History Part 1
For as long as there have been possessions, thieves have tried to steal them, and others have tried to protect them. With the discovery of magic, however, the protection of wealth took a sharp turn for the deadly. Not to be outdone, thieves learned the magic arts, and so the cycle began anew… (History and its Patterns, Magnus Blackjack)
Arcane protections were one of the first applications of the powerful art of magic, and the methods of penetrating those defenses are just as old. Before the invention of the golden snake, there was no standardization of magical defense, because the only way for mages to stay ahead of the thieves was to keep the criminals guessing as to what defense they would come up against. It was during this time that a young mage (who’s name does not appear in recent history and may have never been known in the first place) thought of the idea of enchanting his gold instead of placing wards around it. Being of somewhat loose morals, he decided to try his deadly invention out on an unsuspecting thief by leaving an “unguarded” bag of gold in reach of grasping fingers.
The unlucky thief who found the mage’s experiment could not believe his luck as he raced away with a bag of gold that he had taken from a mage, of all people! The stash of gold was easily enough to last him at least a month, so he decided to take the day off and enjoy himself. That night, as he laid down, he never heard the movement that came from his unexpected gift. The last thing he heard was a hiss, and twin fangs facilitated his journey to the afterlife. The next day, the mage found his pile of gold at the foot of his bed and smiled.
Full Item Description
The standard method for creating a golden snake is a few animation charms that allow a few coins to move the rest. The original design for the snake also called for two fangs and the poison of the creator’s choice. Because the enchantment lies in a few coins, it is very difficult to detect, and even if you can detect it, dispelling every coin in a sack is a very expensive proposition. There is enormous variance in the specifics of the snake that have been created over time, with everything from illusions to make the construct look like a real snake to particularly sadistic enchantments that allow the snake to strangle its victims. Most of the people who invest the money in the usual enchantments also give the snake the ability to locate its master and return, laden with all the gold that was with the enchanted coins at the time. Also, since a pair of fangs in your recently-stolen gold sack is a dead giveaway that everything is not as it seems, several wizards developed gold serpents that use force fangs.
History Part 2
The development and widespread adoption of the golden snake saw one of the biggest drops in crime in recorded history, with criminals dying left and right, and the gold passively returning to its master. Because of the variation and the simplicity of the enchantment, thieves could not reliably rid themselves of the deadly gold, so many thieves gave up their trade for safer lifestyles. Needless to say, the creator of these wonder-guardians became extremely wealthy, but remained unseen to the public eye. It should be noted that several clever thieves melted their gold down to aviod the serpents for a time, but were dismayed to find new enchantments that heated the gold to the point where it could re-form into a snake after it had been melted.
Of course, this perfect solution did not last long, because an inventive thief who was angered that an entire class of people had been decimated by a single invention thought of a way to turn that invention around. Purchasing a golden snake, he went to a local merchant and paid for a few small wares with the golden snake. The next day, the merchant was found dead, and the thief was much richer, thanks to the gold that had been animated by the snake when it was put with the rest of the merchant’s money.
This thief’s name was Magnus Blackjack, and he reconstructed the criminal empire with the same speed that it was destroyed in. New, more advanced versions of the snakes were made to transport gems, magic items, and even furniture back to their masters. The snakes proved as effective at stealing gold as they were at protecting it, and Magnus easily became the most powerful criminal ever known in Moonbound (or insert your own world). In fact, he was so successful that gold currency was temporarily suspended due to the fact that the gold that made up the coin was far more valuable than the coin itself.
After it became readily apparent that the gold snakes were nearly impossible to control, laws across the continent swiftly ended the legality of the golden snake, but it is still used commonly for both protection and acquisition of possessions. Magnus went on to an early retirement, and to write books with innocuous titles such as History and its Patterns, which detailed a history of crime in general, and even gave suggestions to up-and-coming crime lords! Historians who have studied the incident have decided that the most likely explanation for the incident is that Magnus created the snakes in the first place (it should be noted that he is an accomplished caster), but he could just be one of Fate’s fortunate few…
Adding this item to your campaign will have world-affecting repercussions, as described in the comments, but it is also an amusing surprise for cocky party members. A GM could also use one or several golden snakes to guard a treasure hoard (imagine the paranoia of the players afterward).