This time around it’s another selection of socially useful magic items – things that can be found making life easier in towns and villages and castles, rather than in the hands of adventures being used to slaughter people.
Straw Golems, sometimes known as Ushabti, are literally animated Scarecrows. They’re slow, clumsy, weak, and utterly ineffective in combat – equivalent to nothing more than an Unseen Servant – but they can be left on their own to carry out some simple task and do not have to remain near their activator. Unfortunately, any given Straw Golem can only handle a few, fairly specific, tasks. For example, one might be capable of assisting a cook, hauling water to irrigate plants, and harvesting a kitchen garden – but those are the only tasks it would be able to handle. Another might be able to deliver packages and messages to a specified location, clean a house, and (very slowly, due to it’s weakness) split and carry in firewood.
- Scarecrow (Hedge Magic). Spell Level 1 reduced to (1/2) by the Ambient Magic Limitation x Caster Level One x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command Word Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x.5 (Conjure) x.2 (One Use Per Day) x.5 (each variant of the Scarecrow spell can only handle the task it was made for. While each Straw Golem will have at least three variants built in, it can only do one thing at a time – rather than creating three “unseen servant” equivalents that can each work independently) x3 (for three separate spells) = 67.5 GP. Note that the Scarecrow spell has a twenty-four hour duration, so a Straw Golem remains permanently animated.
Owl Post: This small altar is dedicated to both the god of messengers and the powers of nature. To use its power you need merely lay an appropriate package upon it and recite a brief prayer that it will go to a particular place or person. A moment later it will turn into an appropriate small animal and head off to deliver itself, although it has a mere two hours until it turns back into the original package.
The Hidden Key: Druid 1, Ranger 1, Components V, S, Casting Time: One full round, Range Touch, Target one nonmagical package, a potion, or a scroll, weighing up to eight pounds. Duration Two Hours/Level, Saving Thrown None, Spell Resistance No. The Hidden Key transforms its target into a tiny animal for up to two hours per level of the caster. While such creatures are relatively tame, they otherwise behave quite normally – making it an excellent way to hide things. Sadly, if the creature is killed, the message or package is destroyed – so if you have to have it, you will have to catch the creature alive.
- The Hidden Key and Animal Messenger, Spell Level 1 x Caster Level 1 x 2000 GP Unlimited Use Use Activated x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Immobile) x2 (Two Spells) = 1000 GP.
The problem with this is that d20 movement speeds do not model reality well. For example, red-tailed hawks travel at between 20 and 40 miles per hour. The peregrine falcon is a bit faster at 60 miles per hour. Hawks achieve a more spectacular speed when stooping; a red-tailed hawk dives at a speed that can exceed 120 miles per hour. A diving peregrine falcon can reach a speed of 150 miles per hour. They may migrate up to 8000 miles each way at an average speed of just over 30 MPH.
This does not match up with “Flight 60 feet” and “average maneuverability”. In this case I’m going to use 30 MPH as a reasonably average speed for some sort of bird (presuming that the package doesn’t push itself), giving the Owl Post a range of some sixty miles. That’s actually quite good for a d20 world, so if the Game Master wishes to limit things to the base values from overland movement (for ground-bound creatures since there are no specific rules for flyers) the range is 16 to 20 miles depending on his or her interpretation.
Communications are one of the spots where d20 has a difficult time. Telepathic Links need to be set up in advance and maintained, Sending Stones (MIC) only come in matched pairs and are only usable once per day, Whispering Flame Candles only last for a total of eight hours and come in matched pairs again – although they do only cost a second level spell. Rings of Communication (MIC) only have a one-mile range and cost 2000 GP each to joint the network, Aspect Mirrors get expensive. Farspeaking Amulets (MIC) only offer a limited number of links and those have to be handed out in advance, Sending spells are of annoyingly high level for what little it does, Dream is level five, summoning teleporting messengers is (once again) rather high level, Correspond (Psionic) is better than sending but still fourth level, and Whispering Wind may only be level two, but it also has a range of only one mile per caster level.
Weirdly enough, Animal Messenger can be one of the most effective long range communications spell available at low to medium levels. Technically you don’t really need “The Hidden Key” to send messages, but it seemed like an amusing way to send packages.
Assassins have a second level spell that produces the same basic effect – but which turns their message or package into a flying dagger or arrow that will “nearly” hit the target, embed itself in a nearby surface, and THEN turn back into the message or package.
Beasthorn. Blowing a Beasthorn gives one personal domesticated pet within ten miles, or one known and named domesticated animal within five miles, or any single domesticated animal within long range (known or not), a strong urge to come to the user. There is no save unless the user means to harm the animal or the animal has good reason to resist – such as if the route is dangerous. This does not necessarily mean that the animal will come though. It simply feels a strong urge to do so, so if it is busy defending it’s offspring or some such, it is likely to ignore the call. The urge only lasts an hour, so if the trip takes longer than that, the user may have to blow the horn again.
- Call Domestic Animal (Hedge Wizardry). Spell Level 0 (1/2) x Caster Level One x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x.5 (Conjure) x .8 (User must regularly spend hours out of his or her day caring for animals) = 200 GP.
A Beasthorn is rarely a particularly vital piece of equipment, and it (thanks to the limitations of the pricing system) doesn’t help nearly as much as a much cheaper Millstone – but it can be awfully convenient.
Automagic Loom: A weaver equipped with an Automagic Loom can turn out one yard of good-quality cloth every minute. Unfortunately, this does not bypass the need for supplies of thread or yarn of skill in weaving; it simply speeds the process up.
- Process (Hedge Magic, Spell Level One reduced to (1/2) by the Ambient Magic limitation x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited Use Use Activated x .5 (Conjure) x .75 (semi-mobile at best) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) = 188 GP.
A Ring of Aesculapius allows a skilled healer to drastically reduce the effects of an illness on those he or she tends – granting their next three saves against said illness a +4 enhancement bonus and reducing the attribute damage resulting from a failed save by two points and making the sufferer feel a great deal better. It remains in effect for three saving throws or until the victim recovers, whichever comes first. Even better, providing such care can be done in a mere ten rounds.
- Relieve Illness (Hedge Wizardry) Level One reduced to an effective Level 1/2 by the Ambient Magic limitation x 1800 GP for Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activation x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x.5 (Conjure) x.8 (Requires the Heal skill at 5+) = 180 GP.
Relieve Illness is not a cure, but it will make most illnesses far, FAR, more survivable for a low-level character – and they allow a physician to effectively care for an entire village of victims.
Elfin Harvest Basket. This light wickerwork bushel basket is simply carried into the field or orchard to be harvested in the morning, placed, and a sampling of the crop or crops to be harvested is placed within it. Over the day the crop from up to two acres of land will quietly harvest itself, placing itself in available baskets, bags, sheaves, or whatever around the Elfin Harvest Basket.
- Harvest (Hedge Magic), Reduced to L1 via Arcanum Minimus (Ambient Magic), Spell Level 1 x Caster Level One x 1800 GP (Unlimited-Use Command-Word Activated) x .2 (One use per day) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x.8 (the person placing the basket must know how to properly harvest the relevant crop) x .5 (effect requires the entire day, rather than half an hour or so) = 36 GP.
As a very rough estimate (loosely based on current Amish farms and what information I have on my Grandfather’s farm), it takes a crew of four an average of about three days to harvest an acre with medieval techniques and implements – and you may want a supervisor to organize things, an assortment of wagons, wheelbarrows, and other minor equipment, and someone to bring water and food, for a total expense of about 3 GP (a lot more if paying wages for experienced farmers). Throw in the fact that getting the harvest brought in quickly avoids the hazards of storms and such and an Elfin Harvest Basket will probably pay for itself within the first year – even if a lot of that “savings” simply goes to giving the peasantry more free time.
A Millstone is very simple. Once per day you can drop it into up to a bushel of grindable material and command it to grind. Over the course of the next minute the humming stone will reduce that material to a coarse meal, to fine grains, or to powder, at the option of the caster. For example, a bushel of wheat will yield sixty pounds of whole-wheat flour – enough for ninety one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.
Grinding a bushel of wheat into flour would take ten to twelve days with a push-and-pull millstone. With a crank and a hand quern a worker could do it in a day. With a Millstone… it can be done in a single minute. Given that it will only be needed in the kitchen once or twice a week, the rest of the time it can be used to grind up other things – for example, reducing pumice to scrubbing powder, turning dangerous shards of bone from butchering into useful bone meal, turning broken clay pots into useful grog (bits of pulverized ceramic mixed with the clay to improve the quality of new pots), or (if your alchemist is so inclined) to turn coal into a potentially-explosive powder.
- Mill (Hedge Wizardry, L0), Ambient Magic Limitation (reducing the effect to level (-1) – treated as 1/4’th) x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .2 (one use per day) = 25 GP.
- Removing the “once per day” limitation raises the cost to 125 GP, but creates a device – perhaps a Millshaft – sufficient to provide milling services for a sizeable town. If, for some reason, 125 GP is still too expensive, add the “Immobile” modifier to bring the cost down to 62.5 GP.
For comparison, in the Roman Empire the Barbegal aqueduct and mill used water dropping a bit over sixty feet to drive sixteen water wheels and their associated mills, with a total grinding capacity estimated at 2.4 to 3.2 tons per hour – about 350 pounds per hour per mill. Milling technology had not improved very much when, in 1086 AD, the Domesday Book noted the presence of 5624 operating mills in England – one for every 300 people.
A single Millshaft can grind 3600 pounds of grain an hour. That’s roughly equivalent to the output of ten full-scale classical mills. And it can run any time, on an instants notice, with no maintenance required, no need for wind or water power, and complete safety.
A Cleansing Ring cleans, presses (if necessary), folds (if desired), and performs minor repairs on one large basket worth of goods – whether cloth, leather, fur, or even jewelry or metal (removing tarnish and similar) when they’re dumped through the ring, although the process requires one minute to complete itself. If someone wants to climb through it, they will emerge unharmed – although whatever appropriate items that they’re carrying or wearing will be cleaned and mended if they give the Ring sufficient time to work.
- Clean Clothing (Hedge Wizardry, L0), Ambient Magic Limitation (reducing the effect to level (-1) – treated as 1/4’th) x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .2 (one use per day) = 25 GP.
- Removing the “once per day” limitation raises the cost to 125 GP, but creates a device – perhaps a Cleansing Fountain – sufficient to provide cleaning services for a sizeable town. If, for some reason, 125 GP is still too expensive, add the “Immobile” modifier to bring the cost down to 62.5 GP.
- While not as vital, or as time-saving, as a Millstone or Millshaft, this does put an end to “washday” literally taking up almost an entire day…
Occluded Yin Moon Amulet. A female who voluntarily wears this simple charm through the night of the New Moon cannot become pregnant until the next New Moon has passed.
- Contraception (Hedge Wizardry), Spell Level 0 (Treated as 1/4’th due to the Ambient Magic limitation) x Caster Level One x 2000 GP (Unlimited-Use Use-Activated) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .05 (One Use per Month) x.7 (Females Only) x.8 (Must be worn all night during the New Moon for the protection to last through the month) = 3.5 GP.
Clouded Yang Sun Amulets are the version for males, and are more expensive, since they have to be capable of casting the spell once per day (x.2 instead of x.05), are for males only (x.7) instead of females, and – rather than having to be worn during the new or full moon – stop working once they’re taken off (x.7) and must be worn for twenty-four hours before they take effect (x.8). That gives them a net cost of 10 GP.
Greater Amulets of the Occluded Yin Moon look much the same – but can, if worn through the night of the Full Moon, also be used to restore the hymen and original vaginal tightness – the classical “Tokens of Virginity”.
- Add Cure Minor Wounds, Spell Level 0 (Treated as 1/4’th due to the Ambient Magic limitation) x Caster Level One x 1800 GP (Command Word Use-Activated) x .5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Conjure) x .05 (One Use per Month) x.7 (Females Only) x.8 (Must be worn all night during the Full Moon to take effect) x.7 (does not restore a hit point, stabilize the user, or have any actual game effect) = 2.45 GP – raising the total price to 6 GP.
Optionally, Occluded Yin Moon Amulets and Occluded Yang Sun Amulets may prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases – a function which is generally free since such diseases are so insignificant in d20 terms that the only rules for them are in a few obscure third-party supplements, meaning that including this function has no game effect whatsoever.
Technically these amulets take up a magic item slot – but anyone who cares about having too many magical items for their available slots can afford to double the price to make them slotless. Far more importantly… cheap and reliable contraception (much less the tacit elimination of “virginity” as gauge of a woman’s worth) brings an immense array of social changes along with it. It’s also an important counterbalance to the fact that even minor healing and anti-disease magic gives d20 children a vastly improved chance of living to grow up in comparison to most children through history – at least if they don’t get eaten by monsters. (If the predation rate is too high humans and demihumans will have a hard time maintaining their populations at all, in which case contraception will NOT be in common use in any group that avoids extinction for long).
Cleansing Candle: These useful – if very minor – items light a 10′ radius as effectively as any other candle, but everything the light shines upon will become clean, shiny, and sweetly-scented (and, if it matters, quite sanitary) over the course of the next ten minutes. Once set alight, such a candle “burns” with no smoke or heat indefinitely.
- Prestidigitation (Hedge Wizardry) (Spell Level 1/2 x Caster Level One times 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .2 (cleans only, with a spark of light that only marks the area being cleaned) x .5 (Conjure) = 50 GP.
- Cleansing Candles are occasionally permanently installed in messy areas, but they’re more often put in lanterns and carried about by servants; the servants straighten up the place while the Cleansing Candle gets everything sparkling clean.
Carcass Chute: This is pretty simple; you dump a carcass in at one end, and (provided that the carcass is no bigger than “Large” and that you have enough containers handy at the bottom – one minute later you have a bunch of piles and containers of neatly cut meat, bone meal, glycerin, sinew, hide, fat, rennet, and other meat byproducts, all neatly sorted.
- Render (Hedge Magic), (L2 reduced to L1 by the Ambient Magic limitation, Spell Level One x Caster Level One x 2000 GP for Use-Activated x .5 (Immobile) x .5 (Utilitarian Magic) = 500 GP.
- If you want to turn the raw hides into Leather and Pelts, throw in Cure Hide (Hedge Magic) (Level Zero, 125 GP with the same limitations) – and the hide will emerge as leather. Given that tanning a hide can be a laborious six-month process, adding this attachment is generally a VERY good idea.
- If you want to wind up with preserved meat – salted, dried, smoked, whatever – you will also have to add Preservation (Hedge Magic) (Level One) without the Ambient Magic limitation (so as to get enough capacity) but with a x.5 Modifier (Only works on Meat) for +250 GP. Similar items can turn fruit and sugar into preserves, or dry fruits, vegetables, and herbs. A general system costs twice as much, but can perform all three tasks as needed.
You can usually get the neighbors to loan you the money for a Carcass Chute or a Leathermaking attachment. Slaughterhouses and Tanneries are usually messy, smelly, blights on the entire area.
Composter: Compost is basically just rotted organic material, but it is extremely useful to farmers – and almost all the wastes of a fantasy city save wastewater, chunks of rock, broken ceramics, and bits of metal (all of which are best recycled or used in some other fashion) are suitable for composting. The trouble is that getting stuff to rot is a messy, smelly, and lengthy process – and trying to speed it up and ensure good results involves a great deal of mixing, turning, and nursing the conditions.
Unless, of course, you cheat.
Putrefy Food and Drink causes organic material to rot near-instantly – turning household wastes, manure and urine, spoiled food, wood chips, sawdust, pulled-out weeds, floor-rushes, wood ashes, cloth too far gone for any other use, and more, into a valuable product instantly. As a side benefit, the result is not especially odorous and is about as sanitary as ordinary dirt is (which is not something you’d want to rub in a wound, but is not really a big problem either).
- Composters can handle up to one cubic foot of material per minute. (Spell Level 0 (1/2), effectively reduced to 1/4’th by the Ambient Magic limitation x Caster Level 1 x 2000 GP Unlimited-Use Use-Activated x.5 (Utilitarian Village Magic) x .5 (Immobile) = 125 GP. Composting Chutes are simply the industrial model – removing the “Ambient Magic” limitation to get ten times the capacity at twice the price.
Compost isn’t worth a lot on its own – but waste disposal, removing odors, improved sanitation, and eliminating all the work of natural composting, are all worth something in their own right. Turning all that waste into something that people will pay for (even if it’s just a copper piece per cubic yard) is just a bonus.