Item: The Three Words
Title: The Three Rings
Short description: Three rings of entangled pearlescent stone, carved with words in an unknown language that tremble with improbable meaning.
Flavor text on the card: “The Chicken! Yes!” —Alvanoraset, Prophet of the Unmaking, final words
Tags: item, legendary, single use
Shatter the three rings upon the ground as you speak exactly three words. Every sentient being on your plane hears the words you speak, and the meaning resonates with them forever.
If the words are a statement, many will believe them as truth, and those that don’t will always wonder. If the words are a command, many will obey, and those that don’t will always feel the echoes of the compulsion. If the words are nonsense, scholars and mystics will always ponder their meaning.
Cost: 100,000 gp
Designer notes: Kenny Webb
Did you happen to watch the obscure 2009 show FlashForward? I’m going to take a guess and say “no,” because it was canceled after just one season. At the time, I decided to give it a try because I was watching/disappointed in Lost, and I was really hankering for a new weirdo mystery to sink my teeth into.
And the hook of the mystery does draw you in. The show kicks off with an event called the Blackout: everyone on Earth loses consciousness simultaneously for 2½ minutes. During that time, people get a glimpse into their own lives six months in the future.
This premise has a lot of fun things to work with, but what really gets my gears turning is the idea of a shared global event that takes place over just a few moments. If you want a more modern example that perhaps a few more people have seen, there is the Thanos Snap (or the Blip) from the MCU’s Infinity War and Endgame.
I wanted a simple, clean version of such a shared global event, which leads us back to the Three Words. So what would happen if everyone on the planet heard a strange voice in their heads speaking the same short message?
Effects of Using the Three Words
Benefits of the Three Words. Characters may use the Three Words to achieve some of the following results:
Send an instantaneous message to a specific person or group with no limits on distance. For example: “seal the gate,” “Mormex is here,” “spring the trap,” or “take him away.”
Effect sweeping change in public opinion. For example: “start the revolution,” “the Regent lies,” “believe Arvya’s words,” or “fear the arcane.”
Mimic divine revelation or prophecy. For example: “behold my heir,” “hark, the bloodied,” “forsake your hypocrisy,” or “three guiding lights.”
Cause planetwide chaos, either as a distraction or for fun.For example: “find the squirrel,” “Ach! Beware the—,” “just eat cheese,” or “It’s coming; hide.”
Unintended Consequences. The invocation of the Three Words will change the course of history, driving the story of the game world in new, exciting directions. Consider the following questions when exploring how the use of this event impacts the story:
What factions will investigate the event? What do they hope to discover?
Who will take advantage of the event, perhaps by claiming that they are responsible?
What explanations emerge as a result of the event?
What organizations emerge as a result of the event?
Where Did the Three Words Come From?
The Three Words can fit into a fictional world in any number of ways, including allowing the item’s origin to remain a complete mystery. However, for those wishing to flesh out the item and make it a key feature of their world, the following origins can serve as inspiration:
A trickster god created the item and left it to be discovered to sow chaos in the world.
The item is the final catalyst in an eons-long genetic experiment, triggering an embedded code that sends the message through the nervous system of all sentient beings.
The item is a leftover relic from a creation myth. In the beginning, many such items were used to record the story of creation. Now they retain a remnant of that creative power.
An isolated civilization created the item as a means of making contact with other theorized cultures.
Limiting the Power of the Three Words (GM Tip):
If you’re concerned that the Three Words will be too strong in your game, or you’re concerned about the difficulty of running a game with an item of such boundless consequences, consider the following options:
Literally just three words
The power of the item is simply to broadcast three words to all sentient beings on the plane.
The words do not have any special power to influence beliefs or behavior.
This version of the Three Words is rare instead of legendary, and it costs 10,000 gp.
Give NPCs an option to save
When the Three Words are invoked, relevant NPCs that would be affected by the item are permitted a saving throw against any additional effects beyond merely hearing the words. The DC of the save is left to the GM’s discretion.
Enforce a duration of effect
Place a limitation on how long the effects of using the Three Words linger. Perhaps the effects last only for a year, or a month, or just a few minutes. Let the players know this limitation when they obtain the item.
The truth is discovered
Factions in the world will work to discover what caused this global event. If one of these factions finds evidence of the truth, they may undo the effects to some degree.
A quick note on how we approach 5e: Occasionally you might see statistics and other choices we make in our publications that make you say, “Huh. I wonder why they did it that way?”You can check out this page dedicated to explaining how we approach 5e.