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Vanya's Artifactby Bruce Heard
"...such are they whom Vanya chooses for herself and gathers from the furthest ends of this world, servants from among the bravest in Hattias to guard watchfully and faithfully her Sepulchre and the Temple of Our Lady, sword in hand, ready for battle."
Bernhardt von Klarwald
Historiae Heldanicae Scriptores Exteria
The most visible power of the Heldannic artifact, The Star of Vanya, is the immense telekinetic force that drives the knights' fleet of skyships. There is, however, more to know about the artifact itself.
The Star of Vanya looks like a foot-wide, four-pointed star made of some clear crystal. Vanya was not the original maker of the artifact, and to this day she still believes it was built by the Old Ones, entities that are as far beyond Immortals as Immortals are to the common mortals of Mystara. She did nevertheless discover its whereabouts and seized it for herself. Later on, when Hattian warriors decided to create their order of knights, she left the artifact at the site of her mortal remains in Davania. She then provided dreams and omens to Heldannic priests about her grave (AC 941), leading the knights to mount an important expedition to southeastern Davania (AC 952).
The knights acquired the artifact as they discovered Vanya's grave and began changing their Order around the power of the artifact itself. The artifact provided a crucial military advantage to the Knights in that it enabled them to build fairly cheaply an entire fleet of skyships that only Greater Alphatia could rival. Following the relocation of Greater Alphatia into the Hollow World, the Heldannic Knights have largely remained uncontested masters of Mystara's skies.
What is known to a select few among the Order's upper crust is that the artifact has other powers. The knights have remained unable so far to fully identify or understand them all, much less to use them. One of artifact's verifiable effects is to suspend the need for living creatures standing within a 30' radius to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep even. Living creatures don't age in its presence either - for example, if someone were killed and remained near the artifact, the body would not decay. Vanya picked up on this effect. She rebuilt her original mortal remains to look as if she were a twenty year old warrior princess. Lying near the artifact, her body has remained untouched since then, as if she were merely sleeping.
The artifact apparently has a mind of its own, with which neither Vanya nor the knights have managed to communicate. It would seem that telepathic prayers of some sort can be heard, although uttered in a foreign language. Magic was unable to translate the language. Mortals need to make a Wisdom Check when they spend a full hour within 100' of the artifact. Lawful visitors receive a +2 bonus to the ability check. Chaotic visitors instead receive a -4 penalty. Non-Lawful visitors otherwise receive a -1 penalty. A score of "1" is an automatic failure.
Mortals who fail the Wisdom check, suffer unbearable pain from the incomprehensible telepathic prayers. The pain causes blindness, halves all six ability score, adds a 5 point penalty to all saving throws, and prevents spell-casting of any sort. These effects cease an hour later.
Those who succeed the Wisdom Check simply begin to hear the strange, haunting prayers. If succeeding the check by at least 5 points, recipients also see some images and understand certain concepts, however, they are unable to copy them down using simple words. Furthermore, these images and concepts seem to fade from one's mind after leaving the artifact, like a wonderful dream that one becomes increasingly unable to recall. Unbeknownst to the recipient, a link is established at this time between the artifact and the recipient with a range of 300 yards. The link compels a mortal to act in a more strictly Lawful manner. The character's true alignment isn't affected since the modified behaviour is a result of the artifact's influence. For role-playing purposes however, the alignment temporarily moves one step closer to Lawful Neutral. The change is subtle and gradual, requiring about 24 hours to complete. As long as the artifact remains within their sight, linked characters fight and cast spells as if five experience levels (or HD) higher than their current experience levels.
The link is broken if the recipient goes beyond its range or to another plane. The link's range otherwise grows at the rate of one mile per hour until the link is broken. Once the link is broken, the artifact's Lawful influence ceases as progressively and subtly as it started. A broken link and the artifact's Lawful influence immediately resume at the latest range, anytime the recipient comes again within 100' of the artifact (no save). The problem with a long-lasting link to the artifact is that further alignment changes keep occurring each year thereafter. When reaching Lawful Neutral behaviour, the change becomes permanent with all effects described in the rules as regards to experience level, character class, and so on.
In AC 1003, regular pilgrimage to the Holy Citadel began from Hattias and the Heldannic Territories (see timeline). Ritual preparations require pilgrims to spend long hours in prayer to purify their souls before visiting Vanya's sepulchre. The chapels are located just above the artifact, within 100'. Some pilgrims run in terror (having failed their Wisdom Check), blinded and in pain, convinced their soul isn't pure enough. Most return the next day and several times thereafter until they finally see the light. Those who fare the best see what they believe are dreams sent by their Immortal patron and hear divine prayers. For pilgrims, the artifact acts like a Lawful Neutral factory. Most pilgrims reside for a month or more within the Holy Citadel before embarking for their journey back home. By the time they reach southern Brun or Freiburg, their link with the artifact may already extend this far.
In fact, the artifact does broadcast telepathic prayers to Immortals and mortals alike. It also acts as a beacon for Old Ones to locate Mystara's dimension (as far-flung as it is from the Old Ones) and assess the spiritual progress of sentient beings dwelling there. The artifact explains various truths about the universe, however, the concepts involved require the perception of dimensions beyond the 5th, which neither mortal nor immortal thought processes can handle. The prayers do elevate one's state of comprehension temporarily, but it is too soon, even for immortals, to use what is taught by the Star.
Vanya knows some of what is going on and a few of the artifact's functions. She suspects that the artifact could reveal more about the Immortal's own spiritual progress than she truly feels secure. She believes that the wrong kind of spiritual development (which she has failed to identify) could spark direct retribution from the Old Ones, a thought that sends chills down her Immortal spine. This is one of the reasons why she entrusted the artifact to mere mortals, following the logic that mortals lag behind Immortals in this regards. She also hopes this would keep the artifact away from other Immortals (none of whom know about Vanya's little secret) until she can find out more about it.
What Vanya does not know is that the artifact is both monitoring the general state of consciousness in the Mystara universe, and also setting up a crisis situation for mortals and immortals to deal with. If the situation is successfully addressed, then mortals and immortals survive until the next time the Old Ones feel a test is needed. If the situation is not addressed, the Old Ones may either change this universe to fit their purposes, or cleanse it altogether to start anew.
There are two artifacts - one weighted to promote concepts of Law and the other Chaos ideals. So far, the latter has not manifested itself on Mystara. The Star of Vanya fosters events and new thoughts supporting Law, as can be expected. The Star allowed Vanya to find it and skilfully implanted a suggestion into her mind that she leave it in the hands of her new Heldannic Order. At this point, it began discreetly influencing the thinking of the knights to favour Law as much as possible, causing reforms there. It also began providing Heldannic priests with spells related to the Law, which Vanya could never do, and various other powers such as the telekinetic fields supporting their skyships. The artifact made the Heldannic Order truly formidable. Effectively, the Star is slowly taking Vanya's place, positioning itself as the object of the knights' worship and the true source of their power. A time may come when the knights derive all their power from the artifact and devote their faith to it entirely rather than Vanya. While the artifact is acquiring an Immortal's worshippers, it learns to duplicate the Immortal's spell powers. This ability increases with the number of diverted worshippers.
The goal of the Star is to take over as much as possible of Vanya's worshipers in order to breed. The artifact can reproduce, which would cause another such Law-oriented artifact to appear somewhere in the universe, seeking yet more of Vanya's followers. Should these lesser artifacts and their "mother" manage to acquire more than two thirds of Vanya's worshipers at any time, her essence, memories, and powers would all be absorbed into the Mother Artifact (Vanya's Star). She and her progeny would then turn on another immortal and resume their quiet eradication process. Although this is a very slow process at first, taking possibly decades or centuries, it will inevitably accelerate as the two Mother Artifacts breed growing numbers of offspring and start pulling in Immortals even faster. The lesser artifacts, fortunately do not breed.
The Chaos artifact(s) would be starting the process elsewhere, fostering Chaos and becoming the parasites of other immortals. Theoretically, we'd end up with two gigantic blocks of worshipers in the universe, and very few or no Immortals at all. At this point, mortals would be pitched against each other in universe- and planar-spanning conflicts. Should one side gain the upper hand and threaten to win, all mortal population would then be absorbed as well, eradicating the entire universe's sentient population at once. The Old Ones would then start anew, repopulating the unclaimed Mystaran expanse with other, newer sentient beings.
What can be done? The Immortals need to pool together their thoughts and understand what the artifacts are truly about. So far, the first reaction of Immortals finding new magic is to keep quiet and use it to augment their own power. If they realise soon enough what is going on, they may be able to destroy the two Mother Artifacts, starting with any offspring. They can disintegrate one artifact by pooling their powers (PP's). This requires more power than any single immortal has, and in the end, there may not be enough of them left to destroy all of the artifacts. More than one of the remaining Immortals may have to sacrifice themselves in the war against these artifacts, which is the key to what Old Ones are looking for.
Immortals who had been absorbed by the artifact indeed end up meeting the Old Ones. There, they learn about the truth behind the artifact and their own failures. If the artifacts are later defeated, these Immortals return to the Prime Plane, but one Immortal level lower (Hierarchs would become Celestials, Novices would just be dead).
On the humans' side, worshippers of the Immortals must be able to discover where their power is truly coming from. They must be willing to give it up in order to save themselves. The number of offspring a Mother Artifact can maintain depends directly on the number of worshipers it possesses. The Mother Artifact will have to dismiss offspring as its pool of worship dwindles. In so doing, a Mother Artifact would also be forced to release some of the Immortals it absorbed. With no surviving offspring, a Mother Artifact cannot hold any Immortal at all. With no source of worship at all, the Mother Artifact can easily be destroyed with Immortal Magic; mortals could otherwise cause a helpless Mother Artifact to go dormant by taking it into the Hollow World, and encasing it inside a tomb of solid lead underneath The Lighthouse.
All mortals who have heard the artifact's haunting prayers remain changed people, even though they cannot clearly recall the contents of its holy messages. They sense it is something totally beyond them, and that great events are about to change the universe. Some feel that an extraordinary visitation will soon occur, usually attributing it to their own Immortal Patron (Heldannic priests would think Vanya is about to descend among them). Others are convinced it is the end of the universe and everyone must repent before meeting their ultimate fate. The Star has the ability to call out to these people, wherever they may be, and make them travel back to the Star, should the artifact need their services.
Naturally, the goal of a campaign is not to blow it up forever. The ideas presented here are for use as a campaign background since these events could go on for decades before they truly unravel. A time traveller could investigate the artifacts and discover the Old Ones' scheme. Should all things take a turn for the worst during a time-spanning adventure, it is possible that not all Old Ones do agree with the artifacts' approach. "Dissidents" could discreetly provide help unveiling their nature or defeating them, including the ability to time-travel.