Barrow Wife – A DCC Monster

Deep and ancient magic infuses the funerary rituals of mighty warriors and great leaders. One such ritual involves the voluntary sacrifice of a lover of the deceased, burying them in the loamy foundation of their beloved’s barrow. Forever soothing and serving their lover for the eons.

A year and a day after the funerary ritual, the barrow wife begins to establish their barrow ward – the land around the beloved’s burial site. From the moss, lichen, reeds, and wet clay of their barrow ward, a barrow wife may take the form of a misshapen humanoid. From a distance you might confuse them for a person covered in mud and twigs. Those traveling through a barrow ward may hear the low and wordless soothing song of the barrow wife, comforting their departed lover.

While you can destroy the physical form of a barrow wife, it will reform during the next moonrise. Destroying a barrow wife outside of its barrow ward forever destroys its spirit.

Their love and devotion drives a barrow wife to protect the final resting place of their beloved and to add to their beloved’s wealth (and even glory). The means of gaining that wealth is often through gifts, offerings, and the occasional robbery.  After all, their beloved is dead, they don’t know that the silver was a gift from peasants and not from the plunder of conquest.

It should be noted that the barrow wife is not undead. Their spirit has transferred to the barrow ward.

Barrow Wife Statblock

Init +0; Atk slam +3 melee (d6 + suffocation on natural 17-20); AC 14 (or more); HD 4d8; hp 18; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP blind (see barrow-sense), spirit; SV Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +3; AL N.

Suffocation: A barrow wife that rolls a natural 17 to 20 on a slam attack and hits begins to suffocate their opponent; Pieces of moss, lichen, and clay fill the targets nostrils and mouth. The target, or an ally, may spend an action die to clean out their nostrils and mouth and end the suffocation. At the end of each of the targets turns in which they are suffocating they take 1d6 temporary Stamina damage. When the target’s Stamina drops to 0, the target dies. The target fully recovers from this temporary Stamina damage after a 10 minute rest.

Barrow-sense: While within the boundaries of their barrow ward, a barrow wife can sense and locate all creatures in the barrow ward. Outside of the barrow ward, a barrow wife is effectively blind.

Fire: A barrow wife first damaged by fire gains +2 AC and -10’  MV, as the clay hardens and solidifies.

Design Notes

The barrow wife is my response to the adventurers encountering a wayside shrine with an offering of silver coins; It was something I added to a random table for events while traveling. One of the players looted the offering. From there, I knew I had to introduce something.

With the first session taking place in the area surrounding the village of Bitterweed Barrow, and second session involved exploring a barrow mound outside the village of Hirot, I felt a very strong Danelaw vibe was warranted.

When I think of the look and feel of the barrow wife, I envision the Swamp Thing, only less viney and less defined. While the barrow wife name implies a female, I am deliberate in my language that anyone of any gender may be a barrow wife. I just don’t like the sound of Barrow Spouse or Barrow Partner. It also could be confused with Barrow Wight.

Chip – Plague Ensorcelled Corpse – A DCC Monster

Digging around the documents for my Open Table DCC game at Better World Book, I stumbled upon the following creature.

Chip – plague ensorcelled corpse (magic missile): Init +1; Atk claws +1 (1d3), pitchfork +1 (1d8) or spell; AC 12; HD 2d6; hp 10; MV 30′; Act 1d20; SPmagic missile (spell check +2, the spell is never lost) undead, goat form, ensorcelling plague bearer (see below); SV Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +1; AL C

Chip is the victim of an ensorcelling corpse plague. During his brief adventuring career, he encountered a sorcerer’s scroll of magic missile. His successful reading of the scroll infused his soul with the strands of magic missile. In the moment of his death in the cursed halls, the dweomer claimed his soul and reanimated Chip.

Chip appears much as he did in life; Though when stressed his eyes flare iridescent green. When bumped, jostled, or damaged, eldritch green runes crackle across Chip’s body.

Chip can, at will, transform into a green-eyed farm goat. As undead, Chip need not eat, drink, nor breathe, and is immune to critical hits, poison and disease.

Ensorcelling Plague Bearer: When Chip is destroyed, the ensorcelling corpse plague bursts in a scintillating green miasma. All intelligent creatures within 15′ of Chip must make a DC 12 Will save. Caster’s may add their caster level to their Will saving throw roll.

Any creature that fails their Will saving throw gain the ability to cast magic missile 1d3+1 times; With a CL equal to their character level. The creature now becomes a vector for the ensorcelling corpse plague. When the creature dies if it has any remaining castings of the plaguing spell or ever spell burned to cast the plaguing spell, it becomes a Plague Ensorcelled Corpse of power commiserate to its level / HD.

A Plague Ensorcelled Corpse will appear as they did in life. They gain the ability to cast the plaguing spell with a bonus equal to their HD (and never suffer spell loss). Also roll on the Traits or Properties of Undead (Table 9-6) to determine additional uniqueness.

Fond Memories of the Kenku

For a few years in high school and college, I had a tradition of running a New Year’s Eve one shot. We would order up a six foot sub, plenty of caffeine, and start gaming around 5pm. Our sessions would last until 8am or so.

One session, I believe it was December 31st, 1993, I had a very rudimentary adventure planned out. The characters were going to escort a diplomat to another dignitary’s seat of power. I had a few set pieces in mind:

I also provided the characters. If memory serves they were 8th level or so in AD&D 2E. The characters were:

  • A human priestess of Sune
  • A dwarf fighter/thief
  • A human thief/diviner
  • A human fighter
  • And a few others now lost to my memory

As I was handing out characters, I gave my friend Matt the Diviner/Thief. It was a finesse character with no apparent ability to directly influence things (poor Strength and Charisma).

Matt looked at the character sheet and ask: “Why do I speak Gnomish?”

And that is when the wheels went in motion. He was working for the gnomes but something went sour. An early scene established that Kenku were slighted by the gnomes and were going to take it out on him.

This was one of the first times that I had truly improvised my game based on a question from the player. And as it turned out, this left a lasting impression on me.

First, I have always been particular to diviners. Even when I play Apocalypse World I gravitate towards high Sharp characters, attempting to observe and build an advantage.

Second, the power of asking questions at the table cannot be understated. While the details of the encounter with the Kenku are lost, I believe everyone at the table enjoyed the dynamism of an encounter where it wasn’t simply “Kill someone.”

Third, Kenku. I fell in love with the avian masters of subterfuge. While I haven’t brought them back into play, I’ve always had them waiting in the wings.

So this past week, I began exploring how I might use Kenku. Thinking more about their motivations and social structure.

Write-up for Fate Core

Aspects: That Shiny will be Mine!, Blackmailing Information Broker
Skills: Good (+3) Deceive, Fair (+2) Stealth, Average (+1) Contacts, Burglary
Stunts: Mimicry. Can mimic familiar sounds, voices, and accents.
Stress: 2 boxes

Write-up for Dungeon World

Kenku Group, Stealthy, Devious, Organized, Intelligent, Cautious, Hoarder
Short sword (d4 damage 1 piercing) 6 HP 2 armor

“I’m telling you, he had a beak and clawed hands!” said the prisoner.

“Right. I’ve heard that one before. And there were a dozen of them,” said the jailer.

“Yeah! How’d you know?”

“Because you ain’t the first. I’ve heard lots of things. But the idea that there are a bunch bird men running things in this city is absurd. Think about it? Wouldn’t someone have caught on by now? The council? The guards? The guilders? Shut up and face up to it…you did something stupid, and 10 years hard labor is your reward.”

Instinct: To collect that which shines

  • Pass through society without drawing attention
  • Mimic the sound of anything ever heard
  • Blackmail: Let other people do your dirty work!
  • Where there is one, many are sure to be found

A Preview of Things to Come

Two Dungeon World monsters I’ve worked on this morning.

Hydrodæmon Solitary, Large, Magical, Intelligent, Planar, Organized
Bite (d12 damage) 16 HP 2 armor
Special Qualities: Amphibious

This massive frog-like creature has massive dull milky white eyes. Its skin, while strong as mail, is loose and flappy, enabling it to glide for brief distances. Not from this world, the hydrodæmon may be conjured here by powerful magic. It has also been known to rip through to this plane so that it may bear witness to the final moments of the water filled gasps of a large number of people drowning. Instinct: To drown the living

  • Spit inky black sleep toxin at someone nearby
  • Control or befoul nearby water
  • Summon other hydrodæmons to this plane…if only for a short while
  • Hear the final prayers of the drowned
Mageiadæmon Solitary, Stealthy, Magical, Organized, Planar, Amorphous
Raw arcana (d10 damage) 19 HP 2 armor
Close, Ignores Armor, Near, Far

As magic incarnate, the mageiadæmon assumes any functional physical form as it hungrily seeks out offerings of vassalage and places or people of power. Once magic fills the air, the mageiadæmon revels in its debaucherous feast, stripping naked to reveal a maelstrom of arcane energy barely contained.

Mercifully, the mageiadæmon is not of this world, instead vigilantly dwelling amongst the platonic representations of arcane sigils, rituals, and eldritch power, waiting for a time when too much power is drawn from the arcane ether. And in that moment, it travels the arcane conduits to this world. So be wary of a spell gone awry with seemingly little consequence…for you may have open the door to a mageiadæmon. Instinct: To unleash all of the magic

  • Overload a mortal coil with raw arcana
  • Assume a mundane physical form
  • Seize absolute control of nearby magic
  • Call in the bargain that all warlocks make
  • Reveal the true nature of magic

Ice Mummer – A Dungeon World Monster

I’ve been kicking around a Dungeon World dungeon starter, but had hit a road block. Meanwhile, Christmas happened, and I got a fountain pen and a vial of ink. My wife graciously let me use her calligraphy pen, and this sprung from the inky reservoir.

The Ice Mummers

The Ice Mummers

So presented is my effort to codify what I felt was an evocative phrase:

Ice Mummer

Group, Devious
Slam (d6); 13 HP, 1 Armor
Special Qualities: Made of ice

The meticulously reconstituted frozen remains of a person ritually frozen then shattered into thousands of pieces, an ice mummer is the agent of what most certainly is a greater evil. Bound to its icy oxidized bronze mask, the voiceless ice mummer is a harbinger of its master’s incursion.

Instinct: To obey its master

  • Reveal the horror beneath the mask
  • Disperse in a whirlwind of ice and snow
  • To be its master’s eyes