Magical Mondays: Living Off The Magical Land   Leave a comment

Magical Locations play a big part in fantasy stories.  Magical grottos may have pools of water that confer special capabilities, groves of sacred trees may provide a stronger link to the magical power sources of druids and wizards, graveyards may carry a long-lasting residue of darkness and death that boosts magic related to them and so forth.  To a lesser extent, this isn’t limited to fantasy stories; calling on the magic of science fiction like I discussed last week, space traveler may discover a nebula where they grow a year younger every hour they spend inside the ambient radiation of its cloud; initially a boon but eventually a very serious problem when they can’t figure out how to repair their engines.

Magical locations don’t often figure into many D&D games I’ve played in or run.  Why?  It’s hard work to create unique magical effects centralized to locations, and if the location isn’t one the players will be in for a while then it generally amounts to little more than flavor text.  Two or three years ago I played a game to introduce a friend to D&D (a game that we’re on the verge of beginning to wrap up now, I’m happy to say) and it contained two magical items that were unique to the location they were found within.  The first was a massive crystal growing from the ceiling, called a glowstone.  The dwarves who dug that cavern discovered the glowstone and built the room around it, keeping it embedded in the ceiling like a massive chandelier.  It was, effectively, flavortext.  Similarly, there was a large tree in one room with a number of fruits on it that conferred useful, though minor, magical effects.  (Effectively an early version of the tree I mentioned a month or two back).  I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of things in stories, and the idea of them appeals to me both as a game player and a game runner, but incorporating them into a game is tricky.

More recently I introduced a non-natural magical location into a game (the most recent session of the game I started two or three years ago, coincidentally enough.)  The dwarves at an outpost have been waiting a long time, and one of the dwarves used a combination of his knowledge or runic magic, ley lines and bardic mysteries to create a chair in their interrogation room that can be used to first make a person forget or disbelieve the last half hour of their life (through the use of Bluff checks against the person’s Will save, the number of successful bluff checks required depending on the severity of the thing to be forgotten) followed by an attempt to make them remember something different (Diplomacy against Will saves that, again, are dependent upon the magnitude of the thing of which you’re trying to convince them, though this is generally easier if all you want to say is “You just walked your rounds as a guard and didn’t notice anything special today.”)  I put the chair in for the purpose of making the infiltration job easier on the part of the players if they mess up; unfortunately, this also means that the dwarves may have a nasty tool at their disposal if the players mess up to an even greater degree.

I don’t know if the players will use the chair the next time we play, or even remember three years from now that I put the chair in, but I’m glad that it’s there.  Hopefully it’ll make the world seem more, well, magical.  It doesn’t exactly follow the effects of any spell, though the Bardic Modify Memory spell is pretty close.  Ideally, it’s the kind of thing that I’ll be putting into more adventures in the future.

As a side note, this is one of those areas where I prefer the suggested rules for D&D 3.5 or the d20 SRD to the rules for Pathfinder.  The Spellcraft skill in D&D specifically has a usage that allows a spell caster to determine the unique effects of a magical location or peculiarity with a DC of 30; Pathfinder lacks this use of the skill, likely considering unique magical effects of locations to fall under the realm of identifying magical items.  This is similar to my complaint about how they changed Bardic Knowledge to just be a boost to other Knowledge skill checks instead of making it its own unique ability, but that’s a topic for another day.

I have an idea for a prestige class that I might like to give to some NPCs in the future, a class dedicated to the knowledge of ley lines and magical locations in a similar fashion.  With prerequisites that would include things like Knowledge (Geography) and the Mobility feat, the caster would be able to use Knowledge (Geography) to determine a path that could be run (over a number of 1d20 spaces, mapped out by the GM) to run along local ley lines to grant a bonus to very particular uses of magic.  I’m not sure what those bonuses could be; one option would be simply allowing it to reduce the effects of metamagic feats, but that feels boring, especially if it’s the only option.  I have other ideas in the works, and will likely make a post about it if I get the class up to a point where I use it in a game.

In conclusion, I’ve included a few possible unique magical effects that would allow players to Live Off The Land, magically speaking.  Feel free to drop these, or things like them, into future game sessions.

-In a magical cave, a powerful monster or magic user related to cold died centuries ago.  Its power was great, and the entire cave remains a frigid environment to this day.  While the monsters populating the cave are not immune to the effects of the cold, they have gotten used to it.  Players may even see a monster ripping some icicles off of a particular bookshelf where frosty imprints of books long gone remain.  One of these icicles can allow a wielder (with a Use Magic Device check of 21) to shoot a ranged touch attack at an enemy that, if it hits, is treated as a ray that deals 2d6 points of cold damage.  The icicle can be used 7 times, and each time it is used there is a 10% chance that it shatters outright.  If it comes up, treat this as a first level spell as cast by a third level caster.  For purposes of treasure management (if you worry about that) treat it as if it costs 160 gold; if there aren’t many monsters in the area that will be affected by cold damage and if you decide that the ice will melt within hours of it being taken out of the cave, reduce that cost down to about 40 or 50.

-A group of druidic wizards built a circle of henges (pillar-like rocks; if you’re thinking of Stonehenge you’re on the right track) in ancient times for the purpose of analyzing the stars and using their movements to, it was hoped, predict the future.  Their results succeeded in small ways, but few (if any) alive today understand how to use the device as they did then.  However, at times the henge seems to be able to collect the ambient prophetic energy from the stars, and strange crystals grow from the surface of some of them.  A character succeeding on a DC 30 Spellcraft check can determine that these crystals have an unusual effect, as if through an arcane version of the Augury spell; if one of the crystals is shattered immediately after being asked about performing a certain action in the near future, there is a 75% chance that it will show a blue star (to indicate good results), a red star (to indicate bad results), a blue and red star (to indicate that the act will have both good and bad results), or nothing at all (as if the results of the action will have no results that can be called good or bad.)  Like the Augury spell, the crystals can see about half an hour into the future.  A curious difference between this crystal andthe Auguray spell is that multiple castings of Augury always produce the same result even if you suspect that it failed the first time; however, using one of these crystals after casting Augury can reset the predictions (but using multiple crystals or casting Augury after the crystal is used will produce the same result.)  Each of these crystals acts as a second level spell cast by a fifth level caster, and has a value of approximately 530 gold.

-On Old Gallows Hill, an executioner has discovered that the gallows tree that the town has used for centuries has developed an unusual property; anyone killed by the gallows on this tree rises in 1d3 nights as a zombie.  The town hasn’t yet realized that all the zombie sightings of the last few decades have involved people killed by the gallows, as zombies are usually put down pretty quickly when created.  The executioner has also discovered the shocking fact that the zombies are following his instructions.  He has no caster level, but the number of zombies seems to stop at twice his hit dice (so, six zombies for now with him being a third level Expert).  He hasn’t decided what, if any, use he wishes to put this mysterious effect; he could create zombie waves to take over the village, or he could use the zombies to do good work in the background (as long as the zombies remain unnoticed.)  For now, he keeps his zombies in a cave near the graveyard, using them to perform menial labor to speed up his regular work.  Players who succeed at a DC 30 Spellcraft check can determine that this gallows tree creates zombies as if through the spell Animate Dead, but the zombies do not seem to count against the usual limit of twice a caster’s hit dice, seeming to be their own seperate pool of hit dice.  They also seem to be removed from standard types of undead, as other methods of increasing the amount of undead that an individual can control don’t generally seem to work against it; a Mystic Theurge using this tree could have six times its HD worth of undead controlled, not eight.  The gallows tree itself appears twisted and gnarled, but is otherwise healthy.  The value of a magical item like this would be approximately 32,500 gold pieces, and it’s unlikely that players would want to have regular access to this item unless the entire campaign is located in this one city.  Still, if included in a campaign for use by players who enjoy necromancy, weigh its cost carefully both against its usability and its fixed location.

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