This article originally appeared in Pyramid #15
The Black Stylus
by Dan Massey
Lord Grayfeld sat across the table from King Nowlwen. His eyes drifted over the large sheet of parchment on the table. "Your Majesty, I cannot sign this. It would leave my family with nothing." "What about my family?" rasped the king. "Your duty is to the monarchy, Lord Grayfeld. Don't tell me I have to explain this again," the King taunted. He extended his hand across the table, suppressing a yawn. The noble stared at the black feather quill. "No, Majesty. I will give over my lands, but my son is not to be harmed." He reached for the pen and signed his name to the document. A faint smile touched the King's face, "You have made the right choice, John. Now go back to your family and, by all means, have a good night's sleep." That night Grayfeld slept only fitfully. His dreams were plagued by visions of his son plotting his murder. After three nights of these dreams Grayfeld began to see the motives behind his son's actions. The hidden plots were all becoming clearer. After four more nights of the disturbing dreams, Grayfeld slit his son's throat. The next night he slept soundly . . . until he dreamt of his wife having an affair with the Chamberlain.
Nowlwen's pen is known only as the Black Stylus in the places it is chronicled. It is hard for scholars of magic and historians to track the stylus back to its creator, because it changes appearance based on the time period and setting it is placed in.
The Stylus is known to have been a quill, a fountain pen, and a ball-point pen. A calligraphy brush with similar properties is also mentioned in the diary of a Samurai. Other forms are certainly possible, but all known incarnations are a variation on the hand held, ink, writing instrument. The stylus is always black and appears to be valuable. The only identifying mark is a horse's head carved or engraved on the surface of the stylus.
The stylus allows the owner to write the dreams of his victims. The owner must first get the victim to sign their full name with the pen. Then, when the victim is sleeping, he can write the name of the victim at the top of a sheet of paper and author a dream. The owner can only use one sheet of paper per dream, but there is no limit to the size of the paper. When the victim wakes up, the paper fades out of existence, leaving behind no trace of the written dream. There appear to be no limits on what can be written or drawn on the paper to create the dream. Some of the more interesting accounts of uses of the stylus involve artists. The dreams can be used to plant images in the minds of victims or just to spook them, but the stylus also provides the owner with the ability to influence his victims through their dreams.
When attempting to influence another individual, the stylus' owner must state her objective Ð what she wants the unwary individual to do. The GM must then determine the number of nights it would take to effect a change in the character. The GM should assign a difficulty level from 1 to 4, based on how far the objective is from the victim's original character or motivations. Easy changes, like getting a character to sell something at a slightly cheaper price would have a difficulty factor of 1, while hard changes would be rated at 4. This is the minimum number of consecutive nights of influenced dreams the author must supply to affect the victim. Each night results in the sleeper losing 1 point of IQ, for purposes of the stylus's dream influence only. When the victim's effective IQ falls below that of the stylus' owner, the individual will carry out the author's objective. The minimum amount of time necessary to change the character is equal to the difficulty factor in nights, even if the victim's IQ is already below that of the owner.
Access to Morpheus's power does not come without a price. The owner will gradually become narcoleptic as she uses the pen. For each month in which the character uses the pen at least once, the character will need slightly more sleep. The character will also appear to be tired and show more signs of fatigue. When the number of months of use, even if not consecutive, is equal to the character's IQ, the character falls into an endless nightmarish sleep. Attempts to destroy the pen will result in the character falling asleep for 24 hours minus the character's IQ. When the character wakes the pen will be gone, she will have no idea where it is, and her signature will appear on some available surface obviously written with the pen.
19th-century historian John Tuttle has written the most about the pen. He traced it back through many owners and identified several of the victims. He came to the conclusion that the Black Stylus is the work of a powerful follower of Morpheus who bound a Night Mare to the original writing instrument. Tuttle theorized that the pen could affect people across time with unforseen results that may actually alter history. He notes that it is difficult to prove this ability, because any changes in time would not be detected by most beings, although it is likely that the owner of the stylus would know (if he still owns the stylus after the changes in time occur). This aspect of the Stylus is so dangerous Tuttle hid his research notes to prevent people from attempting to influence victims and owners of the past or, in some campaigns, the future. Other accounts of the Stylus could lead to the names of past owners and dreamers.
Characters in a campaign might be made victims of the Black Stylus after signing a contract or other document. The characters should have some clues that the villain is different, a description of how tired he looks, or a brief description of the pen. It should be something they can think back to when they try to figure out why a member of their party is acting strangely. They could also uncover Tuttle's research or some other tales about the stylus and try to track it down. The most intriguing possibility is to drop small clues that something strange is going on, through headlines, rumors, etc., and have the characters gradually come closer to people and events altered by some mysterious force. They must track down the criminal and find out more about the power she is tapping to influence people.
Article publication date: October 1, 1995
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