I am GMing for a group of ex-College friends, who are quite new to role-playing (six month or so), in a custom universe using a lot of characters inspired by Arthurian legends, including the sorcerer Merlin and the sword Excalibur.

The system is home made, based on comp+d20 for rolls, with a strong emphasis on role playing (most actions do not require rolls). The players have to act under some level of uncertainty: they are not fully aware of the consequences of their acts when they accomplish them, but have some knowledge of the legends/stories, giving them hints. I am not looking for system-specific answers.

Merlin will ask the players to retrieve Excalibur1 from the castle Camelot, because he believes the rulers are now corrupt, and are not worthy of the sword any more. However he will not do it himself, since he does not want the inhabitants of the castle to turn against him, and he wants them to feel like they have been punished by God.

The players will be asked to either plant Excalibur into the Rock where Arthur first lifted it or to throw it into the Lake. If they complete the task, they will be worthy and will have a chance to receive the sword from the Lady or to take it again from the Rock. However, they probably will try to steal the sword and keep it for themselves. That would make them unworthy of the sword.

I do not want to players to feel like I cheated them, and I only showed them a great piece of loot to deny them. The group has a strong interest in loot overall.

How can I make it non-frustrating that stealing Excalibur, instead of returning it to the Rock/Lake, will not allow them to use it to its full power, or will even have negative impact on the group's performance?

1: Note that "The players found a fake version of Excalibur" would not work for plot reasons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 0:38

19 Answers 19


In general, the best way is for greedy PCs not to get the loot in the first place thus side stepping the whole problem.

Despite the terrible pun (or nettle Eggcorn?): Knight

However, in this case, it is a great role playing opportunity!

Your player characters have a chance to turn evil or good based on their actions. As the GM, you should lay out to them the choices: be worthy knights or dastardly thieves. Then, let the players make the choice and live with its consequences. If they choose evil by greed and foolishness, this can lead to a great redemption plot as they face the horrors of what they have done and seek to repair them: The King is the Land, a Land without a King (no sword, right?) tarnishes. This roots the King/Land/Sword into Arthurian Legends.

Regardless of the system used, Excalibur should be a sword without stats. No one defines what it does but itself. It should not be reduced to a simple "+5 to hit"… The more unworthy of the sword they are, the more the sword loses its abilities and might even inflict harm onto its wielder. And the more worthy the knight holding it, the more powerful a weapon it can be. Or maybe its powers do not lie in attack and defence but are more subtle?

Do you remember Murphy's laws? The main one being "if anything can go wrong, it will". Maybe Excalibur's main power is to enforce this either for the worthy wielder's enemies or for the dastardly unworthy handling it. When in the hand of a worthy person, Excalibur makes their life easier: everything is easier, luck always on one's side, happy coincidences abound. Whereas, if handled by an unworthy one, the reverse is true: wounds fester, food tastes like ash, drinks do not quench thirst, unhappy meetings happen… It is subtle, insidious, and mysterious: just what a magic sword should be.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "A knight in shining armor is a man who has never had his metal truly tested" or is a man who knows how to repair and polish his armor. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 6:22

You must decide what consequences you are willing to impose if they attempt to keep Excalibur. Clearly they are not intended to, and cannot succeed, both for the sake of the story but also because of the essence of what Excalibur is. How ultimately deadly you want this to be is up to you.

If it were me (every GM probably has a different opinion/style on this) I would plan a series of responses in levels of seriousness and number of opportunities for the characters to reconsider. In terms of the setting perhaps "repent" is a better word. I find it's better if it is completely their choice how their characters behave but your choice as to the consequences and how you present the risk they are taking. Then let them play it out. Making it possible to redeem themselves by taking the correct course of action also is good for the story in my experience.

For instance, in your specific case, I might plan the following:

  1. Merlin outlines the consequences of keeping Excalibur to the characters, perhaps revealing secret knowledge of the possible future ("the kingdom will fall, all you know and value will be lost"), that Excalibur does not suffer greed and avarice lightly.
  2. If they still refuse Merlin casts them out of his presence after making a prophesy that if the sword is not in the lake by the next new Moon that each of the characters, or perhaps a loved one, will suffer a deadly fate, one by one, by each moon rise thereafter, that it is a curse not his doing but that of the land and that there is nothing he can do if they are set upon this course of action. I'd make them believe it.
  3. The first moon rise following, a monstrous wild boar comes out of no-where and grievously wounds a character before it can be killed. The wound festers and will not heal... very Arthurian to have things "just happen".
  4. The second moon rise a character stumbles over a leprous beggar and contracts a fast, creeping, horrible, smelly, incurable wasting disease. Maybe Merlin can cure it? Maybe the waters of the lake, once Excalibur is in it will?
  5. The third night they meet a skillful black knight who challenges one of them to a duel, grievously wounds them and before retreating and disappearing into the night.
  6. etc.
  7. Ultimately should they remain steadfast in greed, avarice and lack of concern for the health of the kingdom and the purity of the sword then they all die and Merlin will sadly pick the sword from their rotting corpses. Just make sure they knew what they were doing and that they chose it.

This particular story calls for a drastic and final consequence in the final analysis, as if they don't deliver the sword then it breaks the story irreparably. I believe it is the players' responsibility to assist in telling a the story as much as it is is the GM's and if they knowingly break it then they get what they deserve. The flip side is that when they return Excalibur and repent it will have added a lot to their character's motivation, history and, well, characters. They get to roll up new characters and will know that you will follow the story to it's logical end next time as well.

You know your players best and must make the judgement of what level to pitch it at for this consequence based approach to work. The above isn't a suggestion as such, just a possible model.

For context, my regular players know that their characters are free to do anything that the world they inhabit allows. I won't ever overtly stop them from doing anything, no matter how foolish. They will have ample opportunities for choice and investigation regarding any consequences for their actions. They also know I will follow through, but give them opportunities for redemption or escape, depending on the story.

I don't remember having been accused of not being fair despite a number of times having characters die, sometimes in groups, as a result of a bad decision rather than just the luck of the dice. It actually makes games more edgy and therefore more fun.

Hope this helps, it is really not meant to be a "do it this way" answer, its just my way. Every GM is always developing their own style and dealing with this kind of scenario is part of it.


There is a judo-like technique in plotting, where you just go with it.

Right now your plot is that Merlin is a good guy who wants them to steal Excalibur and hand it over to some wet tart and/or stick it in a rock somewhere because the king is not worthy.

Now this opens up decision points for the players. Sketch them out.

The goal is to make every decision point result in an awesome story. And it doesn't have to be the same one, it just has to be consistent with what they have experienced.


  • Merlin is evil/fooled
  • The knights are evil/fooled
  • Excalibur requires worthiness/does not require worthiness
  • Excalibur is actually just a sword
  • A story about worthy knights doing the honorable thing
  • A story about knights falling to temptation, and redeeming
  • A story about scoundrels doing what they can for power, and writing history that they are heros
  • A story about knights falling to temptation, and disaster

A way you can play Judo with the players is to give them some free choice (return the sword or not?). When they make a choice, drop a hint somehow that they made the right one. Then offer the choice again. They'll probably make the same choice.

So suppose they kept the sword. Drop a hint that Merlin was actually enslaved to Morgan and this was all a way for Morgan to steal the sword! (Maybe one of Morgan's minions tries to get them to hand the sword over) It can be subtle, or obvious. Then offer the choice (hand it over or keep it) again.

(The goal of the second choice is to get them on-board with the idea of following the plot, by the way. The Judo here is to get them going in a direction, then hint that is the right direction, then throw them along the path they are going anyhow...)

Now the plot of the story is that Merlin was enslaved by Morgan (or Merlin was an illusion), and they convinced the players to steal Excalibur. The players chose not to hand it over. Then Morgan uses the lack of Excalibur to strike at Camelot and defeat the knights.

The dark forces of Morgan are now on the march. The players are not worthy of Excalibur, but they are the bearers of it. They must save the realm (or, at least, defeat Morgan).

If they choose (at first choice) to hand the sword over to the lady/stone, give them a hint again that it was the right choice, then offer them the choice again. Then we have a different story, where a corrupt Camelot is hunting down your party. They prove themselves worthy and draw Excalibur and defeat the corrupt Camelot, who allies with Morgan against the heros.

A side effect of this is that players might now start looking for your hints. You can now use this to guide the story down your preferred path, still leaving both possibilities open. Both stories are interesting ones.

You'll note I caused the plot to converge to some extent. That is because I'm lazy. And we'd still leave open the possibility that, in response to everything, the players simply flee England.

Which leads to a different story, with the fall of England to darkness in the background. Maybe the players found a kingdom in France, and eventually invade England to take back their home. Or their kingdom in France falls to the darkness, as they flee around the world behind a tide of Eldrich goo. (goo idea invented by @JanDvorak in a comment)

Or heck, maybe they join Morgan, and becomes her minions. Together then bring the world into rational alignment with the axioms of power. Excalibur rusts and cracks, and becomes a blade as dark as night.

As tempting as it is, don't get tied to a grand story. Offer big choices to players. Go with it. Treat them not sources of inspiration, not as characters in a play. RPG as improv, not scripted theatre.

Say "yes, but" or "yes, and" a lot.


Excalibur is the ultimate sword myth. It's not about the power of the blade but the ability to inspire others. Being worthy of Excalibur is being worthy to lead. To rule. Not being worthy of it is to be a pretender to the throne. The unworthy touching this blade will be the target of ridicule and hatred. Not because the magic in the sword is powerful, it is, but you are defiling something believed in. The sword could cover you in boils and it wouldn't be as bad as the look in a kid's eyes when he see's you reducing the holy sword to a pig sticker.

Rumors have a long tradition in D&D. I see no reason anyone messing with this sword should have any right to anonymity. You're about to be made part of a legend. Anything you do will be magnified out of all reasonable proportion. Didn't pay the beggar you just walked by? Obviously you oppress, abuse, and enslave the poor. It'll be like being on CNN.


Rather than have the downside of wielding Excalibur while unworthy being subtle you could go completely over the top:


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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good idea. If an adventurer acquires Excalibur by honorable means, it will inspire trust in them by peasants and nobles alike and people will bow down and pay tribute to the adventurer. If stolen, the thief will have trouble making friends and might even be targeted by other criminal groups. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 15:03

If you make Excalibur an intelligent weapon, then you have the option of making it refuse to work with/for your players. An intelligent weapon can choose who it thinks is worthy of using it and can fight the will of those it deems unworthy; this way your characters can get some fun roleplay out of it and will learn a lesson, too. And, for what it's worth, if any sword of legend is worthy of being an intelligent weapon, it would be Excalibur.


You are having a group expectation mismatch.

The players want treasure, wealth and power- and they will take the first shiny thing you dangle in front of them, especially an epic sword that, apparently, they can't keep.

You, on the other hand, want the classic Arthurian Fantasy and expect your players to come along for the ride.

I suggest you talk to your players and get everyone on the Same Page. Talk to them about what you expect from them, and their behavior in-game. If it's something they can tolerate, the players will stay. If not, then some of them will have to go. That's nothing to worry about (read: Geek Social Fallacy #1), apologize and move on with the game.

It is also possible that the players do not perceive (I'm not saying there is none, but only that they perceive it) any drama in faithfully completing the quest. It might be their way of adding tension to the game, make things more exciting. In this case, Merlin will have extra convincing to do on why the PCs should complete the quest.


You could inspire yourself by the actual Arthurian legend.

Quoted from Project Gutenberg's Le Morte D'Arthur, Volume II (of II), by Thomas Malory, more specifically Book XXI, Chapter V:

Therefore, said Arthur unto Sir Bedivere, take thou Excalibur, my good sword, and go with it to yonder water side, and when thou comest there I charge thee throw my sword in that water, and come again and tell me what thou there seest. My lord, said Bedivere, your commandment shall be done, and lightly bring you word again.

So Sir Bedivere departed, and by the way he beheld that noble sword, that the pommel and the haft was all of precious stones; and then he said to himself: If I throw this rich sword in the water, thereof shall never come good, but harm and loss. And then Sir Bedivere hid Excalibur under a tree. And so, as soon as he might, he came again unto the king, and said he had been at the water, and had thrown the sword in the water. What saw thou there? said the king. Sir, he said, I saw nothing but waves and winds. That is untruly said of thee, said the king, therefore go thou lightly again, and do my commandment; as thou art to me lief and dear, spare not, but throw it in. Then Sir Bedivere returned again, and took the sword in his hand; and then him thought sin and shame to throw away that noble sword, and so eft he hid the sword, and returned again, and told to the king that he had been at the water, and done his commandment. What saw thou there? said the king. Sir, he said, I saw nothing but the waters wap and waves wan. Ah, traitor untrue, said King Arthur, now hast thou betrayed me twice. Who would have weened that, thou that hast been to me so lief and dear? and thou art named a noble knight, and would betray me for the richness of the sword. But now go again lightly, for thy long tarrying putteth me in great jeopardy of my life, for I have taken cold. And but if thou do now as I bid thee, if ever I may see thee, I shall slay thee with mine own hands; for thou wouldst for my rich sword see me dead.

Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took it up, and went to the water side; and there he bound the girdle about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water as he might; and there came an arm and an hand above the water and met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water. So Sir Bedivere came again to the king, and told him what he saw. Alas, said the king, help me hence, for I dread me I have tarried over long.

In other words, two times sir Bedivere tried to keep the sword, but twice he was found out when he had to report to Arthur what had happened, because Arthur knew that the sword would not simply sink into the lake. His loyalty to Arthur forced him in the end to return the sword to the Lady.

Replace Arthur with Merlin in your specific case. Write down in advance for yourself which supernatural aspects would surround the return of the sword. Then make sure your characters know they will have to report back to Merlin. Merlin, who can snap his fingers and vaporize them if they displease him. Merlin, whose gratitude is a great piece of loot which can help them in many, many different ways, instead of just having a cool sword.


The best thing, I've found, is to try not to surprise them too much with options that "feel" like they should work but don't. That can work well in horror campaigns and plot twists, where the whole point is that things aren't what they seem, but it doesn't sit well in other genres. This doesn't mean you can't bar options, but if you can't tell the players outright, then you should at least drop clues, decreasing subtlety as needed, in the hopes that the players catch on before the time would come to make the non-working choice. That way, when the time comes, they know not to expect that just keeping this item will pass without consequence.

In the case of magic doohickeys that require "worthy" users, one way to do this is to have the item display some sort of omen around those worthy to keep it, and not display it for the PCs yet. For example, it might be a common legend in your campaign that "even before Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone, it sparkled like diamonds as soon as he laid hands on it". By the time the players reach it, it's not sparkling anymore, confirming Merlin's suspicions, but it doesn't start sparkling when the PCs take it either. This drops the hint that, at least as currently stands, there is something else they need to do with it.

As a variation on the theme, the sword could still be sparkling when the players reach it, and then stops sparkling when they take it. It's still clear that the players are not (yet) worthy holders of the weapon, but it also gives the players a glimpse into a larger conflict. Sure, Merlin thinks the current rulers are unworthy, and from a certain point of view he may even be right. But someone disagrees: someone who wants Excalibur to stay right where it is, and has a way to keep it functioning (or at least appearing to function). What will the players do with that information?


According to the legend, the sword could only be pulled from the stone by those worthy - it could very well be that this also means it can only be wielded by the worthy.

The Neverending Story had the sword Sikánda with magical properties, which would automatically spring out of its sheath when the wielder is in danger. When the main character forcefully drew the sword to strike his friend in a rage, he "broke" the soul of the sword and it became an ordinary - although well crafted - sword again.

To put it simple: if the player characters decide to keep the sword unrightfully, make them pay a price for it. That price could be the loss of some of the sword's properties, being hunted down, a curse, the wrath of a mighty mage or anything else. In the long run, this could prove very interesting for your campaign!


The setup poses a dilemma which is about letting go of control and testing will and character and what is done with power, whether it can be put down for principle, and so on.

Interestingly, this confronts the GM with a similar test, about what to do with his power as GM. If you use that power to force outcomes and/or choices, you undermine the integrity of your theme and the situation you set up.

So if you are actually interested in a real test of your players and the situation you set up, I would suggest that you let it play out and let them do what they will and get the results that come from that.

If in fact you are more interested in controlling the story and outcome and/or making the players be virtuous, at the expense of giving them a real dilemma, then you can choose to control things. Certainly the actual original Arthurian stories features many instances of the Christian-magic world overpowering humans who didn't do things with perfect knightly virtue. The "GM" in those stories would teleport Castles around, force people to lose fights based on virtue, send magic equipment via river to chosen knights, and all sorts of "railroad GM" behavior... though even God couldn't avoid being frustrating to some of his "players", even the ones who eventually jumped through all His hoops in the right way (q.v. Parzival).


I don't know which system applies, so I have to try to be system agnostic.

First of all:

Problem analysis.

Well, we better break down the problem to the core sentences before we go about solving it.

  • The players get the task to transport a mighty item.
  • They are expected to give it to someone by their quest giver.
  • The players are known/suspected to abandon the quest and keep the item.

Now, we take in mind some more factors for more in depth details that will have to influence the answer:

  • The Questgiver has some sort of precognition/makes prophecies
  • The item in question is the royal insignia
  • Possession of the item is said to make you king
  • The item has some "worthy test" before bestowing its powers


Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Let's assume Merlin did not choose the PCs because of their virtues, but what he saw for the future made him choose them. In this case, he was not only fully aware of them taking away the sword, putting the old Camelot to ruin as the Ursupators fight to keep in power without the sword. He also knew that the PCs would not bring the sword to the Stone or the Lake but would keep it for themselves - he even planned with it!

However, as Merkin knows better, he also knows that in the end, the PCs will have to bring the sword to the Lake in one way or another. Maybe they become warlords for some time, ruling with the sword as a useless icon (because it doesn't bestow its powers on unworthy thieves), but in the end, some sort of miracle just fixes their error. There are many possibilities how this might happen, but here are some:

Last stand at the shore

While they play Ruler for some time, others assault them and at some point the odds become overwhelming, forcing them to retreat and flee their castle. As they become surrounded, Excalibur in their hands, a lakeshore in their back, something happens and the sword is lost, tumbling into the lake. Maybe the players get the players get a glimpse of the Lady as they become encircled and maybe they toss the sword in themselves before becoming overwhelmed (it's some sort of late repent).

The tone of this campaign will have to be pretty dark, and it might make your players angry, not for losing Excalibur, but for losing everything.

The Accident

If the players are really paranoid, they will never leave the sword out of eyesight. Maybe they manage to unify Camelot for some time again, maybe not, but in the end, there will be some reason for them to travel or take a hike or hunt - if they are rulers or outlaws. As they do so, they pass a lakeshore (it's the Lake of the Lady of course). Maybe the horse of the one carrying the sword at the moment stumbles on a cliff above the lake and both fall into it, the sword vanishing as soon as it touches the water while the player might rescue himself.

This might sound cheaty to the players, but it could set the stage for a new part of the campaign more devoted to redemption.

The Artifact becomes a liability

Excalibur might be the most mighty sword, the holiest one, and the purest one, but it only bestows its full power on a worthy king and denies everyone else any fraction - and even should someone once worthy become unworthy, it will deny being wielded. This is true even for Arthur: he had to prove his worthiness in some legends.

In our problem, the sword will not be able to be pulled from the scabbard, it will not gleam in the sun to heighten the hearts of the knights, maybe it even becomes heavier the more one proves to be unworthy (see "The Sword as Quest" below). Also, it might attract others, people that are clearly more worthy than the band of Knight Errants that carry it around as loot, and they become a constant pest. In the end, you can only hope that the players will give back Excalibur to the Lady because they want to get rid of it.

Problem here is, that this still might look cheaty, because they expected something different.

Deus Ex Machina

Maybe Merlin didn't know about the traitorous hearts of his questing group beforehand. But he is still a sorcerer - and can't really stand to not be right in the end. Also, he is pretty fond of traveling in disguise, giving advice to the questing heroes and trying to steer them clear of their impending doom - which is why he is always right after all. He wants them to succeed, and as this group of heroes steers further and further from the path, he might make occasional appearances to tell them how to gain redemption and freeing of the curse under the guise of friends and passersby.

But then again, he is the near godlike Merlin, and if they don't want to follow his advice, he will engineer situations that make it so they have to or die. Or, to pull the real Deus Ex Machina, he just takes the weapon from them by force after they have it far enough from the castle. He is Merlin, the one who is always right, after all.

The Sword as Quest

This would draw from the Arthurian legend even. Give Excalibur properties that are bestowed upon the "Sword of the Strange Clasps", which could only be pulled free by Balin in the Suite du Merlin and Le Morte d'Arthur, and keeping it longer than told would bestow a curse. A short retelling of the tale:

The sword, as mighty and strong it was, came with some catches: First, it was affixed to a Lady and could only be freed by the noblest knight. This was Balin, the lowliest of all the Knight of the Round Table. But it was also a perfect sword and the Lady that had brought the sword said, that once freed, she would have to be given the sword.

As Balin wanted to keep it, he was prophecied that his most loved one would die, and then another prophecy followed that he would die along with a fellow knight in a duel.

The Lady of the Lake only delivered Excalibur after this, and passing it to Arthur she demanded either Balin's Head or the head of Lady Lile as he had promised to avenge one of her family. Arthur refused, Balin "slew" Lady of the Lake, Arthur cast out Balin and he went on a quest to try to regain the favor.

After some duels and being allowed to return, Balin still was cursed to die in a duel. In another quest to try to regain some honor lost in other means, he went to a castle where he jousted another knight because of a custom. Because both had accepted shields from the castle, they didn't recognize each other as the close brothers they were, and slew each other. As a result, Balin's sword was embedded into a stone, until Galahad would draw it from there. (Here be more on that, under the "Knight of Two Swords")

A plot like this would turn the whole story into one of those tragic legends, where it is not about the heroes winning in the end, but how they valiantly try to prevent their impending doom. This actually can be quite rewarding for the players - if they are up for the challenge.


There are two swords in the Arthurian legend.

One was the sword that Arthur pulled from the rock. The other was granted him by the Lady in the Lake.

In some cycles, these are the same, or the one from the lake does not exist. However, in other cycles (like Le Mort d'Arthur), they are explicitly different: The first Sword is at times called Caliburn, sometimes (a different) Excalibur or it is unnamed and broken in a fight. See here and here.

If you chose to make the two swords different your dilemma disappears. The players steal the regalia of Albion on Merlin's behest if they prove themselves worthy by planting the sword into the stone they are on the quest line that might end with them being granted the magical Excalibur by the lady in the lake. If they instead chose to keep the sword they will have a non-magical sword that is an interesting political bargaining chip, one which no one believes they are entitled to - and several people will be willing to kill for.


I had originally posted some of this in a comment, and I now see that another user has mentioned this aspect as part of their answer, but I would like to provide an answer of my own.

Two Swords

In the majority of versions of the Arthurian Legends, there are two different swords. The primary sword in Arthurian Legend is, of course, Excalibur. However, in most versions there is a second sword (not to mention several other magical weapons less known about, but I will focus on the two main swords). Excalibur was the sword Arthur received from the Lady in the Lake, Viviane (a.k.a. Nimue, Elaine, et al). Excalibur was also known by other names, most commonly Caledfwlch (a.k.a. Caliburn). It was normally given to him after becoming king.

The second sword, the Sword in the Stone (SitS), was actually unnamed when it is differentiated from Excalibur. This sword was the test to prove worthiness of becoming the king, and succeeding Uther Pendragon (Arthurs father). As a note: This sword was referred to as Gram in the Norse legends that these later legends were based on and was pulled from a tree instead of a stone.

Game Mechanics

Using the above information (perhaps slightly altered), one could easily craft a story line where the players can make choices and attempt to prove their worthiness. I would make the alteration of SitS proving worthiness of becoming king to worthiness of wielding Excalibur.

As the first part of the story-line, You could continue your idea of Merlin requesting the party to retrieve Excalibur from the current wielder. If they accomplish this they may find that the sword cannot be wielded properly: It constantly shifts its balance, always misses attacks, etc... (effectively a cursed weapon).

They may then find out that there is a way to prove their worth by passing a test. They must track down and retrieve the Sword in the Stone. You could extend this by having the whereabouts unknown or known but must be procured and then re-inserted into the stone before attempting to re-extract it.

Finding it may require relinquishing Excalibur itself to the Lady in the Lake... thereby proving themselves worthy of the test itself. Or they could attempt to track down the SitS on their own.

The Sword in the Stone itself could be alignment attuned to prevent non LG or NG characters from pulling or touching it. Or perhaps depending upon the alignment of the character, pulling the sword has different outcomes.

Regardless, there are many ways you could go using this idea and a little creativity. I actually would find a story-line like this rather entertaining myself.

Best of luck!


Definitely check out some of the other answers here, especially @daze413's answer.

However the simplest thing you could do is make the sword only attune to the person who pulls it from stone/receives from LotL. When they steal it from the current owners, it's obviously non-magical (or non-activatable ).

Then again, if part of the magic of Excalibur is that only the rightful ruler can pull it from the stone... maybe Artur is just being misled, or maybe Merlin has become corrupted.


Merlin will ask the players to retrieve Excalibur from the castle Camelot, because he believes the rulers are now corrupt, and are not worthy of the sword any more. However he will not do it himself, since he does not want the inhabitants of the castle to turn against him, and he wants them to feel like they have been punished by God.

This seems to work all by itself.

Merlin doesn't want the inhabitants of the castle to turn against him, so he will not do it himself. Implicit in this is that Merlin could walk in through the front gate, demand the sword, and their assent or refusal is pretty much a moot point.

Presumably, your players aren't in possession of a castle-sieging force. They're going to have to sneak around, exploit weaknesses, leverage their relative inconspicuousness as a small force, and even still probably barely escape with their lives. Merlin does not need their continued approval to peacefully influence the hearts and minds of Camelot. Merlin needs the sword to be taken. Merlin will crush the party...or, given a someone nobler demeanor, render them helpless long enough to simply take the sword, and now the party has made an enemy of Merlin for life. Decent hook for the next adventure!


The other answers posted here are great and should be considered, but I want to propose something a bit more simple. If your adventurers want to keep the sword, perhaps you should let them make that choice. In the end, roleplaying is a partnership between the players and the DM. Being a DM isn't about ruling with an iron fist (or a steel sword) and beating down players who won't do what you say. If your players want to steal the sword, ask them what they hope to accomplish and see if they can help you envision a scenario in which that could happen. Perhaps they can come up with a plausible story that you didn't think of.


There are a few ways to handle it, but there are two approaches I would start with, depending on how your players react to similar situations.

The first, and simplest, is to have Excalibur give them penalties if they are not worthy. I'm not sure what RPG you are playing, but using 3.5 D&D as an example, a good aligned weapon wielded by an evil character might bestow negative levels while being used. Maybe increase these penalties as the characters prove themselves more unworthy (or something similar). The goal being that if the sword is unhappy with them, it will make their lives more difficult until they do something about it. Maybe the sword fails to work at certain times (missing when it should hit, or striking a friend instead of a foe).

Another option is to have the sword "call out" to those more worthy (or just call out to others). Increasingly, the players will be accosted by NPCs looking for the sword, and eventually attracting the attention of those they stole it from. They then have the option of completing their quest, or going down in a blaze of glory. These encounters should be on the challenging but not overwhelming side of things.


The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.

In my opinion the best solution is to make the player characters accept Arthur Pendragon as their own king.

If you could show Arthur's royal traits, the players would probably change their points of view about giving Excalibur away. If he was brave, thoughtful, righteous, confident, but not arrogant, neither foolhardy or cruel, he'd be the perfect choice for a king. Don't be too explicit with this, as it would be very artificial. Remember to let Arthur have a few flaws and make him constantly try to overcome them.

Further more if the players understand, that Arthur will never become the king without the powers of Excalibur and the Camelot will fall, they would hesitate to give away the artifact.


As your Question stands the answer is simply "you cannot", as long as you assume the sword Excalibur has powerful property's as a sword.

You are giving them the opportunity to steal something from a third party, and have stated that you want them keeping this item to have a negative effect on the party, and are asking how to make it so that the players don't feel sore about this?

If the sword was 'simply' a token of kingship then they would gain nothing that you would have to make them lose.

If, as it seems you are aiming for, you can only be deemed the rightful king and protector of Avalon by completing either of these actions:

  1. Draw Excalibur from the Rock
  2. Be gifted Excalibur by the Lady

then simply stealing it would not infer these privileges, or earn you the appropriate rewards.

I do not know what powers you have attributed to your Excalibur, but by linking the powers to whether they are truly the sovereign of the nation rather than simply the wielder of the blade would seem to offer a solution.


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