In gradually continuing to develop the Aurikesh setting, I'm working in no particular order - I'm just writing about ideas as they come to me. My focus is on defining and exploring the setting's aesthetic. I am particularly interested in making it clearly different from the other two settings I have written to any great depth, while still satisfying my tastes and goals in a tabletop setting. To that end, I'll be writing about four magic items that are specific to Aurikesh - these might even be items that I think will be in the core rules, but want to anchor to something specific in the setting.
I really like the focus that D&D Next plans to put on attaching story to magic items in the setting. The problem, such as it is, is that my settings seldom fit well with the story seeds that WotC publishes, since I'm not running the settings that they publish, or anything even close to them. It's easy to retool a vignette to fit the setting, right? Well... not really. Or at least, not for me it isn't. I'm usually coming to the story of this foreign object that doesn't quite fit my setting in the middle of a session, when I suddenly need something cool to give a PC. Actually rewriting it on the spot is a bit beyond my talents, unless some stroke of inspiration comes to me - this is why I've historically had a hard time firmly attaching magic items to the setting, even when WotC's text was showing how they intended for that to work. No, I'll have to have the storylet ready to go when I need it at the table (trying to backfill its importance is a recipe for continuity bugs, for me), and that will all work more naturally if the setting is sometimes written around the magic item, rather than the magic item always being written around the setting. This tends to affect how many other setting elements hook into the story of that particular item.
(Name contributed by Kainenchen.) The beruch, newly-arrived in Balioth, have brought with them TheTaubresil, a single-edged sword made of bleached and polished wood. Its hilt is decorated with alternating garnet and topaz stones. The blade of The Taubresil is not perfectly straight, but follows a natural grain. Despite these irregularities, the blade has a razor-sharp leading edge. It is a +2 longsword, and while daylight shines upon it directly, it grants its wielder resistance to necrotic energy. If the wielder takes fire damage equal to one-quarter of her hit points from any single attack, the wielder gains resistance to fire until the creature that dealt that damage is unconscious. (If the wielder is not making a credible attempt to defeat this enemy, the sword loses all of its powers until the next sunrise.) Finally, some wielders have claimed an ability to commune with the ghost of Lady Taubre Sill, one of the ancient priests of the beruch who is regarded as a major saint of Tura Keshik.
According to the beruch, the sword is one of the last great treasures of their people, dating from the days in which they first tamed Erenn Kemesa. It played a central role in some of the greatest battles and duels of their history, from the slaying of the dread beast Volarna Vor (translated: Night Devourer) to the final days of the Seagate Siege, in which a force of beruch and creatures they had summoned turned back a mighty armada of sea-raiders.
It was cut from either the mast or the bowsprit (legends vary) of the flagship of the first fleet that the beruch ever built, the Lady Taubre Sill, constructed so that they might flee the isle of Erenn Kemesa while the volcano at its heart vented black wrath into the sky. When the eruption ended and the sun once again pierced the darkness, the fleet landed again on the northern coast, many of its people nearing starvation. They rebuilt the civilization that they had lost, and dismantled the ships; they swore that they would never again flee the volcano's wrath, but would be its masters. The Eye of Ychirra that ruled beruch history in later ages was their means of fulfilling this vow.
2. The Scrimshaw Pendants of Indri Ice-Binder
In the province of Whaler's Haven in Pereil, a veytikka scrimshander named Indri Ice-Binder is a powerful and much-feared witch. Not more than once a year, she travels with the whaling ships that go out, protecting the ship from icebergs and sea monsters in exchange for first pick of any bones or teeth the crew takes in. Upon their return to shore, she hides herself away in the veytikka village of Burnt Hill, a few hours from the provincial seat. The scrimshaw that she carves is more detailed and complex than that made by any of her competitors, and it commands a high price throughout Pereil. That is nothing, however, compared to the one masterpiece that she makes each year, which is most assuredly not for sale. These masterpieces are small enough to be worn comfortably as pendants, and each depicts a historical scene of some note.
Each of these pendants provides a small amount of protection against hostile magic, and is attuned to one particular spell, chosen from any spell list. If the pendant is worn by someone with a spell slot sufficient to cast the spell, it adds that spell to the caster's list of spells prepared for that day (or spells known for spontaneous casters). If the pendant is worn by someone without a spell slot sufficient to cast the spell, it grants the ability to cast that spell once per day, at the cost of one (Hit Die, healing surge, or similar mechanic) per level of the spell. Traveling to the site of the historical scene depicted on the pendant and casting the spell in the pendant summons Indri's attention through a psychic link, though this works only once per pendant. Indri can work quite remarkable feats of magic through this connection.
As mentioned, Indri Ice-Binder does not sell the magical scrimshaw pendants, but she gives them as gifts to those who perform a service for her. She has, to date, distributed thirty-three scrimshaw pendants to heroes, monarchs, and common people. The power of these gifts are such that she has no shortage of people offering to aid her. She seems remarkably aware of the capabilities of these people, and tends to request things that are attainable, but at great risk or significant personal cost. Since these people do not often compare notes as to what she has asked of them, it is difficult to discern her true motives. Many of the pendants have changed hands since they were first granted, often as a result of the violent death of the original recipient. In at least one case, Indri tasked a monarch with bringing those killers to justice.
3. Drums of Panic
This is an example of using a magic item that I am 99% sure will be in the game at or near release (since it's been in every edition of D&D that I've ever owned, and probably long before as well). Correspondingly, I won't be trying to assign powers to it, just story and some cosmological underpinning. Drums of panic are uncommon, but far from unknown, magic items in Balioth. They are highly prized by military commanders for their ability to break enemy discipline. One might reasonably wonder, then, why every major army does not have a set of these drums. As it turns out, only five sets of drums of panic can exist at any one time. The destruction of one set permits the creation of a new set.
There are certain runes painted that are painted into the drumhead and the stick as part of their creation; the commonly accepted reason that there can only be a limited number of drums is that the mystical power of these runes is universally limited - in essence, that the well is dry when the maker tries to enchant a sixth set. The enchanters who have actually attempted this recognize that this is quite false; the reason for the limitation is that each set carries in it a conjured fragment of a malicious, bat-winged creature called Dread Grumull. It is not at all clear what would happen to the existing drums if Dread Grumull were slain.
Because of their scarcity, drums of panic are sought with great interest, particularly by would-be conquerors. Heralds go to some lengths to record the time and place of their usage, since that information is certain to be valuable afterward. Possessing a set, on the other hand, is a considerable (if not absolute) deterrent to prospective enemies, but also paints something of a target on the bearer. Of the five sets, four are currently in circulation, changing hands from time to time between commanders and adventurers for various reasons; the fifth has been lost, but remains intact somewhere. The last record of its use was thirteen years ago in the province of Knightsgrave, within the domain of Berrona (which the kagandi call Starfall Abbey), in which a force of "lawless brigands" raided the camp of Lord Marshal Orraz of Knightsgrave. He had been granted the drums by the ruler of Berrona to suppress a peasant rebellion that erupted in the midst of Berrona's war with Navender. Given that records of this battle included extensive references to starlock muskets in the hands of the attackers, most believed that the brigands were in actuality irregulars supplied and directed by Navender, but if so, the drums of panic did not make their way back to Navender for later use... or the ruler of Navender kept them hidden and unused for the entire duration of the war, which seems quite unlikely.
4. Umbral Knives
Very powerful, free-willed wraiths often create and wield a manifested splinter of their own hateful darkness. The exact powers of this umbral knife, in the hands of its wraith, are hard to guess; some penetrate armor like paper, while others cause instantaneous necrosis, inflict devastating vulnerabilities to further attack, leach magical energies from the victim (or the victim's mind), or inflict weakness upon even the strongest. Once a wraith has manifested an umbral knife, it tends to gain strength quickly as a result of the devastation it can now wreak. At this degree of power, the wraith can threaten whole cities, as only experienced heroes could hope to stand against it.
Upon the destruction of such a wraith, the splinter of darkness remains, though it loses a significant amount of its power along with its connection to its creator. It can be set into a hilt, however, and wielded as a dagger. A few have considered trying to set these gem-like shards as jewelry or arrowheads, but something about the form of a dagger makes it a much more effective tool. Umbral knives are, at minimum, +1 daggers that deal an additional 1d12 necrotic damage on a critical hit. Curiously, while the necrotic damage is typically ineffective against wraiths and other spectral undead, slaying such creatures with an umbral knife causes the blade the gain a small amount of "charge" by absorbing the target's vileness. The wielder can clearly sense that the dagger is feeding some of this energy to another, distant entity, even as it places the rest of that power at the wielder's disposal. Expending a charge permits the wielder to launch a dart of shadow as a free action (not more than once per round) at a target within 30 feet. The dart deals 2d6 necrotic damage.
Questions as to what that greater entity might be remain unanswered, but many have theorized that it is the original wraith or some greater entity associated with death that wants to deceive heroes into granting it power. Var Dyrak has openly sent Tiger's Claw warriors to collect umbral knives for his studies, either by slaying free-willed wraiths or by bargaining with the owners of such blades. It is all but certain that he has the greatest collection of umbral knives found anywhere in Balioth.