The beginning is lost. The razored edges of broken memories, shattered like a mirror in a whirlwind or the reflection of the moon upon the waters, broken by the twin transitions of life to death and of instinct to sapience, offer glimpses of a life untouched by complications. Within those glimpses roam the primal creatures of a younger world. Hunger and growth, fang and claw – blood and death.
Everyone knows that traces of the psyche can be left on objects. Bits of vision, fragments of tragedy, traces of love and hate, all the detritus of the psyche. All can soak into impressionable stone and metal, to resonate with later minds, bringing them strange feelings and occasional thoughts not their own, and to awake to the touch of those who have the gift to call them forth in great detail.
There are objects which hold such traces extraordinarily well, where memory lingers and waits with unusual potency. Some are crafted by skill and art, others are natural talismans – and thus some are very old indeed. At the core of a cluster of crystals, in the heart of a natural nodule of metal, in an ancient stone, lies the potential of eternity – awaiting only the link of blood and an infusion of life to awaken it.
In a violent world, this happens on occasion. A beast topples from a cliff onto the waiting stones below, freeing spirit from ruptured flesh – or a crudely hammered knife of native copper is driven deep into a heart – and a portion of the life-force so suddenly poured forth becomes trapped within inanimate matter, granting the impressions left behind upon it an unnatural force.
Such traces are useful. Even an echo of instinctive wisdom or the primal fury of a beast at bay may aid greatly in survival in a harsh wilderness.
Occasionally, someone will be linked with, handling, or merely be close enough to such a talisman when there is a mighty surge of magic. Whether by chance or by destiny, the memories of the talisman become theirs – and, until their lives end, they shall be bonded to the talisman, and their memories will be added to it’s store.
Yet what is a personality but the sum of it’s memories? What becomes of a creature that now recalls many lives beyond it’s own, what it was to have many different souls, to have gone down into death many times, and to leave behind nothing but an echo of memory to imprint itself on some successor?
Like so many other people, the current beneficiaries (or victims) of such talismans often delude themselves. They tell themselves that they are immortals, that they will return so long as their talismans – or an art-created substitute therefore – shall endure, and yet they struggle frantically to claim some form of transcendence – to this time escape death and endure beyond the fate of flesh. They tell themselves that their inability to wield ancient powers is due merely to their loss of strength in the process of taking on a new body – not a simple consequence of the difference between a having a copy of a predecessors memories and having the power that died with him or her.
Others see the bearers of memory as being possessed by parasitic minds that prey upon mortals and steal their bodies and souls, as things to be exploited, as creatures to be feared, and as being to be envied for their “Immortality”. Others will have enemies, inherited from their forebearers. All, thanks to the mirroring of memory within whatever focus holds the accumulated memories of the past, find it near-impossible to forget – or to forgive.
They see only their ancient quest, handed down to a new torchbearer. To pass beyond death, and endure in life – following whatever path their predecessors have been on across the centuries.
The basic “Ancient One” has “lived” two to four “prior lives”, and – most often – “started out” as a beast or as a talisman-making shaman or some such. Since this is pretty obviously an acquired template to be stacked over an existing race, it’s been built with a total of 64 CP – making it a +2 ECL template over whatever it’s applied to.
The Ancient One:
Prior “Lives”: +3 Specialities in each of three times and places where the character “previously lived”. These can usually be applied to rolls related to events during the period, cultural questions, and general knowledge of the period. Note that a single speciality could cover several lifetimes in a boring area, a nonsentient lifetime won’t require one at all, and an exciting life full of travel might require two or even all three. (3 CP).
The Memory of Stone: Immunity/Forgetting Things and Memory Alteration (Uncommon, Minor, Great, 6 CP): Ancient Ones are immune to effects that produce forgetfulness or alter memories of level seven or below, and get a +8 bonus both on attempts to recall specific things they’ve observed and on saving throws versus higher-level effects that produce forgetfulness or alter memories.
Bearer of Lost Lore: Occult Skill/Secrets (3 CP). Each skill point invested in the “Secrets” skill brings extraordinary knowledge – the names of a dozen powerful fey, the routes through the crypts beneath the sacred mountains, how to open the seven gates of the netherworld, or the summoning chant of the three winds. The game master may let a character roll against his or her Secrets skill to see if they know some bit of lost information – or simply give the user additional secrets/plot hooks when it’s convenient.
Rune Weaver: All Ancient Ones – for some unknown reason – have a strong affinity for Rune Magic, gaining the Magician (6 CP) and Runic Ritual (6 CP) abilities. They also gain Adept x2, although the second instance is Specialized/two skills only (9 CP). Each Ancient One may select three Rune Casting and three Rune Mastery skills which he or she may buy for half price. These are his or her core magical abilities.
Past Master: +8 to their primary spellcasting attribute for magical purposes (in general, for learning and casting spells and for bonuses to magical skills), Corrupted/does not increase save DC, Specialized/only affects bonus slots and skill scores for Rune Magic, not for other spellcasting and magic-related skills (8 CP). For unknown reasons, all Ancient Ones are attuned to the magic of runes – and even without any great fund of personal power have developed the skill to cast at least a few spells.
Long Experience: Augmented Bonus/may add their (Wis Mod) to their (Int Mod) with respect to their Knowledge Skill Scores (6 CP). Over many lifetimes, the Ancient Ones have learned many things.
The Deep Lore/Racial Skill Bonuses: +4 to all six of their core magical skills (12 CP), +3 to Secrets (3 CP), +3 to a Martial Art (3 CP), +3 to Speak Language (the languages of previous “lives”, 3 CP), and +3 to any two other skills (6 CP).
Template Disadvantages: History (this is mandatory for an Ancient One: where is your memory-talisman located? What are you doing to look after it? Who were you in your earlier lives, how did those memories wind up in a talisman, and what were those lives like? Playing an Ancient One involves coming up with a fair amount of information), Hunted (the Ancient Ones always have enemies), and Insane (Ancient Ones act pretty oddly, tend to upset people, never forget an injury or offence, and are often so weird that they’re believed possessed) (-10 CP).
Most Ancient Ones should be familiar with a variety of weapons, and possibly with armor and a lot more skills – but they might not be. It all depends on what their previous lives were like and what was going on in their current life before they acquired the Ancient One template.
Interlude: Jacen Bloodsword – Party Leader – and Tyras the Spellbinder, newly-“awakened” Ancient One:
Now let me get this straight… “Tyras” is it? You’re fourteen and you know Lunar, Binding, and Nymic Magic?
It is the nature of my power. It is as it has been throughout the seven ages of man.
Uh-huh… Right. How did you learn that?
Two thousand years ago I studied the ways and paths in the crystal halls of Tharnasus, within the long-forgotten city of Saridan.
And what was it you’re looking for?
The helm of the eleven serpents of jade, the red essence of Malkyian, the Book Of Orthac, the crescents of Oriflyn, and the Seven Pillars of the Way.
And you want to find all this before the minions of Vencor catch up with you. I got that part, yes… Why do you want all that stuff?
Once my powers reach their peaks – unfettered by the frailty of rebirth – I shall enact my ritual, and ascend transfigured!
(Danis, Party Ranger) Jacen… He’s a runaway from two villages down. He’s barely out of childhood. Maybe he’s picked up a trick or two somehow, and claims he can guide us through the caverns, but he’s obviously moonstruck or possessed or something. You can’t possibly be seriously considering –
(Tyras) SENKORT-BA MA’AL UHHNN!
(Danis) Woof! Woof! Woof!
(Jacen) I think that’s a sufficient demonstration… Turn him back and welcome to the team.
Since the memories that make up an Ancient One generally wind up infused into some more-or-less random individual or magical dabbler, they rarely wind up in someone with any serious magical talent – which may be why they mostly use Rune Magic, an ability almost anyone can dabble in. While they are pretty good at it to start out with, their progress is generally slow compared to other spellcasters – which is why most Ancient Ones actually develop their abilities in ranger or rogue-styled builds, where they can defend themselves adequately. In fact, most of them tend to lean heavily towards defensive abilities – a consequence of their relative fragility at lower levels.
In the game, an Ancient One or two is principally interesting for all the baggage they bring along – obscure clues from past lives, strange bits of knowledge, long-forgotten languages, sage-like talents, a build-in bizarre quest, and enemies both current and from long centuries past. The entire character is going to be a walking plot hook. I, personally, might even let a character get away with calling that a specialization on the entire package, reducing it to +1 ECL to start with, just for that – although, in that case, I’d make very sure that all those complications are WORTH the thirty-two character point price break the character would be getting.