Found in the Gamemaster's Companion (pg. 40), The Scarab of Ilithor is a Thread Item first introduced in Arcane Mysteries of Barsaive (pg. 84). I've never used this item in a game. The reason why, to be perfectly honest, is it bores me. It also does to magicians what they have a tendency to do to, well, everyone else: make their abilities redundant with a single spell. Something which I'm hoping is no longer the case in 4E.
There will be an analysis of how the 3E Thread Item stacks up to the proposed guidelines (pg. 46 of the Gamemaster's Companion) and what it looked like in its original release.
The Scarab of Ilithor
Spell Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Warden
With a Spell Defense of 16 and six thread ranks, this is on the low side for a Warden tier item. There is discussion of the items abilities, which all require a Spellcasting test using the wearer's Perception instead. Instead of weaving threads, there is a Strain cost. The problem with this is the potential difficulty in pulling this off for non-spellcasters, who the item is clearly directed. If you're paying Strain, why go through the hoops of requiring a test? Only one of the spells actually presents a significant difficulty because of how it target's Spell Defense; the others can be overcome by lowering your own Spell Defense (which is a mechanic I don't care for - a topic for another day).
Thread Rank One
Effect: 2 Strain, the wearer gains access to Crunch Climb.
And so it begins. Spells as abilities is, hypothetically, supposed to be Rank 5 territory. Which isn't actually the biggest problem here. This is a spell which already replaces a talent, but requires a spellcaster. Now anyone can have access to Climbing, making all of those adepts who actually purchased the talent look foolish. Or those required to purchase Climbing. Keep in mind, +1 rank to Climbing would be considered the appropriate bonus here.
Given the back story on this item is it was created for a Thief to steal things, I have to wonder at the kind of Thief who didn't have Climbing in the first place and was in the business of stealing things.
Thread Rank Two
Effect: 4 Strain, the wearer gains access to the Gills spell.
This is a neat spell, but an awful lot of Strain for a Second Circle spell. So much Strain.
Thread Rank Three
Effect: 2 Strain, the wearer gains access to the Ethereal Darkness spell. The wearer is considered a Nethermancer for purposes of this spell.
Why is this the only Nethermancer spell which ever comes out to play? Seriously, I do not understand this at all. There aren't many spells which are quite as explicitly group unfriendly as this one. Yet, it shows up time and again.
Thread Rank Four
Effect: 1 Strain, the wearer gains access to the Leaps and Bounds spell.
Scratch the need to ever pick up the Great Leap talent. I really do not care for talent replacement spells.
Thread Rank Five
Effect: 2 Strain, the wearer gains access to the Nobody Here spell.
Without a doubt a useful spell, though one which may require multiple readings every time it is used to figure out exactly how it works.
Thread Rank Six
Effect: 8 Strain, the wearer gains access to the Inventory spell.
First, that is a mountain of Strain. Second, I hope the wearer has grown accustomed to not finding anything magical with this spell, because Perception-only against Spell Defense is rough. Third, 8 Strain? Look, Inventory just isn't that good.
How does it all stack up? It is pretty powerful in the right hands - this can open up a lot of new avenues for the right kind of character. It replaces the need for a number of different talents, which is good for the character (possibly), but problematic for the game overall.
It's hard to say what kind of effect this may have on group dynamics. It certainly won't be skewing things, but an Illusionist may be a little resentful they aren't the only one with Nobody Here. A Nethermancer may be pleased there is one less person groaning at them when they cast Ethereal Darkness.
I will say the item has a strong theme and delivers on it. Everything here could be useful when engaging in some sort of caper. Except for Inventory, because the odds are you won't find that magical item you are looking for. Unless you are stealing money; how droll. Beyond that, this item is just boring. It's a bunch of spells, most of which seem to replicate talents which already exist.
How does the 3E version compare to the 1E version? Let's find out:
The Scarab of Ilithor (1E)
Spell Defense: 14
Legend Point Cost: (Journeyman)
There are a few changes from 1E to 3E. The tier and Spell Defense are both lower in 1E, which may or may not be more appropriate - the item hardly follows the guidelines as is. Also, there is a clause where the spells' duration is as though the wearer has a Spellcasting rank of 1. This doesn't matter much, since they all have a static modifier on the end to keep them from being 0.
Oh yeah, and none of these cost Strain, nor do they have threads to weave. They are all the same, with one exception, so I will cut my colorful commentary short. In 1E, the Leaps and Bounds effect lasts for only 1 round, which actually makes having Great Leap worthwhile, since you can use it and do something else, instead of making Spellcasting tests (which you might fail) every round you want to use it.
Flat out, the 1E version is more powerful. No Strain and the spells last for slightly longer. The only downside is Leaps and Bounds, which is of limited use due to the one round duration. The lack of threads and Strain actually makes this item more powerful in the hands of a spellcaster. They can gleefully cast these spells without worry of threads or spell matrices. Which is another reason to dislike this item.