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    The Six Great Night Hags - Artifacts of Despair
    Posted on Mon, January 10, 2005 by Dongul
    Wykthor writes "The most active of the sextet in the dealings with the prime material plane races, Despair is also the most profilic in the creation of evil magic items and cursed relics. This article details two of her most powerful creations, a soul-absorbing staff she created with the blessing of Incabulos and a collar that ensures a bargainer will fulfill its obligation or else it will be damned to Hades.

    The Six Great Night Hags - Artifacts of Despair
    By: Wykthor
    Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

    The Shepherd of Souls – Major Artifact

    Appearance: A 4-foot long blackish staff, encrusted with five huge black gems in different places, all possessing great value (10,000 gp each). It is possible to see inside these gems one or more distorted faces of creatures whose souls were absorbed by the artifact and were not completely destroyed – yet. The composition of the staff is unknown, made of a smooth but slightly porous and extremely cold substance that neither seems like wood, bone, stone or metal. The tactile feeling of its surface varies between the texture of a smooth steel bar and of a block of ice. It is said the staff was created from the running water of the Styx, derived from the icy depths in Cania or Stygia in the Nine Hells. When these gelid waters reached Hades, the great night hag Despair (aided by Incabulos) used her power to solidify them in the shape of a staff. It is believed the porosity of the Shepherd of Souls is due to the dark sand from Hades’ riverbed that was carried along with the running water when it was shaped like a staff. Likewise, the spots that were exempt of a single grain of this sand are believed to be where the five gems formed - crystallized Styx water without impurity.

    Properties: The barest contact with the Shepherd of Souls can debilitate the victim. Anyone who touches or is touched by the staff must make a Fortitude Save DC 17 or suffer 1d4 strength and constitution damage. This applies even to the bearer of the Shepherd of Souls, and this effect is continuous, being applied each round a creature is touched or maintains contact with the staff. This effect is briefly suppressed if the artifact touches a victim while activating a different power dependent on contact (such as bestow curse). If the victim’s constitution reaches zero through this debilitating touch, she not only dies but may also have her soul absorbed by the staff (see next paragraph). Further, corroborating the rumors about the origin of this artifact, the Shepherd of Souls can inflict damage to one’s memories in the same way as the River Styx. Anyone who touches the staff for a full round must make a Will Save DC 17 or suffer complete amnesia (as a feeblemind spell). This mind-affecting power can only manifest in such a way if the victim holds the artifact for a full round or if she is in a helpless condition and the staff bearer maintains contact with her during this time. Like the debilitating touch, this effect occurs each round the described condition applies and it is possible for someone who wields the staff, after failing the Will Save and become utterly mind-numbed, to lose any common sense to drop the artifact. After several failed fortitude saves, the victim’s constitution reaches zero and she dies, possibly having her soul absorbed as well.

    The most infamous power of this artifact resides in its ability to absorb souls and consume them to fuel greater effects. There are two ways to energize the Shepherd of Souls. The first way occurs when the bearer of the staff kills a victim (through any means) and soon after touches her with the artifact. The bearer automatically activates its inherent power which functions exactly as the spell soul bind. The activation of this power is a free action if the owner of the Shepherd of Souls already made contact with the victim, as when happens when someone dies by the constitution damage inflicted or by the successful use of the slay living power. In any case, the victim may resist the spiritual absorption by making a Will Save DC 19 + spellcaster main attribute modifier (intelligence for wizards, wisdom for cleric, charisma for sorcerer; Will DC 19 if it is the victim who is holding the staff or if the wielder who employs it against the target does not have soul bind in her spell list). It is important to point out that the Shepherd of Souls is always hungry for souls, and if it is in contact with a fresh corpse, the soul bind power is automatically activated, regardless of its wielder’s intentions. It is for this reason this power can be used even by a non-spellcaster. All the other powers can only be activated if the wielder possesses it in her spell list the spell to be activated.

    The second way to feed the Shepherd of Souls is through the activation of the power imprison soul (cf. Book of Vile Darkness p.98; the material component is not needed but the wielder still needs to know the victim’s name). The target can resist with a successful Will Save DC 17 + Wisdom modifier (for this power is usable only by clerics). As soul bind, imprison soul does not use any charges, but a standard action is needed to activate it. Another important difference from the former application is that imprison soul can be used on a living victim. Further, besides the repercussions in its memory (see below), the soul still maintains connection with its body, which remains alive, but will lose 1d4 constitution damage per day until it dies or the soul is returned (occurring only with the approval of the artifact wielder, using a standard action).

    Before the Shepherd of Souls absorbs any soul, it is important to check if the artifact is able to imprison it. Every soul absorbed is guarded in one of the five black gems incrusted in the staff, each one able to hold a maximum of 10 HD of creatures. So, it is important to know how many souls exist in each gem, as it is not possible to “divide” the hit dice of souls stored between several gems. The wielder also does not choose which gem the soul will be absorbed: they are automatically allocated to the gem with more “space”. It is important to stress that the HD value in each gem is the way to control off-game how many souls can be still be absorbed. These values are not usually known by the character, but she may, depending on her knowledge, estimate if the victim in question is too powerful to be contained in a partially occupied artifact. In any case, the target cannot be absorbed if she has more than 10 HD or if her hit dice will exceed the limit of 10 in all gems. For example, an 8 HD white dragon need not make a Will Save if the Shepherd of Souls has respectively 3, 5, 8, 9 and 9 HD of souls stored inside of its gems.

    The existence of a soul inside the gems is a perpetual state of agony and mental degeneration. Each round the soul stays inside a black gem it will have to make a Will Save DC 17 or suffer the effects of complete amnesia (as feeblemind). So, in a few minutes, forgetfulness will be inevitable. To undo the amnesia caused by the artifact it is necessary to cast greater restoration, heal, limited wish, miracle or a wish spells. A soul that is imprisoned is unable to perform any actions, not even interacting with her “cellmates”.

    Use of Charges: It is important to write down how many souls (and their respective hit dice) exist in each gem. The wielder can drain these souls slowly or instantly consume several of them. In any case, each hit dice drained confers the use of one charge to spend in the creation of several possible effects (see below). The wielder can always choose which soul(s) will be partially or fully drained and how much she can drain without extinguishing the prisoners. When activating a multiple charge power, the wielder may cover all the cost draining from a single soul or extract snippets of spiritual energy from several subjects in different scales (i.e., in game terms, one can choose how many HD will be used from each selected soul, though the character measures this as “soul energy”). For example, Despair decides to activate the destruction power of the staff, costing two charges. To fuel this power, the night hag may drain all HD from the soul of a 2nd level fighter in gem 1, or extract one hit die from a goblin and an ogre who are imprisoned respectively inside gem 2 and 3.

    It’s important to point out that this draining of soul energy and the activation of the desired power take collectively just a single standard action (the only exception to this is the activation of “Spiritual Obliteration” power, described later). If the artifact runs out of charges, the only active powers will be its debilitating touch, its memory loss property, and the cost-free soul bind and imprison soul effects.

    All of the powers below have a Save DC of 10 + spell level + spellcaster’s ability bonus modifier (assuming she has the desired spell in her spell list) + relevant feats (such as Spell Focus – necromancy). All of the effects are created at 20th level or the wielders’ spellcasting power, whichever is greater.

    Powers without cost of charges: Soul bind and Imprison Soul.
    Powers costing 1 charge: Bestow Curse, Inflict Critical Wounds and Unholy Blight.
    Powers costing 2 charges: Destruction*, Dispel Good and Slay Living.
    * A victim who failed a save against this power can not have her soul absorbed. There is almost nothing left.
    Powers of variable cost: Spiritual Obliteration and Creation of Undead.

    Spiritual Obliteration: As a free action, the wielder of the staff can select a soul which has not been drained of any HD and instantly extinguish it. This act confers a +10 profane bonus to caster level checks to overcome spell resistance for the next spell the wielder casts (including the powers of the Shepherd of Souls). This bonus is lost if not used in the same round it was generated. Also, it is not possible to extinguish more than one soul per round.

    Creation of Undead: This power is accessible to anyone who has Create Greater Undead in her spell list. In essence, the artifact uses one or more souls to create an incorporeal undead (with one noted exception; see below) from this gathered spiritual “mesh”. There is no save for this nor it is needed any material component. However, this process is extremely cruel and damaging, as it rips entire parts of several souls (when not draining them utterly) and “sews” them together into an accursed type of undead, which tends to be exceptionally angry and mentally unstable, due to its multiple spiritual origins. For every 2 hit dice of charges spent, the wielder of the artifact can generate 1 HD of incorporeal undead, rounded down. So, with all the five gems fully stocked (50 HD), one can generate up to 25 hit dice in undead. The Shepherd of Souls may create any number of such creatures, as long as the maximum HD limit is respected and all the created undead are of the same type. For example, Despair extinguishes a 5 HD soul from gem 1 and consumes 4 x 6 hit dice from souls (all of them having 7 HD), imprisoned in gems 2, 3, 4 and 5. A spiritual mesh of 14 HD (the half of the original 29 HD) is formed then and from this soul stuff the night hag will be able to create undead. From 14 DV it is possible to create 4 shadows, 3 allips or 2 spectres (discarding any excess). Alternatively, Despair can create a single advanced undead with more hit dice (such as a 14 HD spectre), in order to make full use of spiritual mesh. An important point is that the newly-created undead are not under control of their maker and will surely attack whomever is responsible for their condition unless the wielder uses other means to enslave them (e.g., command undead). Also, if the owner of the artifact is too powerful, the undead may flee instead. Finally, if the Shepherd of Souls uses this power in the negative plane or in the plane of shadow, the wielder has the option to create a single corporeal undead – a nightshade. The creation of these monstrosities utilizes the essence of these planes to form a body out of shadows and nothingness, being able to generate even the dreaded nightcrawler (25 HD) if the staff is totally filled with 50 “charges” (HD) in its gems. Although all the created undead appear right before the wielder, she may try to absorb them back (one per round) into the gems using imprison soul, as long as their HD can be contained in the hit dice limit above.

    Freedom of Souls: A soul whose hit dice were not completely drained (even if a portion of it was ripped to create an undead) can be freed from the artifact’s gems if its wielder uses a standard action. If the body which contained the soul had perished, the character may be revived normally (but needing its body or at least a part of it; if that is impossible, only a true resurrection will work). If the victim’s body still lives, the freed soul will travel back to it (as long as both of them occupy the same plane of existence; if not, it cannot return and the body will eventually die by constitution loss). The Dungeon Master may require a will save for the soul’s return to her body if the distance between them is too great. Further, the souls that were drained of hit dice will need a restoration or greater restoration spell, each HD lost equaling the permanent loss of a character level. A soul that was totally consumed does not inhabit the gem of the staff anymore, but can only be resurrected through a miracle or wish, and then only with a 50% chance of success.

    Method of Destruction: It is rumored that the only way to destroy the Shepherd of Souls is to fill it with goodness. The staff will be disintegrated when it absorbs 100 hit dice of creatures of exemplary good alignment (i.e., it is not enough to be chaotic or neutral good, it must be a paragon of virtue like a paladin, celestial or an exalted creature – from Book of Exalted Deeds). These hit dice do not need to be absorbed all at once; it may take centuries, absorbing and consuming these souls one by one. Until the “good hit dice score” reaches 100, the artifact’s magic will function normally.

    Despair’s Collar of Thralls – Major Artifact

    Appearance: A necklace made of light absorbing black iron, with a polished (but not entirely lapidated) black tourmaline at its center. If someone casts true seeing on it, the caster will see a human eye in the place of the gem. The necklace by itself tightly fits to the neck of anyone using it, enlarging or shrinking from colossal to tiny size, showing its true nature – not an ornamental jewelry, but a choking collar.

    History: This artifact was created by Despair, one of the six great night hags that follow Incabulos through his travels as the Black Rider. This collar was created centuries ago in order to maintain watch against any sign of rebellion among her most important servants. Even denizens of the Abyss were enslaved by forced use of this artifact and it is whispered the night hag watches and delivers retribution at those who dare to mistreat her slaves. For that reason, whoever is wearing Despair’s Collar of Thralls will probably be recognized and avoided by demons, fearing they will be the next victim.

    The Bargain: Despair plans the use of this collar only when there is a mission of great importance and she needs a powerful servant to achieve the task, preferably also one discreet and unlikely of betrayal. The night hag prefers evil, ambitious and greedy victims, yet intimidated enough they will not consider any treacherous act. Such potential slaves are also more malleable to attempt a bargain to use the collar, though occasionally the use of lies or coercion can help overcome any unnecessary reluctance. After choosing a victim, Despair communicates with her through dreams or agents (more rarely in person, but only in the lower planes), offering power, knowledge, counseling or any other benefit that can instill the greed of her target, and then ask a favor in exchange after he donned the “necklace”. Sometimes, the collar is found first by an unsuspecting victim and after the night hag discovers its location, she contacts whoever wears it through her usual methods. The reason behind the periodical disappearances and resurgence of the artifact is due to the escape attempts of those who try to run and avoid their cursed fate at any cost. For this reason, Despair’s Collar of Thralls (and its slave) seldom is sent to other planes that would make recovery of the artifact difficult. In any case, if the collar’s current user is not seen as useful to Despair, if she rejects the bargain proposed or if the night hag wants to punish a recalcitrant servant, the night hag may activate the collar (even if they are on a different plane of existence) and make it behave like a Necklace of Strangulation (cf. DMG). Sometimes Despair does not contact its wearer, waiting for a more interesting slave. Other times, the night hag may arrange a small deal with such person, especially if he or she is located in a region empty of potential thralls. In such cases, a minor bargain is proposed: the wearer will return the artifact to her dwelling in Hades or deliver it to a victim of Despair’s choosing in exchange for a small favor. While the bargainer survives while fulfilling the bargain, this minor pact is subject to all the rules described below, designed for the full-fledged bargain (i.e., a victim of Despair’s choosing wears the artifact and accepts to carry it on her terms).

    The first step begins with the donning of the collar. From the moment the night hag discovers the artifact’s location and the victim who wears it, she will try a contact. Until this first contact, Despair’s Collar of Thralls is inert and can be removed normally. After reaching the target, the great night hag will offer a bargain, not unlike a demonic pact. Generally, these pacts are specific and clear-ended, but always difficult and most likely evil, such as the weakening of an enemy god of Incabulos through the spread of corruption of his church, the destruction of a powerful rival devil or repeatedly thwart the goals of an order of paladins. It is important to note that the soul of the bargainer is not the main goal of Despair (though it can be a valuable bonus), but the fulfillment of the mission; there are easier ways to win souls without using this artifact. So, when asked about any interest about the soul of the wearer, the night hag evades details of the pact, saying her interest lies in a specific task in exchange for the bargainer’s payment, which both must be sealed with an “oath of protection” (of the pact and the wearer of the collar). Despair names those who accept the bargain as her “spiritual slaves”, for the chaining of the artifact will not only prevent its release from the victim’s body but imposes a grasp on her soul too, until the bargain is fulfilled.

    In game terms, from the moment the victim agrees to the bargain, there will be a special geas or quest imprinted upon her. However, instead of taking ability or hit point damage, the bargainer will create a channel for his soul to Despair, which will be opened the moment he begins to actively refuse to execute the mission assigned as his part of the pact. When that happens, the night hag is freely allowed to use the following punishments and encouragements to “persuade” the bargainer to uphold the pact:

    a) During hours of sleep, the bargainer will suffer the dream haunting power that night hags possess, regardless of the wearer’s alignment. Further, as the nightmarish ride he suffers is derived from the artifact and empowered by the bargain, no divine measures like protection from evil, hallow, forbiddance and dispel evil will ever work. This punishment will work regardless of the plane, and Despair need not to be ethereal; the nightmare will bring a connection of the soul to her current location with the night hag only needing to concentrate.

    b) As a harsher act, Despair may cause her collar to act as a portable symbol of insanity that affects only the wearer and ignores spell resistance. A heal spell may cure the affliction and the bargainer is allowed a Will save, but the symbol has continuous duration, needing to save (Will DC 22) each round until failed. Healing magic will be needed again as soon as the victim is struck insane. The night hag may cease this effect.

    c) If the former options were not enough (or if the victim is immune to mind-affecting effects), Despair may resort to choke the wearer to death. After the artifact is donned, and until a bargain is struck, the collar can act as a necklace of strangulation. When the bargain is accepted, this property is suspended and cannot be activated as long as the oath made is upheld. During the times the wearer procrastinates her agreement, the artifact is again enabled to function as that cursed magic item, activated by Despair (again, the planar distance being irrelevant) and negated until the night hag chooses so or the victims genuinely tries to fulfill her obligation.

    Regarding the pact’s terms, they will depend on how much Despair trusts in her slave. The more able the thrall is and the less discretion needed for the mission, the clearer will be the bargain. Other bargains can be much more subtle, with hidden clauses only clarified later. When the pact is finally over (meaning the mission was completed and the wearer received her payment), the collar will automatically fall of the victim’s neck, ready for the next slave. To avoid theft or loss, the night hag may include a clause to return the artifact at the end of the mission.

    Powers: The greatest attribute of this artifact is the lack of freedom it imposes on the slave. Nevertheless, it has some abilities which ensure the night hag will accompany the progress of the mission, grant anonymity to the wearer while acting on Despair’s behalf, and a means to call blasphemous aid for the slave should the hag deem it necessary:
    - Constant Nondetection (caster level check DC 31 to bypass).
    - The black tourmaline has the same properties as a Hag’s Eye (MM 3e p.144), with the difference that it does allow Despair to see her slave even if they are on different planes of existence.
    - As a side effect, the wearer always appears to be neutral evil when exposed to alignment detection.
    - Outsider Attunement: Despair may dispatch an evil outsider or undead to guide, protect or transport the slave. The collar serves as a beacon to this creature in order to locate the wearer. The greater and more dangerous the assignment made in the bargain, the mightier the servant is (it may be a quasit, a vampire, a pit fiend or nightwing, for example). If the night hag ordered the monster to stand guard over the slave, it may follow her through the ethereal plane (assuming it has the means to do so), as the artifact is visible from the Prime. Should this creature possess enough subterfuge and ability to disguise, it may accompany the wearer like a party member, but remember that it is in no way subjected to the wearer’s whims and may even turn against her if provoked, bored or hungry (but killing the wearer nulls the pact).

    How to Destroy or Escape from Despair’s Collar of Thralls: Being a major artifact, the collar is immune to any kind of conventional damage. It can be destroyed if exposed to an irresistible force of good, most likely coming from a god or a cosmological phenomena. For example, Bahamut’s disintegrate breath, Heironeous’ smiting, Pelor’s healing touch, Rao’s calming words or perhaps exposure to Chronias, the Illuminated Heaven. As all such actions are extraordinarily difficult, the best one can do is to try to escape the artifact’s grasp, with the following points in mind:
    - In case of the wearer’s death, the collar still hugs tightly to the cadaver’s neck, only loosening itself one month later. If the user becomes undead, or uses tricks like feign death, the artifact still holds (and it is considered a ghost touch item, for the purpose of affecting incorporeal creatures). The user’s death while wearing the collar will bring dire consequences to her soul if her part on the bargain was left unfulfilled (see below).
    - The collar is considered a part of the victim’s body, so spells like teleport without error, dimension door, gaseous form or teleport object will not allow the to wearer slip free of the artifact. Note that such an action constitutes a violation of the oath, thus subject to Despair’s punishments.
    - No spells such as remove curse, break enchantment, dispel magic (greater), dispel evil or limited wish won’t work. As the collar is an artifact, it will function normally in an antimagic field. Only three known spells can remove the collar – wish, miracle or Mordenkainen’s Disjunction. The first two spells require the expense of 5,000 xp while the third one can indeed destroy it if the caster is powerful enough (see the spell description).
    - If the victim manages to get rid from the collar, Despair’s punishments will no longer apply and she can freely ignore the oath taken without fear unless her spirit goes to Hades after death due to her alignment. The heavens help the soul who escaped thralldom but ended in Despair’s clutch anyway.

    Death of the wearer: If the wearer did not make a bargain and was killed, either by the strangling or by other cause, she may be raised normally after the collar extraction (usually after a month – to raise her earlier may risks Despair killing again). In any case, unless the victim was neutral evil, her soul will not go to Hades. If a slave dies with the collar, the artifact acts as a temporary refuge for her soul (like a lich’s phylactery) for up to a month. During this time, raise dead, resurrection and true resurrection will work, with some alterations. First, the body must be fairly intact if the raise dead is to work, so the head must be united with the torso. Second, the artifact is the temporary dwelling of the wearer’s soul, so when a spellcaster tries to return its uses to life without having a body (in the case of true resurrection) or just a part of it (as in resurrection or reincarnate), the body will form from the collar itself. It will not do any good to chop down the dead wearer’s neck and remove all the flesh from the artifact and then hope a resurrection upon the corpse only will bring the subject back to life without wearing the collar; the spell will not work because it is being cast in a body devoid of a soul.

    Assuming the wearer is still wanting on its obligations described in the bargain and she dies with no one able to revive her, the situation becomes dire indeed. One month after death, just before the collar detaches from the wearer’s neck, the slave’s soul will go to Hades, regardless of her alignment, and becomes a larva owned by Despair. As it was said before, the bargain does not aim for the victim’s soul, but uses it as “insurance” in case the wearer does not fulfill her part. No resurrection magic will work, unless another bargain is struck with Despair. If the wearer does fulfill her part in the bargain, no damnation will be effective unless her alignment becomes evil. For the night hag, her greatest achievement in these pacts occurs when someone fulfills the pact, delivers the collar to her, but the former slave’s actions in life were so corrupted by the hag’s influence (such as accepting her offers of aid) that after death her soul travels down to Hades anyway. For those incorruptibles, it is best to be on guard when returning the artifact to Despair, for she might readily attack after the bargain is finished to ensure the victim will not escape.

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    Re: The Six Great Night Hags - Artifacts of Despair (Score: 1)
    by contemassi on Tue, January 11, 2005
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