Essentially a combination of artifacts and intelligent items, idols are powerful objects that have gained sentience and command magical abilities that they can use to perform amazing acts. Idolatry has a long tradition in the real world, and it isn’t uncommon for people to build cults around powerful items. Some idols can even grant spells to their followers, blurring the lines between object worship and true divinity even further.
Idols aren’t typically intentionally created, and more often than not they have evolved to what they are now over ages of veneration. For instance, a simple totem might begin to respond to the calls of those who honor it only after hundreds of years of worship and thousands of sacrifices made in its honor.
Idols can show up in any place and in any campaign that features ancient societies, strong magic, or otherworldly forces. An idol can be at the center of an antagonistic cult, with the ancient item pulling the strings of its mortal followers, and proving to be the true threat in the long run. A benevolent idol might instead be in need of rescue, perhaps pleading with a group of adventurers to move it to another location or protect it from those who wish to do it harm.
A beneficial idol can be a source of power for a group of PCs who are undertaking a quest that is important to it. As they are often ancient things, idols can also serve as sources for lost or obscure information or as sparks for further adventures.
A strange amalgamation of magic item and minor deity, an idol is a self-aware object that possesses extraordinary power. Its influence waxes and wanes with the success or decline of its cult and the sacrifices its cult provides.
Unlike with magic items, an idol’s creation is not always intentional. In some instances, statues and objects used as the focus of prayers and divine requests absorb some sentience of their own. For example, an ancient oak might obtain idol status after centuries of veneration in a sacred druidic grove, or the mummified corpse of a revered saint could eventually become an idol and the source of unexpected divine power.
The growth of an idol’s power and cult often takes years, as aspiring religious leaders attract worshipers, entice wealthy benefactors, and supplicate their idols, struggling to stave off the degeneration that naturally occurs when idols lose favor. Idols gain extraordinary powers as they acquire followers and influence, and older idols with large followings possess a host of abilities that can threaten—or aid—entire regions.
Idols share much in common with intelligent magic items; they have alignments, mental ability scores, languages, senses, and a variety of special abilities. These abilities allow idols to exert their will over devotees and grant favored followers slivers of their power in return for supplication. An idol gains these abilities through worship and sacrifice, and they increase the idol’s Ego score. The higher an idol’s Ego score, the more powerful it becomes, leading to larger cults that can become benevolent organizations or dangerous foes.
Like intelligent magic items, idols possess all three mental ability scores: Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each one of these ability scores begins at a value of 10, but can be increased to as high as 20 through sacrifices (see below). For every 10,000 gp in sacrifices the idol receives, the idol can increase all three of its ability scores by 2 points, or increase one of these ability scores by 4 points and one other ability score by 2 points. Each time an idol’s ability scores advance through sacrifice, its Ego score (see below) increases by 3 as a result of its improved ability modifiers.
Ego is a measure of the total power and force of personality that an idol possesses. An idol starts with a base Ego score of 5 plus the sum of its ability score modifiers, and its Ego score increases as it gains followers. Idols have wills of their own, and as embodiments of their alignments, are always absolutely true to their alignments. If a worshiper is not faithful to an idol’s goals, a personality conflict erupts.
These struggles for dominance use the Items against Characters rules to determine how the idol maintains its influence over its followers and dominance over its cult leaders.
|Number of Worshipers||Ego Modifier|
|Up to 10||+1|
|11 to 50||+2|
|51 to 100||+3|
|101 to 200||+4|
|201 to 500||+6|
|501 to 1,000||+8|
|1,001 to 2,000||+12|
|2,001 to 3,000||+16|
|3,001 and higher||+20|
All idols have the ability to see and hear within 60 feet and can communicate empathically. Empathy allows the idol to encourage or discourage certain actions through urges and emotions. An idol reads and understands Common plus a number of additional languages equal to its Intelligence modifier, and gains or loses additional means of communication and senses as its power and Ego score ebb and flow. An idol with an Ego score of 10 or higher gains the ability to speak the languages it knows.
An idol with an Ego score of 15 or higher doubles the range of its senses to 120 feet, and gains darkvision out to 120 feet. An idol with an Ego score of 30 or higher gains blindsense, can communicate via telepathy with creatures within 100 feet, and can use comprehend languages at will.
Difficult to Destroy: An idol can’t be destroyed by normal means. Though it has hit points and can be broken like other objects, it can’t be completely destroyed by taking additional hit point damage. Idols are instead destroyed when a creature successfully performs a very specific and often difficult task. The GM should determine what action is necessary to destroy an idol when she designs the idol, and these destruction requirements should be thematic to the idol’s background, abilities, and role.
Sacrifices come in a number of forms—sacred feasts, magic items, the weapons of slain enemies, gold, and the blood of slaughtered creatures are just a few possibilities.
For an idol to benefit from such offerings, they must be offered up in the idol’s presence—typically within a 20-foot radius of the idol—and can’t be removed or disturbed for 1 day.
Sacrificed Items: The sacrifice value of feasts and treasures is based on their standard costs as listed in the equipment tables in Chapter 6 of the Core Rulebook. All such items must be freely given. After 1 day, sacrificed food spoils and non-magical treasure mysteriously vanishes from sight. Magic items offered in this manner receive a Will save with a DC equal to 10 + 1/2 the idol’s Ego score. Items that succeed at their saves are not sacrificed, though they don’t gain immunity from further sacrifice attempts. Artifacts can’t be sacrificed.
Blood Sacrifice: Slaughtered living creatures also increase the power of an evil idol when sacrificed. A creature without an Intelligence score is not a suitable sacrifice for an evil idol, and attempting to sacrifice such a creature may offend the idol. Animal sacrifices offer the least benefit; a creature with an Intelligence score of 1 or 2 has a sacrifice value of 250 gp per Hit Die.
The tortured awareness of fate felt by a creature with an Intelligence of 3 or greater offers the most advantage to the idol, having a value equal to 500 gp per Hit Die when it’s slaughtered, plus an additional 100 gp for each point of Intelligence bonus the creature has. A nonevil idol that accepts a blood sacrifice immediately shifts its alignment to evil. The remains of a blood sacrifice vanish after 1 day.
Sacrificial Limits: Although cults may offer sacrifices as if their idols were insatiable, the benefits an idol can gain in a single month is limited. The maximum sacrifice value an idol can benefit from in a month is equal its Ego score × 500 gp (see holy Days for exceptions to this maximum).
Idol Entropy: Power gained by idols is not permanent, and worshipers must maintain whatever strength an idol has achieved through offerings. Without sacrifice and veneration, idols eventually become nearly inert vessels for a trapped, frustrated entity, relying on whispered promises to entice the weak-willed to rebuild their congregations. Not only does an idol’s Ego score decrease when its popularity among worshipers declines, but an idol that doesn’t receive monthly sacrifices whose sacrifice values total at least its Ego score × 100 gp also takes 2 points each of Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom drain at the start of the following month (to a minimum of 10 each), decreasing its Ego score accordingly, and loses the use of one special ability. This is permanent, though the points and abilities can be regained through sacrifice and worship as normal.
Three days per year are especially holy to idol-worshiping cults. Each month can contain at most one holy day.
These days are set when the GM designs the idol and can’t change later. On these days, the normal monthly limit on the maximum sacrifice value the idol can benefit from temporarily alters. For the 24-hour period of a holy day, the idol’s cult can offer and the idol can benefit from sacrifices whose value is up to the normal monthly limit, and these sacrifices don’t otherwise count toward the monthly limit. This amount stacks with any sacrifice value already accrued earlier in the month for the purposes of gaining ability score increases, but any value accrued on the holy day is spent first. At the end of the day, any unspent sacrifice value from the holy day expires. Blood cults often initiate their most diabolical plans on holy days in hopes of increasing their idol’s power and influence, emerging from underground cabals to affect great slaughter in the communities in which they hide. Such cults also often make painstaking preparations several days in advance of their idols’ holy days—activity that might tip off savvy adventurers and others who would thwart their plans.
An idol gains one of the following special abilities for every 5 points of Ego it has, and for every 10 points of Ego the idol has, it can select one additional special ability that it can access only on its holy days. Some abilities have another ability or a minimum Ego score as prerequisites. These abilities can be selected only once unless otherwise specified.
Activating an ability or concentrating on an active ability is a standard action for the idol, unless otherwise stated in the ability’s description. The caster level for these effects is equal to half the idol’s Ego score.
This item can animate at will, as per the spell animate object. The idol retains its mental ability scores as normal in this animated form.
The idol can release a pulse of negative or positive energy to cause or heal damage, as befits its alignment. This functions as the channel energy cleric class ability, but the pulse radiates in a 60-foot radius centered on the idol, and deals or heals 1d6 points of damage for every 5 points of Ego the idol has (DC = 10 + 1/4 the idol’s Ego score + the idol’s Charisma modifier).
The idol can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + its Charisma modifier.
The idol is warded from divination spells, as if under the effects of a nondetection spell with the idol’s Ego score serving as the DC.
The idol radiates a holy or unholy presence. An idol with an Ego score of at least 10 gains the benefits of a permanent protection from chaos/evil/good/law spell, as appropriate for its alignment. An idol with an Ego score of at least 20 gains the benefits of a permanent magic circle of protection from chaos/evil/good/law instead. An idol with an Ego score of 30 or more gains the benefits of a hallow or unhallow spell instead.
The idol can grant divine spells to worshipers, allowing them to select it as their deity for the purposes of determining their spells and domains. The idol selects two domains upon taking this ability. These must be alignment domains matching the idol’s alignment if possible; if not, it can select the remaining domain or domains from among all domains. The idol grants access to these domains as if it were a deity. Creatures that gain spells from the idol don’t receive any spells per day of levels higher than one-quarter the idol’s Ego score (minimum 1); they lose those spell slots. The idol can select this ability one additional time, adding one additional domain, to a maximum of three domains. An idol must have an Ego score of at least 10 to select this ability.
Once per day, the idol can trigger subtle reverence in the minds of nearby creatures. This ability functions similarly to an enthrall spell, though the idol need not speak or sing—its divine presence manifests as a gentle ecstatic hum in the minds of witnesses, potentially swaying the weak-willed toward veneration. An unwilling target can negate this effect with a successful Will save (DC = 12 + the idol’s highest ability score modifier).
Once per month, the idol can reward its followers by exerting its influence over the weather, usually by manifesting rain to relieve droughts and yield fertile crops through an effect similar to control weather.
Conversely, angered idols can turn the weather against their followers to show displeasure or to reflect their mood toward trespassers, creating the more hostile seasonal effects of control weather.
The idol gains a fly speed of 30 feet with average maneuverability. The idol must have the animate ability to select this ability.
The idol grants a form of immortality to some of its worshipers. Each day, the idol selects a number of its worshipers equal to its Ego score. While within 1 mile of the idol, these selected worshipers do not age; do not need to eat, drink, or breathe; and do not suffer any ill effects from extreme heat or extreme cold. The recipients of this gift can change daily on the idol’s whim. The idol must have an Ego score of 10 or more to select this ability.
Once per day, the idol can thrum with deific power, affecting a number of enthralled supplicants equal to its Ego score with an effect similar to heroes’ feast, with a caster level equal to half its Ego score. The idol must have the enthrall ability to select this ability.
The idol gains 10 skill ranks. These ranks must be applied to Intelligence-, Wisdom-, or Charisma-based skills, unless the idol has the animate ability (allowing it to select Acrobatics) or the fly ability (allowing it to select Fly). This ability can be selected multiple times.
The idol gains the ability to cast a limited number of spells as spell-like abilities. This ability can be selected more than once. Each time it is selected, the idol gains 5 points to spend on spells. A spell costs a number of points equal to its spell level (minimum 1).
The idol can activate each spell-like ability once per day. By spending double the cost for a spell, the idol can use that spell-like ability up to three times per day. All spells must come from the cleric spell list. No spell can have a level higher than one-quarter the idol’s Ego score (minimum 1). The caster level for these spells is equal to 1/2 of the idol’s Ego score, and the save DC for these spells is equal to 10 + the spell level + the idol’s highest ability score modifier.
The idol’s presence is supernaturally unsettling or captivating. Foes within range of the idol’s influence may become frightened or shaken. The range is 60 feet, and the duration of the fear effect is 5d6 rounds.
An affected opponent can resist the effects with a successful Will save (DC = 10 + 1/4 the idol’s Ego score + the idol’s highest ability score modifier). An opponent that succeeds at the saving throw is immune to that idol’s presence for 24 hours. On a failed save, the opponent is shaken, or frightened if it has 4 Hit Dice or fewer. This is a mind-affecting fear effect.
Once per day, the idol can teleport as per the spell. The idol must have either the spellcasting ability or the fly ability to select this ability.
The following are examples of specific idols.
Aura strong (all schools); CL 20th; Weight 20 lbs.
Alignment neutral good; Senses 60 ft.
Language speech (Common)
The Earthbound Reliquary consists of a 2-foot-long glass cylinder that is 6 inches in diameter. It is filled with swirling golden gas and topped at each end by intricately tapering, carefully engraved copper caps.
The idol seeks to spread the true message of the spirit that is trapped within it to as many people as will listen. For its own enigmatic reasons, it communicates empathically with its cult’s founder, who poses questions and attempts to decipher the answers in a manner similar to communicating with rapping spirits. These writings are considered holy works by a cult of just over 200 followers, who print them as life-affirming broadsheets questioning the greater church’s doctrine and claimed origins. Few can question the cult’s good works, and its congregation is quickly growing. Though driven into hiding, the cultists emerge to treat the sick, aid the poor, and preach their gospel of selflessness and piety.
The reliquary is fragile (hardness 3, 20 hp, break DC 15) and is kept carefully guarded in an underground catacomb.
The Earthbound Reliquary has the channel energy ability (2d6 positive energy, DC 15) and can channel positive energy 5 times per day. Its cult largely uses this ability to heal the injured during evangelical work. It also possesses the deific aura idol ability.
Reducing the idol to its base Ego score and bathing it in at least 20 points of positive energy in 1 round overcharges and destroys the idol.
Aura strong (all schools); CL 20th; Weight 45,000 lbs.
Alignment neutral evil; Senses 120 ft., darkvision
Language speech (Common, Druidic), telepathy 100 ft.
Chiseled from a weathered basalt boulder, this imposing stone statue stands some 10 feet tall and is roughly carved in the shape of a voluptuous, downcast woman with a subtly disturbing raven’s head sprouting from one shoulder. The idol emanates a disorienting hum that seems to bypass normal hearing, but can be perceived in the deep recesses of the mind. Once venerated as a beneficial fertility goddess by an ancient people, the idol was long ago corrupted by an evil sect of druids who practiced in blood sacrifice and starved the idol of all other sacrifices until she would accept their profane offerings.
Now only selfishness and insatiable hunger motivate the idol, which fights to retain relevance in the face of the coming of new and more powerful gods.
The Effigy of the Raven-Mother is worshiped by generations of enthralled villagers on a windswept island. Some 2,500 devotees gather thrice yearly on the idol’s holy days to indulge in worship and revelry, led by bloodthirsty druid elders. These days fall on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, and on the winter solstice. The villagers bring yields of their seasonal harvests to offer in supplication to the voracious idol. Any enemy warriors who attempt to raid their remote shoreline villages and are captured by the villagers are also readily offered as sacrifices, their hot blood spilling onto the idol’s stone facade and their screams echoing across the island.
The idol’s sturdy and immutable construction makes for an imposing, near-indestructible monolith (hardness 14, 1,110 hp, break DC 60). The idol has the conceal, deific aura, enthrall, feast or famine, revelry, and supernatural presence abilities.
The Effigy of the Raven-Mother knows that it has likely reached the peak of its power, and as the tales of far-off cities and rich adventure beckon younger generations, it is aware that the tide may be turning away from its bloody worship. The idol has dictated that its cult leaders capture as many sacrifices as possible for its next holy day, even if those sacrifices are not enemy warriors. The idol hopes to acquire the animate ability so it can relocate its massive bulk closer to the coast and the majority of its followers’ villages, to better ensure it does not fall into irrelevance and lose its powers.
As a fallen fertility idol, the effigy must be essentially starved to death to lose its potency. Its ability scores must be reduced to 10 each through deprivation of worship and sacrifice. Only then can a single strike from a ritually clean sickle cause the idol to crumble back into the earth, inert and entirely powerless.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Occult Realms © 2015, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Robert Brookes, Thurston Hillman, Thomas M. Reed, and Mark Seifter.