The Beast

I’ve been pretty good about keeping up with my writing, but haven’t done a great job of posting what I write to this blog. The following is a short story I wrote earlier this year, just before I had decided to put my writings online. I’ve got a pretty good backlog of writings, I just need to make sure I stay on top of getting them edited and making blog posts out of them. I hope you enjoy this one as it is one of my favorites so far.

The beast’s eyes reflected back the firelight as a vivid and raging glow only furthering it’s demonic aspect. It’s body was that of a wolf, but certainly this was no wolf for it spoke to me in the night, taunting, yet it would not approach the fire that kept it at bay.

“A man has little tinder left for his fire, I think it will not last the night.” rumbled the low voice of the beast as it paced before the fire. “Come out of that cave for it is cold and dank where my belly is warm and your suffering will be no more.”

I shivered for the beast was right, the fire was low and the beast drew nearer to the lip of the cave where I huddled against the cold, a dwindling pile of firewood lay at my side and I doubted if any would be left come daybreak. I doubted that I would remain come daybreak. Yet I kept my voice level as I taunted back at the beast.

“A beast has no blade and no shield and will meet it’s end at the tip of my sword which served my father and his father before him against both beast and man. Flee from here, for the only reason I have not slain you is that I wish not for your tainted meat, demon.”

A sound like rolling thunder emanated from the beast that was his laughter at my words. “A man hides his fear well and has my respect, but I fear no blade and have no need to hide behind a shield. My jaws have torn the throats of both beast and man, my claws are as many of your sword. Furthermore, I do hunger for your meat.”

Despite my desire to show no fear to this monster I shivered at his words for I had no doubt that this beast had tasted the flesh of man before. I threw another branch onto the fire and looked past for a sign of the coming day that was truly my only hope, for the demon could not bide the sun. He had stalked me for three nights now and only in the darkness of night could his paws be heard breaking the twigs in the dark woods and his voice rumbling forth from the shadows.

“A man now shows his fear.” Though the beast had the aspect of a wolf he seemed to grin at me through the failing flames of the fire. “Come out of this cave for daylight draws near, but not near enough that you should see the morrow, I wish to eat slow and savor your flesh. Come daylight I will have to leave what scraps of you remain and they will be stolen from me by the other creatures of this wood that feed upon meat. No creature dares steal from me in the darkness.” The beast laughed again in a deep rumble that shook the stones upon the cavern floor were I sat.

I looked at my waning pile of firewood and back at the purpling horizon. It did not give me hope. I threw the remaining sticks onto the fire, pulled my sword and my shield closer to my side and shut my eyes to sleep for I had, had little slumber since I had entered the beast’s wood and knew that no matter what, I would know either daylight or death next I opened them.

As you well know, for I am here to tell you what I have told, I woke to the warmth of daylight on my face. I saw not, the beast again in his woods for I now sleep in my own home. Yet, Hemthir’s son has gone missing and the wife of Uthmir claims she has seen the shadow of a great wolf stalking among the huts. I fear I have led the beast here and that it would have been better had I been taken in the dark while I journeyed. Perhaps, the beast in his demonic cunning thought for me to lead him to our home all along.

The Rise and Fall of the Torang Dynasty

No one would call themselves king today except for the dwarves in the West who mostly keep to themselves. The Elves and Giants in the Northern reaches are ruled by queens but are too busy warring amongst each other to be of any concern to humankind. The world is largely as it was before the fall of Emperor Helmund Torang VI. In that time Sirinaria’s main continent was divided into dozens of city states each with their own king.

King Helmund Torang IV ruled over Endlass which is now present day Greegate. In those days the kings – descendants of generals from the war between the true dragons, that lived when the Earth was still cooling and all magics were as yet untamed, against the Old Ones who created Sirinaria as nothing but an afterthought – held artifacts and magics of great power. While they warred against one another often in petty skirmishes no king was willing to truly test another for fear of arousing their true powers. In truth these artifacts and magics existed as forgotten dusty tomes and relics locked away in the deepest recesses of their respective strongholds, not lost, but forgotten as only a glimmer of fear, a threat, in the minds of those kings. Helmund IV was one of the more ambitious kings in that time, as skilled a general as his ancient forbearers who were created by either the dragons or old ones, no one really knows, for the purpose of directing armies. Helmund IV felt a strong bond with his ancestors and directed his lore masters to delve into his keep in search of lost knowledge about his heritage and to teach it to himself, his son and his grandson. In their search these lore masters, who were the first wizards of human stock for no man yet knew how to call upon magic and bend it to his will, found the ancient texts and lost artifacts that granted them this knowledge. While the other kings would have quivered in fear at the unearthing of this power, the Torang’s embraced it, as it was, so they believed, their birthright, and the will of the ancients.

Helmund IV was able to learn only the basest of magics, but his time was nearing its end. His mind held much in the way of statesmanship and war craft and held no more room for the arcane. Helmund IV taught his son and grandson all he knew and had his lore masters teach them of magic and it’s use. When the fifth and sixth Helmund were at the peak of their power their patriarch passed, commanding them with his dying breath to go to war against all the other kings and make all of Sirinaria a single empire under the rule of the Torangs. Declarations of war were drawn up and sent to all the nations. Allegiances were forged, some nations surrendered immediately, most were utterly crushed under the vastly superior might of the Torangs as their empire expanded with each victory. In two decades the Torangs ruled all the human lands East of the Norost Mountains. It was the Dwarven kingdom that gave the Torang empire it’s first real test. The dwarves had never forgotten their lineage, having crafted even the weapons of power the Torangs used to secure every victory they had tasted thus far, they were able to beat back the human armies from their walls but did not have the strength or will to pursue them, creating a stalemate between the two nations. Helmund V driven by the final commandment of his late father strode to the front line with his son, each of the Torangs were unmatched in both war craft and spell craft and showered the dwarven nation with spells of such destruction the world had not seen since the ancient war that the magics had been created for many eons ago. Still the dwarven walls would not crumble and after three moons of bombardment Helmund V was slain and the youngest of the Torangs crippled.

Helmund VI fled back to Endlass along with his favored general, Arito Greegate, perhaps the most powerful general in the empire now that only one crippled Torang remained, for while Greegate was also injured and taken out of the fight it was clear he would recover whereas the last Torang would not. Helmund VI raged as only a man in the prime of his youth can. He brought together his lore masters and wizards and scoured his library of magics, both those that had been handed down among the generations of his own family and those taken as spoils of conquest from his enemies. Together they found a spell that would create an invincible warrior, a deathless knight that would not tire, would shrug off even the most grievous of injuries, and would have the strength of a legion of men. The man bestowed with this power would also be cursed, never again would he see the rise of another sun. Such was the cost of victory and General Greegate paid it gladly for he loved and trusted his king and believed as did the Torangs that it was their birthright to rule all of Sirinaria.

The spell was cast and Greegate was transformed into one of the undead, a vampire who thirsted for blood. Of course Arito’s bloodlust was soon to be quelled as he left Endlass once again for the battlefront. The vampire Greegate met the front line like a mastodon trampling a straw hut. Victory would have been assured but for a defeat behind their own lines. Human defectors, tired of the cost decades of war had enacted upon them slipped into the Torang castle and slew the last of the Torang bloodline. Where the 3 Torangs slew millions in their pursuit of a global empire, only 3 assassins, equipped with only stealth and daggers brought it all to an end.

News of the fall reached Greegate and for the first time he felt not just his new power but also realized his curse for what it was. In a terrible rage he withdrew the army that answered now only to him in defeat and turned it upon Endlass. When he arrived he razed the city in a single night. No stone was left standing. Most of the army abandoned their cursed lord, their purpose dashed. The remaining wizards took the artifacts and spells they held and hid them throughout the continent, making their new abodes in out of the way places far from their fallen kingdom and Greegate’s wrath which they all feared.

When Arito’s wrath cooled he instructed those still loyal to him to construct a new city upon the spot where Endlass once stood. This new city he called Greegate, in the center of which he constructed a great manse with a tower that allowed him to look upon his city, while his thirst for war had been forever quenched he rules over his namesake city with an iron hand. Arito’s desire for war was spent though and he would never again leave his home.

Thus it is that there are no more kings or emperors among men. Mankind’s magics are lost and waiting to be found in the dark places all over Sirinaria, wizards tend to hide in studious solitude in their towers, and bards sing of the glory and fall of man. The dwarves, who, perhaps if they had pursued humanity back to where they fled upon the death of their emperor, could have wiped them out entirely, never did. Instead, keeping to themselves in their mountain keeps, their own purpose unknown and unknowable, except to their own king, who sits atop the highest tower in the greatest structure ever constructed above or below Sirinaria’s vast firmament. The elves and giants of the North, were vaguely aware of a war but remained unconcerned for they too have their purpose knowable only to these great races, and had their own war against one another to be waged, which persists in a seemingly endless stalemate to this day within the mountains and silver pine forests of the farthest North.

It was also after this time that mankind’s first gods were born, ascended from mortals, the favor granted them by other men in life seems to have elevated their souls to godhood when their mortal bodies perished. While their power can be felt by the most devout of their followers, these young gods remain nearly as aloof as Sirinaria’s original creators, the dragons and the old ones.

Skinchanger

The skinchanger started out as my own take on the druid, but has gradually shifted towards being its own unique class. There are still a lot of similarities with the druid, but I’ve also tried to make the skinchanger stand out on its own. I created this class for my wife to use and she has really enjoyed it. It is still very much a work in progress, so please provide any constructive criticism in the comments below. The stats provided are intended for Old School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome, but it should be easy to adapt this class to the system of your choosing.

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: WIS
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: 14
Armor: Leather
Weapons: Club, sling, spear, staff
Languages: Common, the secret druidic tongue

The skinchanger is a type of druid who has learned the ability to transport their minds into and possess other creatures. These can be either animals or monsters, but not humanoids or other intelligent beings. Skinchangers’ bodies are generally very frail, and it is believed that nature has granted them the ability to skinchange in order to compensate.

Alignment

Skinchanger Level Progression
Saving Throws Spells
Level XP HD THAC0 D W P B S 1 2 3 4 5
101d419 [0]11121416151
22,0002d419 [0]11121416152
34,0003d419 [0]111214161521
47,5004d419 [0]111214161522
512,5005d417 [+2]9101214122211
620,0006d417 [+2]91012141222211
735,0007d417 [+2]91012141233221
860,0008d417 [+2]91012141233322
990,0009d414 [+5]67911944332
10125,0009d4+1*14 [+5]67911944433
11200,0009d4+2*14 [+5]67911955443
12300,0009d4+3*14 [+5]67911955544
13750,0009d4+4*12 [+7]3578765554
141,500,0009d4+5*12 [+7]3578766555
* Modifiers from CON no longer apply. D: Death / poison;
W: Wands;
P: Paralysis / petrify;
B: Breath attacks;
S: Spells / rods / staves.

Alignment

Like the druid, the skinchanger must be neutral in alignment.

Combat

Skinchangers may not use or wear anything metallic, as it interferes with their abilities. Since the skinchanger is able to control animals at will, they will more often choose to try to force their will on an animal or simple minded monster to defend them rather than join in combat themselves.

Divine Magic

Unlike druids, the skinchanger is not required to carry a holy symbol, but they do need to be faithful to the tenets of their alignment and religion. Their abilities are granted to them by nature and therefore they must not offend nature or incur penalties. The skinchanger does not gain spells through research, but through a process known as a “spirit walk”. A skinchanger can also use magic scrolls for spells on their spell list as well as items that may only be used by divine spell casters.

Skinchange

Skinchangers have the innate ability to transport their consciousness into animals which gives them control over that animal. While using this ability, the skinchanger’s body enters a state of torpor, to an observer they appear asleep. The skinchanger is completely unaware of anything happening to or around their own body unless they are observing through the senses of the animal they have taken control of. This ability can be used at will, but is not guaranteed success. Use the table below to determine success. If the skinchanger has failed to take control of an animal, then they are unable to attempt another skin change for 1 hour and may not attempt control of the same animal for 24 hours unless that animal is willing. Attempting to skin change to a willing animal always succeeds unless a failed attempt was made in the last hour. If the animal the druid is possessing dies, the druid immediately returns to their body and is shaken by the experience, unable to take any action for the next round. If the skinchanger’s body is killed, the skinchanger’s consciousness may remain within the possessed animal. If a skinchanger spends more than 24 hours within an animal, they will forget their humanity. Even if their mind is returned to their original body, they will behave as that animal would, although they will eventually regain their humanity over time. The length of time is up to the GM’s discretion and should be based on how long the skinchanger lived as an animal. This is true even if the skinchanger’s body is killed and and then resurrected. Any time spent within the body of an animal should have an effect on the skinchanger’s mind, affecting their behavior upon returning.

Skinchange Success table
-: The skinchange fails
Number: If the 2d6 turning roll is higher or equal, the skinchange attempt succeeds.
S: The skinchange succeeds

Creature Hit Dice†
Level1234567-9
1 7 9
2 S 7 11
3 S S 9 11
4 S S 7 9 11
5 S S S 7 9 11
6 S S S S 7 9 11
7 S S S S S 7 9
8 S S S S S S 7
9 S S S S S S S
10 S S S S S S S
11+ S S S S S S S

* monsters with a special ability
(i.e. with an asterisk next to their HD
rating, in the creature description) increase the level to roll against by 1. ex. 2* becomes 3, 5** becomes 7.
† At the referee’s option, the table may be
expanded to include more powerful
types of creatures.

Spirit Walk

A Spirit Walk occurs while the skinchanger is asleep and involuntarily skin changes into a nearby animal. During a spirit walk, skinchangers don’t have full control over the possessed animal as they would during a skin change. Unlike a skin change, they will also immediately return to their body if it is disturbed. The effect is more of a dream like state rather than a full voluntary possession. Skinchangers cannot willingly perform a spirit walk, they must be initiated by the GM and at the very least should occur every time the skinchanger gains a level. While possessing an animal during a spirit walk, the skinchanger can learn new spells, interesting lore, be alerted of danger to self or to the party, or anything else the GM deems important. GMs should try to describe the spirit walk in detail and include how the new information is learned. Skinchangers are aware that when they find themselves involuntarily possessing another creature they are about to learn something important. Common skinchanger lore is that while they may gain great control over nature, it is ultimately nature that controls them.

Animal Communication

A skinchanger cannot speak with animals in any language, howeer beginning at 3rd level, they are able to use their mental bond with an animal to communicate thoughts and emotions. The animal will not understand projected words, but the skinchanger can try to describe concepts by sending images and emotions telepathically.

Reaching 12th Level and Above

There can only be nine druids of 12th level, and since skinchangers are druids, this applies to them as well. When a skinchanger has enough experience to reach 12th level, they must challenge an existing 12th level druid. The character only advances to 12th level if the other druid is defeated. Such challenges may take any form that is agreed by both parties, including combat (which need not be fatal). Likewise, there can only be three druids of 13th level and a single druid (known as the arch-druid) of 14th level. Druids who attain 12th level or above may build a stronghold integrated into a natural setting.

Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet

Last week I wrote about the concept of dimensional dungeons. I really like the concept because it gives me a great deal of flexibility when just plopping some random dungeon into the world. A dungeon that seems out of place and doesn’t really make sense to be there suddenly does make sense when you say the dungeon entrance is actually a doorway to another dimension that can pop in and out of existence at random locations. The following is an example of one such dungeon, created to hold a powerful artifact.

Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet is a powerful artifact described in one of the books in the wizard Ugeor’s library. He has never pursued the artifact himself but it has always been a curiosity to him. When the heroes bring a strange rectangular cuboid object to him to be identified he recognizes it at once! It is the key to the dungeon where the gauntlet is interred. He describes how to summon the doorway using the key and suggests doing so a ways outside of the city just in case the guardians within may be let out, then tells you that if you retrieve Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet and bring it to him he will pay a hefty price for it, but warns you that Z’tratlan most likely did not want his gauntlet found and that the dungeon it is kept in would most likely be filled with traps and dangerous guardians. Z’tratlan was a necromancer of considerable renown and he would want protectors that would not age so they would most likely be undead.

The heroes take the key to a secluded location outside of town and begin the simple rite that summons the doorway. As they do so the air grows cold and the light of the sun seems to dim although there are no clouds in the sky. Then the earth rumbles and an obsidian arch rises from the ground. The arch thrusts upwards 10 feet revealing a pair of banded wooden doors covered in an indecipherable writing. In between the doors is a rectangle just large enough for Z’tratlan’s key to fit.

Z'tratlan's Gauntlet
Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet – click map to download.

The following map is a micro-dungeon you can use in your games. It has 5 described rooms, one of them being the trapped hallway. I’d like to try to publish a map on a semi regular basis. I’m still a beginner at making these maps but I really enjoy it so while I know there is room for improvement I think I can do so quickly. I’ve designed this map with Old School Essentials published by Necrotic Gnome in mind but there isn’t anything here requiring you to use those rules. I’ve intentionally left out monster stats to keep this rules and level neutral. I don’t like to use monsters from the book, instead I make up my own but typically will take the stats from something that seems appropriate in the book, swap out the descriptions, and add or subtract abilities. The room descriptions below should be taken only as a suggestion and I encourage you to ignore all of them. You could also use this as a portion of a larger map or draw your own extensions to make this bigger. I’d love to hear how you used this map, and any feedback you have that will help me when creating new maps in the comments for this post.

  1. This first room has a doorway to the East and West. Both doors are banded wooden doors and are locked. The locks are simple and non magical so the doors shouldn’t be too much effort to open either by picking the locks or breaking the doors down. On either side of the doors is a glowing sphere. These spheres are an electrical trap that will discharge if anyone walks between them. The spheres can be easily shattered but should be done from a distance lest they discharge through the player’s weapon.
  2. There is a treasure chest in this room to tempt players, it is locked but again shouldn’t be too much trouble to smash the wooden chest or pick the lock. Before entering the room though, the players will notice a large sphere, very similar to the ones in room 1. This sphere will zap anyone that enters the room and will do three times the damage caused by the spheres in room 1. If the players made it this far though they know they can smash this sphere but doing so will be more difficult. I’ll leave it up to the GM to decide what is in the chest but the players should be rewarded for their efforts in getting to it and opening it. Optionally, if you wish there can be a secret passageway to room 4 which willow the players the ability to avoid the spike and pit trap in room 3.
  3. Stepping into this hallway triggers the trap. A spiked wall will slowly move towards the players. They can easily evade the wall by moving away from it at a normal speed, however there is also a pit trap in the floor here. The players can walk around the pit trap and still evade the encroaching spiked wall if they notice it. When the spiked wall passes by the entryway from room 1, that way becomes closed off and the players must wait for the trap to retract again which it does when it reaches the end of the hallway right before it curves. This can also prevent a hasty retreat since the wall moves very slowly.
  4. This room contains armored spirit guardians. The players may wish to avoid the guardians but one of them contains a key inside it’s armor that is necessary to unlock the chest in room 5.
  5. A mummy warrior guards this room and atop a small dais on the far side of the room is an iron chest. The chest is bolted to the ground and unbreakable, the lock might be picked but would be challenging to do so or it might be more easily opened by magical means if the key is unavailable. The mummy is considerably stronger than a normal mummy and won’t let the players approach the chest without a fight. It will fight until destroyed. The mummy might be stronger than the players but is also weak against fire and can easily be destroyed by it. It can also be turned by a cleric but won’t be destroyed by turning and the effects only last a single round before this mummy is able to shake them off and return to the fight. Inside the chest is Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet.

This dungeon will remain in place once summoned unless it’s key is removed. It can be summoned in any location, but the locals might not appreciate it’s gaudy entryway within their town. Once the gauntlet is taken out of the dungeon it will disappear and cannot be brought back. Anything left inside the dungeon will be lost for good. All players should be allowed to leave the dungeon before it disappears, but if I were running this and felt that loophole was being taken advantage of, I wouldn’t have qualms with stranding a player.

Dimensional Dungeons

I’ve been thinking about dungeons and how random dungeons in the middle of some woods can be kind of silly. Why would they be there with nothing else around them, what purpose would they serve? It just doesn’t make sense that you’d be miles from civilization and there is just some dungeon in the middle of nowhere. Or does it? I want the things in my world to make sense, to have purpose, not just be randomly placed set pieces for player characters to trip over while wandering aimlessly through the woods. So I have been thinking about what reason these dungeons might have for existing out in the woods at seemingly random locations, or possible even a location that players have been to and there wasn’t one before.

Actually these dungeons are quite literally placed randomly on the map. I roll some dice, look at a table and depending on what I roll, a dungeon might be at the location. I just don’t want it to feel that way. So I came up with the idea of the dimensional dungeon, which is essentially a pocket dimension containing a dungeon. These dungeons can appear anywhere and may only exist in the world that the player characters are exploring for a brief period of time, or they may be permanent doors to another world, a world that is only the size of the dungeon contained within. They might have been created to house some artifact, imprison some particularly nasty monster, or as a place for a wizard to study and experiment in a solitude that cannot be achieved on the prime plane. The dungeon’s purpose can give it its interior characteristics. The dungeon meant to house some sort of powerful artifact or imprison someone or something is likely to be filled with traps and contain guards meant to last a very long time. A wizard’s laboratory would likely be filled with weird creatures not found anywhere else, and perhaps even the wizard. Then again, maybe his dungeon entrance can only be found because he is in town shopping for ingredients that he needs to complete his work.

The dimensional dungeon can come and go from this world as well. It might only appear when the proper astral alignment is in place, or when it has some need for an entrance on this world. The wizard’s lab is probably cut off from the material plane most times unless the wizard has some need for it to be revealed. One of these dungeons may exist in a location one day and be gone the next. A dungeon holding a powerful artifact might cease to exist once its reason for existing in the first place has been removed. Also, I think as a rule players should never be trapped within a dimensional dungeon. The exit should always be available to the players; however, once they leave, there should be no guarantee that they will be able to re-enter.

The best part about the dimensional dungeon is that it doesn’t quite have to fit the landscape. You have a story element that gives a randomly appearing dungeon a reason for being there. I think it’s always better if your dungeon is a good fit for the surrounding area, but sometimes you are in a hurry or you might have some other reason for needing to place a specific dungeon someplace that it doesn’t quite seem to belong. So go ahead and put that ice cave dungeon in the scalding desert.