Skull Orchid

Occult Lore

Occult Lore

Author Keith Baker, Adam Bank, Chris Jones, Scott Reeves, and Elton Robb
Publisher Atlas-Games
Publish date 2002
OGL Section 15 occult-lore

The material below is Open Game Content

Skull Orchid

This tiny plant has five broad, serrated leaves growing out of its base to a length of six inches each, with a fat, pink blossom resting at the center where they all meet. The orchid flower remains closed throughout the year, opening only once during the eighth full moon. It gets its name from the white, vaguely skull-like pattern appearing on its indigo leaves. A skull orchid sheds a heady, aromatic scent.

Thriving in hot, humid, tropical environments, the plant is difficult to gather, as it grows only up high in the jungle canopy, nestled between the mossy branches of the towering spriggan tree. Due to its unique coloring, some jungle cultures revere the plant as a blessing from their death gods, harvesting it only for important rituals but otherwise protecting it as a sacred treasure. Other cultures, being more practical, utilize the plant for its lethal toxins. They coat the tips of their weapons with it when they hunt so that they need only scratch their prey for it to die from the poison. Shamans use the plant’s stems to expand their consciousnesses, allowing them to temporarily transcend the mortal world. The aristocracies of many advanced cultures enjoy the plant as an exotic household decoration.

Harvesting the plant is a risky venture. Touching the leaves, stems, or flowers in their natural state is enough to kill a person, as the poison can enter the bloodstream on contact, and predatory birds and felines often live in the host tree. The jungle people who collect it typically use their daggers to transplant it into a clay or boiled-leather vessel without touching it.

Herbalists harvest it with custom-blown lace-glass bowls that allow for both air and light to enter, in an attempt to keep the plant alive while they make preparations for awakening it. In any case, once a skull orchid has been removed from its host tree, it survives no more than three days before dying and becoming useless as a poison. Skull orchid material must be processed within that time in order to successfully make concoctions from it.

Climate/Terrain: Any tropical forest
Bindings: Divination 3, Evocation 4, Transmutation 9
Traits: Coldsweat 5, Enchanted 10, Ofslaen 10


Coldsweat: Once a skull orchid is picked or dies, its toxins become inert and the plant material may be safely consumed; it is no longer viable for making concoctions, though. While the plant is still alive, and for three days after being transplanted, any creature that eats its petals, leaves, or stems — assuming it hasn’t already died from touching the plant (see below) — begins to sweat profusely on a failed Fortitude save (DC 15), as the chemical opens the pores in its skin, encouraging sweat gland overproduction for the next 1d4 hours.

This gives the unfortunate creature consuming it a –1 Charisma penalty during that time. An herbalist can isolate this trait to make a mundane concoction that has the same effect, minus the deadly ofslaen effects.

A peculiar side effect emerges when an herbalist awakens a skull orchid’s coldsweat trait in conjunction with fainne mushroom material; the result is a substance called kachiit ku’ul, or “otter oil,” which forces a creature to sweat oils similar to the ones coating the fur of aquatic mammals, facilitating increased movement and agility while submerged in water.

Enchanted: The plant’s innate magic potential normally lies dormant, but it becomes accessible when it’s awakened. When justpicked skull orchid stem is mixed with hallucinogenic substances from other plants, like mandrake or dragon flower, to make totemic pipeweed, smoke from the magical concoction can be inhaled to impart upon a creature the ability to shapechange into its totemic guardian animal. A second recipe makes farsight oil, which bestows upon anyone consuming it the power to see and hear events at remote distances.

Ofslaen: Skull orchids are most famous for their organ-targeting poisons. There are three kinds, each of which can be extracted by an herbalist from a different part of the plant. The toxin removed from the plant’s leaves targets a creature’s brain, causing a cerebral aneurysm; another toxin, taken from the stem, target’s a creature’s liver, shutting it down and slowly killing the hapless victim with its body’s own waste chemicals; the third toxin, obtained from the seeds found within the blossom, targets the heart, forcing it to beat so rapidly it ruptures.

If a creature touches the leaf, it must make a successful Fortitude save (DC 17) or suffer 1d4 temporary Intelligence damage and 1d4 temporary Constitution score damage (this is primary damage; there is no secondary damage). On a critical failure (a natural one), the Intelligence damage becomes permanent.

If the creature touches the stem, it must make a successful Fortitude save (DC 16) or its liver ceases to function properly; its skin becomes jaundiced and its body takes 1 point of temporary damage to its Constitution score per hour until it’s either cured or dead (this is primary damage, and so only gets one save; there is no secondary damage). The following spells will repair the liver: heal, mass heal, restoration, greater restoration, limited wish or wish. Other healing spells, including delay poison and neutralize poison, just cure existing toxin damage and delay the damage caused by the non-functioning liver for 1d4 hours. However, dragon milk antitoxin also repairs the liver, as does any antitoxin made from the skull orchid’s stem.

If a creature touches the seeds, it must make a successful Fortitude save (DC 17) or suffer multiple, massive coronary embolisms, immediately taking 2d6 points of temporary Constitution score damage and 1 point of permanent Constitution damage (this is primary damage; there is no secondary damage).

Once a skull orchid is picked or dies, its toxins become inert and the plant material may be safely touched; it is no longer viable for making concoctions, though. Also, for each day that the plant remains alive but disassociated from its host tree, such as if it’s been transplanted, the toxin’s damage is halved; after three days the plant’s traits are effectively useless and it dies. Applying an antioxidant to the plant material slows down this process, halving the damage every two days and allowing it to survive a maximum of six days.

When an herbalist awakens this trait, the poisons it produces become more durable and longer lasting, as well as slightly more potent, usually by making it more difficult for a creature to resist; these poisons include mind hammer, golden embrace, and heart fire.

Magical Concoction: Kachiit Ku’ul

Type: Ointment
Trait: Coldsweat DC 20
Cost: 520 gp

This musky ointment, sometimes called “otter oil,” must be rubbed into the skin to be effective. Within minutes of use, the affected creature’s pores open up, but rather than producing sweat as they normally would, they instead exude a slick oily substance. This gives the creature an enhanced mobility underwater, adding 10 feet for each Dexterity modifier point to its swim speed, within a minimum of 5 feet for creatures with a zero or negative modifier. Additionally, while underwater, the creature gains a +4 AC bonus and may hold its breath for double the duration normally allotted by its Constitution score.

The oil lasts for 1 hour per Constitution score point the creature possesses, after which time it cannot be used again for four days while its body purges the remaining oil from its system.

The oil produced as a result of using the concoction masks the creature’s normal odor with a damp, pungent musk similar to wet otter fur. Because of this, the user suffers a –3 Charisma penalty for the duration of the effect.

Magical Concoction: Totemic Pipeweed

Type: Inhalant
Trait: Enchanted DC 25
Cost: 2,300 gp

It is said that most people have totem animals that watch over and guide them through life. Sometimes, the totem spirit contacts the one it protects; sometimes, it’s the other way around.

In either case, it’s never an easy undertaking bridging the void between realms, and so a “facilitator” must often be used. One such facilitator comes from the skull orchid. Dried, treated, and awakened skull orchid petals have been smoked for centuries by shamans in the various jungle cultures as a means to summon their totem spirits. Raw totemic pipeweed looks and tastes like dried tobacco. For it to be effective it must be ignited and its smoke inhaled.

When a person inhales a full lungful of smoke produced by a single dose of the pipeweed, she must make a successful Will save (DC 30) to open the channel with her totemic spirit. If she does, then she shapechanges, as per the spell, into the animal form of that spirit, gaining all the stats of that animal but retaining her own Intelligence and consciousness. She is unable to change back to her original form for a number of hours equal to her original Wisdom score.

The GM and the player can work out in advance what the character’s totemic spirit is, preferably role-playing the determination sequence. Or, the player can roll 1d20 + the character’s Wisdom modifier and then consult the table below to determine it randomly.

1d20 + Wis Roll Totemic Spirit
1 Dire bat
2 Dire bird*
3 Dire weasel
4 Dire badger
5 Wolverine
6 Boar
7 Crocodile
8 Giant lizard
9 Bison
10 Horse, heavy war
11 Snake, large viper
12 Snake, constrictor
13 Cheetah
14 Leopard
15 Lion
16 Black bear
17 Dire ape
18 Dire wolf
19 Tiger
20+ GM’s choice
  • Choose a type of bird, such as eagle, hawk, raven, or owl, and use the dire bat stats, replacing Blindsight with Darkvision 100 ft. Once the affected character reverts back to normal, she becomes severely fatigued, receiving all associated penalties. Totemic pipeweed can only affect a creature a number of times per week equal to its Wisdom modifier.

Magical Concoction: Farsight Oil

Type: Ointment
Trait: Enchanted DC 25
Cost: 160 gp

One drop of this translucent liquid placed in a creature’s eyes empowers it with the spell-like ability Clairaudience/Clairvoyance. It functions exactly as the spell of the same name as if at 5th level, except that the target is the creature receiing the oil. This can only be used once per day, as residue left behind in the affected creature’s body prevents further uses within a single 24-hour period.

Poison: Mind Hammer

Type: Contact DC 20
Trait: Ofslaen DC 25
Primary Damage: 1d4 permanent Int
Secondary Damage: 1d4 permanent Con
Cost: 150 gp

Brewed from the leaves of the skull orchid, this poison causes a cerebral aneurysm in any creature that fails its saving throw upon making contact with it; this is permanent ability drain. It has a rose-like odor and a sweet taste. If applied to the surface of a weapon or some other object, its viability outside of the bottle is approximately three hours, after which it becomes useless.

Some people, particularly thrill-seeking nobility, like to coat the rims of their wine glasses with expired mind hammer, relishing in the taste of “danger” even though it is harmless to them (most of the time).

One vial of the poison remains good for approximately 1d4 weeks if an herbalist has treated its stopper with preservative chemicals. Dragon milk antitoxin (see page 180) completely reverses the effects of this poison, as does antitoxin made from the skull orchid.

Poison: Golden Embrace

Type: Contact DC 22
Trait: Ofslaen DC 25
Primary Damage: 1 Con
Secondary Damage: 1 Con per hour until death
Cost: 300 gp

This toxin is the product of a skull orchid stem. It causes liver failure in the victim, which in turn causes more damage as his body’s natural toxins, no longer being filtered by the organ, accumulate and eventually kill him. A victim of liver failure takes on the yellowish pallor of jaundice. Most healing magic, including delay poison and neutralize poison, is ineffective, merely removing existing toxins from the body and temporarily alleviating the on-going temporary Constitution damage without actually repairing the liver. After 1d4 hours, the body’s toxins begin to build up again, with the victim taking temporary Constitution damage anew. However, there are a few spells that do directly repair the damaged liver: heal, mass heal, restoration, greater restoration, limited wish, or wish, as will, of course, any form of divine intervention.

The liquid in the vial is a deep amber color with a bread-like scent. In the bottle, with a herbalist-treated stopper, it is viable for 1d6 weeks. Outside the bottle, it is good for 24 hours. Dragon milk antitoxin (see page 180) completely reverses the effects ofthis poison, as does antitoxin made from the skull orchid.

Poison: Heart Fire

Type: Contact DC 20
Trait: Ofslaen DC 25
Primary Damage: 2d6 Con
Secondary Damage: 1 permanent Con
Cost: 500 gp

When skull orchid seeds are harvested, pressed, and distilled, they become this deadly poison, which causes coronary embolisms in the victim within six rounds of contact; this is temporary damage. Most creatures die when this happens, but not all. Those that somehow survive many times do so in a weakened state, with the secondary damage being permanent. The liquid has a hint of raspberry taste with absolutely no odor.

One vial of it, sealed with a herbalist-treated stopper, lasts for about a month. If exposed to air for more than one minute, it degrades rapidly, lasting only a few short hours. Dragon milk antitoxin (see page 180) completely reverses the effects of this poison, as does antitoxin made from the skull orchid.

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