This article offers an example to illustrate the process described in Part 5 of the Spell Storage Solutions series, by which much of the sting and stigma attached to relics can be designed out of them.
From the footnote to that article: “I was actually going to explain the process by way of presenting an example, created as-I-went, but time is beginning to be a factor, so I’ll do that in a separate post some other time. Let’s see… If I move that, and delay this, and shift this other to there, then I can squeeze it in early in October… done!”
Except that it wasn’t.
This article, in turn, was bumped aside by something with an even higher priority, and then again, and again, and, well, here we are in March, something like five months since it was originally scheduled.
In that time, my memory of the relic that I was going to use as an example has grown vague and even a little confused. That’s the problem with a spark of inspiration that doesn’t get written down. But, in a way, that makes this a more genuine example of the process.
The First Pass
I start by running through each of the categories of definition listed in that article and quickly jotting down my initial thoughts. This is the exact process outlined in the previous article in the series.
What if you could steal knowledge or expertise from your enemy on the battlefield? What if you could steal the occasional secret just by looking at someone? Inspired by far more modern forms of technological intrusion into our privacy, those are exactly the abilities offered by The Crown Of Insight.
An ornate crown as might be worn by the ruler of a kingdom – until it is claimed by a bearer. When worn, it vanishes from the view of everyone save those the bearer challenges. Its appearance is then revealed to be morphic according to function – a plain steel band for a Strength-based skill or ability (including attack bonus), a gold circlet for a Wisdom-based skill or ability, a plain silver crown with dragon motif for an Intelligence based skill or ability, a black hood for a Dexterity-based skill or ability, and its pre-claim appearance for a Charisma-based skill or ability.
The crown has three major abilities:
- It can siphon skill ranks from an enemy, which are either available to the bearer temporarily or can be made permanent by the allocation of skill ranks to a new intelligence-based cross-class skill, “Use Crown Of Insight”.
- It can ‘borrow” class abilities or feats from an enemy, which are temporarily available to the character, and which are denied to the enemy for the duration of the effect.
- It can attempt to leach from an enemy’s mind a random factoid about the enemy. This could be anything from his combat strategy or objective, the name of an ally, his shopping list for when he next goes to market, an incident or event from his past, or something he was once told (accuracy not guaranteed). If it fails, the bearer learns a random factoid about the crown or a past bearer of the crown, instead.
History of the Relic
One of a set of Relics of uncertain origins known as the six Parasite Items, each of which is focused on one key characteristic. A legendary king came into possession of the set, long ago, and employed them to create a vast kingdom of wealth and prosperity. In jealousy and mutual hatred, an alliance of his neighbors eventually moved against him when he was in his dotage, and not even the relics could save him. Each of the victorious generals claimed one of the relics as a prize, but each sought to ambush the others on their journeys back to their respective Kingdoms, and one-by-one the victors fell.
Centuries later, Durnbach The Sly somehow found the relic atop an altar deep below the Silvertop Mountains, where it was being worshiped as a god by a tribe of primitive half-trolls. Durnbach sought to overthrow his cruel and tyrannical king using the power of the Crown, and eventually succeeded in doing so, making himself the power behind the throne of the Crown Prince. Paranoid and treacherous, Durnbach and his secret police soon ruled with an iron fist. In all his plotting, however, he failed to anticipate that his figurehead might rise against him. Fleeing, he survived just long enough to conceal the crown in the newly-opened grave of a priest who had recently succumbed to old age.
Grave Robbers in the employ of a necromancer discovered the crown in the grave while exhuming the body for the evil rites of their master, and so it came into the possession of he who would become infamous as Tharkash the Lich. But the Crown rejected Tharkash, causing the Lich to dissipate his undead existence in fruitless attempt after fruitless attempt to dominate it and bend it to his will. Distracted, Tharkash eventually fell to a band of adventurers, but the hidden chamber in which Tharkash had concealed the Crown was not discovered, and it was presumed lost once again, perhaps for good this time.
Impact of the Relic on History
Many of the Kingdoms from which the PCs derive were once one, and each has common social roots as a result, though they have diverged once again over the centuries since, and integration was never complete even in the time of the Legendary King. The saga of Durnbach has entered into legend, but each Kingdom thinks another was the land of his rule, so the truth of the tale remains unknown. What is known is that from that point in history forwards, each Kingdom had an intelligence apparatus to spy on their neighbors and root out dissidents who might become disloyal amongst their own populations. Sometimes these powers are abused by bad rulers, sometimes they are used to protect the general populace by good rulers, and sometimes they simply protect the authority of weak and venal rulers. Finally, Tharkash had the powers to be a blight upon several kingdoms, but the Crown enthralled him by its refusal to accept him as a bearer, consigning him to the status of historical footnote.
Scaling Of Ability
Tying the abilities of the crown to the skill “Use of Crown Of Insight”, an INT-based cross-class skill with ranks capped at the current character level of the bearer, reduces the impact of the relic to a level commensurate with the power level of the character. The most significant abilities are temporary bonuses and abilities which will yield little benefit to the bearer at least some of the time. Only at higher character levels does the bearer gain any measure of control over this capability. The random nature of the ‘leach knowledge’ ability restricts its usefulness, though some insights may be invaluable. It is up to the bearer to put himself into circumstances in which he can make maximum gains from this capability.
This doesn’t seem quite enough; there need to be one or two immediate benefits from accepting the Crown. More thought needed.
The Price Of Ownership
The need to commit skill ranks to the Crown that might be used elsewhere leaves the character increasingly dependent on the powers of the crown. Characters will eventually become recognized as adept at winnowing out secrets and closet skeletons, making them a target. If he has a conscience, he may have to bear the burden of secret knowledge he would rather not have. Anyone who survives an encounter with the character may eventually work out that he bears the crown, further increasing the number of individuals prone to acting against him. Some abilities drain part of the character’s XP, though they may refund this cost to the character. Nevertheless, his advancement will be impaired slightly. Finally, even though he was unable to master the crown, the corruptive efforts of Tharkash The Lich have left a legacy that will eventually taint the character to the point where the crown will reject him – at a point where his dependence on the item is at its height.
The crown is all about short-term benefits for a long-term price. Both benefits and price are real and substantial.
The Difficulty Of Acquisition
Primitives are easily induced by the bearer-less crown by random insights into worshiping it as a deity, affording it some measure of protection. Furthermore, there are strict requirements and a testing process involved in becoming the bearer of the item; if these tests are failed, the crown will influence others to release it from the possession of whoever has it.
That is certainly what happened in the case of the Generals and Tharkash. It is possible that it is also the hidden mover of events in the tale of Durnbach The Sly.
This means that mere possession of the crown is dangerous unless the character is accepted as a bearer. And yet, it is a Relic, not something that many can easily turn away from.
I like the notion of three tests, but at the moment can only think of two: A test of how the character would use or abuse the power of the Relic if it chooses him, and a test of fidelity to the relic if the character becomes the bearer. The first is morality, and the second asks whether or not the crown would be just a tool to the character. Maybe the third should be something relating to capacity or ability to preserve ownership of the Relic. More thought is needed.
The Difficulty Of Rejection
A Relic “choosing” someone or “rejecting” someone implies some level of sentience, even if it is animalistic or instinctive. This makes a big difference to how it will react to someone turning down the opportunity of bonding with the Relic. If you chase an animal away, it is unlikely to be overly hostile; whereas an instinctive choice is more likely to be absolute.
I like the notion that the Relic ‘remembers’ those who have surrounded it in the past and can “summon” their likeness to attack the character. If he defeats them, there is no further penalty; if not, he suffers the consequences of defeat, up to and including death. This would be solo combat, and fully occurring in the head of the rejecting character. So it might pull out two or three of those primitive half-trolls, or some of the Lich’s undead servants, or three or four members of the Secret Police of Durnbach The Sly.
It’s even possible that if the PC wins, he gets one last chance to change his mind, and that if he refuses a second time, the crown becomes “cold” toward him. But if the PC leaves the crown where it is to await another prospective bearer, that’s the end of it; the bigger mistake would be taking it with him, as explained earlier.
The Plotline Impact – Immediate: The Search For Knowledge
This is fairly low-impact. The new Bearer doesn’t have to go hunting for knowledge of the Crown, he simply has to use it and make sense of the incomplete and fragmentary account of its history that builds up over time. But the three abilities and how to use them need specific introduction, which means plotlines in which they will prove useful, plus visions of a past bearer using those abilities.
The Plotline Impact – Medium-Term: The other Parasite Items
The fact that these were all wielded by one individual according to the item history suggests the possibility that they try to seek each other out; they want to be reunited. Logically, if that were the case, there would be some power-boost from the combination – the combination being more than the sum of its parts.
I don’t like this notion for two reasons: first, it’s been done before (the Wand of Orcus), and second, it violates the principle of keeping the benefits of ownership reasonably proportionate to the power level of the character who wields it/them.
So let’s go in completely the opposite direction: Only one being was ever able to force them co-exist; they are mutually antagonistic. Over time, each of the parasite items would seek out each other with a view to destroying the current bearer of the rival items. This turns the crown into a Quest item on the Campaign Scale.
So, what are the other Parasite Items and what do they bring to the challenge?
The Weapon Of Strength (STR)
Steals the physical strength of a rival. For every 2 points stolen, one becomes permanently available to the bearer through the item. Stealing Strength or Accessing stolen strength requires the use of a new cross-class strength-based skill, “Use Weapon Of Strength”.
The Eye Of Wisdom (WIS)
Steals the Wisdom and clerical spells of a rival. For every 2 points of WIS stolen, one becomes permanently available to the bearer through the item. Stealing Wisdom or Accessing stolen Wisdom requires the use of a new cross-class WIS-based skill, “Use Eye Of Wisdom”. The Eye can hold one clerical spell of each Spell Level by default; each rank added to “Use Eye Of Wisdom” after one each has been used for this purpose permits one additional spell of any spell level to be stored. Stored Spells, once cast, vanish from the item. Spells stolen must match the spell level of whatever clerical spell the enemy of the bearer is currently casting. Spells stolen are not available to the enemy caster until they can again memorize spells.
The Belt Of Life (CON)
Steals the CON and hit points of a rival. For every 2 points stolen, one becomes permanently available to the bearer through the item. The number of points of CON and number of hit dice (full capacity) that can be stored by the item are determined by ranks in a new cross-class CON-based skill, “Use Belt Of Life”. “Hit Dice” held by the item do not yield a CON bonus in additional HP.
The Gloves of Acquisition (DEX)
Steals the DEX and rogue abilities of the enemy. For every 2 points stolen, one becomes permanently available to the bearer through the item. Stealing Dex or Rogue Abilities or Accessing stolen DEX requires the use of a new cross-class Dex-based skill, “Use Gloves Of Acquisition”. In addition, on a critical success, one belonging of the enemy vanishes from their person (no matter how or where it is stored) and appears in the hand of the bearer as though they had been miraculously stolen. Such items are chosen randomly based on Value. Relics are unaffected by this capability.
The Mantle Of Perfection (CHA)
Steals the Charisma and confuses the followers of the Enemy. Stealing Char or Confusing followers requires the use of a new cross-class CHA-based skill, “Use Mantle Of Perfection”. For every 2 CHA points stolen, one becomes permanently available to the bearer and one Confused follower of lower level than the total ranks in this skill will eschew their old leader and join the bearer. In addition, a successful check against the Skill inspires as many followers as the bearer has Ranks in “Use Mantle” to fight fanatically (i.e. with +2HD of temporary HP and without regard for their lives). These additional HP represent the character fighting on when they should have collapsed from the severity of their wounds and should be described accordingly.
The Plotline Impact – The Campaign Scale
Under this concept, it would not benefit the bearer to avoid these quests; presumably the bearer of the rival Parasite item has similar capabilities to hunt down its enemies; sooner or later the quest will find the PC if the PC doesn’t undertake the quest.
This also makes sense of the whole approval/rejection concept; the crown doesn’t want to accept a lesser bearer who is likely to lose to its rival. But the background of the crown would need to be adapted to incorporate at least one such confrontation in the past so that the player who bears the crown can learn about this aspect of the ownership.
Maybe the items are all dormant until one chooses a bearer, and this awakens the others? And if there’s some mechanism by which the Relic can “trade up” to a better bearer, say by way of the defeat of the current bearer, then we have a story in which each Relic of the group builds up to the most effective “champion” it can find before the confrontation.
The crown (and its rival Parasite Items) might even lure other potential bearers into hostilities to challenge the current bearer – which would need to be integrated into the short-term plotlines of ownership.
The Second Pass
As you can see, from a vague beginning, the concept has evolved and matured quite a bit in the course of jotting down (typing up, in this case) those ideas. Having reached this point, the trick is now to start over using what has now been figured out, making decisions as necessary, and fleshing out any details that were left vague or uncertain the first time around.
I find the easiest way of doing so is to simply copy and paste everything that I’ve already done and then type over the top. The actual process is fairly boring, so I’ll spare you – in the process leaving this as an “unfinished item” so that readers can take the ideas and do whatever they want with them.
Relics are the most powerful magic items in a game, so it’s only appropriate that they take a bit of effort to get right. But this process still yields a finished item, complete with backstory and integrated into the campaign history, in just an hour or two. For something with this much impact on the campaign, that’s not an unreasonable investment in time.
The other reason for this article being relatively short is to give me extra time to work on the next entry in the Essential Pulp Library, due next week. I already know that this will take extra time, so I’m shaping my schedule around making that time available.
- If I Could Save Magic In A Bottle: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 1
- A Heart Of Shiny Magic: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 2
- Just Another Pointy Stick I: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 3a
- Not Just Another Pointy Stick: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 3b
- The Energizer Bunny: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 4
- The Ultimate Weapon: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 5
- Let’s Make A Relic: Spell Storage Solutions Pt 5a – The Crown Of Insight