Friday, December 18, 2020

Giants (also Cyclops and Ettin)

 AD&D Giants
When it comes to the inspiration for AD&D's giants, some are obvious. Cloud Giants are of 'Jack and the Beanstalk' origin, Fire and Frost giants are from norse myth, stone giants are likely those mentioned briefly in 'The Hobbit.' Hill giants are more generic and honestly are a bit cruder and wilder than most giant myths but serve as a general sort of 'wild' giant. Storm Giants probably have the most confused origin- they seem to be a combination of the grecian Cyclops who forged thunderbolts for Zeus, and Zeus himself, with a curious underwater bent as well. This becomes doubly confusing when we consider the Titan entry, which is more akin to a grecian god with stated good relations with Storm Giants, so there's a sort of muddled sense of a grecian pantheon thing going on with echoes of gigantomachia and titanomachia bouncing every which way.

Either way, giants are notable in that they carry significant personal treasure in their giant bags in addition to their usually decent treasure types- around 1000-6000 gp, typically, making them a target on par with dragons in terms of 'where the good loot at.' Many modules dealing with giants take great glee in making lists of wacky giant bag contents, though I think players would often rather just have the coinage most the time, so better to use both if in doubt of how much high level treasure to dispense. Still, giants hit hard, have ranged attacks, and, while usually supposed to be rather stupid in a fairy-tale way, are intelligent enemies, and usually have assorted pet giant animals as well, so the reward must match the threat posed.

Great mathematical detail is given for the 'realistic' proportions of slaughtering of women and children giants because of course it is important to say 'if more than 4 hill giants are encountered in their lair numbers 5, 7, and 8 will be giantesses (6Hd, and treat as ogres for damage/attack) and 6, 8, and 10 will be young hill giants (roll percentile dice for size)' because clearly if you encounter a 1% grown giant the only sane action is to engage it in battle

 I will never not dunk on Gygax for this shit

Each giant has a minor quirk in addition to the gradually scaling power levels and various pets- Cloud giants are hard to surprise due to smell(obvious reference to 'fee fi fo fum I smell the blood of an englishman') and 10% can levitate stuff, and presumably it is this power that allows some cloud giants to live on magical cloud islands (the non-levitators just live on mountaintop castles).

Fire Giants and Frost Giants are immune to fire/cold respectively, and to my player who was disappointed that firegiant skin was not suitable for a grisly leather armor akin to red dragon hide, I believe this is because a red dragon has fire resistant hide, but fire/frost giants simply don't mind being hot/cold, so their parts are not going to shield a human from those effects.

Hill Giants don't have any thing unusual going for them besides being the weakest variety, and stone giants are just ranged rock-throwing specialists compared to other giants being better at melee, but Storm giants suddenly break away from the others with prophetic powers, lightning-throwing, weather control, and lightning immunity, not to mention a good alignment.

Other giant-types I include here are Ettins, which are basically just a hill giants with two heads and two weapons with no rock-throwing, fog giants and mountain giants which are superfluous variations of cloud and hill giants, fomorians who are a boring ugly giants (a poor adaptation of their irish origins to be sure) the Fir Bolg giants who have fey-type magic and are a better (if somewhat conflated with the fomorians) reference to the Book of Invasions, and the Verbeeg, who are a more grounded type of giant, more of a folk tale or Goliath figure that a true towering menace. Cyclops are not present save for the somewhat bizarre Cyclopskin, but are easily solved by giving any other giant one eye, poor depth perception, and references to the Odyssey.

Giants are typically too-high level to see much use in many campaigns, which is a shame, for like dragons, I think they're a good choice for players to learn to be sneaky and negotiate from positions of weakness. Better yet, it is more immediately clear to certain players that sassing a giant is a Bad Idea, while they may fail to demonstrate social graces in the presence of high-ranking humans, making a giant person an excellent symbolic demonstration of might. I did get to use giants once though, and rather than being mere blobs of danger-math to wade through as I feared, I found my limited run of Saga of the Giants (the BFRPG take on Against The Giants) to show that combat with seemingly unmanageable numbers of giants is not a hopeless affair after all, but instead took the players back to how they fought back when they were level 1 and feared errant forks thrown by goblins and what have you and they executed much scheming. Giant-sized scenery works well for creative problem solving in the moment too, allowing for giant sized dungeon delves to be pretty fun. I had never thought much of giants before, but now think they're pretty good monsters to introduce to players who are becoming confident in their powers.

Sunset Realm Giants

So in my setting, giants aren't exactly their own thing, but are human-derived. Halflings are just small humans, so giants are just big humans (though each considers themselves the norm and the others to be the deviation, naturally). The world runs on fantasy logic, not biology, so there are various ways to become giant beyond just 'tall people having even taller kids.' Suckling on the milk of a giant mammal can cause someone to become unusually giant, eating too much can cause you to swell into a giant instead of just getting fat, being stretched out can leave you permanently elongated, etc etc.

That said, there are some categories and sustainable populations that are not just fantasy-logic big humans instead largely being excuses to have some lore easily ready if someone else's module brings up giants in the more specific D&D variety rather than generically, and those are what are detailed following-

Emerald Desert Giants-
Though their origins are shrouded in mystery (it was mad alf science making giants from loamy soil), these giants were long-time bandits of the realm of Oroboro until they were defeated by a band of adventurers who claimed their mountain fortress and exiled them to the copper-and-salt chasm of the emerald desert. One such adventurer took the time to fund their settlement of the region(and install a more desirable leader) and help friendly trade routes be established. Smaller populations of these giants live among humans in Oroboro or the Emerald City, and even further north, there is a mendicant cult of Ebetheron-worshipper giants who tend an ancient magical Alf fields of wheat and are a vital non-wizard source of living Shrink effects.

These giants once subscribed strictly to the 'Heightarchy,' which is essentially, whoever is biggest is bestest, with triumphant smallfolk being assumed to be treacherous and dishonest. While one might expect this viewpoint to cause considerably conflict with nearby humans and halflings (and one would not be wrong), for the most part this viewpoint has been tempered by the proliferation of Grow/Shrink magic in the region, which has eroded the absolutist concept of height and allowed people of all sizes to see eye-to-eye, as well as the humbling experience of a 600 foot tall metal giant (an enlarged clockwork automata used by the aforementioned adventurers) sacking their bandit castle, which even for the heightarchy purists seemed to be a divine sign that dominating people just because they were smaller than you might not be the way to go.

Fire Giants- These gigantic, molten creatures are quite rare on the surface, mostly dwelling in the deeps along with other burning creatures drawn to the Undersun. Dwarves believe them to be a form of Svart, grown huge and fiery in the depths but maintaining their humanoid form rather than hatching into a dragon, but Heleognostics and Undersun cultists believe them to be the offspring of fire-saints who melted into the earth and found love in molten rock, meaning fire giants are the offspring of human and elemental earth, a fiery soul giving them anthropomorphism. The Skeleton War believes them to be just another attempt from the Undersun to break free and counts them among their enemies.

Either way, their lives and dramas are located deep in the earth, only occasionally surfacing via volcanos. In the current era, only one Fire Giant is available for comment- the Soul-Smith of the Fault, perhaps the greatest smith of magical arms and armor of all time, enslaved with his brethren in ancient times by Sarkomand the Omnipotent, left to battle dragons alone for centuries, and finally befriended by humans from the nameless Mercian penal colony that would eventually become Phillipston, AKA  City of the Rats. The Drachenjaegers, an Oroboro dragon-hunting company, would eventually come in contact with this giant centuries later and unite though love of megafauna-hunting, and so the Soul-Smith would become one of the highest ranking members of the Drachenjaegers until the end of his lengthy life.

Frost Giants- the Winter Moon is cold and merciless, but its chill light is not entirely a lifeless one. In the Auroral Reaches that tower over Wrecker's Bay, this frozen wasteland is home to many gigantic, white-furred beings that have adapted to a cold and frozen world, and among them are humans who have forsaken the warmth of the sun and given their all to the Winter Moon. Their hearts have frozen, out there, and are not really considered human any longer due to their alignment with a Moon rather than the Sun. Though occasionally prone to spasms of tyranny and empire directed towards humanity, most of their ire is directed at the Winter Court, those Alves and associated fey beings that hide in the reflections of ice and snow but consider themselves the masters of the winter season, a blasphemy the frost giants can ill-ignore if their own ideology of cold harshness and adaptation is to be seen as true. This ideology aside, there is history between frost giants and cold-dwelling elves(a bit of borrowing from themes of Dominions games by Illwinter)- the Fomorians, giants of the weather-machine ravaged Fault, warred with the Partholonians, the ancestors of the Winter Court of Alves, for centuries, and the giants of the Auroral Reaches trace lineage to this historic conflict and remember it through myth and elders alike. With neither side having much trace of warmth in their hearts, the conflict drags out without end.

Other frost giants can occasionally be found in the Moonlands, humans that forsook their humanity in order to survive in a frost-scourged moon cycle, and these roaming giants must pursue their frozen master lest they be left behind to melt. Those who survive the pilgrimage find their way to the Coast of Ice and Bone sooner or later, and must make one final push through the humans of Wrecker Bay to ascend the Auroral Reaches and join their giant brethren.

As for what the winter moon thinks of all this, or indeed if it thinks at all, none can say.

this would be typical fashion of late 4th age Wemezong & giant defender, with jungle-suited disposable fiber shawls, skirts, and hoods being worn over nigh-invulnerable polymer undershirts imported from the newly-allied Gondalons.

Stone Giants- The north deserts and jungles of the Fault have always been home to very large people- a gene-plague split the Gondalon star-people into mutant amazonians, ogres, and inbreds, burly pirates  attempted to invade the place a few hundred years later, Oza, Last Retainer of Sarkomand, birthed several children to the people there over the long eternity of true invulnerability, but tallest of all were the offspring of Yrn, who stole the secrets of golem-making from the accursed depths of Stonefast Two, carved herself a twenty-foot tall statue to defend her people from the dragons, and ended up making the golem her lover as well. The ensuing children were thankfully less rocky, but grew up no smaller than their larger parent, and so soon became a warrior-caste of the Wemezong people, the biggest of already big warriors, able to serve as siege weaponry against the draconic hordes that plague the Fault. As the world became more interconnected, Stone Giants found opportunities to do more besides throw rocks at dragons in exchange for wildly elevated social status for the survivors, and due to being raised among humans anyway, have only trouble fitting into human societies in the literal sense and now most cosmopolitan areas have at least one stone giant at any given time, whether tourist or citizen.

Cloud/Storm Giants-
In the fairy-tale realm of Queen's Coast, there are castles in the sky. Giant castles! Filled with Giants!

Why is anyone's guess. Some manner of interbreeding with cloud-nymphs? Ancient elf shenanigans? It is generally accepted these are the largest of giants, but the consistent inconsistency with which they are described, size wise (from 30 feet at the smallest, to being to humans as humans are to mice), and the psychedelic means of accessing their realm (rainbow bridges and the like), and most saliently of all, the complete lack of meaningful political impact on the lands below, has lead investigating scholars to theorize the sky giants may be some manner of dreamrealm incursion similar to Elfland, rather than being fully present in the waking world.

Apart from the usual bardic tales of adventurers retrieving giant-sized treasures from the sky and fooling giant caricatures of local political figures, more sober accounts of the sky obtained through Heleognostic research teams ascending to heights unheard of via Gondalon Float-Jelly Airships depict it as a strange land (or lack thereof) indeed, similar in tone to the deep caverns of the earth, simply with agoraphobia instead of claustrophobia as the theme between inexplicable ancient ruins and tremendous monstrosities. The sky is, after all, a borderland of sorts, floating between the daylit lands and the High Howling Darkness so a certain degree of chaos might need to be expected, and perhaps the sky giants are simply the chaos growing more anthropomorphized and familiar as it nears the lands of humanity.

Cyclops- thanks to my players to reminding me of their exploits and adventures with regards to these giants.

Cycladea is a strange land, once a peninsula that broke into flying winged mountains that flew across the sea and settled as a reef-rimmed archipelago (save for the flying mountain Aakasa Parvat, but I digress). Many thrilling tales of the 5th age come from these vaguely grecian (and entirely lungfungusian) islands, such as the ascendancy of the Golden Sun pantheon and Emperor Lychin over the other islands. Or the Burning of Bebrica, or the Shelling of Dolonia, or the Anarchy of Abystra, the Defiling of the Island of the Gods, the Exodus of the Fanged Plague, the chilling discovery of the Empty Thrones of Heaven, the inspiring tale of the rise of the New Sun Aurum, the Trials of the Drachenjaegers, the conversion of the Holy Beasts, etc etc.*
*This all is a warped historical viewpoint of what the players actually did

But, lets focus on the Cyclops now. Giants served the first gods of Cycladea you see, the mightiest of the mighty exalted to greater heights both literally and figuratively, heroes grown in stature to match their stories, and passing down their inherited larger-than-life size to their families. But some of the hero-giants saw the ascendency of the Three Goddesses not as glory and unity, but a witch-covens coup, and spurned the three goddesses. For their impertinence, they were half-blinded and cast into the depths of the earth to toil in cramped mines, forever scraping their shoulders and banging their heads. Their remaining eyes grew monstrous in the dark from all the straining to see in dim candle-light, though all there was to see was the earth's wealth which they had to turn over to cruel Mysian kings, and the terrible guardian beasts the gods set to torment them and keep them contained in the darkness. Still, they kept some things from the earth for themselves, and dreamed of a day when they would have justice against the goddesses.

And one day, they got their justice. Though at this point it is rather unclear whether the Cruel King was assassinated by the forces of Emperor Lychin, the Golden Sun liberators, or, ironically, the foreign Devils the Golden Sun came to Cycladea in pursuit of, the end result was that the giants were freed from the mines and sailed off to the nearby uninhabited island of Arborea to settle, with some joining the effort to unify the isles and cast down the goddesses. While the rest of Cycladea quickly adopted the new Imperially-sanctioned religion of the Golden Sun in the theological power vacuum, the giants once again refused to bow to any gods, having a great distrust of such entities. This time, however, they were not punished for their misotheism, and were simply left alone. Over the years, the island of the cyclops, Arborea, started to become overcrowded, so young cyclops with no place to inherit would leave the island to seek their fortune elsewhere, hiring on to Cycladean ships as living siege weapons to deter pirates and seamonsters. This was an idea that seemed reasonable in theory but in practice, due to poor depth perception, left much to be desired. However, the excellent low-light vision of a Cyclop's single large eye eventually led them to another, more suitable role- that of night lookouts. Nowadays, Cycladean galleys stick to ballista instead of cyclops-flung rocks, and give young cyclops their free boatrides to new lands in exchange for duty as spotters and lookouts. Besides the size and monocular vision, Cyclops origins are almost entirely of the 'heroically-scaled humans' sort of giant with a dash of ancient curse, and live comfortably enough among humans, even if they have to sleep with the entire length of the bedroom rather than just a bed. There is, however, one common form of cultural clash- Assuming they are raised on Arborea, it is likely they will inherit the traditional misotheism, so any cleric-types will be more of a 'miscellaneous spirit and demon wrangler' than devoted to the gods.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ghouls and Ghasts

This post was like really long and then some occult function deleted everything upon returning to the tab, the undo function didn't work to return my lost text, and all help/google searches on how to fix this returned only the wailing and gnashing of teeth of people who the same thing had happened to

3 paralyzing attacks very dangerous

stinky double ghoul

I suspect my shallow covering of the baseline monsters is the least interesting thing about these posts so I don't feel too bad about feeling too bad to rewrite this part from scratch

A Ghoul is a corpse or living being possessed by a Ghul, but more on that later. They are the second-most common form of undead in the Daylands, the most common being corpses that rise within their own tombs to speak with their descendants/drive off grave robbers. They are especially common in Saresare, as their undead-but-also-disease nature makes Vulch-lullabies unable to set them to rest.

Ghul, by contrast, is a term used to describe the spirits of obligate carnivore somethings from the second solar age. Their relation to the Serpent Empire is unclear, as those records must have burned in the descent of Yg-A the Undersun, as is what relation they have to humans. What is known, for elves alive then are alive now, is that whatever the Ghul were, they and the rising elf hegemony didn't get along and the ghul did not survive into the 3rd age.

However, they didn't stay extinct either. Through exploitation of the elemental covenant of life itself, the ghul persisted as a curse, a disease, a gestalt evil spirit of cannibalism. When certain entities (most notably humanoids such as elves and humans, but also, notably, dogs) eat human flesh (or are attacked by a ghoul), they become vulnerable to, as it is variably called, the Hunger (in Vint-Savoth), the Grinning Plague (Saresare), or most simply, Ghul Fever. It has been studied extensively due to being a potential undead-apocalypse agent rivaled in scope only by the Skull Moon, and so all civilizations that have survived more than a few generations are aware of the signs, symptoms, treatment, and control of this plague.

Stage 0- Exposure
The saliva of a ghoul is, in fact, ectoplasm, liquid ghul-spirit colonies, produced in endless quantity regardless of hydration. Ectoplasm evaporates quickly away from the source, making it unsuitable for use on ranged weaponry or for poisoning food or drink. It causes paralysis by engaging the soul in a battle for the body, and a single bite, lick, or saliva-stained claw or melee weapon causes paralysis for about an hour (2d4 turns) on a failed save to dogs and most hominids, elves excluded. Either way, a burst of healing energy from basically any source of magical healing, or exposure to sunlight will drive the ghul-spirits away, curing the paralysis and the chance of deeper infection alike. Blessings from the gods will prevent the infection from setting in as well.

However, if someone does not receive such a cure before sunrise/sundown, they must save vs paralysis again to see if the spirits have only been fought to a standstill rather than fully expelled. Washing the wound with holy water, breathing in blessed incense smoke, and sleeping in a circle of salt are all measures that allow for an additional save, each, and if any save is successful, the disease does not set in.

The other method of exposure is cannibalism, more specifically, being an elf, human, dog, or nearabouts, and eating elf or human flesh. A decent amount must be eaten- an entire meal of the stuff, basically. Certain cannibalistic cults can reduce or remove the infection rate with certain rituals, but otherwise, a save to see if the disease sets in must be made, and the paralysis will correspond with sleep and troubling dreams and often goes unnoticed.
Knowingly and willingly engaging in cannibalism for non-survival reasons sends the infected straight to Stage 2, no save.


Stage 1- The Hunger
At this point, the infected is moderately possessed by a ghul spirit, and craves flesh. Holy water is uncomfortable and will cause superficial burns, allowing for detection of latent infections, as will most other anti-undead measures. Upon smelling dead human flesh, the infected must save or try to consume it, or save it for later consumption, an irrational compulsion and madness. Though otherwise still in control and sane, the infected cannot be trusted on such matters, and while they will not kill or harm others to obtain flesh, they may trick and lie to those to hide flesh obtained through other means.

Eating human flesh at this point will mark an irreversible progression, so it must be avoided at all costs until a year and a day has passed, at which point the incredibly tenacious ghul are forced out of the waking world once more. Only powerful, esoteric means can cure the disease directly at this stage, (cure disease will not work) and so this period must be endured without any accidental exposure to corpses. For those of means, house arrest is a common option. For the poor, curse-asylums or other prisons may be their best bet, to be locked up with lycanthropes and other menaces to society, until they are cured. For those who must, for whatever reason, continue traveling, mouth-blocking iron-and-leather masks, locked such in the back that 3 arms are required to open them, are worn, and typically a strictly vegetarian diet is adopted by all as a precautionary measure. Properly functioning masks are expensive and well-crafted, but most temples will have at least one in their cupboards for such an occurrence and are handed out freely.

Stage 2- Ghouls
Those who have succumbed to the Hunger are no longer in control of their bodies, the ghul-spirit having taken over. Most souls leave at this point rather than carry on as a helpless spectator, causing the body to die and begin rotting, making ghouls appear similar to drooling, but intelligent and nimble zombies. Those who consumed flesh willingly may collude with the parasitic ghul though, their souls mingling and becoming one, their bodies remaining alive.

Either way, ghouls at this stage should no longer be considered infected people, but undead monsters, and indeed, anti-undead measures have full effect against them. Empathy is lost, as is a great deal of impulse control, and the personality of the ghul-spirit will be a confused, fragmentary vision of the person the body used to belong to, as the ghul has fragmented memories of ancient ages mixed with the recent shared subjectivity of their host's life since infection. The hunger for flesh overrides all else though, especially that of humans and elves.

The reason for this maddening flesh-hunger is that something is growing inside them. Though ghouls can 'starve,' they will instead go into hibernation if flesh is not to be found, later bursting out of shallow self-dug graves or tunnels or tombs to menace the living. If a ghoul manages to get about double their bodyweight in human flesh in one sitting (a rare event given they hunt in packs and have to share) they will advance to the next stage, but otherwise will remain as they are until destroyed, perhaps showing signs of the coming transformation if they are well fed, but not quite well-fed enough for the final metamorphosis.

Various attempts at training/weaponizing ghouls by humans have invariably ended in disaster due to quarantine breaches, and even Necromancers want little to nothing to do with them, as ghouls will absolutely (preferentially over live humans, even) eat other undead. A minor exception to 'nobody works well with ghouls' is ghoul/vampire relations- Vampires suck the blood, ghouls eat the rest, and this benefits both in remaining undiscovered in urban areas as neither accidentally creates more spawn.

don't sue me Jim Davis

 Stage 3- True Ghul
If enough meat can be had, the True Ghul emerges from the husk of rotten flesh like a moth from a cocoon. Though technically living once more, their physiology is so alien that they still enjoy typical undead immunities, and their profane rebirth does little to alleviate the wrath of gods and elements behind most anti-undead countermeasures, and as such are still treated as undead. They have managed to spoof the elemental covenant, however, and so long as they continue to eat dead flesh (including that of other undead) they will be spared the minor elemental wrath of aging and decay and so will live forever... but if they cannot eat flesh, they will slowly rot away and be forced into hibernation lest they crumble to dust.

Ghuls are rubbery, grey-skinned creatures with cartilage for bones, allowing all manner of grotesque contortions and tight squeezes. Most are hairless, while others (ghasts, typically) may have greasy black or white hair with mostly humanish patterning, just in excess hirsuteness. Their eyes do not have pupils and are in sunken sockets, in a bestial head reminiscent of hyena, baboon, and crocodile. Their tongues at this point are a meter long and prehensile, and their feet and hands are large, sharp-clawed, and spadelike, and are used for digging tunnels and scraping flesh from bone. They are as fast on all fours as bipedally, and dog-derived ghuls are identical save for being quadrupeds worse at climbing but faster runners.

They organize in loosely hierarchical packs, age determining position. In this mature phase, they are less of a slave to the desire for meat and will prioritize self-preservation over a good meal. They are sexless, though not necessarily genderless, for they inherit culture from their host species. As such they refer to each other as elder/younger brother/sister/sibling, though they reproduce only via infection. This is not prioritized, as ghuls value larger shares of meat over expanded social opportunities. Indeed, accidentally infected ghouls are rarely welcomed into existing ghul packs unless losses have occurred and more strength is required to hunt prey/dig into catacombs.

Those who willingly seek to become a ghoul via cannibalism have a different transition to stage 3, transforming their semi-living body and keeping their soul, rather than having a ghul grown to replace it. The most notable differences from a normal ghoul are that the normal pheromones of a living(ish) body are turned to a sickening corpse-odor that, while utterly overwhelming to living beings, is a fine perfume to other ghouls and ensures popularity among them. Physically, ghasts turn grey and rubbery but are otherwise recognizable as their original selves. This willing transformation is the only method by which an Elf interacts with the ghoulification process, as they have been engineered to be immune to incidental exposure. In ancient times, this was a way for elves to infiltrate ghul society as double agents, but with ghuls being a scattered and disorganized threat in modern times, the only elves who do such a thing are probably shunned for all manner of equally nasty reasons. These elves would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven, so to speak, and so seek out existing (or create their own) ghul packs to lord over and engage in, well, ghoulish behaviors, the less said of the better.

Referring to elf-ghasts as 'stink twinks' is, I think, only fair

Ghasts have two souls (the original conspirator and the ghul) that are largely indistinguishable, but still, the joint effort makes ghasts stronger than one would expect. Furthermore, with their memories intact, they have considerably more experience than other ghuls and ghouls alike, and so the presence of a ghast typically increases the menace posed by ghouls by virtue of being able to plan and scheme and increase their numbers via intentional infection. However, elves (who don't want the humans to find out that a good many ghasts are decadent elves) and human clergy (who don't want organized ghouls eating all the corpses and causing a riot in the afterlives, let alone an undead outbreak) will almost invariably put together ghoul-busting teams to put an end to any ghast-led ghoul group before it can grow into a problem. However, sometimes the ghast wins against all comers, which can lead to a Dracula type situation, or a 'Night of the Living Dead' scenario, in which case any competent nearby civilization will quickly call their neighbors to arms against the ghouls lest the problem swell to apocalyptic proportions.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Gelatinous Cube, Ghost

AD&D Gelatinous Cube
These monsters are hilarious. Rather than a blob of killer goo, they're a cube! A cube! Amazing. So amazing that it is often forgotten, especially in art, that they're supposed to be nigh-invisible, which would definitely detract from all the art of adventurers battling a jello cube, so I can hardly complain. Unlike most oozes, they are not particularly difficult to kill, as normal weapons can chop them up without issue, as can fire (though personally I find it unlikely that a flask of burning oil could meaningfully affect that much protoplasm without simply being extinguished as the ooze advanced).  Cold halves their damage and move but does not kill them, so they could probably survive being frozen solid.

They paralyze for 5d4 rounds upon hit, and deal a respectable 2d4 damage, but with a low AC, movespeed, and 4HD, they just aren't a big threat to an actual party of adventurers, but with the paralysis and surprise chance of 1-3, they have decent odds of picking off scouting thieves, wizards hanging in the back unaware that a Cube is after the party, and people the dice hates. As such I think they are most effective as complications to other encounters than encounters in their own right, and could be re-imagined, statistics wise, to be more of a 'crushing wall' to avoid being trapped by and escape, than a soft jello blob to chop up.

The most amusing feature of the cube is the treasure suspended in them- this can be used to occasional puzzling effect when you describe a suit of armor suspended within a cube floating statically forward in dim dungeon lighting, or a sword, or assorted jewels. I think the minor treasures found within cubes can be more interesting if the players must come up with a plan to fish them out without being eaten, rather than simply as the reward for beating these relatively feeble monsters like a pinata.

AD&D Ghost
I think it is interesting that ghosts are not simply any old spirit, but specifically people who were so evil they were cursed (or rewarded) with their undead status. So the statblock is not for the common concept of 'ghost as soul that has not moved on' with tragic overtones or unfinished business, no, it's just some asshole hanging around long past their expiration date.

They cause fear and aging on sight, with clerics of level 6+ being immune, and are not merely protected by 'can only be hit by magic weapons' but are actually properly on the ethereal plane, just also happening to be coterminously visible. They can possess people who get too close, and if this fails, they can semi-materialize to strike for 10-40 years of aging in melee, at which point they can be smote with silver for half damage or magic weapons for full, though with 10HD and AC0 (or 20 for ascending AC) this seems likely to be a pyrrhic victory at best thanks to the aging.  Most perilously of all, perhaps, they cannot be struck by spells unless the caster has entered the ethereal plane along with the ghost (if those wishing to battle the ghost venture there, they will find its AC is 8 points worse). Any of the original player races except half-orcs slain by a ghost is forever dead, though half-orc immunity might be an oversight rather than deep lore.

Unlike some other undead, they have no particular weaknesses (even outwitting-wise they are said to be of 'high' intelligence), though it may be worth mentioning there is no mention of flight or swimming capabilities, so deep water or flight might be a way to escape from them. They also are 'Lawful Evil' which might indicate some possibility that they are bound by certain rules, or authority from whoever or whatever cursed/blessed them to their unholy might in the first place.

Finally, they have treasure type E and S, which has pretty good odds of potions and probably one decent score of treasure (with low odds of getting absolute heaps of loot). This is probably a mix of their own grave goods and that of their victims.

Sunset Realm Gelatinous Cube
Considerably more solid than other oozes, they mostly devour algae and mold from dungeon walls, and as such take on the general shape of hallways, and so come in alternate shapes such as gelatinous domes (for arched ceilings) and other such things. Their paralysis is not chemical, but physical- those who are "paralyzed" are just sucked into the body of the creature and held immobile and helpless by hundreds of pounds of stiff, corrosive gelatin until they suffocate or are reduced to a skeleton.

They are among the most 'domestic' of oozes, though they are far from tame. However, dungeon dwellers, most notably deep-dwelling fortress dwarves, sometimes use them as cleaners/pest control/garbage collection, for they are harmless to inorganic materials and as such good for cleaning places composed entirely of stone and metal. When such 'Cleaner' slime are used in inhabited areas rather than unstaffed areas, they are typically pruned to be gelatinous rectangular prisms, as this does not affect their cleaning abilities, but prevents them from engulfing and suffocating people if they are only a foot thick.

As a minor aside, the gambling god of chaos T'liki inscribes runes on the sides of these creatures so that they may roll about like dice and cause magical mayhem, and T'liki may set these creatures on those he is wrothful with (or happy with, T'liki is not very consistent), with the most terrible manifestation being the 20HD, 20-sided Gelatinous Icosahedron...

I didn't draw this specifically for this post but I haven't posted in like a month, corners must be cut

Sunset Realm Ghost

Life is sometimes described as 'A ghost riding a skeleton wearing a meat suit' but this is not quite true.
A ghost is a particular manifestation of a spirit or soul, affecting the physical world by virtue of possessing base elements that are human enough to be valid possession targets without requiring massive spiritual strength to dominate the elemental souls within all things. The dust of flaky skin, the moisture of sweat, exhaled breaths- it is these fragile, scavenged pieces of humanity a ghost uses to cross over from powerless soul in the afterlives/dream realm to manifested ghost in the waking world. It is easiest to do this with scraps of one's own decaying body or the detritus of a relative (indeed, most ghosts are simply those lurking around their own unburied corpse, unable to bear the pain of reanimating it themselves, but wanting to get others attention so that they may be properly buried), but with enough determination, a ghost can manifest with even the dust of old trees and spiderwebs.

Ghosts are essentially as they were in life, for good or ill, and cannot be permanently exorcised by merely scattering their incorporeal bodies- so long as their will to remain remains, they can construct a new body without much issue- magical weapons drive them off in the dream realm as well as the waking world (usually until next nightfall) and are useful for buying time, but are not permanent solutions. As such, exorcisms are more akin to therapy and crime investigation than ghostbusting. One must determine why a ghost is lingering about, which is often difficult due to language issues, physical communication issues from less-physically-coherent ghosts, and of course, any danger posed by a wrathful or frustrated spirit which can call down all manner of tricks from when it was alive. Furthermore, by default, elemental wrath in the form of aging is a threat from frustrated ghosts, as ghosts may, intentionally or otherwise, rouse the minor elementals within things to try to destroy a perceived unlife violation of the elemental covenant which allows souls to inhabit matter, and get the living caught up in it due to collateral damage expected of elementals that are literally dumb as rocks, airheads, or... wet behind the ears? (If anyone has a better water-based phrase implying bad judgement/low braininess do tell me)
The other prime threat of a ghost is possession- compared to microscopic particles, an entire body is MUCH easier to take control of and has many benefits. Those who are body-snatched may stay in their body and try to wrest control back for brief moments, or they may wander as ghosts themselves, typically with a bit of a learning period. While charms to prevent this are not entirely uncommon (any priest or witch worth their salt should be able to make one, the level 1 spell Protection from Evil will do), vigilance with regards to constantly checking that the charm is not lost or damaged must be kept!

Some ghosts trauma is so great that they are semi-or-entirely trapped in a Nightmare Realm, unable to perceive reality as it truly is and reliving the horror of their death (or life) and dragging others into it. This can manifest as full entry into an alternate reality, or aspects of the trauma manifesting into reality (ie, a ghost who burned to death might be a pyrokinetic). These ghosts are the ones that blur the line between 'person who happens to be noncorporeal' and 'monster,' but 9/10 exorcists agree that a ghost that still has its original form is still a person who can be helped- if the psyche collapses and the soul flees not only the waking world, but the dream world/afterlives, the remaining thing is a Wraith, an anthropomorphized Nightmare Realm, and no longer the original person.

Ghost-On-The Go
So you rolled 'Ghost' on someone elses encounter table and feel a 10HD AD&D murder-happy ghost just isn't quite what you want to spring on the party.

Ghost Motives (d6)
1-2- Improper Burial. The ghost's body or grave is desecrated, or they need to be buried in a proper graveyard with their ancestors/friends, something like that. These ghosts are the most common as while the details of how they ended up like this can be wildly variable, their basic desire is the same.
3-Escapism- The ghost has grown tired of afterlife shenanigans and wants a vacation in the waking world. They will prioritize possession, hedonism, and spectacle. Typically, psychopomp spirits/exorcists will arrive to put a stop to these shenanigans sooner or later, preventing long-term bodysnatching, but if not, the best course of action is to find out what the ghost is really trying to distract itself from in its afterlife, and find a way to address that, rather than simply guiding it on the least-destructive bender and hoping for the best.
4- Injustice- The ghost was wronged in life- murdered, abused, betrayed, and so on, and can't move on until they are satisfied wrongs have been righted. The less justice-motivated ghosts are just in it for vengeance, morality be damned, but cannot rise as corporeal revenants and do it themselves for some reason. Either way, these ghosts tend to be emotionally driven and prone to excess, but can oft be sated by symbolic satisfaction in the event the injustice cannot be properly solved due to the march of years.
5- Unfinished Business- The ghost needs to do something not for itself, but for someone yet living- confess love to an old friend so they can move on, find the True Heir to the throne, save their family farm from tax collectors, etc etc. As this ghost requires material results rather than emotional satisfaction, they tend to be more grounded but also more picky.
6- Madness- This ghost suffered so intensely or for so long that direct contact is too dangerous to allow for proper communication.  Reroll a d4+1 to determine motive, but this motive cannot be learned from the incoherent, inconsolable ghost itself and requires serious, in-depth sleuthing to figure out how to perform an exorcism.

Ghost Powers
1- Poltergeist- The ghost has trained itself to be able to move objects, usually violently, but more subtle behaviors like untying ropes or locking/unlocking doors is possible too.
2- Thematic Powers- Based on their life or death, the ghost might be able to manifest either real or ectoplasmic events that mimic their own experiences- ie, a ghost who was a dog trainer/eaten by wolves might be able to summon wolf packs, or drive dogs mad, or just summon ectoplasmic canines to chase the players with.
3-Cold Spots- Light and heat are coveted by the dream realm, and the bridge between it and the waking world allows for the leeching of energy. The ghost can freeze liquids, bring rooms to freezing temperatures, and cause touched things to frost over.
4-Omnipresence- The ghost haunts an entire thematically appropriate area, and can dimly sense all that occurs within the haunted area, as well as teleport about with ease.
5-Nightmarish- The ghost has become twisted from trauma and isolation, and corrupts the surroundings with a Nightmare Realm (see The Nightmares Underneath, free edition. Or expensive edition if you have it, I suppose)
6-Wizard!- Becoming a spirit did not break the connection this wizard had to their spellwisps, and indeed, being on the same plane as their strange spellwisps, demons, and so on may have even strengthened their connection. Spellcasting Wizard-Ghosts who intentionally achieved this state of being are typically referred to as 'Spectres,' and are perhaps even more annoying than their corporeal counterpart of the Lich.

Rewards of Exorcism
1- The appropriate god or necropolis the ghost should've been resting peacefully within is grateful, gain +1 favor (or clear Wrath) with the appropriate spiritual entity, or increase your Luck score by 1, DCC style.
2- Ghost decides to hang around a little longer and can be learned as a spell by players if the appropriate gold-prices are paid (A lumberjack ghost being a spell to 'Fell Tree,' for instance).
3-Ghost answers questions the players might have about local events, rumors, etc, paying them with information it gained while it was dead.
4-Ghost owes them a favor, can return once to do ghosty things in the future to aid them (and will do so to rescue them if they are in peril and forget their ghost favor).
5- Word of party's ghostbusting spreads, giving them +1 to local reaction rolls from townsfolk and so on, and perhaps eventually leading some manner of exorcist to get in contact with them about thrilling multiclass opportunities.
6-Ghost reveals locale of treasure hoard (as treasure map), understanding that the players, as material beings, could probably use material compensation.