Do-It-Yourself Charms and Talismans VIII – The Forces From Beyond

A Daoist fulu talisman

A Daoist Fulu Talisman

And here we have the final article in this particular series – at least unless some more suggestions pop up. This time around we have devices that channel exotic power sources, some stealth-related knick-knacks, primordial metamagic, and – of course – random oddities and design theory discussions.

Dark Torch: 10′ radius “light” that reveals all details within its radius, but does not give off a light that can be seen from outside that radius. -Brett

Now this is very classic – the good old “Hand of Glory” effect – and could be very useful in some situations while not actually being very powerful, which is pretty much the hallmark of a good Charm or Talisman. A torch seems a bit odd for a Talisman though, given that torches are sort of inherently disposable. I’d tweak this slightly:

(Tweak) Thief’s Lantern (Talisman): This simple lantern may be fitted with a candle, filled with oil, or even be filled with a Light or Continual Flame spell. Whatever the source of light may be, it is as radiant as ever – but its light, and all the reflected light from the things it reveals, simply vanishes once it goes beyond ten feet of the lantern. From beyond that radius, the area appears as it would if the light source within the lantern was not present at all – a boon to thieves and rogues.

It must be noted that combining a Thief’s Lantern with a Talismanic Sunstone makes a rather exotic weapon; you can blast someone within 10′ with a deadly bolt of solar energy – and no one more than ten feet away will be able to see it. Add a Continuous Flame spell to the Sunstone and it’s about as concealed as a weapon can get – and it’s damaging effect is not even magical; a Sunstone simply stores natural sunlight. It is one-shot (at least until recharged), but it will almost certainly be a surprise; relatively few lanterns can be held up to illuminate something – and then will abruptly blast it with solar energy.

(Suggested) Inextinguishable Torch (Charm): Once soaked in oil and ignited, this torch simply will not go out. Even if you grind it into sand or plunge it into water, the flames may be a bit subdued, but they will not go out. When the twenty-four hours are up, a minute or two of soaking in oil will have the Inextinguishable Torch ready for use again.

Lens Darksight: 20′ Darkvision, but Light Sensitivity -Brett

Well, granting 60′ Darksight for an hour per level is a level two spell; Talismans with effects that powerful usually have substantial drawbacks though – and while 20′ is weaker, and can be quite restrictive in combat, it’s not much of a hindrance to moving around without showing a light – which is about all this is good for. Light-sensitivity is any annoying problem for a race, but less of one in a Talisman that you can just take off – and if there’s light, you won’t need it anyway. If you don’t want to go with the Thief’s Lantern – perhaps you’re working with people who have decent Darksight – they might come in handy though.

(Replacement) Eyepatch of the Night (Talisman): This dark eyepatch lets the user “see” normally out to 30′ in any conditions where Darksight would function – but does so by greatly boosting the user’s night vision. The user suffers from a -6 on saves against light-based attacks while this augmented vision is in use and will suffer from gradual sensory overload, taking a -1 cumulative penalty on perception-related checks for each hour or part thereof that this ability is used until the user spends at least eight hours resting without using the eyepatch.

Elemental Arcanix: A bound minor elemental gives the user of this amulet a few cantrip options. It may be possible to have a version of this that has other similar effects by replacing some or all of the options below.

  • Lance, swift action, get 10′ 1d4 elemental “long spear” that grants reach and can be used to strike adjacent targets as the entire spear effectively is a striking surface, can be wielded with one hand, does not get strength mod, lasts for 1 round and is a touch attack.
  • Ball standard action 10′ radius close range Reflex Negates
  • Dart standard action, 1d6 elemental attack, close range, ranged touch
  • Burst standard action, 15′ radius 60′ range, Reflex for Half, 1d8 elemental damage the spell goes to the target area and does not detonate until the next round, during this delay the area of the spell obviously glows clearly indicating the location and intent of the spell. -Brett

I’m not quite sure of the intent here really; does it give a spellcaster access to each of those effects as a cantrip? Aren’t they pretty powerful for cantrips? (After all, the Ray of Frost cantrip has close range, requires a ranged touch attack check, is single target, and does 1d3 damage, which is pretty standard for cantrips). How will that combine with unlimited use of cantrips such as Pathfinder uses? Alternatively, is this meant to allow each of those effects to be used once per day – or is it meant to allow unlimited use of them?

Personally, it looks to me like this one is based on the Spirit Pearl. That particular item IS quite powerful – but as it says… “Occasional magi imprison outsiders within pearls. Set into amulets, such pearls can be used as Talismans…”.

The trick there is that the amulet-Talisman isn’t doing the imprisoning; it’s just allowing the user to project the aura of the imprisoned outsider to cover up his or her own – and allows the bearer to engage in a battle of wills with the imprisoned outsider to try to force it to use one of it’s powers on the user’s behalf up to three times a day. Of course, if the user loses that battle the creature inside may use one of it’s powers however it wills. That probably won’t be too bad if it happens to be a Mephit. If it happens to be a major demon, that may be disastrous –

It is quite possible use a Charm or Talisman tap into and channel the energies of a specific external power source though; if you just happen to have the Unquenchable Ever-Burning Heart of the Salamander King handy it would be quite reasonable (well, OK, maybe “reasonable” is NOT the word) to hook it up to an especially-designed charm to let you throw Scorching Rays all day long – or to a Talisman to offer a modest selection of fire-related powers rather than just one. Such powers still won’t be very sophisticated, and will thus be of low level – these are still just charms and talismans, even if you are hooking them up to a big power sources instead of relying on a trickle of personal energy – but they’ll be much more inclined towards “unlimited use” and the duplication of actual spell effects rather than “a few times per day” and “small but interesting”. Of course, if your power source is sapient and unwilling… you’d better expect to have it act up every so often.

The trouble is, such sources of power are generally unique, the charms and talismans that tap into them are likely to be equally unique, and exactly what is possible is going to vary from GM to GM and from power source to power source – and thus there’s no particular rule for them. If you want to get a little exotic you could make a character based on this notion: Buy Leadership (assorted outsiders) and the use of Charms and Talismans if the world doesn’t allow it already, and have your “followers” represent the spirits you can bind. That way you could have a small selection of fairly potent items that would grow with your character – but if you died, all the spirits that you had bound to your service would go free…

So while there are definite possibilities here I don’t think that this particular device is going to work as a simple Talisman. Now if you can somehow obtain an elemental’s services, whether by binding, bargaining, or authority, to power your device… that’s quite a different matter.

Shadow Self: Gives a shadow clone, if destroyed deals 1d10 HP burn (heal 1 point per day like damaged attribute) dazed 1 min, 1d8 Con,Wis and Cha ability burn. This shadow clone is treated as having 1/5th of the users levels, HP and other effects. It is also only 20% real and the rest is made of shadow stuff, the Will Save is DC 10+users Cha Mod. This shadow clone is partially incorporeal, it is unable to go through solid objects, but can go through objects that have gaps of roughly 9 square inches of any shape, for example it can slowly fit through most doors by going under them, but a tightly fitted door would stymie it. It can be damaged by nonmagical sources if the wielder of such makes the same Will save as a swift action (not all creatures will be aware of this option and obviously objects aren’t, training an animal to know this counts as an advanced trick). Magical sources are fully effective against it. -Brett

OK… this is a weaker version of Simulacrum; it’s only 40% as effective and can only copy the user, but it has no permanent XP cost, the Simulacrum has a special capability of its own, and it’s harder to damage – and totally immune to traps, making it an indestructible trap-springer. Simulacrum is level seven. I’d peg this at about level five or six – far beyond the capabilities of a Charm or Talisman.

Still, there’s something we can do here.

(Replacement) Shadow Phylactery (Talisman): Coiling shadow-stuff gradually builds up in the heart of this crystal pendant, gathering strength. The user may expend 2d4 hit points to imbue his or her personal shadow with the stuff of the realm of shadows, transforming it into a useful servant – equivalent to an Unseen Servant augmented by an Unseen Supervisor spell. The effect is even handier because the shadow can fit through very small spaces and pass through transparent materials – allowing it to slip beneath doors and through windows. While such a servant exists, however, the user will cast no shadow – and if it is forcibly destroyed, he or she will take another 2d4 point so of damage and one point of attribute damage each to Constitution, Wisdom, and Charisma. Until those points are recovered, however, the user’s shadow will not return.

Pouch Rainbows: Color Spray good for 4d6 uses, can also be laid out in the form of a trap for the first person to walk on it, it must be uncovered and visible, if the person triggering the trap is blind, shutting their eyes or otherwise can’t perceive the sand they are unaffected by it. -Brett

Even if this is at casting level one, this is pretty awkward. After all, if this works… why not a pouch of Healing (Cure Light Wounds), or Sleeping Sands, or Floating Disk Crystals? Or a glove of Shocking Grasp? A first level party using the Shaping system for Charms and Talismans might go adventuring with fifty spells each in reserve. That’s a bit much – and is one reason why the actual Pouch of Rainbows Enchantment on page 157 costs 922 GP – and while it holds more charges, it doesn’t let you set them up as a trap.

Less importantly, if still of note, is that Color Spray is a VERY potent spell at low levels.

This might work as an alchemical item (probably about 20 GP per pinch / color spray). It might also work as a natural talisman – something precious that’s occasionally found but which can’t be readily duplicated. Of course, in this case… you’re basically looking at the old “partially used wand” in a slightly more exotic form. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it really isn’t what a Talisman is supposed to be.

Tree of Life: Gives double natural healing or holds in abeyance the effects of any disease or poison for those under the tree, this still allows them to heal this damage and fight off the disease or poison. If the user leaves the tree they will experience the full damage that the tree was buffering. -Brett

This is problematic, simply because it’s a tree – and in general people can’t make those while they CAN make talismans. Is this something you do to a seed? How long does such a tree take to grow? Even if this is a natural Talisman… how did anyone find out about it’s properties to begin with? “Sam is hurt/poisoned/sick, so I think I’ll spend the afternoon attuning to this tree to see if it does anything”?

Secondarily, of course, Delay Poison, Area Effect, and Mitigate Disease Area Effect are relatively potent effects – about a level two base modified from single target to area. This sounds to me more like a very minor Ward Major, a natural place of magic, or perhaps a divine gift rather than a Talisman. After all, as a Talisman… I’d expect every hospital to have at least one of the things planted somewhere about.

Boundary Stone: A permanent Alarm effect, can be specifically used to make trip wires, door chimes etc in addition to the normal effects of Alarm. -Brett

This one works just fine. The effect is already low-powered, has a long duration, is rather subtle, and is very conditional and thus hardly a “must have” effect – which is pretty much ideal for a Talisman.

Most Charms and Talismans don’t offer direct game-mechanical bonuses or give very minor ones at best – and there’s a reason for that; it’s so that items like the Firespice Shaker, Foothold Boots, or Enscrolled Gameboard will be things that characters actually take, rather than list-filler that pads out the space between the dozen or so items that offer the best bonuses and thus are the only items that most characters will actually consider. Thus most of the Charms and Talismans that made the original list can be useful if you’re clever – but more often they’re characterization details.

The Order Birthright on Atheria included a playtest of that idea. One of the abilities that it gave was a power that empowered Charms and Talismans through a personal, power-supplying, innate enchantment. That’s fairly expensive – it is a level two effect – but it allows Charms to easily maintain first level effects and Talismans to maintain second level effects without further difficulty. To restrain that, Atheria uses Wealth Templates rather than the Shaping-based system for gaining Charms and Talismans so that every casual laborer in the realm of Order isn’t carrying a Talisman giving him or her a +4 to strength and every skilled worker isn’t carrying one that provides +10 to a skill. Most of them can’t empower a Talisman at all.

But Order Birthright player characters almost always start off buying a high wealth level (for them it’s REALLY useful to have money) and still tend to have a really, REALLY, boring set of Charms and Talismans – a list of mechanical bonuses, rather than a set of interesting tools.

And that’s why many of the items I’ve gone over so far will come with a “caution” flag on them if and when I get around to turning this series into a PDF. Even with their power levels trimmed back quite a few of them are winding up on the “that is clearly better for this character than anything else” list – as was revealed by considering them in comparison to the usual list of possibilities for Gareth Tamson and Eliki Montari. Their lists lean pretty heavily towards the new Charms and Talismans from this series and would have leaned even more heavily that way if I hadn’t deliberately trimmed them back.

Portable Tent: Ala Harry Potter, does not count as a demiplane for purposes of hiding and being on the same plane, instead treat it as being bigger on the inside than the outside. -Brett

This is very classic – after all, if it was good enough for Frank Baum and Oz, it’s probably good enough for us. Oddly though, extradimensional spaces are dead easy in d20; you can make one big enough for eight creatures of any size that lasts for a good long time with a level two spell – but distorting space inside an existing dimension is a good deal harder than opening a gate out of it.

And yes, that’s weird.

Still… an “Unexpectedly Spacious Tent” really isn’t likely to cause a problem. I’d suspect it to be a species of illusion, or perhaps a low-powered shrinking effect applied to everything inside, or some such rather than a true distortion of space – but it really doesn’t matter; the exact amount of room in your tent doesn’t come up much that I can recall.

(Tweaked) Spacious Tent (Talisman): This tent roomier inside than it has any business being. Arguments continue as to whether this is a distortion of space, being partially extradimensional, subtly shrinking everything that comes inside, or even just an illusion of some sort. Whatever is going on, such a tent does not count as being extra-dimensional, does not lighten any materials brought inside, and does not provide any extra space when the tent is folded up – although it can hold twice as many people as an ordinary tent the same size could (12 maximum).

Beast Skin: Made from the skin or carapace of any CR 1 Animal or Vermin. Can be used to transform into that creature at will as a standard action. Comes with instincts of the specific form which require a Will 12 check to overcome in some situations. Also if salt or other cleansing/corrupting agent is placed on the skin, the next time it is used it deals 2d6 damage to the user. -Brett

There’s already a Talisman for this – the Shifter’s Cloak:

…This item of clothing permits it’s wearer to take the form of a particular animal. It costs 1 Charge, 1D2 points of temporary Intelligence damage, and accepting a dose of animal instincts, to change into an animal. It costs one charge to change back. Since such items typically have 3d4 charges, and can only be recharged with a minor ritual, they’re best used with caution.

Of course, a Shifter’s Cloak can turn you into a buffalo or great white shark. Of course to do it, it’s replacing your physical pattern with that of the creature – which is very effective and very dangerous; thus the risk of getting stuck. Limiting a Beast Skin to creatures of CR 1 or less (even if it is technically adding vermin) does make a difference – but it’s not going to be enough to go to “unlimited use” of what’s still a fairly powerful effect. Most likely… we’re looking at about three times a day, with a maximum duration of eight hours. Still, at least there’s no chance of getting stuck.

(Tweaked) Beast Belt (Talisman): Made from the body parts of any CR 1 Animal or Vermin, this belt can be used to transform into that creature as a standard action up to three times per day for up to eight hours per transformation. Sadly, the form comes with appropriate instincts (which may call for a DC 18 Will check to overcome at GMO). If the belt is damaged, or contaminated with something, the next transformation will do 2d6 damage to the user – although this will also suffice to repair the belt.

Spell Sequencer: Allows the use of the Occult Skill: Spell Weaving and allows the user to use half their ranks in Spellcraft if better than their ranks in Spell Weaving. -Brett

Hm. There’s a Spellweaving skill in World Tree that’s been referenced a few times, but it has nothing much to do with d20 since it’s World Tree’s version of ritual magic. Cadmel has “spellweaves” but they’re something quite different – as are the Spellweaves in Legends of High Fantasy. This could be referencing Kevin’s Martial-Art based “Spellweaving” too – but I think that it’s probably referring to Dunstan’s version of Spellweaving – a custom skill (on a list of many that character used thanks to a loophole in the Skills and Powers rules) from second edition.

So lets look at Dunstan’s version:

Spellweaving allows the user to customize his or her spells – adding up to three advantages per spell during the memorization process. Unfortunately, each advantage must be balanced by a disadvantage. A roll is required if the user is attempting to use a spell which he could not normally cast (yet) as the basis for his effect. In these cases the check is made at the time of casting; a failure expends the spell without effect. Attempting to use spellweaving with “free” magic is dangerous; the roll is made at a -1 per level of the spell and a failure results in an uncontrolled spell discharge. By default this does 1D6 damage to the user per level of the spell being manipulated. The GM is, of course, free to invent effects based on the individual spell or something like the “Wild Surge” table.

Common advantages include; -1 Level, increased range or duration, +4 on caster’s effective level, -4 penalty on target’s saving throw, dropping required components, and reduced casting times. Others are possible.

Common disadvantages include; +1 level, reduced range, damage, or duration, x10 casting time, requiring catalysts (IE; It draws magic from something else. Each casting might require a drop of dragons blood or a charge from a wand with relevant powers. Specifics can be negotiated with your GM), unpleasant side effects (Taking damage, being exposed to corrupting forces, attracting attention from – or owing favors to – powerful magical beings), simply being extremely expensive and cumbersome to cast (Usually implying a big ritual), -4 on the users effective level (Only for spells in which this matters), and only working under specific conditions (In shadows, versus orcs, and so on). The GM should disallow disadvantages that don’t actually limit the use of the spell – such as “Specific Conditions” on free magic.

Spells can be reduced to level “0″ by advantages. In such cases four such spells count as a single level one spell.

As an example, a mage helping an army besiege a town might want a large-scale incendiary effect, rather then a monster-roasting Fireball. He might increase the area of effect greatly (Two advantages), and the range a bit (One advantage), at the price of decreasing it’s damage enormously (To 1D6/5 Levels), allowing those who make a successful save to escape damage entirely (It bursts as a lot of fiery rays, a save indicates that none of them hit you), and requiring a full turn to cast the thing.

Now that IS a very useful nonweapon proficiency. In effect it was a full suite of Metamagical Theorems for an edition that didn’t yet have such a thing otherwise. Well worthwhile even if using it effectively did call for investing rather a lot of nonweapon proficiencies in it.

What are nonweapon proficiencies? Well, they were skill slots. Most characters got three to start with, and one more every three levels. Buying a skill (most cost one slot, a few cost two) gave you a so-so base check in it, and you could spend more slots on it to improve things. There were a lot of them, some with very odd effects for “skills” – such as greatly increasing the range at which you could throw weapons. The Skills and Powers system made this a little more flexible – making most skills cost two of their “points” with some costing more and giving most characters six points to start.

That should sound quite familiar: “nonweapon proficiencies” were basically the second-edition versions of Feats. (The same went for “weapon proficiencies” actually – you wanted to learn to use heaver armor? An exotic weapon? To do some special tricks with a weapon that you could already use? Specialize in a weapon to get some bonuses? Spend some Weapon Proficiencies!)

This particular non-weapon proficiency was set up for the Skills and Powers sub-edition and costs four points. In d20 terms… it cost two feats to get and it wouldn’t be at it’s best until you had at least three or four more invested in it. It’s not entirely coincidental that that is exactly what it would cost in Eclipse to pick up the “Compact” metamagic (the one that lets you add flaws to spells) and most of the rest of the metamagics taken as “Corrupted/the metamagical changes to a spell must sum to +0 spell levels or less”.

Of course in older editions… it was normal for several opponents to act during the time it took to cast any serious spell and any interruption at all caused the spell to be lost with no way to avoid it. Casting powerful spells in combat usually required having several other characters working with you to make sure that it went off. That battle-deciding Fireball was a team effort – which was why an all-Fighter party could do just fine, while all-Wizard parties got annihilated (and yes, that’s from play). Thus the Fighter was far more vital to the party than the Wizard – and handing a bunch of new spell-modifying options to the Wizard wasn’t “unbalancing”; it only meant that the party had an even bigger incentive to scout, plan, and work together so that it could use those options. The Wizard might be carrying the parts for the missile-launcher – but it took the entire party to put it together and fire it.

I kind of miss that personally.

But to end the digression… this one is pretty much a flat “No” as far as I’m concerned. A Talisman simply is not up to granting the equivalent of five or six feats. An Artifact, or major Relic might work though.

Finally we have the…

Wraith Suit: Gives an Psychic Construct skin that covers the user, gives access to a preset type “A” ability, which can be reset with 8 hours of meditation and a Spellcraft DC 20. Wearer can also choose to just use the Strength, Dexterity, 1/2 HP as THP, Natural Armor and Attacks of a Level 2 Construct instead of the type “A” ability, this change can be done as a full round action, this pool of HP replenishes after 5 mins of light activity unless reduced to zero, in which case the construct is unavailable until the following day. -Brett

Hm. “Type A” abilities; those include… +2 Natural Armor, +10′ move, Damage Reduction 5/Magic, taking on an elemental subtype, gaining one of a selection of feats, flight, the ability to store five levels of spells of up to level three, and gaining a swim or tunnel speed. Alternatively, the wearer can take a full-round action to switch to using Str 15, Dex 15, 16 temporary hit points that renew themselves every five minutes of light activity, +6 natural armor and a slam attack. Admittedly, these benefits will go away for the day if you let the temporary hit points go to zero, but there’s no apparent way of depleting them if you stick to using the “Type A” ability – and even if you do, for a first level character… sixteen hit points may be the difference between “entirely healthy” and “Instantly Dead” – while DR 5/Magic may be close to invulnerability at low levels. Why not wear two? Stack DR 5/Magic with +16 temporary hit points that renew every five minutes and you can wade through a small army of many low CR creatures.

Now, a Talisman that manifested two or three Plush Golem’s at a time might be practical – but there really isn’t any way for a Talisman to do what the Wraith Suit does; the power level is far too high. This would call for a third level spell (a possession-variant summoning) with several levels of metamagic to extend the duration and usable every five minutes. That’s going to require an Enchantment, and a powerful one.

The rules for Charms and Talismans, along with quite a list of them, can be found in The Practical Enchanter – along with a great deal of other stuff.

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.

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.

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One Response

  1. […] 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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