A GRAY AND UNPLEASANT LAND

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I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with the Post-Roman, Pre-Saxon Hex Generator Jones Smith created for Secret Santicore 2019. The following is a disorganized set of locales inspired by the generator’s output. If I squint at them, I can sorta see a Dung Age campaign setting take shape…

1 – A cold wind rustles through an empty expanse of knee-high grass. Water trickles out of a stone cairn; everything the liquid touches is covered with verdant growth. Arrayed around the pile are a number of headless bodies encrusted in green mold. A lone man crouches at the foot of the cairn, frantically tearing patches of moss from his skin. If approached, he will cry out a warning that the spring water is cursed – he and his companions, all soldiers of fortune, drank from it and plants began to sprout from their flesh. The warrior slew his comrades as they writhed in agony, but they would not die until he cut off their heads. He will refuse any offer of aid or release from his own pain.

2 – Ghostly lights flicker about in a foggy marsh. Trudging through the muck, a stony escarpment looms suddenly into view. Petroglyphs taller than a man are carved into the crumbling cliff face. Atop the hill stands a ruined outpost, ancient stones tangled with withered vines. Further along the ridge, the mouth of a cave is partially concealed by overgrowth. A band of cannibals makes their lair inside; they lure in victims with tales of treasure hidden in tunnels beneath the fort.

3 – Tendrils of mist snake between the great trunks of centuries-old trees. A hint of woodsmoke wafts through the air. A sinkhole gapes in the forest floor, revealing a subterranean chamber. Its walls and ceiling are decorated with faded murals depicting a long gone people. If one were to follow the scent of smoke, it leads to campfire burning low. Next to it, a lone man leans against a tree, asleep, sword laying in his lap, a full-looking backpack beside him. This man is a brigand named Kilius, an unrepentant thief and killer. He’s calm and affable, but cagey about his satchel (full of stolen goods). 

4 – A hillside terraced into a series of walled gardens fallen into disorder and decay. Planters and flower beds are hidden by overgrowth, unpicked fruits rot on branches and vines, and weeds break up the paved paths. As you walk through the ruins, you discover a wan and disheveled young woman digging ineffectually at bare dirt. She is the restless spirit of the caretaker, Bodamil; her despair is reflected in the state of the grounds. If her remains are found and sanctified, the gardens will be restored.

5 – A cluster of buildings, the remains of a farm estate, have been overtaken by brambles. Thorny vines crawl up walls and through windows. Out of the corner of your eye, you think the plants creep towards you. Searching inside the farmhouse, you find several skeletons, all encircled by briars. The grounds are stalked by a gangrel fey that controls the spiny vegetation. It destroyed the farm and killed the farmers for trespassing on wilderness it considers sacred.

6 – Cold vapor crawls along the surface of an unwholesome wetland. A pungent odor stings the nostrils; oozing berries depend from a clump of bushes nestled against a dilapidated dwelling listing on its foundation. The horns of a bull have been nailed above the door. A figure dressed all in green has their back to you, oblivious to your approach as they pick berries. This being will startle at any noise or contact you make and run off at great speed, leaving behind their collecting basket.

7 – A river, swift and cold, rushes through a stony valley. The wind seems to carry faint snatches of the sounds of battle. From the rocky banks, you see what looks a like body lying on the bottom of the river, impaled on a sword. Should you enter the water and grab the sword, the body disappears. The sword is a rusty relic, seemingly hundreds of years old. On the opposite side of the river stands a partially collapsed menhir. Sitting on top of the weathered stone, a harried-looking vagabond sings softly to herself. Her name is Jelza Howdel and she is waiting for someone a dream told her would be here.

8 –  Rain drizzles on a barren and rocky plain. Stinging nettles and thorn bushes grow along the banks of a sluggish stream. A fluttering scrap of fabric catches your eye. Should you investigate, you find a woman entangled in one of the briar patches. She is in obvious distress: clothes torn, eyes tightly closed, a sword lays broken at her feet. If helped, she will say little – just that her name is Eothu. With great effort, she can be persuaded to accompany you but will be despondent until her sword is repaired.

9 – A stream wends down a rocky slope in a series of waterfalls; something in the water stains the rocks red. Behind one of the falls is a cave in which hides a crew of bandits; they are recuperating after their last attack went badly for them. Many of them are wounded and all of them are in a bad mood. The cave goes deep under the ground, ending in a chamber covered with ancient eldritch paintings.

10 – A flash flood has scoured this valley, demolishing a village and leaving behind a thick layer of mud and debris. Hidden in this morass, the restless corpses of the villagers will emerge to chase after and drag down anyone entering the area. Several of the creatures are in pursuit of a sellsword carrying a cumbersome chest. If rescued, the warrior will introduce himself as Worgar and will offer you a share of the proceeds of the sale of the relics he carries in the chest.

11 – A deserted hillfort perches upon a desolate, boulder-strewn ridge. Deposits of scree impede your ascent; an unlucky step can send you crashing back down the slope in a tumble of loose rock. The gate of the fort hangs askew on its hinges revealing a courtyard of churned up dirt. Detritus piles up in the corners and the walls are covered with graffiti and bird shit. Inside the keep, a young dragon called Eksusha toils at turning the building into a suitable lair.

12 – The surface of the bog roils as pockets of gas seep up from the bedrock. Occasionally, a vent ignites in a brief, fiery flash that suffuses the area with a foul stench. From the crown of a grassy hillock, clean water burbles up from a deep aquifer. Surrounding the spring is a quagmire of bituminous sludge. As you approach, a person can be seen lying in the noxious tar. It is the nobleman Lord Fentus, abandoned by his retainers, delirious from thirst; without aid, he will soon die. If revived, he will make grand promises of rewards he has no intention of honoring.

TRAUMATURGE

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Spellcasters who gaze into the wrack-glass find not only their bodies and minds transformed, but their magical aptitude as well.

TRAUMATURGE
Medium humanoid (human)


Hit Points: novice – 20 (3d6+9), initiate – 32 (5d6+15), master – 65 (10d6+30)
Armor Class: 15; master traumaturges also have resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage.
Speed: 30


Str 11 | Dex  15 | Con 17 | Int 16 | Wis 13 | Cha 6

Arcana +7, Insight +6, Medicine +7, Perception +6
Passive Perception 16


Pain to Some, Pleasure to Others (Recharge 5,6): As a reaction to taking damage, the traumaturge instead gains an equivalent amount of temporary hit points.

Mirror Madness: A traumaturge that sees their reflection must succeed a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become fascinated by it. While in this state, the traumaturge is stunned until they are attacked or they can no longer see their reflection.


Looks That Kill:  If a creature starts its turn within 20 feet of a traumaturge and the two of them can see each other, the traumaturge can force the creature to make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw if the traumaturge isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature suffers 1d8 psychic damage (2d8 psychic damage for master traumaturges) and their speed drops to 0 until the start of the traumaturge’s next turn. 

Blood Magic: Traumaturges cast arcane magic with a caster level equal to their hit dice; they use their Intelligence as their spellcasting ability. To cast a spell, a traumaturge inflicts 1d4 points of damage to themselves per level of the spell.

Bleeding Edge (Master Traumaturges only): melee attack +8 (1d4+1 slashing damage and the next time they cast a spell, the traumaturge doesn’t have to sacrifice hit points. The level of the spell cast cannot exceed the damage inflicted with the attack.


Master traumaturges will be accompanied by 1d3+1 crooked killers and there’s a 1-in-10 chance of a messergeist as well.

 

NEW SPELL: Needle of the Sun

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Sorcerer/Wizard Spell (Evocation)

Also known as the arrow of Nergal, the caster of this spell gathers a mote of solar energy in their hand and hurls it with tremendous speed and penetrative power.

The projectile travels in a straight line and creatures in its path must succeed a Dexterity saving throw to avoid being struck. The spell inflicts 1d6 radiant damage per caster level to the first target, minus one die of damage for each subsequent creature or object the projectile passes through. The projectile also ignites any flammable object or material it strikes.

needle of the sun will continue travelling until it either passes through so many targets that its damage potential drops to zero or it reaches a maximum range of 100 feet, plus 10 feet per caster level.

This spell cannot be cast at night or whenever the sun is obscured.

CROOKED KILLERS

The wrack-glass is a dreadful artifact. It appears as a mirror, taller than a man, bound in a frame of tarnished silver. When one looks upon it, their reflection looks normal at first, but rapidly begins to twist and deform, taking on a malevolent aspect. Some scholars of the occult surmise that this vision represents the viewer’s darkest thoughts and impulses.

If one gazes into the wrack-glass too long, the grotesque image in the mirror is embodied in the viewer’s flesh and spirit. These warped beings are the custodians of the wrack-glass, and the crooked killers are the most militant of this cabal.

Despite their warped bodies and gnarled limbs, crooked killers are swift and lithe. They are cruel and cunning opponents, attacking from ambush to inflict maximum injury while minimizing their risk.

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CROOKED KILLER
Medium humanoid (human), neutral evil


Armor Class: 17
Hit Points: 28 (5d6+10)
Speed 35 ft.


Str 13 | Dex  17 | Con 15 | Int 14 | Wis 10 | Cha 6

Skills: Acrobatics +6, Intimidate +6, Stealth +8, Perception +5
Passive Perception 15


Twisted Anatomy A crooked killer has Advantage on ability checks to resist grapples and escape from bonds or confinement. As part of a move action, they can squeeze through spaces two size categories below their own.

Crooked Fighting A crooked killer deals an additional 2d6 damage against an opponent when attacking with Advantage.

Mirror Madness Crooked killer are compelled to smash or otherwise destroy any mirror in their vicinity. They will suffer Disadvantage on all rolls in the presence of an intact mirror. Should a crooked killer see their own reflection, they must succeed a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or move away from the reflective surface as far as possible.


ACTIONS

Serrated blade +5 melee (1d6+2 slashing damage, can score a critical hit on 19-20)

Barbed dagger +5 melee/ranged (1d4+2 piercing damage, can score a critical hit on 19-20, 20 ft. range)

Multiattack A crooked killer makes one serrated blade and one barbed dagger attack.

Twisting Parry As a reaction to being hit with a melee attack, a crooked killer can substitute their armor class with an attack roll. If their roll is greater than their attacker’s, the crooked killer can redirect the attack to another creature adjacent to them.

Tortuous Gaze If a creature starts its turn within 15 feet of the crooked killer and the two of them can see each other, the killer can force the creature to make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw if the crooked killer isn’t incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature suffers painful muscle spasms that halves its movement speed and grants Disadvantage on Dexterity and Strength based rolls and checks. The creature can make another save at the start of its next turn to end the effect.

NEPHILIM

Is it just me, or is ‘aasimar’ a poor design choice?

I’m just talking about the word itself, which appears to have no connection to any real-world myth or legend, near as I can tell. Considering that the aasimar first appeared in Planescape, maybe it was part of the re-branding effort that saw devils and demons become ‘baatezu’ and ‘tanar’ri’ to divorce D&D from the Satanic Panic of 80s.

Ironically, a better term for the hybrid offspring of mortals and divine beings can be found in the Bible:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. Genesis 6:4 (NRSV)

There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them. Numbers 13:33 (NRSV)

Ability Score Increases: Nephilim gain a +2 bonus to their Wisdom score and a +1 bonus to their Strength score.

Alignment: Any.

Age: Nephilim reach maturity at same time as humans, but they have lifespans measured in centuries.

Size: Nephilim are Medium-sized creatures. 

Speed: Nephilim have a base walking speed of 30 feet.

Celestial Legacy: Nephilim know the resistance cantrip. At 3rd level, they can cast command once and regain the ability after completing a long rest. When they reach 5th level, a nephilim can cast fear once and regain the ability after completing a long rest.

Divine might: Nephilim count as Large-sized creatures for the purposes of calculating how much they can lift, carry, and push. They also count as Large-sized creatures when subjected to forced movement effects and when attempting a forced movement effect against another creature.

Giant Presence: Nephilim gain proficiency in Persuasion and Intimidation.

NEPHILIM WARRIOR OF RENOWN

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photograph by Annie Leibovitz

Adventurers might encounter an individual from an earlier generation of nephilim, with a closer connection to their divine forebears.

Large humanoid (celestial)

AC: 18 (heavy armor) | HP: 110 (10 Hit Dice) | Speed: 30 ft.

Str: 19 | Dex: 11 | Con: 16 | Int: 12 | Wis: 14 | Cha: 15

Actions

Multiattack: The nephilim makes two attacks with their broadsword.

Broadsword melee weapon attack +7, 10 ft. reach, 1d10+4 slashing damage.

Cast a Spell: The nephilim can cast spells as a 10th level paladin.

What’s this Nephilim’s Deal? (Roll 1d8):

1 – There is Only War: They want nothing more than to crush enemies, drive them before them, and hear the lamentations of somebody. (Neutral Evil)

2 – Mayhem: They just want to watch the world burn. (Chaotic Evil)

3 – Melancholia: They’ve seen it happen before, and they’ll probably see it happen again. (Chaotic Neutral)

4 – Word is Bond: They’re upholding an oath that was sworn long ago and remains undischarged. (Lawful Neutral)

5 – Gimme the Prize: They’re always on the search for a new challenge. (Chaotic Good)

6 – Enlightened: If they could change, then anyone can change. (Neutral Good)

7 – Service is Love: They’ll put everything on the line for a just cause. (Lawful Good)

8 – I am the Way: Only they know what is right for these foolish mortals. (Lawful Evil)

Witchskin (New Magic Item)

A close-fitting, full body garment made from the cured and tattooed hide of a magic-user.

Wearing a witchskin provides physical protection equivalent to leather/light armor. Also, it grants the wearer Advantage on saving throws to resist enchantments and curses.

However, the witchskin exudes a rancid stench that imposes Disadvantage on the wearer’s skill checks to hide. Depending on the circumstances, a character wearing a witchskin may also experience Disadvantage in social encounters since, you know, they’re wearing someone else’s skin.

Internet Detritus Monster Manual Supplement 3: FLAMEGATOR

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Huge magical beast (elemental)

AC 15, immune to fire damage; resistant to non-magical bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage
HP 66 (7 HD)
Speed 30, swim 30
Str 21 (+5) | Dex 9 (-1) | Con 17 (+3) | Int 2 (-4) | Wis 10 (+0) | Cha 7 (-2)

Attack:

  • Bite +7 (2d10+5 piercing damage and target is grappled. Until the grapple ends, target is restrained and the flamegator can’t bite another target.)
  • Tail swipe +7 (10-foot reach, 2d6+5 bludgeoning damage plus DC 15 Strength save or be knocked prone)

Special Attack:

  • Swallow: The flamegator attempts to engulf a Medium-sized or smaller target trapped in its jaws. A grappled creature must succeed a contested Strength check versus the flamegator; if the target fails, the target is trapped in the flamegator’s furnace-like gullet. A swallowed target is blinded and restrained, has total cover against attacks and other effects and takes 10 fire damage at the start of each of the flamegator’s turn.
  • Combustive Gaze: The flamegator’s blazing eyes can set alight anything it sees. Creatures that the flamegator can see within 60 feet must make a Dexterity check or spontaneously ignite, suffering 2d4 fire damage, plus 1d4 fire every subsequent round until they extinguish themselves.

Some scholars have surmised that the flamegator is one of the legendary Beasts of Atrocity, a herald of the end of the world. They do look the part: massive crocodilian beasts with slate-gray scales and obsidian-like scutes arrayed down its back, crowned with bonfire-sized flames.

In fact, flamegators are merely visitors from the molten swamps at the boundary of the Elemental Planes of Earth and Fire, brought into the mundane world via particularly violent volcanic activity.

Dousing the fire atop a flamegator’s skull instantly puts the beast into a state of suspended animation.

New Spell: Gouging Out a Cave in Empty Sky

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Sorcerer/Witch/Wizard (Conjuration)

Using this spell, a magic-user pries open a bubble of space in the extra-dimensional medium.

The area can comfortably accommodate one person per caster level and lasts for one hour per caster level. The interior has the same atmospheric make-up and gravitational orientation as the world it’s connected to and appears to be made of inert, native rock and soil. While inside, creatures and objects cannot be observed by scrying or other kinds of divination. The opening itself, however, can be detected by magical means

When the spell is initially cast, the opening to the area is roughly five feet in diameter; the caster can decrease it down to a pinprick, but not actually close it (doing so would sever the terrestrial connection, casting the bubble-space adrift in the extra-dimensional medium). Additionally, the opening’s location is fixed at the time of casting and cannot be moved.

At the end of the spell’s duration, or when dismissed by the caster, the bubble “pops” and anything still inside becomes lost in the extra-dimensional medium.

NEW SPELL: Thus Sayeth the Parasites of the Mind

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Sorcerer/Witch/Wizard (Conjuration)

When conventional methods of interrogation fail, magic-users can turn to more… esoteric means of extracting information.

This spell infects a sentient creature (Intelligence 3 or greater) with a peculiar breed of psychic, para-dimensional worm that transmits the contents of the brain they devour to the one that summoned them. If the target fails a Wisdom saving throw, they must truthfully answer a question the spellcaster asks. The spell requires the caster and target be able to see, hear, and share a language; if the caster touches the target during the casting, the target has Disadvantage on their saving throw.

As the target answers, the information and 1d4 points of their Intelligence are permanently devoured by the psychic worm.

The spellcaster can continue questioning the target, who gets a new saving throw with each additional query. The spell ends when the target successfully saves or their Intelligence drops below 3.

Nocturnals

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“Nocturnals,” by Leonora Carrington

Mortal beings indelibly marked by the spectral realm.

Nocturnals can be of any race (elf, goblin, human, whatever), but their normal characteristics are replaced or altered as follows:

Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Wisdom score increases by 1

Age: You reach adulthood as normal, but then you age half as fast as is normal for your race.

Darkvision: If your race normally doesn’t have it, you do with a range of 60 feet.  If members of your race already possess darkvision, then you have double the normal range. In any case, your eyes are pure black.

Spectral Sensitivity: You are dimly aware of the spectral realm in a 30-foot radius around you, but you cannot interact with it or anything within it.

Break on Through to the Other Side: Once per day, you can travel into the spectral realm as if you cast enter spectral realms with a caster level equal to your character level.

Uncanny: Your have an eerie appearance and unsettling affect. You gain proficiency with the Intimidation skill and have Advantage on Wisdom (Insight) checks to detect falsehoods.