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Posts tagged ‘legends & labyrinths’

Coins of the Damned – Part 4

October 3rd, 2016

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THE BLACK POUCH

The Black Pouch

The black pouch is an insidious device, designed to punish the greedy and prey upon the indigent. It appears as a normal coin bag, made out of black leather. When it is first found, the black pouch will contain a single gold coin. When someone withdraws the coin, they will lose 1 hp as the black pouch drains the living energy from their body. Unfortunately, the magic of the pouch will also work to disguise this parasitic act from the victim’s consciousness: The victim must make a Wisdom check (DC 20). If the check is a failure, the DM should keep a secret total of the victim’s total hit points (this damage heals normally).

The next time the pouch is opened, it will contain 1+1d6 coins. Each coin removed will, once again, inflict 1 hp of damage. (A Wisdom check should be made each time a character reaches into the pouch. Note that characters can remove more than one coin each time they reach into the bag.) Each time the black pouch is opened after it has been emptied of coins, it will have generated the same number of coins as the last time, plus an additional 1d6 coins.

Recipients of the black pouch will often count themselves blessed – but if they are not careful, they will be killed by their supposed boon. If the character withdraws a number of coins from the pouch sufficient to result in death, have them roll a Fortitude save (DC 20). If successful they will survive with 1 hp remaining (and be aware of what the black pouch is doing to them, if they weren’t already). If the roll is a failure, then the black pouch has drained the last of their life from them.

Those who discover the truth of the black pouch will at least count themselves lucky for the wealth it has given them. But even that, unfortunately, is nothing more than a cruel trick: The black pouch does not create the gold it offers, it merely teleports it from the nearest available source… which is almost always the money pouch of the very person drawing from the pouch.

Caster Level: 9th
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, vampiric touch, teleport
Market Price: 50,000 gp

CHEST OF ENTANGLEMENT

In many tomes of arcane knowledge, the chest of entanglement is known by the name of kingbane. To most, the origins of this obscure title are lost to the long tides of time. Those fortunate enough to have obtained a rare copy of Nardonne’s A History of the Kings and Their Follies, however, know of a tale that may lie at the heart of this matter: King Edan XIII of Oldren (a kingdom long since lost to the surface of the world), it is written, waged a long and terrible war with the elves of the wood.

In the end, Edan was victorious. But the elves were bitter in their loss, and so they plotted their revenge even as their enemies celebrated their triumph: When King Edan demanded that his new subjects gather his bounty, they did so – placing it within great chests of oaked, each carved with all the skill the elves could muster. Such skill was great, and, indeed, the chests themselves were a treasure beyond value.

But they were also a trap. King Edan marveled at their beauty, and stepped down from his throne of war when they arrived at his woodland court. “And so,” Nardonne writes, “Their trap was sprung. The king was bound and those who lurked in ambush struck. And King Edan was no more.”

Although Nardonne’s narrative does not positively identify the nature of the trap contained in the chests, the description he provides of the chests leads many to suspect they may have been chests of entanglement – the bane of King Edan.

A chest of entanglement is an ordinary, wooden chest, decorated with exquisite carvings of vines and foliage. Attempts to detect traps – either with the Rogue class ability or the find traps spell, for example – will fail, as the chest is not trapped. A successful Search check (DC 25), however, will reveal that one of the carved leaves is a concealed panel, which can be swiveled to one side to reveal a small hole, no larger than a man’s thumb. A detect magic spell will reveal a faint aura emanating from inside the chest.

A chest of entanglement is filled with two thousand gold coins. When the chest is opened, the coins will fly out of the chest and begin clinging to the skin and clothes of whoever opened the chest (if more than one character opened the chest, the coins will attack one of them randomly). The afflicted character must make a Reflex save at DC 20 once every round in order to evade the coins – a failure, however, indicates that the coins have successfully coated the character’s body, placing them under the effects of an entangle spell (-2 penalty to attack rolls, -4 penalty to effective Dexterity – characters attempting to cast a spell in this condition, or while being attacked by the coins, must make a Concentration check at DC 15 or lose the spell).

As with the spell entangle the character can escape the coins with a successful Strength check at DC 20, but the coins will continue to pursue them (forcing them to, once gain, make Reflex saves). The coins will not relent until the lid of the chest has been closed – at which point they will fly back into the chest through the concealed panel.

Caster Level: 3rd
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, entangle
Market Price: 6,000 gp

REFLECTIONS ON COINS OF THE DAMNED

The first thing I remembered upon rediscovering this article was the difficulty I had writing a new introduction that basically covered the exact same ground as the introduction from the first article.

I think this similarity of introductions also contributed to why the article lay forgotten on my hard drive for so long: I’d see the file, but end up just assuming that it was a different title for “Gilted Fiends”. In fact, “Coins of the Damned” was the original title of “Gilted Fiends” and it was changed during the development process because Dragon Magazine didn’t want the word “damned” appearing in their pages. Campaign Magazine didn’t have such qualms, and so it made sense to recycle the title for the sequel. (Which no doubt also contributed to my confusion.)

Coins of the Damned – Part 3

September 30th, 2016

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COINS OF APHASIA

Coin of Aphasia

When the coins of aphasia were first created, they were known as the Coins of the Realm. These were the most impressive accomplishment of the legendary mage Salestro, who crafted a set for each of the Nine Kings. Through their diplomatic use, the Nine Kingdoms negotiated a peace which lasted for generations.

Each of these coins are keyed to the language of the kingdom from which it hails. Anyone who has the coin on their person will not only understand the language for which the coin was designed, but will automatically speak it fluently as well. Originally they served as perfect translation devices, which, as noted, helped bring peace to the land.

Unfortunately, the age of the Nine Kingdoms ended close to four thousand years ago – and the languages spoken during that age have long since been lost to time. Thus the Coins of the Realm have become known as the coins of aphasia, because those who unwittingly possess them will find themselves speaking languages no one around them will comprehend. The victim will not understand what’s wrong unless it’s explained to them (they can not only understand what everyone else is saying, but also think that they’re speaking normally).

To make matters worse, the coins take 1d20 minutes to acclimate themselves to the user’s mind (and only take effect after that time has expired). As a result, a person afflicted by a coin of aphasia may have a difficult time figuring out what’s causing the problem (since there’s no direct connection between the coin and the effect it’s having).

On a positive note, the coins have a high value in certain scholastic circles, due to their ability to function as a gateway to languages long lost to the mists of time. Some of these individuals may even have a desire to hire adventurers to find the coins.

Caster Level: 5th
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, tongues
Market Price: 30,000 gp

THE BEGGAR’S FRIEND

Beggar's Friend

The beggar’s friend was another creation of the Scarlet Coven – who, it seems, felt a certain poetic justice in using cursed coinage as a weapon against the wealthy. The beggar’s friend predated the wealth bane (described above), and was a far less demanding item for the coven to create; but, ultimately, the beggar’s friend was abandoned because it was not accomplishing the goals of the Coven quickly enough.

Any character who comes into possession of a beggar’s friend while in possession of 100 gp or more must make a Will save (DC 20). If they fail the roll, the character will be placed under a compulsion to give away half of the money they are currently carrying to a beggar. Until they fulfill this obligation, they will find it impossible to spend or give away their money. (They will also find it impossible to explain their situation to anyone else until the obligation is fulfilled.)

Nor is the curse of the beggar’s friend necessarily lifted once the obligation is ended: Unless the character thinks to give the beggar’s friend away at the same time they fulfill their compulsion, then they must make a second Will save (DC 20) or be faced with the same compulsion a second time (assuming that they still have more than 100 gp on their person). (If a character does not specifically give away the beggar’s friend, assume that they kept it.)

If a character comes into possession of a beggar’s friend while they are not in possession of at least 100 gp, then the beggar’s friend will have no effect. However, if they are still in possession of the beggar’s friend when the wealth they are carrying on their person exceeds 100 gp, the coin’s effect will begin.

Also, note that the beggar’s friend will not only take into account any of the character’s personal wealth which they possess, but any money which the character possesses or comes into contact with while the beggar’s friend is on their person.

Go to Part 4

Coins of the Damned – Part 2

September 29th, 2016

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THE BRAND OF AVARICE

Brand of Avarice

The first brands of avarice was crafted by the Sorcerer Prince Ajan. The tributes paid to Ajan by his lords were being constantly jeopardized by the legendary rogue Ser Kella. Attempts to capture Kella had failed, even when aided by Ajan’s powerful magic. So Ajan crafted a brand of avarice for each of his lords — with each bearing the seal of the lord for which they were destined – and commanded them to include their brands with all future tributes as a guarantee of their payment. Ser Kella, after falling prey to the brands at least twice, abandoned his depredations upon Ajan’s tributes.

Today the brands of avarice are a relatively inexpensive form of magical protection against theft: A wizard or sorcerer will enchant a normal gold piece and place it within a pile of similar or identical coins. The owner of the coins will know to avoid this particular piece (which is usually identified with some minor marking and can be removed safely by anyone wearing a pair of gloves). However, the moment it is touched by bare flesh, the brand of avarice will bond itself to the person’s flesh and will resist all physical efforts to have it removed short of amputating the body part affected.

Depending on where the brand attaches itself, the character may be subject to a penalty on any affected ability or skill checks (this may include spells with somatic components – including dispel magic). For example, if the brand is grasped by the fingertips (as is quite likely) their manual dexterity will be affected. A common mistake is to then attempt to pry it loose with the other hand (thereby binding both hands to the coin). DM’s should use their best discretion as to what types of penalties to apply (and just how badly a character can get stuck to himself – or others).

Also note that the brand is capable of acting on more than one individual at a time. Thus if another PC, NPC, or monster were to touch the brand (or if the affected character were to touch another PC, NPC, or monster with the brand), the brand would effectively bind the two characters together at the point of contact.

The easiest way to remove the brand is through the use of a dispel magic spell (wealthier patrons will usually have the brand created by a high level wizard – making it comparatively more difficult to remove). However, even this will still leave a physical imprint of the coin’s surface on the victim’s skin. This mark will not usually impair the victim’s ability to take normal actions (although the DM may decide otherwise under special circumstances), but will continue to identify the character as the victim of a brand so long as it is visible.

Caster Level: 5th
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, make whole
Market Price: 4,000 gp

COIN OF ALARUM

Coin of Alarum

Another device for theft deterrence, the coin of alarum is more direct in its methods of persecution: When brought near coins it hasn’t been near before, it will sound a klaxon-like alarm. Typically the coin of alarum would be placed unconspicuously among the other coins of a house’s wealth, so that when a would-be thief placed it next to his personal wealth the alarm would sound.

However, as an added security measure the sound of the alarm does not appear to emanate from the coin itself – instead seeming to simply fill the air around it. The thief will assume that he has triggered an area affect, and flee – never realizing that he is carrying his own accuser with him. It may take quite some time for the victim to finally discover why the klaxon returns every time they add change to their coin purse.

The coin of alarum takes fifteen minutes to acclimate itself to a new coin. The klaxon will stop as soon as the acclimation process is finished. If a coin is removed from the presence of the coin of alarum and then returned, the acclimation process must be repeated. The coin has also been enchanted in such a way that a dispel magic spell will not only work automatically, but will also have a duration of fifteen minutes (the spell can be used to acclimate the coin without having to live with an alarm sounding). Spells such as silence will also work to quiet this pernicious little item.

Although coins of alarum can be commonly found just about anywhere today, they were originally a creation of the dragons – often serving as triggers for more elaborate magical defenses or traps. Many dragons continue to use the coins to this day, using the sound of the alarm as a trigger for a contingency spell which teleports the rest of their treasure safely away.

Caster Level: 5th
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, alarm
Market Price: 100 gp

Go to Part 3

Coins of the Damned

September 28th, 2016

Cursed Coins

Here is a thing which I forgot existed. Back in June 2002, Campaign Magazine published “Gilted Fiends”, an article I had written which contained a number of cursed coins for D20 fantasy games. Back in 2011, I archived that article here on the Alexandrian. What I had forgotten is that I had actually written a direct sequel to this article which was never published because Campaign Magazine went out of business.

Without further ado, here is that article — never before seen — providing more mischievous and dangerous coins with which to plague your PCs.

Cursed items are a long-standing tradition for D&D, for a very simple reason: They’re a lot of fun. A character plagued by their cursed possession not only has the challenge of overcoming the difficulties created by the curse, but also the long-standing problem of getting rid of the curse permanently. Cursed items serve as a source of conflict, challenge, and storytelling.

But there’s a problem: Players are paranoid. Hand them a sword carved with cryptic runes and the identify and analyze dweomer spells begin to fly. They have no intention of being caught flatfooted – and nothing magical is going to escape their careful analysis. If they’re looking for it, they’re going to catch that curse before it ever gets close to them. As fun as they might be, cursed items never really get a fighting chance.

Wait a minute, though. What if they don’t think to look? Sure, the first thing they’re going to do with a dragon’s horde is start looking for magic in every sword, staff, ring, and scroll. But…

Who casts detect magic on a pile of coins?

Nobody. When they kill the orc and loot the body, no one ever stops to consider that the bent copper piece they found was actually a Lucky Penny. And as frustrating as missed magic might be if they ever realize the truth, imagine their despair when the gold coin they liberated from the ogre’s lair turns out to be the greatest bane of all…

Enchanted coins, though, offer more than just the opportunity to slip a good curse under the character’s defenses. They can also provide the fodder for a variety of adventure themes – ranging from “good things come in small packages” to the almost ubiquitous “money is the root of all evil”. Money is a part of everyday life – for the characters and the players – so don’t hesitate to use it as a story element or adventure seed.

That being said, here are a few dirty tricks to slip into your PCs’ money pouches…

WEALTH BANE

The wealth banes were created by the Scarlet Coven – mad mages convinced that the plight of the poor would be alleviated if only the gold of the wealth was disposed of. It took the coven nearly a decade of effort to gather the wealth necessary to create the banes, and it is whispered that the treasure troves of three mighty dragons – Silvermane, Harshfire, and Blacktongue – were consumed.

In the end, the coven was successful. The result, however, was not as they intended. The wealth banes were quickly detected, and decisive action was rapidly taken against the coven. Although the coven’s leader, Kesand, would not be captured until almost nine years had passed, the “glorious” vision of the Scarlet Coven never came to pass.

A wealth bane appears to be a normal copper coin, but when placed in close proximity to a platinum, gold, or silver coin the wealth bane will transmute their metal into common copper. For every hour that a wealth bane is kept within a foot of other coins (for example, within a coin pouch) there is a cumulative 10% chance that the other coins will be transformed into copper.

Most of the wealth banes were either destroyed or are now kept – carefully – in private collections as curiosity pieces. Others, however, followed the whimsical paths of commerce and disappeared into the far corners of the globe. Often their victims never become aware of what caused the strange transformation, and end up spending the wealth bane as if it were a normal coin – passing it on to some new victim.

Caster Level: 15th
Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, polymorph any object
Market Price: 150,000 gp

Go to Part 2

Untested D&D – Interrogation

November 26th, 2014

Jack Bauer from 24

Interrogation checks are made to resolve the controlled questioning of prisoners or suspects: People who have (or who you believe might have) a reason to withhold information from you.  Obtaining information through other forms of social interaction (questioning witnesses or chatting someone up at a social soiree, for example) is certainly possible, but may not be the right fit for these mechanics.

When interrogating a subject, the questioner can choose one of two approaches:

DIPLOMACY: These are “soft” methods of interrogation. Manipulation, seduction, a building of trust, a promise of quid pro quo.

INTIMIDATE: These are “hard” methods of interrogation. This doesn’t cover actual torture, but it does include aggressive techniques, threats of violence, and the like.

The appropriate interrogation skill is used to make a check against DC 10 + the subject’s HD + the subject’s Wisdom modifier. On a success, the interrogator gains one piece of information. Additional interrogation checks can be attempted, but each additional check applies a cumulative +2 modifier to the DC of the check.

After two failures, the interrogation will provide no more useful information. (The subject has broken down or their lawyer has shown up or they simple have no more useful information to share.)

ESCALATION

Each interrogation technique can be escalated to the next level:

BRIBERY: Diplomacy-based interrogations can be enhanced with bribery. If a sufficiently large bribe is offered, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus to their interrogation checks for the rest of the interrogation. (Alternatively, you could use these advanced guidelines for determining the efficacy of a specific bribe.)

TORTURE: Intimidation-based interrogations can be escalated to actual torture. This involves inflicting actual physical damage and pain. (Or possibly inflicting the same on comrades or loved ones.) The target must make a Will save at DC 10 + the damage dealt by the torturer. If the subject fails the Will save, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus on their next interrogation check. (Of course, they can continue torturing the subject in order to gain the same bonus again.)

Both of these techniques, however, represent a gamble: Under the temptation of bribery or the desperation of torture subjects may invent information or say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear. There’s a flat 25% chance of false information when giving a bribe. There’s a cumulative 10% chance of false information when using torture. (So after torturing a subject for the third time, there will be a 30% chance of false information.)

SUPPORTING SKILLS

A couple of other skills can be useful in interrogations.

BLUFF: Subjects can attempt to provide false information with a Bluff check. If the check fails, however, the interrogator has seen through their lie and can immediately attempt another interrogation check with a +2 circumstance bonus to get the truth out of them. (All of the modifiers from their previous test still apply.)

SENSE MOTIVE: Sense Motive can, obviously, be used to opposed a subject’s Bluff checks. It might also be useful for determining what threats or promises would make for the most effective intimidation or bribery (offering a circumstance bonus in accordance with the guidelines for aiding another, but perhaps inflicting penalties if the check goes awry).

OTHER SKILLS: Other skills can also be used situationally to aid the interrogation check. For example, demonstrating a bit of legerdemain with Sleight of Hand might impress a social contact. Or a Knowledge check might produce information that would endear an expert. Use the guidelines for aiding another to resolve these checks.

GOOD COP / BAD COP

An interrogation team can play good cop / bad cop by switching their interrogation technique (from Diplomacy to Intimidation or vice versa). If their first interrogation check after the swap is successful, they can negate a previous failure. (This will allow them to prolong the interrogation.)

It’s exceptionally difficult to play good cop to your own bad cop: Apply a -10 circumstance penalty to the first check of an individual interrogator after the switch in approach.

DESIGN NOTES

Kenneth Hite has a technique he uses in investigation games: When the characters have gained all the information they’re going to get from a scene, he holds up a sign that says “SCENE OVER” or “DONE”. The statement cues the players to let them know that there’s no reward to be gained by continuing to ransack the apartment, while using a sign is less intrusive on the natural flow of the scene (so if there’s something they still want to accomplish in this scene of a non-investigative nature, the scene can continue without the GM unduly harshing the vibe).

The core of this interrogation mechanic is designed to do something similar: It’s sending a clear and specific “we’re done here” message to the players, allowing you to perform a clean cut that keeps the pacing tight.

It also has the added benefit of answering for the GM, “How much information does this guy really know?” in situations where that isn’t immediately clear. (This is a question I frequently struggle with when some random mook gets interrogated.)

Collectively, that’s why the difficulty cranks up after each question: I want the mechanic to terminate the interrogation for me.

You might also want to check out my Advanced Rules for Diplomacy. And my thoughts on Social Skills and PCs might also be of interest.

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