The Settled Lands: Monsters
Here's some information to help you outrun, outfight, and outsmart the monsters of the settled lands. I assume you're already familiar with garden-variety gorgons and run-of-the-mill red dragons, but how about canal-dwelling electric eels and exploding ankheg larvae?
The life cycle of the amphisbaena goes something like this:
In the summer, the mama amphisbaena lays her eggs, then leaves.
In the autumn, the baby amphisbaena hatch and explore.
In the winter, the baby amphisbaena hibernate and mature.
In the spring, the mature amphisbaena awaken and eat.
Depends on where you live.
Chariton was once a prosperous village in a remote section of eastern Battledale. In its prime, Chariton's potato and corn crops were so bountiful that the number of residents doubled every few generations. To accommodate the growing population, Chariton administrators hired local builders to construct a tract of new homes in a daffodil meadow bordering the Ashaba River, less than a hundred yards from Chariton proper.
On the first day the builders catted lumber into the meadow, they spotted two crimson hoops rolling down a grassy hill. As the hoops neared, the builders saw their eyes, then their mouths - the "hoops" were actually amphisbaena, and they were heading in the builders' direction. The builders dropped their lumber and fled. The bite of an amphisbaena could fell a hill giant, and because of its twin heads, an amphisbaena could kill twice with one strike.
The builders told the administrators of their discovery. Unwilling to abandon the project, the administrators agreed to double the builders' salaries, then supplied them with long swords and battle axes. Kill the amphisbaena, they said, then proceed with construction.
Nervously, the builders returned to the meadow. A half-dozen amphisbaena were perched on a hill, tails in mouths, ready to roll. The builders raised their weapons and waited. The amphisbaena eyed them for a moment, then released their tails and yawned. They settled into the grass and went to sleep.
Rather than slaughter the passive serpents, the builders spent the next two days watching them. None of the amphisbaena seemed hostile. They spent a few hours a day chasing grasshoppers and mice, the rest coiled in the shade, fast asleep. There were four or five dozen amphisbaena in all, each about four feet long. A builder who stepped on one was bitten on the shin, but the bite barely penetrated the skin. The builder broke out in blisters from head to toe, a reaction to the bite, but the blisters disappeared the next day.
Most of the amphisbaena remained indifferent to the builders. A few were downright friendly. Some nuzzled the builders' legs like cats, begging for a scrap of bacon or a tickle under the chin. Others allowed the builders to roll them like toys. Except for a giant owl, which swept from the sky to grab a squirming amphisbaena in its claws, predators ignored them.
Construction proceeded. By the end of summer, dozens of new homes lined freshly graded streets. Autumn was spent moving in and deciding what crops to plant next spring. During the final weeks of autumn, the amphisbaena disappeared into deep holes to hibernate for the winter.
The following spring, grass sprouted, daffodils blossomed, and the amphisbaena emerged from their holes, but these were not the benign creatures that had begged for table scraps and played with children. Over the winter, the serpents had grown at an astonishing rate. They were now 30-foot monsters, hissing and snapping.
Within two weeks, the monstrous amphisbaena had eaten nearly every villager in the meadow. The survivors fled to Chariton proper. The amphisbaena followed. In the subsequent carnage, hundreds of villagers were killed, with only a few dozen escaping into the Dun Hills. The amphisbaena stuffed themselves on the corpses, then migrated to the forests near the Pool of Yeven where they allegedly remain to this day. Chariton is now a ghost town.
As far as I know, the Ashaba amphisbaena of Battledale are the only ones of their kind in the settled lands, although a ranger friend of mine claimed to have seen a pair swimming in the Deeping Stream, and another snoozing on the shore of Lake Sember. According to Elminster, Ashaba amphisbaena could theoretically be found in any river or lake, as they like to make their lairs near fresh water. They hunt for fish by holding one of their heads underwater, keeping the other head as erect as a cobra to watch for intruders.
As its final action before dying, an Ashaba amphisbaena opens one of its mouths and swallows its other head. If left alone, the corpse hardens. The corpses of infants - the four-footers that the Chariton builders thought were so cute - form hoops as hard as granite. The hardened infant corpses are worthless except to collectors, who may pay up to 100 gp apiece.
Mature Ashaba amphisbaena corpses become as hard as the hide of an adult red dragon. Daleland military strategists considered using the nearly impenetrable hoops as weapons - perhaps as battering rams - but at 10 tons, the hoops proved to be too unwieldy. Now I hear they're toying with the idea of using the hoops as bulwarks. If you can find a buyer, which is admittedly difficult, a hardened corpse of a mature Ashaba amphisbaena can fetch 5,000 gp.
If a dying gargantuan Ashaba amphisbaena is allowed to grasp its tail and form a hoop before it expires, then sits undisturbed for 48 hours, the corpse hardens. The hardened corpse, shaped like a hoop about 10 feet in diameter and 3 feet thick, has an Armor Class of 14. If the hardened corpse suffers 50 points of damage, it crumbles.
Most farmers I know would prefer a swarm of locusts or a month of hail storms to an ankheg.
True, ankhegs benefit fields - their tunnels lace the soil with passages for rain and air, making crops easier to grow - but they're murder on livestock. A pair of young ankhegs killed off an entire flock of sheep, 107 in all, in a Deepingdale pasture. An adult ankheg on a ranch near Hultail destroyed 42 head of cattle in a month.
Compounding the problem, ankhegs are hard to kill. Poisons tend to do more damage to crops than ankhegs. Attacking with conventional weapons invites confrontations that ankhegs usually win.
The best way to get rid of ankhegs is to kill them before they mature. To accomplish this, you have to know what they look like and how they defend themselves.
Begin by looking for the corpse of an adult male ankheg, distinguished from the female by its straight antennae (females' antennae are forked). In the autumn, a female seeks out a suitable male, mates with him, kills him, rips him open, then deposits 2-12 eggs in his slit abdomen. The eggs look like dull green pecans, each about the size of a man's foot. Don't attempt to smash or slice the eggs; if even slightly damaged, the eggs emit clouds of toxic green gas. Instead, coat the surfaces of the eggs with paint or wax. The eggs absorb air through their shells; if the shells are sealed, the developing ankhegs suffocate. Return to the corpse the following day, and you'll find that the eggs have disintegrated, leaving nothing but green powder behind. Take a handful of powder while you're there; you may be able to sell it to a mage for 100 gp, as it's often used as a component for an elixir of madness.
Failing to destroy the eggs, keep an eye out for ankheg larvae, which usually appear in the second or third week of autumn. The larvae resemble caterpillars, two feet long, covered with dull green scales. Again, refrain from using weapons; any damage to the larva's skin causes the creature to explode in a shower of acid. A sprinkle of salt on the larva's back kills it instantly. Within an hour, the larva will be reduced to a puddle of thick green fluid. Immediately cover the fluid with dirt or otherwise dispose of it; gorgons are attracted to the fluid and can smell it from miles away. Unless you're in the market to lure gorgons, the larval fluid has no value.
It takes about two weeks for larval ankhegs to become nymphs, which look like two-foot versions of adults. Nymphs lack the size and strength of adults but are just as vicious. Rather than engage nymphs in battle, it's easier to let them destroy themselves. Nymphs have a voracious appetite for meat, but are too slow and too small to catch anything but mice and toads. Place the corpse of a freshly killed goat or pig where a nymph can find it. The nymph will eat itself to death. Nymph shells, when dried and cured, can be made into small shields.
Ankheg Life Stages
Egg: Int non; AL nil; AC 16; Speed: 0; HD 2 hp; if an egg suffers 1 or more points of damage, it emits a cloud of toxic green gas out to a distance of 5 feet; those within the cloud take 1d4 points of damage (Fort save for half damage); the egg disintegrates after expelling the gas. Size: Tiny (1-foot long)
If sealed with paint, wax, or a similar substance, the egg dies and turns to powder within 24 hours.
Larva: Int non; AL N; AC 16; Speed: 5 ft.; HD 1/2d10; Dmg nil; Any attack that damages the larva's skin, inflicting 1 hit point of damage or more, causes the larva to explode in a shower of acid to a distance of 10 feet; victims affected by the acid suffer 2d4 points of damage (Reflex Save for half damage); Size: Tiny (2-foot long).
Nymph: Int animal;; AL N; AC 18 (underside AC 16); Speed: 8 ft.; HD 1d10+2; Dmg 1-2 (bite) + 1-2 (acidic enzymes); Nymph can squirt acid for 2d4 points of damage to a distance of 10 feet; Size: Tiny (2-foot long).
Nymph shells can be made into shields with an Armor Class of 18.
Thanks to the discovery of the eldella, a knee-high green fern growing on the perimeter of the Hullack Forest, farmers from Cormyr to Sembia have enjoyed considerable success domesticating catoblepas. Catoblepas can smell eldella toasting from a mile away and will cross snake-infested swamps and bramble-filled forests to get a sample. A few mouthfuls of toasted eldella neutralizes a catoblepas's death ray for a full day, making the creature significantly less threatening. If approached calmly, a catoblepas will allow itself to be harnessed and led from its swampy domain, providing, of course, its captors keep the eldella coming.
Happy catoblepas are cooperative catoblepas, and their trainers take great pains to keep them content. In addition to daily helpings of eldella, catoblepas are fed wagonloads of straw and oats, along with plump swine carcasses, buckets of catfish, and troughs of mice and snakes. Mated pairs fare better in captivity than bachelors; solitary catoblepas often become sullen and aggressive. Trainers comb their fur with wire brushes, and polish their tusks and claws with rabbit skin cloths. Because their feet aren't used to the hard surfaces common in humanoid villages, catoblepas are fitted with special shoes lined with cleats to improve traction.
Catoblepas are about as easy to train as oxen, and can be taught to pull plows, haul wagons, and even uproot stumps with their tails. They're less loyal than horses, however, and much less companionable than dogs. Given an opportunity, a catoblepas may abandon its trainer and wander in the general direction of its homeland.
Catoblepas have no interest in play; toss a ball at a catoblepas and it'll probably swallow it. In the wilderness, a catoblepas near death may be eaten by its companions. A catoblepas will respond the same way to its human trainer; should a trainer hit his head and lose consciousness, he may be awakened by a catoblepas gnawing on his arm.
The female catoblepas will allow herself to be milked, but only under specific conditions. She must first be fed a large meal (a couple of goats or boars will do), she must be alone except for the person doing the milking, and the milking must be done outdoors under an evening sky so she can enjoy the night air and look at the stars. She can be milked about once a month. Catoblepas milk has the texture of syrup, the color of cranberries, and the aroma of baked ham. Though most find it too rich to drink, catoblepas milk can be processed into a delicious cheese - fancifully called "death cheese" in some parts of the world - that fetches up to 5 gp per pound.
A quick look at three of the settled lands' notable dragons:
Secret Scholar: Marek Salerno, one of Arabel's most respected citizens, looks exactly like what he pretends to be: a retired professor, soft-spoken and portly, his nose perpetually buried in a book of poetry or philosophic treatise. Salerno is, in fact, a venerable steel dragon. Only a handful of sages know his secret, and they've been sworn to silence. Salerno goes about his business discreetly, shopping for antique books to add to his vast collection, engaging priests in friendly theological debates, and relaxing under the shade of an apple tree while composing sonnets.
Salerno claims to know the location of every scientific, mystical, and literary volume from the Storm Horns to the Great Gray Land of Thar. Should you seek a particular book, Salerno will probably be happy to help, providing he perceives you to be a scholar. Salerno has no use for self-styled warriors, greedy treasure hunters, or power-hungry mages. Impress him with your knowledge of Sembian novelists or the elven madrigals of Semberholme, and he'll tell you where - and possibly how - to find what you're looking for. Don't give any indication that you believe him to be anything other than a normal human. Salerno zealously guards his true identity, and will send feyrs - which he's learned to conjure and control from his study of arcane magic - to dispatch anyone whom he suspects knows his secret.
Salerno has a weakness for giant rats, and about once a month reverts to his natural form to scour the countryside for his favorite meal. Not only can he conjure feyrs, he can also get rid of them by swallowing them whole, a talent he exercises in private on behalf of his human friends. Like all steel dragons, Salerno resides at the top of the food chain and has no natural enemies.
Phony Footprints: A family of green dragons living in the Dun Hills has odd-shaped feet that make footprints resembling those of gargantuan rabbits. The dragons intentionally leave their footprints in mud or soft earth. Hunters spot the prints, conclude they're on the trail of a giant bunny, then follow them into the brush where the dragons are waiting for them. The dragons have lured scores of Deepingdale and Tasseldale elves to their deaths with these phony tracks.
Dun Hill Green Dragon Footprints: The tracks of the Dun Hill green dragons described in the text look almost exactly like those of a gargantuan rabbit. If a ranger or character with the Track feat makes a successful identification check, the DM should make a 1d10 roll in secret; if the result is 1-7, the character believes the tracks were made by a gargantuan rabbit; 8-10, the character believes the tracks were made by some kind of large reptilian creature, possibly a dragon. Characters without the Track feat have a 90 percent chance of mistaking the tracks for those of a gargantuan rabbit.
Guardian of the Carp: Scalewater, a pond near the southern edge of the Thunder Peaks, not far from the High Dale, contains a school of unusual giant carp. The carp resemble their giant cousins elsewhere in the world, except for their glistening golden scales and their knack for polishing gems and jewelry. Toss a ruby or a silver necklace in the water, and chances are that a carp will surface to claim the treasure. The carp will roll the item around in its mouth for an hour, then expel it and submerge. The expelled item retains a lustrous gleam as if it had been polished by a master jeweler, which usually increases its value.
An old red dragon residing in the hills considers the pond and the carp her private property. Whenever she acquires new gems or jewelry, she dumps them in the pond for the carp to polish. Later, she scoops the newly shined treasure off the bottom. To keep the carp happy, she feeds them serpents, fawns, and goats, along with the leftovers of her own meals, usually bears and wild horses.
Many consider golden carp to be a symbol of success, and some Cormyrean aristocrats will pay 10,000 gp for the corpse of a giant golden carp, three times that amount for a live one. Should you be tempted to fish for carp in the Scalewater Pond or have the carp polish your treasure items, be aware that the dragon has little patience for trespassers. Chubby ones are eaten. Skinny ones she feeds to her fish.
Scalewater Carp Notes: A character can attempt to improve the value of nonmagical jewelry and gems by dumping them in the Scalewater Pond. Each individual jewelry piece or gem must be less than 3 feet in diameter and weigh less than 50 pounds. The jewelry and gems must not be inside a bag or other container.
There is a 30 percent chance that any given gem or jewelry piece will be snapped up by a carp. The gems and jewelry ignored by the carp sink to the bottom. If a carp snaps up a gem or jewelry piece, it rolls the item in its mouth for about an hour, then releases it. To determine the percent increase in value, roll 1d6. If the roll is 6, the value of the polished item hasn't been increased.
If the roll is 1-5, multiply the result by 10 to determine the percent increase. For instance, a roll of 3 means the value has been increased by 30 percent; a silver necklace originally valued at 200 gp will be worth 260 gp.
It's up to the character to recover the gem or jewelry piece once the carp spits it out. If he likes, the character may tie a heavy cord to the gem or jewelry piece before tossing it in the pond; there is only a slight chance (10 percent) the carp will sever the cord.
Nesmyth, a tiny village in southern Cormyr, was desperate. The villagers had spent a fortune digging irrigation canals from the Starwater River, but water kept seeping through the floors and the canals wouldn't stay filled. The villagers tried lining the canals with pebbles and sand, but to no avail.
A visiting ranger suggested that popper crayfish might help. The foot-long crayfish, natives of the Wyvernwater, shed their shells once a month, literally popping them off their backs. The shells settle on the floor of the Wyvernwater and turn to mush in a few weeks. The shell mush mingles with mud and sand to create a gummy substance that water can't penetrate. The ranger reasoned that if enough popper crayfish shells were shed in the irrigation canals, they would form a waterproof lining.
The villagers took the ranger's advice. Over the next six months, they made dozens of trips to the Wyvernwater to hunt popper crayfish. Hundreds were captured, then dumped into the canals. Sure enough, within a few months, the dissolved shells had produced a gummy lining that eliminated the seepage problem.
Unfortunately, nobody had thought about how much hundreds of crayfish might eat. By the end of the first summer, the poppers had devoured all the tadpoles and snails in the canals and were making their way to the Starwater River to find more. By early autumn, fishermen were complaining that the poppers had acquired a taste for bass and other game fish. The poppers were also multiplying like cockroaches, and they had little commercial value; their oily, sour flesh was inedible.
Inedible to people, perhaps, but not to eels. A species of fresh water electric eel came swarming by the dozens from the Lake of Dragons, lured by the poppers in the canals. They gobbled the poppers like candy. The popper population dropped, then stabilized. In time, the canals became a balanced system, with just enough poppers to feed the eels, just enough minnows to feed the poppers, and just enough popper shells to keep the canals lined.
Unfortunately, there was more bad news. The eels were not only deadly, but extremely aggressive, especially toward humans. A reckless fisherman found this out the hard way when he grabbed an eel by the tail and jerked it out of a canal. The eel shocked him so badly that the buttons popped off his suspenders and his trousers fell to his ankles. Still clutching the squirming eel, he attempted to stagger forward when he tripped on his trousers and toppled into the water.
A dozen eels, crackling with electricity, set on the shrieking fisherman and dragged him underwater. Friends found his body two days later bobbing on the surface of a shallow canal, a popper sunning itself on his back.
Help arrived that autumn. A traveling merchant brought samples of stelk, a shrub grown commercially in Hilp as fish bait. A stelk shrub looked like a cluster of tiny brown cabbage heads, each about the size of a man's fist. All types of aquatic life, ranging from goldfish to dragon turtles, relished it. More important, an eel eating a head of stelk was unable to discharge electricity for a week.
Despite the mounting deaths - 53 the previous summer - not all the villagers were convinced that neutralizing the eels was a good idea. Earlier in the year, a local mage had made a remarkable discovery. When a bucket of canal water that had been subjected to an eel's electric discharge was poured into a glass jar, the jar glowed as if enchanted with a continual light spell. Only water from the canal achieved this effect. The mage believed that a fortune could be made selling the light jars. Many villagers agreed with him. Others were appalled. The scheme was too risky; the eels had already claimed too many lives.
The controversy has divided Nesmyth into three factions. One faction wants to leave the eels alone and begin marketing light jars. A second faction wants to invest in stelk to neutralize the eels and make the canals safe. A third faction wants to get rid of the eels, fill the canals, and develop other types of crops that don't require irrigation.
A compromise seems unlikely, as the factions are becoming increasingly militant. Unless the matter is settled soon, Nesmyth may be the first community to fight a civil war over eels.
Eel Water Light Jars
To make a light jar, about a quart of water must be obtained from a Nesmyth irrigation canal. An electric eel must have discharged electricity in the water within the previous 10 minutes; suitable water can be identified by its temperature (it's several degrees warmer than water elsewhere in the canal) and appearance (it sparkles as if containing thousands of tiny stars). Usually, all water within 10 feet of the discharging eel is suitable. If more than 10 minutes have passed since the discharge, the water won't work (it reverts to its normal temperature and loses its sparkles).
The water must be placed in a jar or other container made of clear glass, then sealed. The sealed jar must be exposed to direct sunlight for six hours. At the end of this time, the jar functions as if it had been enchanted with a permanent continual light spell. The effect persists until the jar is broken or cracked, or any of the water is spilled.
Once in a while, a farmer rises above the herd. Case in point - Del Geery, a prosperous farmer from Thunderstone whose fields stretch from the foothills of the Thunder Peaks to the edge of the Vast Swamp. His pioneering research has enabled him to triple the output of his corn fields and to grow wheat in soil that shouldn't be able to support ragweed. He's worth untold thousands, maybe millions, of gold pieces, and he's earned every one.
Twenty years ago, however, things weren't so rosy. Geery's efforts to improve the yields of his clover and carrot fields had lured hundreds of hungry rabbits, which in turn attracted a parade of wolves, badgers, and other predators. Conventional pest control methods, such as poison and traps, proved futile. For every animal killed or captured, two more arrived to take its place.
Out of answers, Geery turned to his neighbor, an explorer named Hadley Erridge, for advice. Erridge suggested that Geery finance an expedition to the Vast Swamp to capture a live hydra and bring it back to the farm. The hydra, said Erridge, would eat or scare off all the unwanted animals, then return to the swamp when it ran out of prey. The farm would suffer some damage, Erridge admitted, but not nearly as much as it would if the population of unwanted animals kept growing. Though skeptical, Geery agreed.
Geery invested 20,000 gp in the expedition. Erridge hired a 30-man team, set out for the Vast Swamp, and returned two months later with an adult hydra in an iron cage. Geery paid each of the men a 100-gp bonus and dismissed them. After Geery was safely secured in a nearby cave, Erridge released the hydra. The hydra lunged from the cage and began to slither about the farm, roaring and snorting as if it owned the place. Wolves, rabbits, and badgers scattered in every direction. Within a few days, the only unwanted creature remaining was the hydra.
Despite Erridge's assurances that the hydra would return to the swamp, it refused to leave the farm. Erridge saw the hydra digging a pit by the edge of a pond, lining it with sticks and weeds. Erridge told Geery that the hydra appeared to be building a nest and was about to give birth. Furious, Geery hired another band of warriors to kill the hydra. Erridge was sent on his way.
Geery was now out nearly 40,000 gp, including the 15,000 it cost him to have the hydra killed. Where other men might have written off the loss to bad luck, Geery invested another 40,000 gp to hire some of Cormyr's finest rangers and wizards to assist him in the most ambitious project of his life. Simply put, Geery intended to squeeze every last copper piece he could from the corpse of the hydra.
Here are a few of the farm-related products Geery developed from the hydra corpse:
- The teeth were used to make nearly unbreakable blades for hoes, plows, and saws.
- The dried skin was used to make coverings for raspberry, blueberry, and strawberry plants. The coverings kept the air around the plants at 70 degrees. Although the coverings disintegrated when the temperature fell below freezing for more than two consecutive days, they still extended the growing season well into the fall. (The coverings worked only on these three types of plants. They had no effect on fruit trees, for instance, nor did they keep animals or people warm.)
- When hung in the wind like flags, dried hydra tongues could predict the weather. When a tongue turned red, it meant the temperature would rise as much as 10 degrees within the following 24 hours. A green tongue indicated that freezing temperatures were on the way. A black tongue meant that rain would fall sometime the next day.
- When ground to powder, a pound of hydra bones absorbed all the moisture in a small grain bin, preventing rot and mold.
- When stuck on the end of a pole and erected in a field, a hydra head frightened away most birds and small mammals. Treated with preservative herbs, a head resists decay for six months.
- Hydra fat mixed with cornmeal proved irresistible to rats. The mixture caused the rats to get so fat that they could barely walk, let alone run, making them easy to catch and kill.
To this day, Geery continues to finance hydra hunting expeditions into the Vast Swamp. Geery estimates that within a few years, the amount of money he earns from hydra products will exceed the money he earns from crops.
Barely six inches long from the tip of its antenna to the nail of its big toe, one of the settled lands' most loathsome creatures is also one of the smallest. Resembling a coal-black cockroach, the lichling sports human arms and legs, a pair of gauzy wings, and a grinning human skull for a head. Its chitinous body feels like cold, greasy glass and smells faintly of rotten meat. Lichlings are spawned from the brain cells of demiliches, who use arcane magic to transform their bodies into incubating husks. They have no need for food or water; lichlings thrive on the fear of their victims.
Lichlings were introduced into the settled lands following the destruction of Woolover's Keep, located in a desolate mountain range northwest of Cormyr, about 50 miles west of the Farsea Marshes. A demilich named Icelia was using the keep as a spawning ground for thousands of lichlings, which she planned to use to help her conquer the world. Fortunately, a band of adventurers thwarted her scheme by exploding the keep. The explosion rained lichling corpses on the surrounding hills and valleys. Most of the corpses were absorbed into the soil, but some of the lichlings survived and still turn up - maybe in your next loaf of bread.
The surviving lichlings scattered throughout Cormyr, a few settling in the eastern foothills of the Storm Horns, others terrorizing travelers along Gnoll Pass. Some were drawn to the wheat fields on the outskirts of Eveningstar and Arabel. Wheat proved to be a potent and addictive intoxicant. The lichlings would stuff their skulls with wheat until they lapsed into unconsciousness. The comatose lichlings dropped to the ground, where they would lie in a drunken stupor, sometimes for years.
Most farmers who come across comatose lichlings simply toss them aside, believing them to be dead insects. Careless farmers harvest the lichlings right along with the wheat. Kernels, stems, leaves, and lichlings are all dumped into bags, then sent to mills, bakeries, and inns to be processed into flour. The hard-shelled lichlings come through the wheat process without a scratch. Because Cormyr wheat is shipped all over the settled lands, the contaminated bags could wind up just about anywhere.
If a customer doesn't recognize the lichling in his bag of wheat, he might throw it in the trash or toss it in a river. As long as the customer shows no fear, the lichling remains unconscious, but a customer who recognizes the lichling is likely to panic. This display of fear revives the lichling, usually resulting in the customers death and a reign of terror in the customer's village until the lichling can be hunted down and killed.
Most people scoff at the idea of dormant lichlings showing up in baked goods. I'm not so sure, considering the sloppy habits of some of the third-rate bakeries in Cormyr and Sembia. I had a muffin once with a bolt baked inside, so who's to say? There'd be nothing to stop a malevolent baker - or for that matter, a practical joker with a twisted sense of humor - to make a cake or loaf of bread with a dormant lichling inside. If a victim biting into the loaf panicked when he saw the gauzy wings and little antennae, the lichling could be down his throat before he finished his first scream.
Lichlings don't normally consume organic matter of any kind. Instead, they are nourished by the fear of their victims. A lichling left alone to stuff itself with wheat will become comatose within an hour, and remain in that condition until it senses fear.
As if the violent weather of the Storm Horns weren't enough, the village of Minroe, located in the foothills east of Waymoot, must also contend with medusae. Minroe citizens make their living by harvesting the pixie cap mushrooms covering the floors and walls of the caves outside of town. The mushrooms, which taste like walnuts and melt on the tongue like delicate pastry, are dried in the sun and sold to Cormyrean gourmets for as much as 50 gp each. Unfortunately, the caves also serve as the nesting grounds for a colony of medusae, who lurk behind stalagmites to ambush mushroom hunters, and sneak into the village at night to entice guileless males.
Despite the danger, the citizens persevered even after the medusae had claimed dozens of lives. The mushroom trade was simply too lucrative to give up. Surrounding the village with female guards didn't work; the medusae dressed like peasants and slipped right past them. Arming the mushroom hunters with mirrored shields didn't work either; the medusae hid in the shadows and hurled stones to crack the mirrors.
Salvation came in the form of hedgehog shriekers, a fungal life form discovered in the caverns' deepest recesses. The hedgehog shriekers were identical to normal shriekers, with two exceptions. First, the stalks were covered with a hedgehog-like fur that tasted like sugar; the mushroom hunters later found that when fairy cap mushrooms were glazed with the sticky fur, they'd bring twice their regular price. Second, instead of screeching in reaction to light or movement, the hedgehog shriekers reacted only to the presence of medusae. Medusae loved to eat shriekers of all types; the hedgehog shrieker had developed a natural defense to keep them away.
The Minroe citizens domesticated the hedgehog shriekers by feeding them a paste of beetle larvae and decayed choke creeper vines. Unlike normal shriekers, the hedgehog shriekers thrived in sunlight as well as darkness. Many citizens began to keep gardens for the shriekers outside their homes. A typical garden consisted of rich black soil mixed with dead fish and rotten vegetables, a small pool of fresh water, a stone trough of beetle paste, and two or three shriekers.
Since the discovery of the hedgehog shriekers, medusae attacks have fallen off considerably. If a medusa approaches a house with a shrieker garden, the shriekers scream loud enough to make the medusa hold her hands over her ears and flee. Mushroom hunters rarely enter the caves without shriekers, which ride on wooden carts or crawl alongside the hunters on tiny tendrils.
Aside from their fondness for fungi, the diet of Minroe medusae remains a mystery. Some speculate they subsist on vermin, citing the lack of rats and snakes in the Minroe area. A mushroom hunter claims to have seen a medusa munching on the serpentine hair of a dead companion.
Medusae corpses have little commercial value, except as souvenirs for eccentric collectors. Mages who can stand the stench of the dead serpents from a medusa's head - imagine rotten eggs in an open sewer - use the scales for potions of reptile control. Evil priests use crumbled stone from a medusa victim's body as a spell component for communicating with entities from other planes of existence.
When they're not slurping sewage or putrefying explorers, ochre jellies make pretty good weapons. In ancient times, Grymmar, royal lieutenant of the King of Cormyr, pioneered the military use of jellies. Faced with an incursion of brigands in High Horn and lacking the troops to intercept them, Grymmar captured an ochre jelly in a stone coffin, then hid the coffin under a ledge in High Horn Pass. A contingent of friendly druids joined Grymmar in his elevated hiding place, watching as the brigands made camp in the pass. When night fell, Grymmar crept to the coffin and loosened the lid. While the jelly slithered toward the slumbering brigands, the druids summoned thunderstorms. Lightning strikes separated the jelly into a swarm of smaller ones. By sunrise, the jelly swarm had turned the brigand camp into a mass of puddled flesh and glistening bones.
Many communities, especially those lacking the manpower or economic resources to support their own armies, still use ochre jellies for defense. Residents of Dirx, a tiny halfling village in the Thunder Gap, hide stone coffins above the gap's narrowest passages; lookouts spill the contents of the coffins on approaching intruders. Soldiers in Tyrluk surprise invaders with airborne jellies flung from immense stone catapults. A deep trench containing a pair of jellies surrounds the elven village of Tachepp in Daggerdale; citizens use the trench to dispose of garbage and trespassers.
Those who've had the misfortune to come face to... er... face with ochre jellies know how difficult they can be to dispatch. Some jellies, however, have a unique vulnerability of which few hunters are aware. Allow me to quote from Hlammerch the Naturalist's Bestiary:
"Ochre jellies require water for nourishment, as well as to cleanse themselves of undigested debris. A jelly absorbs water through the membrane covering its body. A puckered valve, the size of a small dinner plate, expels excess water. If the valve fails to function, the membrane will continue to absorb water and the jelly will eventually burst.
"On most jellies, this valve is nearly invisible, indistinguishable from the outer membrane. On a small percentage of jellies, however, the valve appears as a dark orange indentation. If the valve is damaged, the jelly will die if immersed in a stream or exposed to a rainstorm.
"Even after a jelly dies, its membrane and body fluids can be harmful if touched. If allowed to sit overnight, the membrane and fluids become inert. While the membrane has no commercial value, the fluid makes a remarkably versatile cleaning solution when mixed with water."
Ochre Jelly Notes: About 5 percent of small ochre jellies (4-5-foot) and 10 percent of large jellies (6-7-foot) have visible water expulsion valves. To attack the valve, a character must attempt a called shot (requiring a +1 penalty to his initiative, and a -4 penalty to his attack roll). If the attack succeeds, and the valve suffers at least 2 points of damage, the jelly dies if submerged in a lake or pond (for a half hour), exposed to a rainstorm (for an hour), or doused with water (30-40 gallons). The jelly swells and bursts, spraying fluid to a distance of 10 feet. Anyone touched by this fluid suffers 1d10+2 points of damage. If the jelly survives the encounter, the damaged valve heals normally.
Fluid from a dead jelly becomes inert in 24 hours. The inert jelly fluid fetches about 20 gp per gallon as a cleaning solution. One part jelly fluid mixed with ten parts water can clean the grime from just about any solid surface, including gems and armor.
Most Dalelands farmers consider stag beetles a greater threat to their crops than disease or bad weather. A single stag beetle can clear out an acre of vegetables overnight, a half-dozen can strip a corn field in a weekend. Stag beetles aren't particularly hard to kill, especially compared to ankhegs, but they're awfully difficult to track down, thanks to their ingeniously fortified lairs. I've sketched a typical stag beetle lair, one I came across near a willow grove in western Mistledale. Here's how it breaks down:
1. The main opening, just big enough for an adult stag beetle to squeeze through, resembles a gopher hole. While a gopher hole tends to be circular, a stag beetle hole looks more like a flattened oval, about twice as long as it is wide.
2. The secondary opening, nearly identical to the main opening, is mainly used as an escape route. Here, a gargantuan praying mantis, the stag beetle's primary predator, attempts to dig its way into the lair but finds the opening too small.
3. When possible, stag beetles construct their lairs near trees infested with stirges. The stirges feast on intrusive mammals, like this giant rat, and leave the beetles alone.
4. Unlike stag beetles elsewhere in the world, Dalelands stag beetles form small colonies, usually consisting of 4-8 adults. One adult always lurks in this area, which functions as sort of a guard room.
5. The guardian beetle is charged with keeping out other insects, particularly stag beetles from rival colonies. The guardian identifies members of its own colony by touching antennae, which contain olfactory organs.
6 and 7. The colony allows predators with no taste for beetles, such as this juvenile fire lizard and giant badger, to share their lair. The predators help defend against intruders.
8. This is a false nest, lined with rotting leaves and small sticks to make it resemble the real thing. Female beetles chew the leaves in their mandibles, soaking them with a colorless, odorless acid, creating yet another obstacle.
9. This is the colony's actual nest, covered with a foot of leaves and sticks. It contains dozens, sometimes hundreds, of tiny black eggs and squirming larvae.
A determined warrior with a sharp sword and a bright torch - some, but not all, stag beetles recoil from fire - can probably destroy a stag beetle in a fair fight. Trouble is, most stag beetles don't fight fair. They attack from behind whenever possible. What's more, they don't have the sense to retreat.
The best strategy for exterminating stag beetles? Kill them in their lair.
Prepare a bucket of stag beetle poison by mixing five parts animal fat, one part dried fire toad skin, and one part crushed retch plant globe. Spread the mixture on a few corn stalks or pumpkin vines. A beetle takes the poison into its body as it eats the tainted grain or vegetables. The beetle spreads the poison in its lair when it excretes or chews leaves for its nest. Eventually, the entire colony will absorb the poison. All of the beetles should be dead within a week.
Stag Beetle Nest Acid: A character in contact with the chewed leaves of a stag beetle nest (common in both the false and actual nests described in the text), suffers 1-2 points of acid damage per round.
Just as all regions of the world wrestle with hostile undead, so do the settled lands. Unprotected cemeteries occasionally attract ghouls who wander into the nearest village when they run out of corpses. Vampires feast on errant travelers, especially in the more desolate regions of Sembia. A ship of zombies sails off the coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars east of Yhaunn, accompanied by an undead giant octopus. An evil mage once used skeleton farmhands to work the gardens of his secluded estate in eastern Scardale. The mage has long since died, but the obedient skeletons still plow the dirt, pluck the weeds, and harvest the crops, which are said to consist of bizarre strains of strangleweed and mantraps.
The settled lands also has its share of unusual undead. Two of the more chilling examples:
Mean Trees: A century ago, a human army faced a horde of zombies on the plains of southern Tasseldale. A cult of evil priests sent the zombies to drive the humans out of the region, which the priests coveted as a burial ground. The humans persevered, destroying the zombies and repelling the priests. The humans hacked the zombies to pieces and scattered the remnants across the battlefield. Within a month, the trees, weeds, and flowers in the area withered and died.
Shortly after the zombie battle, a fire in the Dun Hills threatened to incinerate a grove of young treants. One of the treants fled east, eventually settling in the zombie battlefield. Two weeks later, it died from contact with the contaminated soil, but not before spawning a dozen offshoots. The stalks took root and grew, developing into a grotesque new species that locals call zombie treants.
The mature zombie treants continue to stalk the forests of the Dun Hills as relentless, mindless killers. Like ghouls, zombie treants can cause paralysis with the merest touch. They play no role in the natural order, other than a destructive one; wherever a zombie treant sets down, it kills all the natural vegetation up to 500 feet away.
Headless Avenger: About 30 years ago, a band of drunken ogres was stumbling down a lonely section of the Moonsea Ride in Mistledale, looking for trouble. They came upon a giant constrictor writhing in the road, painfully giving birth. The ogres hid in the bushes, waiting for the last snake to be born, then set upon the mother and children with swords. They slaughtered dozens of the tiny snakes, then turned on the exhausted mother. With a single blow, an ogre lopped off her head with a battle axe. Howling with laughter, the ogres abandoned the corpses and continued on their way.
Woodland deities steered the ogres in the direction of a starving red dragon, then resurrected the constrictor to avenge the death of her offspring. To this day, the constrictor haunts the Moonsea Ride across Mistledale, attacking anyone she deems a threat. She looks like a normal constrictor made of clear glass, her head resembling the creature she most recently killed. She attacks with the special abilities of her current head, and can squeeze her victims with enough force to crush a tree.
The spirit constrictor plays no role in the natural order, though it apparently can consume any creature it can kill, regardless of species. The bones of its babies can be used to magically summon serpentine aides.
The spirit constrictor has the head of its most recent victim. The head, which looks like clear glass, cannot speak, but it can make attacks similar to those it could make in life. When encountered and the last victim isn't known, roll 1d6 to randomly determine the current head of a spirit constrictor:
- 1.) Ogre Head with unarmed strike (1d4+7 nonlethal)
- 2.) Medusa Head with petrifying gaze (30 ft. range, Fort DC 16, Cha-based) and poisonous snakes attack (1d4+3 plus poison, Fort DC 16, 1d6 Str initial, 2d6 Str secondary, Con-based). Increase CR by +2
- 3.) Deer Head with gore attack (1d6+3)
- 4.) Giant Raven Head with bite attack (1d6+3) and eye gouge attack (if bite confirms critical, DC18 or lose sight in one eye for permanent dazzle, or blindness if rendered eyeless, healed by remove blindness/deafness, Dex-based)
- 5.) Krenshar Head with bite attack (1d6+3) and scare (as scare spell, Will DC 13).
- 6.) Ettercap Head with poisonous bite attack (1d8+3 plus poison, Fort DC 18, 1d6 Str initial, 2d6 Str secondary, Con-based with +2 racial bonus). Increase CR by +1
The spirit constrictor only appears at night, and only on the Moonsea Ride in Mistledale. It will pursue its victims, but not more than 100 feet into the terrain on either side of the Ride.
The bones of the constrictor's babies can be used to summon nonmagical serpents, the effect similar to that of the animal summoning spell. The user rubs the bones between his palms for one round; the bones disappear, and the serpent, if available, arrives as soon as it can.
Each inch of bone summons 1 HD worth of serpent; for instance, 3 inches of bone summons one 3 HD serpent, three 1 HD serpents, or one 1 HD serpent and one 2 HD serpent. The user can request serpents of a particular type and size, but the final choice is up to the DM. Serpents only arrive if they exist within a one-mile radius of the caster. Summoned serpents aid the caster as conjured or summoned creatures; for more information refer to the various monster summoning spells.
Wemic shepherds tend their own flocks of sheep in remote Tasseldale, Mistledale, and Harrowale elds. A typical flock consists of 100-300 sheep, overseen by as many as a dozen adult wemics or as few as two. Shepherd wemics live as nomads, having severed all ties to their former communities. In some cases, the wemics may have been banished for criminal or antisocial behavior, In other instances, the wemics may have left voluntarily, preferring the freedom of a shepherd's life to the constraints of the pride.
Satisfied with the company of their sheep, shepherd wemics avoid contact with all other sentient creatures. Unless you have turquoise to trade for wool - and don't expect a bargain from the tough wemic negotiators - or know how to cure hoof rot, stay away. A wemic can spear a sprinting wolf at 50 yards, or drop a charging grizzly bear with a single blow from a stone club.
Rather than keep their flocks in fenced pastures, wemics allow them to roam wherever they like. They train wild cats to round up strays and nudge the sheep in the same general direction. Human shepherds who've tried to use wild cats invariably discover that the cats kill more sheep than they guide; apparently, training cats to herd sheep is a talent exclusive to wemics.
Wemics often allow their flocks to overgraze, leaving depleted fields that may take years to regrow. Still, many humanoids tolerate, even welcome wemic flocks. Wemics feel honor-bound to protect their animals and will relentlessly track down and destroy any predator who helps itself to a single lamb. Considering the impact that wemics have on predators, humanoid farmers are usually more than willing to sacrifice a field or two.
Wemics rely on their own flocks for food. They also enjoy deer, wild pigs, and porcupines, which they dequill with hooked knives and boil in pots of sheep milk. The hair from a wemic may be used to make brooms of animated attack. Bullywugs fancy wemic claws as decorations for shields and armor.