Sacred Fool

. . . . he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart. And against our will comes wisdom by the awful grace of God.

— Aeschylus

Ancient literature provides us with several examples of men and women who, in a fit of pride, doom themselves to suffering and endless peregrination. The myth of Oedipus is one such; his hubris in attempting to avoid the prophecy that he would murder his father and marry his mother led him to do exactly that, and in despair he blinded himself, cursed his family, and took to life as a wandering beggar. The Wandering Jew of legend cried out for Jesus of Nazareth to move faster as he bore his cross to Golgotha, and was cursed for his pains, doomed to walk the earth until the end of days—and in most versions of the myth, his wanderings are increasingly hobbled by the old age that his immortality does not hold at bay.

The tale of Oedipus is the best example of these sacred fools, however. Oedipus’s wanderings finally end, far from his old kingdom at Corinth, when he finds refuge in Athens. Under the rule of Theseus, who promises him shelter, safety, and the protections of law once more, and buries him with the appropriate rites when he dies, Oedipus finds his last refuge, and peace after all his suffering. In return, Oedipus rises as a powerful spirit of vengeance to defend the lands surrounding Athens. In a stroke of added irony, his self-inflicted blindness is accompanied by the growth of a prophetic gift resembling that of Tiresias, the blind seer who tried to dissuade him from investigating the matter of his father’s death.

Sacred fools can come from any walk of life, although most are sorcerers, wizards, bards, druids, or clerics. A few paladins and rangers take up the mantle if they are maimed so badly that martial life is impractical, and if they are sufficiently powerful to be able to meet the class’s spellcasting requirements. Sacred fools can be of any alignment; they are as often evil as they are good, but even more often they are neutral with respect to morality, and adhere to a rigidly lawful neutral outlook—their refusal to bend is typically what gets them into trouble in the first place. On the other hand, a large number of sacred fools are chaotic by nature, and suffer as a result of their refusal to obey the basic rules of society or religion. Once subject to the isolation and hardship imposed by the class, many of them begin a slow downward trend into evil behavior as a matter of survival.

Hit Die: d4

Prerequisites

Feats: Endurance, any metamagic feat.

Skills: Knowledge (arcana) 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 10 ranks.

Spells: Able to cast a divination spell of at least 4th level.

Special: Must have undergone a personal tragedy brought on through his own arrogance or ignorance, and been maimed or disfigured in the process. Having the injury corrected, such as by a regeneration spell, removes all abilities granted by this class.

Class Skills

The sacred fool’s class skills (and the key ability scores for each skill) are Concentration (Con), Craft (int), Decipher Script (Int), Diplomacy (Cha), Knowledge (all skills, taken individually), Profession (Wis), Sense Motive (Wis), Speak Language, and Spellcraft (Int).

Skill Points at Each Level: 4 + Intelligence modifier.

Table: The Sacred Fool
Level BAB Fortitude Reflex Will Special Spellcasting
1 +0 +0 +0 +2 Madness, ill-starred repute +1 level of existing spellcasting class
2 +1 +0 +0 +3 Fool’s curse, insane insight +1 level of existing spellcasting class
3 +1 +1 +1 +3 Discern lies +1 level of existing spellcasting class
4 +2 +1 +1 +4 Fool’s malediction +1 level of existing spellcasting class
5 +2 +1 +1 +4 Infamy, find the path +1 level of existing spellcasting class
6 +3 +2 +2 +5 Hasty malediction +1 level of existing spellcasting class
7 +3 +2 +2 +5 Sorrow’s foresight +1 level of existing spellcasting class
8 +4 +2 +2 +6 Insanity +1 level of existing spellcasting class
9 +4 +3 +3 +6   +1 level of existing spellcasting class
10 +5 +3 +3 +7 Final refuge +1 level of existing spellcasting class

Class Features

All of the following are class features of the sacred fool prestige class.

Weapon and Armor Proficiency: Sacred fools gain no proficiency with any weapon or armor.

Spells Per Day/Spells Known: The sacred fool’s training focuses on magic. Thus, when a new sacred fool level is gained, the character gains a new spells per day and spells known (if applicable) as if he had gained a level in a spellcasting class which he had belonged to before adding the prestige class. The character does not, however, gain any other benefits he would have gained (bonus feats, special abilities, or familiar advancement, for example). If the character had levels in more than one spellcasting class before gaining levels in this prestige class, he or she decides to which class to add each level of sacred fool.

Madness: At 1st level and at every odd-numbered class level afterwards, the sacred fool’s experience of suffering and loss gnaws at his sanity, imposing a cumulative -1 penalty to Wisdom-based skill checks.

Ill-Starred Repute: Starting at 1st level, the sacred fool’s stigma of personal tragedy gains him the reputation of ill fortune as word spreads of how he helped to destroy himself. When his identity is known to NPCs, their attitude automatically worsens by one step. NPCs with an initial attitude of hostile are unaffected.

Insane Insight (Ex): Starting at 2nd level, the sacred fool’s madness provides him with brilliant insight into the nature of the world around him. Once per day per class level, the sacred fool can ignore the penalty to Wisdom-based skill checks imposed by his madness. Instead, he applies the same amount as a bonus to a Wisdom-based skill check of his choice.

Fool’s Curse (Su): Simultaneously a cause of the widespread hatred which afflicts them and a last-ditch bargaining chip with which to turn aside the consequences of that hatred is the sacred fool’s ability to twist fate to punish those who wrong him. Starting at 2nd level, the sacred fool can attempt a Profession (seer) check as a standard action to glimpse and then twist the currents of fate for a single creature within 60 feet. The target must make a Will save against a Difficulty Class equal to the sacred fool’s Profession (seer) check result. If the target fails the save, she suffers a -4 penalty to attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks. This effect can only be removed by the use of the remove curse spell at a caster level equal to the sacred fool’s character level. The sacred fool can use this ability once per day at 2nd level, and gains an additional daily use of the ability for every two class levels after that.

Discern Lies (Sp): At 3nd level, the sacred fool gains insight into the hearts of men gives him a preternatural sense of truth and falsehood. Once per day he can use discern lies as a spell-like ability, with a caster level equal to his character level. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Fool’s Malediction (Su): At 4th level, the sacred fool’s curses become more potent. As a full-round action, the sacred fool can impose a -6 penalty to an ability score of his choice on the target, in addition to the -4 penalty to attack rolls, saves, ability checks, and skill checks designated in the fool's curse ability. Doing so consumes a daily use of his fool's curse.

Infamy: At 5th level, the sacred fool’s reputation for misfortune becomes even more widespread. Initial NPC attitudes towards him worsen by an additional step as his deeds become even more widely known, and even embellished upon as the subject of tavern gossip and bards’ tales.

Find the Path (Sp): Starting at 5th level, fate begins to repay the sacred fool’s anguish by granting him an instinct for finding his way safely. He can use find the path three times a day with a caster level equal to his character level.

Hasty Malediction (Su): Beginning at 6th level, the sacred fool is practiced enough at bestowing curses that he can do it faster, if with greater difficulty. By taking a -5 penalty to his Profession (seer) check, the sacred fool can reduce the time needed for his fool’s malediction ability to a standard action, or reduce the time needed for his fool’s curse ability to a free action.

Sorrow’s Foresight (Su): Long experience in the harshness of life as a hated outcast hones the sacred fool’s sense of danger to a razor’s edge. Starting at 7th level, the sacred fool can no longer be surprised or caught flat-footed. Furthermore, he gains a +2 insight bonus to AC and Reflex saves.

Insanity (Sp): At 8th level, the sacred fool can use insanity as a spell-like ability once per day. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Final Refuge (Su): At 10th level, if the sacred fool is buried in a given plot of land (from a small estate to a country) with the rites considered appropriate in his culture, he rises again as a spirit to protect his place of refuge from invasion. Treat this as if the sacred fool has gained the ghost template. Because the ghost’s purpose of existence is to protect the land in which its body was interred, it cannot be laid to rest unless the land is conquered by foes from outside its borders.

Playing a Sacred Fool

Most characters who become sacred fools have something they want to run away from. This could be a mistake he or she has made, a crime he or she committed in a fit of passion, or an accident he or she has suffered and been blamed for. You probably don’t like to talk about it, but whatever it was, it’s the sort of thing that causes rumors to spread about you. And since you were disfigured, you find it difficult to disguise yourself so that people don’t connect the rumors to you—how many one-eyed elves or one-handed dwarves wander around alone? Hiding is difficult; staying in one place is dangerous; running is often your only option.

A few sacred fools take up companionship with other outcasts, or with a few good souls who can see beyond their past and offer a second chance in life. These fortunate souls tend to value their friends highly, recognizing them as a treasure beyond price after the loneliness that followed their self-inflicted exiles. The most charismatic of these lucky fools even rise to positions of leadership, using the powers granted by their suffering to aid their allies in acts of great heroism or blackest villainy, depending on their inclinations.

Combat: Most sacred fools try to acquire a selection of magical aids to compensate for their disfiguring injuries, and to make it easier to survive a life of solitary wandering. This usually means that their offensive spells are as adaptable as possible to help make them stretch. Sacred fools are used to being outnumbered, so it’s also common for them to select spells that help to even the odds when the balance of numbers runs against them—confusion, area effects like fireball, and even spells like grease are mainstays of their offensive spell lists, since these spells offer the hope of destroying or at least distracting large numbers of foes at a time. For the rest, they rely on sheer luck and unpredictability—without exception they are not conventionally sane, and this can be as much an aid on their path to victory as it can be a hobble to success.

For the most part, sacred fools would rather run or negotiate than fight, even if they have allies to help them—there is always the possibility that violence will add to the infamy that already follows their names, or that further injuries can be heaped onto them in addition to the pain and inconvenience of the maiming injuries they have already experienced. Still, if forced to fight, sacred fools show all the ferocity of the madness which creeps up on them in the course of their wanderings and suffering.

Advancement: There is no training to become a sacred fool; it happens because you make a mistake so serious that it renders you an outcast and a cripple, marked for the fear or hatred of everyone who recognizes you. The school of hard knocks follows an open admissions policy. By surviving, you advance in power and cunning, and hopefully learn to cope with the insidious despair, anger, and loneliness that come to eat at your sanity. The most fortunate, diplomatic, and insightful sacred fools even manage to find new allies among those with nothing to lose or who have the evil disposition or overwhelming goodness not to be bothered by the ill repute of their past.

Resources: A perennial difficulty for any sacred fool is where and how to acquire the basics he or she needs to remain alive—food, clothing, shelter, and the like are hard to come by unless stolen, given as charity, or won through ticklish diplomacy. Sacred fools typically become used to doing without luxuries, and tend to respond to unexpected plenty by taking full advantage of it while they can. If given the opportunity, they snap up magical items which provide warning of danger, offer a reliable supply of food, or give protection against inclement weather or extreme temperatures. Close behind are items which provide concealment from their foes, or which aid in speedy travel. Ultimately, most sacred fools are isolated from any support organizations which they cannot win as allies in spite of their ill-starred repute.

Sacred Fools in the World

"Never saw a skinny dwarf before—and his poor hand . . . well, there was nothing for it. We’d plenty of food in the refectory, and a warm bed upstairs in the dormitory. We invited the poor little fellow in. What else could we do? The abbot even gave our visitor one of those belts he makes. And I never saw a dwarf weep before, either."

— Brother Toller, a novice in the Monastery of the Jade Palm

Characters who pass through regions having a culture in which exile and ostracism are standard responses to evil or unlawful behavior (or through regions near such places) have a better-than-average chance to encounter sacred fools, since those cultures are most likely to give rise to situations that might lead an NPC into situations that would qualify them for entry into the class. This said, sacred fools are nothing if not inclined to travel, and members of the class may be found almost anywhere. A PC with levels in this class makes an outstanding source of ongoing plot hooks, since public opinion regarding the actions carried out by sacred fools tends to be strongly polarized, and since such characters are likely to have made a number of powerful enemies in the process of qualifying for the prestige class.

Organization: Most sacred fools find that the ongoing persecution which is their lot in life is not conducive to a continuing line of research, meditation, or whatever else they did before the event of life-altering tragedy that gained them entry to the class. As such, most sacred fools either wander aimlessly or seek out the solitary life of a hermit. Sacred fools who do not retreat from the world typically fail to do so because they manage to form strong bonds of friendship with someone despite their problems. As such, most NPC sacred fools are encountered alone or with only a handful of loyal followers or protectors with whom they desperately seek shelter against the vagaries of a harsh world.

Few organizations accept sacred fools as their members, although some bands of outlaws and similarly evil or criminal folk can be persuaded to look beyond the fools’ reputations and value their talents instead. As such, NPC sacred fools encountered with allies are more likely to be evil or chaotic in nature than good or lawful. Powerful PCs and NPCs associated with good and lawful causes and organizations might also find themselves called upon to champion a sacred fool whose alignment and history indicate that he has been the victim of injustice. PCs with levels in the class usually find that they must rely heavily upon the other members of their adventuring parties, because they are otherwise not likely to have anyone to help them out of a particularly sticky situation.

NPC Reactions: During the first few levels of the class, NPC reactions are usually on the cool side of neutral, as news regarding the sacred fool’s deeds fails to spread very quickly. Most people notice the fool’s disfiguring loss of a limb or facial feature, and may stare openly, or simply feel uncomfortable speaking to him, darting glances at the stump or scars, and they tend to remember seeing him because of his distinctive appearance. In the middle levels of the class, a sacred fool begins to gain more notice as word of his tragedy and of his misdeeds—real or imagined—since then circulates more widely. NPC reactions worsen even further, and he begins to face an ever-greater likelihood of being attacked or driven from civilized settlements. By the end of the class progression, the sacred fool is not only infamous, but also worth more to most people dead than alive, since ensuring his burial in one’s lands can secure his service as a powerful guardian spirit. Many of his enemies seek to capture him for later execution and burial so that he can be enslaved eternally; a few powerful organizations or rulers might offer him protection with an eye towards having their kindness repaid with the service of a powerful defender.

Sacred Fool Lore

Characters with Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (local), or Knowledge (religion) can research sacred fools to learn more about them. When a character makes a skill check, read or paraphrase the following, including the information from lower DCs.

DC 10: Sacred fools are dangerous men and women. Universally, they earn some degree of the ill repute which they receive in the public eye—they are picked out by the gods for suffering and hardship as punishment for their own arrogance or lack of wisdom, and they usually die in exile, beset by the many enemies their actions earn for them. All of them are slowly driven to eccentricity—madness, really—by the pressures of their wanderings, and by guilt over their misdeeds.

DC 15: Most sacred fools try to find a place to hide, and avoid people as much as possible while they try to atone for whatever mistake they made or crime they committed. A bare handful—usually the most despicable of them—seek out like-minded villains and terrorize honest folk instead. They are distinctive because one of the signs of their status as one chosen by the gods to suffer is their maiming or disfigurement as the result of a crime of arrogance or ignorance. They frequently exhibit the ability to inflict a curse upon those who displease or mistreat them.

DC 25: Extremely powerful sacred fools are sometimes hunted down by their foes and buried by them, usually in an elaborate funeral ceremony. Similarly elaborate funerals are frequently provided at the hands of the rare patrons who are persuaded to take in a fool and offer him shelter and protection.

DC 30: By interring the corpse of a sacred fool with the proper funeral rites, it is possible to ensure that the deceased will rise again as a powerful ghost who is compelled to protect the land and its inhabitants from invasion or attack, making such individuals extraordinarily valuable to friend and foe alike.

Sacred Fools in the Game

Sacred fools exist without true regard for borders or organizations. Trouble seems to follow them wherever they go as a result of their enemies’ attempts to speed them down the road or even kill them, and their ability to inflict a fearsome curse upon those who anger them makes them touchy companions at best. Even a powerful patron who offers to shield the sacred fool from the worst aftereffects of his early mistakes or crimes may not be doing so for purely altruistic reasons; a knowledgeable ruler is always on the lookout for ways to solidify his control of his demesnes, and an unscrupulous or desperate "patron" may stoop to murder to do so.

Adaptation: Sacred fools are designed to epitomize the archetype of the tortured, misunderstood wanderer with a dark past. As such, they are easy to drop into almost any campaign setting.

Sample Encounter

The PCs might encounter a sacred fool anywhere that is lawless enough, isolated enough, or ruled by a benevolent power strong enough to offer a haven for someone whose present is defined by his past misdeeds or mistakes.

Haimon Lack-Hand (EL 13)

After he lost his right hand, nobody in Clan Redaxe looked at Haimon the same way. His hand—and his honor—were taken from him forty years ago when he tried to call and bind an efreeti and force it to power a forge for his clan’s smiths. Had the procedure gone as planned, he would have garnered considerable prestige for his family, and cleared his wizardly powers from suspicion in the clan’s eyes. Unfortunately for Haimon, the efreeti’s will was stronger than his own, and it broke free of the magic circle he had drawn to contain it. Before he could act to stop the creature, the entire right half of his body was charred and blistered, and his hand was gone, replaced by a blackened stump. The rampaging genie went on to immolate the rest of his family before clerics and warriors could be mobilized to drive it off and treat the wounded. Haimon was healed of most of his injuries, but a regeneration spell was beyond the abilities of his clan’s chief priest . . . and once the truth was known about how his family died and his hand burned away, he was banished.

Since then, guilt over his family’s death has kept Haimon from seeking to have his hand regenerated, even though he is a powerful enough magus that he could arrange to be healed of his old injury in return for service to some temple. He has recognized his ploy with the genie to have been foolishly arrogant, and now possesses a much firmer understanding of his own limitations. For the most part, Haimon now wanders in the wilderness, but he frequently stops to visit with the few friends he has in the Monastery of the Jade Palm. Abbot Daevin, widely known for his gentleness and empathy for the plight of the downtrodden, has offered him the right of sanctuary within the grounds of his monastery. Since Daevin is the grand master of a large order of fighting monks, this refuge has provided Haimon with a degree of stability which has not been available to him since the conflagration that devoured his hopes and dreams.

PCs might come into contact with Haimon in the course of business relating to the monastery, or simply by chance as he wanders from place to place between visits—especially if they happen upon him during one of his run-ins with the efreeti, which is still pursuing him.

Haimon Clanless, called "Lack-Hand"
Male dwarf wiz 7/sacred fool 6:
CR 13; Hit Dice 13d4+26; 60 hp; Init -1; Spd 20 ft. (4 squares); AC 16, touch 16, flat-footed 16; BAB/Grapple +6/+7; Atk +7 melee (2d8+1, unarmed strike) or +8 melee (1d6+2, +1 club), or by spell; Full atk +7/+2 melee (2d8+1, unarmed strike) or +8/+3 melee (1d6+2, +1 club) or by spell; SA fool’s curse 3/day, fool’s malediction, insanity, spells; SQ darkvision 60 ft., dwarf qualities, hasty malediction, ill-starred repute, infamy, insane insight, madness, summon familiar; AL LN; SV Fort +6, Reflex +3, Will +12; Abilities Str 13, Dex 8, Con 14, Int 20, Wis 14, Cha 8.
Skills and Feats: Concentration +15, Diplomacy +8, Knowledge (arcana) +18, Knowledge (history) +16, Knowledge (religion) +18, Profession (seer) +9*, Sense Motive +6**, Speak Language (Common, Draconic, Dwarf, Terran), Spellcraft +18; Empower Spell, Endurance, Extend Spell, Improved Familiar, Negotiator, Scribe Scroll, Skill Focus: Profession (seer).
*Improves to 21 under effect of insane insight.
**Improves to 12 under effect of insane insight.
Spellbook Contents: 0th—all cantrips presented in the Player’s Handbook v 3.5; 1st—alarm, endure elements, expeditious retreat, feather fall, mage armor, magic missile, shield; 2nd—invisibility, rope trick, scorching ray, see invisibility; 3rd—arcane sight, explosive runes, dispel magic, phantom steed; 4th—arcane eye, charm monster, dimension door, wall of fire; 5th—cloudkill, dismissal, dominate person, prying eyes; 6th—chain lightning, disintegrate, mass suggestion, shadow walk; 7th—control weather, prismatic spray.
Typical Wizard Spells Prepared (DC 15+spell level): 0th—detect magic, detect poison, mage hand, prestidigitation; 1st—alarm, endure elements, expeditious retreat, magic missile, shield; 2nd—extended mage armor, invisibility, rope trick, scorching ray, see invisibility; 3rd—arcane sight, dispel magic (x2), explosive runes, phantom steed; 4th—arcane eye, charm monster, empowered scorching ray, dimension door, wall of fire; 5th—cloudkill, dominate person, prying eyes; 6th—disintegrate, shadow walk; 7th—control weather.
Possessions: +1 club, backpack, headband of intellect +2, monk’s belt, potion of cure moderate wounds, ring of protection +1, ring of sustenance, scroll of mind blank, spellbook (130 pages; 6500 gp market value).