The Anomaly – Wealth, Religion, and Obols.

The primary high-end currency of the Anomaly is not a fiat currency, or credits backed by some sort of political unit, or precious metals and gems, or anagathic drugs, or magically-imbued feathers, or souls, or shells, or packets of herbs, or potion-coins, or any of the hundreds of other exotic currencies used in one location or another.

It’s the Obol.

Obols appear to be moderately sized coins or tokens, usually embossed with some strange sigil or image – although the exact nature of that symbol does not matter in the least (it appears to be determined by the unconscious beliefs of whoever or whatever initially created a particular Obol or by the people who have carried it since). Most commonly there are…

  • The black, “tarnished gold” Obols, of Death, Destruction, and Endings.
  • The glittering sunlight-silver Obols of Life, Creation, and New Beginnings.
  • The opaline crystal Obols of Destiny, Chaos, and Transformation.
  • The deep red-iron Obols of Order, Preservation, and Spirits.

Far more rarely are found the translucent star-filled Obols of Time, Space, and Memory, the Ruby Obals of Will-Working, the various tints of Mind-Obol Diamonds, or several other exotics.

Obols are not made of matter. They are links to the realm of the power they represent and a reserve of unfocused energy operating under that realms rules. Unless they are being interacted with by a being capable of interacting with other realities – a quality associated with higher life forms – they are essentially inert. They can be moved about, but cannot be damaged, show no chemical properties, are usually impervious to radiation or other energies (although some types transmit particular energies as if the Obol did not exist at all), have no temperature (although each type and value produces the sensation of a characteristic temperature to the touch), and chime when struck with distinctive tones – although no one two observers quite agree on what they “really” sound like. They can be clearly seen in the dark (although they do not photograph well in the dark), since the sensation of their appearance seems to transmitted directly to the minds of observers, rather than being primarily reliant on their eyes. Their mass appears to be derived from the boundary effect that defines their surfaces (or so say some scholars who have spent a lot of time fiddling about with and spinning Obols of various shapes).

If handled by a creature that is capable of other-dimensional interaction, Obals are somewhat more mutable. The sigil they bear can be changed with a period of concentration (although few bother). Multiple Obols can be combined into a single, higher-value Obol – and higher-value Obols can be divided into multiple lower-value Obols, down to a minimum value of one.

And any intelligent creature will recognize their value. Obols can be spent at full value anywhere at all. The guards at the gates of death may have no regard for ordinary treasures, but they – like elemental beings, demons, aliens, and spirits – will accept Obols in payment.

For Obols are the very stuff of magic. Anyone who holds one can expend it as a standard action, leaving behind nothing but whatever bits of dust were stuck to it’s surface at the time, to invoke a magical / psionic / occult effect suited to the type of Obol they are expending.

  • One Obol is worth one first-level effect, with a caster level equal to the user’s (Wis Mod + Base Will Save).
  • Larger numbers of appropriate Obols can be expended to produce higher level effects. Provided that the user’s effective caster level is at least (twice the level of the effect to be created minus one) it costs 3 Obols for a L2 effect, 5 for a L3 effect, 12 for L4 effect, and 25 for L5 effect – the usual maximum.
  • It is possible to add special components, or amplification circles, to increase the effect – but if the user is duplicating a specific effect that calls for such things already, they must either be provided or the base level of the effect used must be increased to compensate for their absence.

If you wish to give a delirious dying man a few minutes of painless clarity to say his farewells and a quick, clean, passage into death… a Deathly Obol will suffice. An easy childbirth, saving a child dying of some injury, or a conception when there seemed no chance of such a thing? A Life-Obol will grant your desire. A blessing for a farm to avoid accidents during the harvest? An Order-Obol can meet your needs. Giving a newborn a true name and a destiny? A Chaos-Obol can weave your will into the fabric of reality (Often with greater success than another type of Obol would grant, although (with Chaos) success is never guaranteed. Still, Chaos Obols are one of the few types that can bend the odds of the future, rather than affecting the present).

Carrying such links to powers and principles does have it’s side effects however.

  • Carrying more than six Obols of a particular type will bring the bearer into closer touch with the powers that the coins represent. They will touch his or her dreams, or even sometimes whisper to the bearer when he or she is awake. They may attempt to manipulate the bearer for their own ends. Still, at the end… a few will be expended on the bearers dying whims. Thus do death-words gain their power.
  • Carrying more than twenty-seven Obols of a particular type will bring the forces that that represent into play in your daily life and make the bearer disquietingly aware of their presence. Obols of Life might cause any contraceptive measures you take to fail, lead to encounters with life-spirits, inspire artists to create new (and sometimes terrible) things, or attract predators or other nuisances – as well as allowing the bearer to detect new pregnancies, some illnesses, and tell whether or not an artwork is truly original. Obols of Death might reveal the approach of death in the injured and ill (attempting to play a double-or-nothing game with Death is a classic tradition, but very risky), stir unquiet spirits, cause someone to become sick, or something similar. Sometimes… when the powers of a particular realm manifest most powerfully (and usually inconveniently), another Obol of that type will be found in the vicinity. Few consider such “interest” worth the trouble.
  • Carrying more than 280 Obols of a particular type will link the bearer to the force they embody quite directly – weakening the user’s ability to do things opposed to the nature of his or her hoard. Carrying many Obols of Death will make it difficult to heal others or be healed, while Obols of Life may make it difficult to inflict harm. On the other hand, the user may now expend Obols of the appropriate type as an Immediate Action until his or her horde drops below the critical value.

Despite these dubious flaws / advantages, Obols are in many ways an ideal coinage. They are, after all, impossibly durable, have an inherent value that is easily recognized by anyone, are as fungible as entries in a bookkeepers tome, are easily converted into other valuable things, and are easily concealed and transported.

For conversion purposes, an Obol can be roughly valued at 25 GP, and can be expended in lieu of 5 XP in games which feature XP costs for various enchantments or spells. Unfortunately, since Obols function both as money AND a source of magic, it’s much easier to convert Obols into lesser currencies than it is to do the reverse. You can sell an Obol almost anywhere, but most people will prefer to keep their money in the form of Obols if they can (at least up to the point where the weird effects start happening). After all, mere gold will not help much when you need some magic in an emergency situation.Thus Obols are rarely traded for mere gold and trinkets.

Still, since Obols are far TOO valuable for minor purchases, lesser currencies are actually much more commonly traded.

So where do Obols come from?

  • They can be created as Wondrous Items.
  • They are fairly common gifts from otherworldly visitors. For example, according to tales of the lands of Leros and Nilander…

On the day of dead, when tombs and graves open as the mouths of the underworld, and the spirits of the long-deceased walk the lands of the living, those daring enough to open their doors to such wandering shades – and who welcome their cold and spectral guests with the warmth that only the living can muster – may be paid for their hospitality with the imperishably tarnished black coins of the underworld, where even gold is touched by decay.

How much of that is truth, and how much is fancy distorted by thousands of miles of distance and travelers tales is difficult to say.

Priests of the Powers get some regularly, for they have:

  • Create (Wondrous) Item, Specialized for Increased Effect (time spent on religious affairs and obligations counts towards item creation time) and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only to create a particular type of Obol (4 CP).
  • Harvest of Artifice, Specialized for Increased Effect and Corrupted for Reduced Cost / only for use with Transmutation to create Obols, user must act as a priest of the powers he or she is tapping into and must spend a good deal of effort displaying the benefits of aligning yourself with such powers to the local populace (4 CP). This provides 200 XP a month that can only be used for “transmutation”.
  • Transmutation, Specialized for Increased Effect (Produces Obols instead of normal valuables) and Corrupted / only to produce a specific type of Obols (4 CP).

The net result? For 12 CP and a fair amount of time spent on being a priest of a particular set of powers you get a divine “salary” of 16 Obols per month. That’s pretty good for a non-adventurer, even if you’re likely to “spend” at least half of them performing your duties. Priests with more personal power do usually get to keep more of their Obols for emergencies though, so abilities such as ritual magic, shamanic magic, healing touch, and so on, are quite common among them.

Obols are also convenient in games for several reasons; they give non-casters more access to magic, they discourage the looting of villages (since the people are likely to use up their Obols defending, healing, and fighting back if they’re attacked), they are a highly versatile but temporary source of magic for particular missions, and they are an excellent incentive for characters to undertake missions that aren’t likely to yield a lot of cash otherwise.

14 Responses

  1. […] Wealth, Religion, and Obols on the Anomaly – About the unusual coinage called the Obols and how they interact with the priesthood on Anomaly […]

  2. […] has also collected 34 Obols (14 Black Gold, 8 Sunlight-Silver, 5 Opaline Crystal, 3 Red-Iron, 1 Starry Crystal, and 1 Green […]

  3. […] For exotic coinage, there’s the “Fantastic Coinage” series – Part I, Part II, and Part III, as well as the Obols of the Anomaly. […]

  4. Would you allow a character to buy immunity to the negative effects of carrying obols, and if so, how much would it be?

    • It’s certainly possible – and fairly cheap; the 6+ level is basically just mildly creepy, the 27+ level is mostly just annoying (compared to the things that adventurers normally deal with… “your condom fails”, “someone becomes ill”(, and even the 280+ level mostly just makes opposing actions difficult – basically imposing penalties.

      So Immunity to the Side-Effects of Obols would be Common (after all, you wouldn’t care if you didn’t regularly deal with Obols), Minor (well, they are), and Trivial for 6+ (2 CP), Minor for 27+ (4 CP), and Major for 280+ (6 CP). Given that even most of the “negative” effects are occasionally useful, filtering out just the negative effects is a bit more complicated, since you may want to define and redefine those on the fly. After all, there are times when feeling the presence of death might be a useful warning – or you might have no objection at all to someone getting sick nearby when you’re visiting an enemy stronghold. For that you’d probably want to Specialize things for Increased Effect – whether it’s Death- and Life-Obols only, or requiring a regular protective ritual, or whatever.

      Or, I suppose, you could just take pains to see that you kept your supplies of Obols roughly in balance, at which point a lot of the side effects will probably cancel out.

  5. […] for the current game… some of the players wanted to know a bit more about how to obtain Obols – so here are a couple of power packages for doing just […]

  6. Why are Obols so cheap? A quick approximation from the practical enchanter gets a third level invocation effect, so a single use activate magic item should be (3*5*50) = 750 GP, though that doesn’t count the minor benefits and drawbacks of using obols.

    • Partly because they’re setting specific, and “750 GP” is a bit excessive for a common piece of currency.

      Partly because no one would ever actually use them for anything at that price. Lets look at a very common topic – healing. Obol: up to 1d8+5 (25 GP sure, 750 GP? Lets compare). Potion of Cure Serious Wounds. 750 GP. Cures 3d8+5 once. Fifteen potions of Cure Light Wounds. Cures 15d8+15 for 750 GP. Wand of Cure Light. 750 GP, cures 50d8+50 for a total of 275. Wand of Lesser Vigor: Heals 550 damage for 750 GP. Healing Belt. Cures 6d8 damage per day every day forever and provides a +2 bonus on the Heal skill. 750 GP. Even if the characters get the potion for free… if at all possible they’re going to sell it and put the money towards buying something that’s actually useful. That sort of thing is why “Brew Potion” is pretty much a waste of a feat for most characters when “Craft Wand” is available.

      And partially because they’re essentially a new category of item (could be counted as either their own thing, as a subtype of wondrous item, or as a world law allowing limited use of Unskilled Magic), intended to make one-shot items actually worth using at times and to encourage creativity and the use of exotic and rarely-used spells – rather than taking a wand with 50 charges of Grease again.

      • I suppose. I mean, ‘literally less expensive to get a life obol and use it to cast cure light wounds then to just use a potion of cure light wounds’ is a bit much, but I do get why it is way cheaper than the naive quote I gave. I’d probably still want it to be say, 75-100 GP to make it at least somewhat more expensive then specially designed items that only cast 1 spell.

      • Well, they are setting-specific, so if you want to use them you can certainly set the price at anything you wish!

        If it helps any, my observation at the moment is that the players still tend to hoard their Obols in hopes of buying something major later instead of just using a few when it would be convenient – or even near-lifesaving. Still, that may just be old habits. Perhaps they will start to rely a little more on the utility of having just the right effect for the job ready to hand as things proceed – and will start spending money to make money.

        If they don’t get over the “Hoard the Treasure!” pattern eventually I will either have to find a way to encourage it or make Obols even cheaper – and you’re quite right there; they’re quite cheap enough already!

      • Well, I will freely admit to the fact that I have a tendency to horde consumables in most games I play (both pen-&-paper and computer based). I am aware of this tendency and have tried to combat it.

      • Hardly a big worry. It it helps any… major enchantments are pretty rare on the Anomaly and there’s lots of vacant land, so there isn’t that much else to spend them on anyway.

  7. […] leave cryptic clues in near-forgotten languages, and provide modest payments of random types of Obols (usually 3d4 per month) for things that you hope were only dreams – whether or not Obols […]

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