The spirits which watch over Yunshan deal in an intangible currency of pure magical power. It takes many forms, but in all cases, those who possess it have something far more unique than earthly wealth.
The priests of the five great temples have always preached when someone is born in Yunshan the gods place in his soul a bounty of 5 Heavenly coins. This is sometimes referred to as ‘The Heavenly Grace’, as it is said to be the price the soul must pay to enter back into heaven when the body dies.
A mortal cannot see, touch, or even feel these coins. They are of a purely spiritual nature, and whether they are even coins at all has always been a topic of debate amongst the scholars of the temples. In most cases the analogy of coins works well to understand ‘The Heavenly Grace’.
Sometimes referred to as soul coins or spirit coins, Heavenly Coins can only be made by the gods in a mysterious process that the demons of the underworld have been trying to counterfeit for millennia. Except in rare cases, only the gods can give them out. During life the gods might reward a great soul with more coins, or might punish the wicked by taking coins away.
There are many instances in legend when a hero was able to sacrifice one of his coins to accomplish some great task. This may be a common thing in legend, but in day to day life few know how to actually do this. For this reason, coins have little practical value, yet because they represent the keys to heaven, and for other reasons we will see below, they are the most valued and hard to come by of all the spiritual currencies.
If a soul loses all its coins, through the actions of a terrible life, or because they are somehow stolen, that soul becomes what is known as a shell. The coins, and the protection of the heavens which they represent are no longer present. At any moment, a demon from the underworld, known as a collector, who travels through the mortal realms in the guise of a human, may find them and take them back to the underworld as a prize. It is said the shells are used as the ultimate form of currency between the demons that dwell there.
Yunshan is a truly magical place, with powerful spiritual laws that have real consequence for those who break them, either knowingly or otherwise. Foreigners who come into Yunshan have no coins, and as such, could very truly be dragged off to hell at any moment by a hungry demon.
Barter Town and Otto are cities that sit beyond where the collectors go, and so are safe for foreigners, but those who venture deeper into Yunshan run the risk of meeting a collector. Those who would stay in Yunshan for any real amount of time had better get coins somehow. There are only two ways, impress a god, or find a Coin Trader in the Underworld markets
If a foreigner attracts the interest of a god, who then wishes to see the mortal stay in Yunshan, he may bestow a single Heavenly coin upon him. It is just enough to keep the collectors at bay, but easy to revoke if the god changes his mind. Impressing a god may be difficult, impossible, or too time consuming to be practical. If this is the case, one who wishes to stay in Yunshan must find a Coin Trader
The most feared and mysterious traders in the underworld markets are the Coin Traders, for they deal in the eternal fate of the soul itself, the Heavenly Coins. No one knows how the Coin Traders practice their strange art. No one knows where or how they get the coins they sell. No one knows how they can keep them, and how they can take them out of one soul and put them into another, and not even the gods themselves can tell it was done! How do the Coin Traders defy the great temples and the gods themselves? Again, no one knows.
The least potent spiritual currencies are called Blessings. Spirits are usually bound to a specific area of the mortal realm that they are in charge of watching over. They often develop an almost parental love and bond with those who are born in or come to live in their domain. They watch over them in a sense, conferring some small level of magical protection or help. If mortals could see blessings, they would appear as a soft glow or aura around the body of the blessed. Sometimes the aura surrounds a specific hand, the head, or appears over the heart of the blessed, rather than as a general aura.
Spirits are able to give their blessings freely to many mortals at one time. Some spirits are extremely generous with blessings, for example, conferring their blessing to everyone in a village they watch over. Other spirits may guard their blessings jealously. Spirits may take back their blessings at any time, and will do so if angered.
Blessings usually confer a small bonus to a specific skill or saving throw that has something to do with the spirit who grants it. Once given, blessings are always in place and functioning so long as the blessed is in the spirits area of influence. For a lesser spirit this area might be a specific village or valley. For a greater spirit it might be an entire mountain range. For blessings granted by gods, the area of influence is more determined by situation rather than location. For instance, Chu Jung, the god of honorable battles, duels, and judge of the dead, might grant a hero a blessing that only works in battle. The blessings of the Goddess Tein Mu might only work while in the wilds.
In some cases, especially far from temples, the common people of Yunshan see the gods as mysterious and aloof beings, beyond their understanding and far too busy and important to help lowly commoners in everyday life. These people certainly give the gods their do, but they see the local spirits, both those of ancestors and of nature as their closest protectors and friends.
The gods seem only to appear on earth in legends, but nearly every villager has a story, of an ancestor spirit who caught them as they fell off a roof, woke them one night as their house was on fire, or appeared in a dream to warn them of some danger. Stories like this abound. Likewise, people speak of the very spirits of nature rising up to protect villages that have been good stewards of the surrounding lands.
Blessings may be small, but they are a very real link between most common people and the powerful world of the spirits. Even if neglected by the local temple for reasons fair or unfair, even if the gods seem far away, the people have the blessings of their ancestors, and the local place gods to give them hope in dark times.
Blessings are not sold or traded in the underworld markets. No one seems to be interested in figuring out how to acquire and trade them outside the normal means, and the relatively low power they promise gives little incentive to try.
Almost every spirit possesses magical, spell like abilities. The spirits of Yunshan are unique in that they are able to give this magic to mortals if they so choose. A favor is a one use magical effect that spirits might bestow upon a mortal champion as an aid, or barter in exchange for some service. If it were that mortal eyes could see a favor, it would appear as a softly glowing tattoo on the wrist of the favored. Those with many favors in their possession would have a row of such tattoos up each wrist.
Lesser spirits are reserved about handing out favors to mortals. It appears that in many cases, a spirit that gives out a favor loses the power to use the ability associated with it temporarily. As such, lesser spirits tend to give their favors with a very specific use and time of use in mind. Greater spirits on the other hand, give out favors freely as a tool to empower their earthly allies, and win influence. Some spirits are able to take back their favors at any time with little more than a thought, while others cannot.
Favors almost always mimic the effects of a specific spell. When given a favor, through some mystical process the subject knows what the favor can do and gains intrinsic knowledge of how to activate it. The favored needs no special knowledge of magic or training to use a favor. Favors are usually activated as a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
A favor could mimic nearly any spell in existence, but in most all cases they produce a spell in the arsenal of the spirit in question. As such, shaman and those with deep knowledge of the local spirits know which spirit they must seek out to gain which powers.
In Yunshan the priests of the great temples and shrines often guard their magic jealously. Magic is seen as a sacred power not to be tossed around lightly. They do not lavish it upon those outside their orders, even when it comes to good friends. Priests are not always on hand in any case. Wizards are extremely rare, and most commoners would not dare to deal with one. As such, going to a known spirit to ask for magical help in the form of a favor, may be the only option for a poor villager or foreigner.
Some spirits are happy to help anyone brave enough to come find them. Others demand a high price for favors no matter what. Some love a specific thing and expect a certain kind of gift before they are even asked for a favor. Some will only grant favors if beaten in a duel, or if the mortal agrees to carry out a mission in its name. Whatever the case, those who seek the help of the spirits are wise to find a shaman first.
Favors are one of the most frequently traded items in the underworld markets of Yunshan. Underworld merchants called Favor Traders deal in this business. They alone know the ancient secret of storing a favor in some non living object, and then transferring it to someone whom it was never intended for. Few know how these traders get their favors, or how they are able to store, and give these intangible powers to others. Some say they themselves are spirits, who share a dark secret that allows them to circumvent spiritual laws. Favor traders are hated by good spirits, who suspect they have found a way to steal favors unnoticed, and that this is how they acquire them.
Occasionally a spirit will meet a mortal who it believes is marked for greatness. If this mortal’s ways and alignment are similar to the spirits, and especially if the mortal is to play some part in the spirits future, it may grant the mortal its mark. Those who have been given such a gift are said to be marked by the spirit. For instance, Tealia is marked by the spirit of the Howling Winds. If mortals could see marks, they would appear as a glowing symbol above the head of the marked. Multiple marks arrange themselves into a column over the head of the marked, with the oldest being nearest to the bottom.
Marks are rarely given, usually only to those who have done some great service or sacrifice to the spirit. Lesser spirits may only give their mark out to one person at a time, and when they do so, may be left vulnerable or without its power! Greater spirits and gods may give their mark more freely to multiple mortals, but scholars say every spirit has a limited number of marks, and so chooses carefully when giving one out.
Marks grant a continuous power or protection that is always in effect, even when the marked is outside the spirits area of influence and even when the marked individual is unconscious. Immunity to poison, Damage Reduction, Energy Resistance, and Spell/power resistance are examples. Powerful abilities like flight or free action may also be granted by a spirits mark.
Marks are extremely powerful and rare, and often become a central part of the story and personality of those who attain them. It is not that they actually change people. It is that the sacrifice required to gain them was usually great. The story behind how the mark came to be theirs is usually very memorable and formative. A mark, attained fair and square, says something about an individual. It is a badge of honor.
Mark Traders exist in the underworld markets, but they are as rare as the powers they have for trade are fantastic. Marks are not cheap, and there is a danger in trading for them. Spirits know who they have given their marks too legitimately, and are quite irate when they come across a mortal who bares their mark illegitimately. For this reason most Mark Traders deal in marks stolen from spirits in far off domains, though an unwitting buyer can never be sure…