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“We lost everything, don’t you understand that you hoke-jumped layabout!”
To watch the unbridled rage of a “master of the arcane arts” was something more than funny to Pret. Of course, the quiet agreement of his rain-soaked and weary comrades of this display of pure frustration was less funny. Soon enough, they’d get to sniping at each other and the first sign of trouble, they’d all be well and truly screwed. Still, the old tracker just leaned wetly against the tree and paired another sliver of wood from the stick he’d been working this last hour.
Somewhere four hundred feet down the gully, their wagon and everything they had was smashed and buried and soaked. And ain’t a one of them failed to calculate whether this trip was even worth it now.
Still, Pret carved his stick and listened to the short mage rail against the wind and rain and fate.
“And you just sit there whittling! That’s the gall of it! Why aren’t you helping!?!”
Pret spit over to his right and ran a thumb along the edge of his stick—looking for all the world now like a thin, but cleverly cut sword.
“Things out there right now. A few of ’em. Figure I could baby you for the last hour or start doing something useful” he stood and twirled his wooden sword, nodding at its weight and balance, and then dropped into a low crouch and charged into the thick of the trees while something shrieked its own attack.
System: The gnomes of the Half-Horn villages north of the capital are well known for their artifice. For generations, clockwork and tool-making have been mainstays of their artistan guilds. But, a lesser known tradition of woodcraft took hold a centry back and while mostly ignored by the master governors and councillers of their cities and towns, they too make wonders.
The Shandalplai is a block of wood with several sharp and perpetually well-oiled blades. Like a small plane mixed with a short whittling crook, it is perfectly useless as a weapon, but mangificently useful in making them.
With a sufficient length of straight wood (itself could be difficult to find) and an hour of effort, one may roll a Dex check DC 15 (if proficient with Shandalplai, add profiency bonus; this can be obtained during downtime with a month or two of practice). On a success, one may craft a one-edged, sharpened wooden weapon with the stats of a short sword and half the weight. This wooden sword is fragile and can survive a number of successful attacks equal to one’s proficiency bonus before becoming an improvised weapon and largely useless.
However, if one attunes to the Shandalplai, its old and deep magic comes to the forefront to assist in creating things. Attunement requires earning proficiency in the Shandalplai (this may require downtime to the tone of a month or two, pending DM opinion) through careful experimentation and use of the tool.
Once attuned, one may make weapons on the fly and much faster with greater effect.
To make a normal sword (short sword stats, half weight) requires one full turn and a Shandalplai (Dex) Check DC 15. To make a larger sword (long sword stats, half weight) requires two turns and a check DC of 20. To make an even larger sword (greatsword, half weight) requires three turns and a check DC of 25. One may fashion any of these to be +1 magical weapons by increasing the DC (but not the time required) by 5 for the necessary check. The weapon, however, only remains magical for a number of hours equal to one’s level.
Different woods will yield different additional properties, DM’s are encouraged to allow +1d4 damage of different kinds for special and rare woods along with the +1, if created.
Guise of the Death Bear
There was nobody left. Sarkani was dead—not dying, but gone. His body a wet mess of ragged flesh and protruding bone. Deserae was dead, as well. Four hundred miles together, so far from home, bright eyed and willful and now her face was a cold surprise—staring off to nothing, her spirit vanished. Even Braut, the Giant of the Vanguard and the Breaker of Stone, lay in the tall grey grass and was not long for the next world. Arcasta, the witch that laid waste to the people of New Haven and vile thing, stood on the precipice of the stoney cliff overseeing it all and laughed wildly into the storm.
Grau barely survived the hurricane of malevolent energy, but it took its toll. Burns and at least two broken ribs, he could feel his jaw dislocated. It all hurt. And it was all nearly over. And he would never hear his friends laughter again.
So, he gave himself over—one last time—hunching in the alien weeds and rocky purple soil and staring up the cliff at the evil thing that brought them to this. He felt the cold rush behind his heart and the emptiness spread through his muscles. He felt light for a moment, one painful and long moment, and then felt his body tearing itself half-apart. The sensations were always the same, and the pain would fade. But for now, it was agony. The agony roused the Bear.
A deep, throated howl rose up from down in the valley while Arcasta posed at the lip of the drop—an ugly, inhumane fury that sounded like the breaking of a world. And down, in the darkness, red eyes began ascending hand-over-hand with ravenous purpose.
System: When the world was young, the spirits of the Wild and the Wastes fought their petty wars for dominance and the Great Beings, the Totem Lords… all the fabled powers of the world were born from them—child-demigods born of conflict. Amongst them (if the stories are to believed) was the Rahl, the Father Bear, the Long Walker, the Keeper of the Streams. He refused to take sides and for that, both the Wilds and the Wastes hated him. None know which killed him, but both sides blamed each other and used it as a pretense for more war, but some time into the Third Catanthia of Pace when the conflicts were at their peak, Father Bear’s body was found broken and lifeless in the high places.
A turn of the moon later, and both the Wilds and Wastes were driven from the peaks by a dark, monstrous fury, a spirit of revenge and pain, in the form of a giant black bear. Or… so “they” say.
Several tribes of the high places keep to a small worship and honoring of the Death Bear—a symbol of revenge, a symbol of great sorrow. Handed down from tribe to tribe, from champion to champion, always to those who have suffered greatly, the Guise of the Death Bear is a mantle headdress of thick, stiff black fur worn over the head and down across the shoulders. While it bears no stitching or seam, it seems well formed to fit snugly on a man’s head without need to tie or brace it.
Attunement requires savaging a wild bear with only one’s natural skill–no magic, no tools, no help, no artificial protection. One need not kill the bear, so much as subjugate it, though killing it is just as good. Once done, the headdress feels cold (not painfully, just clearly unnaturally) and one dreams every night of hunting betrayers and avenging sleights from one’s past.
Once per day, when an ally rolls a death saving throw after taking damage from the intentional actions of another creature, one may use their Reaction to give one’s self over to the underlying and seething fury of the Death Bear that keeps itself barely hidden beneath one’s consciousness.
Immediately, the wearer gains a number of temporary hitpoints equal to 1d4 x the proficiency bonus of the ally that is dying. Their hands and feet grow long and powerful claws and knotted, bony joints and sinew (treat as +0 magic natural/unarmed weapons doing 1d6 slashing). Their face twists in a rictus of teeth, rage, and madness with bristling tufts of black fur and blazing, bright unnatural red eyes (240 ft. darkvision, Passive Perception +5). If they are already Raging the Rage duration extends 1d4 rounds. If they are not Raging, but have that abiilty, they immediately Rage (not counting against any per-day, per-rest, or other limitation). If they cannot Rage, they are disadvantaged on Wisdom Saves for 1 hour. They are also considered to have the monster type “Beast” in addition to Humanoid.
The wearer must spend a number of turns equal to 1d4 multiplied by their proficiency bonus (example: 3 proficiency bonus = 3d4 turns) attacking and/or advancing upon the creature that caused the ally to take death saves. Should the creature be dead or otherwise untargetable (hidden, missing, etc.), the wearer turns on the closest living (and not dying) creature relative to themselves. They must spend the remainder of their turns attacking those closest to them in this manner (one at a time, until that one is dead, moving onto the next closest, etc.) until they are no longer in the thrall of the bear.
Should one unattune to the Guise, one can never re-attune to it. If bestowed on a worthy successor to the legacy of the Death Bear (DM’s judgement on who the owner picks and whether they are worthy or not), the now former owner gets an Inspiration point in excess of any they already have.
The Unbroken Chain
Young Broadways watched as old Captain Grenaldi charged into the maw of the great beast. Its black teeth, scorched by centuries of flame and corruption, spread wide enough to swallow a horse and cart and the old Paladin leapt from one foot to the other, almost weightless as he raced forward still.
The boy was still reeling from the side kick his master gave him, he was sure there was a piece of his half-plate bent into and piercing his side—the pain was enormous. As he lay there, struggling with the conflicted emotions of his master attacking him unjustly and then him running to certain death valiantly, the chain around his neck began to purr.
And as the creature engulfed the old warrior, rearing high into the sky in choking triumph and then receding into the tunnels it came from, Brodie felt a slow, warm trickle of memories pour into his mind and in the quiet dying light of the mountains his was the responsibility now.
System: The Chain came into being four hundred years ago. The old soldier, Jerack Hightower—the same Jerack who rid the world of the Conclave of Shadow and burned Halwynmire to the ground—was stopped on a road through the Southern swamps of Bet Orelia. A coven of hags tried to beguile and bewitch him, but his duty proved a more powerful charm than their hedge magic and he bound them to a tree ready to execute them for their trickery and attack. One, the youngest of the three, offered her body in the guise of whatever he wished, to let her go—insisting he kill the other two for their folly. Another, the middle, offered him all their money and trinkets and treasures if he’d only kill the other two and spare her. The third offered him a gold chain she had stolen from a great golden dragon long ago. He asked what she wanted for it, and eyeing the other two and remembering what they’d said, she asked that he kill all three of them as he was planning to the shock of her sisters. As the paladin swung his sword, the old crone smiled watching her treacherous kin meet their end first.
The Chain is a great sacrifice. Attunement to it requires the owner finding (and oath and devotion before gods and men, on one’s own name and may the wild and the wind and the world strike one down for betraying it) of an apprentice to mentor and nurture and teach. This is no normal apprenticeship, but the selecting of an individual that will continue one’s own business and mission in this world long after one dies. Once selected, the apprentice must wear the chain, and so long as they do an ephemeral and ethereal spectral gold chain identical to it appears on the owner. 1 point of the owner’s proficiency bonus is granted to the apprentice, permanently. So, if one’s proficiency bonus is +3, it is not +2 and the other +1 is with the apprentice. This cannot be reversed.
So long as both the physical chain is worn by the apprentice and the ethereal one (the true chain, really) is worn by the master, the PC may direct their actions via RP (as the apprentice is still an NPC under the DM control). Care should be taken to find an apprentice that is compatible with the intended instruction, teaching, and style of the master—but that is on the master (and the player) to find. In combat, without verbal or visual direction, the apprentice will act positively and helpfully, but may exhibit sub-optimal combat choices or fall prey to extremes of their Ideals or Flaws. They are not “fire and forget”. An apprentice whose flaw is “Being Stubbon” may, without clear direction and influence by the Master, continue to strike a monster against whom his weapons don’t do any damage out of sheer frustration and bullheadedness. An apprentice who believes in “looking out for friends” as an Ideal may, without supervision, threaten unsavory commonfolk or even attack them for very sleight impositions by them on the party (a shopkeeper wheedling an extra gold may get full on physically assaulted).
However, with direction, they follow the master’s guide without issue or argument. They are treated as a PC at level 1 and level with the party as another player. They cannot rise to the level of their master, however, and any extra XP that would make them the same level is lost. They cannot learn anything their master does not know without excessive downtime instruction. If they die, the proficiency bonus lent to them is lost for the master (though he may find a new apprentice, he will sacrifice an additional proficiency). Upon the master failing their third saving throw, they have the option of allowing the Chain to preserve their spirit rather than face any resurrection attempts. Doing so merges the consciousness of the apprentice and master. The master must replace two of the four backgrounds with one’s from his character sheet (so, as an example, replace the apprentice’s Ideal and Flaw with their own). The loaned proficiency bonus on the apprentice is gone (giving them a normal proficiency bonus score) and the apprentice becoms the player’s new character under their total control.