BEARDED DEVIL

Monsters, Horror, Gaming

Month: January 2014

The Savour of Madness: Tunnels

cave 2

The Tunnels

cave

Soundtrack

The tunnels are completely dark.  Anyone with anything less than Darkvision will require a light.  Fortunately, lights don’t alert the Grimlocks that lurk in the tunnels to the characters’ presence, but any Intellect Devourers in the tunnels will see an approaching torch or lantern.  The Alienists flee to the tunnels if all else fails – if the inmates are set free, for example, or the asylum set on fire, or if they are simply driven back through the basement.

56 – Entrance Cavern

An incessant dropping sound fills the air here, along with the rancid stench of carrion.  Three passages lead from this round cave.

Perception DC 15:

One tunnel reeks especially strongly of rotten flesh, and another smells of mould.  What sounds like the bleating of a goat echoes down the tunnel in the middle.

58 – Heap

A vile stink fills your nostrils in this cavern, the reek of rotting flesh making your stomach roil.  A huge heap of half-eaten corpses is pied at the center of the cave, filling the air with the sound of buzzing flies and rustling maggots.  All of the corpses have had their skulls shattered.  The floor is slick with half-coagulated blood.

This is where the Alienists dump bodies they’re no longer using (those they don’t keep in the larder, anyway), keeping their servants well-fed.  The gruesome sight provokes a Sanity check (0/1d4+1).  Perception DC 20 to hear chewing sounds from behind the corpse-pile, where two Grimlocks eat.

59 – Drinking Water

water

A pool of murky water fills most of this large cavern; within you can glimpse blind cave fish and other creatures, stunted albino things.    A hunched, eyeless humanoid, its skin a mottled grey, its hands clawed, stoops and drinks from the pool.  Fungi riddle the cave walls, filling the air with their pungent smell.

A single Grimlock can be found here.

60 – Larval Pool

A huge pool of greenish, slimy liquid dominates this cavern; within the murky depths you can glimpse small, brain-like creatures swimming, propelling themselves with their tentacles in a way that reminds you of jellyfish.  Adhered to the banks of the pool are vast quantities of small, round eggs in mucilaginous sacs, reminiscent of frogspawn.

Dozens of Intellect Devourer larvae – Ustilagors – lurk in the pool.  Falling in is probably a bad idea…

61 – Chasm

A seemingly bottomless chasm interrupts the tunnel here.

Acrobatics DC 20 to leap across here; fall damage is 10d6.  Climbing down requires a DC 20 Climb check.  Grimlocks will chase characters fleeing here to try and trap them.

62 – Feasting Chamber

saturn

Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of gnawed bones, both human and animal, carpet the floor of this chamber.  Crude images of beasts, intellect devourers, and humanoids are painted on the walls.

If the characters have been stealthy they may witness a particularly gruesome feast-in-progress:

A trio of twisted, eyeless humanoids tear apart a mountain goat here; the creature’s piteous bleats echo through the caves as they tear it open, blood gushing everywhere as they begin to gorge themselves on its entrails, stuffing dripping gobs of viscera into their fanged mouths.

63 – Mountain Tunnel

A faint whiff of fresh air and the sound of wind relieves the musty staleness of the caverns here.

This passage climbs upwards (Climb DC 15) out into the mountains.  If truly outmatched the Alienists will flee here, though this could also make a convenient escape route for the characters.  The Grimlocks use this entrance to go and hunt.

64 – Grimlock Warren

caves 3

Soundtrack

Something stirs in the darkness of this large, dripping cavern – you are not alone down here.  Stalactites loom out of the darkness, and shallow pools of water have collected on the floor.

At any given time there are at least a 15-25 Grimlocks in this large cavern, sleeping, creeping about, mating, or eating.  Here’s a glimpse of some of them:

Half a dozen loping figures emerge from the darkness – pale, malformed humanoids with pronounced nostrils and ears, no eyes, and mottled greyish-white skins.  Sniffing the air, they hiss and move towards you, and more shapes stir behind them!

65 – The Pit

A gaping pit yawns at the center of this chamber, its walls slimy, plummeting down into darkness.

This pit leads down into an intricate cavern system that riddles the mountains; it’s here that the Grimlocks entered these caverns.  Clambering down is tricky, however, requiring a DC 25 Climb check (fall damage is 20d6).

Appendix: Statistics

horrible

QUASIRIANT/DELACROIX – INTELLECT DEVOURER SORCERER 8

CR 11

XP 12, 800

Intellect devourer sorcerer 8

CE Small aberration

Init +11; Senses blindsight 60 ft., detect magic; Perception +21

DEFENSE

AC 23, touch 18, flat-footed 16 (+7 Dex, +5 natural, +1 size)

hp 164 (16 HD; 8d8+8d6+96)

Fort +11, Ref +12, Will +16

Defensive Abilities: invisibility, mirror image; DR 10/adamantine and magic; Immune fire; Resist cold 20, electricity 20, sonic 20; SR 23

Weaknesses: vulnerability to protection from evil

OFFENSE

Speed: 30 ft.

Melee: 4 claws +18 (1d4+1)

Special Attacks: acidic ray (1d6+6 acid, 12/day), body thief, sneak attack +3d6

Spell-Like Abilities (CL 8th; concentration +17)

Constant—detect magic

At will—confusion (DC 22, single target only), daze monster (DC 19, no HD limit), inflict serious wounds (DC 20), invisibility, reduce size (as reduce person but self only)

3/day—cure moderate wounds, globe of invulnerability

Sorcerer Spells Known (CL 8th; concentration +17)

4th (4/day)— phantasmal killer (DC 20)

3rd (7/day)— gentle repose, suggestion (DC 21)

2nd (8/day)— touch of idiocy (DC 18), hideous laughter (DC 20), mad hallucination (DC 18)

1st (8/day)—charm person (DC 20), disguise self (DC 18), hypnotism (DC 20), memory lapse (DC 20), sleep (DC 20)

0 (at will)—arcane mark, dancing lights, detect poison, ghost sound (DC 17), mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation

Bloodline: Aberrant

STATISTICS

Str 12, Dex 25, Con 19, Int 18, Wis 14, Cha 24

Base Atk +10; CMB +10; CMD 27

Feats: Combat Casting, Eschew Materials, Extend Spell, Greater Spell Focus (enchantment), Improved Initiative, Quicken Spell, Silent Spell, Spell Focus (enchantment), Still Spell, Weapon Finesse

Skills: Bluff +34, Craft (alchemy) +13, Diplomacy +16, Disguise +23, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Knowledge (psionics) +11, Knowledge (local) +14, Perception +17, Sense Motive +16, Spellcraft +18, Stealth +19, Use Magic Device +19

Languages: Common, Aklo, Grimlock, Undercommon (cannot speak); telepathy 100 ft.

SQ: bloodline arcana, long limbs (+10 ft.), unusual anatomy (25%)

Gear (only if encountered in a host body): doctor’s outfit, masterwork dagger, keys (Eye, Hand, Heart, Brain)

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Body Thief (Su): As a full-round action that provokes an attack of opportunity, an intellect devourer can reduce its size, crawl into the mouth of a helpless or dead creature, and burrow into the victim’s skull to devour its brain. This is a coup de grace attempt that inflicts 8d4+3d6+8 points of damage. If the victim is slain (or already dead), the intellect devourer usurps control of the body and may use it as its own, as if it controlled the target via a dominate monster spell. The intellect devourer has full access to all of the host’s defensive and offensive abilities save for spellcasting and spell-like abilities (although the intellect devourer can still use its own spell-like abilities). A host body may not have been dead for longer than 1 day for this ability to function, and even successfully inhabited bodies decay to uselessness in 7 days (unless this time is extended via gentle repose). As long as the intellect devourer occupies the body, it knows (and can speak) the languages known by the victim and basic information about the victim’s identity and personality, yet has none of the victim’s specific memories or knowledge. Damage done to a host body does not harm the intellect devourer, and if the host body is slain, the intellect devourer emerges and is dazed for 1 round. Raise dead cannot restore a victim of body theft, but resurrection or more powerful magic can.

Vulnerable to Protection from Evil (Ex): An intellect devourer is treated as a summoned creature for the purpose of determining how it is affected by a protection from evil spell.

ALIENIST (HOST BODY)

delacroix

CR 5

XP 1,600

Human expert 7

CE Medium humanoid

Init +2; Senses Perception +12

DEFENSE

AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 10 (+1 armor, +2 Dex)

hp 31 (7d8)

Fort +2, Ref +3, Will +5

OFFENSE

Speed: 30 ft.

Melee: masterwork dagger +5 (1d4–1/19–20)

STATISTICS

Str 8, Dex 14, Con 10, Int 16, Wis 11, Cha 17

Base Atk +5; CMB +4; CMD 13

Feats Alertness, Combat Expertise, Deceitful, Persuasive, Skill Focus (Profession [alienist])

Skills Appraise +13, Bluff +19, Diplomacy +13, Disguise +11, Heal +12, Intimidate +11, Knowledge (arcana) +11, Knowledge (local) +14, Knowledge (psionics) +11, Perception +19, Profession (alienist) +13, Ride +6, Sense Motive +12, Stealth +9, Use Magic Device +11

Languages: Common, Aklo, Grimlock, Undercommon

Gear: doctor’s outfit, keys (Eye, Hand, Heart, Brain), masterwork dagger

These stats were modified slightly in light of the Body Thief ability; it doesn’t make sense to me to use the host body’s Bluff bonus, for example, given that the host’s brain has been eaten.

Of course, it’s quite possible that the Intellect Devourers will switch bodies at various points.  When one of the Alienists’ hosts die, the Intellect Devourer shows itself:

The body falls to the floor, eyes staring lifelessly ahead.  Then, suddenly, the corpse twitches, limbs flailing.  There is a sickening cracking sound as the corpse’s skull breaks open like an egg, a black talon emerging from the wound, followed by a whipping tentacle.  The tendril pushes aside the fragmented wreckage of the man’s head and something climbs out.  It looks exactly like a brain, save for the greyish fungus covering it, its lashing tentacles, and the many-jointed limbs unfolding from beneath it.  The thing seems temporarily dazed.

The sight of an Intellect Devourer provokes a Sanity check (1/1d4).  Intellect Devourers can also exit the way they came in, through the mouths of their hosts, but this process is more cumbersome (they use this process when they want to leave a host undamaged).

After losing a host an Intellect Devourer will usually scuttle away, becoming Invisible (or Clouding Minds if you’re using the Psionic variant).  If the characters are injured, however, or if there are other Alienists or Orderlies around, it may attack, using Confusion, Inflict Serious Wounds, and claws.  If a corpse is around, it’ll use Body Thief on it.

ORDERLY

nomnomnom

CR 3

XP 800

Grimlock rogue 1/warrior 3

CE Medium humanoid (human)

Init +2; Senses: Perception +12

DEFENSE

AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 15 (+1 armor, +2 Dex, +4 natural)

hp 42 (6 HD; 1d8+5d10+9)

Fort +5, Ref +9, Will +3

OFFENSE

Speed: 30 ft.

Melee: sap +7 (1d6+2 nonlethal)

Special Attacks: sneak attack +1d6

STATISTICS

Str 15, Dex 15, Con 13, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 6

Base Atk +5; CMB +7 (+9 grapple); CMD 19 (21 grapple)

Feats: Alertness, Skill Focus (Perception), Improved Grapple

Skills: Climb + 7, Stealth +11 (+21 in caves or mountains), Swim +8, Perception +12

Languages: Grimlock, Undercommon

SQ: trapfinding +1

Gear: padded armour, sap, key (roll 1d4: 1-Eye, 2-Hand, 3-Heart, 4-Brain), 1 Potion of Disguise Self (Human)

Handouts

Here is the text of the handouts:

Valentin’s Journal

Year 735, 7th of Vendémiaire

The groundskeeper Gerard, a man from the village of Saint-Sæthryth, was found dead this morning not far from his cottage, a dog worrying at his body.  The condition of his corpse was most alarming.  The top of the man’s skull had been completely shattered and his brain was missing; what’s more the inside of his head showed a number of gashes and other marks disturbingly suggestive of bite-marks, though I am unsure what beast could have made them.  As chief physician and aliéniste here at L’Hôpital de Corbin I believe it must fall to me to conduct the autopsy; I shall have Dr Delacroix assist me.  With luck our examination will reveal some clue as to who perpetrated this awful crime.  I wish to believe it to be the work of some animal, or else nothing more than a tragic accident, and yet I fear the worst.  Many of the patients here at the asylum have violent pasts.  One woman, a hysteric, murdered her husband in cold blood when he attempted to initiate marital relations between them, mutilating the man till there was naught left to identify him as such.  Another patient, gripped by powerful delusions, was found to have cannibalized several street urchins before being sent here.  We keep the inmates under close watch, of course, but if one were to have somehow slipped away, even for a brief spell, there’s no telling what horrors they could inflict.  They are not all imbeciles, either: there is a certain deranged cunning to some of them, and they can be artful dissemblers at times.  Of course, after the body was discovered I had the entire facility carefully locked down, and all patients have been thoroughly accounted for; if one of them is responsible for this hideous crime, they are now safely locked in their cell.

There are other theories circulating amongst the staff, some of whom come from local villages – wild talk of hill-men and goblins and ghouls living under the mountains.  I almost wish it were some bogeyman responsible.  After the autopsy I may have to interview the patients individually.

Year 735, 8th of Vendémiaire

The autopsy of the groundskeeper’s body has been completed, but I admit to being even more perplexed than before.  I have carefully reconstructed the skull and examined the wounds thoroughly, and I have come to one inescapable but bizarre conclusion: the man’s skull was not caved in from the outside – as from a blow to the head – but broke open from the inside out.  A powerful gunshot might have caused such explosive fragmentation, yet there is no gunshot wound visible on the man’s face or elsewhere on the corpse.  Stranger still, I discovered subtle but unmistakable trauma to the jaw, as if it had been recently dislocated and then jarred back into place.  I also discovered lacerations, faint but still distinct, around his lips and in the inside of his mouth.

Continuing my examination, I found that the back of the man’s throat had been gashed open, as if something had been forcibly thrust through his mouth and up into his brain.  To make matters even more bewildering, the wound had been sealed with a membranous growth of some kind, and traces of other foreign material – webbing, a greyish substance resembling fungi, and some sort of congealed mucus or slime – was discovered in his emptied cranium.  All traces of the brain itself were completely gone save for some portions of the brain stem, including the bulb, pons, and a portion of the midbrain.

As I continued the autopsy my findings grew yet more bizarre – and disturbing.  The groundskeeper was seen alive the previous night, so we can assume he was killed at some point during the night or in the early morning.  However, the corpse shows signs suggesting advanced decomposition.  The body was bloated, and I discovered maggots in the corpse’s orifices and the beginnings of putrefaction setting in.  All indications suggest that the man has been dead for several days at least.  Is it possible that somehow the rate of decay was accelerated?  The mystery is maddening.

Year 735, 11th of Vendémiaire

Interviews with the patients have been concluded, but have revealed nothing new.  One of the patients, however – a certain Madame Angélique, a hebephreniac afflicted with la folie circulaire – seems to have made surprising progress.  Perhaps the rotary chair has done its work; or perhaps the leechings, or simply the fresh air, have relieved her lunacy.  Whatever the case she seems much recovered, cheerful almost to the point of euphoria and yet displaying none of the frenzied agitation typical of a manic episode.  We will continue treatment as usual, of course, but I am optimistic.  With any luck, in a few months the girl can be sent back to her husband.

The groundskeeper has been interred in the asylum cemetery; we must send for a new one, as already the lawn is going to seed.

Year 735, 16th of Vendémiaire

Another shocking episode has occurred – Patient 616, Madame Angélique, was found dead in her room by one of the orderlies, Monsieur Falret.  What’s more, the manner of her death was exactly the same as that of the groundskeeper, her skull shattered and her brain missing, her brainpan infested with greyish fungus and covered in slime.  I did not have to perform a thorough autopsy to note the signs of premature or accelerated decay on her body.  It is now almost certain that the person responsible is either an inmate or a member of the staff – how else could the killer have gained access to her room?  What is going on?

If these incidents continue, I fear for the future of this institution.  L’Hôpital de Corbin must be a safe place, a place of respite, a haven for lost and troubled souls.  It cannot be a place of fear.  I have devoted my life to this place and am loathe to lose it, but if I cannot guarantee the safety of the staff and patients here I am afraid the asylum will have to close.

Year 735, 23rd of Vendémiaire

M Falret, the orderly who discovered Patient 616’s body, has gone missing.  He appears to have left in the middle of the night, without warning, and left no note.  Some part of me fears the man must have been abducted, perhaps by the same person responsible for the deaths of the groundskeeper and Mme Angélique, but everyone else in the asylum is fully accounted for: if the perpetrator is indeed an inmate or a staff member, abduction would seem unlikely… perhaps M Falret, traumatized by the incident with Mme Angélique, found himself unable to cope with the stress of working in L’Hôpital de Corbin and, accordingly, fled?

I have spoken to other members of the staff, who report that M Falret’s behaviour has been unusual ever since he discovered Patient 616.  Colleagues describe him as detached and somewhat depressed, and report that they often caught him watching them strangely, with a curious unblinking gaze.  Such a personality shift may have been a response to trauma, and yet the orderlies at this institution are used to dealing with pain, and even with corpses – try as we might to prevent them from harming themselves, some inmates do manage to commit suicide, and the discovery of a body in its cell is not, tragically, as rare a circumstance as we would wish it.

There is another possibility, of course – M Falret may have been responsible for both murders and, fearing discovery, he has fled.  I have written to the gendarmerie alerting them to the man’s sudden disappearance.  Some part of me hopes he was responsible.  If Falret was the murderer, at least now L’Hôpital de Corbin will be left in peace.

Year 735, 13th of Brumaire

Weeks have passed since the incidents visited upon us, and I had hoped the horrors had come to an end, but I fear my hopes were naïve.  I was examining one of the inmates today – Patient 874, Monsieur Augustin – when I noticed signs of what looked to be advanced necrosis or gangrene, as from leprosy or any number of other ailments.  Further inspection revealed the rot was widespread, and that the man was host to a number of eggs already hatching into maggots.  When he saw that I had discovered his affliction Patient 874 flew into a psychotic rage, baring his teeth and uttering a sound that I shall never forget so long as I live.  I am a practiced aliéniste with a long career: I have heard men and women screaming in the night, spouting glossolalia, imitating the sounds of animals, raving in singsong or shrieking with rage or terror or both.  The sound that issue from M Augustin’s mouth was unlike anything I have heard before – a chittering, clicking ejaculation of indescribable strangeness.  It sounded like nothing human.  Were I a superstitious man I might believe him to be the victim of some demoniac possession!

He came at me with hands clawed, tearing at my throat.  I managed to wrestle the man off me, and with the aid of two orderlies he was secured.  We attempted to sedate the patient, but the normal dose had no effect, and he continued to make the same chittering, hissing expostulations.  Eventually one of the orderlies simply bashed the man on the head, sending him into unconsciousness – normally I would disapprove of such violent methods, but given the circumstances I gave my permission.  We are treating the man’s affliction as best we can, but I am flummoxed as to the cause of his illness.  There is no fever whatsoever: the man is cold as a corpse!  He has been quarantined for the time being.  I will consult every medical text I can.  Could this strange sickness somehow be related to the recent deaths?  Mysteries piled on mysteries.

Year 735, 31st of Brumaire

They are everywhere.  I do not know who to trust, who has been turned.  Delacroix has been compromised, I think – I could smell the stench of the grave upon him.  They can smell me, too.

I have barricaded myself in the office.  I can hear them outside, giggling obscenely, stalking the halls.  They speak in their abominable tongue, if speech it is.  More like the drone of insects than speech.

I have seen what they are.  These Things that now walk among us, that wear our stolen flesh.  Such Things were not meant to be seen by human eyes.

Perhaps I am mad myself.  I can no longer tell truth from reality, fact from fiction, science from fantasy.

They will come for me soon.  I will not let them take my mind, will not let them use my body like a marionette.  There is a wheellock in my drawer.  I will blow by brains from my skull before I let them feed on my mind.

To any who reads this: L’Hôpital de Corbin is no longer an asylum, no longer a hospital for the treatment of illness.  They have taken over the Intensive Treatment Ward, use the machines not to ameliorate but to exacerbate.  They torment the inmates to worsen their lunacy.

They feed on insanity.  It is like a drug to them.  As the dipsomaniac craves alcohol so do they require brains, brains addled by madness.

Someone knocks at the door.  The handle turns.  They say they are Delacroix but I know the Truth!

The gun is loaded, primed.  I go now to whatever fate awaits me.

Cordialement,

Dr Valentin Morel

Aliéniste Principal de l’Hôpital de Corbin

Quasiriant’s Journal

Entry 1:

I feel compelled to transcribe my thoughts, to put them to paper – a strange urge, and unfamiliar.  The human whose body I now control, whose mind I devoured, was much given to this habit.  We all take on aspects of our prey after feeding.  I crouch now in the damp, hunched over a sheaf of parchment, my brothers and sisters around me, and write this chronicle with borrowed hands that even now begin to decay.

We have escaped the mountains of our homeland and arrived at last in the man-realm.  The God-Brain and Its Inquisitors cannot follow us here: our thralldom is at an end.  No longer can Its servants feed upon our young.  No longer will we be used as the humans use guard-dogs, somewhere between pets and slaves.  We are free.

Soon we must feed.  We can sense the minds of humans nearby, their consciousnesses succulent, nourishing.  Our bodies are rotting; I can feel maggots squirming in my breast, eating at my host’s innards.  If we do not find sustenance soon we will be forced to abandon our hosts and travel naked beneath the sun and moon, vulnerable and exposed.  The others look to me for guidance, for leadership.  It was I who led them from servitude, who found a way to this place.

Entry 2:

I have found us a place, nestled in mountains that remind me of the homeland.  There are many minds here, consciousnesses which exude a subtle aroma unlike any I have tasted before.  The humans who dwell here are broken things, wretched, consumed with fear and despair and confusion of unspeakable succulence.  Other humans watch over them, tending to them, trying to mend their shattered minds.  Fools!  We will be Masters here soon.  I have taken the body of one of them, a man I found tending to the grounds.  The other humans suspect nothing.  I will continue the man’s duties, biding my time, watching.  Soon I will bring the others here, and we will feast.

Entry 3:

I could resist temptation no longer.  I have glutted myself, eaten my fill, devouring the mind of one of the inmates, a woman I found wandering in the gardens.  The alienists here – so the Masters of this place call themselves – allow their patients to walk the grounds if supervised.  This one must have strayed from the group, unnoticed.  I found her gibbering, raving to herself and scratching at her flesh, and when, unable to contain myself any longer, smelling the irresistible enticement of her delirium, I burst from the skull of my former host and leaped towards her, she seemed unafraid, as if welcoming me, as if eager.  The taste of her mind was ambrosial – the savour of her madness!  The richness, the subtlety of her derangement, the obscene deliciousness of her lunacy!  It is like nothing I have tasted before.  I must have more.  I will hide this chronicle in the groundskeeper’s cottage for the time being and return to the asylum wearing my new guise.

Entry 4:

I was nearly discovered.  For the past few days I have been observing operations in this place, noting routines, evaluating strengths and weaknesses.  The brood could find a home here… so many nourishing minds to feed upon!  Yet as I languished in their cell, I found myself reminded powerfully of the homeland and our mistreatment by the Masters.  A rage grew within me, seething, boiling up and overflowing, and when one of the humans entered my cell to feed my host body I flew at him, bursting from my host’s skull and leaping for his throat, forcing his jaw open and burrowing my way up, up into his skull.  I ate my fill and fled, leaving the body where it fell.  The other humans are most agitated, believing that one of their own is the killer.  Soon I will take this body and leave, and rejoin my kindred.

After the rapturous richness of the last brain I devoured this one seemed bland, tasteless.  Now that I have tasted the nectar of madness, a sane mind is flavourless.  I must return with the rest of the brood soon, to satiate myself once again.

Entry 5:

The others have made contact with a group of beings that dwell under the mountains.  The humans drove them down into the darkness long ago, and they have lingered there since, in the bowels of the earth.  Their hatred for the top-worlders is matched only by their hunger for flesh.  They will make worth allies, for though my ilk and I must feed, we desire only brains, not meat.  We will require a few bodies to use as hosts, of course, but the rest can go to sate the appetites of these blind ones, these deep-dwellers.  They can help us to keep the humans in order, once we seize control of the asylum and make the place our larder, our abattoir – for though my brood and I are powerful, we are few in number, and the humans are many.

I have told the brood of the savour of madness, the lush ripeness of an unhinged mind.  Soon we shall return and eat our fill.

Entry 6:

I have assumed control of the body of Dr Delacroix, one of the alienists here at  L’Hôpital de Corbin.  I shall continue to use this body as required, when other humans bring more inmates for us from their cities: it will be necessary to maintain the appearance that the facility is still under human administration.  Once my kindred and I had infiltrated their ranks the rest became easy.  The humans’ leader, Dr Valentin Morel, discovered our presence, but by the time he realized what we were it was too late; we had already seized control.  The Grimlocks now serve as our orderlies, and the inmates are safely tucked in their cells, like livestock awaiting the slaughter in their pens.  The cravings grow stronger and stronger.  With each brain I consume, each maddened consciousness I devour, the hunger grows more intense, the sensations dulled.  I must find a way to relive that first ecstatic devouring.

When I consumed the consciousness of Delacroix I absorbed some of his knowledge, his expertise.  There are degrees of madness, I have learned, and methods of ameliorating lunacy.  Might the same techniques, the same scientific approach, be used to cultivate rather than expunge madness?  And then there are the arts of our Masters, methods for sculpting flesh and dominating the mind… perhaps, if the two were combined, I might contrive a means of seasoning our meat, of sweetening the brains of our prey.  With time and patience, I will sow the seeds of delirium in the minds of the inmates here, tend to a garden of the deranged and the demented – and, when the time comes, harvest my crop.

Experimentation must begin at once.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer – Review

Many apologies for my long absence.  I was recently invited to review a new RPG product by Venger Satanis, Liberation of the Demon Slayer, a megadungeon-based mini-campaign with strong Lovecraftian elements.  After a busy December and January I may soon have more time to resume posting updates on modules and other projects.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer

Created by Venger Satanis – a self-styled warlock, game-master, and auteur designer – Liberation of the Demon Slayer is a sprawling, oddball adventure, combining elements of an old school dungeon crawl with imagery culled from exploitation cinema and the Cthulhu Mythos.  A strange amalgam of disparate parts, the adventure is something of a pastiche, a mutant beast of a mini-campaign that lurches from one strange scene to the next; levels of the caverns that form the central locus of the adventure include such weird vistas as a buried alien spacecraft, an abominable temple to K’tulu, a gladiatorial pocket-universe, and a magma-flooded devil’s lair.  The adventure is clearly a labour of love, exuding an off-kilter, DIY approach that brings with it a particular exuberance but also a number of curious design decisions indicative of its idiosyncratic method of creation.  Describing itself as a “grindhouse bloodbath,” the module aspires to a kind of heightened old school experience, hyper-violent and sexualized.  It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but those interested in a system-neutral dungeon crawl of the OSR mold with Lovecraftian elements and a taste for gore will probably find it to their liking.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer Illustration

The book begins with an outline of the assumed setting and a series of campaign notes.  This section is probably the weakest in the book overall; some portions, such as the unusual physical cosmology featuring living planetoids and transdimensional serpent-folk, are thoroughly engrossing, but others feel a little hackneyed, such as a superfluous reiteration of D&D traditional dichotomy of Demonic vs. Devilish.  Parts of the implied setting are quite inventive, but others feel reactionary: the setting cultivates a sense of weird atmosphere and bizarerrie one moment, then falls back on quasi-Tolkienian tropes (Elves, “Lyrthum,” i.e. Mithril, etc) the next.  It’s also not wholly clear how some details of the world’s mythology gel together – there are Old Ones like Yog Sothoth and Cthulu/K’tulu, but there are also Judeo-Christian demonic malevolencies.  Then again, the Old Ones here are portrayed very much in the August Derleth vein as malevolent entities out to foster chaos and evil, locked in a struggle against the “Lords of Light,” as opposed to the uncaring, unfathomably alien super-intelligences originally envisioned by Lovecraft, so the whole thing does hang together, more-or-less, in a slightly haphazard way.  As I’ll explore in greater detail below, it’s this slightly slapdash design method that lends Liberation of the Demon Slayer its distinctively patchwork character.

This section of the text also offers a number of optional rules, some of them more useful than others.  Given that the adventure advertises itself as “usable with practically every paper & pencil, tabletop fantasy roleplaying game,” the overall utility of some of these rules is questionable.  I’m especially unsure of the “freestyle” magic system the module recommends: given the Lovecraftian vein that runs through the module one might have expected a more ponderously ritualistic mode of sorcery, where the stars must be right and the correct sacrifices given and the right glyphs inscribed and the proper incantations pronounced (something closer, perhaps to the rites of Carcosa), rather than the free-wheeling, improvisational approach the text urges.  Still, some of the mechanics are intriguing, including the addition of a Fortune attribute and a “Dark Secrets” table that might have uses well beyond the module itself.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer Illustration 2

The campaign notes are fairly brief, however, and we quickly move on to the adventure itself.  While the module’s setup is a little clichéd (retrieve a magical artifact from ye olde dungeon or bad things will happen) and the name of the starting town, “Clear Meadows,” made me groan inwardly, the dungeon crawl itself is largely well-designed and inventive.  While a few elements of the crawl are rather workmanlike, even borderline passé – pit traps, kobolds, a fungus garden, glowing crystals – others are wildly, lavishly creative, like a techno-magical security network that the PCs can hack but which can also unleash nuclear/eldritch catastrophe on the surface, or a series of weird shapes scattered throughout the dungeon’s six levels that, when combined together, produce a range of magical effects and can eventually summon the manifestation of a megalomaniacal two-headed reptile god from beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy, or a piece of mind-ravishing semi-sentient fruit.  What the adventure does brilliantly is replicate the kind of lunatic hodgepodge atmosphere that characterized early D&D so strongly.  In the first years of the hobby D&D threw together a strange grab-bag of influences, what James Maliszewski of lost Grognardia once called “a goulash of unspoken and contradictory inspirations”: in the case of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Sword & Sorcery in the mode of Howard and Leiber hybridized with Hammer Horror, bits of the Mythos, Vance’s magic system, Tolkien’s races, and Arthurian romance, with a cosmology mostly pinched from Paradise Lost and Michael Moorcock.  Liberation of the Demon Slayer pursues a similarly madcap, wilfully incohesive approach, borrowing gleefully from a variety of sources and stitching it all together into a messy gestalt; Venger cites Lovecraft and Howard as major influences, also mentioning such controversial films as The Last House on the Left and the notorious Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S.  If you’re looking for an adventure with carefully calibrated unity of effect you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re yearning for the chimerical helter-skelter of yore then Liberation will scratch your old-school itch.

The module’s cartography is plain but clear, and the structure of the dungeon is sufficiently intricate; there are, perhaps, rather too many enemies of different sorts crammed into a relatively small space, but this superfluity of monsters again recaptures something of the old-school feel.  The layout is readable, although occasionally Venger seems to switch from text clearly intended to be read aloud to notes to be paraphrased, without any visually obvious cue as to what sort of text he’s writing – in other words, while the module eschews the boxed texts ubiquitous in modules from later editions, it occasionally employs a kind of “informal” boxed text which might have been differentiated a little more clearly.  This is a minor quibble, however, as the module’s writing is one of its strong points, with loving descriptions of the dungeon’s multifarious monstrosities (including such unusual horrors as half-reptilian, half-arachnoid demons, giant flying vampire toads, extradimensional hornets, a psychic lion, and a light-absorbing, flesh-eating dire slug) interspersed with plainer, easily parsed information on the contents of rooms.  It’s hard to estimate the overall lethality level of the place when the adventure is written mostly systems-neutral, but one does get the feeling the dungeon is intended as a bit of an Gygaxian abattoir: the author more-or-less describes it as such, suggesting that players create multiple characters to make it through the adventure as written.  Save-or-die effects are not unknown; one entry, for example, describes a “slimy spawn of K’tulu” that permanently transmutes any it touches into bilious green slime.  These effects, of course, could easily be tweaked by those less interested in a hyper-lethal style of play.  The module is incredibly open-ended, and the simultaneous presence of things like reality-warping shapes, nuclear weapons, hungry Old Ones, and a sociopathic AI allow for the possibility for radically reshaping the world at large.  On the one hand this non-linearity enables a truly spectacular climax; on the other hand, the potential for cataclysm might make it harder to drop the module into an existing setting.

Spider Thing

Artistically, the module’s interior artwork varies quite wildly in quality; though never execrable some of the illustrations have a sketchy, bare-bones quality, but others are extraordinarily impressive, gorgeous black and white grotesques bringing to mind the work of Erol Otus.  One illustration of a vaguely insectoid eldritch horror, tentacled but also possessing disturbingly humanoid appendages, is particularly finely done.  The somewhat lurid cover, though colourful and well-executed, has a somewhat cartoonish style at odds with some of the interior art, but in its own way this dissonance makes sense, since the content of the adventure reflects the same spirit of variegation.  By and large the illustrations complement the text well, reinforcing both the over-the-top tone and the OSR sensibility.  The artwork does bring home the highly sexualized, grindhouse aesthetic of the piece, which some readers may find objectionable.  While not squeamish myself – heck, I enjoyed Raggi’s oft-reviled paean to perversity Death Love Doom – I did find the sexual politics of Liberation of the Demon Slayer somewhat dated.  Say what you will of Raggi’s excesses, he at least offers equal-opportunity obscenity, with juddering alien penises and brutally violated men as well as mutilated and exploited women.  In contrast, Liberation of the Demon Slayer serves up a bevy of all-female sex slaves, female sacrificial victims, and scantily clad female Dark Elves described as wearing “lyrthum or leather bikinis in order to show off their smooth, delicate flesh” (strangely enough, the adventure switches the usual political structure of Dark Elves from a matriarchy to a patriarchy; Dark Elf males get magic and power, females are “depraved sex kittens”).  One Devil is described as having three female concubines, presumably imprisoned against their will; two gleefully compete for his attentions despite their enslavement while the third “still requires discipline of the whip.”

In his defence, Venger does forewarn readers that the content is “decadently gratuitous” and includes a note that GMs should take their group’s temperature before including sexual themes.  For my part it’s not the sexual themes themselves that perturb, nor the mixture of sex and violence – I say this as an avid devotee of Clive Barker – but the peculiarly old-fashioned nature of Liberation’s sexual content might be off-putting to some (the module is pretty clearly aimed at a male, heterosexual audience, to say the least).  As one who tends to defend “transgressive art,” I won’t belabour the point further, and the depictions, both textual and visual, didn’t bother me personally (though they aren’t especially shocking or titillating, either) but suffice to say that in its replication of a grindhouse atmosphere the module does nothing to ameliorate the latent misogyny that afflicted some exploitation films of the 70s, and that’s something potential buyers should be aware of.

Little in Liberation of the Demon Slayer could legitimately be called original per se, but it alchemically combines a number of familiar ingredients into a new and pleasingly misshapen whole.  The module takes the exploration-based megadungeon format from old-school D&D and mixes in Lovecraftian horror, exploitation-film imagery, and elements borrowed from science fiction B movies; in places I even get a kind of Masters of the Universe vibe.  Those looking for a “serious” adventure should probably seek elsewhere, but while the module certainly isn’t for everyone, those interested in a hallucinatory hack n’ slash marathon will find much to enjoy.

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