Just recently, I managed to get my greedy claws on a first edition, first printing of GRRM's Tuff Voyaging for cheap from the local book depository. I think that the fact that it's a first printing, first edition, and that I bought it for a steal (less than I'd pay for a "Value Meal" at the local fast food joint) excites me more than the actual content of the book at this point, but I'm a bibliophile, it's to be expected. Which is not to say the book isn't good so far as of page 17.
I will say, though, that based on my admitted complete guess as to what this "Plague Star" is, I'm very happy. Based on what is said in the text thus far, and what is not said, I'm guessing that the thing is actually some lost bit of ancient phlebotinum from "the old times" and it has some biological effect on organisms exposed to it. Likely some form of experiment by less than scrupulous precursers or some such.
Just a quick aside and fair warning: anybody who feels the need to explain to me outright what the thing is and spoil the rest of the book for me can just bugger the hell right off. I'm looking forward to being surprised as GRRM usually does not let me down that way.
Ok, back on topic.
What I find more interesting, though, is that the locals of the planet around which this Plague Star orbit have worked its existance into their mythology over the, presumable, millenia that it has affected them. It's far less a matter of "Hey, what's that medieval peasant doing with a ray gun?!?!" and rather a reaction that seemed popular back in the day this book was written, that myth, legend, and religion grew out of sentient need to explain the perceived, but the incomprehensible. Thus, the natives perceive the Plague Star, and the fact that it wipes out large segments of the population every three generations, but have no way at all of determining objectively what it is (i.e., no telescopes or anything like that) and so it gets labeled and added to the mythology rather than dealt with in a "scientific" manner.
This is, I suppose, Martin's employment of one of Clarke's laws, that any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. This, I think, is how ancient technology should be introduced into a fantasy campaign that eschews the gonzo aspect. In the end, I have no problem with high technology making its way into the Thylia campaign, but my desire is for the players to brush up against it and, afterward, to never be quite sure what it was that they came across: a mystery that they either walk away with shaking their heads, or which drives them to continue on, seeking the root of it.
The Dotheric Obelisk
Discovered in the deep taiga, only a few hours' march from the tiny halfling settlement of Dotheris, the obelisk stands nearly 7 meters tall in the center of an inconspicuously verdent glade. The monument has runes in a strange language round the base, runes that defy both mundane and magical means of translation. Many believe that these runes contain secrets from the ancient past when a race with power far beyond the comprehension of current scholars walked the world. This group calls themselves the Dotheric Brotherhood and they have devoted themselves to the study of the obelisk, sure that other examples of the writing or instructions on how to harness its powers must exist. They pursue any scrap of information that might lead to great understanding of the monument, funding quests to unearth other treasures of the age, and even going so far as to employing an entire clan of dwarves to excavate around the base of the monument, looking to catalog its whole dimensions.
The Brotherhood, to some degree, is correct. The obelisk is, in fact, an artifact left behind by a race that came to this world millenia ago, and left mysteriously sometime before recorded history began according to modern scholars. The thing is a device designed to transfer heat energy and water from deep within the planet and bring them to the surface, terraforming the world to more closely resemble the one from which the ancient beings originated. The runes scribed in its side defy translation attempts simply because they are not actually language, but mathematical equations and data that provides activation protocols to the obelisk. The obelisk radiates no magic and is slightly warm to the touch. If activated, it may prove powerful enough to remake this part of the world, or after many thousands of years, it may have malfunctioned or broken down.
A small blood red gem in an ornate mithril like setting appearing almost as a fine lace netting surrounding envoloping the crystal, all together about the size of a song bird's egg. Legend states that it was originally discovered by Geforic, a trickster hero figure in legend, in the skeletal remains of a humanoid, but not human in the depths of a ruin. In order to keep it safe from the scurrilous thieves of the city (which city is hotly debated, many maintain that it was one of various legendary lost metropolises), he swallowed it, intending to retrieve the precious item "afterward." Unfortunately for him, upon arriving within the city gates, the citizenry began to fall victim to an horrific plague by the hundreds, never manifesting in quite the same way twice. Geforic fled the city while he could, but ill fortune caught up with him as a representative of the local thieves' guild, having witnessed Geforic swallow the Death Jewel, slew the man and claimed his prize. Since, the stone has appeared throughout history in stories, usually accompanied by the utter destruction of a city, or the death of an empire. It is considered a vastly unlucky artifact and no reputable man will willingly let it near him.
In actuality, the item is a bit of high technology from an unknown source. When swallowed, it affixes itself to the person's digestive tract and remains there until death. While so implanted, it provides complete immunity to disease, poisoning, parasite, or similar effect (including rot grubs and violet fungus). It provides this benefit by changing the person's immune system from a reactive, internal process to an active, external, and predatory thing. White blood cells and other immunological organisms travel outside of the body to a radius of 50ft where they actively seek out any potential threat to the host body and eliminate it. Air born plagues, aforementioned rot grubs and violet fungus, green slimes, etc., will be destroyed at the rate of 1hp per round. Unfortunately, the effect also attacks any living organism that is currently infected by or is a carrier for any harmful pathogen and all such entities must succeed in a saving throw vs. disease or be found to have such an infection and become subject to the attack of the host body's external immune system, dying slowly at the rate of 1hp per day and unable to heal naturally. A cure disease spell placed upon such a victim will remove all traces of the disease and thus halt the attack of the immune system and spare the person's life.
Once swallowed and implanted, the device cannot be removed except by the death of the host, or by advanced surgicle techniques not present in Thylia today.