Create A Speaking Item

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Fixxxer's picture
Create A Speaking Item

Alright, so in the interest of keeping things simple so everyone might have a chance to participate, the challenge here is to create a magical or psionic item that speaks. This could be an intelligent item that telepathically communicates with the person holding it, or a giant Moai head guardian that asks riddles of any trespassers or anything in between. The only caveats are that the item has to be magical or psionic in nature and that the item has to be able to hold at least a rudimentary two-way conversation. Other than that, the world is your oyster.

Let's set a closing time of midnight EST on Saturday, April 30th on this one. It's a relatively simple challenge, so two weeks seems like a fair timeframe.


MinusInnocence's picture




Speakstones come in a variety of shapes, usually either a flat, ovular stone like the sort ideal for skipping across a lake or a short cylinder, both types easily palmed in the user’s hand. The type of stone is irrelevant but is always polished smooth and inscribed with runes identifying the device as an arcane implement used in long distance communication. There are two versions of speakstones: minor and major.

Minor speakstones are used when one party wishes to record a short, simple message for someone else to retrieve later. They are always programmed with two command words. Speaking the first while holding or touching the device allows the user to impart a statement of 25 words or less to the speakstone. Saying the second command word while holding the speakstone will play back the audio recording perfectly. The second command word can be used as many times as someone requires until a new message is recorded using the first command word, which replaces the message.

Major speakstones are attuned to a second major speakstone and programmed with a single command word that can be used once each day. Speaking it while holding or touching the device first plays back the last message received by that speakstone from its partner, then allows the user to impart a message of his own to send back. Messages conveyed in this way are the same length as minor speakstones can record but do not require the user to say anything out loud after speaking the command word. Attuning a particular major speakstone to another requires someone to hold them together in physical contact with each other for a full minute then to speak the command word, which erases any previous message recorded on either device. From that point forward, they function as normal.

It is not uncommon for a minor speakstone to be mounted in some kind of frame like on a door knocker, where instructions for entry or the current whereabouts of the room or building’s occupant can be recorded, and where messages can be recorded to play back to the owner upon his or her return. Major speakstones are always installed in jewelry like an amulet, bracelet or crown where they are always within easy reach, and thus also taking up the relevant item slot.

Minor speakstone: Faint illusion; CL 3; Craft Wondrous Item, message; 10,800gp.

Major speakstone: Moderate evocation and illusion; CL 9; Craft Wondrous Item, sending; 16,200gp.


NOTES: So yeah, the RAW are pretty unforgiving for simple utility items like this. They really take you to the cleaners on market price for something that just repeats back an audio recording. I really wanted to go for a modified magic mouth effect for the minor speakstone that would also pick up ambient background noise at the time of the recording as per a listener with a +0 modifier, thinking it would be cool if someone could surreptitiously start a recording when they were being attacked to leave a clue or something for whoever found the device later. But seeing as how I envision these items mostly being really useful for NPCs, I cut corners wherever I could to lower the price. I know that technically, a recorded message to be played back at a later date is exactly what magic mouth is supposed to do, but executing a spell effect when you speak a command word is exactly what wondrous magic items are good for, so I felt like substituting message here was appropriate. But I knew there was no way I could get away with doing something like that for the major speakstone so I bit the bullet and made sending the prerequisite, requiring me to impose a pretty severe limitation on uses per day.

Anyway, I had lots of ideas when I first read the competition guideline, most of them pretty much in line with the examples in the OP; but I figured I would turn it on its head and adjust the reader's expectations about who exactly would be doing the speaking. I hope it is satisfactory.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

deadDMwalking's picture

Challenge Accepted.

The Oracular Skull of Dahlver-Nar

“Medallion iced up, Rolex bezelled up / And my pinky ring is platinum plus / Earrings be trillion cut / And my grill be slugged up”
     -Cash Money Millionaires, Bling-Bling

There are many stories told about the mythical figure of Dahlver-Nar. Most legends speak of him as a powerful cleric who was much beloved by the gods, though there are other stories that paint him instead as a figure of evil and oppression. The one thing on which the stories agree is that there are powerful relics associated with his name known as the ‘Teeth of Dahlver-Nar’. At least 34 teeth have been attributed to him, and whether any of them are truly authentic may remain forever a mystery. There is another item that also bears his name, mostly unknown except to the most arcane scholars, though any connection to the powerful cleric seems difficult to prove.

The Oracular Skull of Dahlver-Nar appears as a human skull blackened either with age or perhaps from exposure to fire. The skull possesses none of its original teeth, instead an array of precious gems stud the jaws. More than a few adventurers have mistaken the skull for a demilich – though the skull possesses powerful magic, nothing as innately dangerous as those feared undead. While there is no trace of necromancy around the skull, instead it radiates overwhelming divination magic, it appears some trace of Dahlver-Nar and his personality remains.

The skull is able to converse with nearby creatures, and is an excellent conversationalist, skilled in a wide array of disciplines. The skull has a +26 bonus in all Knowledge skills and may be commanded to answer one question daily. The skull will answer the question as fully and completely as possible, speaking for 1d6x10 minutes. It may cast legend lore 1/week, commune 1/day, and augury 3/day. The skull is under the effect of True Seeing (as cast by a 20th level wizard); while the item’s owner receives no direct benefit, the skull can communicate what it sees in this manner.

Finally, the Oracular Skull of Dahlver-Nar confers one other benefit to its possessor. The owner can prepare spells from the Knowledge Domain as if she were a cleric of her character level. For example, a 3rd level Ranger can prepare a 1st and 2nd level spell from the Knowledge Domain, and would count as a 3rd level cleric for determining spell duration and other level-dependent effects. The spell slots are renewed at midnight; a character that gains possession of the skull may not utilize this benefit until the next midnight. A character with access to domain spells is able to prepare an additional domain spell from the Knowledge Domain. For example, a Cleric with the War and Protection domains must choose between War and Protection for their domain choice at each spell level; they may prepare an additional domain spell from the Knowledge Domain at each spell level they have access to.

While the skull provides a powerful tool for accumulating knowledge, persistent tales indicate that anyone who relies on the skull too completely may be subtly directed to a course of action that is not necessarily in the owner’s best interest. While there is no evidence that the skull has ever lied outright, it is possible that it has not fully disclosed all of the information available to it. This may be more superstition than fact, but the skull seems inclined toward pessimism, encouraging people to ‘play it safe’ and avoid taking on potentially difficult challenges.

Skull of Dahlver-Nar, Artifact (Relic), Overwhelming Divination, CL 21st, Weight 4 lbs.

Using the Skull of Dahlver-Nar in Your Campaign
The most obvious use of the skull is as a tool for exposition. Even the most diverse adventuring parties with a suite of knowledge skills will have some areas they know little or nothing. Possessing the skull can provide additional information about the campaign setting or adventure without providing a direct combat-ability power-up. It can also be used to help connect a villain to a plot from the ancient past – the Skull of Dahlver-Nar offers a plausible explanation for how an ancient ruin or other power source was discovered. The skull can also be used as part of a ‘race against the clock’ adventure. If the party must find a ruin or treasure before their opposition, finding the skull could be one leg of the adventure – finding and locating the skull would provide an advantage toward finding the next clue or item. The skull could also become an important part of the campaign world. Powerful Oracles, such as at Delphi, have been a draw for travelers from far-away lands; the skull could be housed in a temple and provide insight to a throng of fortune-seekers. Earning the right to make use of a daily or weekly power might offer another path to adventure.

Inspiration for the Skull of Dahlver-Nar
The primary inspiration for the skull comes from an episode of the Twilight Zone, The Nick of Time. In this episode a newly-wed couple (one member of which is played by William Shatner) discovers a fortune-telling device at a diner that appears to be uncannily accurate in its predictions of the future. They resist the temptation to allow it to reveal every aspect of their future, relying on it to decide what actions to take. As they leave, another couple enters who have become slaves to the will of the oracle – they won’t leave the town until it tells them that it is okay to do so. I originally wanted to suggest that the oracle would answer with perfect accuracy with a cumulative 1% chance (per owner) of deceiving the owner. While such a ‘curse’ might be appropriate for this item, I have not made the inclusion a default assumption, but all players should be wary of putting too much stock in divinations when they may instead shape their own destiny through their action (or lack thereof).

Talanall's picture

Aww, look. All my little bitches, hard at work.

Tar Baby

A tar baby is a poppet, roughly the size of an adult gnome, made of pine resin and tar and dressed in ragged old clothing. It is used by placing it in a prominent location where its intended victim can easily notice its presence, and then activating its magic using a command word. The victim's characteristics can be designated using a description of up to 25 words, relying on visually identifiable characteristics; thus, it is possible to designate the victim as "the first blond half-orc you see wearing a robe," but "a half-orc with 10 Hit Dice whose name is Chuul" is not a valid designation. Actions can serve as triggers, if they are visible. Triggers react to what appears to be the case, so disguises and illusions can fool them. The tar baby can "see" potential victims from up to 60 feet away, as if it possesses darkvision.

When triggered by a someone that meets the description established upon activation, the tar baby accosts its victim with a torrent of the foulest imaginable gutter profanity, speaking in a loud, distinct voice which easily can be heard from up to 100 feet away. The speech is magical in nature, so it is always intelligible to listeners as if in their native languages. Upon being subjected to the tar baby's invective, and for each round during which she is within 100 feet of the poppet, the victim must succeed on a Will save (DC 14). If successful, the victim suffers no ill effects. But upon a failed save, the victim is enraged and compelled to advance upon the tar baby by the most rapid means available until she is within melee range of the the poppet, at which time she begins making melee attacks against it (the tar baby's Armor Class against these attacks is 4).

A successful melee attack does not damage the tar baby, but it ruptures a sack of sticky compound similar to the contents of a tanglefoot bag. If the tar baby was struck by a weapon, the victim must succeed on a DC 15 Reflex save or the weapon is stuck fast, and must be pulled free (a DC 20 Strength check) before it can be used. The compulsion to injure the tar baby is so strong, however, that the victim must succeed at a second Will save (DC 14) or opt instead to draw another melee weapon (if available, in which case the new weapon also runs the risk of getting stuck) or attack using an unarmed strike or natural attack instead. In the latter case, a successful unarmed strike or natural attack followed by a failed Reflex save means that the victim becomes entangled, suffering a -2 penalty to attack rolls and a -4 penalty to Dexterity, in addition to becoming stuck to the ground and unable to move.

Regardless of whether the victim is entangled, the tar baby's vituperation lasts for 1 minute, after which its magic ceases to function.

A creature that is glued to the floor can break free by making a DC 20 Strength check or by dealing 15 points of damage to the goo with a slashing weapon. A creature trying to scrape goo off itself, or another creature assisting, does not need to make an attack roll; hitting the goo is automatic, after which the creature that hit makes a damage roll to see how much of the goo was scraped off. Once free, the creature can move (including flying) at half speed. A character capable of spellcasting who is bound by the goo must make a DC 15 Concentration check to cast a spell. The goo becomes brittle and fragile after 2d4 hours, cracking apart and losing its effectiveness. An application of universal solvent to a stuck creature dissolves the goo immediately.

Faint divination, enchantment and illusion; CL 4th; Craft Wondrous Item, magic mouth, oafish intolerance, rage and tongues, creator must have at least 4 ranks in Craft (alchemy); 950 gp.


Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking's picture

Closing time. One more call for alcohol.

Fixxxer's picture

All three items were nicely done. Of the three, I think I prefer the tar baby. Aside from the obvious connection to my rotten excuse for a personality, I thought it was a genuinely good idea from an item on its own merits.

The Oracular Skull of Dahlver-Nar was a very interesting item. I thought the one flaw in its execution was that it connected to the inspirational material, but didn't follow through. There's a light connection to the little devil-headed fortune machine's "curse" from The Twilight Zone in the form of a brief insight into a rumored facet of its personality, but the parallel was a little weak.

Speakstones seemed like a good idea, but as the author mentioned, the item creation rules are a bit unforgiving to have such a simple utility item come out costing so much. That isn't a flaw in the writing at all, but it does result in a magic item that I can't see getting much use in the average game due to the prohibited cost.