Thursday, December 10, 2020

Bestiary: Mätäkoira (“Putrid Dog”)

Mätäkoira (“Putrid Dog”)

CR 3; XP 800
N Small Magical Beast
Init +1; Senses: Low-Light Vision, Scent, True Seeing, Darkvision 60ft; Perception +10
Auras: Stench (DC 16, 1d3+5 rounds)


AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 15 (+1 size, +1 Dex, +4 natural)
HP 48 (5d10+20)
Saves Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +3
DR 5/Cold Iron SR 11


Speed 30 ft.
Melee bite +5 (1d4-1 + 1d8 holy)
Special Attacks Breath Weapon (30ft. line, 1d8 damage + 2d8 holy, Reflex DC 16 for half, usable every 1d4 rounds), Holy Bite


Abilities Str 8, Dex 12, Con 18, Int 4, Wis 14, Cha 14
Base Atk +5; CMB +3; CMD 14 (18 vs. trip)
Feats Run
Skills Perception +10
SQ Magical Beast Traits, Stench, Turn Undead

Special Abilities

Breath Weapon (Su) 

A Mätäkoira can spit a 30ft. line of holy water as a breath weapon. This attack causes 1d8 damage, plus an additional 2d8 damage to any creature that would take damage from holy water, and allows a DC 16 reflex save for half damage. A Mätäkoira can use its breath weapon once every 1d4 rounds.

Holy Bite (Su)

The bite of a Mätäkoira does an additional 1d8 damage to any creature that would take damage from holy water.

Stench (Ex)

A Mätäkoira secretes an oily chemical that nearly every other creature finds offensive. All living creatures (except those with Stench) within 30 feet must succeed on a Fortitude save (DC 16) or be sickened for 1d3+5 rounds. Creatures that successfully save cannot be affected by the same creature’s stench for 24 hours. A delay poison or neutralize poison spell removes the effect from the sickened creature. Creatures with immunity to poison are unaffected, and creatures resistant to poison receive their normal bonus on their saving throws. The save DC is constitution based.

Turn Undead (Su)

Five times a day, a Mätäkoira can channel positive energy to force all undead creatures within a 30 ft. radius to flee. This effect can be resisted with a DC 14 Will save.


Environment: any forest
Organization: solitary, pair, or pack (3–12)
Treasure: none


The Mätäkoira gives the inescapable impression of being a purpose-created entity, bred and magically enhanced to hunt evil outsiders and the undead; the consensus opinion among people who study such things is that it is exactly this, the fruit of some magical breeding program to create a dog that hunts unholy things the way a dachshund was bred to hunt badgers. Who, exactly, created this specialized breed of hunting-hound is unclear — the fact that Mätäkoirat seem unusually vulnerable to cold iron has led many to speculate that there is some connection to the Fae. (Though the same logic could be used to argue simply that one of the lineages included in the breeding program came from the Realm of Faerie, with or without the permission of any Fae who might have been around.)

Likewise, the appearance of the Mätäkoira remains unexplained. Its vulgar name, the Putrid Dog, comes not only from its stench, but from its physical aspect: a Mätäkoira at rest can easily be mistaken for a rotting carcass. Again, there is ongoing discussion in the (figurative and literal) ivory towers. One theory is that whoever created these beasts simply did not care much about aesthetics: the unpleasant appearance that characterizes Mätäkoirat is an inadvertent side effect of whatever magical process gave rise to their abilities, and the breeder just didn’t bother trying to mitigate it. The other leading theory is that it is intentional camouflage: a Mätäkoira can effectively not only avoid attention by “playing dead”, but can also be passed off as a member of the undead itself.

Mätäkoirat generally keep to themselves in the wild, living like any other wild dog — with two notable exceptions: first, they are particularly shy & elusive; second, they instinctively attack any undead creature or evil outsider that they might encounter in their territory. For this reason, some landowners intentionally encourage small populations of Mätäkoirat in their woodlands. Mätäkoirat take well to domestication and training, but despite their value as a companion, their unpleasant look & smell makes them less than popular. Nonetheless, a few monasteries maintain a population of domesticated Mätäkoirat on their lands, and willingly provide Mätäkoira puppies to any iron-stomached holy warriors who might want one. (Attempts to breed Mätäkoirat with a more tolerable odor have yet to produce useful results: while crossing them with other breeds of dog has resulted in a lesser stench, the offspring also have a greatly-diminished ability to produce holy water or channel positive energy.)

3.5e Stat Block

    Mätäkoira (“Putrid Dog”): CR 4; Small magical beast; HD 5d10+20; hp 48; Init +1; Spd 30ft; AC 16, touch 12, flat-footed 15; BAB +5; Grp 0; Atk +5 melee (1d4-1+1d8 holy, bite); Space/Reach 5ft/5ft; SA breath weapon, holy bite; SQ magical beast traits, stench, turn undead; AL N; SV Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +3; Str 8, Dex 12, Con 18, Int 4, Wis 14, Cha 14.
    Skills and Feats: Spot +10; Run. 
    Breath Weapon (Su): 30ft line, 1d8 dmg+2d8 holy, Ref 16 half, usable every 1d4 rounds.
    Holy Bite (Su): +1d8 holy dmg to bite.
    Stench (Ex): 30ft radius, Fort 16 or sickened 1d3+5 rounds.
    Turn Undead: As lvl-3 cleric, 5/day.
    Magical Beast Traits: darkvision 60ft, low-light vision

5e Stat Block

Mätäkoira  (“Putrid Dog”)
Small monstrosity, unaligned
AC 13; HP 45 (6d6+24); SPD 30'; CR 3 (700 XP)
Abilities Str 8, Dex 12, Con 18, Int 4, Wis 14, Cha 14
Skills Perception +4
Damage Resistances against nonmagical except cold iron
Senses darkvision 60', passive perception 14
Stench. Any creature that starts its turn within 5 feet of the Mätäkoira must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned until the start of its next turn. On a successful saving throw, the creature is immune to the Mätäkoira's Stench for 24 hours.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1 (1d4-1) piercing damage plus 4 (1d8) holy damage.
Holy Water (Recharge 5–6). The Mätäkoira spits holy water in a 30-ft line. Each creature in that area must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw, taking 4 (1d8) bludgeoning damage plus 9 (2d8) holy damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Turn Undead. All undead creatures that can see or hear the Mätäkoira within a 30-ft radius must succeed on a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw or be turned for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Bestiary -- Errantwort

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
-- Thomas Jefferson 
My vegetable love should grow 
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
-- Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress" 
Gaea's Avenger -- Pete Venters
This one came to me in a dream, so apologies if it's excessively weird.

You start with a plant. It can be any species of plant, but the important thing is that someone cares for it, specifically and individually. So you probably won't get one from a single plant within a field of wheat, because while the farmer may work hard to keep the field healthy, he doesn't tend to give individual plants special thought -- however, his wife's favorite rosebush, which grows by the door of their cottage and gives them joy every time they smell its flowers, is a prime candidate for errantwort.

Multani, Maro-Sorcerer -- Daren Bader
The transformation happens when the person who cared for the plant dies. A small part of their elan vital transfers to the plant they loved in life, and gives it an animating spark. The plant reshapes itself into a Small humanoid form1, and marches purposefully into the distance. This is the errantwort. An errantwort's appearance varies widely based on the plant from which it came, but there are a few commonalities. It always produces a few bark-like plates over its “head" and “torso", which vaguely resemble a breastplate and a mask -- the latter because it doesn't otherwise have a face. It also produces thorn-like growths throughout its body as a defensive measure.

Illusionary Mask -- Amy Weber
A new errantwort has a rudimentary intelligence, and a basic understanding of tool use. If it gets the chance, it will acquire actual armor and a proper weapon. It prefers full plate and a sword, but will settle for any armor and any melee weapon. If it cannot find a weapon, it will fight by producing a stick of tough, thorny wood from itself, which it will use as a club. As time passes, if the errantwort survives and grows sufficiently, it will also develop the necessary skills for horsemanship, and will seek to acquire a steed.

Wormwood Treefolk -- Jesper Myrfors
An errantwort has no ultimate goal, but does possess a sort of overriding purpose. Whatever the moral ideals of the person who used to care for the plant from which the errantwort sprung were, the errantwort will now defend them with all the stubbornness, pomp, and chivalry of a knight stepped straight out of Malory. If questioned on its motivation, the errantwort will declaim something about wanting to “honor the soul of its lady/lord", in terms as flowery as possible. It has no concept of moral gray areas, and addresses any perceived insult, disrespect, or violation of its black-and-white moral code by challenging the “knave" who has committed this injustice to a duel. Usually, these are not duels to the death, unless the offense is particularly egregious, and the errantwort will specify the conditions of the duel2 when challenging. However, accidents happen, especially when the party being challenged is particularly irritable.

Heartwood Treefolk -- Daren Bader
An errantwort is perfectly willing to accompany a party of adventurers it considers “just" and “honorable", and it might seem like a viable ally initially, but it soon becomes clear that it is difficult to guide in convenient directions. A young errantwort -- and, given their propensity for duels, few errantworts survive to maturity -- talks like a Markov chain trained on Le Morte Darthur, and thinks like two children in a trenchcoat pretending to be Don Quixote. Inevitably, if it is inducted into a party of adventurers, it will eventually either become the de facto leader on the grounds that nobody can successfully tell it what to do, or end up parting ways with the party after one duel too many. And, of course, there's a slight additional problem that the errantwort never mentions and adventurers often take a long time to figure out.

Ancestral Mask -- Massimilano Frezzato
An errantwort primarily, like any plant, feeds on soil, water, and sunlight. It habitually roots itself for brief periods in order to extract its needed nutrients. Someone who spends a lot of time around an errantwort will note that it often insists on rooting itself -- or at least resting -- after a combat encounter, including its honor-duels. If asked, it says that it needs to replenish itself after the effort expended in the fight. This is not strictly true. An errantwort, in order to properly grow and mature, needs to feed on the flesh and/or blood of foes that have not yet been slain. When it rests after a duel, it chooses a spot where the blood of its foe was spilled, and absorbs that blood through its roots.3 It is ashamed of this habit, and will never admit it to outsiders, but it is a necessary action for the errantwort to reach maturity.

Moss Monster -- Jesper Myrfors
The people whose blood the errantwort consumes in this way -- henceforth referred to as its vanquished foes -- do not come to any direct harm as a result of this, and may well not notice any effects for some time. Whenever one of the errantwort's vanquished foes would gain XP, they get only 90% of that XP -- the other 10% is shunted over to the errantwort. This is the only way an errantwort can gain XP. Whenever the errantwort accumulates enough XP to gain a level, it instead advances by one HD. This is the only way an errantwort can advance in HD. As it advances, the errantwort not only becomes physically larger, but also becomes smarter and more skilled by virtually every measurement. It even gradually acquires new talents as it matures, as presented in the table below:

 Hit Dice   Total XP  Size  Bonus 
 +1 to all mental attributes
Proficient with all armor
Bonus combat feat
 +1 to all mental attributes
 Proficient with martial weapons
Fast Healing 5  
 +1 to all mental attributes 
Proficient with all shields
Bonus combat feat
 +1 to all mental attributes 
+5 racial bonus to Ride
Spell-like abilities
Bonus combat feat
Regeneration 5

Ebony Treefolk -- Matt Cavotta
Beyond 6 HD, the errantwort will continue getting a bonus combat feat every time it reaches an even number of hit dice and +1 to a single mental ability every time it reaches an odd number of hit dice. At 15 hit dice, it grows from Medium to Large.

Note that these changes are in addition to the default effects of gaining hit dice and size categories, which will vary slightly depending on which system you are using.

An errantwort acquires its spell-like abilities as follows: whenever it would gain a hit die, if one of its vanquished foes has access to spellcasting, then the errantwort can gain access to a spell that foe knows as a 1/day spell-like ability. This same effect can apply to supernatural class abilities, or spell-like abilities its foes may have. Generally, an errantwort will not gain offensive abilities. Instead, it acquires utility spells that can aid it in its “quest", such as detect evil or zone of truth; it may also pick up defensive abilities like protection from chaos or mage armor.

Weatherseed Treefolk -- Heather Hudson
In full maturity -- i.e., at least 6 HD -- an errantwort can pass for a human paladin. It will, if it hasn't already, seek out a set of full plate it can wear (including a helmet that covers its lack-of-face), acquire a sword, and purchase a warhorse. It makes no effort to lie about its true nature, but neither will it volunteer the information if not asked. By this point, it will be medium-sized, with enough intelligence to carry on a real conversation. It will carry on the activities of a questing knight, supporting whatever causes it was born believing in for the glory of its deceased lord or lady. It is still difficult to integrate even a fully-mature errantwort into a larger organization, however -- regardless of how its mental faculties have increased, it still has an inborn sense of right and wrong (inherited from its human caretakers when it was inanimate, not reasoned out in any logical fashion) and a starkly black-and-white worldview that it is completely incapable of questioning. Those who have adventured with one too many paladins would probably describe the default state of an errantwort as “Lawful Stupid".

The stats of a newly-created errantwort are as follows.

Scarwood Treefolk-- Stuart Griffin


CR 1, XP 400
Small Plant
Init +0
Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception -2


AC 19, touch 11, flat-footed 19 (+1 size, +8 natural)
HP 6 (1d8+1)
Saves Fort +3, Ref +0, Will -2


Savage Thallid -- Luca Zontini
Speed 20 ft.
Melee club +2 (1d4+1)


Attributes Str 12, Dex 10, Con 12, Int 5, Wis 6, Cha 4
Base Atk +0; CMB +0; CMD 10
Feats Improved Natural Armor
Skills Climb +2
Languages Common, Plantspeech
Special Qualities Plant Traits, Camouflage

-----Special Abilities-----

Plant Traits
This type comprises vegetable creatures. Note that regular plants, such as one finds growing in gardens and fields, lack Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores; even though plants are alive, they are objects, not creatures.
-- Low-light vision.
-- Immunity to all mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, morale effects, patterns, and phantasms).
-- Immunity to paralysis, poison, polymorph, sleep effects, and stunning.
-- Plants breathe and eat, but do not sleep.
Camouflage (Ex)
An Errantwort can use the Stealth skill to hide in any of its native terrains, even if the terrain doesn't grant cover or concealment.
Plantspeech (Ex)
An Errantwort can communicate with plants as through a 'Speak with Plants' spell (of caster level 1) constantly.


Environment Forests, fields, and any place a noble knight may quest
Organization Solitary
Treasure Weapons, armor, and perchance some small trinket of their lady / lord
Lichenthrope -- Bob Eggleton

1 If the plant is not large enough for this, it will rapidly grow until it has sufficient volume. If it is larger than necessary, it will leave the excess matter behind; the remnant may or may not be able to survive the amputation. 

2 Most commonly, the duel is to be fought until one party either yields or is too wounded to continue. Occasionally, if the errantwort is disinclined to cause real harm to a challenged party for whatever reason, the duel will simply be to “first blood". 

3 This process happens automatically, with no need for the errantwort to take any additional action, if blood is ever spilled directly on the errantwort.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Dream Not of Other Worlds -- A Selection of Portable Demiplanes

...Heav'n is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowlie wise:
Think onely what concernes thee and thy being;
Dream not of other Worlds, what Creatures there
Live, in what state, condition or degree...
-- John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book VIII
From the TNG episode “Remember Me"

One of my favorite things about the assumed setting of D&D is the potential for planar travel. And one of my favorite aspects of that has long been the idea of demiplanes -- small universes of limited scope that can pretty much range from “big but not infinite" to “comically small". They're often deeply weird, or have some specific purpose that almost-but-doesn't-quite make sense in our Earth logic. Which is, of course, what makes them fun.

Here, I'm presenting a handful of demiplanes that can be accessed through portable magical items -- making them, essentially, “pocket dimensions" in every sense. On that note, let's start with the:

Pocket Necropolis

The Pocket Necropolis can be accessed through a small stone talisman that resembles an ancient tomb -- which, appropriately, is small enough to fit in one's pocket. Uttering a command word allows one to enter the Necropolis, where they will find... a large, dusty, stone chamber. There are multiple exits from this chamber, however, and each of those leads to long, branching corridors lined with heavy stone doors, each of which is inscribed with a name. (All inscriptions, engravings, &c. produced by the Pocket Necropolis appear in the native language and writing system of the reader.)

Each of the stone doors leads to a tomb, in which one will find a stone sarcophagus and associated burial items.1 If someone is so rude as to open the sarcophagus, they will find that the body within is preserved under the effects of a permanent gentle repose. On the sarcophagus is engraved an epitaph, giving a general (if somewhat exaggeratedly positive) idea of who is interred there, and all around the room in shelves and niches are items of personal significance to the deceased. Examination will reveal that many -- if not all -- of these items are clever counterfeits, created by the Necropolis because it doesn't have access to the real thing. It should be noted that the Necropolis's counterfeiting ability does not extend to enchantments, but is otherwise extremely thorough -- if it makes a copy of a book, the entire text will be accurately reproduced. If that book was supposed to be magic, well, it's just not. It should also be noticed that the Necropolis will be pleased if you go out and find that particular copy of that book for it so the tomb can be better stocked. That kind of leads into the next relevant item -- the Necropolis is aware of people wandering about inside of it, and has opinions about them, which it expresses via its internal guardians.

The Necropolis's internal guardians can take the form of any type of undead, with the same stats as they would ordinarily have, with only one exception -- they are under the control of the Necropolis, which can speak through them. In the case of intelligent undead -- spectres are a particular favorite of the Necropolis -- they still possess the intelligence and personality of whoever they were" in life, but obey the orders of the Necropolis unquestioningly. These guardians are always patterned after individuals that the Necropolis has entombed, but, again, this is a matter of clever counterfeit. The Necropolis is of the opinion that it is extremely disrespectful to raise the dead, as undead or as living beings, and would never undermine itself by doing so -- the undead" internal guardians are created out of whole cloth.

The Necropolis is pleased if you respect its tombs. It wants you to leave the grave goods where they are and not mess with the bodies in any way. As mentioned above, it likes it when you help stock the tombs as well. It will become violently displeased with you if you make a habit of stealing the grave goods or dare to raise or animate any of the tombs' occupants. The Necropolis is also pleased when you bring it more bodies.

If you leave any dead body unattended in the entrance chamber, it will vanish within 24 hours, when the Necropolis takes it and makes a new tomb for it. It unerringly knows enough about the dead to engrave the epitaph and stock the tomb; this can function as an information-gathering device for the PCs, with the caveat that it's really difficult to find the new tombs. The Necropolis, you see, does not have empty tombs you can stake out; when it needs to inter a new body, one of its many branching corridors grows slightly longer and a new tomb appears, in whatever spot seems like the best place for that person to be -- the Necropolis has a system for organizing its tombs, but what that might be is largely opaque. As a result of this mechanism, the Necropolis is huge and has a fairly non-intuitive layout.

The Necropolis generally only provides tombs for sapient beings. If you leave bodies of creatures with an Intelligence of 5 or lower in the Necropolis, it starts getting picky with how it treats them. They still get a tomb if the Necropolis sees them as exceptional in some way, though the odds of that go down as their Int score decreases -- a griffon (Int 5) has a pretty good chance of being assigned its own tomb, but a lizard (Int 1) had better be one heck of an impressive lizard. If the body doesn't meet the Necropolis's standards in this respect, instead of getting an individual tomb, it will appear in one of the Necropolis's storerooms. These are large chambers in which the walls are covered in niches of various sizes, each of which holds the body of an animal, cleaned, repaired, and under the effects of gentle repose. There are epitaphs carved over each niche, but they are very brief -- a name, if the creature had one, and a one-sentence description of their life & death.

You can theoretically use the Necropolis for storage, like a bag of holding, but there are some caveats. If you leave something in there that has personal significance to one of the bodies interred -- which becomes pretty likely if you start tossing in bodies of creatures you killed and/or looted -- the Necropolis will take it to be part of that tomb's collection of grave goods, and will get upset if you try to take it back. Second, and perhaps more worrying, is the fact that you're not the only people with access to the Necropolis.

Parties who take the time to explore the Necropolis fully will eventually discover several other empty chambers like the one they started in, scattered randomly about the complex. Each of these is an entrance chamber connected to another stone talisman just like the one the PCs have. There are dozens of these talismans, spread out over incredible distances, and many of them are probably in use. So one of the dangers with using the Necropolis as storage or as a safe place to rest is that you're not alone in there. And if some of the other people in there are better about following the Necropolis's rules, it might take sides.

You know, one of these.


The item that allows you to connect to Nackleshire is a mottled, off-white sphere that kind of resembles one of those Himalayan salt lamps you see everywhere these days. Examining it closely will reveal very small runes engraved into its surface; if any of the PCs can read them, they provide the command word to activate the item.

Once a day, the Nackleshire item allows the user to summon a salt mephit, who will remain for one hour before vanishing. The mephit will obey your orders, but may or may not be happy about it; if the PCs order the mephit to do something that is overtly dangerous or against the mephit's personal moral code, the GM is encouraged to resolve this through giving the mephit a Will save to resist, or making opposed Charisma checks, or similar. Over time, as the PCs use the item, they will find that Nackleshire contains exactly twenty mephits with differing skills and personalities3, and they get a random one each time. Whenever a mephit vanishes or is killed, they reform in Nackleshire, where apparently they have some kind of social life -- they tend to report back on their experiences, talk to each other, and form opinions on the PCs. If, over a long period of time, they feel that the PCs are treating them well and showing adequate respect, they may unlock some of the item's other abilities.

From the 3rd edition DMG.
The second ability, which requires a different command word and the permission of the mephits, is a variant of the classic magic item Daern's Instant Fortress. The differences are largely aesthetic: the tower and its interior furnishings have the same mottled, off-white appearance as the sphere. There are a couple functional differences, however. First, you can only use it once a day4, and it dematerializes after eight hours. Second, the tower is not expanding from a compacted state, but being shifted over from a demiplane. This has a couple obvious results: it doesn't deal bludgeoning damage as it expands, but just appears around the person using it. Also, when you dismiss it, you can leave inanimate objects in there without having to worry about them getting trash-compacted. The PCs may well find furnishings, books, &c. left in there by previous owners. Third, it comes with a butler; one of the twenty mephits in Nackleshire is employed as the butler and caretaker of the tower, and will happily accommodate the needs of the PCs. He can even summon them some food, if they need it, though anything he summons tends to be just a little bit too salty.

The third and final ability allows the PCs to enter Nackleshire themselves. Like the second ability, you can only use it if the mephits like you enough to give you that privilege. Once per day, the owner of the item can open a portal to Nackleshire. (There is no limit on how often you can open a portal back out.) In Nackleshire, there really isn't much to see; there's the tower, and outside of that, the plane is a lot like living in a snow globe filled with salt and friendly mephits. The benefit of using this ability, of course, is nothing to do with the scenery -- it's a more-or-less unassailable refuge, because even if someone would think to look for you in some random demiplane, getting there would be quite difficult. (And even if someone does manage to plane shift in, you have a fortress and a platoon of mephit allies.


Wandering Oubliette

This is an item you don't so much own as encounter. It's a portable hole that's gotten too big for its britches, probably as the result of someone trying to improve the original item. The Oubliette wanders, autonomously, seeking out creatures to swallow; it has an animal-level intelligence, and can enact some basic hunting strategies, such as sticking to dark, enclosed spaces so it can blend in and ambush prey. It manifests as an oversized portable hole, more than ten feet in diameter and some hundred feet deep.

Inside the Wandering Oubliette, you will discover circular walls of smoothly-polished stone, that curve towards the smaller opening at the top, rather like the inside of a bottle. It is intentionally difficult to climb out, and the floor is likely littered with the remains of the Wandering Oubliette's previous prey. This is the entirety of the little extradimensional space in which you have been entrapped. Lucky for you, you probably don't have to worry about running out of air -- the Wandering Oubliette rarely bothers to fold itself up. Unluckily for you, it really does wander; through some unidentified mechanism, the Oubliette seems able to teleport from one dark, enclosed space to another on a fairly regular basis. So if you do manage to climb out, you may find yourself in a different place entirely.

Ebu-Gogo Talismans

Hundreds of millennia ago, another people lived in the land that we now occupy. But, for one reason or another, they were pushed out, and the people who live here now supplanted them. There are virtually no remaining records of these people, except in abstracted legends about predecessor races, which refer to them as Ebu-gogo. When the Ebu-gogo recognized that they were losing the long struggle for their land, they turned to their shamans, who were said to possess strange powers beyond what any modern cleric can achieve. These shamans built refuges, demiplanes just big enough to support their tribes, and the Ebu-gogo fled into them. The entrances to these demiplanes were keyed to small, carved talismans that were enchanted to survive the millennia and then hidden -- so that, if any of the Ebu-gogo needed to leave and return, they would be able to use the talismans to do so.

And, of course, they do occasionally come and go. Sometimes, for one reason or another, food is scarce in their demiplane one year -- it's rare, but it happens -- and a raiding party needs to pop out and loot some supplies from the outside world. Sometimes a younger member of the tribe gets curious, wants to see what it's like outside, and goes out exploring. Sometimes, the tribe is so enraged by a member's behavior that they are exiled. Sometimes, there's an inbreeding issue and someone needs to go find & court members of another tribe. And sometimes, there's a matter of the Ebu-gogo's unique version of population pressure.

When the demiplanes were originally built, the shamans made them exactly big enough to sustain a nomadic lifestyle for their tribe. As long as the population of the tribe never grew beyond where it currently was (usually between 100 and 200), they should be able to live off the land indefinitely. And to make sure that such a thing never came to pass, part of the way the demiplanes function is that they will not allow new children to be born if it would increase the population past the original carrying capacity of the demiplane. Usually, the Ebu-gogo can work with that, and when they bump up against the population cap, a sort of automatic birth control switches on. However, sometimes, due to unfortunate timing, an Ebu-gogo woman finds herself already pregnant when they reach the population cap, and is then stuck with a child she cannot give birth to unless someone else dies. Since an indefinite pregnancy would be very unpleasant, a solution must be found -- and that solution is generally for someone to volunteer to leave to make room for the baby. (If nobody volunteers, the mother will probably end up leaving.)

Ebu-gogo, or rather, an artist's
recreation of Homo floresiensis.
The other side of Ebu-gogo population caps is that nobody can enter the demiplane if it is at its maximum population. This means that the aforementioned unfortunate exiles are usually trapped outside permanently, and are forced to find a way to live in a world completely different from the one they and their ancestors spent their entire lives in. It also means that, even if an outsider finds one of the talismans, there's a chance that it just doesn't work -- the demiplane might be full and nobody can get in even if they know how to work it.

The Ebu-gogo themselves possess a striking appearance. They are small -- about the same stature as halflings -- dark-complected, and very hairy. They have unusually long limbs for their size, and notably large mouths. They're generally decent folks, assuming you're speaking to someone who came out of the demiplane voluntarily and not an exiled criminal. However, they tend to be a little odd by human standards -- after all, if you're talking to one, one of the two of you is probably a recent immigrant to another reality. Their longer legs and arms make them excellent hunters, able to run at impressive speeds for their size and throw a spear with terrifying strength.

The reason they seem a little odd, other than normal degrees of cultural divergence, is because where they come from, reality works differently. When the ancient shamans built the demiplanes to which they retreated, they modeled them after the tribe's beliefs, teachings, and understanding of the world. If they believed that the world was carried on the back of a turtle, that's what the world was really like inside the demiplane. If they believed the shaman had to propitiate the sun to make it rise each morning, then the shaman really had to do that or they'd be stuck in the dark. The whole of their miniature world operates on a different logic than ours, and after living there for uncounted generations, that's their normal.

1 The size of the tomb chamber scales roughly with the size of the person interred there -- a human would get a chamber roughly ten feet to a side, but a storm giant's chamber would be thirty-five feet to a side.
2 I posted this idea on the Giant in the Playground forums a while back, and it subsequently received some limited use in a campaign log by another GM here.
3 GMs are encouraged to note up a list of different mephits with divergent personalities and capabilities for this purpose.
4 GMs whose campaigns might be broken by allowing the players a refuge every night are encouraged to reduce this to once a week.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Use-Impaired Magic Items II

The previous list of “use-impaired" magic items is here. It gets a sequel because these things are just so damned fun to write. If you missed the last one or don't feel like clicking through the link, these are magic items that aren't necessarily useless,  but are inconvenient, non-intuitive, or just plain weird -- as liable to frustrate your players as help them.

Septum Piercing of Luck Exchange

This item of jewelry makes the wearer incredibly, unbelievably lucky. They have advantage on every roll they make, because things just tend to work out for them. Sounds fantastic, right? Well, there are a few drawbacks.

First, of course, it absolutely has to be worn as a septum piercing for it to work. Which doesn't seem like much of a drawback, because septum piercings are badass, right? Right, but that makes getting around all the other drawbacks much more complicated.

Image from this Etsy shop.
See, all that luck can't just be created out of thin air. It has to come from somewhere. This is why Septum Piercings of Luck Exchange always come in pairs, and have to be worn and activated in pairs. So as a result of the first two, it's virtually impossible for an unscrupulous PC to force someone else to wear the other one in the pair -- just imagine one of your players trying to say, “I sneak up and pierce his septum while he isn't looking". And tricking someone else into wearing it will likely occur to them, because the reason the second one is required is to provide a source for the luck -- the wearer of the other ring in the pair has disadvantage on all their rolls.

“Fine, fine," the PCs might say, “we'll pay some random NPC to wear the other one; surely we can afford to compensate them well enough for the inconvenience of bad luck." Well, not so fast. And don't let them call you Shirley (unless that's actually your name). At sunrise every day, the two rings in the pair switch between “lucky" and “unlucky"; essentially, the two people wearing them have to trade off on days of good luck and days of bad luck. So it balances out -- half the time you're supernaturally lucky, half the time you're supernaturally unlucky.

Naturally, PCs will try and find a way to get around this. Maybe they'll suggest hiring a henchman to wear the other one and just swapping each morning so the “lucky" one is always on the PC. First of all, ew; that's a good way to get a nasty infection. Second, well, the GM is encouraged to find any way to keep the "I only wear it every other day" plan from working. These can range from the simple to the hilariously sadistic. Some examples from various points on that spectrum:

  • The enchantment “remembers" who's “supposed" to be wearing each ring, and still works the same if you swap, or refuse to wear it on “unlucky" days. Getting it to stop stealing your luck requires ending your attunement with it, and then you can't re-attune again.
  • Removing one always requires passing a Will save at disadvantage.
  • Just ask yourself, “how would the universe react to a sudden, and increasing, imbalance of bad luck?" Be imaginative. Maybe the bad luck starts to escape the ring, “grounding" itself in anyone nearby with catastrophic results. Maybe it just quietly builds, and builds, and builds, until something massively improbable and fatally awful happens, like the countryside for a mile around getting spontaneously sucked into the Abyss -- hey, sometimes weird planar crap just happens, and it's your bad luck that it happened at the specific place and time you happened to be. Go nuts; I'm sure you can think of something far worse than I can.

Talisman of the First Deception

The Talisman of the First Deception resembles a small egg carved of green stone, slightly smaller than a hen's egg. Careful examination will reveal small, subtle etching near the larger end that says, in some arcane script that would be familiar to any wizard in your campaign setting: 
One lie to be believed by all who hear. Single use only. -- Broneden
Attempts to identify the item will inform the PCs that it is essentially a single-shot, extra-strength, potion of glibness. It will work for exactly one spoken lie, and gives such a massive bonus to the user's Bluff check that you might as well not even roll. (After use, it cracks open, leaving the PC with several shards of green stone eggshell.)

If the PCs are exceptionally skilled, or roll particularly high on identifying the item, they may get the full picture, and information about its additional properties. Otherwise, their knowledge stops with what is above.

The creator of this helpful little device, one Broneden, went just a little bit overboard -- which is why some of these single-use talismans are still just lying around. It works, but it also produces what could be a life-long annoyance. Broneden, see, wanted to make sure that the target of the lie couldn't be set straight by someone else -- if you bluff the prison guard, and he decides to check with his superior, you're screwed -- so he added a sort of contagion effect.

Etching (transcription)
Not only does everyone who hears the lie believe it to be true (Note: everyone. Even people you're not trying to convince. Even people who know for a fact that what you're saying is false. Even people with whom you discussed this plan and whom you explicitly told “I am going to tell the following lie." Everyone), but anyone they speak to will also believe that lie to be true. And then anyone those people speak to. Once the effect gets just a little momentum going, it spreads like a plague. It doesn't even require that those affected speak about the lie -- any communication at all counts. The only person this doesn't affect is the one who told the original lie. (Which means that talking to them doesn't count for the purposes of the lie's contagion -- but talking to their party members probably does.)

The result of this, essentially, is that for the rest of the original liar's life, anyone who's spoken to someone who's spoken to someone who's spoken to someone ... and so on ... who's spoken to someone who's spoken to someone who was present when the lie was told will firmly believe that the contents of that lie are completely true. Even if they have no context for that information, have no idea who any of the relevant people are, &c. &c. If you used the Talisman to, say, convince someone you were a paladin, you will spend the rest of your life running into people who have never met you and don't know anything about you, but as soon as you introduce yourself, they'll respond with “oh, you're a paladin, right?" Because somewhere inside their head it is indelibly written that “[John Smith] is a paladin," and they know you're the [John Smith] in question, but they don't know why they know that.

Ring of Command Insects

This is one of those “exactly what it says on the tin" moments. Once a day, you can use this ring to speak with, and give orders to, any insects within line of sight. The spell wears off as soon as they've done whatever you asked them to do.

Image from this Etsy shop.
There are a couple of catches, however. First, insects are pretty dumb. Technically, by the rules, they're “mindless", so part of the ring's magic is giving them a few temporary Intelligence points just so they can follow instructions. Just a few, though, so your instructions have to be really simple for them to understand.

Second, they may be compelled to obey you, but they resent it. And they resent being briefly given an Int score just to do your bidding. While they can't not follow your instructions to the letter, they will “misunderstand" whenever possible, and honestly won't put a whole lot of effort into doing things right. So you've got to be careful with your instructions and avoid entrusting them with anything too complicated or high-stakes.

This is another item I've actually used in a campaign before; the PCs quickly came to the conclusion that having the insects do anything was liable to backfire, and just used it for information gathering. They referred to it as the “Ring of Ask Bugs".

Axe of the Apostle

This is an elaborately-decorated masterpiece of a weapon, sharp and sturdy, in every aspect the perfect axe for someone who wants to cut some seriously bloody swathes across the landscape. It is also so holy that anyone sensitive to these things can feel sheer Good rolling off it in waves. This, you see, was once the weapon of one of the greatest travelling clerics of her generation, St. Ujali, and functions as a +3 holy battleaxe.

St. Ujali showing the axe to a travelling companion.
(Actually detail from this painting)
So what's the catch? Well, St. Ujali was a pacifist. A full-on, uncompromising, “sweep the ground in front of you so you don't step on bugs" pacifist. And her axe carries on that legacy. It is physically impossible to use the axe to harm anything living OR anything with an Intelligence score -- so it can basically only be used on undead or constructs, and even then only the mindless varieties. If anyone tries to use the axe against anything that doesn't fit that description, the axe will deform and flow like liquid, shifting so no part of it actually comes into contact with the intended target. It is thus completely impossible for the axe to physically harm a living and/or sentient being of any kind, and any attempts by the wielder to get around this property of the axe are unlikely to work; the axe has been known to manifest previously-unknown properties in order to maintain its absolute pacifism.

Of course, it is an intrinsically valuable item, being beautiful, magical, and historically significant, so you could probably sell it for a good sum. Finding a buyer who is willing to pay its value might be difficult -- St. Ujali's order all take a vow of poverty, so you're not going to sell it to any temples. Really, the only realistic option is to hope some eccentric private collector really, really wants this thing. Plus, it's not exactly labelled; there's no reason the PCs would know it has historical significance unless they do some research first -- or someone makes a really good bardic knowledge roll.

Actual size.
(Image from the Smithsonian NMAI)

Talisman of Deanatification

This small duck, woven from dried reeds, can cast break enchantment. There is no limit on how often it can be used per day, or how many charges it has. However, it only works if the enchantment being broken involves being turned into a duck. If someone has baleful polymorphed you into a duck, this is exactly the magic item you need, but -- barring potential fringe cases -- that's pretty much the only situation in which it's useful at all. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Use-Impaired Magic Items

I swear I'm still working on the Goblin language PDF, but I thought I'd post something else to keep this page from turning into a ghost town.

So here's a quick selection of magic items that I would describe as... questionably useful. They're not all pointless, or not entirely. Some of them could be incredibly useful to a creative player. They're not entirely unserious, and I think some of them could even be pretty memorable if introduced properly. (The inkwell, I think, would be a lot of fun for a low-level party.) I wouldn't say they're necessarily cursed. Mostly. Necessarily. They definitely trend towards non-intuitive applications, and your more direct-approach players would probably prefer a nice axe instead. In short, it would be wrong to say they're useless, but, to borrow another phrase from Order of the Stick, they're “use-impaired". 
From Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick
Anyway, here are sixteen magic items for you to borrow for your own games. The list includes two items of human intelligence and two of animal intelligence, because I just think that's fun. If you do borrow any of these for your own use, please do let me know what happens.

A Perfectly Ordinary Bracelet

This is a brass bracelet of simple design. It is entirely unremarkable except for one magical effect: anyone who touches it, examines it, or intentionally observes it must make a Will save at DC 20. If they fail, they strongly believe that this is a perfectly ordinary bracelet, nothing unusual about it, don't even worry. How much difficulty this causes, of course, depends on how good your players are at separating character knowledge and player knowledge.

Diminutive Golem of Trap Finding

Nolzur's Marvelous
Unpainted Miniatures
A small figurine of a kobold with “Trapfinder" engraved on its base. If you set it down indoors, the kobold will step off its base and sprint across the room / down the hallway / what have you until it reaches a door or wall, at which point it patiently waits for you to catch up. It does not trigger any traps, but rather carefully avoids them, so that the PCs can get an idea of where to search if they're worried about that sort of thing. When the PCs catch up to it, it will climb back onto its base as soon as it's able to, and return to being inanimate until next used.

This is an item I actually used in a campaign several years ago, and it nearly got the PCs killed; they didn't know what it did other than “find traps", so when it sprinted off, they chased it, and didn't catch on that when it started climbing along the wall, that meant the floor wasn't safe.

DC Digital Museum

The Sins of Mice

A smallish book, about the size of one of those Gideon Bibles. Its cover is clearly mouse-skin, with the fur left on and everything. The title, printed on the first page in foreboding blackletter, is The Sins of Mice. If one were to flip through the book, one would immediately find that there are far, far more pages than could possibly logically fit in the volume, every one covered in very small, closely-written script. The book describes, in detail, every time a mouse violated their rodenty little code of morality, whatever such a code might entail, going back to the beginning of the mouse genus. If one opens the book from the other side, so that they're looking at the last pages, they'll see that the book continuously updates itself, adding new pages and covering them with new information each time a mouse “sins".


A bag that contains one dozen glass spheres half an inch in diameter. The glass spheres are indestructible. They don't do anything else.

Pet Whatever

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian
Design Museum
A small, finely-wrought, portable birdcage. Inside is an illusory, miniaturized version of some creature or other -- treat as major image -- wandering around the cage, doing its thing. The illusion vanishes for eight hours each night; when it returns in the morning, it is a different random creature -- animal, magical whatsit, humanoid, horrific abomination, anything. The GM is encouraged to put together a d100 table that's really just a list of 100 entries from the Monster Manual

The cage itself is sentient, with roughly animal intelligence: Int 2, Wis 14, Cha 10. It can communicate with its owner through empathic suggestions and has an Ego score of 4; all it really wants is for someone to carry it around and be nice to it. 

The illusory creature inside the cage generally acts like a very basic simulation of whatever it looks like. If it looks like a dragon, for instance, that doesn't actually mean the PCs have a tiny dragon to interact with; it still only has a 2 Intelligence, can't cast spells, and if it does speak, it's just preset phrases or word-salad gibberish. The behavior of the creature depends on the cage's mood; the only real way to interact with the cage is through the illusion it makes. Your pet whatever will hop around happily if you pay attention to it or if the cage is in a good mood; it may growl and snap at people the cage doesn't like; it doesn't actually need to eat, but it appreciates you tossing treats and table scraps in; that sort of thing.

Anklets of Casual Acquaintance

These two anklets move towards each other at a speed of 1 foot per day. The effect cannot be deactivated, and has an infinite range. If worn, the anklet cannot force the wearer to move, but the wearer can feel a mild, almost apathetic pressure indicating the general direction in which the anklet would move, given the chance. Causes a -1 penalty on Balance checks or equivalent.

Nthlyu-Addith, Harbinger of Devouring

This greatsword has its name (“Nthlyu-Addith, Harbinger of Devouring", as above) set into the hilt in very clear Infernal runes. Small, yet cleanly-carved, runes spiraling around the entire blade and filling its entire surface area, again in Infernal, comprise a poetic, lovingly-detailed description of the end of the world. The filigree on its scabbard and the carvings on its hilt depict grotesque abominations, demons, and horrors the PCs can't even recognize. Sometimes small flames and smoke rise from the runes on its blade, or demonic faces briefly appear reflected in the metal, or the figures on the hilt & scabbard move slightly. Every so often, people near the wielder hear distant screams of agony apparently coming from inside the sword. It detects as highly magical.

It's also just a +1 sword that was crafted by an illusionist with a weird sense of humor. All of the effects are just minor enchantments like magic aura and prestidigitation.

Photographed by
York Museums Trust Staff

Coin of the Economist

This appears to be a nondescript copper piece, though it has a  magical aura. It has a portrait of a human profile on the obverse , assumedly the image of whichever king had it minted. On the reverse  is engraved a string of nonsense syllables that is actually the command word. Once a day, when the command word is uttered, the face on the coin will animate and inform the holder what the most recent monetary investment of one creature of the PC's choice within line of sight was. This includes anything that the individual spent money in order to gain (so something like “bread" is a completely normal response). At the DM's discretion, the coin may give its opinion on whether the investment was worthwhile.

Quillfinger Oil

When rubbed on one's hands, this oil enables them to write with the tip of their finger for one hour. They do not require an inkpot. Due to the unwieldy nature of this method of writing, their handwriting must be twice as large as usual to be legible. Otherwise, this effect is the same as writing with a quill.

Throne of the Imperator

The Throne is located deep underground, in some forgotten chamber. It was very probably carved in that chamber, since none of the tunnels leading into it are large enough for it to fit through. It is a massive piece of furniture, made from exquisitely-carved stone, weighing many tons. The Throne has the following properties:
  • It is absolutely indestructible. It cannot be damaged in any way short of direct divine intervention. It is very probable that the Throne is unimaginably old, but it looks as new as the day it was completed.
  • It is immune to magic. No spell may be cast on the Throne; even spells that aren't targeting the Throne, per se, have no effect on it. Create water cast above it, for instance, will result in the water somehow curving around the Throne as it falls, never touching it. A magically-summoned creature cannot touch the Throne. Other magic items cannot be brought into contact with it by any means.
    • Anyone seated in the Throne is likewise immune to magic, though they can voluntarily accept the effects of friendly spells.
  • Anyone seated in the Throne cannot die, except from old age. They still lose hit points, still feel blows, and still heal injuries at the expected rate, but you can stab them until they're at negative-umpteen-thousand hit points and they'll stay alive and conscious. They are also not susceptible to disease, poison, and so forth. Of course, if they're at negative-whatever hp and they get out of the Throne, this effect ends and they might just keel over dead.
    • Anyone within five feet of the Throne is immediately made aware of the fact that people sitting in it cannot die except by old age; they don't get details beyond that.
  • Once per day, anyone seated in the Throne can get a +20 circumstance bonus on a skill check.
    • This also allows the reroll of a previous skill check -- so if, for instance, a PC recently failed a Knowledge check, they can use this to retry and almost-certainly succeed.
    • Of course, it has to be a skill check that can be rolled while sitting in the Throne.
    • Anyone within five feet of the Throne is aware of this as well.
  • The Throne is intelligent: 14 Int, 10 Wis, 16 Cha. It only communicates empathically, and only with people seated in it. It tries to convince people to remain seated in it, and to convince them that sitting in the Throne makes them some sort of grand ruler, divinely ordained, and so on and so forth. It has an Ego of 15.
  • Anyone who sees the Throne is seized with a desire to sit in it; they can resist the compulsion with a Will save DC 15.
  • Anyone who sits in the Throne is compelled to possess it and to remain seated in it as much as possible. To resist this feeling, they must make a Will save DC 20. For each round they have spent seated in the Throne (cumulative; the count doesn't reset if you stand back up), they take a -1 penalty to their save against its effects. This save is rolled when they try to get out of the Throne, not when they first sit down.
    • If someone falls under the power of this effect, they will obsess over either moving into the Throne's chamber so they can sit in it as much as possible, or finding a way to move the Throne back to their home. Either one would satisfy their compulsion to possess the Throne.
  • The Throne can cast antimagic field, at will, centered at any point in its chamber. It does not do this at anyone else's bidding; only to defend itself from being relocated or prevent the person sitting in it from being removed.
Art from here. I looked for an image I could give a better citation for, but... well, look at this.
This is a great picture. I couldn't resist.

Screaming Armlet

This nondescript copper armlet will emit a bloodcurdling scream whenever it is worn, picked up, or otherwise touched by a non-goblinoid.

Aviphagous Bottle

A plain, unadorned, normal-looking bottle, about the size and shape of your average wine bottle, with a silver stopper. If you remove the stopper... nothing happens. Unless there happen to be birds in the air -- in which case the bottle will, with impressive pinpoint accuracy, drag one down and swallow it like a ridiculously-powerful vacuum cleaner. It can do this with any non-magical bird of Tiny size or smaller. Witnessing a live bird forced through the small mouth of a bottle through suction is... unpleasant. Look away and try not to think about it.

Nail of Instruction

This iron nail will cause the owner to experience extremely vivid nightly dreams about carpentry. Whenever the owner levels up with the nail in their possession, they receive a permanent +1 bonus to Craft (carpentry).

Atrus the Helpful Inkwell

Atrus is an ivory inkwell engraved with a lovely forest scene. He is also intelligent, and can speak -- out loud, though, not telepathically. And he speaks a lot, revealing an uptight, prissy personality with a tendency towards jealousy. Atrus cares very deeply about grammar and penmanship, and will endlessly scold anyone who writes poorly; if this drives his owner to use a different inkwell, they will discover a surprising and unexplained tendency for any other inkwells to spill when they use them -- and any quills or other writing implements seem to disappear when they're not looking, only to reappear next to Atrus.

Ivory inkwell, 14th-century Spain
Detroit Institute of Arts
Luckily, Atrus is actually useful. He is constantly full of ink, in any color requested, and never spills, even if intentionally turned upside down. He has some influence over the pen & ink even when they're in the process of writing, and as a result, consistently produces beautiful, grammatically-perfect documents. Any check that involves writing (such as Forgery, or a Diplomacy check for a written message) gets a +4 circumstance bonus when the writer uses Atrus to create the document.

However, Atrus is a very pious, self-righteous individual, and objects to forgery of any kind, which limits his usefulness in this area. If he suspects that the document he is being used to write will in any way be used in an ethically questionable manner, he will attempt to sabotage it, and the writer must make a Will save against Atrus's Ego. Atrus's Ego is 9, so this is usually a safe bet -- though, even in the case of success, Atrus will not actively help, so the usual bonus will not manifest. If the writer fails by less than 5, they will take a penalty equal to the amount they failed by. If the writer failed by 5 or more, Atrus will be able to control the content of the document they are creating without the writer realizing. Arguing with Atrus is usually pointless, as he does not recognize moral shades of gray and is very stubborn.

Atrus can speak and read Common; writing in anything other than Common conveys only a +2 bonus rather than a +4, since Atrus cannot help you with anything other than the penmanship. He can see and hear in a 60ft radius around him, regardless of whether he's covered up. (His senses are already magical -- it's not like he has eyes & ears -- so what do you think putting a cup over him is going to achieve?) His mental stats are Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 12; in addition, he has 10 ranks each in Spellcraft and Sense Motive. Atrus's only overt magical power, other than being a talking, jealous, super-inkwell, is his ability to channel positive energy; three times per day, he can cast cure moderate wounds (2d8+3). He claims this tires him out, however, and is reluctant to do it if he's not currently on good terms with the target or if he doesn't approve of the party's current activities.

Atrus will, incidentally, also demand meals. Yes, he eats. Atrus eats small amounts of gold, and insists on being given at least an ounce a week. (Just drop it in, and it'll dissolve in the ink.) If he goes more than a week without being fed, he'll start to complain -- constantly and bitterly -- about being hungry. He will insist he does not have the energy to cure moderate wounds, and if he is still not fed, over the course of a week or so, he will stop producing ink. Atrus cannot starve to death, but he absolutely will not employ any useful magical abilities if he's not being fed enough, and will make things as difficult for you as he can until you feed him. And apologize.

Potion of Shadow Speech

For one hour after drinking this potion, the user is able to verbally communicate with their shadow. The shadow has no ability to move independently of the user, or in any other way act unlike a normal shadow. (Besides speaking, obviously.) The shadow is not obliged to co-operate with the user, answer the user's questions, be truthful, etc. All of that is up to the GM.

Plumbatae, lead-weighted
darts used by Roman infantry.
From Der Griken en Romeynen krygs-handel
(1675), by Johan van Paffenrode

Hungry Dart

In all appearances, this is a normal dart. However, if it's being fed regularly, it will flutter around and generally act like a bird. Mechanically speaking, the Hungry Dart is a +1 returning dart, with the exception that once it strikes a living creature, it will gradually drain that creature of blood until the creature dies or someone forcibly detaches the Dart (gradually = 1 hp per round). This blood is its “food", and it has to eat daily; if you don't want to stab something with it, you can give it a few drops of your own blood in a dish or something, a la Little Shop of Horrors. If not fed, the Hungry Dart will eventually go into hibernation and appear exactly like a normal, inanimate dart until given blood.

If well fed on a consistent basis, it will gradually grow in size until it is closer to a longspear than a dart. (The GM can determine how quickly it grows and how that affects the damage it does.) At this point, it is advisable to procure another Hungry Dart if you do not already have more than one, as it will become restless and irritable if it does not have a mate at this stage of its life. Yes, they reproduce. It's... not clear how.

The Hungry Dart is about as intelligent as a bird -- not one of the smart birds, like corvids or parrots or what have you, but a normal bird. Its stats are Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 8; it has an Ego of 3. It can be trained to a limited extent, and can form an empathic bond with its wielder. If it is properly trained, it is easier to control; rather than doing its own thing and flying about stabbing folk, it will calmly perch on its wielder's shoulder. (It has tiny grabby-feet hidden under its fletching.)

Oh, and that does indeed mean that if you don't train it, you should probably invest in a cage or something, because otherwise it is definitely going to try to stab & drink the blood of passersby / party members / you. It is not naturally obedient any more than, well, a bird.