Thursday, February 16, 2012

Encyclopedia Magica: Amulet Against Disease

This is a nifty little item, that is both obvious and traditional. Various charms of protection are one of the most common applications of magic, right up there with luck and fertility. In a world with little in the way of proper medical treatment, an amulet against disease is the closest thing you have to vaccination.


This Roman magical item is an amulet inscribed to various gods and spirits of healing. It functions as a periapt of health (total protection vs. disease), but only against one specific form of disease or illness.

I find this to be an item that is unlikely to be of much interest to the PCs (unless the GM is generous enough to allow for amulets that protect from lycanthropy or mummy rot). Adventurers simply encounter too great a range of threats for immunity to a specific disease to be all that important.

On the other hand, these items can serve a number of fantastic plot hooks.

The obvious plot element to introduce is, of course, a disease. More specifically, you need a plague. When plague sweeps the land, everyone is going to want some of this bling. So, what can you do with that? There is always class warfare. The rich can afford to live, but the poor have to take their chances. Or, similarly, one temple is producing these amulets, but only for its faithful. The PCs have to navigate the murky moral waters of either stealing an amulet to protect one unfortunate, or being hired to fend off the unwashed masses rioting against the nobility.

If the amulets are not being provided by a church, then they are being sold. Who is doing the selling? Is the mage's guild working overtime to produce these? Are they offering prime money for extra mages, or necessary components that are running low? Are there shysters running loose selling fakes?

For a real twist, suppose that there are, in fact, plenty of these amulets to go around. They are still being sold at huge prices, but there is no sign of a shortage. Of course, each of these amulets takes time to create. So, how did the people selling these amulets just happen to have such a large supply on hand? Did they know the plague was coming? Did they bring the plague, to make a profit?

Even without a widespread plague, this item still has some interesting potential. It is an excellent minor item to add color as an heirloom. You could have a crazy magic item vendor who wears a couple dozen of these, one for each major disease (think Benny's stash of holy symbols from The Mummy). Similarly, you could have a hypochondriac old woman who collects these amulets, and pays premium prices for unusual ones.

What would you give for a 100% effective vaccine that no one else has?

1 comment:

  1. An interesting question indeed.

    Or what if a plague that had been thought extinct reappeared and all of the ancient charms against it were needed again? A good acquisition mission excuse.