Sunday, March 11, 2012

Shrunken Head Scrolls

So I popped over to The Dungeon Dozen this morning and saw this entry at the top of the day's table:

1. Shrunken head array: selections span available sentient species, ensorcelled variously (see subtable below)

As soon as I saw that I had a flash of an idea. Lucky for me, the shrunken head powers table didn't cover my inspiration. Not exactly anyway. DF5 sort-of does this (zombie scrolls!) but it's not toting around shruken magic heads, like this:

Shrunken Heads - Created by witchdoctors, shaman, and other nefarious types, shrunken heads are usually just decorative totems meant to scare you. However they can be enchanted in a few ways:

Shrunken Head Scrolls - A shrunken head can be made into a scroll, per Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages (p. 14-16). Unlike a normal scroll, the caster doesn't read it, the head speaks the spell. A shrunken head requires only one hand to use. Treat this as a variant form of media (ibid, p. 15-16). A shrunken head is durable (DR 3 - two for the skull, one for its dried leathery skin, 5 HP, and Injury Tolerance: Unliving) but a little bulky (Holdout -5). Shrunken heads are usually Universal and always Charged (double final cost). A head that has been used up shrives into dust; they cannot be re-used. Add $50 (or free, if you harvest and shrink the head yourself), weighs 3 lbs.

Shrunken Head Gadget - A shrunken head as a gadget limitation: GURPS Basic Set: Characters (per p. 117). Typical limitations are Breakable (most heads are DR 2 if dry [-20%] or DR 3 if leathery and tough [-15%], difficult to repair or replace (you need a new head, or extensive sewing and spirit-cajoling) [-15%], and Can Be Stolen [quick contest of ST or DX, -30%]. A DR 3 head like this would be -60%, and a great limitation on things like death rays (Innate Attack, Toxic), gazes of fear or disease or nausea (Affliction), Detect (maybe the eyes glow or it talks to you),

Heads don't really need to be shrunken to do this, either. I'm thinking of the ogre head toted around by Shagot the Bastard in Glen Cook's "The Tyranny of the Night."

Shrunken Head Familiar - A shrunken head makes a good familiar (see Dungeon Fantasy 5: Allies) if you give it flight so it can get around. Or just give it magical powers and carry it around. (Forgive me for not doing a whole writeup on heads-as-monsters. I need it for something so you're on your own.)

Conversion notes: For non-GURPS types, try this - since in D&D-based games all scrolls are inherently self-powered, the primary benefit is that anyone can use them, and they don't require you to be literate. Simply grasp the head by the hair, hold it out, and let it cast. For the others, well, just stat up a head as a monster (either mobile or not), or change the form of any given magic item to "shrunken head." The ol' Wand of Fire is more interesting when it's a Shrunken Head of Fire, the Shrunken Head of Vile Deeds is worth chatting with (albeit dangerous for do-gooders), and everyone loves the Shrunken Head of Three (Limited) Wishes!

Disclaimer: The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with the GURPS system from Steve Jackson Games. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Steve Jackson Games.


  1. Unlike a normal scroll, the caster doesn't read it, the head speaks the spell.

    Love it.

    Also: protection scrolls as the skulls of saints?

    Also also: it could be a common treasure from undead. Take the head after it is defeated, and see what it does...

    1. Sure, just like taking medusa's head, you can harvest certain undead for their Eerie Head Powers.

      Probably works better if you either have to kill them without harming the head, and/or if they get to use those powers on you. :)


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