Friday, October 22, 2010

Creature Features 16 & 17: Jack-in-the-Pulpits and Witch-Traps

Catching up!

Jack-in-the-Pulpits are an unusually large and complex plant. They consist of a network of thick root-like structures only slightly beneath the soil, radiating out over a 45 degree cone from a tall structure resembling a cleric's pulpit. At this pulpit, the torso, arms and head of an elven man grow, in green leafy vestments. With animated zeal, this false figure proselytizes on the nature of good and evil, the wickedness of false beliefs and modern innovation, and the need to repent violence and destruction and return to a natural way of life. He especially excoriates the armed and armored, beseeching them to put down their implements of war and receive Nature's blessing.

When a sufficient crowd has gathered, the root system secretes a sticky sap up through the soil. If it isn't noticed in time, it is impossible for most humanoids to pull themselves free. Even then, those closest to the Pulpit have a lot of sap-soaked ground to cross, and every bit of it is as sticky as the last. "Jack" falls silent and still at this point. Victims eventually collapse from exhaustion, down into the mire. There they eventually die of dehydration or hunger, and attract animals that also get stuck. The Jack-in-the-Pulpit absorbs their nutrients through the root structure - with captures carrion-eaters included, one small crowd is enough to get a Jack-in-the-Pulpit through it's life cycle. Over the course of a few months the pulpit will fold up over "Jack," dry out and finally burst into a cloud of large seeds that float unnaturally.

Another form of murderous vegetation is the Witch-Trap, which grows exclusively in swamps and other murky locations. Far less animate than the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, assassin vines or other predatory plants, the Witch-Trap substitutes patience and specialization which allows it to expend less energy and therefore eat less.

A living Witch-Trap clump is invisible. It's known from dead samples that they consist of several large pairs of thick, magic-resistant leaves in a jaws-like configuration. These leaves hang open and tipped against to the ground to allow prey to wander between them. Just entering the leaves does nothing - in fact you can walk in and back out safely. But cast any kind of spell - say, in an attempt to see what invisible wall you just bumped into - and the leaves clamp shut and seal tight as the stalk stiffens and lifts you off the ground. The leaves then ooze a toxic sludge that drains life from the spellcaster inside (gives negative levels, in terms of rules) while dissolving flesh and bone as well. In this way, the plant both feeds and recharges its ability to remain invisible and impervious to magic. Should it ever fail to feed for too long (decades), or waste energy on a magic-less meal (a rogue that activated a magic device while in it, for instance), it will become visible. Thus exposed, it is doomed to starvation.

Many a tragic and gruesome report exist from the soul survivors of traveling cohorts of wizards. They tell of watching helplessly as their companions were lifted into the air by an invisible force, held aloft and slowly dissolved before their eyes. Worst of all was that their mighty magic could not save them - indeed they only escaped with their life because they became too terrified to attempt a spell themselves. The best schools of magic make their students study these reports, to demonstrate that sometimes even the greatest incantation is less useful that a simple sharp dagger.

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