ave you ever met someone who was just a little bigger than life?
This person has a way of making you want to go out and grab life by the horns. You might be swept up into the most outlandish of situations, or maybe you'll just walk away from the experience with the biggest smile you can imagine. That was my life during the week before Gen Con.
During that week, I headed down to southern California after receiving an invitation from Tony Swatton of Man At Arms fame. Tony was in the middle of creating a Dungeons & Dragons sword that we used as a prize for a Murder Mystery puzzle at the "Night with Dungeons & Dragons" event at Gen Con. This was not just any sword, but the sword from our newest D&D hero: Isteval. The plan was for me to be down at his shop for three days to watch the final build-out of the sword. Before this point, Tony and his troop of skilled workers had been working on the sword for five weeks, based on reference art I had provided them. They had gathered supplies, created templates, begun a lot of the crafting of the decorative metal pieces, and started fabbing up the blade and hilt. Despite all the prep work they had done before I arrived, they still had a ton to do, and the next three days were filled with a flurry of work. The entire weapon was crafted by Tony and his team—from creating the blade, to cutting and polishing the mother of pearl stone insets, and every detail in between. I saw the team utilize just about every tool in the shop (and a couple outside the shop!), and trust me, they have a ton of tools in their shop!
Let me step back for a minute and tell you a little bit about the sword and its creation.
None of this would have been possible without the amazingly talented team of folks at the Sword and the Stone who labored to bring it to life. I was impressed with the skills, professionalism, and infectious sense of humor that radiated from everyone in the shop.
Tony Swatton: Mr. Man At Arms himself. I met Tony a number of years ago, before his success with his new Awe Me series on YouTube. He was still just as impressive back then. He has created armor and weapons for a long list of Hollywood films, and his shop almost resembles a who's who of famous blades!
Tony and I have something in common: He has an amazing team to work with. Here they are in no particular order.
Scott Empey: Jeweler extraordinaire. Scott did all the piercing of the decorative metal work. It might not really seem like much, but if you understand how many hours were developed to cutting every single curve out with a jeweler's hand saw, you would be impressed. I would have gone mad!
Bryan Forrest: Bryan had this amazing ability to seem to be all places, all the time. In fact, I felt like I spent a lot of my time just trying to stay out of his way. Bryan had his fingers on just about every piece of the sword several times over. He was Tony's go-to person for a lot of the duties he needed to delegate out. And he could really rock the "reality show stance."
Alicia Minette: She also took on a lot of the jeweler's duties—silver soldering the decorative metal pieces and doing lots of fine detail work. She kept me grinning in the chaos of the final push.
Chris Køllgaard: Chris was the assistant and one of the newest people on the team. Like Bryan, he did whatever was asked, and he seemed to be everywhere at once.
These amazing individuals had an astounding amount of energy and joy for life. If you ever have the opportunity to be in their neighborhood, swing by—but make sure you have an appointment or head over on Saturday, when they are open to the public. The showrooms, which are filled from floor to ceiling with weapons and armor, are worth the visit alone.
Tyler Jacobson: While not on Tony's team, he was on mine, and he helped create the design for Isteval and his accessories.
The sword is 50 inches from tip to pommel. That's a serious piece of metal! To keep the weight down, and to make the lawyers happy, we created the sword out of high-grade aluminum. If you hold the sword for more than a few minutes, you start to appreciate the diet we put the sword on—it's still pretty heavy! The blade is really the centerpiece of the sword. It has a full tang in case the wielder decides to take a few swings with it. The entire length of the blade has been shaped, ground, and polished to a near mirror finish.
Every time Tony was busy working on that hilt, he and his crew were cursing Tyler Jacobson for his mad creation. The design is deceptively complex—especially since they were crafting it from aluminum. Hand forging in aluminum is a test of heat management and patience. The play of curves kept Tony on his toes for many hours. In the end, the flow of the hilt worked well.
The Grip and Pommel
Here's where a lot of the magic happened. While the rest of the sword will probably get a lot of notice because of the detail and scale, it's the length of the grip and the mass of the pommel that make this sword a joy to hold. The balance is awesome to behold! The simplicity of the grip and pommel also are its strengths. The leather, brass, and copper play nicely together and set the stage for the rest of the sword to dance upon.
The Decorative Metal
While these elements are really their own item, I just had to talk about them on their own. The number of hours spent in hand tooling these pieces is astounding, and the effect they create is stunning. They add such a level of dimensionality to the sword! I should note that Tony was cursing under his breath at Tyler with these elements as well. Mainly, you could hear him mumbling when he had to devise an elegant way to create three different levels of metal detail, which folded around the blade and hilt. For me, all the hours of work were worth it. This dimensionality far exceeds the visual impact that simple incising, inlay, or other surface treatments could have created. It is just impressive!
I had intended to spend a few hundred words trying to describe the build, but after making the attempt over and over again, I've decided to let the pictures tell most of the story. Let me just say this: I had no idea the amount of work and level of detail that went into the making of a sword. Watching these folk work gave me a whole new appreciation for the craft of sword making.
As is often the case, the party has to end sometime. In this case, the party "ended" Thursday night at Gen Con. Thursday was the "Night with Dungeons & Dragons" event, and, as part of the festivities surrounding the start of the Sundering, the sword was awarded to one very lucky individual. Jason Drake had the honor of walking away with the sword that was designed by Tyler and created by Tony. He made me laugh, though. When we were getting ready to take pictures, he apologized for not being "bigger and more buff for the pictures." For me, I couldn't have asked for a better winner—'cause I knew the sword was going to a good home when he told me about his sword collection!
Maybe I didn't get to keep the sword, but I'll always have the memories of the days at Tony's shop, the excited hush when the winner was about to be announced, and the smile on Jason's face.
And here's my new favorite picture.
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.