The History of the Ioun Stone

I’m particularly proud of this website’s Ioun stone guide, a collected list of over 154 different ioun stones from more than 15 different sources. Most are canon D&D sourcebooks, with some from third-party publications. The list has grown by 75% since originally posted, including 43 stones added this month from an AD&D sourcebook and six from a 1991 issue of Dragon magazine.

There’s a surprising amount of background story to the ioun stone. The ioun stone actually predates Dungeons & Dragons, appearing in Jack Vance’s 1973 short story “Morreion”. Vance’s works had a major influence on D&D and the ioun stone made its way into Dungeons & Dragons through The Strategic Review, TSR’s gaming magazine:

"FLASHING SWORDS! #1 (Dell, 1973) contained four excellent swords & sorcery yarns, including "Morreion" by Jack Vance. In this tale there was a magical item of highly unusual value — IOUN stones. Mr. Vance was kind enough to allow us to enlarge somewhat upon his creations and list them as a D&D "Miscellaneous Magic" item."

— The Strategic Review #4, Winter 1975

Dragon Magazine issue #174 (October 1991) describes that according to Vance’s “Morreion”, ioun stones are recovered at great risk from the hearts of obliterated stars.

In that issue’s article, “Bazaar of the Bizarre: Ioun Stones”, Matthew Hargenrader offers a separate origin story for the ioun stones in D&D. Rare ioun stones grow gradually in the Demiplane of Mineral, a place where the Positive Energy Plane meets the Plane of Earth. This plane is hostile to human life and guarded by numerous crystalline creatures, but contains a wealth of gemstones and minerals, including the ioun stones.

TSR’s 1996 book Netheril: Empire of Magic gives an origin story for the ioun stones of the Forgotten Realms setting, where the NPC lich Larloch has a famous preference for the items:

"The Shadow King’s body was in stark contrast to that of Tam. While the Zulkir of Necromancy strove to maintain his human appearance, Larloch was nothing more than a collection of bones partially covered in fine garments. The Netheril lich’s bones were bright white in color, and trails of emerald energy traveled across his form. More than two dozen ioun stones circled his skull, and globes of red light gazed up at Szass Tam as he approached."

— Netheril: Empire of Magic

The book describes the inventor of Ioun Stones, an Netherese arcanist born 4,000 years ago named Congenio Ioun. As this Ioun lived for over 900 years and was an extremely talented spellcaster, it’s not impossible that he ascended to become the deity Ioun of D&D 4th edition.

The earlier Dragon article dislikes the idea that a human wizard might simply have invented the ioun stones, considering it unworthy of the majestic star-cores of Vance’s Dying Earth series:

"This method lacks any spirit of adventure and is very straightforward: It is supposed that ultrapowerful wizards who live on some alternate Prime Material plane simply make these magical gems. The only interesting thing about this origin is that the magical effects created by such wizards are greatly superior to those encountered in a standard AD&D campaign."

—Dragon magazine #174, October 1991, “Bazaar of the Bizarre: Ioun Stones”

I have to admit that I took this approach in Kobold Quarterly #6’s “Rolling Stones”, presenting new 15 new ioun stones as invented by a human inventor named Darven Regance. In deference to Vance’s work and other creation stories I wrote that only these new stones were man-made, and quite likely reverse-engineered from the original stones.

In retrospect, perhaps my character Regance is Congenio Ioun in disguise, or he simply took his “inventions” from the Demiplane of Mineral.

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Bronzemurder’s Bravest Sons

Today I’m sharing two links on Dwarf Fortress, a dwarven settlement management game with deep gameplay and nethack-style ASCII graphics.

The first is Bronzemurder, the epic tale of a fortress whose well drilling efforts are blocked by a deadly winged lizard. The story is beautifully depicted by the author, who happens to be a graphic artist.

A legendary fell beast rests on the first pump in a mighty pump stack, a grand project that has taken years of concerted dwarfen effort in order to bring running water to the fort.

All 23 pumps are in place, and the dwarves have finally figured out how to bring power to the pumps from the windmills above ground. The only problem is one small engineering error; the first pump, the lowest one, needs to be pumped manually.

A dwarf has to go down there and operate it.

The second is Ashmalice, here in a comment on a blog entry. Ashmalice is the story of a dwarf settlement attacked by an unstoppable horde of demons, and the lengths the dwarves are prepared to go to to defend their settlement.

Ashmalice was a fire demon of legendary status. Not only had he existed in the prehistory of the fort, but he had over 550 kills — which included 2 entire tribes of goblins, a handful of elves, and a terrifying ammound of dwarves… one of whom was the king of the mountain-homes.

Fast forwarding to the present time major construction was underway of the fort. Many many immigrants had arrived over the years and times were good for the dwarves. Having many legendary carvers and warriors my friend grew lax in his defenses. And his dwarves paid the price when a miner unearthed a glowing pit deep below the dungeons carved into the mountain.

Within an hour my friend’s fortress was besieged by a nearly unending horde of demonic horrors. Ill equipped to deal with the threat immediately, the population of the Hamlet began dropping exponentially. Not even a panicked redirection of the river into the lower levels was enough to staunch the influx of demons, only enough to slow them long enough for the major walkways to be collapsed to buy some precious time.

Links: Bronzemurder / Ashmalice

World Building 101: A Primal Primer

Over the past several weeks, I have been discussing how to integrate characters from different power sources into your campaign setting. The key is to ensure that your player characters feel as if they truly belong in your world, no matter from where they draw their power. Today we will be examining the Primal power source and how to fit primal characters into your campaign.

The primal power source, fortunately, is one that has a fairly simple common origin—the spirits. With this basis in mind it’s relatively easy to explain the acquisition of new abilities over time, even in the absence of formal training.

Of course, this is not to say that formal training is not a possibility when considering the primal classes. To a certain extent, it’s still quite reasonable to expect that between characters of primal origin, learning would be shared—but unlike the other power sources, academies or long-term arrangements seem unlikely. A couple of options are outlined below:

The Circle: A loose organization of primal characters within a given region or dedicated to a certain cause, a circle may share their wisdom with others who share their goals, or for a price, to any with the proper aptitude. The price may be monetary, but is more likely to involve favors or quests. Specific mechanics for a circle may be related to their cause, their patron spirit, or simply particular tricks that are employed by the particular organization.

The Mentor: One on one teaching and sharing is definitely possible for primal characters, though long apprenticeships are less in keeping with the methods employed by these characters. Knowledge of the ways of the spirits may be shared, but it must also be experienced, and there is only so much that can be done without the student doing for themselves what has been explained by the master. Another option is for an exchange between equals, with two full fledged primal characters exchanging information in an even trade, rather than a master-student relationship, even between those who began in just such a fashion. Consider what a given teacher might know when designing feats or powers for your campaign if you use this option.

The Journey: While a journey with no set destination or aim aside from honing and mastering a given craft can be appropriate for any class, it is especially so for primal classes like barbarians. The journey becomes the medium, and techniques may be gained from something as simple as trying a new maneuver to honing a given style to perfection. This is a difficult origin to include specific mechanics for ahead of time—you may have to play it by ear to determine what fits.

The Spirits: The spirits themselves, so central to the theme of the primal power source, can be used as an explanation for advancement of primal characters. Perhaps the character has a particular patron spirit that teaches new evocations; perhaps they must travel and contact specific spirits to learn from them, as part of a quest. Customized powers and feats could be tied to relationships with the spirits or the type of spirit in question.

Also important when considering primal characters is deciding how people in your world view the spirits and powers that call upon them. Are they commonplace and widely accepted, or mysterious and ancient, forgotten by most in the more civilized society? Do people make offerings to the spirits and the gods alike, or are the deities in your campaign world jealous enough to ban honoring powers other than themselves?

Another key consideration is the nature and identity of the important spirits in your world. You should come up with some of the commonly encountered types of spirits, and some of the oldest, most powerful spirits as well, in order to give your primal characters a sense of place in the world. Having several powerful spirits with tales told of their deeds and exploits will give your primal characters stories to relate around the campfires, and can lead to many potential story hooks for later on.

At this point, we have spent a little bit of time exploring how to integrate four power sources into your campaign: arcane, divine, martial, and primal. While other power sources exist, and more will be released soon, hopefully the ideas shared so far give a sufficient idea of how you can integrate each of them into your own campaign setting. For now, then, we shall move on to other discussions—next week, we will look at how to base an entire campaign world around a particular power source.

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World Building 101: ABCs of the Arcane

Of all the existing power sources that are likely to be included in a campaign, the arcane is easily the one with the most dramatic variation in tone and flavor. Sorcerers, warlocks, wizards, artificers, and bards not only have different methods of harnessing the arcane from one another, but they have a great deal of difference possible even within each class. Determining how the arcane fits into the background of your world can therefore be an involved process, with different needs based on class and individual characters. Here are some options to get the ball rolling:

The Apprenticeship: Plenty of precedent exists for learning magic as an apprentice to an established master. From wizards in dilapidated towers to witches in isolated huts in the marshes, this is one of the more traditional methods for magic users to learn their craft. This method works well for just about any arcane tradition, as well, depending on the nature of the teacher. A wizard’s tower may not be the most suitable place for a young bard to study their craft, for example, and a swordmage would almost certainly be unable to improve their techniques studying under an old village wisewoman. This option fits in just about any campaign, but it may be especially suitable if you are seeking to create a campaign setting where magic isn’t quite as ubiquitous. Old masters are also excellent sources of story hooks, as they may call upon their students to assist with some sort of research, or even from beyond the grave if they leave their belongings to a PC, or have one last dying request. Feats or powers may include special training or techniques perfected by the particular master to suit their individual styles or research—or magical items created specifically for them or their students.

The Academy: On the other end of the spectrum, you might decide to have an academy for budding students of the arcane. Some classes fit quite handily into this mold—artificers, wizards, and bards all work quite well as learning their craft in such an environment—while others, like sorcerers and warlocks, might be less well suited to the teaching methods employed. Arcane academies can be complicated to include, however—just what kind of students are permitted to study? How much is tuition? Who is in charge of the place? How does the non-magical local population feel about the possibility of a magical mishap? What kind of political pressures exist, within and without? There may even be enough for an entire arc of your campaign to take place at one such academy, provided your players feel sufficiently interested. The inclusion of an academy tends to indicate that magic is common and at least somewhat organized in your campaign setting. Feats and powers may include specific techniques taught by the school as a whole, or arcane “styles” that are identifiable by other students of the same or rival schools.

Self-Taught: Whether by stumbling upon a hidden scroll detailing an arcane pact as a warlock, being naturally adept at harnessing arcane energy as a sorcerer, or even finding a magical tome of spells and learning the rudiments of wizard’s craft, the self-taught prodigy can be interesting to play. A self-taught arcane character has built-in reasons to adventure—to seek out new sources of knowledge and training, or to develop their own new talents. Mechanical options for the self-taught prodigy are harder to plan for; you might need to design them based on how the character is played, or in contrast to other options available in your setting.

Granted Powers: Warlocks are the obvious choice for having their powers granted by an external source, but depending on the flavor of your campaign world any of the arcane classes may fit in quite well with this option. The various warlock pacts offer some ideas for patrons that might offer power to a mortal, but there are of course many other possibilities. When a player character chooses this option, it’s important to make an effort to include their patron in the campaign, and not simply ignore them—ask the player for details on the patron, what they promised in exchange for their power, and what the patron’s expectations of them are. Mechanical options could include special powers granted by the patron specifically to their followers, or feats to indicate marks of a patron’s favor.

No matter what you decide to include or exclude from your game in terms of background options, the nature of the arcane and how the common folk of your setting view it can add a lot of flavor to your world; it behooves you to consider these things when you are designing a setting. Do people accept magic as common, or fear it as the unknown? Are spellcasters an everyday sight, or a rare occurrence? Is magic considered natural or is it a blasphemous affront to the order of the world? The more thought you give to these questions, the more readily you will be able to color the reactions your player characters receive from the common folk of your setting.

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D&D Ancient History, Part IV

This is the fourth (and probably final) part of Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition breaks some continuity with the old Greyhawk-based history and takes its own setting. Nevertheless, the broad strokes of pre-history are the same. The gods fought with primordial beings long before the time of men, and in the end the gods won. Mythical figures like the Miska the Wolf-Spider and the Wind Dukes of Aaqa still appear on the correct sides.

According to the 4th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2, the Wind Dukes were a group of seven angels who served Bahamut, and forged the Rod of Seven Parts with the assistance of one of Moradin’s exarchs. The rod hates all elementals (strange since in 3E the Wind Dukes were elementals), strongly hates primordials (a term which doesn’t exist in 3E), and defends immortals (including demons, such as Miska the Wolf-Spider).

This isn’t actually too far from the 3E myth. According to Dungeon’s Age of Worms series, armies of evil elementals fought on the side of Chaos at the Battle of Pesh, including the earth elemental prince Ogrémoch. One hypothesis is that the oldest gods already existed at this time, and several fought on the side of Law, in which case it’s likely that the Moradin, Bahamut and a group of Wind Dukes collaborated in secret on the construction and deployment of the Rod of Law.

It’s feasible then that the Rod has a mild hatred of elementals, who mainly took the side of Chaos, and is somewhat protective of immortals, who aided its creation. It devotes itself to destroying the remaining primordials, whose number may include most of the surviving leaders from the side of Chaos. Although the Rod should hate demons, perhaps it has a strange tolerance of the tanar’ri, who overthrew the primordial obyriths after the battle, and thus in the grand scale of things tilted the balance of power against Chaos.

On the surface, it’s a little confusing that the Wind Dukes, who are air elemental creatures, would create a weapon that hates elementals. One possible answer is that the Wind Dukes were in fact created by the gods, in a time before any mortals existed whose souls could be forged into new beings; instead, they used elemental air to create intelligent beings to fight on the side of Law. This would strengthen the idea that the early conflict of Law versus Chaos was closely linked to the conflict between Gods and Primordials.

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D&D Ancient History, Part III

This is the third part of last Friday’s post, Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Age of Mortals

The first mortal was created by accident when Piscaethces, a massive Far Realm creature perhaps related to the Sleeping Ones, brushed against the prime material plane, creating the first monsterous aquatic aboleth. As they have perfect genetic memory, all aboleths remember this event.

Over millions of years the aboleths came to dominate the material plane, learning the first magic and creating creatures - the oozes, at first, and later the first humanoids, who they created as slaves. Precisely who created what race is unclear, but the gods found that mortal faith increased their power. In exchange, they freed the humanoids from aboleth control.

The mortals were also valuable to the primordial creatures for their souls, which the baernaloths used to build into the evil yugoloths, and the obyriths to create the first demons, the tanar’ri. The first tanar’ri, Demogorgon, was forged from the primal fears of the first mortal souls. The tanar’ri became numerous, and overthrew most of the obyriths before turning against Asmodeus’ devils, whose numbers included deities’ servants turned traitor for the promise of power.

The Age before Ages concluded at the Battle of Pesh, a colossal battle between law and chaos. On the side of Law were the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, an air elemental race whose empire spanned many worlds, while Chaos included demons and evil elder elementals led by an obyrith called the Queen of Chaos. The result was a stalemate: the Wind Dukes destroyed or banished the most powerful demons, but lost too many of their number to continue the battle of law against chaos.

Age of Men

With the primordials weakened and the gods reinforced by exponentially increasing numbers of mortal worshippers, the era of humanoids and their chosen deities began.

In the millennia after the Battle of Pesh, humans and the other races created civilization and have learned the use of magic. The demons and devils continue to fight each other in what has become termed the Blood War, although few are ancient enough to remember why it started.

The Wind Dukes never recovered their losses.

Age of Worms

Doomsayers speak of the end times, an era of destruction known as the Age of Worms. Servants of mad cults work to hurry this along. Neither the deities nor the remaining primordial evils want this to happen any time soon, since both benefit from the continuing growth of the human race.

D&D Ancient History, Part II

This is the second part of Friday’s post, Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History.

Age of Primal Forces

The multiverse was created by the Sleeping Ones, so called by the kuo-toa because they promptly left for a billion year nap. The elemental planes formed - Fire, Air, Earth, Water. According to some, the planes form four sides of a cube, with Positive and Negative at the top and bottom and quasi-planes at the edges where two planes meet.

Primal concepts like law and order warred over this creation for millions of years before spawning the first immortal creatures, living embodiments of primal forces. Evil created the baernaloths, chaos the obyriths, and law created the Twin Serpents Ahriman and Jazirian, of whom Ahriman fell from grace to become Asmodeus, the first devil.

Several other ancient entities are thought to have existed in this era. The Ancient Brethren are a group who may include the Lady of Pain, who rules the city of Sigil at the centre of the multiverse and may be a primordial agent of Law, and the Serpent, an entity who is the embodiment of magic and it is claimed spoke directly to the archlich Vecna. The draedens are terrifying, massive descendants the Sleeping Ones, one of whom slept while the Abyss formed around him.

Age of Gods

Another ancient entity, called by some the powers of creation, sacrificed itself to bring the first gods into being and give order and meaning to the multiverse. The prime material plane was created out of the substance of the elemental planes. The outer planes came into being, and the gods claimed them as their domain, although some say the Outer Planes were first conquered by the Wind Dukes and the forces of Chaos, and the gods didn’t take the Outer Planes until after the fall of these two planar empires.

After such an act of creation, the being that created the gods became a force of destruction as if to maintain the balance. Known as Atropos, it is a decaying, disembodied head as large as a small moon, floating through the cosmos and populated by countless undead and bringing destruction to the worlds it visits.

The gods entered the fight to contest the form of the multiverse, but came into conflict with the primordials already there and began to suffer losses. At least one deity was slain outright, and the gods had insufficient power to stand against the primeval forces of the cosmos.

Age Before Ages: D&D Ancient History

Greyhawk Wiki at Canonfire is a repository of information on the Greyhawk setting, and by extension, on D&D tradition and canon. I’d like to showcase a particularly interesting group of articles detailing the D&D world’s pre-history, the Age before Ages.

Sages divide history into five eras. In the first Age, the multiverse came into being and beings of law and chaos, good and evil warred for millions of years. In the second Age, the Material Plane was formed and the first gods came into being.

In the third Age, the aquatic aboleth race was created by divine accident, who went on to master magic and create many creatures including the first humanoids. This Age culminated in a massive battle between Law and Chaos, crippling the ancient powers. These three eras together are called the Age before Ages.

In the following Age, humans and other species became numerous and human civilization began. This is the current era, and is predicted to end one day with the Age of Worms, where all life will be destroyed.

Over the next week or so I’m going to go into a little more detail on each of these and fill in the gaps. Look out for the next part on Monday.

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A Wizard Did It: Patching 3E to 4E Continuity

Many players derive great satisfaction from the sense that their game and setting continues to validate the continuity of old books and game sessions. If you’re one of this sort of D&D player, you no doubt cringed over the Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons books as page after page declared inconsistencies with classic game settings and established history.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with dragonborn, non-Vancian magic, or the Shadowfell, at least not as game elements on their own. What gets me is that that they showed up overnight with no explanation, just by writer’s fiat. Even a token explanation would make me happy. Something to validate the new material as authentic Dungeons & Dragons, by describing how we got from where we were to where we are.

For those of us who care (perhaps too much) about our D&D setting continuity, here are a few possible answers to major questions that 4E raises.

Where did dragonborn, eladrin, and other new races come from?

Old D&D settings like Greyhawk don’t feature the dragonborn or eladrin, but both are core races in 4th edition. Tieflings have gone from monsters to core PCs, and new books introduce races like the wilden and Eberron’s shifters and kalashtar. Where did they come from?

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Bringing Back the Magic

Magic items have always been an integral part of D&D and other fantasy roleplaying games. Even before the roleplaying game was invented, magic items captured the imaginations of generations, be they weapons like Excalibur or the Gae Bolg; articles of clothing like a cloak or cap of invisibility, seven league boots or winged sandals; or even the legendary magic ring and lamp that summoned genies to grant wishes. Folklore, myths, and legends are full of magic items, and it’s only to be expected that D&D would be as well, drawing as it does on all of those as sources.

The problem is that all too often it is easy to think of a magic item as a +3 flaming sword, rather than the legendary fiery blade wielded by the mighty conqueror Hulkgar the Bad during his annexation of the kingdoms of the north. Treating magic items as simply a better class of regular gear removes the most important part—the magic itself is gone.

Fortunately there are a few ways to make magic items feel more evocative. A few are listed below:

  • Lore is a great way to make magic items feel special. As mentioned above, perhaps the flaming sword +3 your players have just found once belonged to a conqueror who united the ancient empire. Perhaps the links of the suit of chain armor they found was forged using metal provided by the five great dwarven mithril mines of the lost dwarven holds. Even when the PCs are enchanting their own gear, by adding a bit of detail on the components or the process, or perhaps a minor quest to find specific rare reagents required for the ritual can make the item feel more special.
  • In older editions, magic items were often activated by way of a command word. Finding the right word or phrase to activate an item may be simple, or it may become a minor quest in and of itself. In 4th Edition, the way magic items are structured makes this approach work quite well; since the enhancement and properties are mechanically distinct from the activated power, players aren’t at a disadvantage while they seek the command to trigger the item’s full potential. In fact, if you are inclined more towards a campaign where items grow in power along with the heroes instead of being replaced every few levels, you could even use command words to trigger each increase in power.
  • Acquiring new magic items could be the specific focus of a quest. This is almost always the case with powerful artifacts, but a quick foray into the territory of a band of kobolds whose leader has been rumored to carry a massive axe of pitted black iron that seems to spread infection and corruption from even the slightest of wounds inflicted can be a worthwhile diversion, as well as a good opportunity for a set-piece battle without needing to directly relate it to the main story. One could almost build an entire campaign around the simple motivation of collecting magic items, if so inclined. For those who prefer more depth of story, consider giving a weakness to the antagonist or common enemies, and spending some time seeking magic items to exploit it—blessed weapons for taking down a vampire, perhaps, or silver weapons to deal with a marauding band of lycanthropes

These approaches are just a few ways to make the magic items in your campaign feel special. Take care not to use them to excess, however. Players will soon become bored if every item has a back story longer than their own character’s background. Command words add some mystique, but not everyone enjoys roleplaying out using the word—not to mention that the player may not remember the word if it’s been awhile—and sometimes items should be simply work, no strings attached.

Finally, if every magic item the players get becomes the object of its own quest, there will be very little time for activity not related directly to the acquisition of treasure. That, of course, assumes that that isn’t precisely what you’re looking for in the game. If so, by all means, continue—the entire purpose is to have fun, after all.

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