Monday, April 18, 2022

Crypt-Cities: Rot Blossom Beds

(I hadn't given my Crypt-Cities mini-setting much thought for over a year now. But somewhere during the lurid dream-quest that has been my first Elden Ring playthrough, I came across these guys.

Trying not to spoil much, they are undead guardians brought back to life by the miniature trees sticking out of their backs. Some are bare or budding, others are blooming, still others are suffering a fungal infection.

How could I not go back and write something similar up for CCs?)

Rot Blossom Beds

Ahh, here we are. Look upon this mound of rot and despair, all ye wretched Awakened.

This is the fate that awaits anyone who doesn't take the time to check their scabrous hides for sprouts at the end of the day. All that struggle, all that toil, all that Need doesn't amount to anything if you become just another mindless seedbed.

Fortunately for our demonstrational purposes, this poor wretch was taken by a less virulent strain of Rot Blossom. They're still doomed, make no mistake, but it affords us an opportunity to study it closer without fear of any of you lot succumbing- probably.

See here how the biggest growth erupts from between the shoulders- rot blossoms especially favor the spinal column as a pathway through the body when taking root. If this specimen was given the time to, it's likely it would grow into a hideously beautiful tree that would then spread its seeds all across the wastes, catching more Awakened and perpetuating the cycle.

It's almost enough to make you want to burn it, isn't it?

Of course that will only make things worse- for you, for the host, and for countless other Awakened. Instead, your best course of action will be to cut it down to size and then bury everything in pieces somewhere even more inhospitable than the rest of the wastes- a salt flat is ideal. Yes, you're damning your fellow to an eternity as an immobile salt mummy, but you'll be saving everyone else. Easy decisions do not await you in this unlife, Awakened.

See how the roots weave their way all along the body, even worming their way in under its death mask.  This allows it locomotion even after a point where the host's independent motor functions have long since ceased. The body is just another organ now, granting the plant the ability to move and see. The union is rarely perfect, and it can sometimes take seconds for stimuli to travel from one half to the other- that is what gives the rot-bedded their characteristic shamble; the thing so many of the Living characterize all of you having by default. It may be that these poor wretches originated that stereotype, but don't bear them any ill will for it if you can help it.

We may as well get this next part over with and show you lot how to neutralize them.

See how the body twitches and slowly gathers itself up as another creature approaches it. See the clumsy yet deliberate swivel as it tries to locate and react to this new threat.

See how it... waves its hand and clears its throat?

And... politely introduces itself?

What?


Not Just Fertilizer

It is difficult to call you "one of the lucky ones". You are an Awakened, after all. But considering the worse fate you should have suffered given the situation, it's safe to say you skirted another abyss. And look at you now; you've got a friend.

A less parasitic kind of rot blossom has taken root in your body. In fact, its relationship to you verges on symbiotic. You grant it life through your unfathomable biology, and in return it offers up its grim bounty. Perhaps it is a long-lost strain, or a more recent mutation. It may resemble a small flowerbed, a half-dead shrub, a tangle of vines, or even a gnarled sapling. Coloration ranges from matte and bland to eye-wateringly bright and lurid; texture from glassy smoothness to shredding thorns.

You resemble a Holt-Dweller whose mask has gone horribly awry, and among the unlearned you may even pass as one. But any Awakened worth heir smoke knows what you are, and will probably scorn you as such.

The plant will cause irreparable damage to your body if you try to remove it in its entirety, but you can prune it or keep it trimmed. Virtually every blossom bed that manages to keep the company of other Awakened will obsessively dispose of any fruit, seed pods, spore clusters, etc. before they can mature. Of course then you are left with company that is afraid of neither infestation nor immolation- a mad bunch indeed.

As alluded to, you can also use the 'bounty' of this bleak passenger to your own advantage. Branches can be cut and shaped into tools. Leaves can be harvested for their chemical properties. A seed can be used to hold yourself and anyone else in range of you hostage in a high-stakes situation. Your options are limited only by your imagination and recklessness.

You also benefit from something else. Something... disquieting to think about. You don't feel the Need quite as strongly as your fellows. The agonizing geas to throw yourself into a cozy little coffin in a crypt-city somewhere certainly still exists, but it doesn't have quite the same edge that drives others mad. This allows you to willingly travel farther afield of your final destination, opening up more opportunities to find resources and dangers out on the wastes.

But why exactly is the Need weaker in you?

Is it the rot blossom? Does it shield you from it?

Or is it feeding you a conflicting urge so subtle that you can't even perceive it?

And if so, where would it lead you?

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Goats & Gobs

Take a second to forget about all the animals you've seen domesticated (or not-so-domesticated) and ridden by goblins in the past. Forget about wargs. Forget ponies, or bats, or rat-dogs, or squigs, or llamas.

Well, okay, just put a pin in llamas for now- those are worth coming back to later.

But forget all of that, and for a moment consider instead: goats.

MTG Goblin Cavaliers by DiTerlizzi

The combination might not be obvious, but there are some strong reasons why goblins and goats should have a high affinity for one another.

For starters, they can both live off of almost unthinkable diets. While the belief that goats will gladly munch down on cardboard or tin cans is a myth propagated by their curious foraging nature, goats still eat a wide range of plant matter. Some of what they like to eat the most is actually toxic to most other living things- goblins included. 

Goblins, meanwhile, can and will devour that old leather belt or that dead sparrow if they aren't confident that another, better food source will be readily available in the near future. And even if there is, the goblin will probably take the bird or belt along anyway so that it can be pickled or fermented for later. Don't mistake that for simplemindedness or gluttony, however- it's thanks to a digestive tract evolved for a nutrient-scarce environment, coupled with an instinctive sensitivity to the risk of famine. They never did learn to stomach most leaves or grass, though.

Because of these broad diets, goblins and goats can coexist and eat what the other won't eat without having to compete for the same food sources. This efficiency is a double-edged sword in large numbers. While the jury is still out on whether goats are scientifically proven to cause habitat collapse via soil erosion or they actually help revitalize certain ecosystems, the sheer number of empty stomachs that a mass of goblins and goats brings with it is a problem alone.

For that reason, the hybrid herds are hyper-nomadic, moving almost daily within the environments allowed by their particular species of goat rather than settling in an area for weeks or months at a time like normal. To linger on any longer would strip the land bare and leave nothing to return to in their nebulous conception of the far future known as the Next Time. It must be acknowledged that, in emergency circumstances, a group of goblins can probably just eat the goats- assuming the goats' hooves and/or horns don't have anything to say on the matter. But more often than not they stick to their itinerancy, seeing little reason to try and kill their neighbors.

And it is that distinction—that they are neighbors—which defines the rest of the coexistence between these species. The goats are not so much domesticated as they are accustomed to bearing the gangling little green things that help them fend off their predators. The goblins are not so much herding the goats as they are fitting themselves into a larger herd and finding their niche- something they are apt to do everywhere else, so why not here?

Another cause for their uncommon kinship is how the rest of the world views them. Big folk tend to treat goblins and goats as inherently silly and bizarre creatures, and make them the butt of jokes and folklore when they aren't making them out to be the embodiments of pure evil. It's a wonder there aren't a bunch of them leaping across the pages of illuminated medieval manuscripts together, right in between the monopods and the killer snails. Commonality of adversity can go a long way.

Goblins and goats are also just generally fond of one another. They don't mind the other's odd smells or habits. Kids and whelps get along surprisingly well around nannies or aunties. And unlike most other humanoid species, the majority of goblins find the rectangular-pupiled eyes of a goat incredibly comforting and relaxing to gaze into. Goat eyes have taken on an apotropaic quality among some tribes, acting like an inverse of the more well-known Evil Eye. They appear often in decorative motifs and protective amulets, sometimes made using actual preserved eyes from the herd's most respected old goats.

Some of these goat-eye talismans even find their way into outsiders' hands through trade, alongside dung (sold either as fuel or fertilizer), homespun goat wool articles, and the (in)famous cheeses and beverages that goblins make from goat milk. There are more points of contact between the herds and other groups than being shooed off of someone's property, after all. Gob-goat herds will even hire themselves out to big folk as professional lawnmowers and conservation grazers on occasion.

And lest we forget, goat riders can be some of the most deadly annoying riders in the world, considering most defenses against cavalry don't take into account the ability to climb 95° inclines or leap 3 meters across from a standstill.


D&D 5E Character Background: Gob-Goat Herder


You are a child of the gob-goat herds, forever wandering the margins of the world in all their bleating majesty. Your scruffy ways belie a globetrotter's wisdom and a cosmopolitan outlook. You've seen trackless wilderness, distant bazaars, and a dozen terrors that would have devoured you if not for your goat's quick hooves. With naught but a good saddle and better cheese, you are eager to face anything and bring back stories Next Time you're passing through.

Skill Proficiencies: Animal Handling, Survival
Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan's tools or musical instrument, either particular to your herd or something completely incongruous that you picked up on a whim at a market somewhere
Languages: One of your choice from the myriad of cultures you've encountered 
Equipment: Shepherd's utility crook, your favorite old saddle (goat-sized), a rectangular eye amulet, a set of traveler's clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 "squeaky stones" (extra-preserved goat cheese curds usable as 10 rations or 10 pieces of sling ammunition)

Features


Herd Role

Most goblins in a gob-goat herd can do most things, but every once in a while someone takes an extra bright shine to one profession or the other. Consider the ways you perform your role different from anyone else, or how you've picked up new tricks during your travels. You may roll on the following table to determine your profession during your time with the herd, or choose one that best fits your character.

d10

Herd Role

1

Cheese-maker

2

Dung-shoveler

3

Scout

4

Wrangler

5

Eyesmith

6

Milkgob

7

Kid-minder

8

Shearer

9

Storyteller

10

Peddler


Hard Living

Your knowledge of ancient goat-lore ensures that you are never without a caprine companion. In the woeful event that you are without a goat, you can spend 1 hour scouring the wilds for a feral goat, even in places where goats are not native. You still have to befriend the goat yourself.

In addition, you can find food and fresh water for yourself and your goat each day, even in places where the land shouldn't be able to provide that much sustenance.

Suggested Characteristics

It's a rough, wild life out on the edges. But you learned more than just wiliness or plucky determination from it. The herd is shaped by the peoples and places it interacts with, and you are no different.

Personality Traits

d6

Personality Trait

1

I normally speak in an idiosyncratic pidgin of a dozen different languages plus goat noises that I've developed over the years.

2

I have a soft spot for herd and draft animals of all sorts, and I usually carry a bag of treats for whenever I come across them.

3

Working hard so you can play hard later is for fools- just do both at the same time!

4

Big folk have done terrible things to goblins and unspeakable things to goats. I am always on guard around them.

5

Even if I don't believe in them, I collect symbols of lots of different gods, spirits, and faiths as good luck charms on my travels.

6

I always try to relate the ways of the world and the behaviors of outsiders to the internal dynamics of a goat herd as a way to understand them.


Ideals

d6

Ideal

1

Coexistence. Let us share the lessons we’ve learned out on the margins, to help build a more accepting future. (Good)

2

Herd Mentality. We stay out of trouble by sticking together and keeping our heads down. (Lawful)

3

Whimsy. I bet this would go great with some fermented nanny’s milk…! (Chaotic)

4

Despoliation. Why shouldn’t we smash and reave and go as we please? Let them try to catch us. (Evil)

5

Survival. I’m hungry, and I don’t know how to eat philosophy- yet. (Neutral)

6

Curiosity. Ooh, I wonder what’s over that hill? (Any)


Bonds

d6

Bond

1

My mount is my best friend and my living, breathing, bleating connection to my herd even when we are far apart.

2

Strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet, and hospitality is sacred to my people.

3

The herd once paced through a special, transformative place that I have held as sacred ever since, and I will return to it someday.

4

Despite probably being younger than all of them, I view the outsiders I travel with as bounding baby goats in need of a nanny to guide them.

5

I carry a precious keepsake I accidentally "borrowed" long ago, and have vowed to give it back Next Time.

6

I draw a goat eye on everything for protection, and to keep my herd's tradition alive.


Flaws

d6

Flaw

1

I get anxious and stir-crazy if I stay in one place for too long. “Too long” can be several days, or it can be several seconds.

2

I balk at concepts like borders or private land ownership- the world is free for all to graze in common! … Landlords and town guards don’t ever seem to agree, though.

3

I spent too much time watching the billies butt heads growing up, and I can come across as rough and aggressive when I don’t mean to be.

4

I often forget that other people didn’t grow up in a herd, and this usually ends in embarrassing situations- for everyone else.

5

I am curious about the places I visit- incessantly, vocally curious, much to the dismay of whomever I choose to ask questions of.

6

I consider bathing to be a silly affectation, and a senseless waste of precious drinking water besides. No one will convince me otherwise.