Cearcill groaned under the weight of the pack he carried, his hips ached, his back felt on fire and the worst part was he knees. Each joint felt lined with gravel and grit each time he took a step. A few days ago he had jumped a six foot stone wall and sprinted almost half a mile before a constable on horseback caught him with a gauntleted cuff to the back of the head. The guild safehouse had been in sight when the guard carried him back to the userers citadel. He had been arrogant when they laid out his charges, theft, two counts of murder, impersonating a member of the clergy and multiple counts of violating the personage of married women. There wasn't a cell that could hold him, and the cagy old guildmaster wouldn't let one of his best hang. If worst came to worst, he would be marked, which was easily removed with a little finger waggling magic, and exiled out of the city. Instead of the rope, or exile, the Bailiff draped an iron chain around his neck. It was the most horrifying moment of his life as the cold iron drank away his vitality. Skin withered, eyes squinted and went bleary, joints ached, his bowels shuddered. Then they turned him loose. In a year, the constable said, in a year they would take off the chain.
Zhiatve's Chains are a series of necklaces forged from heavy iron chain. The chain is the sort one would most likely see a draft horse use to pull stumps out of fields, or masons use to lift heavy stones. The links are thick, and in all, the necklace tips the scales at close to 14 pounds in weight. The chain is usually cold to the touch, and no amount of cleaning, brushing or polishing will remove the crumbling patina of rust and discoloration on the metal.
The magus Zhiatve was a man of great social conscience. Unlike ">Mateljan, Kerke-Mage, Zhiatve sought a way to rehabilitate criminals rather than making more efficient prisons. He sought something more ethical and morally unquestionable than using magic to wrench apart a criminal's mind, chanigng who and what they were artificially. It was some years later when the Magus had his epiphany. Listening to two older men speak, one professed a youth of violence and larceny running for a guild until he was lamed in a fall from a rooftop. After the injury he limped so badly he could no longer do jobs for the guild and now his old injury pained him fiercely in inclement weather.
Zhiatve thought upon an old adage, the wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from bad decisions, he sought with magic to create a device to show criminals the folly of their ways. The Faith had often done this through fear mongering, doubt mongerings, and in some cases, simple torture. Rather than trying to manipulate their minds, he would wrap them in the decrepid flesh of the aged.
Creating the chain necklaces, once their design and enchantment was perfected, was inexpensive. At least inexpensive when compared to other magical implements.
Zhiatve's Chains behave as a cursed magical item. Once the chain is placed around a person's neck, it cannot be removed by that person, or really anyone else. The chains are bound to them by magic. Once donned, the person ages 10 years for every link in the chain. This allows for a degree of discretion when meting out punishment. This magical aging doesn't reduce the person's given lifespan. Thus a man who is aged to 100 years old won't die because he is in the grand scheme of things going to naturally die sometime in his 80s. He will just appear to be exceptionally ancient when passes away. The person suffers the typical effects of being their apparent age. In game, this would be represented by a degredation of physical attributes, (strength, dexterity, stamina/constitution) and by a decrease in their perception trait if they have one. The eyes aren't what they used to be, you know. The do not suffer from dementia, senelity or other mental or spiritual afflictions, or advantages of being aged. An 18 year old who is aged to 80 is still going to have the mentality of a punk kid, but the body of a frail old man.
Removing the Chains
There are a variety of ways the chains can be removed.
- Death: Upon death, the chains will no longer hold to the body, and the corpse will revert to what its actual age should be.
- Dispel Magic: A suitably potent magus familiar with enchantment can disenchant the chains. Most magi should be leary of removing criminal's chains, much like releasing a convict just because you have the ability.
- Remove Curse: Administered by a cleric, this power can cause the chains to become inert for a short time. Much like the magus, most clerics are not likely to do this.
- Time Served: After their time in the chain is served, if they present themselves to the authority that chained them to begin with, the person of office who placed the chain on them can remove it. If said person passes away, their replacement would have this same ability.
Living in Chains
Undoubtly there are some who think that the chains might be able to arrest their aging, and would be willing to spend eternity alive, but aged. This is not possible. Once a person's alloted years are up, their time is come. Of course, nothing says a person need have the chains removed, and in some instances it is possible that the chains will not be removed before their death. This is considered an acceptible risk/loss compared to the benefit of the chains.
Zhiatve's Chains were originally created to punish criminals, but there is no reason that the chains cannot be put to other uses. Assuming a person has access to a magus of some skill who doesn't ask questions, removing the chain is not that much of a challenge. A canny rogue could use a chain to change his appearance. After stealing the Diamond of Asach, everyone will be looking for the dashing rake, not a puttering old man begging for copper pieces. There are certainly other uses that haven't been thought of yet.
The Old Goat - The PCs encountered a decrepid old man, wearing beggars rags, walking with a stick and half blind. He is half guided by a small goat on a leather lead, but as they approach, he calls to them, by name. How does this crazy old fart know them? He was once a member of the Guild that the PCs have done business with/for and has recently been burdened with chain for a predetermined amount of time. The constables didnt say how long so he ambles from the pastures to the commons to beg, and to the constables to see if his time is up. He begs the PCs to release him, or give testimony to the virtue of his character. He can't stand the impotence, and the night sweats, and the trouble emptying his bladder.
The Liar - The Liar appears, a shuffling wild-eyed prophet or madman from the desert. He rants and raves, throwing his bony arms about. He shouts in favor of his (insert random god/cause/rant here) and cannot be dissuaded from his street corner sermonizing. The Liar is a revolutionary/rebel/dissident who willingly donned the chains. As long as he was young, he was just another nobody to be brained by the guard, or drafted into the army, or any of the other threats that loom before a young man entering the prime of his health. Now, wearing the chain he is old and ignored by authorities. What harm can the old codger cause, no one listens to him anyway.
A Stern Warning - After a particularly raucus night of wenching, carousing, and general vandalism, one of the PCs awakens with a chain around his neck. The main troublemaker, likely a barbarian or warrior type is now old as dirt and weak as watery milk. The necklace cannot be easily removed, and the constables show up some time later, ask them about their fun the night before and give them the news. For the mess they made, the main antagonist gets to be chained for a short time, maybe a week or two. If they protest they have important things to do, well, if everyone takes the chains at the same time, the constable will let all of them off in a day or two.
Kidnapping! - A VIP has gone missing! No one saw them leave the premesis and a search revealing nothing. There is a growing panic, but one guard does remember a couple of shady types in the area, but they were with their aged relative. They said the relative was moon touched and a bit mad, so no one batted an eye as the obvious lunatic shouted they were the VIP, and tried to give orders to the guards. Don't mind grandpop there, he thinks he's the Prince of the kingdom, and he calls our old milking cow the Queen-Mother and our ratter dog General of the Lance. Pardon us, we'll get him out of here, you look busy.
It is a common notion that jails, prisons, dungeons and gaols are as common as brothels and inns in a basic fantasy setting. While this works for a basic game, it is far from the way things actually were. A prison or other Incarceration Facility only consumes valuable resources, from the food required to feed the inmates to the salaries paid to the guards and whatever it actually costs to build the facilities to hold the criminals in question. While this works fine in our modern highly efficient society, with its beliefs of rehabilitation, it isn't as feasible in darker times. Most crimes in ages past were punished not by long periods of incarceration, but by exile or execution. Many societies levied fines, practiced corporal mortification and mutilation, and other methods of marking and punishing those who broke the law. Many of these practices are now abhorent to us in our modern 'enlightened' era. Zhiatve's Chains are a practical, non-lethal mode of punishing criminals without resorting to death or costly inprisonment.