The Apocalypse Stones are gems which bring trouble upon the persons or regions which possess them. Coming in four varieties - War, Famine, Plague, and Death - the Stones each bring a different kind of misfortune upon their possessor. They are indestructible, which makes it all the more fortunate that their powers require time to take affect.
Number of Stones
The number of Apocalypse Stones will greatly determine how they affect a world.
Possibly, there are a total of four stones, one of each type. In this form, each stone takes the ‘Greater’ form (see below). Here, the stones will prove major disturbances into normal life, such that intrepid heroes need to remove the stones from the countries where they lie. Unfortunately, since the Stones are indestructible, they can never be neutralized, only transferred. Are the players willing to take the full brunt of the stone’s power upon themselves, or will they dump it on another nation?
Alternatively, there can be a potentially limitless number of stones, of a variety of different levels of power, for, surely, bringing the essence of War, Famine, Plague, or Death down upon a foe is an ideal way for a sinister cult to neutralize its adversaries. Though the PCs can struggle to contain the existing Stones and prevent the creation of new ones, since the Stones are indestructible, the world will eventually, inevitably descend into a glorious apocalyptic combination of War, Famine, Plague, and Death.
Note that Greater Stones will generally function as more powerful Lesser Stones if carried by a single person or group of people.
The War Stones
The War Stones do not, as might be expected, spread violence, but rather breed those things which beget violence: intolerance, apathy, greed, and jealousy. War Stones are Rubies.
Lesser War Stones affect lone individuals or households. They often seem to bring bad luck - the people who are affected by them find that most people they meet seem rude and stereotypical, the people they are attracted to are approached by more attractive suitors, and the things they desire are hoisted just beyond their grasp. Eventually, overcome with frustration, they lash out at those around them. Domestic squabbles grow worse than seems believable, friends turn to bitter foes, and violence spreads inexorably.
Greater War Stones affect entire cities or nations, bringing trouble on a greater scale, as well as far more directly. The regions find themselves gaining violent, intolerant leaders, new resources which are gravely needed by other nations are discovered within their borders, and jingoism surges.
The Famine Stones
The Famine Stone spreads lack by spreading greed. It is perhaps the cruelest of the Stones, for it is the hardest to fight. Famine Stones are Amber.
Lesser Famine Stones bring suffering on a small scale. They cause a mother to hungrily devour her family’s food even as her children slowly starve. They cause parents to lose their jobs and become unable to support their children. Rumors are spread about valuables within the house where the Famine Stone lies, and thieves strike, stealing until nothing is left.
Greater Famine Stones bring plagues of locusts and other blights down upon the nation’s crops. They attract anarchists to attack food storage, and drive farmers out of business. Slowly, over several months, the region begins to starve.
The Plague Stones
The Plague Stones bring filth and squalor by spreading laziness, procrastination, and apathy. Plague Stones are Peridots.
Lesser Plague Stones cause members of a household to delay cleaning until tomorrow, to purchase cheap, unhealthy food because it’s too much trouble to make something, or to delay a visit to the doctor because he lives so far away. Together, these relatively minor variances cause disease and infection to become far more likely, for the carriers of pestilence thrive in filth.
Greater Plague Stones are far more direct, simply bringing sickness and plague down upon the areas they influence. Compounding the matter, those who once cared for the ill and dead may be struck at first, unless they take appropriate measures. The Stone brings a general decline in living conditions, and often causes people to stay indoors, where it seems safe.
The Death Stones
The Death Stones, alone among the four, do not bring their influence directly upon the region they fill. Instead, they attract the other three stones, bringing War, Famine, and Plague in equal measure. Death Stones are Coal, although they do not burn.
Indeed, an area with a Death Stone often seems lucky. Their crops thrive while their neighbor’s wilt and die. They emerge victorious from the conflict started by their old ally. Their medical knowledge prevents nearby plagues from affecting their populace.
Of course, these are simply means of attracting the other stones; the country whose produce thrives trades it to their starving neighbor, receiving the Famine Stone in return. The army of the country which wins the hopeless war loots their fallen enemy, and among the spoils sits the War Stone. When a sick, neighboring king comes for treatment, he gives the doctors the Plague Stone as thanks.
In a world where there are many of each stone, there will be few Lesser Death Stones, for why need one bring the wrath of all the Stones upon an adversary, when one will usually suffice?
Suggested Means of Destruction
The Apocalypse Stones cannot be destroyed. They are essentially forces of nature, occasionally bringing down major civilizations, but generally not inflicting enormous quantities of damage.
Although the Apocalypse Stones are incredibly powerful, they require large periods of time to inflict substantial, lasting damage. Also, if moved to another region or owner, they are essentially forced to begin over again.
Also, although the Stones can wreak terrible havok, no single Stone can bring down a powerful nation or civilization, although they may be capable of causing that nation to fall technologically or scientifically (or magically) behind.
(This could be the origin of the first four Stones in a many-Stones world, or the origin of the only four.)
Long ago, a woman was forced to marry a miner whom she did not love. Despite his vows to care for her and love her all his life, she was certain that she could never love him.
So, on the first day after their marriage, the man went into the mines. And he returned that evening with a piece of Amber. He gave it to his wife, saying, "I found this Amber for you today, for it is as rich and lustrous as your brown hair." And she sneered and stormed away from him, leaving him to dine alone. And that night, they slept apart.
On the second day after their marriage, the man went into the mines. And he returned that evening with a lovely Peridot. He gave it to his wife, saying, "I found this Peridot for you today, for it as beautiful and deep as your green eyes." And she sneered and stormed from their house, and spread poison words about him throughout the town. And that night, they slept apart.
On the third day after their marriage, the man went into the mines. And he returned that evening with a wondrous Ruby. He gave it to his wife, saying, "I found this Ruby for you today, for it as vibrant and inviting as your red lips." And she sneered and screamed at him, until she aroused such anger that he shouted and yelled back. And that night, they slept apart.
On the fourth day after their marriage, the man went into the mines. And he returned that evening with a small piece of Coal. He gave it to his wife, saying, "All I could find today was this lump of coal, but it-"
And his wife screeched at him: "It is as worthless as you are!" And the man’s hope died, for he knew his wife would never love him. And that night, they slept apart.
On the fifth day after their marriage, the man went into the mines. And he did not return that evening, for he was killed in an explosion. And the woman knew no grief, until she prepared to discard his gifts, for as she hefted the Coal, she heard a voice.
"You have invited Famine, Plague, and War into your home, and so, too, you have invited Death." And the woman grew fearful, and she hid the Stones. And that evening, a friend of hers came to check on her, and found her home full of rats, which had eaten all her food, and swarmed and killed the woman. And her corpse was dragged from her house, and her possessions sold to strangers from out of town, and she was thrown in a grave with her husband.
And forever on, they slept together.