Keyword Design – “Heart”

In Keyword Design, I use a single word as inspiration for a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option. Today’s word was suggested by Quo in honor of Valentine’s, heart!

I’m not much of a Valentine guy. Tina is too pragmatic for Hallmark holidays, unappreciative of the heart-themed tokens that become clutter within a day of receiving them, and questioning why she should pay more money for a special menu one day in February or for chocolate because it’s in a heart shape. I love her so much, people.

As with cats, I appreciate a keyword that’s outside my comfort zone. Quo actually gave me two options for a Valentine-themed keyword, the other being “love”. Between the two, not only is heart more flexible, it’s less problematic. There’s only two directions I can see designing love options: a greater connection based on the relationship between two people, and love potion style enchanted love. It’s that second option I wanted to avoid. It ends up heart was more flexible than I expected.


Mundane Item Sweet Treats A sugary token of affection, often heart-shaped for emphasis.
Magic Item Cherub arrows Improve the attitude of the target of your arrow towards the nearest creature.
Feat Heart Attack An unarmed strike to the chest that sickens your target.
Spell Life’s Lost Memories Confound undead targets and overcome living targets with ennui.
Class Option Saint of Love A paladin archetype dedicated to spreading love and helping loved ones.

New Mundane Items
Price 5 gp; Weight 1/2 lb.
Hard candy, sugar snacks, toffee, and other confectionary to complement a formal meal or satisfy a sweet craving.

Price 50 gp; Weight 1/2 lb.
Sweets of usually higher quality with elaborate presentation to elicit positive feelings or denote romantic intent. Masterwork sweet treats grant a +2 circumstance bonus on Diplomacy checks to change a target’s attitude towards you if the target’s attitude is already indifferent or better. This bonus is doubled in a romantic or intimate setting.

Not much to say besides “Mmm… candy.”

New Magic Item
Aura faint enchantment; CL 1st; Weight 1/10 lb.; Price 300 gp
This +1 blunt arrow has a red, vaguely heart-shaped soft head. Dealing nonlethal damage with a cherub arrow does not incur the normal –4 attack penalty for using a lethal weapon to deal nonlethal damage.
A cherub arrow explodes into sparkling rose petals on impact that dissolve as they flutter to the ground. The target of a cherub arrow treats the nearest creature within line of sight as a trusted ally for 1 hour, potentially even obeying their command as though that creature had cast charm person on the target. A successful DC 11 Will save negates the effect, but the target suffers a penalty on this check equal to the amount of nonlethal damage the cherub arrow dealt.
Construction Requirements
Craft Magic Arms and Armor, charm person; Cost 150 gp

This might be my favourite option this week. Cupid’s arrow isn’t about making the target fall in love with him, it’s about creating a connection between the target and someone nearby, often with cartoony mishaps like hitting the wrong target or the target falling for the wrong person. I also like the scenarios required to make the most of this weapon, like the party ranger waiting for the party rogue to get into position before sniping a hapless guard.

Originally cherub arrows were going to be a ranged touch attack, but I really think penalizing the target’s Will save equal to the nonlethal damage was dealt makes this item viable over multiple levels. As long as your average damage is ahead of the average Will save of your targets, you can reliably expect your love gambit to work. Also, the Cupid/Rambo builds I am picturing amuse me greatly. Finally, that rule is consistent with the visual of the target of Cupid’s arrow reacting to the pain before the effect siks in.

I am nervous about the price. It’s a single use circumstantial item, but it scales up. Originally I had it cost 150 gp, slightly more than a sleep arrow, but I doubled it based on the scaling. I would appreciate feedback on how this item is priced.

New Feat
The force of your strikes shakes your target’s vital organs.
Prerequisites: Str 13, Wis 13, Improved Unarmed Strike, 8 ranks in Heal or brawler or monk class levels.
Benefit: You must declare that you are using this feat before you make your attack roll (thus, a failed attack roll ruins the attempt). Heart Attack forces a foe damaged by your unarmed attack to make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your Str modifier), in addition to dealing damage normally. A defender who fails this saving throw is sickened for 1 round (until just before your next turn). You may attempt a Heart Attack once per day for every four levels you have attained (but see Special), and no more than once per round. Creatures immune to critical hits or with no discernible anatomy are immune to Heart Attack.
Special: Monks and brawlers may attempt a Heart Attacl a number of times per day equal to his class level, plus one more time per day for every four levels he has in other classes.

I originally called this Heart Punch, after the wrestling finishing maneuver, but it ends up I already named an option after that particular maneuver back in Strategists & Tacticians from 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming. So I went with another, more famous wrestling finisher, the Hart Foundation’s H(e)art Attack. And yes, it tickles me that this feat’s name suggests characters who take it immediately go into cardiac arrest, which I guess makes this as funny as a heart attack.

New Spell
School enchantment [mind-affecting]; Level bard 2, cleric/oracle 2, druid 2, ranger 2, shaman 2, sorcerer/wizard 2, witch 2
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (tears of heartbreak)
Range 15 ft.
Area cone-shaped burst
Duration instantaneous; see text
Saving Throw Will negates; Spell Resistance yes
Repressed feelings of failure and memories of wasted moments come to the forefront of affected creatures’ minds. Creatures within the cone are affected based on HD and type.

2 HD or less: Living creatures are dazed for 2d4 rounds, then exhausted for 1d4 rounds, and then fatigued for 1 round. Undead creatures are dazed for 2d4 rounds then confused for 2d4 rounds.
3 or 4 HD: Living creatures are exhausted for 1d4 rounds, then fatigued for 1 round. Undead creatures are dazed for 1d4 rounds then confused for 1d4 rounds.
5 or more HD: Living creatures are fatigued for 1 round. Undead creatures are dazed for 1  round then confused for 1d4 rounds.

Even though undead creatures are normally immune to mind-affecting effects, they are not immune to life’s lost memories. Other creature types immune to mind-affecting effects are immune to life’s lost memories.

Just getting this out of the way, I dislike how the range of cones is listed. To me, a range of 15 feet means the starting point of the cone is 15  feet from the caster, not the end point. But part of designing options is designing despite your pet peeves. Rewriting the range of cones would cause confusion where my goal is to clarify. If the results work against my goal, what’s the point? 

This spell evolved from a metamagic feat that allowed mind-affecting spells to target undead to a spell that made undead recall their past life and feel guilty about what they’ve done before becoming a spell that makes the living and undead differently sad. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and particularly happy with the material component to cast the spell. I need to write an adventure where a wizard hires the party to gather the material components for his spell list, because too many spells have material components with a story that never gets told.

New Class Option
SAINT OF LOVE (Paladin Archetype)
In royal courts, love can start wars or tear down borders. Saints of love are revered for their ability to quell tension and are often brought in to officiate arranged political marriages and as consultants for leaders known to lead with their heart.
On pilgrimages, saints of love excel as mediators for frustrated and disenchanted citizenry, leveling heads and calming hearts before hearing out the objections of the downtrodden, too often lost in the passionate their issues inspire.
Life Link (Su): The saint of love wears her heart on her sleeve, intuitively creating a compassionate connection with her allies. This connection acts as a permanent companion life link spell, except the saint of love can target any ally and she cannot cause her affected allies to return to her. A saint of love can have a number of life links at once equal to her Charisma modifier (minimum 1). She can change which allies she has a life link to by spending 1 minute in quiet meditation.
At 4th level, once per day she can target one ally she is life linked with to gain the benefit of shield other. She gains an additional use of sheld other at 7th level and every three levels thereafter.
This ability replaces smite evil.
Merciful Calm (Su): At 3rd level, the saint of love can cast calm emotions on the target of her lay on hands ability. This is in addition to the mercies she can normally select at 3rd level.
This ability otherwise functions as the mercy paladin ability.
Choral Bond (Su): At 5th level, the saint of love forms a bond with an angelic ally. She can summon a young choral angel a number of rounds per day equal to her class level. These rounds need not be consecutive, but they must be spent in 1 round increments. At 10th level, the choral angel no longer has the young template. At 15th level, the choral angel gains the advanced template. At 20th level, the saint of love can call her choral angel ally at will.
This ability replaces divine bond.
Aura of Love (Su): At 11th level, allies within 15 feet of the saint of love feed off of her caring soul. When an ally within range attempts a Diplomacy check or casts an enchantment spell, they gain a bonus to the skill check or the DC to resist the spell equal to the saint of love’s Charisma modifier.
This ability replaces aura of justice.
Champion of Love (Sp): At 20th level, the saint of love’s compassion extends to all creatures willing to accept her love. Once per day, she can cast mass charm monster with a caster level equal to her class level. Affected creatures treat the subjects of the saint of love’s life link as though they too had cast mass charm monster on them, although they will obey the saint of love’s commands over contradictory commands from her allies, following the normal rules for commanding charmed creatures otherwise.
This ability replaces holy champion.

I’m learning! One of the challenges of designing archetypes is keeping an eye out for ripple effects. By replacing smite evil, I needed to address how that affects aura of justice, a separate class feature entirely dependent on the smite evil ability. Likewise, without smith evil, holy champion is just a DR bump. In the past I might not have been as diligent, so I’m happy with myself in that regard.

Otherwise, I’m only somewhat satisfied with the saint of love. I knew I wanted this to be a melee class archetype to design against type (my favourite type of design). It started as a combination of the historic St Valentine (or at least the legends of St Valentine, since it ends up scholars aren’t sure about much about this seemingly significant saint) and Ma-Ti, the Planeteer with the Heart Ring. Since Ma-Ti’s power was basically at will charm person and his personality can be summed up as “didn’t like to use his power because it removed free will,” the Captain Planet connection never made it into the final design.

Thanks again to Quo for the keyword suggestion! If you have thoughts on the balance and use of these abilities, or you would like to offer a single word that you think can inspire a mundane item, a magic item, a feat, a spell, and a class option, let me know in the comments below!

Ryan Costello

What started as one gamer wanting to talk about his love of a game grew into a podcast network. Ryan founded what would become the Know Direction Podcast network with Jason "Jay" Dubsky, his friend and fellow 3.5 enthusiast. They and their game group moved on to Pathfinder, and the Know Direction podcast network was born. Now married and a father, Ryan continues to serve the network as the director of logistics and co-host of Upshift podcast, dedicated to the Essence20 RPG system he writes for and helped design. You can find out more about Ryan and the history of the network in this episode of Presenting:

Know Direction Pathfinder Podcast


  1. Jordan

    I would be all over that Heart Attack feat if it were PFS-legal! And the Saint of Love feels like a more martial Life Oracle. Good stuff!

    New keyword suggestion: Rebel!

  2. Mike P

    It’s nice to see the creative juices flowing again.

  3. David S.

    Well done Ryan! Some fun, flavorful, cool concepts here … the paladin archetype is inspired.

  4. Quo

    I just started giggling when I saw this article and the key word was ‘heart’. Really like the arrows., I bet I could plug those in somewhere in my homebrew. I could see an advanced arrow of this type that bursts over a crowd and effects the crowd in a similar fashion as it does an individual. NICE! Now…like the word suggested above…Rebel. I like that one. Or Riot, Protest, or Subversion.