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Part 3.5: Apotheosis Items
In my previous piece on creating magic items that grow in power with the characters who wield them, I focused on a particular subtype: the Set-Piece Item. Although Set-Pieces are really just one item, they break up into several different parts, each of which requires attunement and provides benefits. However, if you collect all of the parts and assemble them, you end up with a single powerful item. The Set-Piece enables a GM to space out how often PCs acquire pieces, so they don’t gain all of the powers of the assembled item at once.
This article will describe a second type of item that scales with PC level: the Apotheosis Item. Although Apotheosis Items can work okay with the current attunement rules, they work better with the alternative attunement rules I suggested in a previous article. (TL;DR version: As the wielder’s proficiency bonus goes up, so does the number of magical items he or she can attune to.)
After an overview of how Apotheosis Items work, I’ll describe a specific example called the Sapling Staff of Sarohar — a powerful druidic item gifted to defenders of the wildlands by the mysterious Greenwarden.
Apotheosis Items Explained
In case you haven’t come across the term, an apotheosis is a transformation, usually from the mortal or mundane into the divine. It’s what happens when a mortal becomes a god. But hey, you’re gamers reading this, so obscure vocabulary is probably part of your stock in trade. These particular kinds of Legacy Items that we are calling Apotheosis Items are special objects of significant power. Putting these in your game will have to be a conscious act as they will potentially upset game balance, just as including a legendary item or even an artifact in the game might cause issues. However, there is one very significant advantage in terms of game balance that Apotheosis Items have in their favor: Because they require multiple levels of attunement, they limit the number of total magic items a character can use. Furthermore, particularly powerful Apotheosis Items might require a minimum character level for some of the levels of attunement.
|A Quick Glossary, Covering Terms from Previous Articles in this Series|
|Legacy Item: Any item or set of items that can grow in power or gain features as a character adventures.|
|Enhanced Attunement Item: Legacy Items that require users to “pay” multiple attunements, if they wish to tap the item’s full powers.|
|Set-Piece Item: Enhanced Attunement Items that have been broken up into separate components, each with its own powers. When fully assembled, the Set-Piece is a legendary or artifact-level item. A Set-Piece item differs from Reconstructed Items (below) in that the Set-Piece requires multiple attunements.|
|Mastery Item: A single-attunement Legacy Item that increases in power as the wielder’s Proficiency Bonus improves.|
|Reconstructed Item: A Legacy Item that has, like the Set-Piece, been divided up into separate components. Unlike the Set-Piece, the Reconstructed Item only requires one attunement.|
If you’re not using the alternative attunement rule we have suggested, these items can still be used but will be somewhat more limited in their scope and also possibly less desirable to PCs. If you use the official attunement maximum for all characters, having one of these items will likely use up all of a character’s attunements and thus prevent the use of any other powerful items. Indeed, PCs would never be able to use any Apotheosis Item requiring more than three attunements.
If you continue to use the official limit on the number of attunements, we suggest you then allow the Apotheosis Item to reach its full potential when the character wielding it has met two conditions: 1) She meets the attunement level requirement; 2) She has attuned to the item three times.
Apotheosis Items really come into their own if you use the alternative attunement system we have suggested. Under that system, the Apotheosis Item will be able to grow and develop as the character’s proficiency bonus increases. Again, the point of Legacy Items in general is to have magic items that won’t simply be discarded when a new version with a bigger plus shows up. A world with Legacy Items has fewer magic items than the out-of-the-box setting, but many of them are much more complicated and interesting.
Let’s meet an example of the Apotheosis Item.
The Sapling Staff of Sarohar
An entity called the Greenwarden first gifted the Sapling Staff to the druid Sarohar of the Einolar Elves for his service in protecting a sacred grove. Little is known about the Greeenwarden outside of the Einolar. The being, which appears as a large humanoid figure composed entirely of green leaves and vines, may be a demigod or extremely powerful nature spirit, but it is revered by many druidic circles and occasionally grants boons to valiant protectors of the wild spaces.
Sarohar was one such druid. He nearly perished while single-handedly defending an ancient virgin forest from a group of humans bent on logging it. Ruthless in his defense, the druid killed scores of woodsmen. Sarohar is as reviled in the memory of the human kingdom from which the loggers came as he is revered by the druids and elves. His name is still used to frighten children and it is claimed that he ate the woodsmen he slew, decorating the borders of the sacred woods with their skulls and bones as a warning against any further attempts to defile the woods.
The Greenwarden appeared to Sarohar when he first took up the cause of fighting off the human threat and presented him a small wand that he claimed would grow in form and power “as a sapling might mature into a tree.” Indeed, as Sarohar continued his defense the wand turned into a shillelagh-like rod and then finally into a staff. With each transformation its power grew and with its aid Sarohar was able to defeat and destroy significant military forces sent against him.
When Sarohar died many centuries later in a conflict with a vicious family of green dragons, most of whom he managed to take with him to his grave, his Einolar druid followers recovered his body to enshrine within one of their great Pillar Trees. However, the famed Sapling Staff was nowhere to be found. One promising acolyte did discover a large acorn in the vicinity and held on to it as a curiosity, detecting a faint hint of magic within it. This young druid went on to great accomplishments and found that as he gained in power and wisdom the acorn sprouted and turned first into a wand, then a rod, and finally into a staff that harbored all the legendary powers of the Sapling Staff.
The Sapling Staff is an Enhanced Attunement Apotheosis Item. It requires attunement to access even its basic powers, and additional attunements to awaken its larger forms and greater powers. If you use the alternative attunement ritual rule we have described elsewhere, then attunement to the item requires the bearer to preserve or defend some wild plant or animal against a destructive threat. Each subsequent level of attunement requires another such act of preservation. When an attuned owner of the item dies, the Sapling Staff reverts to its seedling form.
If you do not use our alternative rule linking the number of attunements a character has to his or her proficiency bonus, it would be technically impossible to attune to the highest level of the item’s power. If you wish to avoid house rules, we suggest that you instead allow the item to gain this last level of power when the attuned character wielding it has applied all three attunements to it and has reached 13th level.
This is a powerful item granting multiple powers at each level of apotheosis. It provides particular benefits to druids but is also quite useful for clerics and perhaps might even be valued by other classes. Using and attuning to this item will severely limit the character’ s ability to use other magic items, so it is a bit more powerful than standard items found at each of the indicated levels. For this reason, you should carefully consider balance issues before placing this item in your campaign.
The Seedling (Requires 1 level of attunement): At this stage the Sapling Staff doesn’t really look like a staff at all. Instead, it takes the form of a very large acorn that can be held comfortably in the palm of one hand. The acorn is always green and slightly warm to the touch.
The Seedling serves as a spellcasting focus for druids and for clerics of nature deities, and it provides a +1 bonus to the spell attack modifier for any class that uses Wisdom as a primary spellcasting attribute. While the bearer is attuned, her skin thickens, taking on a slightly grainy and bark-like appearance. The bearer has a base AC of 14 when not wearing armor; when armor is worn, her AC cannot be lower than 14.
Once per long rest the bearer may, as a bonus action, heal himself or herself for 1d8 Hit Points plus his or her Wisdom bonus, if any.
Once per long rest, the attuned bearer of the Sapling Staff may, as a bonus action, summon three awakened shrubs. The creatures form from nearby vegetation within 10 feet of the bearer and serve him or her until destroyed or until the bearer completes another long rest.
The Sapling (Requires 2 levels of attunement; bearer must be at least 5th level): At this stage, the Sapling Staff sprouts, turning into a wand like twig roughly as long as its bearer’s forearm. Small leaf buds appear on the sapling, which continues to remain green and supple.
In addition to the benefits granted during its Seedling stage, the Sapling adds +1 to the spell save DC for casters who use Wisdom as their primary spellcasting attribute. If the attuned owner of the item is a druid, the sapling increases the maximum CR of the kind of creature the druid can transform into using the Wild Shape ability by +1. The base AC the bearer is granted while unarmored (and minimum if wearing armor) is raised to 15.
Once per long rest the bearer may, as a bonus action, heal himself or herself for 2d8 Hit Points plus his or her Wisdom bonus, if any. This replaces the healing ability that the Seedling granted.
Once per long rest, the attuned bearer of the Sapling Staff may, as a bonus action, summon six awakened shrubs. The creatures form from nearby vegetation within 10 feet of the bearer and serve him or her until destroyed or until the bearer completes another long rest. This replaces the summoning ability from the Seedling stage.
The Shillelagh (Requires 3 levels of attunement; bearer must be at least 9th level): At this stage the Sapling Staff grows to about three feet in length, thickening and solidifying. The outside bark hardens and takes on a deep green polish.
In this form, the Shillelagh can be used as a +2 club, dealing a base of 1d6 damage instead of the normal club damage, plus 2 points of damage for the item’s magical bonus. Furthermore, it counts as both blessed and silvered for purposes of overcoming damage resistance.
If the attuned owner of the item is a druid, the shillelagh increases the maximum CR of the kind of creature the druid can transform into using the Wild Shape ability by +2. The base AC the bearer is granted while unarmored (and minimum while wearing armor) is raised to 16.
Once per long rest the bearer may, as a bonus action, heal himself or herself for 3d8 Hit Points plus his or her Wisdom bonus, if any. This replaces the healing ability that the Seedling and Sapling stages granted.
Once per long rest, the attuned bearer of the Sapling Staff may, as a bonus action, summon a shambling mound. The creature forms from nearby vegetation within 10 feet of the bearer and serves him or her until destroyed or until the bearer completes another long rest. This replaces the summoning abilities from the Seedling and Sapling stages.
The Staff (Requires 4 levels of attunement; bearer must be at least 13th level): At this stage the Sapling Staff takes on its eponymous form and grows to match the height of its wielder. Though solid and strong, the staff is also still very much alive and may even irregularly sprout leaves and even occasional acorns.
In this form, the Staff can be used as a +3 quarterstaff but it does a base of 1d8 (+3) damage when wielded one-handed, instead of normal quarterstaff damage. When wielded two-handed, damage rises to 1d10+3. Furthermore, it counts as both blessed and silvered for purposes of overcoming damage resistance.
If the attuned owner of the item is a druid, the staff increases the maximum CR of the kind of creature the druid can transform into using the Wild Shape ability by +3. Spells cast by the druid that can benefit from being cast at a higher level are considered to have been cast using a spell slot one higher than the actual level of the spell slot used. The base AC the bearer is granted while unarmored is raised to 17; if the bearer wears armor, his or her minimum AC is 17.
The bearer of the shillelagh becomes empowered by the natural vitality of the vegetable world. His or her skin takes on a slight greenish hue and the bearer need no longer eat food as long as he or she can spend an hour or more a day in the sun. Additionally, the bearer gains the ability to rapidly heal, regenerating 1 hit point at the beginning of each turn. This replaces the prior healing abilities from the Seedling, Sapling and Shillelagh stages.
Once per long rest, the attuned bearer of the Sapling Staff may, as a bonus action, summon a treant. The creature forms from nearby vegetation within 10 feet of the bearer and serves him or her until destroyed or until the bearer completes another long rest. This replaces the summoning abilities granted in the staff’s earlier stages.
A Final Word
We hope you have enjoyed our tinkering with the new attunement rule and the Legacy Items we have created for this series. If you are inspired by them, please feel free to create your own versions and share them with us in the comments. Also, let us know if you enjoy these items and use them in any of your own games and how they work out if you do so. If these continue to generate discussion we may well go back and create a few more examples.