk: Holy Sword: negate spells 1" radius (30' outdoors, 10' otherwise. Yes, effects changed size based on surroundings).
  • 1E & 2E DMG: Sword, Holy Avenger: magic resistance 50% (level-dependent) 5' radius, Dispel Magic as spell 5' radius, +10 damage vs chaotic evil.
  • 3E DMG & SRD: Holy (weapon property): good-aligned damage, +2d6 vs evil.
  • 3E DMG & SRD: Weapon, Holy Avenger: Holy & Cold Iron properties, spell resistance 5+level to self & adjacent creatures, may cast Greater Dispel Magic 1/round.
  • 4E DMG: Weapon, Holy Avenger: level 25+ (+5 or +6), +1d6 per plus on critical hit, +1d10 to radiant attacks, 1/day +5 to allies' non-AC defenses in 50' UEoYNT, counts as holy symbol (implement) with same plus.
  • 5E DMG: Holy Avenger (sword): +2d10 vs fiends & undead, advantage on saves vs magic 10' aura (30' for level 17+ Paladin).

Before Faerun existed, a Paladin's holy weapon was nigh-invulnerable against spellcasters. In the early Realms it became weaker, but arguably still the greatest non-artifact weapon. After the Time of Troubles, magical properties (including Holiness) became modular and commoditized. Then the Spellplague turned everything fiddly but precise, balanced and rectangular (perhaps the Modrons were behind it). Since the Second Sundering, most items show homage to their pre-Spellplague instantiations. Interestingly, the Holy Avenger even resembles its original form from the old world, albeit much more bounded.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the cute era names for the editions rub me the wrong way enough that I keep pulling back when I go to upvote. Maybe it’s because they obscure the meaning (is “revolution” referring to 4e? I have to count them to see if they match, and at first it’s not even obvious those are editions, which is not reader-friendly), maybe it’s because they imply obsolescence of earlier editions, which isn’t accurate and will put off readers who still play earlier editions than 5e. Anyway, those are thoughts on a surprisingly strong negative reaction to that paragraph. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2019 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie fair enough. When I have time to read some wikias, I'll replace those RL eras with appropriate event names from the FR timeline \$\endgroup\$
    – Foo Bar
    Jul 31, 2019 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...but yes, I do think that "the revolution" is a perfect description of 4E's place in D&D history. It was a bold ideological upheaval, overthrowing everything that came before, but it was beleaguered by ongoing factional conflicts and eventually superseded. Which historical revolution fits best (French? Industrial? Cultural? Hungarian?) is left to the mind of the reader. \$\endgroup\$
    – Foo Bar
    Jul 31, 2019 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ No particular objection to that name; I just picked one as an example of how it was hard to be sure if those were even labels for editions, and hard to be sure as a reader I was following their meaning. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 31, 2019 at 17:59

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