A mask made in the depths of Phengtol (like all their masks), the owl caste is one of many different cults that make up the human (more or less) population of the Hidden City of Pheng. Perhaps it’s made of iron, copper, or even steel. It could be made of clay, wood, leather, or even the rarest of all – paper.
The people of Pheng never remove their masks and do not relinquish them. No one, even the scholars from the outside world who attempt to study this mysterious people, can say for certain what the penalty is, but it is severe and irrevocable. It is enough to keep the masked people hidden beneath the skull of their caste’s iconic animal bar any other consequence, and even their most hated enemies know not to remove the mask of even a Phentol prisoner, should they find themselves in custody of such an individual.
The mask itself is jointed, hinged at the jaw to allow a slight opening for speaking and eating. But the jaw largely remains motionless even in conversation with a member of the Owl Caste.
It is a rare thing to find an abandoned mask of Pheng – a Phengtol who has died is traditionally buried with their mask. To wear a mask without having been born within the Hidden City is to risk the wrath of any Phengtol one comes across in the wilds – even one whose mask is iron such as those of scholars and the least martially trained among the masked people. If you wear a mask and come across a Phengtol with a clay or paper mask, your death is all but guaranteed.
Wearing a mask of Phengtol can be a powerful tool to get what you want as long as you act and perform in a manner consistent with the masked people. Of course the act will fail immediately should you come across an actual Phengtol – they will see through your facade within a heartbeat of crossing your path.
When wearing an Owl Caste mask, you gain advantage on any charisma checks with any NPCs other than a member of the Phengtol people. If you wear such a mask around a Phengtol, they will immediately attack you and not stop attacking you until one of you is dead or you willingly surrender the mask. If the Phengtol removes your mask without your consent, they will still fight you to the death.
Any mask of Phengtol, if treated with proper respect and returned to the city of Pheng (which, contrary to its nickname, is easy to find on any map of the empire), you will be brought to the household to which the mask belongs and given a boon. The house will owe you a favor and give you a coin made of the same material the mask is made of that can be presented to any Phengtol in the wild to ask for aid. It can also be used to hire one of the rare, but excellent Phengtol pilgrims to aid you in one task.
Boy, that’s a lot, isn’t it? The masked people of Pheng – The Phengtol – is a part of my setting that I’ve been kicking around for years. In light of the recent excellent Mando Star Wars show, you can see some similarities to that universe’s culture, but Pheng actually has two principal influences that have guided me to develop them into what they are today:
- Cosmic Horror – specifically that of The King in Yellow. Pheng is a city with an entire population that is masked their entire lives in a complex caste system where both the type of animal and type of material of the mask interact in ways that are beyond comprehension to outsiders. The city itself is dark, full of shadows, and divided into dozens of houses each amounting to a cult worshipping some unique aspect of the world. No one is houseless, and so every citizen, every Phengtol is a cultist of something.
- The Seguleh of the Malazan Book of the Fallen (https://malazan.fandom.com/wiki/Seguleh). These are a people in that world who are also always masked and are complete badasses. They send out a “retributive army” in one of the books that consists of only three Seguleh, and they easily kill hundreds (if not more) crazed death cultists. They are the best swordsmen bar none. One of the influences here being that their rank is displayed on their masks as well. They are ranked internally in their skill, and the fewer marks on their masks, the higher the ranking. It’s pretty awesome.
You may notice a trend with my magic items – I want them to mean something to my players. I’m really really really not a fan of the trend of X number of magic items required at level X design like 5th edition and especially 4th edition D&D assumed you had to be able to function as a high-level character. It’s arbitrary and frankly boring.
Magic items should have a story in my mind, they should have an identity and history. Glamdring and Sting are awesome only in part because they glow around goblins. What makes them truly awesome is when you understand they were forged in the First Age in the city of Gondolin by Noldori bladesmiths.
That’s what I try to do with my items. Whether it provides insight into the setting, has an included sidequest built right into its DNA, or preferably does both, magic items should be meaningful, even if they’re silly.