Recently, with the good weather that has come upon us, I was out cleaning the pond that had got very dirty and full of old leaves over winter. As I did so, I had the opportunity to note the various tiny critters that were living in the stagnant and rather odiferous water and started to think on the possibilities of including them, or something like them, in dungeon environments. In one module on which I'm currently working, there is a large body of water and some ideas that I had for that have made their way into this post.
Also on my mind was Aaron Nuttall's recent post on the hazards of getting wet. Well, I hope that these microbial critters are hazard enough for you, Aaron - along with their fungal friends, this should be warning enough for anyone to make sure they carry a Cure Disease at all times. Cures and protection have been left vague in most places to allow the DM to individualise their effects and dangers.
The Writhing Darkness
These little beauties are black worms about an inch long and need to roll to hit their victim, with a THAC0 of 20. However, if they do hit, they at once burrow into the skin and make their way deep into the body, where they locate the vital organs and lay their eggs within them. The eggs then hatch into tiny larvae that slowly eat the organs away over a period of days, during which the victim sickens and withers. However, he does not die straight away. The worms are more cunning than that. As they eat, the larvae release a chemical into the blood of the victim that causes him to crave immersion in water as a respite from the pain. Once total immersion is achieved, the body bursts open and the myriad larvae are released into the water.
Once the eggs are laid within a victim, only a Cure Disease can kill them. Once the larvae hatch and begin to eat, there is little hope although the DM may wish to specify a cure that will halt the deterioration.
When disturbed, this fungus shoots out a cloud of spores. If any person inhales these spores, they become filled with a strong hunger for the fungus (save vs. poison to avoid this effect) and are driven to consume as much of it as possible, of course disturbing it and causing the release of more spores. The fungus, once inside a human body, will begin to produce more of itself, slowly taking over its host and causing their body to become bloated and distended until it can take no more and bursts, at which point the fungus will finally consume the remaining flesh, forming the basis for a new colony of fungi. A careful examination of the outcroppings of the fungus in this area will show that they are growing on bones and the remains of armour and clothing. Once the fungus is inside the body, only a Cure Disease spell will be able to eradicate it.
These creatures, tiny parasites enter the body almost unnoticed, having burrowed in with an entry wound so tiny that it is almost invisible. They also use a substance that is like a local anaesthetic to numb the area of entry. The flukes then make their way to the eyes of the victim, where they start to consume them over a period of time. However, they also secrete a substance that causes the victim to believe that he is seeing horrific hallucinations – his companions might appear as undead, or empty passageways might be filled with monsters. Eventually, after a day or so of these terrifying visions, the flukes begin to pour out of the digested eyes like black tears. Anyone who comes into contact with the flukes must save vs. poison or run the risk of becoming infected themselves. The victim is not killed but is left with the very real chance of insanity due to the visions that he has experienced and of course will be completely blind.
Floating in some areas of water is a slimy black oil-like substance that appears to be harmless. It will not burn or sting, and merely adheres to the skin of its victim. A scrubbing with vinegar or lemon juice will be enough to kill it. However, if its victim has any open wounds (in this case, if any combat damage has not been healed completely), the oil-like substance will enter the body and its true nature will become known. It is a colony of tiny spores which secrete the mucus that binds them together. Once inside the body, they will attack the blood, using the cells as breeding grounds to produce more spores. Over the following 12-36 hours (d3 x 1d12) the victim will begin to turn grey as his blood becomes steadily more and more oily. He will die at some point within those 12-36 hours unless a Cure Disease is carried out. No wounds he has sustained will heal and after a while, they will begin to weep black oil.
The Raging Doom
During combat, there’s often a lot of blood flying round. The Raging Doom parasite is transmitted via blood and once inside its victim makes its way to the gland centres that produce adrenaline and testosterone. For the latter reason, this parasite does not seem to affect females as such; males are its primary vector. Once it has arrived at its target glands, it causes them to produce many times more hormones, causing aggressive and irrational behaviour in its victims. They tend to seek out combat situations and initiate actions that will lead to bloodshed and further transmission of the parasite.
The parasite also has a secondary effect inasmuch as it stimulates production of pheromones that act as a signal to nearby predators and other creatures, causing them to home in on the victim’s location. This is probably an insurance policy to make sure that there are enemies to fight. In practical terms, this means that anyone infected with Raging Doom will cause a doubling in wandering monster rolls.
The fungus that causes this lives in clusters on the sides of stalagmites and appears to be a slight encrustation that may be anything from a deep red to a warm amber in colour. However, should anyone brush against it, the fungus at once sends out a cloud of spores that, once breathed in, begin to grow in the victim’s lungs. They do not kill the victim at once, or even affect the breathing much, although the victim may well develop a hacking cough that could cause problems in a dungeon environment from the perspective of silent movement.
What is actually happening is that the fungus is producing a substance which enters the blood and starts to travel round the whole body. As it does so, it begins to affect the body tissues, causing them to swell and enlarge. After about eighteen hours, the victim will begin to resemble more a doughy parody of themselves, at least 50% larger in all aspects except height. Movement will slow considerably, and no clothing or armour will fit. The victim’s size will increase by 10% per six hours thereafter until they are too heavy to move. When they sink to their knees, the doughy flesh will begin to calcify and harden; the body will lose shape and harden as it does so until it is very similar to a normal stalagmite. Once the hardening process is complete, the fungus appears on the outside of the new formation.
In the very darkest cave pools, there is a parasite that, when it enters its victims, causes their skin to become very photosensitive. Over the course of the following 42 hours, the skin becomes more and more sensitive, taking damage as follows:
0-7 Victim takes damage from full sunshine only, 1d3hp per round exposed, the skin will begin to flake and blister
8-14 cloudy days – the skin will take 1d3 damage per round. The previous category of damage will double
15-21 twilight - the skin will take 1d3 damage per round. The previous category of damage will double
22-28 moonlight the skin will take 1d3 damage per round. The previous category of damage will double
29-35 continual light - the skin will take 1d3 damage per round. The previous category of damage will double
36-42 torchlight - the skin will take 1d3 damage per round. The previous category of damage will double
The parasite will, however, stimulate the sight of the victim, causing them to become progressively better at seeing in poorly lit situations until by the 36th hour, they are able to see extremely well with no light whatsoever. The parasites will leave the body by means of its excrement but short of a Cure Disease, there is no real cure once the victim is infected.
These tiny organisms thrive on sunlight, but in order to get their nourishment, they produce an alarming side-effect. As soon as they enter a host, they begin to spread to all the skin cells on the body. Once they have completely infected every cell, which may well take up to seven days, they start to absorb sunlight and produce a by-product which causes the skin to become invisible. The invisible nature of the skin actually increases the nutritional effect of sunlight for the parasite, which will continue to produce the substance. The victim therefore takes on the appearance of a flayed body, although he will suffer no other adverse effect. Needless to say, his new appearance will cause considerable alarm and upset amongst those who see it.
Please feel free to use these and by all means change the names - I've had a bit of a mental block when it comes to suitably gruesome appellations for the horrors above.
PS - I had intended to put pictures into this post but I decided not to. Go to Google Images and type in 'parasite' to find out why.
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