The tax collector (also the sheriff, basically the lone extension of the laws of the city state this far upriver) and his two deputies were both heavily tattooed, but the tax collector in particular was almost completely covered in large, colorful designs. As he strode forward he raised his right hand and displayed a prominent eye tattoo on his palm. Beautiful Bob's player did not skip a beat, and Beautiful Bob raised his hand up as well and caused an eye to manifest on his palm (Beautiful Bob fused his body with a gibbering mouther a while back in a dark ritual and can manifest eyes and mouths now). The eye tattoo happened to be a mark of the sheriff's office and he took this as an insult at the least and a treasonous crime punishable by death more likely, and strode forward. Blood flowed from a sack hanging at his waist up into a series of blotchy dark tattoos that covered his torso and he transformed into a giant jaguar.
A fun combat ensued, the paddlewheeler had a metal edged prow and keel and clawed hands on the wheels that allowed it churn away on dry land, and the fight ended when Beautiful Bob steered the ship's wheels over the sheriff as he was engaged in combat with Hammer. The sheriff took several forms, the blood flowing from the tattoos back into the bag, and then out again into new tattoos as the fight progressed. He was in the form of a giant scorpion when he was finally minced up by the magically powered paddle-wheeler.
This of course led to a lengthy investigation by the players into how this tattoo magic worked. Here I present the fruits of their labor.
The blood that fuels the tattoos is the condensed essence of sacrificed humans. One human sacrifice = 1 dose of tattoo blood = 100 drops of tattoo blood. Even the most minor blood tattoo magic requires 1 dose to activate. No tattoo has any magical properties unless activated by blood. The jaguar form that the sheriff first took was a 2 dose form, while the scorpion was a 3 dose form. Activating a tattoo does not consume the blood, so the number of doses of tattoo blood possessed determines the level of magic able to be activated rather than the number of times the magic could be used.
Tattoo blood can be ingested orally as a powerful stimulant and mood enhancer. Small amounts (a "normal" dose, about 1 drop of blood or .01 dose per 100lbs body weight) grant a temporary magical bonus of +4 to all stats and the ability to "take 15" on any skill check. Tattoo blood is highly addictive and those who succumb to its temptation are known as "juicers" (of course). They soon waste away and become hollow shells of themselves unless they consume an ever increasing amount of tattoo blood each day to achieve normalcy.
Moving blood from the sack to a tattoo is a minor action, and moving blood from a tattoo back to the sack is a minor action. Blood cannot be directly exchanged between tattoos.
Minor tattoos are the equivalent of at will, encounter or utility powers in D&D 4e and usually take 1 dose to activate. When activated by blood, they give access to extra powers normally not available to a character. I will give examples of minor blood tattoos later in the post.
Tattoo forms take 2 or more doses to activate and are beasts of another feather altogether. Each tattoo form has HP and defenses that do not change relative to the character. When the character takes a full rest, the HP of all her tattoo forms refresh. Each tattoo form is basically a new monster, with its own movement and assortment of attacks and special abilities. If reduced to 0 HP or fewer while in tattoo form, the blood flows back into the bag and the character is dazed until the end of her next turn. Some tattoos are daily forms, which can only be activated once between extended rests.
Blood tattoo magic is highly regulated, and only specialized ritual priests have the tools needed to make the tattoos and the knowledge to prepare the sack that holds the precious blood. The sack is made from the hide of the Ura-Tur (a swamp bogeyman that specializes in snatching victims and draining their fear from them while hiding them from nearby comrades), a leather as transparent as the clearest plastic and much stronger. The needles used are ura-tur spines and the ink is the color-shifting blood of the ura-tur. Certain tattoos denote royal lineage and every named house has a distinctive tattoo as well. Some of the wealthier unnamed houses have donated handsomely to the temple coffers to procure their own tattoos for house members to sport (only 7 houses denoted by the pre-fix "al" before the house name are considered to be actual named houses. 3 of those seven are royal houses that trace lineage to the earliest kings of Siss-Anor. There are several unnamed houses that command more actual power and wealth than any of the named houses, but they do not have the official prestige nor access to many proscribed tattoos). Many occupational guilds also have their own tattoos that mark entrance into their membership.
Common soldiers, guildsmen, house members and the like never have more than 1 dose of blood. The number of doses of blood in a person's bag is a direct correlation to status and influence. It is considered an embarrassment of the worst sort to be unable to activate a tattoo because of excessive juicing. Sul al-Tuz, the royal tax collector who got waxed by the party, was a well known juicer. He could not even transform into the 5 dose phoenix form of the royal house of Tuz, his birthright, and died ingloriously in scorpion form as a result. Nobody much liked Sul al-Tuz and his assignment of upstream tax-collector was a punishment, but he was still of noble blood and the party had to scramble to cover up their role in his death.
Here are a few examples of minor tattoos and tattoo forms: I have made up quite a few more, which I hope to post barring my usual laziness. These have worked really well in combat, giving me a lot of fun tactical options. Starting with several minor tattoos activated and then switching to different forms as the fight progresses makes a tattooed adversary very memorable.
Minor Tattoos:Open Eye of Justice 1 dose tattoo, official mark of an officer in the military who can act as judge in representation of the city state outside of the city proper.
Close Blast 5
+15 vs. Will vs. all enemies in blast. Those hit are blinded and slowed for 1d 4 rounds. All allies in blast gain +2 to attack and damage for the same duration.
Soaring Hawk 1 dose tattoo, a military tattoo
at will power
minor: close burst 20, 1 target in burst. +12 vs. Will, the target is slowed (save ends). Effect: the target is marked until the end of your next turn. If the target violates the mark they are knocked prone.
Shifting Panther 1 dose tattoo, a military tattoo
at will power
minor: shift 3 squares and gain combat advantage against one adjacent enemy until the end of your next turn.
Jaguar 2 dose tattoo form, special mark of the honor guard (military tattoo)
WILL: as tattoo wearer +5
Movement: 8 Swim: 4 Climb: 6 Jump:6
Claw (+17 vs. AC, 2d8+4), bite (+17 vs. FORT, 3d8+8)
Pounce: Jump 6 and make the following attack, +17 vs. REF, 6d8+36, must be at least 1 square away at the beginning of the action
Recharge 5,6: roar, close blast 3, +17 vs. FORT, push 3 squares and knock prone
Special: If an enemy grants combat advantage, standard attack: Skull Bite, +17 vs. FORT, 6d8+36
I might come back to this post later and add the 3 dose giant scorpion form used by sheriff Sul al-Tuz.