🎨 Creative Twilight Colony - D&D meets Blue Planet

Desert_Ranger

I die free
Validated User
#91
I haven't given much thought to the new world's cosmology, other than it shouls be fairly different from the one of the old world. I plan to revisit this topic once I have a firmer grasp on the main sapient inhabitants.



Some aggressively try to import Old World life forms so that they can supplant the native life forms, others seem to balance the two, and others consider the whole colonization effort a travesty and operate as terrorists.
I could envision druids functioning like exobiologist/exobotanist types, trying to understand the new world and how to live in it
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#92
I could envision druids functioning like exobiologist/exobotanist types, trying to understand the new world and how to live in it
Which is why will they be in hot demand by the colonists - of all the people coming to this new world, druids are probably best positioned to truly understand how to survive and prosper in this new world because they have the best understanding of how nature works in general.

On the other hand, many colonists will have little patience for the philosophical arguments between different druids - they will be: "We are in a battle for the survival of not just ourselves, but all of us civilized races! Why are you worrying about 'respecting the native creatures'? If we can't make use of them, they are a threat and we must get rid of them!" Nuances of native ecoystems will be lost on many, and most will only care as far as they need to know it to survive.

Note: Whatever their point of view on the colonization effort, druids will not lose their powers just because some might consider a particular druid's views "wrong". What matters for their powers is that they care for nature. I want the different arguments to play out in-setting and in-character without enforcing a "higher morality". There should be no "easy answers".
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#93
So the Cloaker.

It moans, it flies, it wants to suck your blood or bop you with its tail, it'll have you seeing things that aren't really there, and it's quite intelligent. But it's always been a bit tricky for me to really appreciate something that started life as a "gotcha" monster.

Thankfully, divorced of the context of traditional civilization, the cloaker becomes a kind of bat-manta monstrosity, and that's much easier to deal with. There's even a conceptual link to the ixitxachitl, or as everybody calls them in real life, devil rays: those critters are aquatic, but they also have a vampiric variant and are also apparently civilized beings with no thumbs.

I think I'd like to play up that aquatic lineage. Cloakers don't have a swim speed, and have to breathe; they're not amphibious and they can't live underwater. But the same could be said for humans, and we all have a boxy room where we put water on our bodies every day. Some of us even jump in the ocean and swim around. I'd like to extend that a little for cloakers: they nest underwater, like a few inches underwater, head poking up over the edge of their personal "bath".

They're naturally water repellent; fliers can't afford to be soggy. This might make lesser cloakers a useful target of hunts by the colonists: those hides are handy for oilskins and the like. It also makes the true cloaker more insidious, because it looks just like a cloak - made of cloaker skin.

As nocturnal beings, they need to hibernate part of the year, and will naturally fortify themselves up in a hot spring somewhere underground. Hot springs are a fun detail. They let you steal some of the kopru shtick. Also, in this world, I figure there are flora specialised in extracting energy from geothermal sites instead of photosynthesis. So a cloaker "city" becomes a modified cave complex: within the fortifications, it's terraced and divided up into many little personal areas, with extensive ornamental paddies between them.

And this suggests what cloakers can do to leverage their intelligence. They're domesticators. They breed and cultivate flora in their homes, probably exchanging tree-eggs held in their teeth. They also domesticate servants and prey (the first cloakers back in the 80s were actually allied with slavers), to an extent that other larder-keepers do not.

We don't know of any basic prey species on this planet, however, so my feeling is that cloakers won't get much skilled labour out of a pen full of wild otyughs and many-legged scale creatures. Instead they'll have to fall back on extensive training. So a cloaker's moaning calls out in the night jungle may well be signals to its minions, like a farmer with a sheepdog. Dig here, pile dirt there, fetch wood for a basic sort of mud kiln, etc.

So cloakers are actually quite active in the ecology. They regulate the forests, ensuring that prey is plentiful. They use trained animals to dig culverts and bathing pools, sometimes rerouting small rivers to ensure proper control of irrigation. What looks like a chaotic and wild jungle to a colonist is actually a perfectly ordered cultivar to a cloaker, who is used to thinking in non-rectilinear forms with branches and complex networks.

They're also used to hiding in the trees waiting to jump you and suck your blood, because they have no direct use for crops, and because colonists have a completely different model of agriculture...
 

Evil Midnight Lurker

What Lurks at Midnight
Validated User
#94
I suspect prey species will have to be invented whole cloth, there being little reason over the history of the game to stat up animal-intelligent non-hostile aberrations.
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#95
I suspect prey species will have to be invented whole cloth, there being little reason over the history of the game to stat up animal-intelligent non-hostile aberrations.
Yeah, that's why I mentioned otyughs - they strike me as closer to pigs in the ecology: omnivores and scavengers, not too huge, not too bright. The classic otyughs are perhaps an ambush predator variant, but it's easy to imagine wild otyughs rooting around in piles of rotting vegetation.

We'll cover those when we get to them, I figure.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#96
Some very interesting points about cloakers. Though I had originally intended flumph as "forest permiculture agriculturalists" - while flumph are not part of the 5E SRD, they are available in the OGL thanks to the Tomb of Horror backdoor.

The lack of prey species is a general problem - D&D and its variants were always more interested in creatures that could eat player characters instead of creatures that were largely herbivores. But though alien herbivores are scarce, we could reskin other critters into less aggressive variants. We will see what we will find later on...
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#97
Some very interesting points about cloakers. Though I had originally intended flumph as "forest permiculture agriculturalists" - while flumph are not part of the 5E SRD, they are available in the OGL thanks to the Tomb of Horror backdoor.
Interesting - and there's nothing to say the flumphs can't be in the same niche. Perhaps they're the daylight version? And you wind up with these two cultures who interact mainly by manipulating forests while the others are asleep, who have slightly different ideas about what the permaculture is for and occasionally sabotage each other by accident, and who have very VERY divergent personal ethics and would probably fight to the death if they ever actually met.

I just followed the idea of cloakers lounging around in hot springs surrounded by lush but colourless growths, like some sort of seabed hotspot lifted onto land, and it looked like a species that has a very strong hands-off domestication instinct. Cloakers are still slavers, just applied to an ecosystem where everything is a little bit smart.

Oh! And magic! Cloakers can be magicians. They've got plenty of tricks based around phantasms and shadow, and in some editions, there are leader variants with heightened shadow powers. Unlike the ixitxachitl, there's no "standard" incarnation available: the baseline cloaker has already picked up its iconic magic. My feeling is, based on their leadership philosophy, that cloakers have developed their own school of magic and they all study it. Tenebramancy? They're nocturnal and they lean into it.

This means that little cloakers will be immersed in the tenets of tenebramancy from an early age, and respected leader cloakers will be masters of literally dark magic. (No moral judgment intended, although they're not nice people.) If they have their own language, it's probably half-built out of shadow magic, so every sentence they utter is shrouded in metaphors of darkness and occlusion. If they have writing - probably in large tail-scrawled runes scratched into moist clay - it will express arcane formulas.

That's actually an interesting feature - if cloaker symbols are three feet wide and look like something scrabbling in the mud, colonists will probably interpret them as animal tracks. And cloakers are kinda lazy, I think, so they'll probably leave messages in convenient locations like riverbanks. It could be ages before somebody works out that cloakers have been writing alien spells right out in the open.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#98
Yeah, native spellcasters with very different traditions should very much be a thing. Cloakers are intelligent and have innate magical abilities already - this should be plenty to qualify. At one point I should probably survey available third party 5E spell lists for suitable spells (or if necessary, 3E/Pathfinder OGL material and convert it - though I'd rather avoid the effort).

And of course, there is always the possibility that the colonists/player characters might learn such spells once they figure out what they are - and vice versa! Some native spellcasters might make deliberate effort to capture human spellcasters and interrogate them about their powers, once they realize what they are capable of.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
Validated User
#99
Anyway, it's high time I continue with my bestiary survey.

Dragons are, of course, right out as native creatures - although those who can shapeshift into humanoid forms could sneak past the Gate and into the colony (or alternatively just ally themselves with the colonists outright, since the shapeshifters tend to be the metallic ones). The larger dragons might not fit physically through the gate (though some might try), while the smaller chromatic dragons will unable to push through the no doubt formidable defenses of the Gate. Dragon turtles are sufficiently removed from real world mythology that they might work as a reskin, but again we should develop the more alien native life forms first. There is not much that can be done with driders, since they are humanoids stuck on a spider's body. While there might be space for "native nature spirits", dryads are too wedded to European myth.

Elementals might work, but require a reskin in form at the very least - and it's probably more thematic to make the mythological "elements" of the alien world a different set than the Greek configuration of fire/water/earth/air. Ettercaps are very close - their flaw is that they still have a humanoid structure in most of their depictions, but they are otherwise very alien. I think with a slightly different anatomy they should work - but again, I will leave that for later.

Fungi

Strange fungi are an old staple of science fiction stories set on alien worlds, and these stories were likely an inspiration for the strange fungi of D&D lore. The SRD lists two, the shrieker and the violet fungus.





The shrieker's most notable power is, of course, it's shriek:

"When bright light or a creature is within 30 feet of the shrieker, it emits a shriek audible within 300 feet of it. The shrieker continues to shriek until the disturbance moves out of range and for 1d4 of the shrieker’s turns afterward."

In dungeon ecologies, the shrieker fulfills the role of a "natural alarm system"... but frankly, I think there is nothing natural about this. Some intelligent native creatures likely cultivated the shrieker precisely for that purpose - and considering that it is affected by both light and living creatures, it's probably some cave dweller. It should also be noted that any creature that bothers to sneak at all lightly won't trigger the shriek, due to its rather abysmal passive perception of 6 - so rat-analogues and other creatures that are small enough to be cautious by nature won't trigger it often. Human explorers on the other hand who want to be speedy...

Variations: It's worth thinking about how this "shriek" might have developed in the first place. My best guess is that it started out as a spore dispersal mechanism, triggered either when the suns were shining bright enough (thus explaining its light sensitivity) or when a creature passed nearby (thus ensuring even wider dispersal when the spores get stuck to a creature's body). Thus, such shrieker variants could exist on the surface, although they wouldn't shriek as often - just often enough to startle colonists (and provide plenty of entertainment for the kids of the colonists). Furthermore, while the shrieker doesn't have any spores that are actually dangerous, variants with such mechanisms that do have dangerous side effects (such as poisons or diseases) are possible.


Violet fungi, on the other hand, are ambulatory and predatory fungi that aren't above creating their own rot to feed on. I am just not sure whether to classify the necrotic damage from their "Rotting Touch" attack as a weird "natural" rot accelerator, or an outright supernatural ability.

Variations: Violet fungi can and should come in many variations, mimicking all sorts of "non-aggressive" fungi (and not just violet ones). Finally, one interesting options would be a whole swarm of tiny violet fungi that preys on creatures that are sleeping, injured, or otherwise can't move very quickly. These might communicate via spores and possibly even have a primitive hivemind of sorts.
 

s/LaSH

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
A natural alarm system? For creatures that live in darkness? Right after I'd got done talking about Cloakers who cultivate other species to do their dirty work? This fits almost too neatly.

So of course it would be logical for something else to use them, too, just to keep PCs on their toes. A Shrieker has no brain, and doesn't care who planted it, so long as it gets fed periodically. One particular variant that nobody's expecting is an underwater Shrieker used by Aboleths; an underwater shriek could do actual physical damage if you get too close.

Now, these things aren't real fungi; that's a specific old-world lifeform. But new-world "fungi" certainly look the part. This is because they have a similar reproductive strategy: sporocarps. Big vane-bearing caps that can puff out a whole lot of spores, such that pretty much every surface in the world is investigated for fertility. It's how they get everywhere. Unlike fungi, these new critters don't have mycelia, or perhaps we should say they aren't mycelia. A fungus proper is a series of immensely long threads weaving through whatever it's eating, and the sporocarp is an accessory used for reproduction.

These things... I'll call 'em sporopods... are much more contained. I figure they have lungs in the "head" and a series of basic stomachs that open up on the bottom of the "foot". Violet fungi have limbs, probably much like an octopus, driven by hydrostatic pressure. Don't expect them to be as smart as an octopus, though; the octopus probably needs a big brain and big eyes because you need to keep making constant adjustments to arms made of wet noodles. Sporopods must have some kind of visual sense, but it's not as sophisticated as true eyes (or eye-strips). I suspect it's a strip of compound eyes down its flanks (which might explain how eye-strips evolved, hmm). So the violet fungus mostly just flails around before it injects you with whatever it injects you with (nasty flesh-eating bacteria? Anti-carbon magic?).

The Shrieker doesn't even do that; all it can do is wobble from side to side and look weird and disgusting. Because it needs a fairly large amount of food to sit on and slowly digest, it can't easily survive in the wild, and must be diligently cared for. Of course, since it reproduces via spores, it'll try to grow in the wild anyway. Miniature Shriekers might just be infants, growing on opportunistic patches of compost or offal. Once they grow too big, they starve, or are picked off by scavengers (who use them to pinpoint likely areas of rotting organic matter - again, here come the otyughs).

(But if this world has no fungi, how does organic matter break down and re-enter the ecosystem? Well, I'm pretty sure we know the answer to that, and it's oozes.)
 
Top Bottom