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The Truenamer Handbook gives the following interesting piece of advice under "Hear My Words, O Dark Master!":

Pop open the Book of Vile Darkness and read the rules for sacrifices. Then remember just how good Truenamers are at getting their Knowledge checks up to stupidly high levels. Between the INT focus, the fact that you're likely to take little other than Knowledge skills, the Knowledge Focus class feature, Universal Aptitude, and Hidden Truth, you can get a terrifyingly high K: Religion check (that's the one used in sacrifices, of course) as early as level 3 or so. Consider a perfectly reasonable illumian Truenamer with 16 INT and the Naen sigil . . . for almost no investment, you get 6 (ranks) + 3 (INT) + 3 (Knowledge Focus) + 2 (Naen) + 5 (Universal Aptitude) + 10 (Hidden Truth) = +29 before you even roll. By the time you add all the little trappings listed on pg. 27 of the BoVD, you'll be almost guaranteed to hit the highest level of rewards. And that's at level 3, with the only real investment being maxed ranks in K: Religion (doesn't hurt) and putting your Knowledge Focus class feature into Religion (which, again, is not much of a loss). Even if you don't add all the trappings, just leave one critter you kill every day alive (but probably unconscious) long enough to whip out your dagger and chant the name of your vile master a few times, and you'll be guaranteed to roll high enough to get a free Planar Ally. How sweet is that? Sure, you have to be unrepentantly evil, and your GM has to go along with it, but all the rules are right there.

Let's assume that we have a DM that following the sacrifice rules RAW and that the Truenamer is as described above (i.e. low leveled and gets +29 to these checks without even trying) and performs the lazy sort of sacrifice given above once per day for their low leveled party. How much benefit will the party get from this? For simplicity, lets just say that they sacrifice something commonplace in an evil campaign, like a low leveled human.

For reference, I've uploaded a screenshot of the two relevant tables here. Of particular interest, I can't help but notice that many of these benefits are treated as if they came from a level 20 caster. Could this be game-breaking?

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Confirming the chain of events

The level 2 truenamer class feature knowledge focus (Tome of Magic 200) can provide the truenamer a +3 bonus on his Knowledge (religion) skill checks. The 1st-level utterance universal aptitude (244–5) grants the truenamer a +3 bonus on his Knowledge (religion) skill checks… for 5 rounds, which the DM may rule is sufficient to grant a bonus on Knowledge (religion) skill made to benefit from sacrifices (or he may have to employ the utterance multiple times, increasing the chance of failure). And the 2nd-level utterance hidden truth (239) will grant the truenamer a +10 bonus on his next Knowledge (religion) skill checks. Finally, the supernatural ability power sigil (naen) (Races of Destiny 54) at level 2 does grant an illumian a +2 bonus on Intelligence-based checks. Thus, assuming a level 3 illumian truenamer with maximum ranks in the skill Knowledge (religion) (i.e. 7), for 5 rounds that's a Knowledge (religion) skill modifier of at least +25.

I can imagine such a character wanting to do this right therefore taking the feats Iron Will (Player's Handbook 97) and Hardened Criminal (City of Stormreach 95), the latter feat permitting this illumian truenamer to always take 10 on Knowledge (religion) skill checks. So that's an automatic result of 35. (While Book of Vile Darkness says, "The celebrant [i.e. the creature performing the sacrifice] can’t take 10 or take 20 on this [Knowledge (religion) skill] check" that's made to realize a sacrifice reward (27), this DM would allow taking 10 due to the Hardened Criminal feat's specificity.)

On Table 2–2: Typical Sacrificial Rewards one outcome of a Knowledge (religion) skill check result of 35 is the following: "Evil outsider appears and serves celebrant for 1 hour per HD of the victim, serving as described in the greater planar ally spell" (Book of Vile Darkness 27). So all of the handbook's description is, so far, legit.

(Note that this sort of low-level yet absurdly high skill check is hardly unique to the truenamer, and some classes are even better at it than the truenamer. For example, a level 3 cleric can cast both the 1st-level spell guidance of the avatar [div] (Spellbook Web column "Guidance of the Avatar") and the 2nd-level spell divine insight [div] (Spell Compendium 70) to gain on his next Knowledge (religion) skill check a +28 modifier, and that cleric's devoting even fewer resources to this process than that truenamer and has a higher modifier than that truenamer!)

Answering the questions

  • Question: A DM is following the sacrifice rules as written from the Book of Vile Darkness, and one PC in the DM's campaign is a truenamer like the one described above. That truenamer performs a sacrifice each day on behalf of the low-level party. How much will the party benefit get from this sacrifice?

    Answer: Obviously, there're unfathomable benefits to a group of level 3 PCs having access to an 18 Hit Dice outsider for even an hour every day. Even if the DM sends only an ally as simple as a fiendish tyrannosaurus (Monster Manual 107–8 and 61–2, respectively) (which I know is not an outsider and merely a creature that possesses the subtype extraplanar, but give the DM a break here, okay?), it's not like the level 3 PCs will complain about having the assistance of that CR 10 critter! And were the DM to pick an actual outsider—with its host of spell-like and supernatural abilities—things would only get better for the PCs.

    So, yes, the 8th-level cleric spell greater planar ally [conj] (PH 261) is unbalanced in the hands of a level 3 character. Getting a outsider servant that possesses 18 Hit Dice from one's dark master for even one hour is a boon well beyond the power of most level 3 characters. Doing so daily means the PCs will indirectly—by the dark virtue of their unholy master, unhallowed be its name—overcome challenges far beyond their levels.

    However, the sacrifice rules don't exist in a vacuum. They aren't just two absolute tables and done. The Book of Vile Darkness on Sacrifice, in part, says

    Most evil gods and fiends demand sacrifice. When they say sacrifice, they mean the sacrifice of a living, intelligent creature. Commonly, the victim is a humanoid, but dark powers might demand the sacrifice of anything from a medusa to a giant to a beholder. The main criteria are that the creature be alive and have an intelligence score of 3 or higher. (29)

    This means, using the rules as written, the god to whom the illumian truenamer is offering sacrifices can opt to—at the god's leisure—raise the stakes. Essentially, the god says, "That kobold mushroom farmer was fine last time, but, buddy, I lent you the services of Mutae the Chomptastic, a fiendish T-rex! Another kobold commoner 1 just ain't gonna cut it!" Further, the text says

    The sacrifice must be made in a ritualized manner. It’s fine for a blackguard to say that he is dedicating every foe he slays to Vecna. But in truth, Vecna appreciates and rewards his followers for victims killed in a ceremony and at a place dedicated to him. This means that the ritual takes time, and it probably involves extra participants and unholy trappings. (ibid.)

    Here again, the DM is entitled to raise the stakes. Table 2–1: Typical Sacrifice Elements, does, in fact, imply that the PC can take a subdued kobold commoner 1 into a filthy back alley, coup de grace the poor dude, call that a sacrifice, and be gifted for 1 hour with the services of Mutae the Chomptastic, but the text also says those are only the typical elements, and the DM is given explicit permission to change those elements, and a DM may—capriciously, like any dark god—change them whenever he wants. (Although this longtime RPG player and GM normally frowns grimly at such arbitrariness, here it seems acceptable that a dark god become increasingly demanding of even his most knowledgeable and reliable supplicants!) Finally, the text says

    The celebrant can choose what reward is sought and prayed for, but the deity might grant another reward, especially if the Knowledge (religion) check result is significantly higher than the DC of the reward sought. (27)

    In other words, the PC picks, but the dark power grants, and what that dark power grants is entirely up to the dark power. Backing up a little:

    Each evil deity has his or her own predilections and preferences for sacrifices, and different deities give different rewards to their followers. The… system of sacrifices and rewards [presented here] is just a starting point; [DMs,] give each evil power in your campaign its own unique sacrifices and rewards. (26)

    And that's kind of the crux of all of this. When that illumian truenamer 3 whips out his ceremonial dagger in that back alley to do in that kobold commoner 1 in the name of his dark god, he's instigated a series of events that the DM is supposed to have prepared for that is unique to that DM's campaign and based on the deity to whom the PC is make the sacrifice. While it's possible that the outcome will be the effects of a greater planar binding ally spell, that's not guaranteed. In fact, the only real guarantee here is the damnation of the illumian truenamer and his fellow PCs that benefit from his frequent sacrifices.

  • Q: Could the sacrifice rules be game-breaking?

    A: Absolutely! If the DM doesn't take the time to personalize the tables for his campaign, ignores the word typical in the titles of both tables, ignores all the advice that's in the section on sacrifices, and allows the PCs to kidnap a kobold commoner 1 each day to get a greater planar ally effect for an hour a day, then, yes, the PCs will totally win D&D until the PCs are, like, level 6 (if the PCs' enemies are extremely competent) or maybe as high as level 10 (if their enemies aren't). After that point, the PCs must play the game themselves (while still receiving occasional aid from their dark master, of course). Further, after the PCs have spent several levels relying on their dark master, I suspect any DM will have the dark master want something more from the PCs now that they can serve him competently…

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    \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth mentioning that this is hardly unique to the truenamer—a cleric can trivial achieve a +26 bonus at the same level with just ranks and guidance of the avatar. The implication in the handbook is that the truenamer is especially well-suited to this role, and that this can go some way towards mitigating all of the truenamers problems, but that isn’t so. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 9 at 16:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That's a valid suggestion and an idea that didn't occur to me, having long ago banned in my campaigns the cleric's ability to beat everyone at skill checks. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 9 at 16:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Isn't guidance of the avatar a fairly controversial piece of website-only orphaned 3.0 material? \$\endgroup\$ – J. Mini Jun 9 at 19:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @J.Mini Actually, I went so far as to call the spell guidance of the avatar an orphan in my assessment of it in answer to this question. However, in context, I suspect anyone with system mastery sufficient to want to exploit the Book of VD's sacrifice rules would also possess system mastery sufficient to ramp his skill checks anyway he could, and that includes using orphaned Web material. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 9 at 21:01

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