Talismans – A Rough Implementation of D&D 5e UA Rune Magic

Forlorn Ruins by Andromatonrecursion, Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License

In 2016 I ran a ten-session campaign that featured talismans similar to those from the television cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures. In the cartoon, the talismans each had one magic ability that they could grant to those who possess them. Unlike the cartoon, I wanted to give my campaign talismans a variety of abilities. Each of my talismans had six abilities, plus two more master abilities that were unlocked when the party had found the majority of the talismans. If you read through this guide and think I went overboard, feel free to limit talismans to fewer abilities (I wouldn’t blame you).


Through adventuring and gameplay, players acquired unique talismans with exclusive powers. You can deploy a variety of methods to introduce these legendary talismans to a party: found hidden deep in temple ruins, granted by a god after a great achievement, rewarded by a mentor they assisted, or stumbled upon in the rumble of a library recently destroyed by war. 

These talismans were tied to the main goal of the campaign I designed. The party’s quest was to return each talisman to the Air Temple they were stolen from, restoring order and balance to the world.

Concept Development

Utilizing the Unearthed Arcana content for prestige classes, specifically rune magic, was important to structuring progression with the talisman abilities. I did change this prestige class to not be a multiclassing option, but rather a class separate from the PC classes. The PC’s leveled up in rune magic whenever they obtained two or three talismans. Though they did not play all the way to level twenty, the potential was to be level twenty plus five levels of rune magic.

The most notable feature of the rune magic prestige class was that it grants spell slots, which many of my talisman abilities utilized. In this way, spellcasters had more options due to their many spell slots. Non-spellcasters would also have opportunities originating from the prestige class spell slots. A barbarian would not have as many spell slots to utilize as a spellcaster, but might have a higher constitution score to use talisman abilities with more power.

I chose an animal for each talisman. Based on the animal, I chose a theme for its abilities. The Unearthed Arcana rune magic was also referenced for the elemental themed talismans. Talismans each have six basic abilities and two ultimate abilities to be unlocked at higher levels.

Each talisman required attunement. It is noteworthy that the rune magic prestige class grants an extra attunement slot for a “rune” (talisman in this context). This was important because the runes were very powerful. Many of the talisman abilities that require a spellcasting modifier use constitution because pretty much every character is built with at least some investment in constitution, meaning no character should feel totally left out.

PC’s were not required to carry talismans on their persons. The players had a silver orb that could store all their talismans like a Bag of Holding that could only hold talismans. If the party had the silver orb, then multiple party members could attune to the same talisman. I did this to avoid players fighting or feeling let down over talismans and who would use them. This way, everyone could utilize whichever talisman they yearned for. However, you can throw out this idea if you want.

Concept Strengths

Clear purpose: Right from the first session, players had a clear understanding of the campaign plot and goals. The talismans were also well-explained so as to avoid the vague MacGuffin trope (a goal, object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation). You can bind them to your campaign goals or let them be their own thing. I made the talismans central to the story as they represented aspects of a chaos god, like Shendu from Jackie Chan Adventures. I also involved factions who sought the talismans for diverse ethical and philosophical reasons so the players could consider whether particular groups were commendable or deplorable.

Easy props: My wife is crafty; she actually made talisman props using stones and paint. I could physically hand a talisman to a player who obtained it in-game. Props are a lot of fun and they make the game seem more real. 

Concept Weaknesses

Information overload: Due to this being a short ten-session campaign, PC’s leveled up quickly. I was using the Unearthed Arcana level up system based on the pillars of adventure. Players found it difficult to keep up with learning their own character abilities when talisman abilities when leveling up quickly. This left abilities underutilized as players couldn’t keep up.

Default magical items seem comparatively weak: Runes were so powerful that players were deterred from attuning to other magical items. Talisman attunements granted far more abilities than the usual magic items from the DM’s Guide. For this reason, any magic item I gave them needed to be utilized early on before they found talismans, or the magic items needed to be very beefed up. One example of a beefed up item I allowed is a collection of rings that granted effects similar to the Book of Exalted deeds when all eight were worn. I highly recommend that you limit a character to one (maybe two) talisman attunements.

Player Feedback

Opal: Often in Dungeons and Dragons, you can expect what abilities your character will have. There is excitement in reaching new levels, but it lacks surprise. Finding mysterious talismans, gaining new abilities, and choosing which powers complement my character grew within me a fervor I’d not experienced in games before. Because we moved fast and gained 6 new abilities with each talisman, it was a lot to process, so I would recommend two or three abilities per talisman. Nevertheless, Flutes’ talisman idea enhanced our campaign and my personal enjoyment.

Now You Try!

Make your own talismans to use in your game! I would be pleased to hear of any positive or negative outcomes after introducing talismans to your players, especially if they’re old enough to have watched Jackie Chan Adventures. You can find the descriptions of each of my talismans below, but they’re rough. You can change them based on whatever you think sounds fun, of course.

Talisman Powers

Disclaimer: These Talisman abilities are not balanced, and are frankly unfinished. I’m sharing them anyway to inspire others. Playtesting was limited since the campaign was rushed to end within ten sessions. The Talisman powers were meant to be extremely powerful. I hope they inspire you to make cool items and boons in your game, but please don’t take this rough draft to be ubiquitous to all D&D games. If you’re wondering why some talisman powers are blank/unfinished, it’s because my players loved the toad and snail talismans, not using much else, so I wasn’t motivated to hash out the other talismans that were ignored! (note to self, players love to swallow items like they’re a human Bag of Holding)

Toad Talisman (theme of assimilation)

  • Swamp Song: As an action, expend a level one spell slot to emit a guttural song that causes creatures (friend or foe) who can hear within 30 feet of you to make a wisdom save [DC 8 + proficiency bonus + CON mod] or fall asleep for x rounds (x is level of spell slot). This counts as a charm effect.
  • Gulp: You no longer need to chew what you eat (if it can fit in your mouth). Your stomach can act as a temporary storage for up to 50 lbs. of matter. In addition, you can consume a tiny creature with a challenge rating greater than 1/4 to regain hitpoints equal to the number of hit dice it had. Your stomach storage space is separate from your digestive system.
  • Spring & Slip: You are always affected by the Jump spell. You can also use an action to cause your skin to become frictionless (action to stop).
  • Corrosive Brand: During short rest, cause a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal acid dmg instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Gastro Gleek: As an action, expend a level one spell slot to release pressurized stomach acid in a 60-foot line. Targets make a dex save [DC 8 + proficiency bonus + CON mod] to take half of 2d10 acid dmg. Expend spell slots of higher levels to boost damage by 1d10 per level. 
  • Assimilate: When you swallow a creature with your Gulp ability and digest it for 24 hours, you gain an ability that the creature possessed. Work with your DM to determine the ability gained.
  • (Master) You Are What You Eat: Your Assimilate ability can now digest a creature and gain an ability in 10 minutes. As an action, you can expend a level-two spell slot or higher to also transform into the creature you’ve digested for up to 8 hours. Your tongue also grows if you choose to use an attack action to shoot your tongue at a target to stick to them and pull them into your mouth (if small enough). They must make a [DC 8 + STR Mod + proficiency bonus] athletics or acrobatics check to dodge/resist for no effect from this tongue strike.
  • (Master) Toad’s Stomach: Expend a level-three spell slot to cast Imprisonment without material components. The only imprisonment option is Hedged Prison within a Titan Toad’s belly. Once per long rest. If you know another banishing spell, a titan toad belly becomes a valid destination.

Snail Talisman (theme of survival)

  • Sticky Hold: As a reaction when something would cause you to be pushed, drop something you’re holding, or fall prone, you may expend a spell slot to retain your footing (no push, no prone, no drop).
  • Shellmet: As a reaction, when you are struck with a critical hit, you may cause the attack to hit normally (no crit).  
  • Backside Bunker: You have +2 AC against enemies who flank you, and flanking does not grant advantage to your attackers’ attacks. 
  • Mollusc Mend: As an action, empower a shell of some kind to become an object of healing for 24 hours. As an action, the shell can be touched to a creature to restore 4 health per level of the spell slot + the target’s constitution modifier per level of the spell slot. [4 x spell level + CON modifier x spell level]     
  • Boneless: Your bones cannot be broken in the traditional sense. Your bones become malleable, allowing you to fit into and through places that would normally break your bones. Your body (not equipment) can also be stretched at will to twice as long as normal. Your melee attacks gain Reach.
  • Gastro-Escape-Pod: When you would take damage directed at you with an attack (not AoE), you can use your reaction to create a shell copy of yourself that takes the hit instead. You move 5 feet, and take no damage. Your shell copy is destroyed as it’s struck by the attack, and the attacker has disadvantage on the next attack it makes this round. Once per long rest.       
  • (Master) Eye Stalker: You can cast Arcane Eye once per long rest. Constitution is your spellcasting ability for this spell.
  • (Master) Regenerative Factor: You can expend a level-three spell slot to cast Regenerate. Once per long rest.

Dugong Talisman (theme of death)

  • Depth Brand: During short rest, cause a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal necrotic damage instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Unfinished, sorry!

Polar Bear Talisman (theme of cold)

  • Frigid Touch: Freeze a 10-foot radius spot of water when you touch it.
  • Icy Mantle: Action to use water and freeze it into a mantle of protective ice on an ally. The next time the creature takes bludgeoning/slashing/piercing damage, that damage becomes zero and the mantle is destroyed.
  • Frosty Friend: You have resistance to cold damage. When you take cold damage, you empower your next successful attack to deal an extra 1d6 cold damage.
  • Ice Brand: During short rest, cause a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal cold damage instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Freezing Bolt: Action uses water and expends a spell slot to touch a creature. The creature makes a constitution saving throw (8+prof+con). Failure means 2d8 cold damage plus 1d8 more per level of the spell slot and its speed is reduced to zero until your next turn. Success is half damage, no speed reduction.
  • Winter’s Howl: You can cast Sleet Storm, Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm, and Ice Knife once each per short rest.

Fox Talisman (theme of curse)

  • Shadow Crunch: When you bite a creature, you can expend a spell slot to cast Bestow Curse. Your spellcasting ability for this spell is strength as you demonstrate your jaw strength to embed the curse. If you use a 3rd level spell slot or higher, you can perform this as a bonus action instead.
  • Outfoxed: As a reaction, you can expend a spell slot to roll a d6 and add the result to a saving throw you make. If the spell slot is 2nd level, use a d8. If a 3rd level spell or higher, use a d10.
  • Keen Eye: You can take the Search action as a bonus action. When you Search, you can choose an enemy that you can see and read their movements. That enemy has disadvantage on attacks against you until the end of your next turn. You also gain advantage on saving throws you must make from spells and abilities used by the enemy you’re reading.
  • Psycho Brand: During short rest, cause a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal psychic damage instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Teumessian: When you use the Dash action, you become invisible until the end of your turn. You do not provoke opportunity attacks when you are dashing.
  • Shadow Possession: If your shadow crosses paths with the shadow of another creature, you can use your action and expend a spell slot to force the creature to make a strength or wisdom saving throw (their choice) contest by your DC (8+prof+Str or Wis your choice). If the creature fails, it becomes unable to move unless you do. The creature will copy your movement exactly. Your shadows become linked and remain between you both. If bright light is shed on the shadow, the link is broken and the effect ends. The effect also ends if you move more than 100 feet away from one another.
  • (Master) Calm Mind: +2 all mental stats, can go above 20 per stat in this way.
  • Steel Mind: You are permanently affected by the spell Mind Blank.

Sheep Talisman (theme of emotion)

  • Mood Read: As an action, expend a spell slot to choose one: (1)You gain the ability to see creatures’ emotional auras for ten minutes. -or- (2) Cast the spell Calm Emotions.
  • Harmless Demeanor: You can use an action outside of combat to expend a spell slot, forcing a creature to make a Wisdom saving throw contested with your own passive persuasion score as you seek to improve the creature’s view of you. If you win the contest, the target’s demeanor toward you becomes more positive. Passively, you gain expertise in persuasion if you are already proficient, otherwise you just become proficient.
  • Affinity: The first time an enemy attacks you in combat, they must make a charisma saving throw (DC 8+prof+charisma) or the attack must be either directed at a new target or fail. On subsequent attacks directed at you after failing the saving throw, they must repeat the saving throw for each attack until they pass, at which time they can start attacking you normally. This ability does not affect creatures that lack empathy or affection (death knights, liches, skeletons, etc.)
  • Cotton Guard: During a short rest, empower a set of armor. Expend a spell slot to give the armor damage reduction from weapon attacks equal to the level of the spell slot (max bonus of 3). (Example, level 4 spell slot causes armor to reduce incoming damage from a sword melee weapon attack by 3, turning 12 dmg into 9 dmg instead)
  • Empathy: When an ally within 30 feet takes damage, you can use your reaction to take the damage yourself instead. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your charisma modifier.
  • Ramming Speed: While dashing, you can use a bonus action to break through a wall or barrier if the wall has less than 20 hitpoints.
  • (Master) Shepherd: You can cast the spell Antipathy/Sympathy once per week. You must choose the Sympathy option.
  • (Master) Counting Sheep: Once per week, you can cast the Astral Projection spell without material components by expending a spell slot of third level.

Raccoon Talisman (theme of mischief)

  • Unfinished, sorry!

Ape Talisman (theme of energy/fire)

  • Mercurial: If your current hitpoints (not including temporary hitpoints) are below half of your maximum hitpoints, your melee attacks gain a fury that exhausts your foe’s hit dice. When you roll damage for a melee attack, you can cause the target of your attack to roll one of its hit dice (expending the hit die) to add the roll as extra attack damage for your attack.
  • Flame Tame: You gain the Control Flames and Create Bonfire cantrips. Constitution is your spell casting ability for this spell.
  • Dancing Wick: You have resistance to fire damage. Immediately after taking fire damage, you can use your reaction to cast the Fireball spell using only Somatic spell components.
  • Fire Brand: During short rest, enchant a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal fire damage instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and damage bonuses equal to the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). The fire of these arrows burn the same color as your eyes. Lasts 24 hours.
  • Combustion: Touch a creature and expend a spell slot to deal 1d10 fire damage per level. This counts as a spell attack, though you automatically hit. The target becomes affected by the spell Faerie Fire, glowing like a hot coal. You must concentrate on the effect.
  • Stoker: When you roll fire damage, roll the set of dice twice and use the best result. (You’re rerolling sets of dice, not individual dice). When you deal more than 50 fire damage in one round, you become overcharged under the effect of the Haste spell until the end of your next turn. You don’t have to concentrate, and you ignore the fatigue that normally affects the end of the Haste spell.
  • (Master) Corona: Enemies within 10 feet of you take 5 fire damage when starting their turn within or entering for the first time on their turn within 10 feet of you. Your Dancing Wick ability becomes immunity instead of resistance, but still triggers if you’re supposed to take fire damage but reduce it to zero. Your skin becomes immune to lava (don’t inhale it or anything).
  • (Master) Sunspot: Once per long rest, you can cast Sunburst with a level-three spell slot. If you drop to zero hitpoints and still have not used your casting of Sunburst and you have at least a third-level spell slot to cast it with, you automatically cast Sunburst centered on yourself (only targets enemies you designate). You regain hitpoints equal to the damage you roll for this instance of Sunburst. When you cast Sunburst with this feature, you choose whether to use radiant or fire damage.

Snake Talisman (theme of manipulation)

  • Acrimony: Unfinished concept.
  • Rattler: You can cast the spell Antipathy/Sympathy once per week. You must choose the Antipathy option, and you make a rattling noise like a rattlesnake for the duration. 
  • Unfinished, sorry!

Crane Talisman (theme of grace/air)

  • Steady Breeze: You can hold your breath indefinitely. You have advantage on saving throws against poisonous gases, inhaled poisons, and similar effects.
  • Windy Step: Your jump distances are doubled. If you move ten feet in a straight line, you can convert the rest of your movement to a fly speed. If you end your turn in flight, your flight ends and you fall to the ground (unless you have another way to stay airborne).
  • Light as a Feather: Your body weight is halved without reducing your physical strength. Additionally, you can cast Feather Fall at will. Constitution is your spell casting ability for this spell. 
  • Shrill Brand: During a short rest, you may empower one ranged weapon, doubling its normal and maximum attack ranges, and removing any disadvantage due to range. You may also expend a spell slot to grant the weapon a bonus to attack and damage equal to the level of the expended spell slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). The ranged weapon’s ammunition also gains a whistling noise when fired. Lasts until you complete another short or long rest.
  • Shriek: As an action, you may expend a spell slot to cast Thunderwave. When you do so, Thunderwave is cast at the level of your expended spell slot plus one (maximum casting level of nine). Constitution is your spell casting ability for this spell.
  • Wind Walker: You may cast Levitate as a bonus action once per short rest. Constitution is your spell casting ability for this spell. Additionally, you can breathe normally at high altitudes where oxygen is thin.
  • (Master) Gale Grasp: unfinished
  • (Master) Nether Zephyrs: unfinished

Armadillo Talisman (theme of earth)

  • Indomitable Base: As an action and until you move, you have advantage to resist effects that would move you.
  • Granite Soul: You are immune to petrification.
  • Stone Secret: As an action, touch a stone/soil wall or floor. Learn the location and size of all creatures standing on or touching that surface within 30 feet at the moment.
  • Crushing Brand: During a short rest, cause a bludgeoning weapon to ignore resistance and immunity to bludgeoning damage. If you roll max damage on an attack, knock the target prone. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Earthen Step: Bonus action to cast Meld Into Stone. Once per short rest.
  • Overwhelm: Action and a spell slot to force a creature to make a strength saving throw (8+prof+con). Failure means 2d8 bludgeoning plus 1d8 more per level of the spell slot and is knocked prone. Success is half damage, no prone.
  • (Master) Unfinished concept, sorry!
  • (Master) Earthshaker: Once per week, you may cast the spell Earthquake.

Tiger Talisman (theme of ferocity)

  • Pounce: When dashing, use a bonus action and level one spell slot to make a melee attack. Target makes strength save (8+prof+str) or is knocked prone and takes an extra 10 dmg (save for half, no prone).
  • Hunter’s Reflexes: Surprise/hidden attacks do not have advantage against you.
  • Prowl: If you don’t have disadvantage on a stealth roll, add your proficiency bonus to the stealth roll. If you are already proficient, add your bonus again (does not stack with expertise).
  • Tooth & Claw: During short rest, empower a piercing/slashing weapon or similar 20 ammunition. Expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Kingly Roar: As an action, you can bolster your allies within 10 feet with temporary hitpoints equal to the number of foes within 30 feet of you. Once per long rest.
  • Earn Stripes: When you slay an enemy with a melee attack, you can make another melee attack as a bonus action this turn. This attack gets to add your strength or dex modifier twice to damage (instead of once) if it hits.
  • Apex Predator: +2 all physical stats. May exceed scores of 20 in this way.
  • Cull: Once per long rest, you can expend a level 3 spell slot and choose to cast one spell from this list: Power Word Kill, Divine Word, Power Word Stun.

Spider Talisman (theme of lurk)

  • Inject: As an action, expend a spell slot and make a melee spell attack (use strength). On a hit, you bite into the flesh or your target, dealing 2d10 poison damage (+1d10 per spell level beyond 1st), and the target becomes poisoned for 2d4 rounds (+1 round per spell level beyond 1st). DC is 8+prof+str. If you use a 3rd level spell slot or higher, you can perform this as a bonus action instead.
  • Scopulae: You are always affected by the spell Spider Climb. You also have resistance to poison damage.
  • Spinneret: You can produce ethereal silk rope from your sweat glands. Either end of a strand will stick to a non-oiled, glass, or frictionless surface. As an action, you can shoot one strand up to 60 feet. If you expend a spell slot, you can shoot extra strands per spell level at once. This silk fades to nothing after 24 hours, and can only be destroyed with magical slashing damage or fire damage. You can produce silk a number of times per short rest equal to your constitution modifier before you must make constitution saving throws to continue producing silk (DC 10+(number of times beyond your limit x 2)).
  • Poison Brand: During short rest, cause a weapon or 20 ammunition to deal poison damage instead. You may also expend a spell slot to give attack and dmg bonus of the slot level divided by 3 (rounded up). Lasts 24 hours.
  • Opilione: As a bonus action, you can summon spectral, extra arms on your left and right sides (one/side). You can use your bonus action to make an offhand attack with your regular off hand as well as your two spectral arms (turns 1 attack into 3, or 0 into 2). Alternatively, you can use your bonus action to have your extra arms perform a grapple, pickpocket, or help action. When you make an opportunity attack, you can make three attacks instead of one.
  • Eye Spy: Your peripheral vision expands to all around your head (sides, behind, above). You have advantage on Dexterity saving throws and perception checks. Your armor class increases by 2 if you are not wearing heavy armor. If you are wielding more than one weapon at once, attackers cannot gain advantage from flanking you.
  • (Master) Slurp: Your Inject ability gains 2d10 necrotic damage that heals you for half the damage dealt this way. Does not work on creatures that lack blood.
  • (Master) Arcane Arachnid: You can concentrate on up to two spells at the same time instead of just one. You gain the ability to cast the spell Web as a level-three spell, but this unique web is ethereal and does not need to be tethered to structures to remain. The ethereal web is immune to damage from non-magical weapons. You can move freely through the web. If a creature dies while trapped in the web, you reap their soul, making them immune to normal resurrection methods and granting you temporary hitpoints equal to the victim’s challenge rating until your next long rest.

I hope you like this concept. Please comment to let me know which ideas you liked. Thank you again for adding this article to your spellbook. I trust you’ll keep it prepared after many long rests. Ta ta!

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