Behind the Spells: Explosive Runes
Welcome back to Behind the Spells, the series that provides a historical background, secret effects, and related material to classic spells of the world’s most famous fantasy roleplaying game. The rules (presented after the “Spell Secret” header) are compatible with any 3.5/OGL fantasy game, and the background weaves the spell into the lore of the game’s previous three editions. Each “Behind the Spells” release is narrated by an ancient gold dragon named Maxolt Alberiim.
Centuries ago, V’Lau the Bandit Queen raided caravans with impunity along the Gojen Marshes. Aided by a dozen minions and even, on occasion, a string of will-o’-wisps, her moderate abilities as a sorceress were usually more than a match for the mercenaries hired by the caravan masters. If an encounter proved difficult, V’Lau had one more trick up kept under her hood. Remaining her face hidden until forced to show herself, the Bandit Queen could throw back her hood to reveal that she was a medusa — catching foes off guard and petrifying them at close range. [More...]
As careful as V’Lau tried to be, her medusa nature became public knowledge at the closest permanent settlement—a monastery known as Candlelight Cove. Famed for their speedy, accurate, and prolific manuscript illumination, the monks of the cove suffered for months during the height of V’Lau’s banditry when needed supplies would not reach them.
After capturing one of the Bandit Queen’s minions and forcing him to reveal not only the medusa’s true nature but also the location of her lair, the monks organized an assault. V’Lau and her forces were caught off-guard by the attack, and no match for the monks’ coordinated martial arts offensive. The medusa escaped with her life but her minions were not so fortunate. V’Lau vowed to avenge her defeat and that none of the monks would survive.
The Shape of Her Revenge
For some time before her defeat, V’Lau tinkered with turning her petrifying gaze into something different. The sorceress finally found the formula for an elixir which allowed her to substitute fire for earth, creating spontaneous combustion in a creature rather than petrifying them. However, this did not help her revenge against the monks, who knew the danger of her gaze (no matter its effect).
V’Lau worked tirelessly for weeks until she hit on just the right vehicle. The monks might not look at her face, but they did look at something else with religious consistency—their manuscripts!
After some careful modifications to the elixir spell, V’Lau mastered a new spell which embedded the same explosive effect within the written word. When the next caravan of books and manuscripts came through the area, the medusa and a newly hired gang of bandits set her plan into motion. The group sacked the caravan, the bandits taking the guards’ places, while V’Lau added a few inconspicuous runes to the beginning of the books which the monks would illuminate. She knew the monks observed a strict schedule. After a short prayer, they would read the first page of a new manuscript.
The Last Caravan
V’Lau watched Candlelight Cove from a safe distance after the caravan delivered its cargo. Just after noon, the monks chanted their prayers. When the prayers stopped, the show began.
Split into three work areas, the monks started to read their new works. V’Lau relished the vision of the idiot monks pondering those first few meaningless runes she added to the pages. Within a minute, multiple explosions rocked the monastery, so powerful that bits of stone and flesh flew into the bay.
Several monks survived the detonations and tended to their dead. Then they abandoned monastic life, and tracked down one of the monster’s bandits. As before, the monks successfully questioned the man and discovered exactly what had transpired and who was behind it. Satisfied with the carnage her explosive runes spell had wrought, V’Lau never bothered to keep tabs on the monks and was therefore quite surprised when the survivors found her lab and decapitated her without so much as a word spoken.
After the Boom
Obviously, the explosive runes spell had more longevity than its creator. The monks turned the captured magical paraphernalia over to a wizard ally, hoping that the evil equipment could be used for good rather than be destroyed. When that wizard found the medusa’s new spell among the notes, he could not help but admire the sorceress’ cunning and decided to disseminate the spell to the arcane community. Many wizards used the runes within false spellbooks to guard their own laboratories and treasure caches. Over time, though, the fiery blast caused more collateral damage than expected and so the spell was eventually tweaked to generate force rather than fire damage. One can still find the original fire version but the spell was changed so long ago the chance of doing so is about ten percent.
The explosive runes spell works very much like the gaze attack of the medusa that created it. That is to say, the runes’ magic activates whenever a creature takes more than a moment to read (or attempt to read, depending on what form the runes take) them. Because the process is so similar, using the blood of a medusa in the spell’s casting can alter the effect of the spell.
If you use a medusa’s blood as the ink to write the runes, the spell’s explosive property is replaced by the medusa’s normal gaze attack. The creature triggering the runes must succeed on a DC 15 Fortitude save or be turned to stone permanently. When explosive runes are changed in this way, creatures can thwart the spell by viewing the runes in a reflective surface. Of course, knowing the spell has been altered with this spell secret is another matter entirely.
You may be wondering whether anything became of the medusa’s quest to change her gaze attack into something other than turning foes to stone. Well, while her elixir did work for her kind, the formula was lost during the attack on her lab. However, her fight with the monks became something of a local legend, inspiring one mage to fashion a similar elixir for anyone to use (as well as inspiring several novellas and even a musical entitled “The Last Word”).
NEW MAGIC ITEM—Elixir of Boiling Blood
Imbibing this elixir grants the user a special gaze attack. Once imbibed, the magic of the elixir is active for up to 6 rounds; during this time, the imbiber can use a standard action to invoke the gaze attack at a single living creature. Unless the target succeeds on a DC 16 Fortitude save, the special attack creates an eruption of extreme heat within the target’s body, inflicting 10d6 hp fire damage.
Regardless of the saving throw result, the target bleeds from its nose and ears and is nauseated for 1d4 rounds. If the damage slays the target, it explodes in a mass of fire and gore. Creatures within 15 feet are affected as if a fireball detonated within the creature (5d6 hp fire damage; Reflex halves).
Moderate evocation; CL 10th; Craft Wondrous Item, fireball; Price 1,500 gp.
Behind the Spells: Explosive Runes is the ninth in a series produced for KoboldQuarterly.com by Tricky Owlbear Publishing, Inc.