I’m reading right now Gareth Hanrahan’s debut novel - ‘The Gutter Prayer’. It is an amazing dark fantasy book, filled with ghouls, alchemical superscience, bloodthirsty goods and super-powered lepers. It is that good. You don’t know Gareth Hanrahan? Well, he is the guy responsible for 13th Age’s megadungeon - The Eyes of the Stone Thief. When I first heard that Pelgrane Press was doing a megadungeon for 13th Age I was devastated… c’om, the most funny and vanguard d20 Fantasy RPG out there doing a frigging megadungeon?! Then I started reading the book. Oh boy! I have used the Stone Thief in all my 13th Age campaigns (and even in D&D 5E). It does to megadungeons what 13th Ages does to D&D (if you don’t know what that means stop everything and get 13th Age). Gareth Hanrahan’s stuff is also worth your time. He is responsible for an absurd amount of good material, from the The One Ring to Night Black’s Agents. I just treat him like Kenneth Hite: buy it first, read it later, never regret it.
Enough marketing… As I said, ‘The Gutter Prayer’ is a dark fantasy novel focused on the underworld of Guerdon, a city filled with thieves and scoundrels, that sell alchemical doomsday weapons and tries to remain neutral in the apocalyptic Godswar, a world conflict powered by the best version of D&D’s clerics that I have ever seen in literature. But Gareth loves Yog-Sothothery, so Guerdon has ghouls. No your D&D-style undead ghouls. Something more flavorful and close to Lovecraft’s Dreamlands Cycle (which I absolutely love and tried once to mix with Fritz Leiber’s ghouls). Another thing that screams Cthulhu is the past of Guerdon and the origins of the ghouls - there is a Sarnath/Ib written all over Guerdon’s murky origins.
OK, so I loved ‘The Gutter Prayer’ and I also have the bad habit of translating things to d20 Fantasy before finishing the damn novel (hello Malazan Book of the Fallen!). So here is how I would run Guerdon in D&D 5E (its races at least… excluding Crawling Ones, that deserves a special post):
Ghouls: you’re a Lovercraftian ghoul. Carrion-eater humanoids with hooves and slightly canine features. Cunny but bestial, you’re comfortable in dark places and the underground. You constantly fight your unholy urge to consume the bodies of the dead and frolic in the stinky and loathsome depths, but you’re also afraid that your hunger will transform you in the feral form of your parents… deadly predators that stalk the deeper levels below Guerdon. Actually, you’re afraid that you might not only go feral but “live” long enough to become an elder ghoul - a giant and obscene carrion mystic that channels the darkest sorcery and communes with Elder Things best left unsaid.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Constitution by 1.
Darkvision. 60 ft.
Speed. 30 feel. Your claws and heightened senses gives you a 30 feet climb speed.
Keen Senses. A ghoul has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on scent. A ghoul can also use an action to pinpoint, by scent, within 30 ft, the space where a hidden or invisible creature is (but still attacks such target with disadvantage). Ghouls are naturally attuned to magic and can roll a special Wisdom (Perception) check, with disadvantage, to feel if magic is being used within 30 ft (just the presence of magic, not its location).
Corpse Eater. You have cold, radiant and necrotic resistance. However, you only gain half the benefit of healing magic.
Unholly Hungry. You have advantage on Constitution checks to resist the effects of hungry and thirsty. While you can consume food as a normal humanoid, you find it bland and tasteless. However, if you consume the flesh of a fallen humanoid (at least half a corpse), you can recover 1 Hit Dice plus your level in hit points. You must wait a short rest before gaining hit points in this fashion again. In narrative terms, eatings tons of corpse flesh is a sure way to become a feral ghoul and leave the campaign, but let us leave that to each DM and table.
Criptbound. You thrive in the underworld. While in a dungeon, cave or underground terrain (DM’s call), you can reroll a Strength (Athletics), Dexterity, Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check. You must declare your reroll before the DM declares the outcome of your action. You must wait a short rest before using this feature again.
Stone Men: funny how this one even has the exact same name from the magic plague of A Song of Ice and Fire. Anyway, this one is more dramatic (and definitely best for RPGs). Basically, you’re slowly being petrified by a curse that carries all the stigma and prejudice that leper did in our world. Your fate is literally to become a living statue, entombed in your own body and slowly dying of hunger or asphyxiated (if your lungs petrify first). The only thing that can keep the Stone Plague away - for a time - is alkahest, an expensive alchemical concoction. Meanwhile you’re a moving stone body. The more the disease advances, the more resistant and stronger you are. Its an awesome concept for a novel or RPG - the PC that gets more power but also is closer to death. I don’t remember reading something this cool since the Book of the Shadowlands for L5R.
Here is how I’m doing it. First, to keep things simple, it only works in Humans and it is represented by feats.
Stone Men I
You are afflicted with the mysterious Stone Plague. After the shocking news you probably tried to get alkahest to avoid the worst effects. This feat represents those that failed in that first attempt, either because they were too late or because they didn’t have a way to find alkahest. You suffered the first stage of the plague, gaining a shell of stone shards over your body. You gain the following traits:
- Increase your Strength score by 1, to a maximum of 20. You have advantage on Strength checks to break or lift things.
- Your stone skin gives you an AC of 16 (no Dex bonus). You can’t use armor, only shields. Reduce all slashing, piercing and bludgeoning damage by 3.
- You’re very slow, reduce your speed to 20 feet.
- You’re bulky. You have disadvantage on Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand and Stealth checks, and automatically fails Athletics checks to swim (you sink).
- Your unarmed attacks deal 1d4 points of damage.
- Alkahest: you must take constant doses of alkahest. That means expeding the equivalent of a Comfortable Lifestyle (60 GP/month) just to pay your doses. Failing to do that gives your a Stone Plague level 1. This works (almost) like Exhaustion. Increase your Stone Plague level by 1 after 1d6 days not taking the alchemical drug (the GM rolls secretly) and it increases 1d6 days after (also a secret roll). Only alkahest (or a wish?) will reduce the Stone Plague level, usually by 1 per week at most. See the track:
1) Disadvantage on all non-Strength ability checks.
2) Your Speed is reduced to 10 feet and you can’t Dash.
3) Disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws. You gain Stone Men II feat, if you don’t have it.
4) Hit points maximum halved. You gain Stone Men III feat, if you don’t have it.
5) Speed reduced to 0.
6) Death by petrification.
Stone Men II
If you stop more than a few hours you’re probably stuck. Here is the rule stuff (besides what you gained before).
- Increase your Strength score by 2, to a maximum of 24. You can use a two-handed weapon in one hand.
- Increase your AC by your proficiency bonus. You have resistance against cold, fire, poison, slashing, piercing and bludgeoning damage.
- Your unarmed attacks deal 1d6 points of damage.
- You’re too clumsy, especially with what is left of your hands (they probably look more like pads). You automatically fail Acrobatic, Sleight of Hand and Stealth checks (your passive Stealth is 0). You can’t use Light weapons (or anything that requires more finesse, probably stuff like crossbows). Finally, you have disadvantage on Initiative checks. Don’t take this feat if you want to cast spells with somatic components (because you can’t).
- Alkahest: same stuff, but now you’re paying a Wealthy Lifestyle (120 GP/month).
Stone Men III
You are a living stone golem!
- Increase your Strength score by 3, to a maximum of 24. Your strength is a danger to you and others. You can’t feel things by touch. On the other side, Stone Men at this level are ridiculously strong, so you always deal maximum damage against objects and structures and can probably walk through a brick wall as if it was paper (5E likes to play fast and loose with object rules, so this trait basically gives your PC “free collateral damage”).
- Your unarmed attacks deal 1d8 points of damage and you can grapple creatures of any size.
- You don’t feel anything, remember? That includes pain. You can postone, as a Reaction, any damage, for 1 round. That means that if you took 50 hit points of damage, you can set it aside for 1 round (and if you get healed meanwhile, you can use any healing or hit point recovery to reduce postponed damage). You’re immune to massive damage if your DM uses that rule.
- You’re immune to petrification, because - c’mon! - you’re already in that stone grave.
- You have resistance to acid damage, because there is too much stone between the acid and your (remaining) flesh.
- You have disadvantage on any Wisdom (Perception) check that relies on sight, smell or taste, and fail anything based on touch (you probably won’t feel that halfling on your back).
- Your petrification is so advanced that stopping for more than a few hours will literally kill you. You just can’t sleep more than 4 hours in the same stop. You have a permanent Exhaustion level 1 (excluding Strength ability checks to break stuff).
- Alkahest: you need a dose every day basically. That means paying 300/month and probably making you the slave of someone. And the good news is, if you miss your alkahest dose, your Stone Plague level rises by 1d4 instantly (the bad news is that, after the dose, it still only goes down 1 per week).