Fantastic Locations: Places of Power

A common trope of fantasy settings is that there are places of unusual power.  Whether they are ley lines (or better yet the confluence of ley lines), nodes of power, holy sites, or something else, there is something about them that makes them valuable and useful.  They are typically fairly rare.  They are usually, at least initially, in hard to reach places.  Creatures who experience them are often awed by the sensations and may be able to do things creatures not associated with them cannot.

What is a fantastic location?  These certainly sound like they will be candidates, and in my campaign, most of them are.

I have put some thought into this topic about four years ago when I discussed Nodes of Power, based on the Dance of the Rings series by Jane S. Fancher, but I didn’t really post much more about it.

I did explore it somewhat, though, and I’ve got a few sources of material I find useful.

Sources of Places of Power Effects

I use the following books when I’m looking for ideas.  I think every last one of them is out of print, though you can still find PDFs for sale for some of them.

The Book of Immortals from Mongoose Publishing

Those following the paths of immortality make progress by successfully completing challenges (gaining ‘victories’) and are changed by the event.  I’ll explore the topic more in another post, but for now the important point is that one of the challenge types is to establish a link (a ‘tap’) to a wellspring a power.

Wellsprings of power are described in the book as follows.

Each wellspring is a pure, physical manifestation of one of the universe’s primal powers.  These powers may consist of fundamental building blocks, driving forces for creation or accidental side effects of the tools used to make the world.

Wellsprings tend to warp the world around them in a manner that suits their nature.  That is, each type of wellspring might have different types of effects.  These effects can be easily mined for use in defining other places of power.

A wellspring of knowledge has listed for it

  • Aura of Truth: everyone within the wellspring’s bound shares, to one degree or another, the enlightenment that comes with access to pure knowledge.  This translates directly into a +1 insight bonus per effect level to all Knowledge checks taken on the ground.  Conversely, all spells from the Illusion school have their DC reduced by the same amount.
  • Bastion of Hidden Wisdom: The powers of knowledge and insight watch the wellspring and will respond to an appropriate offering.  Once per lifetime a mortal may come to the wellspring, offer his services and receive an answer to any questions he may ask.  The task is a geas, as the spell, selected by the Games Master.  The answers act as if the character with a 9th level wizard casting the contact other plane spell.
  • Voices of the Land: The wellspring’s emanations alter the creatures that live in the environment around it.  All animals and magical beasts born in the affected area increase their Intelligence by the wellspring’s maximum victories.  Those that gain Intelligence over nine develop the ability to speak Common and Sylvan.  These animals retain this ability even if removed from the area.
  • Books of Wisdom and Truth: The wellspring contains some form of written record, be it a bark scroll or a nearly infinitely deep library.  Whatever form it takes, anyone who gains access to the wellspring can spend a seven-day period looking up anything they wish.  If they do, they may take 20 on one Knowledge check to answer a specific question.  An Immortal may use this power as often as he wishes.  A mortal may spend as many weeks as he likes seeking knowledge, but will only be able to use this effect once per year.
  • Warriors of Enlightenment: The wellspring supports 30 CR of monk-classed characters, the strongest of which has CR 10.  The monks study at the wellspring, seeking out enlightenment and personal power.  They protect it from those who would misuse its powers for whatever reason.  Most of these challenges are non-fatal, but they may involve a wide variety of physical or mental endurance tests.

Each wellspring (basically) has a limited number of build points (that can vary by ‘wellspring strength’) which may be spent on the effects available to the wellspring, and are often limited in how many victories may be gained from them and thus how many bindings may be made to them.

The selection of effects usually includes at least one that involves a wide-area effect or condition (Voices of the Land, above, has a radius of one mile per point spent on it) and one that provides some sort of servitor or protector (and the highest CR and total CR available can be bought up from the base).

Example: Library of the Last Truth

Maximum Victories: 4, Unlimited (any number of characters may have up to four victories each)
Primal Power
: Knowledge
Effects: Books of Wisdom and Truth, Aura of Truth (+3 Knowledge checks, -3 Illusion DC), Voices of the Land (4 miles)

[fluff description elided; I don’t think anyone’s interested in the number of beds available for visitors –kjd]

Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide from Green Ronin

The Advanced series from Green Ronin were some of the best gaming purchases I’ve made (the Advanced Bestiary sees a lot of use — it’s full of templates, rather than specific monsters, so it’s a great toolbox).  In fact, when I slipped on a Green Ronin clearance sale and ended up with a second set (at five dollars per book) I was not particularly unhappy.  I might do a giveaway thing sometime, but for now I’ve got a full set for upstairs and another for my office downstairs.

Anyway, Chapter Eight: Conditions and Environments applies directly to this month’s topic.

  • The ‘Transstorm’ hazard looks like a wonderful manifestation for a Chaos-dominated area (and conveniently comes in five levels of power, just as the manifestations I described yesterday in Sources of Fantastic Elements.
  • Mystic Locales (promising title, that) includes sections
    • ‘Magic Locations’, places where magic of various types, schools, or subtypes are augmented.  ‘Minor’ causes affected spells to be treated as Heightened +2 levels, ‘moderate’ increase the caster level by three, and major lets affected spells be cast as if one level lower but there is a chance of losing control.  The effects are cumulative
    • ‘Holy Sites’, places of divine power and are modeled by granting (minor, moderate, major) powers based on domains associated with the site.

It’s not a huge section, but there is some useful material here.

Path of Magic from Fantasy Flight Games

This book presents Fonts of Power, arcane power sources that are similar in concept to the ‘Magic Locations’ described in the Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide.  A fairly large number of effects may be applied when casting spells close enough to an attuned Font.  Prolonged exposure to a Font, especially a powerful one, may be hazardous.  Each Font has a ‘focused spell list’ containing spells appropriate to the Font’s nature.  Attuned casters gain various benefits when using these spells — in some cases being able to use the spells at all, if they are not usually part of their normal class list.

I’ll be honest, I was excited by the idea, but never entirely happy with the implementation.

Spells & Spellcraft from Fantasy Flight Games

This book has a section on ‘Place Magic’ and presents two types of places of power, the Arcane Nexus and the Shrine.

An Arcane Nexus usually has one benefit (sometimes two, only the most powerful has more than that) and at least one drawback.  There is rarely an alignment concern, everyone is affected the same if they meet the requirements (some require specific actions or conditions, others just require presence).

A Shrine is must the same but is ‘often the direct work of a deity, shrines only benefit loyal followers of the deity and severely punish non-believers’.  Presumably there are similar numbers of benefits and punishments as the nexus.

Again, I liked the idea but the implementation always seemed lacking.  There were about half a dozen suggestions or examples for benefits, drawbacks, and punishments, and only guidelines for their application.  I think Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide did the same job rather better for these topics, and Book of Immortals provides some broader effects to consider.

Planar Handbook from Wizards of the Coast

The Planar Handbook presents ‘planar touchstones’.  Spend a feat slot to gain the ability to bind to a planar touchstone, do so, and gain a base power roughly equal to a general feat (without prerequisites, it looks like; I see what amounts to Toughness, a +2 to Swim checks and +10 feet swim speed, +4 bonus against fire effects, +1 bonus to Will saving throws, and so on) and a limited number of uses of power roughly equal to a spell of an appropriate level (starts with five uses of a ‘third-level spell equivalent’, six of a ‘second-level spell equivalent’, seven of a ‘first-level spell equivalent’, and it suggests perhaps lower numbers of uses of higher-level spells).  The ‘higher power uses’ can be recharged by taking a particular action.  Oh, and the planar touchstones have ‘levels’.

I think the reason I had so much trouble remembering which book these were in is that I find these very, very boring.  I included this for completeness more than anything.

Closing Comments

As may be obvious, I find Book of Immortals and Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide the most useful books on this topic.  I can mine a lot out of the first two.  Book of Immortals has quite a bit more information available (and much higher page count assigned), but to be honest I’m not sure it’s as easily applicable.  Advanced Gamemaster’s Guide has a smaller amount of information, but it is conveniently placed on a small number of pages and I think it very applicable.  For instance, if you have a place that is associated with fire, the ‘Holy Site’ section has for the Fire domain “Minor: all spells with the Fire descriptor are cast at +1 caster level, Moderate: Existing fires take twice the normal time to extinguish, to a maximum of an additional 10 minutes, Major: All mundane and magic fire attacks deal +2 points of damage”.  Small effects, but easily applied almost anywhere ‘hot’.  The Magic Locations have effects as described above (increased spell level for calculations, increased caster level, and decreased spell cost for minor, moderate, major), and again those can be applied pretty easily almost anywhere you want specially associated with fire.

I said yesterday I have wanted for some time to create a single reference combining the information from these books.  I am not about to that for all of them, but I might put together some specific ones to illustrate the range of effects and descriptive elements available.

Does anyone have any specific requests about which ones?

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