A sword, or any other type of weapon, that unleashes some form of "hidden" (or not so hidden) power when certain conditions are met, such as the wielder nearing death, blood getting splashed on it, etc. This weapon tends to be most prominently used in a Desperation Attack
Situational Swords are similar in concept to the Empathic Weapon
, but generally tend to be non-Sentient. When Empathic Weapon
is a Situational Sword, it is usually Loyal Phlebotinum
. One common subtrope is Weapon of X Slaying
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- One story of the Crying Freeman anime OVAs involved several parties falling under the curse of the Muramasa blades (explained below), which made the user go berserk until the sword left their grip.
- The Medicine Seller's sword in Mononoke can only be drawn when he learns more about mononokes. But once he gets the Shape, Truth, and Reason, asskicking ensues.
- Thankfully, he is proficient in the use of the sword even when it's still sheathed, by using it as a blunt weapon not unlike a billy club.
- Rave Master uses the Ten Commandments sword, which has a total of 10 separate situational swords. However, Runesave is the one that stands out the most, simply because it only cuts things that couldn't be cut, like the wind or magic.
- Subverted with Tessaiga. Tessaiga's trigger is the desire to protect humans. Inuyasha therefore has to learn the value of protecting humans before he can start using the sword. However, once he's got the hang of it, that doesn't matter so much. Mainly because he's now using the sword for the right reasons anyway so he doesn't have to consciously think about such things. The sword can therefore be used in any situation that requires a sword with no restrictions.
- Played straight with Tenseiga. Tenseiga is completely equal in strength to Tessaiga, but its trigger is compassion for all living things, even an enemy. The catch is that it is useless against living beings. Its reputation is to bring the dead back to life, which means cutting the pallbearers of the afterlife that ferry away the soul, restoring the soul to the body and therefore the life. It also has the power to cleanse the soul of the already dead, thus enabling a spirit trapped in purgatory-type hells to pass on peacefully. Out Side The Box Tactic ends up revealing that Tenseiga is the only weapon capable of killing spirits or any type of being that is Made Of Air. The sword is, in fact, hugely important to the plot but in a very specific way that's in keeping with the sword's limitations.
- Ranma ½'s Cologne owns the Poison-Cleaving Sword, a semi-sentient Chinese dao with a flower at the tip. This flower has a mouth, and it detects poison and warns the wielder when poison is nearby... and then tries to run away from it, pulling the wielder along if necessary. The reason? Although the Poison Cleaver can indeed cut through any poison and render it harmless, it dies after just one stroke. And, in
its own Hamlet's words, the rest... is silence.
- Kaito from Hunter × Hunter wields the... well, weapon Crazy Slot which randomly takes the form of one of nine weapons when materialized. These include a rifle, a Sinister Scythe and a club. He cannot dematerialize or switch it until used.
- In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, Yamamoto has two weapons like this: A baseball bat that turns into a sword when swung at a certain (fast) speed, and a bamboo sword that turns into a real one when he uses his special techniques.
- Naruto presents us with the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, each of which posses a sword with a special ability. Starting off, Kisame Hoshigaki has a shark themed sword that can eat other people's chakra, among other things. The most interesting, though is that after all these years, we finally find out that the sword of Zabuza Momochi, the first Swordsman ever met in the series and original Big Bad before his spectacular Heel-Face Turn, actually does something other than look menacing and heavy. It can repair itself by sucking the iron out of someone's blood.
- Inverted in Tenchi Muyo!: Tenchi (the sword) would refuse to activate whenever a failure would be funny, at least until Tenchi (the hero) Took a Level in Badass. Which is why Yosho, who was Badass from the start, never had those problems.
- Empowered in Empowered has a suit that makes her a not-entirely formidable crime-fighter, but once, when she was saving her best friend's life, it grew a pair of glowing wings and unleashed awesome power. She still doesn't know exactly what stimulus caused it (though it's a safe bet it was emotional).
- In District 9 Prawn guns and tech are created organically and do not work when used by humans. The prawns are either too passive, too wild, or too undesirable to be used in human armies. Thus, MNU has spent the considerable part of three decades trying to develop test subjects with combined working prawn/human DNA so that they can develop a Super Soldier program.
- Lone Wolf: The Sommerswerd's "supernatural powers increase the bearer's CS by 8 (prior to the application of weapon skill bonuses), and also increase the sensitivity of his Sixth Sense. It is doubly damaging to undead foes and absorbs hostile magic. Perhaps its greatest power is the ability to kill Darklords, and it's possible, as stated in The Curse of Naar, that it might be able to kill Naar himself. Only members of the royal house of Sommerlund or a Kai Lord can wield it. If anyone else uses it in battle, it will slowly and irrevocably lose its powers." On the other hand, whip it out in the wrong spot, every Tom, Dick and Rubicante shows up to kick your ass. Fortunately, evil beings can't take advantage of this to depower the sword — if you happen to be evil and try to hold the sword it will melt your fingers off.
- Alanna's sword Lightning reveals its powers only after she has given herself up to death. Or certain enemies are involved.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Deus Sanguinius, Rafen learns that to wield the Spear of Telesto, he must let loose with the Red Thirst. Fortunately for him, the spear protects him from the Black Rage, the insanity that ensues when the Red Thirst runs wild in a Blood Angel.
- Felix's sword in Gotrek & Felix is enchanted to kill dragons and will grant its wielder extra strength and other bonuses, but only when fighting a dragon (or to get him through a fight so he can go fight a dragon later).
- In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series, the hereditary sword of the house of Knorth, Kin-slayer, can cut through opponents as if they were butter — but only when wielded by someone wearing the Knorth signet ring on their finger. Furthermore, it cannot be sheathed until it has killed someone, and the energy of the sword numbs the hand of the bearer. Meanwhile, the Ivory Knife, an ancient heirloom artifact reputed to come from the Kencyrs' God, kills from the merest scratch. It is called "the very tooth of Death."
- The sword Sting from Lord of the Rings is effective against most anything, but it also glows blue to give warning when orcs are near.
- The dagger Merry attacks the Witch-King with was also specifically made to fight beings of his nature, and so does crippling damage despite the Witch-King being a Ringwraith. In other situations, it's merely a decent hobbit-sized sword.
- Parodied in Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men: the Nac mac Feegle have swords that glow blue in the presence of lawyers.
- Book of Swords: Some of Fred Saberhagen's Swords of Power have situational powers.
- Shieldbreaker makes the wielder nigh-unbeatable in battle, but only if he's fighting an armed opponent.
- Townsaver has similar powers, but only functions when defending an inhabited place.
- Dragonslicer is the epitome, it only has magical powers when wielded against a dragon.
- Stonecutter too. It's only "magical" property is the ability to cut through stone.
- The title weapon in Lawrence Watt-Evans's Ethshar novel The Misenchanted Sword will do your fighting for you, but only against adult male humans, and once it kills, you have to sheath it and draw it again to re-activate its power. Also, you can't resheath it, or even let go of it, until it's killed someone.
- Also, no one else can use it, and you will die if and only if you have killed a hundred men with it (at which point it turns on you and finds a new owner - they will then remain alive until their 99th kill, and so on until some poor soul is slain on first drawing the blade). At first the character is unnerved by not knowing how close he was and that he could die at any time. Later, the character realizes it was Age Without Youth and desperately tries to find a way to kill the last men. Nothing that a youth spell wouldn't handle, though.
- Among its many other properties, the sword named Need in Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series provides a considerable amount of protection from magic if it's wielded by a trained fighter. If wielded by a Squishy Wizard, on the other hand, it gives no magical protection but instead makes the mage an expert swordswoman. In the hands of someone with no particular talents in either direction, it does both (and some other neat tricks besides). What might have happened if Need were wielded by a genuine Magic Knight is never quite shown in the series, since by the time it's an option, Need has regained full sentience and thus gets a say in how she's used.
- In The Neverending Story, the magical sword Sikanda. Only those who have eaten, drunk, and bathed in the flames of the Many-Colored Death, and ridden on his back, may touch the sword without (unspecified) danger. Also, the sword may only be used it when it leaps from the sheath. When the sword is drawn through brute force, it makes a terrifying noise, the sword's light goes out, and implicitly its enchantment is Lost Forever.
- The black sword Dyrnwyn from the Chronicles of Prydain series can only be drawn by one of "noble worth". Taran at first assumes this means one born of a noble bloodline, but Gwydion later states that it is referring to character, not blood. In the hands of a worthy person it is an Infinity+1 Sword capable of slaying just about any evil being. Those who are unworthy tend to get themselves killed trying to draw the sword. Taran has to go through four or five books' worth of Character Development before he can wield it.
- In Blue Moon Rising by Simon Green, the hero finds a sword which, if its wielder is in a desperate situation and his concern is less for himself than for others, will call down a magical rainbow that disintegrates the supernatural evils caused by the Blue Moon. He nearly gets killed trying to invoke the rainbow in a tight spot where he's the only one he's really worried about.
- Percy Jackson's sword Anaklusmos (Riptide) is made from celestial bronze, and is only effective against monsters or those with divine blood such as other demigods. It is completely harmless if used against regular humans.
- In the Harry Potter series the Sword of Godric Gryffindor appears in the sorting hat when a true Gryffindor has need of it. This is probably a power of the hat rather than the sword, but both belonged to Gryffindor and so this was clearly the intention he had for it. It wasn't specifically made for this purpose, but it also happens to be one of the only things capable of destroying a Horcrux (by virtue of having absorbed a basilisk's venom).
- In the novel User Unfriendly by Vivian Vande Velde, the player characters find a sword that glows in the presence of orcs. Since the players have artificially inflated their combat stats, the sword turns out to be more trouble than it's worth.
- The Sword of Truth in Sword of Truth is a big honking sharp piece of metal... that doesn't allow the bearer to hurt anyone or anything they believe innocent and magically guilts the user every time he kills someone, regardless. You have to be full of righteous fury just to use the damn thing. Unless you figure out how to be full of sympathy and love for your target instead, which is a much better insulator. And then it turns out that the sword is also a repository for all of the experience and fighting prowess of all its past users that is instantly transferred during a specific test in an obscure jungle.
- The Dresden Files has the three holy swords which have vast evil-smiting powers when wielded for a righteous purpose; even a half-turned vampire, who is normally burned by its presence, can use the Sword of Love when she's using it to rescue her daughter. The flipside is that if someone uses them for the wrong reason (such as when Harry brandishes one to try to break his word on a freely-made bargain) they lose their power and can be handled or destroyed by creatures of darkness unless they return to the hands of their chosen Knights.
- The rules for intelligent weapons in Dungeons & Dragons include the option of a special purpose that comes with a matching special power only used in the pursuit of said purpose. The chance for a randomly rolled magic weapon to have this property is somewhere around 1% or less.
- You don't have to go quite that far, however. Unintelligent weapons with situational bonuses and/or powers are likewise a long-standing and rather more common D&D staple. Sword + 1, + 3 vs. spellcasters, anybody?
- The Bane enchantment is entirely this. (Animalbane, Demonbane, Elementalbane, etc.)
- In Red vs. Blue, Tucker's energy sword can function as a key at times, but is otherwise still a powerful weapon.
Church: So, it is a sword. It just happens to function like a key in very specific situations.
Caboose: Or... it's a key all the time... and when you stick it in people, it unlocks their death.
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) and She Ra Princess Of Power give us the Sword of Power and the Sword of Protection, respectively. In a jam? Stab the Sky and invoke the Power (or Honor) of Grayskull. Superpowered Alter Ego invoked, problem solved.
- Samurai Jack's sword will not cut anyone pure of heart, as evident both when Aku stole it and tried to stab Jack with it and when Jack tried to use it to cut up a deer for food.
- The sword Rubilax in Wakfu is technically a four-element demon, and therefore assumably has as many forms in addition to his normal one.
- Lion-O of ThunderCats fame possessed the Sword of Omens, a nifty sword that in addition to its "Sight Beyond Sight" ability and its power to call upon the other Thundercats, could literally get him out of any situation. For example, on one occasion it essentially transformed into a vaulting pole and propelled him up the side of a castle.
- The Leadership Matrix in Transformers canon only works in situations where the Autobots are faced with the most abominable of Eldritch Abomination types, such as Unicron or a virus swarm, and there's little other recourse for them. Under the right conditions, the Matrix can then be used to "light our darkest hour".
- Smart guns are prototype firearms that use a unique locking system to prevent anyone who doesn't have the matching magnetic key from firing them.
- There are a number of systems: RFID tags, grip patterns, fingerprints.