Dark Offerings – Do-It-Yourself Charms and Talismans VI

English: The Ark of the Covenant Brought into ...

No,no… Definitely not THAT powerful!

And here we have a few more Talisman suggestions – with, as usual, some delving into world-building and d20 magical theory along the way. Of course, most of the material on Charms and Talismans can be found in The Practical Enchanter. 

Implements of Sacrifice: Sends portion of the soul’s energy to the dedicated power. The user gains a single use spell like ability as a gift from the dedicated power. This is chosen by the power, thematically linked and in general of a Level equal to the sacrificed creatures (HD+1)/2. While most commonly used by evil cultists it is possible to use this in an attempt to redeem a corrupted being. -Brett

Well, there’s the modern view that sacrifices and offerings are simply showing dedication to a faith or are supporting an organized church. Of course, such views really don’t apply in most d20 settings; “dedication” doesn’t mean much when it’s simply background choice – and if it actually costs a character something the players will expect a commensurate payoff, even if it’s mostly on the social side of things. If that payoff doesn’t actually show up… they tend to opt out. Even the dedicated roleplayers don’t always want to put their characters at a gratuitous disadvantage.

Similarly, there’s little need to support most d20 churches; the ones that have serious power of their own don’t need it – and the ones that don’t have power are almost invariably background elements. At most… they’re ways for characters to establish their “good guy credentials” and an excuse for adventuring. “We are undertaking this dangerous task in hopes of Wealth and Power and… oh yeah… to help out the village/orphans/kindly old priest/noble king/whoever”.

The classic view is that you’re offering up a sacrifice because the power you’re offering it to gets something out of it (if only satisfaction) and gives something back (even if all it does is to refrain from smiting you with ill fortune). The Old Testament lists various sins, each with a specified sacrifice to be offered up in atonement to generate “a pleasing odor before the Lord” and to gain forgiveness. Blood was important to this process, because the “blood is the life”.

The remains of such sacrifices then became the property of the priests – who were supported by a steady stream of offerings.

So offering a creature’s life force to a power in exchange for something is about as classical as it gets. A set of magical implements that strengthen the link to said power is a very reasonable notion. After all… simple prayers can reach such powers with no help at all (perhaps thanks to the fact that every sapient being is constantly linked to the outer planes by the energies of it’s alignment), and even very minor magic can reach the outer planes (as per “summon monster” – which may be easy because the powers of the outer planes WANT to be called to the material realms, and all you’re doing is opening a door) even if it is a LOT harder to locate a specific non-divine creature.

Specifying that power’s response to such offerings – even in general – is where this Talisman first goes overboard. Telling godlike beings what to do is hubris at the very least, and potentially blasphemy or worse. Even coming to their attention by trying to help is not necessarily a good thing. Thus the fate of an unsanctified man who tried to stabilize the Ark of the Covenant when it seemed likely to fall:

And when they came to Nachon’s threshing-floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error; and there he died.

Secondarily… the general response listed is incredibly generous. Even sticking with normal land animals, looking at hit dice… Rats and such are good for cantrips. 1-2HD (L1 spell granted); Baboon, Badger, Dogs, Hawk, Monkey, Owl, Pony (and probably sheep, goats, and similar animals), 3HD (L2 spell granted): Bear (Black), Camel, Cheetah, Crocodile, Boar, Horse, Mule, 5 HD (L3 spell granted): Bison, Lion (and presumably bulls, water buffalo, and other bovines), and 11HD (L6 spell granted): Elephant (and yes, there were plenty of domestic elephants).

Now to look at the old testament again… King Solomon sacrificed (not personally) 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen at the dedication of the temple. OK: that’s 120,000 L1 spells and 22,000 level three spells. Now yes, priesthood is a big business – but that seems a bit much.

Is someone important dead? Sacrifice an Elephant to Osiris and up they get! Worried about raiders hitting your farm? Sacrifice the old bull you were replacing anyway to Agni for a Fireball spell to hold in reserve. Kid hurt? Sacrifice the chickens you were butchering for sale today to one or another healing god and fix that right up with a string of cantrips!

While “slaughterhouse wizards” sounds amusing, it doesn’t work very well. Requiring that the body be destroyed afterwards works a little better, but still makes some fairly powerful magic available awfully easily.

If sacrifices are restricted to intelligent beings… well, now you have a major incentive to capture all those enemies; that way you’re not only depriving their gods of worship, but you’re empowering your own god and getting power for yourself as well – and all you have to do is a bit of mass slaughter! Adventurers do that all the time anyway!

Honestly, intelligent beings (and d20 characters) behave badly enough without that kind of encouragement. Any benefits from making sacrifices should be subtle, rather than flashy.

(Replacement) Sigil of the Divine (Talisman): Those who faithfully observe the requirements of their god (or gods) – praying regularly, observing holy days, making offerings, reading sacred texts, and listening to sacred tales – strengthen the link between themselves and their gods. With a Sigil of the Divine to aid them, even those who lack the talents of a priest can tap into a little divine power when they need it most. A sigil functions three times per day; when called upon (at any time, regardless of initiative – but no more than once per round) it can bring Fortune (add +2 to any single roll after the roll is made), Providence (reducing hit point or attribute damage/drain by three points), or Beneficence (reduce the duration of a negative condition – including Surprise – by four rounds). According to legend, Sigil-bearers who find themselves confronting mighty enemies of their faith sometimes receive additional divine aid – increasing the daily uses to seven, and allowing the expenditure of up to three uses a round with cumulative effects.

As a welcome side effect, that particular Talisman will finally give characters other than Clerics and Paladins some reason to pay some attention to their religion…

Of course, there is a place in the system for devices that kill people in exchange for power; its in the Black Magic section – with the Bloody Bowl, Spirit Cloak, and Spirit of the Unborn. Such items carry dark and terrible potencies.

(Replacement) Nightfall Wand (Black Magic Talisman): Fashioned from disturbing materials, engraved with blasphemous runes, and empowered by the lives of murdered children, a Nightfall Wand has seven charges. The effects they can be used to produce depend upon what foul powers are called upon during the empowering ritual, but generally correspond to a choice of two second (costing two charges) and three first level (costing one charge) effects. Where relevant these use the user’s attributes and caster level – although the user may spend an extra charge to boost his or her effective caster level by three. The life of one child will restore three charges, while the lives of two restores all seven and allows the wand to be rededicated – changing the effects that it can produce.

Even if they are basically limited to extremely evil spellcasters, Nightfall Wands are powerful things to start with; a 5d4 Burning Hands effect – perhaps followed up by a Scorching Ray – can easily decide a battle at second or third level. If those effects come from a Nightfall Wand, it will almost certainly be decided for the bad guys. That power is a tease of course, but by the time that a character reaches higher levels, and finds a Nightfall Wand next to useless, he or she will have been lured into committing horrible crimes. Isn’t that what Black Magic does?

I’d still be very cautious about allowing them into a game though; they’re entirely too close to a “must have” item for villains – and entirely too likely to lead to total party kills at low levels if they’re used cleverly. Like it or not, when it comes to peasants, villagers, and street children life is just as cheap in d20 as it was in reality.

Jeweled Amulet: Allows a spellcaster to imbue the amulet with a L1 spell. The user may later cast this spell using the original caster’s stats. It is also possible to leach power from the imbued spell for an appropriate cantrip, but this can only be done 3/day and requires a DC 10 Cha check to avoid being fatigued for one hour or harmlessly discharging the stored spell, users option as to which. -Brett

This one is a fairly reasonable talisman – although I’d make it one of the “naturally-occurring only” ones. That way you can avoid the “level nine mage gives fifty peasant children one magic missile spell each and annihilates incoming major monster/military patrol/bandit horde/anything without spell resistance” thing. Even low-level spell storing can get out of control pretty easily if you can hand it out to everyone.

Ornithopter: gives limited flight, requires concentration and being powered by pouring magical energy into it in the form of spell levels, power points, or device charges. This item is highly campaign specific, some will have no issues with it being a very effective flying device for those who can afford it and fuel it, some will wish to limit it to a certain number of rounds per day and otherwise curtail it. -Brett

Converting magical power into bursts of thrust is pretty straightforward – although this does raise the problem of why every first-level Warlock isn’t playing rocket man. It also means that – as soon as someone hooks up a use-activated enchantment as a power source – you can expect to see pretty much everyone doing aerial acrobatics. Given that the power source is external, it’s kind of hard to justify a rounds- or uses- per day restriction either. Ergo, I’d suggest…

(Replacement) Wings of Icarus (Talisman): These wings allow anyone with enough magical power to fuel them – at least one spell level per three rounds – to fly. Unfortunately, they are very fragile, keep the user’s arms occupied, and are murderously difficult to control. Even worse, too great a control failure is likely to damage them – making maintaining control even more difficult and (usually) leading to a literal death spiral. Of course, the skilled (or mad) can pour even more magic into them to go even faster.

Further details of using the Wings of Icarus can probably be safely left to the evil imagination of the game master – which is why very few NPC’s are willing to so much as consider using the things.

Is this important? It will allow low-level characters access to flight, however limited. If they have to scale a wall, or cross a terrible river, or some such, the Wings of Icarus will make it easy.

On the other hand… A Phantom Mill (2000 GP) can produce enough Unseen Servants to let a fair-sized party take to the skies – if very slowly. Basic Shapeshifting is cheap. Winged races, or mystic powers of flight, are out there. Overall this really shouldn’t be a problem.

And there are more of these than I thought… I’ll have to continue the list next time around. 

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition(RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

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One Response

  1. […] =-it-yourself Charms and Talismans: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII. Exotic proposals for more Charms and […]

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