New Artifact Idea to Encourage Party Cooperation: Pieces of Eight

Skull & Shackles

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Pieces of Eight
I am adding an artifact to my Skulls and Shackles campaign. I am sharing my plan for it here in case others have feedback, or if they want to add something like this to their game.

If you google around, someone else made a cool artifact already called Pieces of Eight. What I describe here is totally unrelated to that item. I created this artifact to provide in-game encouragement of co-operation among my players, who may be playing selfish and evil pirates.

Why Add Pieces of Eight:
This is a Besmaran artifact designed to give the campaign some more pirate-flavor. More importantly, I want an item that helps bind the team together. I’m placing no restrictions on alignment in my game, but I don’t want player vs player combat or player-vs-player thievery. The campaign offers other mechanisms to bind the players such as a shared starting experience and likely shared hatred of some NPCs. This item is one more mechanism to encourage cooperation. And unlike the former two, I describe below a way to use this to encourage co-operation for characters that enter the campaign after the first adventure.

What Is It:
The Pieces of Eight are a set of 8 silver coins that offer modest benefits when held individually by chaotic characters. If a crew of pirates acquire the whole set the power is amplified, but a lack of communication or coordination by the holders could diminish the items effectiveness.

What do they look like:
Each Pieces of Eight is a silver coin of good size that feels thick and satisfying in the palm. One side always bears skull and crossbones somewhat reminiscent of Besmara’s holy symbol. The opposite face usually appears blank. However, if it is keyed to an individual (described below) that individual sees his own likeness on this face of the coin and his name engraved in bas relief. This side appears blank to everyone else – only the keyed individual sees his likeness.

What do they do:
The Pieces of Eight can exist in three states: unkeyed, keyed, and setted. The powers vary.

Unkeyed: An unkeyed Pieces of Eight confers no penalty or bonus to its holder, although it does radiate overwhelming enchantment magic.

Keyed: When a bearer possesses a Pieces of Eight keyed to him, he gains a +1 untyped bonus on swim and climb checks if he is chaotic. If he is chaotic neutral he also gains one level’s worth of favored class bonus (e.g., a bonus hitpoint or skillpoint) and the benefits of the Cheat Death trait while he possesses a keyed pieces of eight. Characters who are not chaotic can still possess a keyed Pieces of Eight without harm, but they do not gain these benefits.

Setted: If a crew of eight individuals hold all eight keyed Pieces of Eight they gain access to divine magic. A character can receive these benefits regardless of alignment. This “setted” status can happen because the crew acquires the Pieces of Eight by their own pluck, luck or effort (which I term organically), or it can occur by Besmara’s will (which I term divine will). In my game the party will acquire them organically, but I describe both below because in the history of the item I have a story where they are acquired by divine will. The Pieces of Eight are more powerful when acquired by Divine Will.

Organically: Each holder of the Pieces of Eight selects one domain from Besmara’s portfolio (Chaos, Trickery, War, Water, Weather, Deception, Duels, Oceans, Protean, Tactics, Thievery, and Storms). He can then cast the level 1 spell from this domain with a caster level equivalent to his hit dice. He uses his charisma as the relevant ability score when casting a spell using this item. If his charisma is too low to cast that spell, then it functions at the minimum ability score to cast the spell. At levels 6-10 he can access the second level domain spell once per day, at levels 11-15 he can access the third level domain spell once per day, and at levels 16-20 he can access the level 4 domain spell once per day. At levels 16-20 he can, alternatively, forgo the use of the spells of levels 1-4 and instead cast the level 5 domain spell once per day. He does not need to make this decision until he is ready to use the item (i.e., the spells are not “memorized” in the traditional sense and the user can choose to use the level five spell in the moment provided he has not otherwise used the Pieces of Eight that day).

Divine Will: If the Pieces of Eight are “setted” by Divine Will, the Pieces of Eight operate identically to how they work when acquired organically, except all bearer’s function as character level 20 for the purposes of the divine magic, regardless of their actual character level.

How is a Pieces of Eight keyed to an individual?:
There are a few ways one can become keyed: It can be gifted, willed, or placed.

Gifted: Anyone possessing a keyed Pieces of Eight may willingly gift it to another. To gift a Pieces of Eight, the currently keyed individual must hold the Pieces of Eight at arm’s length during the full moon spring tide (this happens about once a month) so the Pieces of Eight with his likeness faces him and covers the moon from his perspective. He must then speak the name of the individual to whom he wants to gift the Pieces of Eight. This will key the Pieces of Eight to the new individual.

Willed: Anyone possessing a keyed Pieces of Eight may perform a similar procedure to the one described under “Gifted” except he holds the coin with the skulls and crossbones facing him when he speaks the name aloud. In this case, the Pieces of Eight remains keyed to the original person. However, upon this person’s death the Pieces of Eight will automatically key to the individual named during this ritual. At any spring tide with a full moon the Keyed individual may repeat this ritual with a new name to update who will gain the Pieces of Eight upon his death.

Placed: If a bearer of a Pieces of Eight dies without a named willed individual then the Pieces of Eight will be unkeyed (it can also become unkeyed as a deathwish, described below). A cleric of Besmara may cast Greater Dispel Magic (this is an alternate use of Greater Dispel Magic), succeed at a check vs. caster level 25, and touch an unkeyed Pieces of Eight and key it to a new named individual. As part of the casting, the cleric must perform the ritual for willing a Pieces of Eight described above (e.g., only during a full moon spring tide, while holding the Pieces of Eight so it blocks the full moon).

Of note, at anytime Besmara herself can adjust the keying of a Pieces of Eight by divine will and cause them to be lost or found anywhere on Golarion.

How do Pieces of Eight encourage cooperation?
In two ways...

First, two individuals cannot select the same Besmara domain of setted Pieces of Eight. To select a domain, the bearer of a Pieces of Eight holds the coin at arm’s length during a spring tide full moon so the coin covers the moon and names a domain. If two or more individuals name the same domain, neither individual gain the benefit of this domain until he can do a new ritual at the next spring tide full moon.

Second, at the moment of death of a holder of a keyed and setted Pieces of Eight, the bearer may make a deathwish to cause the bearer(s) of any other keyed Pieces of Eight to become unkeyed. The deathwish is a bit meta-gamey because I’m not defining it as a free action, standard action, immediate action, etc and the character is technically choosing after he has died. Basically, the dying player character can just choose to throw someone out of the setted crew by wanting it to be so at his moment of death.

…my hope is that selecting domains causes the setted crew to have to plan together monthly on domain selection, and if they get it wrong there is a temporary penalty. I’m hoping the deathwish option causes a bearer of a Pieces of Eight to think twice about doing harm to another bearer of a setted Pieces of Eight.

What is the in-game story/lore behind the Pieces of Eight?
The gold dragon Mengkare, who rules the island kingdom of Hermea in the Steaming Sea, set out to create a utopia for humanity that he ruled absolutely in a city he named Promise. Approximately 200 years ago, in the guise of a human wizard Lamond Breachton, he set out to find the best, brightest, wisest, and most beautiful to join his utopia.

At this time, handsome Pete was a loving trophy husband of the pirate captain Cutlass Jess. Cutlass Jess and her crew achieved modest renown and operated out of a port on Shark Island (this is shortly before the time the Sahuagin began to overrun Shark Island). Handsome Pete’s rugged handsomeness struck Mengkare as Mengkare toured Golarion, and the dragon sent a letter to invite Handsome Pete to Promise. Handsome Pete agreed and traveled to Promise. It is unknown if, at the time Handsome Pete traveled to Promise, he knew his invitation did not include his wife, Cutlass Jess, or if Handsome Pete discovered this later. Regardless, the invitation did not include Cutlass Jess. Handsome Pete came to miss Cutlass Jess, and freely left Promise to return to Shark Island and his beloved.

Mengkare set Red Mantis assassins on anyone who left Promise, including Handsome Pete. Fortunately for Handsome Pete, Cutlass Jess and her pirate crew discovered his assassination order when Cutlass Jess and her crew seized a Red Mantis ship bound from Ilizamagorti for the Shackles. Doubly fortunate, Besmara herself found Mengkare’s entire Glorious Endeavor to create a perfect human race through breeding beyond distasteful. Mengkare’s effort to kill the husband of a pirate of the Shackles’ for not staying in this so-called utopia personally offended the pirate goddess. Besmaran faithful today believe the pirate goddess secreted the Pieces of Eight aboard the same ship with the Red Mantis assassins’ orders to kill Handsome Pete, and Cutlass Jess found them.

Cutlass Jess sought to shield her husband from the Red Mantis assassins, using the warning the seized note offered her, and she turned to her crew for help. Cutlass Jess’s crew saw little profit and great risk taking on the feared assassin organization. Cutlass Jess used the Pieces of Eight found on the assassins’ ship to sweeten the deal with her crew, and offered to share them with seven of her officers. This secured the needed help to defend her husband. Cutlass Jess attributed finding the Pieces of Eight to good fortune, but the Besmaran faithful today view it as a miracle of Besmara’s hand. Regardless, the crew agreed to help Cutlass Jess ambush the Red Mantis assassins.

Cutlass Jess and her crew used the powerful magic of the Pieces of Eight: flamestrike, ice storm, and call lightning to slay the Red Mantis assassins. They then used False Vision to fool Mengkare when he scried the battlefield, and tricked the dragon into believing his assassins had killed Handsome Pete.

What became of Cutlass Jess and Handsome Pete? Unfortunately, according to the tale, a few years later Cutlass Jess lost interest in Handsome Pete and took a new lover.

What became of the Pieces of Eight? It is not known if Cutlass Jess is the first to use the Pieces of Eight, but this is the oldest story of their use. Over the next two hundred years to present day, occasionally pirate crews have uncovered the Pieces of Eight and used them to outwit and outduel opponents. Usually, these opponents come from beyond the Shackles and seek to impose their ideology on the freedom-loving pirates.

There are also a handful of cases where pirate crews with the Pieces of Eight don’t co-operate, and the Pieces of Eight fail them at a critical juncture, often resulting in the death of the bearer. For example, Bart the Betrayer, at the time known as Black Bart, saw the Pieces of Eight fail him. About thirty years ago, Bart and his crew made a good living raiding Osirion ships in the Inner Sea and then fleeing back to the Shackles. The Ruby Prince, Khemet III grew tired of this piracy, and commissioned Cheliax to construct a Ship of the Line for Osirion, Desert’s Salt, and end the piracy on its shores - starting with Black Bart. Fortunately for Bart, he and his crew held the Pieces of Eight. Bart and his crew sailed bravely to face Desert’s Salt in the open sea. However, at the sight of Desert’s Salt fear overcame Bart but his officers pushed him to take on the Ship of the Line. Bart poisoned his officers during breakfast the morning before the anticipated combat. He intended to flee from Desert’s Salt using the Pieces of Eight’s ability to conjure obscuring mists, and fog clouds, and then complete his escape with nondetection. If successful, he would survive the day and keep his ship and his life. However, all the powers of the Pieces of Eight failed him at this critical moment, and Desert’s Salt captured Bart the Betrayer. The Ruby Prince hanged him from a short rope in Sothis.

Despite these stories, most often the Pieces of Eight show up as incomplete sets, and The Pieces of Eight have not been united as a set in over three decades. Bart the Betrayer was the last known pirate to have the set.

How will I use the Pieces of Eight in my campaign?
I plan to introduce the Pieces of Eight as treasure in the first adventure. I am following the suggestion elsewhere on these message boards to insert the Dungeon Magazine adventure Salvage Operation into this adventure (very happy to crack out my old issues!). My players (likely 6 PCs) will find six of the Pieces of Eight mysteriously and without explanation already keyed to them. If a player dies, I expect his Pieces of Eight to go to a friendly NPC and the newly created PC could come with one of the missing Pieces of Eight. In this way, a new character who doesn’t have the common experiences of the existing players still has a reason to join and co-operate, and possibly a reason why he joined my player’s crew. If the game goes past the point the players have ready access to raise dead, and I don’t expect any permanent death, then I plan to have the players find the remaining Pieces of Eight as treasure if they have not done so already.

I suspect, and want, my players to believe Besmara left the Pieces of Eight for them. This won’t be the case though, and I look forward to the excitement when they realize someone else left them in their path. They can come to this discovery with divination magic or high knowledge checks about how the Pieces of Eight work, because they will need to “unlock” the powers of the Pieces of Eight with character levels which will imply that they did not receive them by Divine Will (see above). My campaign links Skulls and Shackles on the front end with Savage Tide on the backend so I don’t want to spell out how I’m linking them here as it risks a spoiler of the Savage Tide adventure path. If you pick this item up for your game, I encourage you to have them come from some mysterious (but mortal) benefactor rather than Besmara herself, because the Skulls and Shackles doesn’t feel like the Adventure Path with strong divine destiny elements.

What do the players know of the Pieces of Eight?
Anyone holding a keyed Pieces of Eight instinctively understands the bonuses it grants him and that he cannot possess more than one Pieces of Eight at a time. If he holds his Pieces of Eight and wonders how to change the image on the coin he instinctively understands how to gift and will a Pieces of Eight, and also the powers it confers upon him at that time. A player holding a keyed, but not setted, Pieces of Eight also instinctively knows the item will grow more powerful if setted. A character holding a setted Pieces of Eight knows the powers available to him, the ritual to choose his domain, and understands he has the deathwish ability as do others bearing a Pieces of Eight.

Here are some other things revealed with study:

History DC 30: To know the story of Handsome Pete and Bart the Betrayer described above.

Local 15: The Pieces of Eight are a powerful artifact of Besmara. Individually they grant a small boon, but if a team of powerful individuals brings the eight pieces together, they can access divine magic sacred to Besmara. They have not been brought together for decades.

Religion 20: The Piece of Eight are a relic created by Besmara. Besmara respects self-made pirates who obey only their own scruples; however, she knows some challenges require working together as a team. The faithful of Besmara believe she created the Pieces of Eight to encourage cooperation when needed. One who has a Pieces of Eight may freely give his piece to another person. However, at any time Besmara wishes, she can ordain specific recipients of the Pieces of Eight or cause someone carrying one to lose it.

Arcana 25: If a player makes this knowledge check while studying a Pieces of Eight, he understands keying and the powers a keyed Pieces of Eight confers. He also knows this artifact becomes more powerful when setted, but does not know the specifics. If a player holds a keyed Pieces of Eight he instinctively understands much of this information but this arcana check can succeed even if the studies Pieces of Eight is not keyed to the individual making this check.

Arcana 30: This reveals the Besmaran domain powers granted by a setted Pieces of Eight. It can be made even before the studied piece is setted.

Arcana 35: This reveals the difference in power between an organically setted Pieces of Eight vs. when they are setted by Divine Will. It is here, if the players have all eight pieces, the players could realize that someone other than Besmara left them in their path (but who!? And why!?).

How are the Pieces of Eight destroyed?
If a daemon uses a Pieces of Eight as currency to purchase a selfless gift, all Pieces of Eight lose their magical abilities and become silver coins.

Well done, I plan on adopting a version of this :)

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Great Item(s). My only thing would be that each is an actual piece of eight. They were called that because the were 1/8 of a coin, like a little pie wedge. Often sailors would tie it into their hair or wear it as an earring as it would typically be enough to cover burial costs. But that keeps it as real to what a piece of eight is as possible.

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