The College of Grotesque Arts -- Week Four and a Half
Posting this one separately since it’s the end of the month. So this post is finishing Level One, and Week Five will be the start of Level Two. Since the level is being completed, I’ll also be appending a random encounter table. (And that doors table I mentioned a while ago.) Also, at the very bottom of this post, you’ll find a cleaned-up map of the whole level.
Room 1.29: f.27r
This room also has a lot of bones in it, but unlike the leopard and lion rooms, these bones aren’t just here as leftovers — they’re enrichment. Like a meat pumpkin. The Caretakers actually occasionally move bones from other rooms into this one. They’re piled up all around the walls. There’s a noticeable overabundance of human skulls; in fact, if I ever go back and edit this whole mess, I’ll be sure to note that all the dead explorers on this level are missing theirs because they’re here. Why? Well.
Meet the banspreck. You might think this is another case of Bonus Face Syndrome, but in fact the red face on top is the only one it has. The brown thing on the left is a human skull. The banspreck has two legs, a tail, and a long tentacle that it uses to manipulate bones. Skulls, by preference. When the banspreck inserts its tentacle into a skull, it is able to use its innate necromancy to cause the skull to animate and speak.
Superficially, this appears to function something like speak with dead, but… chattier. The skull will talk about its life experiences and opinions at length, unprompted, and respond to questions as if it contained the soul it had in life. This is a ruse. The magical effect is just faking human speech, and if you hold a long enough conversation with it, you’ll notice it starting to contradict itself because it doesn’t actually remember what it said before. A bit like talking to an AI. The only consistency is that it seems to have a positive attitude, especially towards the banspreck — it attempts to give the impression that the banspreck is something like a harmless pet and the skull is the one in charge. (It doesn’t hide the fact that the banspreck’s necromantic ability is what makes the skull move, but instead suggests that the banspreck takes direction from the skulls it animates rather than the other way around.)
Possible narrative to be pitched by the skull: So this critter here was made by the wizards as a possible way of escaping death, and has some inherent necromantic talent. But since it couldn’t find the wizards’ remains, it ended up just grabbing my skull when the Caretakers brought some bones in here for enrichment. Recognized it as a wizard’s skull, just not the right wizard’s skull. So now I’m kind of riding this thing around as a disembodied skull, which isn’t super convenient, but better than being dead, right? If you could help me get out of here and figure out a better option, I did leave some estates behind and I bet at least some of it’s still around…
The idea is that this curious situation will prompt anyone entering the room to drop their guard and approach the skull to speak with it & figure out what exactly is going on. (The skull will try and encourage this by taking on a friendly attitude and seeming vaguely uncomfortable about any weapons the PCs have out.) If the PCs can be maneuvered into the right tactical situation, they will discover that this whole puppet show is a hunting behavior.
Another of the banspreck’s innate necromantic talents is the ability to animate nearby bones without the use of material components; it uses this to stock its lair with minions. When it feels the time is right, the bones around the walls will spring into action to ambush the PCs and block the exits. (Use any skeletal undead for this purpose, of a number and CR sufficient to be a genuine threat or possible TPK.) The PCs may have encountered these before; the banspreck occasionally sends them out to scout for food when it’s feeling peckish. These scout skeletons usually ignore the other critters in the dungeon; the banspreck is adapted to and prefers the meat of sapient humanoids. The feedings it receives from the Caretakers are enough to sustain it, but do not satisfy its hunger for humanoid flesh. Here are some stats — the banspreck is the most dangerous beaſt on this level (Caretakers excepted), so if the others have been a real threat to the PCs you might want to tone this one down.
Banspreck: CR 7, XP 3200; Medium Aberration; Init +1; Senses Darkvision 60ft; Perception +3; Auras Desecrating Aura
DEFENSE: AC 20, touch 11, flat-footed 19 (+1 Dex, +9 natural); hp 122 (9d8+81); Saves Fort +12, Ref +6, Will +11 Defensive Abilities Channel Resistance +2 DR 5/- SR 22 Immunities Aging
OFFENSE: Speed 30 ft.; Melee kick +8/+3 (1d3+2)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 9; Save DC 15 + spell level) At Will: Ray of Enfeeblement, False Life, Ghoul Touch; 3/day: Vampiric Touch, Bestow Curse, Enervation; 1/day: Animate Dead, Waves of Fatigue, Create Undead. Special Attacks Channel Negative Energy (5d6, DC 17/23)
STATISTICS: Str 10, Dex 12, Con 20, Int 4, Wis 16, Cha 21; Base Atk +6; CMB +6; CMD 17; Feats Extra Channel (x3), Improved Channel, Selective Channeling; Skills Bluff +14 (skull only); Special Qualities Aberration Traits
Channel Negative Energy (Su): A Banspreck can release a wave of negative energy. This energy can be used to heal undead or cause damage to living creatures (but not both). A Banspreck heals or causes 5d6 damage to each creature of the type selected in a 30-foot radius centered on the Banspreck. A Banspreck can channel energy 10 times per day. Creatures damaged by the energy gain a will save (DC 17, or 23 inside Desecration) for half damage. This is a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
Desecrating Aura (Su): A Banspreck has a 30-foot radius desecration spell in effect which functions as if centered on a shrine of evil power. Undead within this radius (including the Banspreck) gain a +2 profane bonus on attack and damage rolls and saving throws, as well as +2 hit points per die, and the save DC of channeled negative energy is increased by 6 (these adjustments are already included in a Banspreck's statistics block). This aura can be negated by dispel evil, but the Banspreck can reactivate it on its turn as a free action. A desecrating aura suppresses and is suppressed by consecrate or hallow; both effects are negated within any overlapping area of effect.
Manipulate Skull (Su): A Banspreck can manipulate a skull in such a way that it appears to speak as though its soul has been called back into it. Its Bluff skill represents its ability to make this speech convincing through instinctual use of magic.
In a fight, the banspreck will rely on its skeletal minions at first and stay out of range of the PCs. It may take this time to cast false life — repeatedly, if it doesn’t think it’s needed in the actual fight. If the PCs seem able to resist the skeletons, it will start to use its ability to channel negative energy to heal its minions — or, occasionally, to hurt the PCs. If the PCs continue to put up a fight, it will bring its spell-like abilities into the fight. It only resorts to its actual physical attacks if absolutely necessary. If the banspreck is killed, the undead all de-animate.
If the PCs manage to escape, the undead will pursue them for a short while, but if it doesn’t appear that the PCs can be cornered or trapped, they will eventually give up and return to the banspreck’s lair.
The banspreck is a unique creature — i.e., it doesn’t reproduce and its necromantic talents keep it from aging, so there’s only the one. If it’s slain (which it has been a few times, by previous explorers), then a week later, one of the skulls it manipulated while alive will hatch like an egg and a juvenile banspreck will emerge, growing to adulthood over the course of a few years. Kind of like a combination between a lich and a phoenix.
Room 1.30: f.27v
This high-ceilinged room is inhabited by a flock of naddermice.
Snake bodies, mouse heads, bat wings. You may as well just treat them as odd-looking bats, though they can be Part Plant if you want. If you want them to be dangerous, perhaps they bite, and that bite could be a vector for disease. Or maybe they’re just chill. I dunno man, I’ve had a rough day and this page is giving me nothing.
Room 1.31: f.28r
Okay, that’s better. This page has plenty of stuff, but most of it is ruled out by my avoid-human-faces policy. Check this guy out, though:
Wild, right? He’s not here.
Anyway, the actual room. It’s large, with an unfinished dirt floor.
Burrowed into the floor are dozens of aesolls. An aesoll looks like a distorted, front-heavy, blue worm with a wide mouth. Kind of like a short, land-bound gulper eel. (Or “pelican eel”, as Wikipedia informs me I am meant to call them.) Folded up inside that “mouth”, however, are three appendages: two little grabby hands and a serpentine neck topped with a donkey-like head. When they are in their burrows, as they probably will be when the PCs enter, the worm-like body is entirely hidden, and the only thing visible to an observer is the occasional head or arm poking out to check on things.
This species has escaped to the world outside the dungeon (by, you know, burrowing), so a PC with Knowledge(nature) will recognize them. They’re considered pests in Ller Tul, as they consume plants fairly ravenously, and have a very inconvenient habit of using those little hands to grab at anything that passes by their burrows. In inhabited areas, they often breed in garbage dumps: they’re thoroughly omnivorous and eat pretty much any organic matter they can get their hands on. Like raccoons. They’re not hugely likely to try and eat a person, but they would if they could.
Aesoll: CR 1, XP 400; N Diminutive Animal; Init +0; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +7
DEFENSE: AC 14, touch 14, flat-footed 14 (+4 size); hp 9 (2d8+0); Saves Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +0
OFFENSE: Speed 10 ft., burrow 10 ft.; Melee bite +3 (1d2-2) , 2 claws -2 (1d1-2); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 2-1/2 ft.
STATISTICS: Str 6, Dex 10, Con 11, Int 2, Wis 10, Cha 8; Base Atk +1; CMB -5; CMD 5; Feats Alertness; Skills Perception +7
So the way that the Wix blog platform does tables is clumsy and difficult to copy/paste into and seems to lag a lot (even more than the platform usually does). But for the Tumblr version of this post I made some image versions of the tables, since Tumblr doesn't seem to do tables at all, and I'm just going to use those again here. If you want the text version, just contact me or something. Sorry.
The Doors table is pretty basic. If you have access to one you prefer, I suggest using that instead. This is just a bare-bones thing so I don’t have to pontificate on the nature of every friggin’ door in the dungeon. Note: if a door is specified as having a trap or other effect attached, you should assume that door is intact, and reroll if you get “absent”.
Here’s the random encounter table for Level One. I recommend rolling on it frequently; since most of the results are more flavor than threat, using it often should help make the dungeon feel alive without making every moment a danger. It’s intended that you roll on it when your party enters a new passage, or the passage turns and a new section becomes visible, or if they stay in the same location for an extended period.
Note that if the PCs camp in the dungeon at night, they have a 100% chance of encountering the Caretakers doing their rounds.
Here’s the map for the whole level, done digitally to clean it up a bit. I thought of using one of those dungeon-tile sets, but wasn’t sure which would be the best choice, so I just… didn’t. If anyone has recommendations for what to use, let me know! I’d love a recommendation.
And there’s the first level. Isn’t it nice? Yes it is. It’s also 44 pages long, not counting the images and tables because I don’t put them in until I copy/paste onto the blog. Also not counting the stuff on the surface, because when this started getting long I decided each level was getting its own document to keep the word processor from lagging later in the year when, if trends continue, this thing will be the size of a friggin’ book. I have a problem.