Friday, October 29, 2010

Creature Feature 19: Childcatcher Costumes

Another contribution from Steph Cherrywell, I'll let her do the talking:

Art by Steph Cherrywell
A construct creature, based on the idea of trick-or-treating, if there is a festival similar to Halloween in the campaign world.  These creatures pretend to be inanimate but very scary-looking costumes and wait until a child puts them on - then they take possession of the child's body and force them to acquire candy by any means possible  (first begging, then scaring, and finally attacking people if it's allowed to run free long enough.)  The  costume stores some of the energy and uses it to gain more power and control the longer it's worn.  These costumes were created by a hag and set loose as a way of fattening up the local children for eventual eating, without having to go to the trouble of doing it herself (or the expense of building a gingerbread house).

Really, any holiday in your campaign world that involves a) people in costume and b) food can have Childcatchers. I can see a similar version for adults.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unrelated: When we do Halloween, we do Halloween.

The daring steamship bandit Topper Lee, who never met a bank vault he couldn't blow big holes through.

Wanted across all seven skies, Evil-Eye Estrella has left a trail of death, destruction and flustered young ladies.

Left to right: Kitty's six-round mini-singularity instigator, this one's a Quantum-Industrial Labs "Imploder X-9Z." Only a handful of prototypes of the "Imp" were produced - the likelihood of adverse litigation made QUIL reconsider mass-marketing a purse-sized handgun that creates black holes inside people's torsos.

Chris's gun, also sporting a six-round chamber, is a Hydrogen-Carbon Fusion Cell Protocaster, a custom magnum version standard issue to the Priests of the Order of World Commerce. Rumors persist that Lee modified his to fire other ammo, probably due to the high rates of radiation poisoning among OWC's priesthood.

The problem with the Age of Steam was all the coal dust in the air. The problem with the Atomic Age of Steam is that the coal dust can mutate your lungs into a separate organism with its own motives that might clash with your own. Best to wear a mask when outside quantum-filtered air conditioning.

The Hour Grows Late

The most recent Creature Feature was #18. Today is the 26th. Obviously, I've very behind if I'm to have 31 on Halloween.

I have one more from Steph Cherrywell to post, so there's 19. And I know who #31 is, as the finale was the first one I thought up (Steph illustrated it weeks ago). That means I need to come up with 11 more in 6 days, roughly two a day.

I'm also trying to catch up on the work I'm paid to do. All this is to say, I may not make it. Regardless, you can expect a few more before the big finale on Halloween. I'll repeat this Sunday, but I want to thank everyone that's commented and encouraged me to slog through this little experiment in spontaneous creativity. I hope at least something I've spewed out finds life in another's campaign!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Creature Feature 18: The Gelatinous Sphere

"Oh bullshit!" you say. "A Gelatinous Sphere? You're going to give us a reworking of the Gelatinous Cube where you just picked another Platonic solid?"

"Well, this one could roll," I reply coolly.


"Well, how the hell does the Cube move? I mean, if it's on a downward incline it might kinda... slide.. like lard on a skillet. But uphill?"

"Yeah. That's part of why it's lame. Making it faster still makes it lame, though."

"Okay, calm down, I was just jerking you around. The Gelatinous Sphere has nothing to do with the Cube. People call it that because that's what it looks like - a big, floating ball of clear gel, with something vaguely nerve-like in the center. Also, they don't know what else to call it.

Among the oddest entities recorded, very little is know about the Sphere's intelligence, motives, biology or even if there are more than one in existence. One always seems to be present somewhere, though, hovering over the landscape, occasionally pausing to make something that crossed its path spontaneously erupt in flames. Really, it's assumed the Sphere is responsible, since there's no visible action on its part aside from the brief stop in its slow and steady movement. Why it does this is anyone's guess and everyone's woe.

Of course, attempts have been made to slay it, or force it to turn when it nears a settled area. These usually end in disaster. On three recorded occasions after the first volley of arrows, or spells, or ballista bolts struck near the Sphere, a cloud giant's severed, bloody head plummeted out of the blue sky and onto several key members of the chain of command, even though at least once they were in a tent miles away. On two occasions, a thick rain of large, live frogs fell on the soldier's lines, ruining moral and impeding movement. After one of these incidents the Sphere did then turn to the left and away from the village the soldiers wanted to protect, but a month later the entire population died from illness due to the massive amount of dead amphibians littering the streets and wells.

A similar tragedy occurred when the Sphere approached a great desert palace. Unconcerned, the Queen ordered a giant iron box to be built directly in front of the Sphere's path, with two sides left open to allow it to pass through. Sure enough, it entered the box and then, with chains and horses, the sides were lifted and hammered closed by several dozen metalworkers. The Sphere was trapped. The Queen the ordered the Box to be guarded 24/7, and that any living thing approaching it be immediately slain without question.

An hour later, the fish began to fall. First it was small fish. Then larger ones. Occasionally a tuna, or dolphin, or moderately large shark plummeted down on the palace grounds and burst across the golden tiles, lush tapestries and tan flesh of the terrified Court. For days no one could venture out from under shelter less they be slain by falling sea life. The carrion piled higher and higher until structures failed and crumbled. Men and women were crushed beneath roofs, or drowned in rotting fish innards, or struck dead by the stench. The Throne Room was the last place to withstand the onslaught, and the Queen finally got word out by eagle to free the Sphere, hoping it would end this horror once released. The great box was opened... but the Sphere wasn't there. The fish fell until the Queen could tolerate the smell no longer and drown herself in her bath trying to escape it. She was the last living soul in the Palace, and the rain of fish stopped as did her heart.

Scholars, looking back, noted that one hundred miles away, the population of a fishing village starved after every fish in their waters shot straight up into the sky. And on the same day the box was closed, the Sphere was seen incinerating a halfling bard that tried to sing it to sleep in the next kingdom.

Danger aside, these stories do demonstrate that the Sphere can be detered. The cost of doing so is often steep, however.

There, is that better?"


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.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Carrow Campaign: Play Report 1

"David, kill the Queen!"
 I promised play reports, and here's the first. But I didn't want to take the usual route and tell you how the game went myself - after all, most RPG bloggers are GMs. You've had that point of view. Instead, I've asked my players to write the reports, which I'll then add my own commentary to. That way we get a complete picture, which seems much more instructive, and a hell of a lot more entertaining.

Without further adieu, here's Steph Cherrywell's report from her first session - which also happened to be my first session in a long time:

"Here is the journal of Spucky Conkerbucket, gnomish druid. Dungeons and Dragons has been a very different and rewarding experience for me so far. I play World of Warcraft on an RP server, and while I enjoy it a lot , the fact is that the "roleplaying" element and the "gameplay" element are entirely divorced from each other. You can make up any story you want, but your character is never in danger of (really) dying or being arrested unless you decided that's what you want happening in your storyline. And you can go through a dungeon with friends 'in-character', but at the end you have just one choice -- "kill the boss". You can't arrest him and drag him back to the city in chains, or infiltrate the pirate crew and then steal his ship, or decide you agree with him and throw in your lot with his gang, or anything else, gameplay-wise. So it's very exciting to get to try this out!

Spucky, level 1, is walking along with her animal companion, Chops the riding St. Bernard, when she hears the sounds of an argument. It's two monks - Sputnam and Ham - who are arguing about the location of a third, Toby, who went off in the woods to use the bathroom and hasn't returned. Spucky, being a Neutral Good meddling do-gooder sort, offers to help find him, and off we go in the woods. Lucky, Spucky's first feat is Track, and soon we found ourselves at the base of a fallen tree. No sooner did Spucky get up close to look at it than a giant spider popped out and bit her with a surprise attack! Luckily, she didn't get poisoned. Since this was the first session and I didn't know what I was doing, I hadn't chosen any spells beforehand, figuring I'd just decide on what to have when I needed it - just a wee bit against the rules, there! For future sessions I would decide on a 'default' list of spells which would be the ones Spucky had prepared at the start of the adventure unless I said otherwise. I also didn't even consider the possibility of trying to use Charm Animal until Chops had already given the spider a good return bite, and of course, it wouldn't have worked anyway because spiders are Vermin rather than animals. So two ignorants made a right, there! There was an intense combat with Chops biting, Spucky swinging with her quarterstaff, and the two monks doing rushing punch attacks. One of the monks was knocked down and took damage, and Spucky used her sole first-level spell (another little error -- I was supposed to have an extra one due to Wisdom bonus!) to Cure Light Wounds. Yay, my first heal!

[And a major one - he was actually dying. Being behind the wheel of the spider, I almost felt bad for her - it was like that scene at the end of Shaun of the Dead where they are all standing around in a circle screaming and beating on the zombie while Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" blares from the juke box.]

Eventually the spider is defeated without too much trouble, and Spucky and the older monk descended into the hole to look for Toby. I got a little nervous on Spucky's behalf because Chops couldn't come down with her, not being very good at rope-climbing, and at Level 1 most of her attack potential came from his mighty bite and not from the little junior-sized attack staff wielded by a 40-pound spellcaster. The logistics of dog-down-the-rope would come up in the next adventure too -- but he's still a good animal companion to have because he can easily carry a lot more than Spucky herself can. [Chops is like our mascot now. When his turn comes everyone is like "Go Chops!"]

Inside the hole were lots o' webs, some of them with mysterious lumps. We decided to cut loose the most promising lump and see if it was Toby, but in the middle of cutting, scuttling sounds were heard from the darkened part of the room. It turned out there was another spider in the nest! I started to be very paranoid about having Spucky take on an enemy with just one other person and no dog, so we got the bundle out as quickly as possible. However, the spider (which could talk) was actually happy that the other spider was dead. Turns out she was going to mate with and then kill him. I was still a little antsy, probably more than was strictly in-character -- something I need to work on. I am still expecting to do something wrong and get a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style YOU HAVE DIED. I probably will at some point, too, but I bought the Manual of the Planes, so there are lots of nice afterlives Spucky could pick from.

[Steph doesn't give herself enough credit. I had no idea how worried she was about her character getting killed. This was a fun little reversal for me, where there was a massive amount of tension while they knew the spider was there watching them try to get out as fast as they could, all for it to turn out it was as frightened as they were. This was a way to show that immediately attacking everything isn't always the best solution. Oh, between the talking male and the venom-less female I sort of invented a new species of giant spider.]

There seemed to be other things going on in the spider pit, but I didn't want to explore it alone [there were, but they aren't going anywhere], so Spucky went up the rope as quickly as possible and we cut open the web-lump. Toby was inside, and using Detect Poison I was able to determine that he was paralyzed but apparently not dying [I said the female was venom-less. The male still has a role in preparing the nest, like it or not]. We still thought it was a good idea to get him to a healer as quickly as possible, though, and I wasn't going to cut it! The recently-widowered smaller spider ran up out of the pit and scurried off, while we took Toby back to the cart and set off in search of someone who could cure him! Also, I would find out later that the spider's poison glands were apparently worth something. Oops. This may be why I still have barely any money, even a couple sessions later! [No, you don't have any money because I'm a jerk and make barrows full of gold collapse on you. More on that in a later report] I need to learn who has expensive things growing in them, and how to get at the goodies. You can see that I still have quite a bit to pick up, but it's all been very fun so far!

Next time, Spucky meets Agartha the barbarian, and an expedition to the Farm of Doom!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Creature Feature 15: Fused Fey

"Well, I haven't said anything to anyone but... well, that morning I had the bread loaves all set out to rise before I stuck 'um in the oven when Carnlee stopped by. Well, when I came back to 'em, one had risen a little higher than the others, but eh, I figured the yeast was old. Into the oven they went. Well of course the biggest loaf was the first to sell... but do you know it was to Mrs. Cornsdale? Poor dears... and to think they had just finished dinner when the fire started."

"Oh, I'll sell it to you cheap! It's special, you know. Magic, I think, though the blacksmith said nothing of it. It just... had that feel to it, like it was different than all the other blades... anyway, it always struck true for me. Why of course I'm serious! Well I know that's awfully little to ask for a fine weapon like this but... look, I need the coin, okay? You're right, it isn't any of your business what happened to my damn arm, you want the sword or not?"

"But I swear I didn't do anything wrong! I didn't even want to sell the Duchess that straight-razor, but she saw it whilst touring the studio and insisted! I told you, I didn't make it! The silver razor I cast was unadorned... someone must have stolen it and replaced it with the cursed one, knowing the Duchess would see it. Everyone knows she's fond of artwork portraying the Kind Neighbors, so making the handle into a likeness of a Faerie child was a perfect plot... no, it was not my plot! That wasn't a confession..."

Any crafts-person working with great heat or fire should take heed: It's unwise to leave your materials unattended for long. The Fey are a curious folk, but not half so much as they are vengeful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unrelated: I think I may hate Google Instant

Started typing something that began with "How to become an" and this is how Google thinks people usually finish that sentence.

Creature Feature 14: Still Lives

Contrary to the title, Still Lives actually appear to be portraits, most often of wizards and sorcerers. In fact, the painting is a twisted form of undead immortality. They are created when an especially talented artist paints the portrait using paints mixed with the subjects own bodily humors. Thus the subject's life is transferred to the canvas.

A Still Live can move about in the 2D world within its frame, and cast any spells or spell-like powers it had in life. The gaze of a Still Live medusa can petrify, for instance. The Still Life can also stretch its canvas to form an upper torso with head and arms. Often they will lure prey close by holding still, or by claiming to be a trapped innocent, before launching off the wall to pummel and throttle.

Still Lives can feel their paint deteriorate and their canvas fray and slacken. They thirst for fresh bodily fluids, which rejuvenates their abhorrent materials. Most are created as guardians and traps, and thus powerful spell casters are usually chosen by the evil power that makes them. As a physical threat, the Still Live's fists are supernaturally strong, and it can break bones in its grappling embrace, especially when the painting is larger that life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Creature Feature 13: Touring Ghosts

Up to bat again is Steph Cherrywell, who's second book through Slave Labor Graphics is now on Amazon. She's good. Go buy it.  In Steph's own words this time:  

The ghosts of those whose vacations were cut short by untimely death, these ghosts are "tied" to traveling, rather than to a specific place.  They haunt inns at night, messing up rooms and causing food to disappear, and popular tourist spots during the day.   The city elders usually want them hurried on their way, unless of course the most famous spot in town is a haunted house, in which case they might be looking for a way to make them stick around...

I see these as the D&D equivalents of your road ghosts - your Big Joes and Phantom 409s, your Hitchhiking Prom Queens, that sort of thing. The key here is the free roaming thing - most ghosts are haunting a specific place, but touring ghosts move around - in fact, they have to travel every bit as much as a focused haunting must stay put.

Don't sound like much of a problem? Maybe one or two wouldn't be. However, anyone who has taken an extended sabbatical will tell you tourists usually end up meeting other tourists. Then they stick together through the rest of the trip, and meet others. This snowballing effect means that, when touring ghosts come to your town, it may be in a spectral swarm.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creature Feature 12: Iconovores

Hailing from the planes of Entropy, iconovores are a pestilent swarm of information-devouring memes. They are spread via communication - an intelligent being invested with iconovores will spread them to the next intelligence they communicate with. Thus, a book or other written message can sit for years, swarming with iconovores waiting for some hapless soul to glance within.

Once the memes are able to jump to a new host, be it a living mind or other form of communication, they annihilate the information contained in the old. A carrier's mind is often left in ruins, while the pages of a book might become blank. Often an unfortunate wizard has opened their spell book, only to watch it empty as iconovores invade their mind.

Iconovores have no physical presences on our plane. However, in the Ethereal they are visible within their host, as a mass of glowing tube worms constantly squirming through the synapses or glyphs they feed on. On the Ethereal they are quite defenseless, but will still damage the host if simply ripped loose. Only an instance death can promise the host's safety.

On the physical plane, destroying the host entirely will leave the iconovores floating free in the Ethereal. There they can try to infest ethereal creatures like Phase Spiders that can cross back to the physical and, with luck, communicate with something there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Creature Feature 11: Trophy Ghoul

As evidenced by my being behind a day, I'm getting slammed with work this week. Thankfully, Steph Cherrywell has sent a few ideas to help out. This one's all Steph's.

Trophy Ghouls are created when the stuffed and mounted remains of animals killed for sport are raised. These undead beasts may be whole, or they may be only a part of the animal (like a mounted head). The later case can usually float, as can some smaller Trophy Ghouls such as fish. Pelts can become Trophy Ghouls - they move as if whole but can enfold and smother victims.

Art by Steph Cherrywell
Trophy Ghouls often hold a grudge against their slayers, and will prefer them or their descendants over other targets. As former prey, however, they enjoy turning the table on any predator.

For the most part, the average Trophy Ghoul behaves much like a zombie - they are stiff and slow compared to living examples of their species, but hardy and strong. They retain the attacks they had in life. However, when destroyed they burst into noxious clouds of malevolent sawdust that hangs in the air, chasing down and choking the lungs of their foes in one last act of ill will. Fire will annihilate this cloud, and the Trophy Ghoul, for good.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ghostbusters RPG Part 1: I tear up a little when everyone is cheering Lady Liberty

I'm a big fan of Ghostbusters. How big? I think the second movie is just as good as the first, and am offended anyone would think otherwise. That big.

Naturally, I loved the Ghostbusters video game that came out in 2009 - it was an absolute dragon's hoard of fan service. It expanded on all the little details of the films, the pseudo-science behind them and their uniquely humorous occult mythos (you get to fight a fuckin' sloar! Nobody roasted in it's belly that day I can tell you!). The slavish revisiting of every location from the first film did get a little tiring, but it was forgivable when they got away from it in the later half of the game. I do have some issues with the story (did we really need a new young love interest for Venkmen to sexually harass into submission?), but otherwise it was perfect.


You see, at the end of the game there's a voiceover where your character (a nameless rookie) is sent to open their own franchise in another city. Now, back in the 8- and 16-bit days there were several shitty GB games, and a reoccurring theme was having to buy equipment and pick a model of car for the ECTO. Those games sucked, but the idea of building a custom Ghostbusters team stuck with me. What if you got to play that franchise - getting a building and vehicle, hiring a team? And all those things had pluses and minuses.

And what if, instead of a linear plot (the new game was a typical "hit all these stops on the way to save the world" structure), you answered calls from a variety of locations? A family thinks they have a poltergeist, a restaurant's staff is being driven off by black shapes... and of course you get paid when you succeed. Talking to my wife, I realized what I wanted was a Ghostbusters RPG.

Then I thought about the 80s. There was a pen-and-paper RPG for everything in the 80s. Licensed properties were hot - Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, Marvel and DC comics, the list goes on. This continued into the 90s, actually - Men in Black jumps to mind. So what were the chances there was a Ghostbusters RPG?


And it is absolutely awesome.

LATER: Details on the Ghostbusters RPG, the revised rules known as Ghostbusters International, how to get a hold of them and why you want to.

We Interupt This Blog for a Very Important Message

It's National Coming Out Day. All you have to do is look at the news to see the pain LGBTQ people are put through every day, and yet there are slimebags like Carl Paladino that STILL incite anti-gay violence and harrassment.

As a straight ally, I am SICK OF IT. My wife is bisexual. Many of my friends and clients are LGBTQ. The thought of anyone DARING to treat them as anything less than human is enough to make me violent.

2010 has to be the year it stops. Every gay youth that kills themselves in despair, every person beaten, raped or murdered for being who they are, every lost job, every slur, every time the word "gay" is used disparagingly, all the stupid jokes... every last bit of it is a stain on the soul of Humanity. There must be no more tolerance for hate.

You don't have to be LGBTQ to come out today. I'm prepared to fight for my loved ones, my friends, my fellow human beings... if you feel the same, announce it somewhere today. Twitter, Facebook, your blog, with a can of spray paint, wherever. And the next time you witness heterosexism or homophobia, remember that silence is no longer an option.

Creature Feature 10: Glorpers

As undead horrors go, glorpers out-rival vampires for verisimilitude - they are entirely indistinguishable from the living. The only give away is the caution they must show against moderate impacts, and the appalling results should their caution fail. A glorper's body is a barely-contained mass of necrotic jelly, under intense pressure beneath the thin wall of force created by its own will to remain human. For this reason, glorpers move slowly, are terrified of dogs and children and avoid crowds and slippery surfaces. Some impacts will only partially burst them, and with enough feedings they can reconstitute the loss, but severe events like falling down stairs or being trampled will disperse them beyond what their will can reform. If the remnants of such unfortunates are not properly cleansed with purified water, they will remain conscious of their state for all eternity.

Once a month a glorper must feed on enough subdued humans to satiate the necrotic jelly that forms it - otherwise the jelly destabilizes and the glorper cannot hold itself together. It feeds by draining constitution points as it seeps necrotic jelly onto the victim, melding with their own flesh and absorbing it. The glorper can let them live, but rarely does as few wish to spread their condition.

A glorper's jelly infects those that contact it with the condition. Each day they match their will against the infection; when they have failed enough times to equal their constitution they have fully succumbed and are now glorpers themselves.

Glorpers attack sleeping victims, always. If forced to fight, they will do so from a distance as they try to flee. A glorper is capable of launching one of the following as a missile each round - both eyes, the tongue, or as many fingers as it wishes. All burst on contact and risk infecting the target. The eyes do not leave the glorper blinded, but do instantly blind the target with no save for one day. The tongue makes the target mute for a day and nauseous for 5 rounds. Each finger does acidic damage. These limbs must all be regrown over the course of a month.

Any blow disables a glorper, but also splashes necrotic jelly five feet in each direction. Any blow dealing more that half its hit points will completely splatter it over a 10-foot radius. Pure water will dissolve it without this effect, in a one-to-one ratio.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Creature Feature 9: The Redshifter

A Redshifter is an extraplanar entity that warps gravity and time. Time slows the closer you get to one. The creature itself is almost pure red, and the area surrounding it and anything or one approaching it become increasingly red, while the rest of the world gets bluer as you approach it. This effect is caused by light slowing down as it nears it, and speeding as it escapes.

This means that the entity has already done anything you see it doing. From nearby, you see those further away doing things they haven’t done yet. The being itself seems able to warp this effect at will. Additionally, the creature can create a gravitational focus in front of it to pull objects towards it or to “slingshot” them away by letting them orbit the point, then releasing them. It cannot select what is pulled and what isn’t, other than itself. Finally, sound completely vanishes within 30 feet of the creature.

Redshifters are best described as “alien.” Their actions are unpredictable and impossible to comprehend. They are equally as likely to attack as ignore entirely, but on the few occasions more than one has been recorded, all have sought to slay one another.

Art by Steph Cherrywell
 A Redshifter affects time. Mechanically, this means a few things. Initiative is rolled, but is severely warped - every five feet of distance from the creature subtracts 1 from the roll. If the creature is not yet 30 feet from its last place of cover, players likely aren’t even aware of it yet and if they are, they are under blind-fighting rules until time catches up. Only those within 15 feet see it where it currently is. All others remain under blind-fighting rules, missing if they specifically target where they see it. If further than 15 feet away and ACTUALLY blinded, they simply stand no chance of striking it, as they can’t infer its “next” move based on where it last was, and it makes no sound.

Once a a round, the creature can force one attack or other action involving it to be rerolled. The first roll never happened - this is merely a reflection of how confusing navigating time around the creature is.

The Redshifter can use its gravitational focus to hurl small stones or other objects at deadly speeds. It can also reflect ranged attacks back at the attacker. This is harder to do accurately the longer the range (and therefore higher the speed) of the missile. Even rays and some other magic attacks can be thus deflected, but they require the most effort.

The other use for the focus is to disarm or even bodily drag foes forward. When created, all creatures and objects within 45 are dragged forward 10 feet. The Redshifter can’t maintain a single focus longer without risking being struck from behind.

Since this gravitational focus is not selective, it usually leaves a tight ball of debris in its wake, which falls to the earth afterwards. It is possible to fire a missile of some type at the Redshifter while its creating a focus to deflect or drag something else, and strike the Redshifter unerringly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Creature Feature 8: Opossum of the Grotto

(With thanks again to Kitty Lowrance)

Some say it’s only a myth, and others say it’s a real place. Still others believe it exists somewhere at the heart of every great swamp. It is a grotto, rising from the mist and the sludge to shelter a lone, albino opossum.

There are many who devout their lives to searching for this opossum, for it is said to be very wise and very magical. Some say it even holds sway over life and death, and can ferry souls back to this realm that seemed utterly annihilated.

However, to when the Opossum’s boon, one must first accept the Kiss. By kissing the Opossum, one is bound beneath an unbreakable geas to complete a task of the Opossum’s choosing. One cannot know what task they will be forced to do prior to the Kiss - if they are told to commit an atrocity they will have no choice but to carry it out. For this reason, only the foolish and the truly desperate seek the Grotto, and most die wandering the swamps long before they ever do.

If attacked the Opossum will defend itself as an extremely powerful necromancer that favors direct attacks over summoning undead. However, it can and will summon various swamp creatures to aid it - will ‘o’ wisps, shambling mounds and rogue trents being most common. If slain, the Opossum’s influence over all those under the Kiss will briefly lift, until it returns in a new location months later, set on revenge.

Creature Feature 7: The Structured

Originating somewhere in the planes of pure Order is a great construction - a structure so perfect and untouched by entropy that mortal minds ache simply contemplating it. The forces that rule there loathe the state of the other planes - in truth the very existence of other planes less structured than their grand conception is proof that existence could be further improved on. Thus, the massive “city” is ever seeking to manifest within and restructure other realities.

On the front lines of the eons-old invasion are the Structured. The Structured are part-construct and part-organism, having been left less-than-”perfect” by the forces of the Still City to let them better operate in non-structured environments. Structured rarely, if ever, resemble the creature they once were - in fact multiple beings may have been combined, or one being may have been split into many. Usually the structured resemble platonic solids made of some species of flesh, with sensory organs on some surfaces and at least one limb or appendage of a metallic structure. This is usually a multi-purpose weapon.

Structured capabilities vary by the purpose of the individual, but all usually have the following abilities. A Structured can emit an energy blast every three rounds, with the effect of either locking the target in a brief stasis, dispelling any magical effects, or dealing damage as body tissue is reorganized at an atomic level. The result of this last use is a non-healing wound that is covered in tiny blocks of carbon and other base elements. Note that none of these attacks are magical in nature - in fact, the Structured are surrounded in a permanent anti-magic field extending one foot in all directions.

Structured are always equipped with a gripping mechanism that can neatly remove flesh. All Structured are also capable of performing Restructuring - using materials taken from other life to repair themselves - and can even built simple new Structured in only a few rounds. Structured made from non-living tissue are small, weak and usually lack intelligence. A team of 5 can usually turn a living being into a full-powered new Structured in a half-hour’s time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Creature Feature 6: The Waxen Image

Waxen Images are golem-like constructs made of living wax surrounding a specially-built lantern that acts as a skull. The lantern contains a blue flame - the driving essence of the creature - and is often magically shielded to prevent simple “create water” spells and the like from snuffing it out.

When created, a variation on the standard summoning spells is performed. Whatever the result of this spell would have been, is instead encoded into the Waxen Image and it takes on both the appearance and any special powers of that creature. Thus a Waxen Image of a cockatrice shares that monster's death gaze, and one of a lamia would resist magic. Even natural abilities, like sharp claws or venoms, are supernaturally replicated. Most Waxen Images have up to four forms imprinted, and may shift through them at will.

In addition to the powers of its stolen form, the Waxen Image heals damage rapidly by resealing cuts. Severed limbs become inert but can be reattached instantly. Only fire does lasting damage, melting away and annihilating the creature’s form. Still, it will attack until all wax is gone from the lantern.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Creature Feature 5: The False Moon

The False Moon is a rare type of giant arachnid, of the "Harvestmen" or "Daddy Longlegs" family. It’s also a chameleon: Its tremendously long legs and the smaller portions of the body shift tone to blend in with the night sky, while its most prominent feature - the great round orb of its rear thorax - is an almost perfect mimic of the moon, distorted to show the proper face to all directions. It’s bio luminescent and can even cast “shadows” over itself, or darken portions out to achieve the proper phase.

The False Moon primarily dines on stray wolves and other nocturnal creatures that are easily confused by it, but it will also stalk travellers moving after dark. It tries to wait for overcast nights when its competition is hidden, then attempts to mislead prey by making it appear they’re going in a different direction than they thought. It will repeat this behavior for nights, and eventually show itself even when the real moon is present, all in an effort to wear its food down.

When a False Moon has tired of playing with its food, it will approach (the vision of the moon getting steadily bigger is disconcerting enough). Once close enough, it has enough reserves of what is dubbed “Lunar Venom” to spray the contact poison once. If the victim cannot resist the moderately strong drug, they will lose all willpower and become completely open to suggestions from the soft, whirring “voice” of the False Moon. This is usually a way to make prey hold still as they are eaten, but it can be used to make a party member turn on friends, in a sluggish zombie-like manner.

Another tactic of the False Moon is to stoop down, pick prey up with its mandibles, and stand at full leg extension - roughly 70 feet. It then releases the victim and watches them plummet.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Switch-Witch Addendum

I've made an edit to the Switch-Witch to give Kitty Lowrance credit, as the concept was mostly her own, right down to the name. I just elaborated on it.

In other news, Steph Cherrywell will be joining me in illustrating some of our month's beasties! She's already done the Grounded Ghost, and more are coming, including our Halloween Grand Finale.

Finally, a note on stats: I'm probably not going to worry about them. Stating things up well is truly the hardest part, and I don't want to rush it. However, I may retroactively add stats as part of a super-cheap PDF. That will depend on how much interest this garners between now and then.

Creature Feature 4: The Grounded Ghost

(A big, big thanks to Steph Cherrywell, who will be contributing art to these throughout the month! I also made a lot of this entry up based on the image she sent, so she gets extra double special credit for this one)

Many years ago a hoard of troll-like creatures swept through the land. They snatched up and devoured anything they encountered with their prehensile tongues, and tore down forests to build colossal fires for no discernible purpose. Armies that rode out to meet them were slaughtered, discovering too late that while the monsters could be slain, their spirits seeped into the earth with their blood, congealing below the surface and regenerating. Just as soldiers celebrated victory, a new wave of foes would rise from the dirt. Humans called it the Rippling War, because it was fought in a perfect, growing ring as the monsters spread every outward, leaving nothing but fire behind them.

Everything changed when the Druids appeared at the front lines of the Ripple. None realized so many existed until that day, and now most have forgotten the great roaring armies that poured from the forest. They came armed with scimitars of carved bone and long pikes of cedar core. As the monsters fell, the Druids rolled their corpses away and drove the pikes down into the dirt where they once lay. Soon the creatures realized something was wrong, and they retreated. For weeks the Druids hunted them, always marking the spot their blood fell with a cedar post. No new beasts rose, and the Rippling War was over.

Art by Steph Cherrywell
Most of the posts have weathered away, taking the spirit they pinned with them. Others have been buried by time, or paved over, or lost in great cataclysms. But there are some that remain, overgrown and worm eaten in the forest, or tall and lonely in a secluded glen. Disturb one, and you might hear a gruff voice ask your help. “You pull,” it may say, “and I’ll push!”

Grounded Ghosts are actually ethereal creatures bound beneath the soil by a sacred cedar pole. They cannot move or take any action while the pole remains, and can only speak if the pole is touched or otherwise disturbed. Removing the pole or destroying it by any means will allow the monster to become corporeal again. It will be very hungry.

In the flesh, Grounded Ghosts are large, strong and tough. Their tongues are actually their throat turned out, and have a “mouth” on the end for dragging prey into their huge gullets. The tongue turns back in like a rolled sock as it retracts, enfolding the victim and eventually spitting them into its stomach. The beast can stretch to accommodate prey as big as it is, and prefers to eat things alive. It isn’t above pummeling prey to death or tossing them into a fire first if they struggle too much. Overall, Grounded Ghosts are obsessed with destruction, and will slay, burn and tear apart all they encounter. A free Ghost will likely seek out trapped kin.

Creature Feature 3: The Switch-Witch

EDIT: I am remiss for not crediting Kitty Lowrance for this one, as the concept was almost entirely her own, right down to the name.

These Fey are made of living hickory - extremely long supple branches forming the rough figure of a human. They are the height of an average human, but their lash-like fingers can reach up to 15 feet away to deposit welts on the flesh of their foes.

Switch-Witches grow when the cries of a child unjustly “switched,” spanked, struck or even beaten are heard by sympathetic Fey. These Fey plant the cries, then gather the child’s tears to water them. By the next twilight a Switch-Witch will have grown in the spot. It will then track down and whip the perpetrator mercilessly until dawn. Lashing them unconscious is enough - the Switch-Witch will wait until they recover enough to reawaken, then beat them back under, but won’t beat them to death unless they are attacked with enough power to potentially slay them.

A Switch-Witch will leave at dawn, but will return every night to repeat its retribution for a full lunar cycle. If slain, they’ll regrow from the same spot and return the next night. The only way to dispell them prematurely is to dig up the “seed.” The Switch-Witch itself will never lead anyone back to this spot - at dawn it simply wanders into the woods and dissolves into sticks. Only the child it is revenging can find the seed, via a supernatural intuition.

While the Switch-Witch may seem like a boon - a protector of the weak and small - one must remember it is Fey, and the blessings of the Fey are indistinguishable from their curses. The Switch-Witch punishes a light smack on the bottom that’s immediately regretted just as viciously as a severe beating from an unrepentant abuser. Furthermore, it will often decide anyone who could conceivably have contributed to the situation also need punishing - the rest of the household for not stopping it, someone who contributed to the perpetrator’s bad mood by being rude that day, or the wood wright that carved the paddle used could all wake up to the cruel caress of the Switch-Witch.

A Switch-Witch can attack with both arms each round, using them as huge whips, with each of six fingers leaving angry red welts. They will tear cloth to shreds - padded armor will be destroyed by the first hit. Other kinds of armor are ignored as the Switch-Witch’s fingers always find gaps, seams and other ways around them. The damage dealt has the potential to be lethal, but the creature will only do enough damage to leave its victim unconscious. It will not extend this concern for anyone that tries to interfere.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Creature Feature 2: The Malignancy

Malignancies are pure hatred, spite and bitterness distilled and made corporeal. In fact, each one represents an entire lifetime of negativity, compressed into a tight wad of churning flesh. The creation of one requires the processing of both the soul and corpse of a humanoid that whiled away an entire lifetime in anger, in a method not dissimilar to refining grain alcohol.

The resulting being barely maintains the form of a human head, writhing with temporary sensory organs, digits and mouths that re-submerge just as quickly as they arise. Disturbingly, taken alone these pieces are often very attractive - supple lips, long dark eye-lashes and comely noses only add to the horror of the overall mass.

Malignancies float at roughly head-level, and it's not uncommon for the twisted sorcerers that make them to sew on expensive wigs, attach fine jewels and drape cloaks that trail below them and create the illusion of a full figure.  

Malignancies and corporeal undead, but their ooze-like nature allows them to ignore most bashing wounds, and quickly seal up other kinds of damage.

Each mouth unleashes a string of intensely foul curses that assault the will of its victims, trying to drag them into the same spiral of misery that birthed it. By focusing its fueling force, it can also spawn a great black orb of an eye, filled with such supernatural loathing that its gaze can boil flowing blood, damaging the constitution of it's target. This assault is particularly draining, though, and weakens the creature equally. The Malignancy is primarily interested in feeding on the facial tissue of its victims, though. It will try to weaken them via other attacks, then get close enough to use it's multiple bite attacks until killing the prey.

Curiously, the Malignancy seems only interested in eating the face, suggesting that it gains nothing but psychological satisfaction from the act.

As a closing note, there are legends of Malignancies being instantly vanquished by the site of an item that reminds them of a lone happy moment in their life, or proof that they were not as spurned as they believed. Whether these tales hold truth is unconfirmed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Creature Feature 1: That Which Was Taken Outside

According to common lore, these creatures are the twisted revenants of dead newborns. Only those left to die by exposure in cold climates become the phantasmal beasts - in some places placing a baby in the wilderness is the preferred method of infanticide, an attempt to somehow defer guilt upon Nature itself.

Regardless of origin, Those Which Were Taken Outside are a very real phenomenon when traversing the wintry woods. Haunting the few scenes of their short lives, those on the ethereal plane can see them clearly as a naked and frostbitten child, sitting on the cold ground and staring. On that plane they are at their weakest; they use it only to hide and sneak. They can enter our own plane at will, in the form of an over-sized, child-like thing with a massive, softened head and cord-like, withered limbs.

Those Which Were Taken Outside attack by manifesting in physical form directly before their chosen victim, usually the party member that reminds them most of the parent that abandoned them. A manifestation is preceded for a round by the sound of a baby crying, giving anyone familiar with such creatures a chance to avoid being taken off guard. Otherwise, the attack comes as a complete surprise, as the child-thing lurches forward and “embraces” its victim in a death-grip. While some speculate Those Which Were Taken Outside seek only the warmth and love denied them, in truth they leech heat out of all they touch, and those in their arms are doomed if they cannot break free.

To add the the horror, the monster grows larger as it drains warmth and, finally, life. This makes it harder to escape the longer one is trapped, and the beast only moves on to the next victim after dropping the frost-burned, stiffened corpse of the prior. All the while, its gaping mouth never stops emitting the piercing cry of an abandoned babe slowly succumbing to the chill night air.