Clockwork Wonders02/26/2007

The Sorting Beast
Part 11 of 14

The giant's bag was heavy, in the one-ton range, and thousands of coins spilled all over the ground when the thing fell to earth.

"Let's make a fire. We'll be counting that all night," said Ember.

"We'll barely have time to water the horses," said Jozan. He threw a steel sphere toward the gems and coins, and midair it grew legs and arms. It seemed, in fact, to be largely a ball of crablike arms, three-clawed, with an enormous central eye. It hit the ground and immediately began stacking coins in neat piles.

"What if it wants to keep our money?" said Ember.

The Sorting Beast is an accountant's best friend, a clockwork device that divides coins, gems, and other treasures into neat piles, and that can detect and identify magical items. Sometimes it is a little too obsessed with counting.


The sorting beast is a six-legged clockwork creature with eyes and antennae at both ends. It has a set of legs on both ends, and either set can manipulate and hold objects up to 30 lbs in weight. The more complex sensors are largely located in the central "thorax" of the device, and include scales, jeweler's lenses and light projecting lenses, small hammers, tuning forks, a tiny gas "puffer" for taking samples of powders, a dipole lightning generator, a filtering system for liquids, scissors for cutting samples, and a sonic thumping resonance device. Most of these are entirely inscrutable to people used to simple machines; not even an artificer is likely to be 100% familiar with all of them.

A small inkwell and metal nib are attached somewhere within the main body of the sorting beast; this scribe writes appraisal results for both gemstones and magical items on strips of paper that it drops near the sorted items.

Sorting beasts move very quickly, using their "puffer" to blow small coins and gems into piles, moving their metal claw-hands in a blur of speed to sort larger objects, and occasionally making strange noises or erupting in sparks or fire as they test various materials.

The sorting beast has AC 14, hardness 3, 10 hit points, a +7 bonus on all saving throws, and speed of 10 ft. (rolling). It has no attacks.

Use and Powers

The sorting beast is created with a +10 bonus to the Appraise skill. It sorts all non-magical objects presented to it into stacks by value: all copper, silver, gold, and platinum coins are sorted and counted (and a small paper label is printed totaling the coinage), all gems are judged by weight and quality (taking 1 minute each) and again sorted to piles worth up to 10 gp, 100 gp, 1000 gp, and more than 1000 gp, with paper labels. The various raw materials, spices, wines, works of art, jewelry, and other items are sorted next, by value in tens, hundreds, and thousands.

Finally, the magical items are dropped into a pile and the sorting beast holds up each one so that its owner can direct whether it should perform a "deeper analysis" consisting of an identify spell cast at 10th caster level. If a deeper analysis is not required, then the sorting beast uses metallic probes, tasters, small jets of fire, bending tests, and other mechanical-magical methods to perform its analysis, generally without harming the item being inspected. The results of either analysis are printed in gold and red inks on fine paper strips in a strange code. Anyone reading the slip must make a Spellcraft check (DC 15) to interpret them properly. On a roll of a natural 1, the results are completely misinterpreted with a false meaning. The sorting beast can only use its identify power 5 times per day.

The sorting beast damages a magical item rarely, but it does happen. Each item examined using mechanical-magical means must make a saving throw (DC 8). On a failure, the item suffers some cosmetic damage and the item must make a second save (DC 8). A second failure results in the item being broken.

Faint divination; CL 10th; Craft Construct, Craft Wondrous Item, detect magic, identify; Price 20,000; Cost 10,000 gp + 800 XP.

Campaign Hooks

A rogue Sorting Beast has become a sort of mechanical magpie that controls several Spider Thieves. The spider thieves bring it anything from pretty pebbles to bits of cloth to lost coins, stolen shoes, anything they can carry. The Sorting Beast obsessively goes over each and every item, sorting and reclassifying them in patterns only it understands, building ... something. A summoning circle to the modrons of Mechanus? A clockwork mate for itself? No one knows. But it is stealing valuables all over town --- and the spate of thefts must eventually draw notice.

About the Author

Wolfgang Baur designs tailored adventures about zombie angels, steam golems, and the Arcane Collegium at the Open Design blog. He is a co-author of the original Dark*Matter campaign setting as well as the upcoming "Expedition to the Demonweb Pits" campaign-adventure.

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