Friday, August 12, 2011

Sharpened Hooks: The Box

I originally developed the Box for an Unknown Armies campaign.  The campaign never materialized, so it only appeared in a prequel one shot I ran.  Perhaps you will use it more than I did.

The Box is an unremarkable wooden box.  It lacks finish, and it is old, though not too old.  It has a latch, but unless the current owner has locked it, it doesn't have a lock.  In settings where characters can detect magic, the thing oozes magic.  Though it looks unremarkable, astute observers might note that odd things happen in the vicinity of the Box, though they are never explicitly connected to the Box.

The Box only has one power: it contains knowledge.  Whether it forms a gate to some Other place, or whether it physically contains this knowledge, the bottom line is that the Box holds the keys to personal enlightenment.  Unfortunately, the human mind wasn't meant to hold all this knowledge, and that means that there's a consequence to all this knowledge: madness.

In game terms, the Box confers experience points while prompting insanity in the user.  How this works depends on the game system.  If the character spends a round (somewhere in the five second range or so) looking in the Box, that character gains some experience (a point or two in systems that award individual experience points, a skill check or the like in systems that use skill checks as development, or maybe the equivalent experience to a monster of the character's level in level-based systems; basically the amount one could reasonably expect for a minimum session's work).  However, if the character spends that round looking in the Box, he risks madness.  Since not all games detail madness, how this works is up to the Game Master.  In games like Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, Unknown Armies, and World of Darkness, the madness rules already in place should suffice.  Games like D&D typically don't have a default madness system, so the Game Master may have to improvise (settings like Ravenloft, Call of Cthulhu d20, and others typically do include some rules for measuring a character's mental state).  In any case, the power to become a better character should come with the penalty of becoming a gibbering wreck as the secrets of the universe blast the character's mind.

Note that the Game Master may grant other appropriate benefits (perhaps the character learns a spell or the location of an important item) as well as appropriate penalties (perhaps the events are so shocking that the character becomes deformed or gains some other genre-appropriate flaw).

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