Pernicious Poet's Pen

edited June 2018 in DesignFinder Chat

Pernicious Poet's Pen

Aura moderate enchantment; CL 7th

Slot none; Price 14,000 gp; Weight – lbs.


This silver inkpen bears a golden nib that produces its own ink, creating beautiful calligraphy regardless of the writer's skill. Up to three times per day as a standard action, the pen may be commanded to act of its own accord, casting all creatures within a 60-foot radius as players in an impromptu poetic drama. All creatures within this area must make a successful DC 15 Will saving throw or be compelled to speak in flowery verse for 4 rounds, narrating their actions as though part of an epic poem. Affected creatures increase the time required for any action by one step (free actions become swift, swift actions become move actions, etc.). Actions taking one full-round action or longer cannot be performed while under the effect of a pernicious poet's pen and certain surreptitious actions (such as using Stealth to hide) may be considerably more difficult while narrating their effects. This is a language-dependent mind-affecting effect.

The user of the pen may choose a number of creatures equal to their Charisma modifier or ranks in Perform (act or oratory) to exclude from the effect, whichever is higher.


Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, fumbletongue, slow; Cost 7,000 gp


JACOB: First of all, congratulations; welcome to the Top 16 of the very first DesignFinder! This is a fun idea, which in the hands of the right players/GM could make for a very memorable/amusing encounter. (I think it’s fine for those who are less comfortable -- you simply say the NPC narrates his actions and announces he’s going to cast spell X and then he does so.) This brings enough flavor to make Ogden Nash and his Custard the Cowardly Dragon happy (sorry, I felt I had to work at least one poetry reference into these comments). I like the idea of increasing action times -- I think it’s something we’ll see a lot in 2e, based on the playtest blogs, but there’s no reason it can’t be done here (though as Kate notes in her comments, I’m not sure there are “steps” for actions). As always, I like when designers think about caveats/details with their items, though I’m not sure this needs to be language-dependent; that indicates that it “uses intelligible language as a medium for communication. If the target cannot understand or hear what the caster of a language-dependent spell says, the spell has no effect, even if the target fails its saving throw.” I don’t think that applies here. I think it more needs to be the target must be able to speak a language, otherwise it can’t narrate. I also wondered if this would have some other effect on abilities that require verbal components (including bardic performances, challenges, etc.). Clearly nothing’s meant to happen that hampers it, but I wonder if that should be called out more specifically? Also, does someone have to announce what spell they’re casting, or just that they’re casting? That could very much matter and I’m not sure that’s as clear as my previous question. I think it’s interesting that the 4 rounds -- which is often the duration of an entire combat -- might not be long enough in this case, as it would likely mean no iterative attacks at higher levels … except: I really dislike the exclusion factor. Attribute (or skill ranks)-based aspects throws off the pricing of magic items, as this item becomes more valuable to certain characters than others. I think I’d have rather had it just affect enemies if you were going to effectively allow it to do that (for most PCs, by the time they get to sixth level, they’ll have enough ranks to exclude all their allies). Honestly, I think it’s more fun if the PCs have to follow through too, though I can see why that would make it less appealing.

Template/style-wise, I don’t see anything wrong. Nice job!

KATE: This item literally made me laugh out loud, so I really like it. The effect is just fun. It is a bit whimsical for many audiences, so this wouldn’t be appropriate for every publisher. It also might pressure players and GMs to have to come up with flowery prose on the spot, if folks feel like they need to speak exactly as their characters would. Mechanically, I’m not sure that there’s a specific progression for increasing actions by one “step,” so I think I would have simply spelled out the effect on each action type. This is a pretty powerful debuff, so the effects need to be really clear. The user of the item doesn’t seem to be automatically excluded from the effect, which I’m not sure is intended. Nice work on a compelling and interesting magic item, and thank you for the giggle!

MIKE: For some groups the pen will be a fun item at a rate of three times per day. I know I personally would have a blast having my NPCs and creatures narrate their actions. For many groups this would also be an enjoyable item, but maybe once. For proper use of the pen, it would require the players and the GM to get into the right mindset. The GM would take on most of the burden with this, since many owners would have the requisite Charisma score or ranks in Perform to exclude their allies. That is a minor concern (for which I would suggest a 1/day usage) that really doesn’t detract from the pen’s inventiveness.

Congratulations and welcome to the top 16!

REP: Congratulations! Your item’s effect is amusing, and as a literature geek I particularly enjoy picturing this in action. I wish this had been refined and worked on a little more thoroughly; e.g., in saying, “the pen may be commanded to act of its own accord” -- “of its own accord” needs defining: is it actually writing, or is it just the focus of the spell? While you later clarify that the interaction/skill of the user is necessary, this is not clear from get-go and I’d prefer clearer activation requirements up front. 60 foot radius = 120 foot diameter = ridiculously huge area of effect.


  • Congratulations on advancing to Round 2. This is a very interesting and unusual item and can be a lot of fun for certain groups. I have a few observations I wanted to share, this being constructive criticism:
    Like the judges mentioned, it can be hard to adjudicate action economy and increasing 'steps'. The use of this item could potentially shut down a lot of actions that shouldn't really be stopped just because things get dramatic. Understandably, with a word count limitation, the ability to cover all the bases can be a challenge, but you need to try and convey your intent on how the item would effect immediate actions and such (free and swift actions are mentioned, immediate are not). If immediate actions become move actions (or even swift) can they even be taken out of turn (or can they but you need to have saved a move action for your round)? There's also fuzzier actions, like attacks of opportunity; are they free actions or just free attacks?  You should at least have a line about how they might be affected or if they are not affected at all. Otherwise, the item has now negated many defenses and expected reactions, like being able to attack a person who's taken an action diverting their attention (which makes little sense, since they've also basically had to telegraph they are taking the action through prose as well, before doing it).

    Also, I see little need to also prevent full-round actions (which is the wording you used) or even one-round or longer actions.  Thematically, I see no reason an affected caster couldn't 'dramatically' state that they're about to summon up a demon or whatever or cast a spell of sleep on a target.  Just have it take one round longer.  The only problem might be adjudicating longer actions, like rituals and such that take longer than 4 rounds, though that could just as easily be stated as making them 4 rounds longer. This is mostly opinion though.

    Additionally, you mention that the pen's effect is language-based. This means that the targets must be able to hear and understand the language.  The language of what?  The pen? I think in most cases, you should remove that and just add a line that targets must be able to speak Common to be effected (it could be any language, but let's face it, Common is the most common). This also prevents situations where creatures that understand [Common] should be affected but they can't speak, so it technically shouldn't have any effect. Also, specifying a language, will also allow you to state that the dramatic prose must be in that language.  Your current wording and effect has no clause that compels or requires affected targets to speak in a specific language (other than being prosy and dramatic). So an affected creature could just start talking Abyssal or Aklo or something that few would be able to overhear and understand anyway. This is fair, but I don't think that's your envisioned intent.
  • First off, congrats and you have definitely created an intriguing and engaging item.

    Some analysis and opinions (hopefully not retreading too much on what's already been said).
    I think your poet's pen is probably one of the most "descriptively engaging" items within the Top 16. By that, I mean that the descriptive effect, of speaking in flowery verse, is so compelling that the actual mechanical effects are almost secondary. It has the capacity to totally change the feel of an encounter when it is used. This is suitably epic. However, it does mean that when I read the last sentence about excluding targets from the effect, I get a little unhappy. If my players are going to use such an item, they should also speak in flowery verse. I know that I would make that a house rule were I to use this pen in my game, even if they weren't mechanically effected.

    However, I think this item would also be the most divisive. As has been mentioned, some people would absolutely love this item, while others would loathe it, and I think it would gradually lose its appeal with continued use.

    In terms of mechanical balance, I have always found that leveraging action economy advantage has probably the biggest effect on encounter challenge and this item debuffs this hard. Not only can melee characters not get off iterative attacks, but by my reading characters are also unable to make immediate actions. There is also ambiguity for actions such as attacks of opportunity. And what about the humble 5-foot step?

    I originally thought that as a result of this that the pen was under-costed by a large amount, but after re-checking the average monster statistics by CR table I find myself a bit unsure. Assuming level 7 characters might get this (based on Wealth by Level), while it would be absurdly effective against groups of lower CR enemies, once you are fighting CR equivalent or higher enemies, the DC 15 save quickly starts becoming irrelevant, and increasing the price of the item makes that worse. It's one of those cases where maybe the debuff is too potent. Also weirdly, because of the reliance on the target failing the save, as well as the massive area it targets, the use case for this item looks like it would tend towards being used for crowd control against hordes of minions. This, to me, clashes with the aesthetic of the item. I'd much rather see it used in a climactic fight against a big villain and his lieutenant rather than two dozen goblins after all. 

    In terms of suggestions, perhaps restricting the target to a much smaller area (or specific number of target/s) and not requiring a save in order to take effect. Instead, it could be paid for with the user's action (a standard/move action to maintain each round for up to 4 rounds). This seems like a much more even trade off while making it function much more consistently.

    Despite (or maybe because of) these potential imbalances, I could definitely see this item as a cornerstone of an adventure with a director/playwright villain who could effectively use this item to escape the players time and again (while monologuing dramatically of course). Only for the players to steal it from them during Act 3 and get some "poetic" justice.

    TL;DR - superbly evocative item that will be either loved or hated. Possibly under-costed for its amazing debuff and there are a few corner cases where rules are not clear.

    Again, congrats. The pernicious poet's pen entirely changes the feel of an encounter before it even does anything mechanically. And that's very impressive.
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