Into the Gloaming (Part II)

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, by John Quidor (1858)

Hello friends and Happy Halloween!

Last year at this time I shared a trio of new Torchbearer monsters to fill your horror gaming needs: the vampire, werewolf and zombie.

I wanted to do something similar this year, but we’ve already got most of the classic horror monsters covered. As I mentioned, last year’s blog post covers vampires, werewolves and zombies. The Torchbearer core book has ghouls and skeleteons. The Petersen Bestiary (vol. 1) covers the ghost (you can also find her in The Dread Crypt of Skogenby). And the draugr from Middarmark has the revenant/mummy covered. What to do?

I discussed the issue with Jared Sorensen (check out Jared’s Torchbearer Sagas content here), and Jared suggested we do some monsters from folklore and popular culture. So without further ado, as a Halloween thank you to all of you, here’s Jared’s take on the Dullahan and the Creature and my take on the Gremlin. Enjoy!

The Dullahan

Capt. Mayne Reid’s version of a Texas Legend, published in 1865

The dullahan doesn’t roam the land willy-nilly, laying waste as a vengeful ghost or bloodthirsty killer would. Think of them as Grim Reaper-esque figures, traveling the land in search of already-doomed souls. The characters may cross its path during its nightly ride, it could be in search of a character fated to die, or it could be seeking to claim a sacrifice. Read on!

Twist: Wandering Monster
In the first situation, the party encounters a dullahan as it makes its way through the countryside, its glowing head held aloft like a grim lantern. To further twist the knife, a devious GM could have the dullahan’s target end up being a parent, friend, mentor or even an enemy of one of the characters!

Twist: Fated to Die
A human player character who is fated to die, either from a failed test or as part of a compromise, may have their dark fate put on hold—long enough for the dullahan to make a personal appearance and claim that soul for itself.

Adventure Hook: The Lottery

In a small backwater town, an obscure cult worships an ancient fertility god local to their region. Once a year, they make a sacrifice to ensure a rich harvest—a human sacrifice, and the Immortal they revere prefers his victims to be decapitated. The dullahan is its earthly incarnation, a reaper of souls, an embodiment of death. This year, the offering has escaped (either on their own or with the aid of another) and this could bring grave consequences for the townsfolk. Will the adventurers recapture the sacrifice? Find a new offering? Destroy the cult? Banish the dullahan?

Facing the Dullahan

Characters facing the dullahan may attempt to delay their fate with a Banish or Drive Off conflict, but this will provide a moment of  relief—the next night, the dullahan will ride once more. If the dullahan is on its way to claim a soul, Drive Off simply isn’t an option—the dullahan will curse those who catch its eye, then continue on its way. Fleeing the dullahan’s wrath is next to impossible: they are tireless, relentless, all-seeing and cannot be slowed by doors or gates.

The Dullahan

Nature 6Might 5
Cursing, Hunting, Riding
Goal: Each night I ride to claim a soul.
Instinct: Speak the name of the dying before taking their soul.Type: Faerie/Spirit

Special Rules
Speak of the Dead
: The dullahan cannot speak save for one utterance per journey: the name of its victim. Should their victim hear the dullahan speak their name, they will drop dead. Attempting to shield the victim using earplugs or magic will only delay the inevitable—see below.
Flying Head: As a last resort, the dullahan may use an Attack action to throw its own head. It will try to target the doomed character (if present) but will also target anyone it deems to be interfering with its Instinct. When used against another Attack, this is a versus test. The glowing head screams as it flies through the air, ignores armor and only causing damage to its target. If hit, the target suffers the Dead condition and the dullahan, its head and its mount/coach vanish from sight until the next night when it will ride once again.
Caught by its Eye
: Best to shutter your windows when this bogey rides past; Should any character catch the dullahan’s stare, they’ll suffer a harrowing event: either going blind in one eye or having blood splashed in their face, as if it was thrown from a great basin. Make a Will test vs the Dullahan’s cursing Nature; success means the character becomes drenched in blood and Afraid. Failure means the character will be struck blind in one eye:
MoF Duration
1-2 one phase
3-4 one session
5 one adventure
6 one season
The affected eye becomes milky white and sightless, although this blindness is temporary and their sight will be restored after the curse’s duration expires. If a one-eyed character is affected, they would be totally blind during the curse’s duration and suffer all manner of normal penalties for being without sight.
Spectral Sight
: The dullahan can see in total darkness and across vast distances. Characters may not hide from the dullahan using stealth or magic.
Fey Knock: No door or gate can prevent the dullahan from passing. WIth but a gesture or glance that portal will unlock/unbar itself and fly open to allow passage.
Nightmare
: While mounted, the dullahan’s Might is increased by +1 and it may use its steed’s Nature descriptors (fighting, pursuing, burning). Disarming the mount will unseat the dullahan.
Aurophobia: Dullahan fear the sight of gold. Characters wielding a sack of gold or any gold artifact in their hands gain +1D to any action, in addition to the benefit from their normal weapon. Characters may also choose to break a tie in their favor by throwing gold at the dullahan.

Hit Points

Flee
16
Drive Off
8
Banish
6
WeaponConflictADFM
Spine WhipDrive Off+1D+2D
Black HorseDrive Off+2D
RelentlessBanish
Drive Off
+1D
Coach-a-bowerFlee+2D+1D+1D
Darting EyesFlee+1D+2D

The Dullahan Description

This headless spirit rides a ghostly black horse across dark roads and trails, through forests and moors. In its hand or under its arm it holds its own severed head; corteed by a hideous and impossibly wide grin,  with soulless black eyes that are in constant motion, enabling it to find its prey across vast distances to find its victim, no matter where they lie. The head itself glows with hellish green phosphorescence which the dullahan uses like a lantern to light its way as it rides the countryside. In its other hand it wields a human spine as a whip.

As a harbinger of death, those unfortunate enough to catch a glimpse of this spirit as it rides past will be showered with blood or struck blind in one eye. Any door or gate—even those that are locked or barred—will fly open as the dullahan approaches. In some instances, the dullahan will be driving its coach-a-bower; a black hearse pulled by a team of six black horses. The coach is adorned with candle-lit skulls, with wheel spokes fashioned from human thigh bones and human skin or a worm-eaten pall in place of a canvas or fabric covering. The coach moves so quickly, its wheels set the ground ablaze. The dullahan never speaks, save for the name of its dying victim. Upon hearing their name, that person drops dead; their soul is then carried off in the coach which vanishes without a trace. 

The only defense against the dullahan is to brandish a weapon or object made of gold, for the dullahan fears the sight of this metal. Even a small amount could be enough to drive off this headless spirit.

Notes: Although the dullahan’s name translates to “Dark Man,” female dullahan are known to exist. As a spirit, it is immune to anything that specifically targets undead Nature.

The Creature

An engraving of the actor T.P. Cooke as Frankenstein’s monster in the 1823 production of Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein

His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

Mary Shelley, from Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

The Creature wanders the land on its quest for meaning and companionship, usually traveling by night to avoid detection. It lives off the land, eating nuts, berries and other forage—it does not eat meat. The Creature camps during the day in secluded locations and its there where a party may stumble across signs of its existence. The Creature may also scavenge scraps from their camp while they’re away in the adventure phase. If accepted by the characters, the Creature may seek to travel with them (though it will not venture into town). It will not join in the adventures unless they coincide with its own goals.

Nature 7Might 4
Demanding, Wreaking Vengeance, Yearning
Goals: Find the love and acceptance of a companion being; (if Angry) get my revenge on the creator who shunned me; make my way North to end my existence with cleansing fire.
Instinct: Conceal my presence from those who would
fear and destroy me.
Type: Folk (reanimated)

Special Rules
Reanimated: The Creature is immune to the sick condition. It  can become hungry and thirsty, exhausted, afraid, angry or even injured, but it ignores any penalties from those conditions.
Regeneration: The Creature heals quickly from its wounds, needing only one phase to recover from Injured. It cannot be killed using mundane weapons, for it possesses miraculous powers of regeneration.
Monstrous Rage: While the Creature is normally peaceful, sensitive and polite, once angered it becomes a monstrous fiend, capable of unimaginable cruelty and violence. While angry, it may neither be engaged in a Convince conflict, nor may it be targeted by mind-affecting magic. 
Pyrophobic: The Creature hates and fears fire; If set on fire, it cannot use its regeneration ability.

Hit Points

Drive Off
14
Flee
8
Convince
5
WeaponConflictADFM
Inhuman StrengthDrive Off+2D+1s
Tireless WandererDrive Off
Flee
+1D+1D
Emotionally IntelligentConvince+1D+1D
Inquisitive MindConvince+2D+1D

The Creature Description

The Creature is eight-feet tall and hideously ugly, built using bone, muscle, tissue and hair from various human cadavers  and reanimated through some mysterious process. Though it appears to be one of the undead, the Creature possesses thoughts and feelings; it sleeps, breathes and requires nourishment. Unlike humans, the Creature is fantastically strong and resilient, able to regenerate from its injuries much like a troll; and like a troll, the Creature fears and hates fire, which can permanently injure or destroy it. The Creature does not eat meat and will kill only to defend itself or if it becomes enraged.

The Creature is self-educated, erudite and curious about the world. It is also possessed of a profound and terrible loneliness and a desire for companionship. The Creature is quick to anger, and once enraged is capable of horrible violence. Its Nature (yearning) has allowed it to wander far and wide, studying the world and accumulating a wealth of knowledge all on its own—it speaks several languages and has learned much of scholarship, alchemy and survival.

The Creature’s creator is some unknown alchemist, either long-dead or in hiding (see below). The Creature yearns for answers; why does it exist, why was it abandoned? It also seeks for its creator to construct a similar being for companionship. Barring that, the Creature desires only vengeance on its creator for being forced to live in a world where it is shunned and vilified. Once this vengeance is achieved, the Creature intends to travel “to the North” to put an end to its solitary and miserable life. 

Gremlin

From the Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board. (01/1942 – 11/03/1945)
Nature 3Might 2
Breaking, Stealing, Tricking
Goals: Make victims doubt their sanity. Make it funny!
Trick victims into killing themselves. Make it hilarious!
Instinct: Always sabotage mechanical devices.Type: Spirit

Special Rules
Lynx-eyed: Gremlins can see clearly in the dark without illumination, but they suffer -1D to all actions when in direct sunlight. They typically infest mines, construction sites and other areas of industry.
Infestation: Once one has attracted the attention of a gremlin, more will inevitably follow. Every fourth turn, until the gremlins’ victims die or the gremlins are destroyed or banished, another gremlin joins the first.

Hit Points

Trick
6
Capture
4
Drive Off
2

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.
Armor: None.

WeaponConflictADFM
Razor Claws and TeethKill
Drive Off
+1D+1s
Cruel WitTrick+1D+1D
Uncanny QuicknessCapture+1s+1D

Gremlin Description

  • These small creatures have spiked backs, large, lamp-like eyes and savage claws and teeth. 
  • They are driven by a vicious sense of humor that can only be satisfied by causing mayhem, pain and death via trapped or sabotaged equipment, scaffolding, mechanical devices and the like. It’s only funny if the victims doubt their sanity before being hurt or killed trying to use a device. They prefer to victimize humans, elves, halflings and dwarves, but will happily turn their attention upon each other if they have no other outlet. 
  • Gremlins are drawn to camps, towns, mines, dungeons and other areas where crafting or industry take place. They like to secretly break gear and tools, especially if the user will be hurt or killed when unwittingly using the broken thing. Winches used in mines are a favorite target.
  • Gremlins become fixated on targets. Once an individual has attracted the attention of a gremlin, it will continue to plague that individual until that individual dies or the gremlin is destroyed or banished.

The Saxalings

Atilla and his Hordes Overrun Italy and the Arts (detail), between 1843 and 1847, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix

(xposted with Bridge of the Damned update)

Hello friends!

In a past series of posts, we looked at two Middarmark clans, the Ageirings and the Tualings, along with their ættir.

I’ve been working on The Bridge of the Damned adventure and figured I would give the clans involved in that adventure a similar treatment. This week we’re taking a look at the Saxalings, whom we previously learned a little about in Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge (Part VIII) and Life in a Ruined Village.

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Don’t Bug Out

Bridge to Nowhere by Todd James

Hello friends!

You know what you can never have enough of as a Torchbearer GM? Monsters. I’ve been experimenting with some fun new critters inspired by the arthropods all around us, and Luke has been experimenting with a new stat block. I can’t replicate it exactly in WordPress, but this is a close approximation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on both!

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Have You Heard the One About…

You All Meet at an Inn… by Rebekah Bennington

Hello friends!

The Rumor Events Table in the Town chapter is perfectly fine, but if you’ve been running Torchbearer for a while, you might be a bit bored with it. Fortunately for you, Luke has worked up a brand new table to add a little spice to your trip to the tavern. It’s actually a combination of rumors and events.

Check it out, use it in your game and let us know how it goes!

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Friends shall gladden each other

Walhall, die Götterwelt der Germanen (ca. 1905) by Emil Doepler

[41] Friends shall gladden each other | with arms and garments,

As each for himself can see;

Gift-givers’ friendships | are longest found,

If fair their fates may be.

[42] To his friend a man | a friend shall prove,

And gifts with gifts requite;

But men shall mocking | with mockery answer,

And fraud with falsehood meet.

Hávamál, from The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Hello friends!

How much do you make use of relationships in your games? Do the PCs frequently call in at home so their parents will do their laundry? Do they lean on their friends for help? Do they seek instruction and guidance from their mentors? Do they seek out their rivals for a loan? Why not?

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