Behind the Spells: Instant Summons
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.
With regard to this particular spell, we were able to get a quick description of the spell’s origins from Jim Ward, who designed it for AD&D in the original campaign.
Jim Ward Says…
I had the pleasure and honor to play in Gary Gygax’s AD&D game for many fun years. As my wizard grew in levels and acquired more spells I always wanted something from our home inn during an adventure. It was always different things like magical rings or wands I had stored there and didn’t have room to carry. We had lots of fun magical items because in those days Gary had to test out his new magical creations and we were his happy “testing rats.”
So one day I asked him if I could make a few spells and he said yes. [More…] It would take time from my character and I would have to use other characters from my group of servants. I didn’t mind adventuring with lower-level characters. My highest character in Gary’s game was a 14th level wizard. So I made several spells, and Gary called them Drawmij spells which was cool with me.
Time and again in this series, we’ve seen how the topic spell emerges organically from a different spell idea. Instant summons is no different. No less than three spells were inspired by wizard Ontu Korelli’s original concept, which tried to save lives. As a half-elf with significant magical ability, Ontu spent his later years serving a wealthy noble in the mountain realm of Hebix.
The kingdom of Hebix, beset by all manner of fell creatures, was a hotbed of mercenary activity — Ontu’s employer hired many of them to keep the realm safe. Unfortunately, the monsters usually proved too fierce for the hired swords and Hebixans were frequently injured or killed. The low skill of the mercenaries was perhaps equal to the paltry amount of gold offered by the noble.
Ontu was eventually asked to come up with a magical way to watch over the populace and ensure their safety. No small feat, to be sure, but Ontu rose to the occasion.
The problem, the wizard knew, was in the realm’s geography. The central mining community was safe enough but the small satellite villages needed a way to quickly evacuate during attacks. Ontu concocted an expensive solution—magical tokens that would teleport the bearer when he or she lost consciousness—but one which the noble approved because it did not rely on anyone’s constant vigilance. The impulsive noble over-ruled Ontu’s suggestion to create a batch of test tokens. Instead, he ordered Ontu to utilize anything and anyone he required until enough of the items had been created for every villager.
After months of labor Ontu toured the villages to hand out over 100 teleportation tokens. The wizard explained how the tokens would function—the magic transporting the bearer to a predetermined location near the central community—if the bearer lost consciousness or if the token was tapped thrice in rapid succession. The residents understood the instructions but it did not take long for Ontu’s fear of misuse to become reality.
While the tokens were carried with religious conviction, the occasional person would forget to remove the item before sleeping. For every person this happened to, three others passed out from wanton drunkenness. In each case, the magic functioned perfectly and transported all these individuals to the safe haven—much to their surprise.
The clerics who kept watch over the destination were not pleased.
What happened next to Hebix is vague. Area monsters became united under a powerful figure known as the Gray Shadow and a coordinated offensive besieged the realm on three fronts. Though most of the affected residents activated their tokens to be whisked to safety, an earthquake reportedly swept the realm at the same time; half the realm was buried under rubble.
The Gray Shadow’s subsequent failure to over-run Hebix suggests quite to opposite. I suspect the activation of so many teleportation effects at once backfired and a massive gravitational anomaly opened at the haven’s location—an analysis borne out by a mere glance at the density of stone in the afflicted regions of Hebix.
Ontu somehow escaped the destruction, and planned a return to Hebix to discover exactly what went wrong. The wizard imparted his arcane workbook to a colleague for safekeeping but never returned from his expedition.
Ontu’s disappearance was a solid blow to the arcane arts; thankfully, his surviving spellbook dulled the magical community’s grief. Among numerous thoughts on how to improve his teleportation token, the book also detailed a new spell based on that item—instant summons. Ontu’s colleague later developed the spell into its present form for his employer, a member of the Fraternity of Unrestraint, who then arrogantly had his own name attached to it as the creator (for more on the Fraternity, see Behind the Spells: Acid Arrow). Once the story of Hebix became public knowledge, the concept of the teleportation tokens also inspired the more refined magics of word of recall and contingency. The fate of Ontu and Hebix remains a mystery with no solution.
Instant summons is nearly perfect for bringing a favored item to your hand when it is most needed. Where the spell falters is in the lack of effect when another creature has possession (i.e. claimed ownership) of the enspelled item. Fortunately, a caster can circumvent this limitation by using a precious gem in the casting.
By using a more expensive gem during the casting of instant summons, you have a chance of not only bringing the chosen item to you but of bringing the item’s current owner to you as well. If you can cast Conjuration spells of 8th level or greater and used a gem of 2,000 gp value or higher in the casting, you can make a Concentration check (adding +1 to the roll for every 2,000 gp of gem value to a maximum of +4 at the 8,000 gp value) to try and transport both item and owner to you.
The target creature uses the result of your check as the DC for its Will save. If the save is failed, the spell works as normal and the creature is transported next to you. If the save succeeds, the spell does not work but you still know who and where the owner is (as per the spell description).
The idea of an item which acts as an independent rescuer of its possessor did not die with the realm of Hebix. Recently, a crafty halfling illusionist known as “the Trickster” developed the death cloak with a cleric ally in response to that adventurer’s habit of getting critically injured in combat. Adventurers who are in the know love to joke about the item’s cursed-sounding name after it’s been positively identified. “So, who wants to wear the ‘death cloak’,” someone invariably snickers. The Trickster admits the cloak isn’t perfect: someone who can see invisible creatures must attend to the wearer.
New Magic Item—Death Cloak
The death cloak is a plain black garment with faint purple trim and no collar. The magic is usable once a day and must be activated by command word (“trouble”). Once activated, the cloak protects the wearer for the next 30 minutes. If the wearer is reduced to 3 hit points or less in that time, the cloak’s magic immediately renders him invisible for 3 minutes. This invisibility effect cannot be accessed independently by the wearer.
Faint illusion; CL 3rd; Craft Wondrous Item, deathwatch, invisibility; Price 3,240 gp
Behind the Spells: Instant Summons is the tenth in a series produced for KoboldQuarterly.com by Tricky Owlbear Publishing, Inc.