Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Little Encounters - The Undying Terror (Athach)

Ok, I’m skipping the alphabetical order of the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 for this encounter (but just a little…. hey, I’m still on “A”). This entry is also more a mini-adventure than a short encounter (sorry), but I hope you like the idea. It originated from me using a goofy monster and playing with Pathfinder templates. Actually, I must do a little research to discover where in the Abyss did this critter came… the original Fiend Folio? It definitely fits it.

Before continuing I just would like again to thanks those responsible for keeping the Pathfinder SRD - you guys rocks!

The Undying Terror (CR 6-13)

The hook: The towns and villages located in a otherwise placid region of hills and greenish meadows are suffering at the hands of a giant monster – apparently some kind of deformed ogre or hill giant – whose depredations recently included throwing living cattle over the local temple (during a ceremony with half of the villagers inside of it). The incident resulted in panic and in the death of the most powerful cleric of the region – crushed by a cow.

A famous monster-slayer had been hired and even returned from the wilderness with an ogre head, claiming to have killed the beast. He collected the reward before the assaults started. The high priest responsible for hiring the ranger cursed him “for his deceit”. The exact nature of the curse is unknown, especially now that the high priest responsible for it is dead (he was the one hit by the flying bovine).

The villagers and herders call the monster the Undying Terror, claiming to be the ghost of an ancient hill giant, killed by the first explorers of the region – some forgotten king.

What’s happening: Actually the monster is an athach, but with a catch: its third arm is covered in red scales and appears to be of demonic origin – it’s in fact the arm of a Balor vanquished long ago in an underground ruins below the region.

In ages past this area could have been the center of a demonic cult, the site of a massive battle or any other event the Gamemaster wants. This particular Balor was defeated but not totally destroyed – somehow its Arm survived (perhaps due to the chaotic nature of the creature). Recently a clan of hill giants uncovered one of the ruin’s entrances and found the living Arm crawling around. The thing literally attached itself to one of the poor giants and instantly dominated it, transforming it in an athach.

If killed by the heroes, sometime later the Arm crawls away from the corpse and finds a new victim within 2d10+1 days. To simulate the fact that the Arm is usually attached to an ogre or hill giant, add the Young Creature template to the normal athach stats.

After “coming back from the dead”, the new athach starts immediately to stalk its slayers. Once it finds the player characters, it first attempts to provoke and annoy them – by throwing dung and carcasses at the heroes while they sleep at night (possible disturbing spellcasters and spoiling food).

The athach always takes advantage of the local terrain, hiding behind hills and groves (to accomplish this remove the Vital Strike feat and give it Skill Focus with Stealth, also change skill points to increase its Stealth bonus).

If persecuted the athach uses it’s higher speed to escape and quickly climb local cliffs to hide in caves – it knows very well the region.

Later, the “pranks” start getting really sinister in context. One day, it can reveal itself over a cliff and start throwing rocks at the party – with living humans (or other allied race) tied to it. It can try, one night, to run over the camp and grab a member of the group (using its Swift Claw ability). It keeps running while removing the clothes of the trapped victim. If not rescued, the kidnapped character will probably be tied to a rock the next day. The monster isn’t intelligent, but it’s definitely cunning.

Remember that every time the athach “returns from the dead” it comes back a little differently.  At first, change little details, like hair and eye color. Later, maybe, the demonic Arm attaches itself to a medium humanoid – the victim can be a curious player characters (to simulate this apply the Young Creature template twice***).

The Arm could also claim an ogre shaman, a creature able to channel the balor’s abyssal powers (add the Fiendish or Half-Fiend template).

You can customize this yet further: what happens if the Arm “captures” a troll? I would give to the normal troll a new natural attack with the Arm and the athach’s Swift Claw ability (or if you’re feeling particularly evil, just the give the athach Regeneration 3 and green skin and let the players wondering).

You can keep this game for as long as you want. If the players finally note that the problem is the Arm itself I suggest establishing that it can’t be destroyed without the help of an epic magic item (it was, after all, the arm of a unique Balor!). Let you group think how can they dispose of the blasted demonic Arm (and I recommend that the Arm try to possess one of the party’s warriors). To remove the Arm without killing the host is left for the Gamemaster’s sadistic tastes: maybe remove curse and a special dismissal (with proper research about the Balor) can help. Another option (for the merciful referee) is that the dead high priest’s ghost can assist the party. Finally, remember that there’s a cursed ranger wandering out there that may be of help (if the group manages to remove his curse first).

***Yeah, this isn’t a normal use for a template but it appears to work here… so what?