Vorpal Blade

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)   Vorpal Blade   Long sword.png
Base item long sword
Damage vs. small 1d8 +1 (2–9)
Damage vs. large 1d12 +1 (2–13)
To-hit bonus +1d5
Bonus versus (any)
Weapon skill long sword
Size one-handed
Affiliation
When carried

(none)

When wielded
  • beheading
When invoked

(none)

Base price 4000 zm
Weight 40
Material iron

Vorpal Blade is a neutral artifact long sword, and has a 5% chance of instantaneously killing monsters by beheading. The beheading only works on monsters with heads. It also has a 100% chance of beheading jabberwocks.

Generation

Neutral players can easily obtain Vorpal Blade by being crowned. Wizards and Monks need to carry their crowning gift spellbook (finger of death and restore ability respectively) to get the sword. Vorpal Blade is also a sacrifice gift for neutral players, but attempting to obtain it this way can be very time-consuming, and it is generally a bad idea to chase it in this way unless you're done wishing for artifacts.

Messages

Vorpal Blade decapitates the <monster>!
The monster has been instantly killed from the special beheading attack.
Vorpal Blade beheads it!
Vorpal Blade instantly killed an unseen monster.
Somehow, you miss the <monster> wildly.
Your hit would normally have beheaded the monster, but it lacks a head and thus had no effect. The monster takes no damage.
Vorpal Blade slices through <monster>'s neck.
Your hit would normally have beheaded the monster, but it was insubstantial (e.g. a ghost or shade). The monster takes no damage.
Vorpal Blade decapitates you!
You were beheaded by a monster wielding Vorpal Blade.

Strategy

Vorpal Blade is shunned by some players because it only does +1 damage and d5 to-hit, but others find the insta-kill to be quite useful.

Instakill probability table

The following table summarizes the damage done by Vorpal Blade. For example, if you expect to hit a monster ten times, you can assume a 40% chance of beheading it. You have also done an average of 55 points of physical damage to it. The odds of beheading a monster are above 50% if you can expect to hit it 14 times, which entails inflicting about 77 points of damage anyway.

Hits Cumulative instakill probability Damage at +0 to small monsters (avg) Damage at +0 to large monsters (avg) Additional damage at +7
1 5% 2–9 (5.5) 2–13 (7.5) 7
2 9.75% 4–18 (11) 4–26 (15) 14
3 14.26% 6–27 (16.5) 6–39 (22.5) 21
4 18.5% 8–36 (22) 8–52 (30) 28
5 22.6% 10–45 (27.5) 10–65 (37.5) 35
10 40.1% 20–90 (55) 20–130 (75) 70
15 53.7% 30–135 (82.5) 30–195 (112.5) 105
45 90.0% 90–405 (248) 90–585 (338) 315

Monsters wielding Vorpal Blade

Vorpal Blade is a very dangerous weapon in the hands of a monster, since a monster with Vorpal Blade will have a 5% chance of beheading you with each attack. Therefore, you should never leave Vorpal Blade in a place where a monster can pick it up. The safest place to store Vorpal Blade is inside a container on top of a scroll of scare monster. If you simply want to dispose of Vorpal Blade, either forget it in some chest, repeatedly loot a cursed bag of holding, or drop it into a pit you then fill with a boulder.

If Vorpal Blade has not already been created in your game, the player monsters in the Astral Plane have a small chance of being randomly generated with Vorpal Blade in their possession. Melee combat with these monsters is very dangerous. However, it is overpreparation to obtain Vorpal Blade just to rule out this possibility. If you have entered the Astral Plane and don't know where Vorpal Blade is, an amulet of life saving is highly recommended.

Usually, it is best to attack a monster wielding Vorpal Blade from a distance. In dire situations, it may be necessary to disarm it with a bullwhip. Remember to pick up (and dispose of) the blade.

Origin

Vorpal Blade originally appears in the poem "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, an excerpt of which is included in the encyclopedia entry. It the poem, it is implied that the unnamed adventurer's "vorpal blade" beheaded the Jabberwock. This is why NetHack's Vorpal Blade has a chance of beheading monsters and is guaranteed to behead jabberwocks.

Variants

SLASH'EM

In SLASH'EM, Vorpal Blade beheads foes 10% of the time instead of 5%, making it considerably more powerful. A similar weapon, Thiefbane, has a 10% chance of beheading any @.

Hits Cumulative instakill probability
1 10%
2 19%
3 27.1%
4 34.4%
5 41.0%
10 65.1%
15 79.4%
22 90.1%

UnNetHack

In UnNetHack, Vorpal Blade warns of jabberwocks and instakills vorpal jabberwocks as well.

Encyclopedia entry

This entry is shared with the jabberwock.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
  Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
  He went galumphing back.

[ Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll ]