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November 25, 2012, 11:20 pm

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Duty Shrines

Guardian stones, mission pillars - the relics of past skill and obligation that make their finders into unexpected heirs.


Duty shrines are often, though not always, made from stone. They are most often in the form of steles, round, square, or otherwise shaped, anywhere from a foot to six feet high. Duty shrines are inscribed with magical texts, in whatever runes or alphabet its creator has chosen; often, more secretive or ancient scripts are used. Since most duty shrines remain unused for decades or even centuries after their placement, they can be difficult to spot, buried under growth, debris, or the like.


Millenia ago, an ancient order - its name and membership lost to time - had dedicated itself to protecting a holy forest. So sacred was their duty that they forsake all others, slaying any who would dare to enter and forbidding entry to any others into their group for fear of their secrets passing to those unworthy. As time went on, they aged, and in their final years, the guardians realized that they had trained no successors, and so thorough was their guardianship that none had passed into the woods in a decade. Desperate to pass on their knowledge before their deaths, they sought out a wizard who might offer some answer.

As happens, there lived just beyond the sacred wood an enchanter who knew of the group's existence though avoided them for fear of retribution. The warriors pleaded with the enchanter to find some way to save their knowledge and mission, that the holy forest might be guarded in perpetuity. The enchanter accepted the challenge, and offered a solution with a price: the warriors could pour their skills, knowledge, and office into a token, a vessel that could store and pass on their essence. The cost would be the same: the guardians would lose their abilities and lore, being as they were before their sacred oaths. With no alternative means, they agreed.

The enchanter crafted six stone pillars, one for each of them, and had the warriors inscribe all that they could into it: their techniques, their names for the lands in their charge, their intimate knowledge of the wood. When each stone was completed, it was wrapped from top to bottom in intricate runes nearly the entirety of the order's knowledge. Finally the enchanter bonded the words to the warriors, their skills passing from man to stone. The pillars stood at the borders of the wood, that no one could pass into that place without passing by one. The former warriors, now regular men with only a ghost of their former knowledge, completed their oaths and slew each other that they might die guarding the forest.

A century later, when a group of bandits searched for a new home, they came to an ancient forest said to be haunted. Thinking they found their place, the bandits headed in to explore the wood when they came upon a stone obelisk obscured by growth. On finding it, the bandit leader examined it and was suddenly filled with both an intimate knowledge of the forest, and a sense of obligation to guard it. Commanding his bandits to set up a perimeter, the other stones were found, and the ancient order that protected the forest was birthed anew.

Magical Properties

Duty shrines contain either the skills, obligations, or both of those they are created for. First used by ancient guardian orders, their construction was passed on and used by other groups and individuals. Depending on their creation and purpose, they either attract those who possess certain knowledge to carry on a duty, or can pass a person's ability onto another.

The creator of the shrine can determine how it is activated. In some cases, merely touching the shrine will activate it. Some require certain runes or passages from it to be read or touched. The shrines can also be attractive, drawing individuals near to it; those of high quality craftsmanship can even attract those with particular affinities or abilities.

Due to the expectation of longevity, stone is most often used for duty shrines. Although a pillar or stele is the most common form, they can theoretically be made into any shape. Elves have also been known to create duty trees using ancient sequoias and they like.


To create a duty shrine usually requires two people, the magic craftsman and the individual whose duty is passed on. The magician must have knowledge of how duty shrines work, but not necessarily any knowledge of the actual skills to be passed. The shrine is formed first, out of whatever materials decided upon, and is then placed at the required location. The individual then will inscribe their knowledge into the shrine; this is the longest and most irregular, but most important step. The individual must attempt to sum up their entire skill set and lore. This is obviously difficult, but shortcuts are possible. For example, a warrior might have a complex and difficult to explain technique that requires years of practice, but if she knows it merely as "Two-bladed Hawk Strike," that phrase may be sufficient. These intricacies make the inscribing process difficult, and the success of the transfer can be unpredictable for this reason.

Once the knowledge is inscribed, the last step is the most final for the individual. The magician will bind the creator to the creation, passing all the inscribed knowledge and duty into the shrine. The creator will irretrievably lose those abilities, hence it is often only the old or dying who attempt it. It is possible to pass on only a small portion of information, a single technique or set of skills, but duty shrines are more often than not legacy relics that finalize a lifetime of skill and purpose rather than short passages of careers.

Role-play Hooks

Scion - While exploring a ruin, one of the players stumbles upon a strange pillar. They are immediately overwhelmed with a sense of guardianship, trying to drive their companions out of the place. They may also have sudden knowledge or skills without explanation or full understanding. Can the PCs figure out what has happened? Can the process be reversed? Or is the transformed character better off with the new abilities and lore?

War of Succession - The party is in a race against time to rediscover a lost magical technique that could mean the kingdom's salvation - or its ruin, if their rivals find it first. Legend has it that an ancient wizard passed his abilities into a duty shrine somewhere. Find it before someone else does, but be prepared for the consequences: the wizard was a jealous man who may have passed his duty to self into the shrine as well.

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Comments ( 10 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Chaosmark
November 25, 2012, 23:26
Excellent! It's like the secretive old master who takes on a single apprentice and teaches them The Ancient Arts over the course of a few months in a brutal training montage, but concentrated into an ancient artifact that slumbers, awaiting the day when a student passes by.

I highly approve of this.
Voted Scrasamax
November 26, 2012, 8:09
And if you remove the whole bit about protecting the forest, you have an amazing Holy Mystery here, the sort that is jealously guarded and protected from vulgar eyes. A duty stele could be a conduit of lineage, a token marker of history, I am getting ideas from this, and they are cool!
Voted valadaar
November 26, 2012, 11:52
There are a lot of possibilities with these items, though it would need careful control from going overboard. One could create a dynasty of unparalleled warriors simply by chaining the knowledge generation after generation.

Other thoughts:

1. Forced Mastership - through magical compulsion, threat, hostage, etc, a renown individual is made to pass on his skill to an unworthy, but powerful enemy.

2. Stolen Mastership - The kingship of a certain nation is held by one who has the ability to control the sentient castle that serves as the nations capitol. The Duty shrines are used to pass this knowledge from generation to generation. And now the king is dead, and the shrine stolen...

3. Corrupted Shrine - The ritual to build the shrine was witnessed by a dark power, who managed to edit a few things to make life more ..interesting...

Voted Cheka Man
November 26, 2012, 23:46
Only voted
Voted Murometz
November 28, 2012, 14:52
Wow. Novel! For some reason my first thought upon reading this was, Doomsday Seed Vault meets Mr. Miyagi meets ancient telepathic relic meets, well meets one other thing or other :)

So many ways to go with these! The plot-hooks multiply in my brain.
March 4, 2013, 7:43
It was inspired by the Deus Ex Machina that made Aerex Matare a ranger in AuR.
Voted MysticMoon
December 1, 2012, 8:22
I can see a couple of variations on this.

1. More than one person can receive the skills at any given time, letting a tyrant build an army of crack soldiers out of peasants.

2. The knowledge leaves the shrine once taken up by the recipient. In order for the shrine to be used again, the knowledge must be willfully transferred back through a nonmagical ritual.
December 1, 2012, 12:07
You know, I had actually intended #2 here to be the standard: shrines are used but once, and are then merely stones. Never did state that, though, huh?
December 1, 2012, 12:18
Perhaps the runic carvings disappear from the stone while injecting themselves upon the recipient's skin as tattoos. Through another ritual, the tattoos could then be returned to the stone, or possibly shifted directly to another person (all that's needed is the tattoo-marked skin.)
Voted Strolen
December 2, 2012, 3:27
Definitely a great idea. Some of these comments need to make it to the idea section above!

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