Magical Mondays: The Eyes of Argus   Leave a comment

For today’s Magical Mondays, I’m going to be describing a magical item that can be thematically dropped into most gaming sessions, though the exact details may alter from system to system or from setting to setting.  I’ll include rules for a possible 3.5 item of this sort, but the lore of the item could, be used in any location.

An Eye of Argus is an amulet, normally made from a valuable gemstone decorated with peacock feathers.  The amulet channels the powers of a genie, Argus the All Seeing, in a way that grants its wearer impressive divinatory abilities, as well as abilities useful to any guard.  The amulet obviates the need for sleep, and enhances the sight of anyone who wears it.  Unfortunately, Argus himself disapproves of these items and may, in fact, experience discomfort whenever one is used.  Argus attempts to track down the bearers of any such item so that he can destroy them.  While Argus is willing to let people go if they were unaware of the discomfort these items caused him, he is also willing to harm or kill to claim such items.  Another oddity is that only seventeen such items can exist at any one time; if seventeen exist, and someone creates another, then the oldest of the existing seventeen will cease functioning.  Some believe that this is due to the fact that Argus only has seventeen eyes, and that each amulet gains its power directly from one of the genie’s eyes.  Some have pointed out that it isn’t actually known how many eyes Argus has, and that most reports that claim to know suggest he has an even hundred.  Suspiciously round numbers aside, seventeen appears to be the limit for whatever reason.

Argus the All Seeing is, of course, based on Argus Panoptes from Greek Mythology.  Argus being used here as a genie instead of a giant comes from me using a genie of that name in a story I have called Thimble, a story about another world where people pull powerful entities thought to be genies from other realities.  One of the reasons I went with this particular lore is because it’s a good example of designing an item around a story, rather than designing an item around the abilities that it grants.

Argus is known for two things: seeing everything, and for guarding.  I was originally making this item as a generic item that could see through illusions.  However, once I reminded myself what the story of Argus involved, the fact that he was a guard of epic proportions helped to make the item more useful and, honestly, more interesting.

The other aspect that I’d like to point out here is that this item specifically has a source of power: Argus.  Generally, we don’t know why magic items work in games like these; we just know that the do.  In this case, we know that whoever creates these items must tap into the power of Argus.  I like the impression that magicians are always doing this kind of thing (though, hopefully, usually not from sentient creatures as in this case.)

The fact that only seventeen can exist at one time, and that Argus might track down anyone who uses these amulets, give some risk associated with the creation and use of the item.  If you don’t use the item very often, it’s possible that seventeen other people will create an item after you and that the item will become useless, effectively causing your own resources to be wasted.  On the other hand, if you create the item and use it too often, you might have an angry genie figuring out where you live and coming to have some very harsh words with you about the migraine that you cause every time you turn that item on.

Little touches like this can make magic more mysterious.  Not even magicians always have a complete grasp on just why their magic works the way it does, and potential consequences like this can lead to trouble.  For example: at the moment, I have a player playing a Warforged in an Eberron campaign.  He wanted a laser arm cannon.  I figured that this was reasonable, if a little powerful, and introduced that player’s character to some shady back alley characters who dealt with experimental weaponry and Warforged components.  His arm cannon was, basically, a wand of Scorching Ray that he could use as a non-caster at the expense of one of his hands (an expense that has come up from time to time.)

However, merely losing an arm wasn’t quite enough since he rarely used two-handed weapons anyway.  I had the player roll a secret number that I added to another secret number (his Con modifier), and then I started counting down from that number.  And, one day, that number reached zero.  Ever since then, the arm cannon has been uncomfortably hot, and every time he uses it he thinks he can feel the scratching of claws from inside the metal.  And after we counted down further to his Con score again, he started having to making Fortitude saves as the scratching sound from within became worse.  Now, I’ve known for well over a year just what that scratching sound is… and, really, if I said what it was in game terms, it would cheapen it and make it less fun for everyone involved.  But not knowing what the magic is doing to his arm cannon is one of the little mysteries that makes the magic worth it, and more than just a simple widget to contain a game effect.  (Don’t worry, though: at a certain point, his character will be able to get a non-cursed version of this and he’ll be able to blast away to his heart’s content.)

Anyway, for those of you who play D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, here’s what I recommend doing to make the Eye of Argus in your game: first, anyone who wears the Eye of Argus gains the benefit of the Awareness feat (which stacks with the Awareness feat if they already have it from some other source) and doesn’t need to sleep, just like an elf.  Unlike an elf, magical sleep effects can still put them to sleep, but they gain a +5 bonus to save against the effect.  They are also able to see invisible creatures and objects in their area.  Magic users who wear the amulet gain the ability to see magical auras (as if they had Arcane Eye cast upon themselves).  They may also cast any Divination spell from the Wizard’s spell list even if they don’t know the spell by sacrificing a number of spell slots equal in combined level to the level of the divination spell that they need, AND by taking Con damage equal to the level of the divination spell that they wish to cast.  (So, to cast a sixth level Divination spell, they could sacrifice two second level spell slots, two first level spell slots, and take six points of Con damage.)

Meanwhile, I’d say that you probably shouldn’t worry about other Eyes of Argus being created in great enough numbers.  Magic items should be mysterious and rare, and a wizard who knows about this particular magic item is likely to create something else instead.  Still, if you have a campaign setting with a high level of magic item production and you think that enough magicians would know about it and want to keep track of such things: Every day, roll a percentile day.  On day one, there’s a 1% chance that that many Eyes of Argus are made, and that percentage increases by one every day.  Seriously, though, it’s just a lot of paperwork to worry about that.  I’d recommend only doing this if you have a particular story you want to tell about it.

For Argus, though, that’s another story.  I’d say that for every time after the first time a particular Eye of Argus is used, roll a d12.  On a roll of 12, Argus can see enough of the surrounding area to figure out who is using the eye and where that person is.  It then takes Argus 1d20 days to travel to the player and otherwise make plans for the best way to approach this player and acquire the character’s eye.

The best part about this?  Argus exists as an automatic way to take the item out of play if it starts to unbalance things for you.  If the players start to rely too much on the eye?  You’ve got a powerful genie on the way to take it back.  Treat Argus as an entity that can regenerate over time, so even if the players believe that they have “beaten” him, it turns out he’s merely plane-shifted away, or that Argus is truly immortal and regenerates elsewhere whenever beaten.

Using a similar strategy, you, too, can create awesome magic items for even your low level players to enjoy and, temporarily, get too comfortable with.

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays!  I’m hoping that it actually goes up.  This week, real life is taking me away for a week as I’ll be partying with my church’s youth group as we go to CIY.  It’ll be an awesome week, but one thing that we ask the students to do is to leave their cell phones and other wireless devices behind.  While there’s no rule about that for me since I’m a leader, I’m going to be leaving my laptop at home.  Ideally, this means that Magical Mondays will automate as I tell it to this week.  If not… sorry for missing last week, and I hope that you enjoy this week’s late episode. 😉  Later, all!

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