Magic Item Possession

The possession of people, places, and objects by spirits— usually malevolent—is a common trope throughout folklore, mythology, and contemporary storytelling. The game already has means for creatures to possess other creatures and objects, but the existing object possession spells don’t allow the caster to use spells and spell-like abilities through the object or give the possessor access the object’s special properties. This section offers a way for a creature to transfer its spirit into a magic item through existing spells, turning the object into something akin to an intelligent item.

A possessed magic item is an excellent source of horror and tension in a campaign. An identified non-intelligent magic item becomes a known quantity to its wielder, who comes to rely on it functioning in a consistent manner. A well-used and trusty magic item that suddenly acts peculiarly, seemingly with a will of its own, is a threat PCs rarely see coming.

You can also assume that all creatures with access to a magic jar spell-like ability can use it to possess magic items.

Possessing A Magic Item

Very few creatures have the ability to possess other creatures, and even fewer can possess objects. Yet it is thematically appropriate for a ghost or shadow demon, for example, to be able to possess a magic item. Rather than requiring another spell, feat, or ability, the rules that follow allow a creature with possession spells or spell-like abilities to fully place its mind within an object. A creature with a possession, greater possession, or magic jar spell-like ability can do this, as well as one with an object possession or greater object possession spell-like ability (at the GM’s discretion). If the GM wishes, this can be expanded beyond spell-like abilities, allowing spellcasters to possess magic items when casting the listed spells. When a creature or spellcaster possesses an item, use the effects below, rather than the effects listed in the spell description.

Outsiders and incorporeal undead are more likely to have the ability to inhabit objects than other creatures.

Attended and unattended magic items receive saving throws as normal. An unattended magic item has a saving throw bonus equal to 2 + 1/2 the item’s caster level. An attended item uses the owner’s saving throw modifier or the unattended save modifier, whichever is higher. Since the item is the one attempting the saving throw, the owner doesn’t get a sense of having succeeded at a saving throw, even if the saving throw is successful. The rules described in the possession and greater possession spells in regard to the possessor returning to its own body or the death of the possessor’s corporeal form remain unchanged. The destruction of the possessed magic item is treated as if the host creature died.

Detection: The normal properties of a possessed magic item can be identified using the standard method, but detecting that an item is possessed is less straightforward.

The Spellcraft skill combined with detect magic yields no evidence of possession whatsoever, although the item does have the appropriate necromancy aura if the possession came from a spell or spell-like ability. Analyze aura, thoughtsense, and spells that detect alignments work normally unless the possessor has an ability such as nondetection or misdirection. Analyze dweomer reveals the possession if the possessor fails its Will save.

Intelligent Items: Intelligent magic items normally can’t be possessed, unless the GM states otherwise. In the rare event that a creature successfully possesses an intelligent item, the possessing creature must attempt Will saves against the intelligent item’s Ego score to maintain control, similarly to an intelligent item’s owner. Even on a success, the possessing creature doesn’t gain access to the intelligent item’s spell-like abilities.

Protection from Evil: An attended magic item that belongs to a creature warded by protection from evil and similar effects is immune to any new attempt at possession while it remains attended. However, magic items don’t receive a second saving throw if they are already possessed, nor is their possession in any way suppressed if they enter the area of effect of such a spell. They lack any sentience and self-determination to resist control once it has been established.

Possessed Item Abilities

The possessor retains its Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, level, class, base save bonuses, alignment, and mental abilities.

Most possessed magic items can’t move or have very strictly defined movement and attack options. The possessor can use its own spells and spell-like abilities. Appropriate spell components and foci are still required for spells that call for them, which prevents the use of many spells, but not of most spell-like abilities. The possessor can use other abilities as long as they are completely mental or verbal in nature. The possessor takes its turn at approximately the same time as the item’s owner. Each turn, the possessor can choose to take a standard action before or after the item’s wielder, and it can take a swift action whenever it wants during the owner’s turn (or an immediate action at any time). The possessor doesn’t receive a move action unless the item has some means of locomotion, and can’t take other actions that would allow it to move (with the exception of magic like telekinesis). The possessor can take full-round actions. Possessors can’t use any of their own gear while possessing an object.

Communication: The possessor of a magic item can speak aloud and use its normal sight- and hearing-related senses (including blindsense and similar abilities) in a 60-foot radius of the item, provided the item isn’t sheathed or put inside a container. This includes the ability to read, use abilities such as a read magic spell-like ability, or cast a spell from a scroll if the spell is on the possessor’s spell list (provided it is possessing the scroll or the possessed object’s owner is holding the scroll). The possessor can communicate telepathically while possessing a magic item if it could do so normally.

Control Owner: The possessor can also try to control the item’s owner, although its capacity to do so is weaker than that of an intelligent item. The effect is similar to dominate monster but with a duration of 1 minute. The owner can negate this effect by succeeding at a Will save (DC = 10 + 1/2 the possessor’s HD + the possessor’s highest mental ability score modifier). Many possessing creatures use this ability only as a last resort, for it reveals their presence to the item’s owner. After trying to control the item’s owner, a possessing creature can’t try to do so again for 1 hour, regardless of success or failure.

Item Abilities: Finally, the possessor can activate, deactivate, and otherwise manipulate the abilities of the magic item it inhabits, using a full round, standard, swift, or immediate action to do so as the magic item requires. The possessor has an intuitive knowledge of how the host object works. The possessor can also prevent the item’s owner from activating an item’s ability by spending the appropriate type of action before the owner does so. The owner receives no special insight into how or why the item malfunctions, other than the fact it doesn’t do as she expects.

Touch Attacks: If the possessed item is a weapon, a successful melee or ranged attack by the wielder qualifies as a touch attack for the purposes of the possessor’s special abilities. Likewise, the possessor of an attended possessed magic item automatically succeeds at any touch attack upon the item’s owner unless the item is in a container.