Unlocking the Vault dives into magic items from the Vault of Magic. Each installment looks at one particular magic item.
We’ll look into variant rules or ways to bend the current rules, to make items even more interesting and fun. And we’ll offer ways to integrate items into your campaign world, introduce them to the player characters, and make the item more useful to player characters and NPCs.
Vault of Magic describes four types of magical contract: the aberrant agreement, the celestial charter, the feysworn contract, and the fiendish charter. The function of each is basically the same; you present the contract to a creature of the appropriate type and compel it to listen to you. Then you negotiate a service from it in return for an award.
This is a powerful magic item with a wide range of potential—and potential downfalls. The most obvious drawback is the damage delivered if the contract is broken. However, a magical contract is also an item of increasing returns. The more powerful the character using the contract, the higher the CR of the creature with whom they can negotiate.
Overall, the important thing to remember, both as a GM and a player, is that the creature entering into a contract has agency. Consider its goals and desires. As a player, think about what you can offer the creature to entice it into a bargain. As a GM, think about the creature’s motivations, needs, and mindset. What would make the creature willing to enter into such an agreement? Once you’ve gone over those ideas, refer to the notes on each individual contract below for more specific considerations.
A Note on Subcontractors
Depending on the character’s level, they may be able to bargain with a powerful creature. The contracted creature might even have lesser creatures serving it, meaning that those servants, by proxy, can be considered in service to the character, should the contracted creature see fit to use them.
This makes contracting higher-challenge creatures more appealing, but negotiations become trickier. A creature’s underlings aren’t bound by the magic of the contract. If they act against the will of the contract, they don’t trigger side effects, unless the GM rules the underlings acted under the contracted creature’s direct orders.
As indicated by its name, this magical contract allows for a bargain with an aberration. This contract might simultaneously be the easiest and most difficult to use, given the nature of aberrations. Some are strange, alien creatures whose thought processes seem like madness to mere humanoids, making negotiations difficult. Who knows what a broodmother of Leng or a vangslaugh (Tome of Beasts 2) really wants? Meanwhile, aberrations like the drider were humanoid once, and their minds are essentially intact after transformations. They might be easier to understand and bargain with.
Depending on the type of aberration with which you are striking the bargain, an alien mind may not perceive things in the way that the character does. Its logic could be far less, or more, rigid.
Given the beneficent nature of the vast majority of celestials, this might seem like an easy one. However, celestials are often dedicated agents, usually associated with one or more gods. They require terms which do not challenge their allegiances. The more avenging kind of celestial certainly will not agree to terms that mean allowing evil to go unpunished ans none will suffer a situation or action considered anathema by any deity they serve. A negotiator might be able to assuage a celestial’s reservations by pointing out the achievement of a greater good, even if actions taken under contract cause suffering or death for those undeserving of it.
Caution is the watchword for those using this magical contract. The fey are infamous for ensnaring mortals in bargains that have hidden and unexpected outcomes, all the more so if the mortal initiates the bargain! Careful wording of such a contract is a must, especially where the rewards for the contracted fey are concerned. The more powerful and intelligent the fey being contracted, the more exacting one must be in dealings.
Fiends tend to be irredeemably evil and place little value on life, goodness, and other “mortal” concerns. Devils, like fey, are notorious bargainers. Demons are treacherous, and the power of the magical contract’s binding is likely all that keeps them in check. A powerful enough demon might even risk the breaking the agreement, suffering the damage, if it likes the alternative even more.
Introducing Magical Contracts into Your Game
Try these ways of introducing these items into your game.
Options. A creature in direct conflict with the PCs offers the contract as a way of ceasing hostilities for mutual benefit of both parties. This allows the GM to flip the script a bit, and have the monster controlling the negotiations.
Desperate Times. The PCs’ homeland is at war, and they are losing. While clearing out the last of the treasury, scraping enough coin together to hire more mercenaries, an ancient scroll is discovered. The local lord decides that times are desperate enough to use the fiendish charter. The PCs are tasked with locating a fiend and bargaining with it, making a pact that will bind the fiend to the task of helping win the war.
Suing for Peace. The PCs’ patron has a long-running rivalry with a powerful creature. To cement a truce, the patron produces a magical contract, with the intent of having the PCs and a creature under command of their nemesis enter into a pact to perform a task of mutual benefit to them both.
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