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  • Mac Boyle

The College of Grotesque Arts -- Week Two

Before I get started on this week’s stuff, I want to address a worldbuilding thing that occurred to me after I established the existence of the Caretakers (which was mostly done to handwave why everything isn’t covered in filth and the critters haven’t all died off): if the Caretakers are still active, why are the critters able to just roam around and establish themselves in whatever room they want? Why aren’t the Caretakers maintaining cages & pens and corralling escaped critters?

The answer is that the Caretakers used to do these things autonomously, but this caused problems: the wizards would relocate a specimen, and the Caretakers would decide it had “escaped” and bring it back to its original location. Remembering to update the Caretakers every time they moved something around turned out to be too much of a pain, so their behavior was altered to only go after escaped critters if given a specific order or in extraordinary circumstances. (Like the critter attacking them, in which case they subdue it and put it wherever they “think” it’s supposed to be.) They also kind of do repairs, but it’s very low on their priority list and they rarely get around to it — the reason that a lot of the furniture is still present, albeit broken and rotting, is because the Caretakers will periodically restore it with fabricate or other spells if they don’t have anything else in their queue. As for cages, at least on the first floor, there aren’t any left. Caretaker One’s task of “feed metal to the fish” is higher-priority than “fix stuff”, and the cages were scavenged for this purpose pretty early on. (The create food & water effect apparently doesn’t put as much metal content into the fish food as the wizards wanted, and giving them scrap-metal supplements was supposed to be a temporary fix. If you really want to screw with your players, by the way, you could have Caretaker One come through their campsite on any night they spend on the first floor and “scavenge” any metal equipment they have laying around.)

We should also establish that the doors throughout the dungeon are rarely that securely shut, and unlocked unless otherwise noted. There are frequently large holes in them. The critters aren’t really confined anywhere, and if they do get stuck, they can escape when a Caretaker inevitably comes through the door on its rounds. I should start mentioning the doors when I do room descriptions. Or just make a Doors Table. Hm. I’ll come back to that.

Anyway, the new content. You’ll note that the passages Appendix A likes to generate got a little out of hand in this section — good thing I already established that the ridiculous and labyrinthine layout is a feature, not a bug.

Room 1.8: f.16v

This room has a set of stairs down to the second level in the northwest corner. In the southwest corner, there’s a large metal lever mounted on the wall that looks rusted but still operative. Pulling this lever produces a grinding noise from elsewhere in the dungeon. The actual effect is that it opens a sturdy metal door in the passage to the north (the one marked “S” on the map) — this door has no handle or lock, and can’t really be opened otherwise unless the PCs want to try and bust it down. Pulling the lever again closes it. (This is my response to the incredibly pointless secret door Appendix A wanted me to put there — the door and the trigger are both obviously visible, because why would you bother to hide them?)

In this room, you will also find a cat. Yep. Just a regular-ass cat. How, you may ask, did a completely normal cat get down here? Listen. How do cats get anywhere? No, it isn’t anyone’s lost pet — it’s a feral cat that slipped down here and then stuck around because the Caretakers recognize it as an Animal and keep feeding it. (That should keep your players busy for, like, a half-hour minimum. Longer if you keep emphasizing how completely normal this cat is.)

The cat is in this room because it’s hunting mathagats. A mathagat is a creature roughly the size and shape of an earthworm, with wings and a goat’s head. They travel in… swarms? herds? clews? flocks? ... bunches, and feed on the small plants & fungi that grow on the dungeon architecture. Like algae-eater fish. There are a bunch here, grazing on a patch of some sort of mold on the east wall. I’m not going to give these guys stats, because, like… why would you? They’re not aggressive, and will fly away rather than fight. If the PCs want to catch one or smoosh one or something, just have them make a (difficult) Dexterity check. They might be able to do one point of damage with their wee little horns.

Room 1.9: f.17r

This room is fairly clear of clutter, but a few small bits of wood on the floor indicate that there used to be something here.

The only obvious feature of this room is the presence of a long-tailed stabbybird. It’s investigating the crevices between the stones on the south wall when the PCs enter, but it seems pretty territorial and has an immediate violent reaction when the PCs open the door. A long-tailed stabbybird looks a bit like a wingless ostrich, with green feathers on the body rather than black and white, a longer beak, two weird floppy red ears, and a very, very long tail. Its tongue has sharp “teeth” along the sides, and it can stick it out rapidly to stab prey. They’re not hugely mobile, with stubby little legs, and rely on their long neck & very long prehensile tail to access stuff out of their reach — none of them have managed to exit the dungeon, so PCs won’t be familiar. This one is also suffering from Bonus Face Syndrome, and is contagious (see Room 1.3). But seriously, look how long this thing’s tail is.

Yeah. There’s a reason I just cut it off for that first image. Anyway, since I’ve made it violent, I better provide stats. As before, feel free to adjust the stats or multiply the number of creatures... Hm. Hold on. I just realized that this is the second of two aggressive monsters I’ve made and they both have Bonus Face Syndrome. Canon: In the later stages, sufferers of BFS become unusually aggressive and violent. Anyway, stats:

Long-tailed Stabbybird: CR 5, XP 1600; N Medium Magical Beast; Init +1; Senses Low-Light Vision, Darkvision 60ft; Perception +13

DEFENSE: AC 17, touch 10, flat-footed 17 (+0 Dex, +7 natural); hp 60 (7d10+21); Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +5

OFFENSE: Speed 20 ft.; Melee tongue +11 (2d6+4/19-20,x3) , tail +6 (1d8+4);

Space 5 ft.; Reach 15 ft. (tail only); Special Attacks Constrict (2d6+4), Trip (tail), Grab (tail)

STATISTICS: Str 19, Dex 10, Con 16, Int 2, Wis 16, Cha 10; Base Atk +7; CMB +11 (+19 grapple, +13 trip); CMD 21 (23 against trip); Feats Greater Grapple, Improved Critical (tongue), Improved Grapple, Improved Natural Attack (tongue), Improved Trip, Lunge; Skills Perception +13; Special Qualities Magical Beast Traits


Constrict (Ex): A Long-tailed Stabbybird can crush an opponent, dealing 2d6+4 bludgeoning damage, when it makes a successful grapple check (in addition to any other effects caused by a successful check, including additional damage).

Trip (Ex): A Long-tailed Stabbybird can attempt to trip its opponent as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity if it hits with its tail attack(s). If the attempt fails, the creature is not tripped in return.

Grab (Ex): If a Long-tailed Stabbybird hits with its tail attack(s), it deals normal damage and attempts to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. Grab can only be used against targets of a size Large or smaller.

The stabbybird doesn’t use its legs unless necessary, preferring to lunge and stab with its tongue while trying to entangle & crush opponents with its long, prehensile tail. It will flee if it’s clear it’s losing the fight; it’s large enough to push the doors open if the PCs haven’t specifically taken measures to keep it from doing so. If the stabbybird is defeated or driven off and the south wall investigated, PCs may find that the crevices between the stones have been chipped away and widened. It is possible, if PCs either employ diplomacy or try to remove one of the stones from the wall, to find out what’s back there.

Behind the wall is a colony of burrowing elvets. They’re about the size of a thumb, covered in gray fur, and humanoid other than their bifurcate feet. The colony contains a few dozen of them. These aren’t creations of the wizards — like the unicorn in Room 1.5, they’re extraplanar beings that were originally brought here for study. Unlike the unicorn, they escaped. They’ve built a network of burrows behind this wall, and have been living here ever since. (They’re longer-lived than humans, but it’s still been a few generations.) They’re not exactly thrilled with their circumstances, as they have to live by scavenging and avoiding the various beaſts. (The Caretakers don’t recognize them as Things To Feed.) If the PCs can figure out a better situation for them, they might go along with it and even owe them a favor. Stats for these guys are below. Note that the alignment is listed as “LB” — this is how I handle the fae. Their morality system is somewhat alien to human perception, so, inspired by TVTropes’s “Blue-and-Orange Morality”, I list them as “Lawful Blue”. (If you’re wondering, eldritch abominations are “Chaotic Orange”.)

Burrowing Elvet: CR 1, XP 400; LB Fine Fey; Init +3; Senses Low-Light Vision; Perception +1

DEFENSE: AC 21, touch 21, flat-footed 18 (+8 size, +3 Dex); hp 3 (2d6-4); Saves Fort -2, Ref +6, Will +4

OFFENSE: Speed 5 ft., climb 5 ft., burrow 5 ft.; Melee dagger +5 (1d1-4/19-20,x2); Space 0 ft.; Reach 0 ft.; Spell-Like Abilities: At Will: Hide from Animals, Pass without Trace

STATISTICS: Str 2, Dex 16, Con 6, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 12; Base Atk +1; CMB -11; CMD 2; Feats Stealthy; Skills Diplomacy +6, Escape Artist +10, Handle Animal +3, Stealth +10, Survival +3, Use Magic Device +6; Languages Sylvan; Special Qualities Fey Traits

Room 1.10: f.17v

This is a large room, high-ceilinged (let’s say 50ft again) with a single door on the west wall.

There is no stone floor here — it’s open earth in which more Squirrel Oaks are growing, with oak squirrels inhabiting them. (Also various weeds have colonized the ground — feel free to add a few with medical use or other value if your players might be interested in that.) This room is something of an indoor grove, with more-or-less-normal animals inhabiting it. The animals were originally brought in as lab animals, food, or material for hybrid creation — or possibly found their way in from outside — but have since multiplied and run wild.

There is a burrow beneath one of the oaks that contains a colony of rabbits, and a dog seems to have taken up residence in this room. The dog enjoys chasing the rabbits and squirrels. The rabbits are entirely normal, but if the PCs have any way of checking, there’s something a little magical about the dog. (If the conversation with Orm goes well, the PCs might be aware that Orm is fond of this dog and calls him Rover. If I were going back and editing previous entries, I’d add a percentage chance that Rover is present in Orm’s “hermitage”, Room 1.4.) Rover is actually a descendant of one of the most benign experiments the wizards conducted, i.e., the Immortal Dog Project. (Even probably-evil wizards like dogs and lament their comparatively short lifespans.) Any dogs still inhabiting the dungeon are likewise descended from this experiment, which didn’t successfully make them immortal, but they do live for something like a hundred years. Some of these dogs have made their way to the outside world and interbred with their non-magical cousins, but probably not many people have noticed that some of Ller Tul’s strays seem to live an unusually long time. Rover in particular is of no identifiable breed, but is about the size of a small terrier.

There is also a flock of entirely normal birds, and a flight of less-normal giant butterflies. The butterflies (black with white spots and red stripes) are only different from their mundane counterparts in that they have a wingspan of something like a foot and a half. The birds (black-feathered, blue wings, utterly mundane) apparently eat them.

Appendix A wants me to put some treasure in this room, so: an extremely careful search will reveal a spot in the southwest corner where the soil is heaped a little higher than usual, though still overgrown with plant life. Digging in this location will reveal a few pottery jars filled with assorted coins — these are not original to the dungeon, but were stashed here by earlier explorers who didn’t want to lug them around and intended to come back for them on the way out. Judging by the plant growth over top of them, whoever put them here isn’t likely to come back at this point.

Room 1.11: f.18r

Appendix A thinks there should be a trap around here somewhere, and I’ve decided to put it on the door to this room rather than in the nearby passage it suggested. If the door is opened without the trap being disabled, the trap will summon several dragonflies to attack the opener. They’re just regular dragonflies, though, so this isn’t much of a threat. Gods only know why this trap is even here. If the trap is identified before the door is opened, examination shows that it only goes off if you don’t knock first.

This room was apparently a latrine at one point; or at least that’s the most obvious explanation for the big hole in the floor in the northwest corner. A fountain of some sort occupies the northeast corner, and seems to be still running, if not very well. (Note: there is a sort of plumbing system that connects all of the dungeon's water features together; a really dedicated (and very small) individual could probably travel around the dungeon that way.)

The fountain contains a few eel wyverns, which are pretty much what they sound like. They’re colorful, coming in shades of red and blue, but unlike their kin the toy wyvern from Room 1.2, aren’t considered particularly decorative (and haven’t been attested outside of this dungeon). Wyvern only in the roughest of outlines, these creatures are scaleless, legless, snub-nosed, and about the length of a human forearm. Eel wyverns can fly — their wings repel water like a duck’s — but it’s a clumsy sort of flight, and they spend most of their time in water by preference. They’re not aggressive if not provoked, but just in case, here are some stats. They’re still pretty harmless, aside from being venomous.

Eel Wyvern: CR 1, XP 400; N Diminutive Dragon (aquatic); Init +3; Senses Low-Light Vision, Darkvision 60ft; Perception +5

DEFENSE: AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 14 (+4 size, +3 Dex); hp 16 (2d12+3); Saves Fort +3, Ref +6, Will +3; +4 vs. poison

OFFENSE: Speed 10 ft., swim 10 ft., fly 10 ft.; Melee bite +3 (1d2-3 plus poison); Space 2-1/2 ft.; Reach 2-1/2 ft.; Special Attacks Poison, Amphibious

STATISTICS: Str 4, Dex 16, Con 9, Int 4, Wis 10, Cha 4; Base Atk +2; CMB -5; CMD 8; Feats Toughness; Skills Fly +8, Perception +5, Stealth +8; Special Qualities Dragon Traits


Poison (Ex): An Eel Wyvern's bite attack will inflict a poison on its victims that has a Fortitude save DC of 11, a frequency of 1/round for 6 rounds, causes 1d2 Con damage, and takes two saves to cure.

Amphibious (Ex): An Eel Wyvern has the aquatic subtype, but they can survive indefinitely on land.

I had moved on to the next room when it occurred to me that some players are going to want to search the latrine. Figuring I should put something there for those troubled souls, I considered what this abandoned latrine would be like. It’s not going to still be full of waste — the kind of people who made magical constructs to clean up after the animals would surely have those same constructs empty the latrines — so there should be something else. So: the original wooden seat having fallen apart, the latrine is currently just a hole in the floor that, theoretically, someone could fit through. It’s, let’s say, 30ft deep — if you’re a wizard making a latrine, you might go a little overboard in getting the waste as far away from you as possible, and the Caretakers can empty it with telekinesis, so there’s no downside in making it deep. It’s not designed for someone to go down there, so anyone investigating will need to make Climb checks or fall.

Down at the bottom is a chamber roughly 10ft across. Over to the side, out of sight of anyone looking down from the top, is a skeleton. This poor fellow — let’s name him Ralph — was an explorer much like the PCs, who decided to investigate the latrine, fell in, and wasn’t able to get back out (either he died from the fall or he’s just not a good enough climber). Give him some randomly-generated gear appropriate for the PCs’ level. A lot of it will have decayed — and anything metal has probably been telekinetically retrieved by Caretaker One to feed the fish in Room 1.7 — but there should be a non-metal magic item or two that has preserved itself against time to reward the PCs for checking such a ridiculous place. And maybe some precious stones or somesuch.

Room 1.12: f.18v

This room is dominated by a 20ft-diameter circular basin set into the center of the floor. It seems to be at least 30ft deep — probably deeper, but the bottom is covered in a thick layer of silt and plant matter. The stone walls have a lot of built-in shelves, counters, and compartments that probably used to be covered with cabinet doors. (This used to be a lab for experimenting with aquatic creatures.)

Right now, the inhabitants of the basin / tank / aquarium / whatever are some more eel wyverns (see Room 1.11), a school of entirely ordinary green fish, and a number of small flying insects. Not counting the plant matter and whatever tiny critters live in the silt at the bottom.

This room is also occupied by a few giant rats — dungeon classic, that. One of them seems to be trying to catch the fish.

A few bluebirds are hanging out on the shelves and ex-cabinets near the ceiling, keeping out of the rats’ way.

Room 1.13: f.19r

Much of the northern portion of this room is taken up by an artificial pond.

Appendix A thinks there should be a monster here, so this room contains a few very aggressive and territorial geese. Mundane geese, just angry ones. Not that that’s hugely out of the ordinary for geese. For extra fun, you may decide that one or more of these geese are actually the Horrible Goose.

Room 1.14: f.19v

This is more of an unusual spot in the passageway than a proper room — a 10ft-by-20ft area off of the passage is an overgrown space that was probably once an herb garden of some sort.

The area that used to be a garden is currently home to some mundane snails, hedgehogs, and mice. The hedgehogs are particularly adorable.

If the PCs haven’t already encountered it — I’m planning to put it on the random encounter table for this level — this is where they find the spotted boar. The spotted boar has the same stats as a mundane boar; its only unusual feature is its dramatically spotted pattern. This might be the result of magic, but might also just be from selective breeding — there are spotted pigs, after all. It is a foul-tempered beaſt and should be given a wide berth.

And that’s Week Two done. Having a lot of fun with this, but still struggling to keep the word count under control. See y’all next time, I guess.

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