View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Skull of the Witch Doctor - artifact for a Death Domain Cleric

2016-10-25, 07:40 AM
Once upon a time, in a game long time ago, one of my players' character picked up a skull for whatever reason (I've forgot) and kept carrying it around with him. Sometimes even talking to it, IIRC.

With the reboot of our campaign (from Pathfinder to 5th edition) the player decided to reroll his character as a cleric of Death domain. We decided that the skull he was carrying with him was a defining feature of the character, so I let him have it as a Trinket of sorts. The skull is polished white, harder than one might think. Doesn't have a single scratch or dent in it, and has a pristine onyx embedded on it's forehead, between the empty eye sockets.

As the game started, I surprised the player with a scene where pickpockets filched something from each character in a busy bazaar, and his stolen object was, of course, the skull. For reasons yet unknown, the skull reappeared in the player's possession after a while, without him noticing when it had returned, or how. This was only the start of the strange occurences regarding the skull.

Note, that I didn't actually plan much of this ahead of time, but once I played it out, I thought I had to make it stick.

So, one time, a while after this incident at the bazaar, the players faced a deadly foe that would cast a cone of cold (albeit a tuned-down version of it, potentially dealing only half of the normal minimum damage, before any resistances and saves), but for reasons unknown to the cleric, and other players, the skull sprang out of the cleric's possession, free-floating and formed a barrier in the nick of time, protecting the cleric (and his allies consequently) from the deadly spell entirely (I admit, it was a DM fiat because I realized that had I rolled the damage, it could've resulted in TPK, and I didn't want that to happen due to my own mistake).

Shortly after this, the cleric realized that the skull had begun to speak, though in a language he didn't quite understand. (a special language, not from PHB). As a minor twist to it, no one else can hear the speech except the cleric.

At this point I decided that I might actually make the skull as a recently dormant sentient artifact, which the player could eventually attune himself with. I decided to put a simple prerequisite first; the player had to learn the language in order to be able to attune with the skull. The normal downtime 250 days requirement to learn a new language is pretty good in my opinion.

Now, however, I've faced an inspirational impasse.

I know I want certain things from the item, but I'm not sure if it's balanced.

1) the skull might function as a spellcasting focus for a worshiper of a death god.
2) the skull could duplicate itself as a familiar to the attuned character, being able to fly on its own volition.
3) the skull could probably cast a few spells, or produce effects similar to some spells. Such as, maybe, animate dead, and a spell/effect that could protect against cold damage.
4) the skull couldn't be removed from the character's person as long as it's attuned by the character. And the character isn't dead.

Help as to how should I word the abilities would be welcome, as well as suggestions for the abilities mentioned.

Also, what other abilities could it have?

Gr7mm Bobb
2016-10-26, 08:54 AM
Maybe once in a while allow it to stockpile "magic" that allows the cleric to ignore spell components. If they push it too far there is price that must be paid. Maybe the skull has to be in the presence of meaningful death to replenish its stockpiles.


Allow it to function as an item of spell-storing where the sepll level stored is keyed to the attuned weilders prof bonus. Could be equal to, prof +1/-1, or double prof. Really the use of prof is to allow scaled growth with character.

There is a also a neat section of positive and negative effects that can occur when bonded to an artifact.

Perhaps it grants access to spells the cleric normally doesnt get, or gives some of the benefits of the Necromancer wizard path. The floatinng talking bit doesn't have to be all the time too, it could just be one of those things that comes up when its important, or even cold shoulder's other NPC's that think they matter (like the cleric of a 'lesser' god).

Very neat and falvorful to begin with. Honestly if your player isn't really expecting it, make likeJRR Tolkein and keep it mysterious. Why/how are a privelege and a curse that can ruin the magic of most things. (*cough-midichlorians*)

2016-10-28, 09:24 AM
Ok, here's what I've got so far (thanks for further inspiration!)

The soul of a long dead deranged Witch Doctor was bound to his own skull a millenia ago. Devout worshiper of an old god of Death in life, the soul has a single purpose in it's afterlife, to defend the servants of a new god of Death whoever it might be. Although if any signs of it's former deity lingers, the soul is drawn towards them.

Intelligence 17
Wisdom 15
Charisma 14

Communication. Can speak and understand a forgotten language related with spirits and the dead. It speaks with a mystic voice that only the character whom the skull has chosen to speak to can hear. In addition, it can read any written language.
Special: to be able to attune to the skull, the character must first learn the language it speaks.
Senses. Hearing and normal vision out to 120 feet.
Alignment. Neutral Evil.
Purpose. Templar. The skull seeks to defend the servants and interests of Vecna (formerly Uria)

* The item demands that its wielder dispose of anything the item finds repugnant.
* If servants of Uria are nearby, the skull demands to be given to such an individual.
If its wielder refuses to comply with the item's wishes the item can do any or all of the following:
* Make it impossible for its wielder to attune to it.
* Suppress one or more of its activated properties.
* Attempt to take control of its wielder.
If a sentient item attempts to take control of its wielder, the wielder must make a Charisma saving throw, with a DC 14. On a failed save, the wielder is charmed by item for 1d12 hours. While charmed, the wielder must try to follow the item's commands. If the wielder takes damage, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on a success. Whether the attempt to control its user succeeds or fails, the item can't use this power again until the next dawn.

Indestructible. The skull can't be destroyed by conventional means.

The skull can fly at a speed of 30 ft. for up to 10 minutes per long rest. This ability must be used in 1 minute increments.

While the skull is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through the skull's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the skull has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses. (Requires attunement)

When you cast a spell with a range of touch, the skull can deliver the spell as if it had cast the spell. The skull must be within 100 feet of you when you cast the spell. If the spell requires an attack roll, you use your attack modifier for the roll. The skull can't take any actions of it's own.
(Requires attunement)

While the skull is on your person, you can use it as a spellcasting focus for your spells.
(Requires attunement)

The Soul of the Witch Doctor still possesses a fragment of it's former power and allows you to ignore spell components when you cast a spell. You must decide to use this ability before you start casting the spell. The charges used are expended whether or not the casting is successful.
The skull can have a total of 9 charges (1d8+1 charges left when first attuned with).
Ignoring a spell component consumes an amount of charges as follows:
1 charge: Verbal.
2 charges: Somatic.
3 charges: Material OR both verbal and somatic.
Expended charges replenish only when the skull is present at a meaningful death, subject to DM's discretion.
Alternatively, the skull may attempt to cast any spell the wielder knows or has prepared by spending charges equal to the spell level.
(Requires attunement)

As long as the character is attuned to The Skull of the Witch Doctor, the character knows the followings spells, provided the attuned character can learn or prepare spells of high enough level:
6th-level: Circle of Death, Create Undead
7th-level: Etherealness, Finger of Death
8th-level: Antipathy/Sympathy, Clone
9th-level: Foresight, Imprisonment
(Requires attunement)

What I would like to have help with now, is to divide these abilities so that the wielder could gain them progressively (from weakest to most powerful, obviously) through gaining more individual power (=levels; milestones preferably at 1st, 5th, 11th, and 17th levels)