Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Encyclopedia Magica: The Acorn of Wo Mai

This project is actually off to a pretty good start. We have had an item that doesn't make sense, and an item that is highly setting specific. Today, we get another classic entry: an artifact.

Honestly, I've never liked artifacts in D&D. The biggest reason is that they come with random powers. That always felt...wrong. I think I understand the reasoning. You don't want players being able to rattle off the stats of items that should be iconic and mythical. But, in truth, the random powers feel less iconic and mythical than easily quoted stats would be. Still, some of the artifacts have a tremendous amount of flavor to them, and this one is no exception.


Unlike the other entries, I'm not going to re-type the whole backstory and description. Here it is, in a nutshell. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

In ancient times, an unkillable demon ravaged the land. The hero Wo Mai, realizing the demon could not be killed, imprisoned it instead. The prison is a 3' tall acorn made of lead. Two golden bands inscribed with ancient spells are wrapped around the acorn, and are capped with a seal in the shape of a dragon wrapped around a sword. Despite its size, the acorn is surprisingly light, weighing a mere 20 or 30 pounds.

The demon is able to communicate telepathically with any being who carries the Acorn. In addition to the random artifact abilities it can use, the demon will answer any question put to it to the best of its ability (it has an Intelligence of 20). Which is pretty darn cool. I like "sage in a box" items, like Bob from the Dresden Files.

The downside is pretty obvious. The demon wants out. It will do whatever it can to gradually lead the bearer down a path that will eventually free it. Which is also awesome. Loads of role-playing potential there.

The potential hooks for this item are largely obvious. There is a temple that wants the demon destroyed, and believes that it has the ritual to do so. There is a cult that wants the demon freed, and believes that it has the ritual to do so. The artifact was buried deep underground to prevent any mortal from being tempted by the demon, and foolish dwarves have recently dug it up. One of the PCs is a descendant of Wo Mai, and must find the Acorn to either realize his own potential or somehow save his family/honor. Standard artifact stuff.

There are a couple other possible hooks. The most obvious (and potentially most interesting) is that the demon is a font of information. Perhaps the land is currently being ravaged by another demon, and only the prisoner knows its weakness. Perhaps the party has been tasked with finding (or destroying) a different artifact, and only the prisoner knows how to get it.

This is all penny-ante stuff, though. Very typical. Want something different?

The Kingdom of Wo Mai is ruled by the descendants of the ancient hero. The Acorn is both their divine charge and their greatest asset. With the advice of the demon over the years, the kingdom has flourished and grown wealthy. But, of course, everyone is aware of the corrupting influence of the demon. To keep that in check, access to the Acorn is limited. Every citizen of the kingdom is permitted to ask the demon three questions, and three questions only. (I would certainly add a restriction to the artifact that the demon is constrained to speak the truth.) Now you have a whole different set of plot hooks being spawned. If the heroes need a question answered, can they convince one of the citizens to use one of their precious three? Do the citizens use the questions as some sort of prophecy, to determine things like what trade their children should go into, or who they should marry? What happens when a citizen has used her three questions, but desperately needs to sneak into the palace to ask a fourth? And, is the demon clever enough to steer the fates of an entire kingdom's worth of people, to gradually weave a web that will set it free?

What would you do with a perfect oracle that you knew was evil?


  1. Excellent idea. What price knowledge?

    And what is someone stole this perfect oracle? Would the government collapse?

  2. Ooh, that's an excellent question! Especially if the PCs have been hired to steal the Acorn. That's a pretty major moral dilemma right there.