A talisman is any object with magical properties, especially properties stemming from fixed enchantments. While the word is most frequently used for magical jewelry and other relatively small items with continuous effects, technically magical weapons, potions, and even such large and immobile items as enchanted statues and buildings are talismans. Talismans may even be alive, though whether a given object qualifies as a living talisman or a magical creature may be just a matter of definition.
Talismans vary widely in how they are used. Some talismans, with continuous enchantments such as, for instance, boosting the owner's strength or giving him the ability to see in the dark, may operate automatically, as long as they are worn or carried, or even just in the owner's general vicinity (the qualifying distance varying). Others operate whenever they are used in a certain way; the powers of a magical weapon, for instance, may come into play whenever the sword is used in combat, and a magical blanket may affect whatever it is spread over.
Other talismans, however, may not work unless they are activated. The activation may take any of a number of forms. In some cases it requires an action such as flipping a switch; in others a word must be spoken or a song sung; and in still others, a mental command is sufficient. Some talismans require more esoteric means—a magic scrying table, for instance, might require a particular symbol to be drawn on top of it in blood, or an enchanted statue may come to life only after having been buried for a week in dung. It is possible for a talisman to have multiple methods of activation for different powers, or to have a continuous effect that's always in operation but to have additional powers that must be activated.
How long a talisman remains active after the activation conditions have been met is likewise variable. If the talisman's power produces an instantaneous effect, then it may need to be reactivated after each use, or after some particular number of uses; other talismans may remain active for a set period of time, or indefinitely until the satisfaction of some deactivation criterion. Some talismans may only be activated a finite number of times before losing their enchantment—this is certainly the case with, for example, potions, which are activated by drinking them and are not reusable for obvious reasons.
The use of a talisman is not necessarily beneficial; there exist cursed talismans, perhaps created as traps or pranks, that have malefic effects upon the user. Some cursed talismans also have beneficial effects if activated correctly; others are purely baneful.
In many cases, talismans only function for their owners, or only their owners can activate them. Like much else about magic, there is no set definition of "owner"; it depends on the prevailing arcanum, and perhaps upon the particular talisman and effect. The "owner" may simply be the last person who touched the talisman, or the person closest to it. On the other hand, it may be necessary to "claim" the talisman through some ritual, which may be as simple as speaking a word, or may be very elaborate.
Sometimes, once claimed, a talisman stays irrevocably the property of that owner until his death (and conceivably beyond, if said owner becomes undead and the talisman's properties allow for the continuation of ownership under such conditions). Other talismans, however, may be easily claimed by new owners, either superseding the claims of the previous owner, or perhaps adding another owner—there are talismans that can have multiple owners at once. There are even talismans that can only be claimed by killing the previous owner; in such cases, if the owner dies a natural death, the nearest person may become the owner, or some other criterion may be involved, or the talisman may then be claimable by other means—or it may simply lose its enchantment.
Some talismans may bear inscriptions or other labels telling their function, but this is relatively rare. Others automatically instill in whoever touches them—or even in whoever comes near them—a knowledge of their function, but this is even rarer (overall, though on some specific worlds it may be common). In some cases, even if the talisman isn't labeled explicitly, it may still be identifiable to those familiar with the associated symbology and conventions; on one world, for instance, perhaps a potion that increases the drinker's strength is always bright red with white specks, and a rod that shoots lightning bolts has a finial of a certain shape.
But by no means are all talismans directly identifiable by means such as these. (Besides, even if they are labeled, the labels aren't necessarily required to be truthful, which goes just as well for the mental transmissions and conventional designs; what happens if someone mixes up a batch of shrinking potion that contains some red dye and some flour?) If it can't be determined from a normal examination of the item, the talisman's function must be discovered some other way. One way is to simply try it out—drink the potion; wear the ring—but, aside from its danger (what happens if the talisman's effect is deleterious?), this isn't always effective; if a potion allows the drinker to breathe underwater, that might not be obvious the imbiber decides after downing the potion to stick his head in a lake and try to inhale. In addition, trying to use the item to see what happens is not an option if one doesn't know how to activate it. On most worlds, the safest and most reliable way to identify a talisman is through a magic spell specifically designed for that purpose—though in some cases, even that may pose some danger, or may sometimes yield erroneous results.
Even if the talisman itself is identifiable, the means of activation, if any, may not be obvious. While a search of the object may conceivably turn up a hidden switch, an activation word, if not inscribed on the talisman (which it sometimes is), is much harder to discover.
Exactly what is entailed in enchanting a talisman varies depending on the arcanum involved and the talisman to be enchanted. A particular spell may be involved in the enchantment, or it may be a feat any spellcaster is capable of by undergoing some ritual. Or it may not involve spellcasting at all, but be performed by some other means altogether. Special materials may be involved in the process, or perhaps it could be practiced on any old piece of junk the creator feels like enchanting. The procedure may be long and time-consuming; it may be very rapid. It may be fraught with difficulty and a high chance of failure, or it may be straightforward and simple to someone who knows what he's doing. And if it does fail, this may mean the destruction of the object the caster was trying to enchant, or it may mean nothing more than that he'll have to take more time and try again—or it may mean the object was imbued with some magical power, but a very different one from what the enchanter had in mind.
In some cases, objects may spontaneously become enchanted due to some natural processes, or talismans may even be created more or less ex nihilo. The details of this phenomenon depend upon the arcanum causing it, but in any case not all talismans are necessarily created by ellogous beings.
In most cases, talismans are no more difficult to destroy than comparable unenchanted items. Give a magic mirror a hard enough blow, and it will shatter like any other mirror. Sometimes, in fact, magic talismans may be more fragile than other objects, perhaps because the enchantment that gives them their magical power takes some toll on their physical structure. Some talismans, magic weapons and armor in particular, may have increased durability as part of their enchantment, but that durability still has a limit, and they can be damaged or destroyed. Some talismans, even when apparently destroyed, reform later, but this is rare except for suorum.
The physical destruction of a talisman, however, does not necessarily destroy its enchantment. It might—in some cases merely chipping off a piece of a talisman is enough to utterly remove its magic—but it could be that the individual pieces retain the enchantment, whether or not it is actually useful in them. Even if the pieces of the talisman have no enchantment while it is broken, it may be that rejoining them restores its magic. In other cases, it may be that breaking or damaging a talisman doesn't utterly destroy the magic, but does weaken it, or changes it in unpredictable ways; the broken shards of the talisman may have powers very different from those of the intact version.
A few talismans actually have some additional effect when destroyed. Their destruction could bring about a cataclysmic release of magical power, which either produces a heightened version of the talisman's usual effect or effects, or may do something else altogether.
How easy it is to acquire a talisman depends on a number of factors, but by far the largest is how common talismans are in the particular area or world. This, in turn, depends on many other factors. It is not closely correlated with the difficulty of casting spells; depending on the vagaries of the local arcana, it may be much easier to imbue objects with magical powers than to cast spells, or vice versa, and in some cases talismans may spontaneously become enchanted without the intervention of any intelligent beings. Even if the ability to create talismans is very rare, it's possible that the few enchanters that exist each create a huge number of talismans—and even if this isn't the case, they may still be relatively plentiful if they have been in use and production for a very long time, so that many ancient talismans are left over from bygone days. (Though this, of course, is much less likely to be true of talismans that are particularly fragile or perishable.)
Generally, if talismans are common, then they are correspondingly easy to come by. Shops and merchants crop up dealing in them, like any other good, and particularly popular kinds of talisman may also be available in general stores. in fact, if talismans are numerous enough, there may be shops specializing not only in talismans, but in particular kinds of talismans—one store dealing in magic books, another in magical rods. Alternately, stores that sell particular goods might also sell magical versions of those goods alongside the ordinary, unenchanted ones. Or, of course, both could be true.
Conversely, if talismans are extremely rare, they will usually not be available through any conventional channels. They might, perhaps, be found at rare auctions, or in the inventories of a handful of secretive merchants, but they certainly won't be on display in any well-known shops. If they're extremely rare, each talisman may be considered an individual, unique treasure; even something as "simple" as a ring that makes the wearer slightly more resistant to disease will have its own name and storied history—and be worth a great deal of money, if its current owner can be convinced to part with it.
Though (in most arcana) any object can in principle be enchanted, some types of objects are enchanted much more commonly than others. Of course, this varies from cosmos to cosmos and even from world to world, but overall there are some common patterns that seem to arise, perhaps because of the same poorly understood phenomena that gives rise to panypares, but just as likely simply because there are certain objects and enchantments that are commonly found useful, or that particularly appeal to human psychology. The following is certainly very far from a complete list of all types of talisman, but touches on some of those that seem to recur most often across the cosmoi. These categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive; a rod could double as a weapon, for example, a statue as an article of furniture, or a book as a trap.
Weapons are a particularly popular subject for enchantment, the better to give the wielder a little extra edge in combat. Most enchanted weapons simply add a little more accuracy or force to blows dealt with them, or both, or augment the skill of the wielder, but a wide panoply of effects are possible: weapons may burst into flame, or shoot magical beams of varying effects, or do just about anything else. The powers of magical weapons need not even be combat-related; most of the time, they are, but there exist magical weapons that allow the owner to subsist without food, impart knowledge of various matters, or produce many other effects not obviously related to their form and normal function.
Any kind of weapon may in principle be enchanted, but in principle the most common types of enchanted weapons depend mostly on the most common type of weapon in general in the area in question. If swords are the most popular weapon, then magical swords are likely to be the most common magic weapon, and so on. In areas with advanced technology, nothing prevents high-tech weapons like guns and lasers from being enchanted.
Armor is enchanted nearly as frequently as weapons, and for largely the same reasons, although of course whereas enchanted weapons generally increase the wielders' offense, armor is geared more toward defense. Enchanted armor is often simply magically strengthened, the better to resist cuts and blows striking it, but may have more exotic enchantments that, for example, cause weapons used on it to rebound back toward the wielders, or make the wearer insubstantial and accordingly immune to most normal damage. In rarer cases, magic armor may have effects not directly related to defense, from such prosaic (but useful) properties as decreased weight or increased mobility to such esoteric powers as causing the growth of nearby plants, turning the wearer into a different creature, or glowing various colors to signal the proximity of some objects or conditions.
There exist talismans with similar protective properties which do not take the form of conventional armor: clothing enchanted to protect as well as metal armor, jewelry that toughens the wearer's skin, and so forth. Whether or not these qualify as variant forms of magic armor is essentially a semantic matter.
A potion is an enchanted liquid that, when imbibed, produces magical effects upon the imbiber. Potions are common kinds of talismans on many worlds, perhaps because they are, at least under some arcana, relatively easy to produce, are easily portable, and can be activated quickly while requiring no skill to do so. Similar small consumable talismans with a single use also exist, such as magic pastries or magic beads that produce their effects when broken, but none have overall quite the widespread popularity of potions, though certainly on some worlds other such items may be much more common.
Healing potions are particularly common, though the details of their effects vary; some may actually knit injuries and restore significant tissue damage and perhaps even mend broken bones, while others do little more than refresh the drinker and give a little boost to energy. Many other varieties of potion exist, however, the only common factor being that they produce an effect upon a single creature, namely the creature drinking the liquid. Other magical liquids exist that are activated in other ways: elixirs that can be mixed into other liquids to change their properties, oils that can be rubbed onto objects, tinctures that can be used to draw patterns that contain magical powers, and so on. While technically most celemologists do not consider these true "potions", they may be produced in similar ways.
Rings, necklaces, brooches, and other jewelry are very popular subjects for continuous enchantments, for practical reasons: they are light and portable, are relatively durable, and have a simple activation condition (being worn). Generally, jewelry produces effects or bestows powers upon its wearer, but sometimes they may have powers that affect those nearby, or that have more subtle environmental effects. The variety of powers that have been invested in jewelry is enormous; they can have protective abilities, or shoot magical rays, or allow their wearers to duplicate spells, or do nearly anything else.
It's common for magic jewelry to be made of the richest materials, and often has its aesthetic qualities further augmented by magic, giving it subtle glows or shifting sheens or other extraordinary effects. This, however, is only a matter of convention and of preference, and there's no reason that a simple "necklace" of dingy string couldn't have enchantments as powerful as those on an exquisite choker made of the finest opals—unless something about the arcanum requires only the most expensive materials to be made, but this is very seldom the case.
Magical containers are very popular, but the vast majority have the same sort of enchantment on them: a multum in parvo effect that allows them to carry more than they would otherwise be able to. Bags, chests, barrels, even entire rooms or buildings are enchanted with this power, causing their interiors to be much larger than their exterior dimensions would seem to indicate, and letting a traveler easily carry more items than could comfortably fit in a large wagon all in a tiny sack. Of course, how cheap and readily available such items are varies widely, and while in some places they may be within easy reach of the common man, in others they are the exclusive province of the wealthy.
Enchantments other than multum in parvo are placed on containers much less frequently. Occasionally they are imbued with portal enchantments, usually requiring activation, causing the container's opening to sometimes lead to a location other than its actual interior. Other containers are enchanted to magically create items inside, or to transform or transmute whatever is put into them—turning rocks placed within the container into gold, for example.
Clothing is a fairly frequent subject of enchantment for largely the same reasons (and largely the same kinds of enchantments) as jewelry—it's something that you don't have to carry separately, and that isn't obviously a special item—the latter possibly even more so than jewelry, depending on the particular article of clothing. However, clothing is enchanted far less than jewelry, possibly because a single article of clothing can't be used for long periods as jewelry can, at least without attracting attention—and odors, if it isn't washed regularly. Wearing the same ring every day may not seem unusual, but wearing the same shirt every day is. When clothing is enchanted, therefore, it's usually with the types of enchantments that will only be needed for special occasions, for a day or so at a time, rather than the continuous enchantments placed upon jewelry.
However, there are certain articles of clothing that these issues doesn't come up for, such as gloves, shoes, and hats. And, indeed, these are the types of clothing that are most commonly enchanted; for the most part, magic hats and boots seem to outnumber magic shirts and pants by a very wide margin.
Rather than take magical effects along with them, some enchanters—or buyers of enchantment—prefer to use talismans to protect their homes and treasuries and other locations and objects. Magic can be used to enchant existing traps in various ways: a pit could have a mip enchantment to make it deeper than space would otherwise allow, the damage-dealing potential of spikes or spears included in a trap could be magically enhanced, or magic could be used to conceal or disguise a trap, covering a pit with an illusion of floor or rendering invisible a trap mechanism that would otherwise be clearly noticeable. But magical traps can also be created that operate entirely by magic, and would have no effect without it: a glyph on a wall could produce a magical effect on an intruder, or a statue in the middle of a room could shoot a magical ray at those who pass in front of it. An entire room, or even building, could be enchanted to effectively make it a trap, having some deleterious effect on anyone inside who doesn't perform specific actions or fulfill particular conditions that allow him to escape the enchantment.
Statues, figurines, and other representations of objects are also popular subjects for enchantments. These can range from tiny and easily portable statuettes to enormous colossi, and, while they're commonly in the shapes of human figures, may also be shaped like animals or even like mountains, buildings, and other natural or manmade objects. There are two main forms enchantments on such items typically take: either the statues, on activation, transform into working versions of the objects or creatures they represent (often with some additional magical powers), or they grant to their owners some characteristics of the represented objects. In the former case, the transformation may only last for a specific duration, and may be possible only for a limited amount of time within a given period, or it may be indefinite until another activation condition is met.
Long cylindrical objects of various sorts are popular for magical enchantments. They may be called by different names depending on their sizes and characteristics—small enchanted rods are often called wands, while large ones may be called staves, and particularly ornate rods are often called sceptres—but they can be considered together. The main advantage of a rod is that it can easily be pointed at a target, which makes it a popular item for magical effects that act at a distance, though they may just as easily be designed to produce their effects by touch.
Talismans in the form of furniture are also fairly widespread, for effects that the user is only likely to require in particular locations. Any items of furniture can be—and at some point probably have been—enchanted: rugs, chairs, fireplaces, tables, desks, stoves... The enchantments vary widely, often connected to the normal function of the furniture—a bed might give a person sleeping in it especially good and healing rest; a bookshelf might move around the books it contains to bring a desired volume directly in front of the person looking for it—but sometimes having more unexpected powers.
On many worlds, tools are frequently enchanted, usually to augment their usual function or to increase the skill of the wearer. An enchanted hammer might be able to hit nails with more force or accuracy; an enchanted loom could weave faster than usual, or impart patterns to the fabrics it creates without the need for material dyes. Other enchanted tools might have different functions, however; an enchanted anvil might allow scrying in its flat surface, or an enchanted chisel could give life to statues created with it.
Though perhaps less often enchanted than many of the object types mentioned above, books are still imbued with magical powers widely enough to warrant their mention here. Some magical books grant knowledge or skill to the reader above and beyond what he might get simply from the information the book contains, but it's also relatively common for books to be enchanted in ways that take advantage of their format, with a different, but related, power or effect on every page. Magical books exist, for example, in which each page is a portal to a different location, or contains a magical symbol which can be peeled off and applied to another surface (and may or may not regenerate after removal). Other magical books may seem to contain ordinary narratives or information, but when activated perform some power related to their contents, perhaps bringing forth a copy of a fictional or historical character described within, or automatically performing instructions given in its text.
Some talismans, called dochia, only allow the user to cast a single spell. Though dochia may take many forms, they are often made in the form of a single sheet of parchment or similar material, in which case they are called scrolls. Depending on the arcanum, and perhaps upon the details of the talisman's creation, these scrolls or other dochia may or may not be usable even by people who can cast no spells otherwise, and may or may not be reusable.
Even on those worlds where talismans are very rare, there are occasional talismans of exceptional power and notoriety that stand out more than others. There are several terms that are used to refer to such one-of-a-kind talismans—they're sometimes called nonpareils, or paragons, but the most widespread term among celemologists is "eximia", singular "eximium". The very fact that a talisman is unique does not necessarily make it an eximium. Any enchanter can give a sword slightly different powers and an odd-looking grip, but that doesn't elevate the sword to eximium status. Eximia are different not just quantitatively, but qualitatively; there's something unique about the method of their creation that sets them apart from other talismans.
While there are no universal common threads to all eximia, there are some characteristics that many, if not all, share. Eximia are often effectively indestructible, either being immune to all damage, or reappearing elsewhere if destroyed—there may be one particular way to destroy an eximium, but it may not be easy to come by. With their great power, eximia often carry a curse that affects the owner either continuously or each time he activates one of its xenurgic abilities—or that doesn't harm the owner, but affects those nearby. Finally, eximia may yield different readings under magical discernment than other talismans, either giving a distinctive reading, or not identifiable by ordinary methods as magical at all.
A few eximia are panyparic, existing across multiple cosmoi, albeit working under different arcana in each cosmos. Some of these eximia are among the most powerful and most sought-after talismans in existence, among those few who know about them.