Saturday, June 3, 2017

More Things Underground


In singular they're called "a Stonechild," pronounced like you'd think but for some reason the plural form is "Stonechilds" as in "Rothschilds."

They're slow, so the only way they can catch prey is through numbers and ambush tactics. They typically lurk wherever large boulders and rocks congregate, lurking in a loose ring until some victims wander into the middle. Some scholars (the few who care to even take up the subject) suspect they were brought over at some point from the Elemental Plane of Earth, while others argue they are a native form of mollusc.

Disguised, a Stonechild looks like an ordinary stone, about the size of a large man's torso. This is actually their shell, though it looks and feels like rough granite shaped by aeons of wind and rain, often even sporting colonies of moss. The shape may be oblong and more forward-projecting or more balanced. From out of this shell when the Stonechild emerges protrude two stout, tortoise-like legs, which waddle furiously in splayed posture. Despite the effort both their speed and balance is poor.

From near the front or sides of their shell protrude two grey pipelike arms ending in blunt, four-fingered hands, the forearm and wrist swollen-looking, the skin rough as sandpaper. The arms are long enough that their fingertips can just meet if they reach around the front of the shell, but the Stonechild's body configuration makes wielding a weapon in two hands impossible. They carry stone maces, which some speculate the Stonechilds form naturally inside their shell analogous to how clams form pearls. The head of the mace can take many forms: sometimes a simple orb, othertimes a little pagoda of layered flanges. It is quite heavy and quite effective at breaking bones. They wield it one-handed with the other arm held out for balance or to catch them if their flat feet stutter.

Stonechilds are only about as high as a man's waist. Thus they usually swing for the legs, and full-on a blow from one of their clubs can disable a man's leg even through armor. They bring their targets down to their level with repeated savage blows. Then the Stonechild opens its mouth: a heretofore unseen crack in the stone pops up with a hiss of escaping steam and the squelch of mucus strings and a vomitous smell. Enormous teeth line the void with a thick tongue, the entire front section of the Stonechild's shell apparently devoted to its mouth. When their victim is well pulverized, preferably beaten into a kneeling position with head conveniently lowered, the lead Stonechild opens its maw and bites off the victim's head. Simple and effective. Brains really do seem to be the most prized part of any prey. They will work whatever chunk they tore off in their giant mouths with slow grinding and cracking, spitting out lumps of twisted metal armor and fragments of bone for days. They can go a long time between meals. They are just clever enough to leave any valuables from previous victims strewn around the scene of their next ambush.

They can speak. Terran, which lends some credence to the notion that they are outsiders, and in some cases a few crude phrases in the common tongue. Sometimes as they encircle prey, in their droning buzzing voices they pretend to be robbers. They say they'll the victim pass if weapons and goods are surrendered. At least until their ring gets close enough to charge (10' for their stumpy little legs). Sometimes Stonechilds just open those huge, flat-toothed mouths of theirs and scream for no apparent reason.

It's speculated they reproduce through eggs, which grow a suitably-sized rock shell over and around them as the fleshy creature inside actually finishes gestating and growing over centuries. As the abominations are thoroughly exterminated anytime a colony is found anywhere near civilization, much of their ecology is left to speculation. They are dumb and their senses limited enough you could play Jane Goodall with a circle of them if you really wanted, but it would be one boring adventure.


Products of breeding experiments, they are a subrace of Man. Perhaps once human slaves of the Illithids, crossbred with a tribe of blind Morlocks. Perhaps their gracile, sculpted bodies were the product of some feverish Drow fleshcrafter-aesthete. Maybe it was some asshole wizard who's name is now deservedly lost to time. In any case, they got loose and bred true and now they are a viable if gross underground culture.

Tall and wane with knotted muscles, they rarely stand to their full height but hunt and root through their caves and tunnels stooped, necks projecting vulturine from tensed shoulders. Their skin is an almost purplish grey, unkempt bristly hair soot-black. There may be some nods to decoration: headbands made from cave viper hide, hair stood up with animal fat. They have recessed noses, the nostrils almost slits, and heavy brows beneath which the eyes are intense black orbs, almost all pupil; the eyes barely work anymore. If you shone a torch in one's face he would see you as no more than a hazy ghost haloed in alien luminescence. Their mouths tend to project out from the face; any alien object will get a quick tongue-bathing to determine its nature.

They stalk the corridors and cliffs under the earth by probing the stones with fingers and feet. Their grey skin, corded veins standing up beneath as from intense dehydration, is tremulous. Their shoulders quiver, their too-long and somehow too independent fingers dance over everything and feel everything in an unsightly way. They have replaced vision with vibration, their tactile senses increased a hundredfold. They'll feel your footsteps in the stone even though you think you're being totally silent. You can't disguise your weight, the gentle easing and pressing of mass as clear to them as if you were touching skin. Their feet are long, balanced to keep the heel off the ground, with toes nearly as articulated and long as fingers; it's through the pads of these delicate extremities they can feel every shift in the movement of their prey. Their feet are their eyes and they take precious care of them. Pain overwhelms their senses: they avoid melee combat at all costs. Stone axes weighted for throwing, the hafts bone or stems of the ironshroom, and sinew-drawn bows are their weapons. Some wear carefully hardened mud-armor, always decorated with a spiral symbol in drawn ash. The spiral represents the winding endless underground; it is both holy symbol and map of their world. They use it on their boundary-stones. A drawn symbol may seem bizarre for a sightless culture but they remember they themselves were once sighted Men, and they know you can see it. At the center of every Under-Man community is a pool or sump with fresh water. This is their lifesource, their shrine and their retreat. They rarely sleep (once every 48 hours, roughly) but when they do they need the muffling of the numbing cold water on their hides; they sleep floating on their back in the still water and enjoy a respite from the constant bombardment of their heightened touch.

Most Under-Men are cannibals (in the sense of eating other human subspecies and sapient underground denizens). The few who aren't tend to live nearer to the surface, where they can trade with explorers or benign communities such as the Svirfneblin. These nearer tribes can make excellent guides for explorers from the surface, although your booted footfalls will be so annoyingly loud---the crunching, the thumping---that only an Under-Man gifted with patience can do the job.

Most, however, consider noisesome intruders only good for eating. They will stalk you by your vibrations, well outside the range of lantern or torch. At an opportune moment--when your party has just triumphed over some great beast perhaps--their flint-headed arrows will sail into your light, black missiles announcing the Under-Mens' arrival. They approach shooting steadily, a bend of cavemen boxing in dangerous animals, and when close enough throw their stoneheaded axes to break your skulls. At last remove a few will have longspears to try and keep the enemy's "beaters" from closing in on the killers. If their crude weapons can't break an enemy's armor they will withdraw, clambering up rough walls to escape and return to their slow hunt, awaiting the next chance to strike. They can do this again, and again. They're endurance hunters on their own ground, and they can see every move you make echoed in glancing impacts off the vaulted walls.


I got the name "Stonechild" off a monster name generator. There's really something to those monster name generators, you know? I'm not so good at coming up with things ex nihilo but having only a name provides a kind of prompt that gets the creative juices flowing. Under-Men weren't inspired by anything directly I THINK although False Machine  should definitely be mentioned. It's similar to something he wrote years ago that I can't find but I think I made the idea my own (more quotidian, less poetic, I think that's basically my stock in trade) I can put this up with a minimum of gall.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Things Underground


They wait in the dark. Weapons clenched between fingers and carpals, musty leather over steel over bones charred a perfect black. Waiting like soldiers on revue. No one knows how long they might choose to stay in a particular spot, when they move or why. If they sense living flesh before your light touches them, then the first thing you'll see is coronas of unnatural sky-blue lighting up in the darkness ahead. Their black skulls swivel and bob in a pulsing teardrop of blue fire, empty orbital ridges and grinning jaws intermittently submerged in light. The fire crackles, smells oddly clean like what's left when a coal burns out. Their feet barely make a sound except when they run, heelbones striking stone click click click.

Most of them balance weapon and shield. Various styles of sword, battle-axes, maces, warpicks. One out of four or five might carry a two-handed sword or polearm. They coat the planks of their shields with pitch, then scrape a death's head off the black, a negative in oak or lindenwood of their grinning visages. Brigandine, mail, munitions plate, whatever their armor style it will be given a black coating. Strapped over the rags of rotted clothes, hanging loosely off their fleshless frames.

They are warriors still. They might consider you worthy to join them, but they have standards. Weak opponents (and those who are clearly not of the martial profession) will have their remains discarded contemptuously into one of the many abysses or chutes of the underworld. Those who fought well will join them to fight again. Other than this behavior they display no more intelligence than the factured, bound spirit of any animated skeleton.

They attack in bands of 4-6 (the leader of a band of six will wield a two-handed weapon and sport an extra HD). Apart from selecting the moment to ignite and strike they show no interest in tactical advantage, usually pairing off with opponents individually. Occasionally they will lower their heads and lash out with licking fire. Occasionally, pointlessly, they raise their weapons to their faces in a martial salute, as if in preprogrammed gesture.


Stupid, stupid, stupid slimes. How could such things come to be? A protean predator, semisolid and translucent as waxpaper or sugar paste. It forms and spreads in dull cellular repetition upon cold stone floors in the dark. You can see its glitter at the edge of your torch like a puddle of powderized glass. It looks like any other mysterious stain underground, until you come within a yard: then the thin membrane stands up like a wave in timelapse photos and seizes your legs. It spreads up, and binds to your skin quick as gorilla glue, and eats your hide with an embrace of dissolving acid. You'll be too busy wriggling and shrieking to get it off yourself, but a determined friend might save you with a lot of scraping.

Bad enough to get killed by a slime. The victim's indignity has just begun: now they are the mindless creature's conveyance. They've become a Waxman.

Waxmen essentially look like slumped, rounded and lumpen people in profile. Their gluey, glazed-translucent skin hangs down in pseudopod-like danglers, like runny drops frozen just before dripping off the larger mass. But you'll probably notice the bones first. Skulls, ribs, humera, femurs, radii and tibia hang disjointed, suspended in slow-motion dissolution within the gelatinous body. Eyes extend from the skull on pale nerve tethers. Lungs slough apart and intestines sag within the chest. The skin and muscles are gone and most of the small bones eaten away but the rest is exposed like a person taken apart and diagrammed. The eyes and brain always go last, for some reason.

Some people say that the person Waxmen once were lives on, but thankfully that isn't true. The bones simply give structure to the mature ooze, facilitate something like walking, allow it to reach out with gelatinous tendrils framed by disconnected arm-bones. Stabbing the organs inside does nothing. The "flesh" sweats an acid that smells like sulfur and burns at skin, but mostly they damage by blunt force, bludgeoning to death with their tendrils. If the loping, clumsy attacks actually manage to kill something the Waxman "vomits" a part of itself over the dead victim, whose decaying body provides a substrate for the next puddle-like iteration to slowly form over, like hoarfrost over blackening flesh and exposed bone until all signs of the victim pass away and there is only the spread of slime.


A skeleton outlined in a bulky manlike profile of color, shifting green to orange in blinking pulses. It lights up the underground like a lantern wherever it goes, and wherever it goes its open jaws cry tonguelessly. The shriek of a maniac, remorselessly annoying, monotonous in its panic. It intermittently pauses, as if the thing had to breath (it doesn't).

Phantommen are almost ethereal, but not quite. What they are is ghosts sheathed in ectoplasm, giving them their blobby, cartoonish outlines. Wherever they pass they leave a briny-smelling mildew or wetness (even if you couldn't hear their screaming from far off you could easily track their wet footsteps). They always run, and they don't let walls stop them. The first time you'll see one it will emerge shrieking at a full run right out of a solid stone wall, leaving a man-sized coating of slime. Then run right through you with a cold bracing shock, leaving you well-covered in clammy mucus. They will pass back through you and back again two or three times more, because Phantommen are assholes. Then they will actually start trying to bludgeon you to death (do their victims rise as more Phantommen? No one has the resolve to study these annoying specters and find out).

Fortunately, other than leaving you wet, shivering and smelling like a log rotting in an estuary, the Phantomman has no way to attack in its ethereal state. It must briefly become solid in order to strike, and it does so clumsily, giving a skilled warrior a window to hew it down (hewing a Phantomman of course, sprays more gak-like ectoplasm everywhere).


Imagine a Hobgoblin (well, the Paizo version---so, hairless, vaguely reptilian with catlike clefted mouths and bat-ears), with flesh of a deep blue, scaled and cracked like old pavement over the shoulders, forearms and other swells of muscle. Now squash that image so the creature is squat, slightly taller than a Dwarf with a barrel profile and apish, swollen arms. Give it a bow-legged stance and a frown to match its scaly jowls and deep red eyes. Now dress it in stuff you'd find at a 15th-century Goodwill with stained leather armor and a weapon on its belt.

Believe it or not, this thing is yet another type of Fairy.

Banehands are roustabouts and braggarts as many of the Fey Kindreds are wont to be. They will typically be found in remote places, ruins and heights, particularly abandoned fortresses or towers from which they can play at Lord of the Manor. They congregate in large gangs of about thirty and typically operate much like any other clan of brigands. Like all fairies, Banehands horde human coin and other wealth which they have no use for. but prize weapons, armor and liquor of any sort as the finest spoils. Unlike the other things on this list they can be bargained with and probably won't attack without favorable odds (blustering is always fine however).

They favor small, round shields and wide falchion swords or battleaxes and on average will have girded on a shirt of mail. They lack the severe allergy to metal that plagues other fairy-kindreds although by the same token they are no more resistant to injury than mortal man.

The Banehands' gimmick is that they can bestow a minor curse on their enemies (Doom, as a spell-like ability), performed with a gesture of their weapon-hand which glows with a crystal blue light as they enact the curse (hence the name!) They can use this ability once per battle. Their leaders usually have four HD and have Fumble (-20 to target's next d20 roll) as an additional once-per fight ability. Although the typical Banehand's curse isn't that potent, they do aggregate: so a single Banehand can inflict a -2 penalty on attacks, saves and skill checks on a target, and the next makes it -4 and the next -6 and so-on. Typical tactics are to isolate a target, render it nigh-defenseless with curses and then have a laugh pushing the poor sod around until they get tired and just take his stuff.

For all that they talk a big game ("Fool of a mortal, FALL before my FEY MAGICS!"), Banehands have little stomach for any fight their curses can't make easy. They also be bribed if the party is willing to trade some spare weapons or a keg of ale. They may even make for somewhat decent henchmen for the right Chaotic PC who knows how to flatter their self-image as warriors and lead them to plunder.


Out of these, Blueflames and Waxmen I came up with all on my own while I got the names Phantommen and Banehands off a random monster name generator. I imagine these being 2 HD mook monsters on par with gnolls, except possibly for Banehands who are probably funnier if they are a bit shit.