The July Carnival is hosted by Hereticwerks. The blog introduces the Carnival as follows:
Through the month of July we will be presenting a few posts that feature a variety of Invasive Species and we’d love to see what you have to say on the subject. Have you introduced some sort of invasive species into your game or campaign? How did it go? Have any pointers or advice for how to handle invasive species in a particular game, setting or genre?
Eight White & White Blood
I want to tell you about an unusual invasive species that is being revealed during play in my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign. This invasive species, which I shall describe below, was introduced into the campaign as a follower for Eight White, one of the Heroes of the story.
Eight White was a nomad warrior injured so badly by sorcery that he was left a withered husk. However, the magic also unlocked his spiritual powers, allowing him to mind link with animals. Starting with a riding lizard, Eight White slowly surrounded himself with loyal animal companions who would do his bidding.
However, for the purposes of this article, I want to discuss Eight White’s eighth and final companion, a giant albino leech.
The leech companion, inevitably named White Blood, was added to Eight White’s roster during play.
All of the previous followers had been typical animal companions, although growing progressively more fantastical. Eight White had acquired scouting, flying and fighting creatures, which allowed him to participate in those areas of the game that would otherwise be denied to him due to his physical condition.
So the final choice of companion to be a creature that was in a symbiotic relationship with Eight White was unexpected. Yet, this was such a great choice, as it was an original approach to the role of companion follower. Finally, it offered us all some fascinating options for the story, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. Once again, the Players had taken upon themselves a plot twist far harsher than one I would ever try to inflict.
Albino Blood Leech
I am not a big fan of simply adding “giant” to a creature name to label a large, fantasy version of a creature. I know that this is common with certain highly popular RPGs, but it feels a little lazy to me. Do we call a creature a giant fire lizard? No, it is a dragon. We have created a unique label to describe a dragon, and I believe that fantasy scholars would do much the same for the denizens of their world.
So, instead of giant leech, I decided to call it an Albino Blood Leech. On reflection, I suppose that the Blood in the name may appear a little redundant. However, this does leave me design space to have leeches that drain something other than blood. Off the top of my head, how does a Bone Leech sound? Or a Brain Leech? For a fantasy setting, we could also have an Arcane Leech too.
So, the Albino Blood Leech. In my version of HeroQuest 2, I compile a short list of abilities for each creature in play. These abilities represent the typical physical and magical traits of the creature. In consultation with Eight White’s Player, we came up with the following abilities for the Albino Blood Leech:
Bite and Drain
Tail Burrows into Host
Secrete Healing Salve
Flaw = Symbiotic to [Host]
The values can be set to Base as default, or scaled up according to the level of threat you want from the leech.
The first two abilities represent the standard combat abilities of the leech. The third, Tail Burrows into Host, gives the leech a way to form a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the Flaw makes this symbiosis into a potential limitation for the leech. Such relationships are beneficial for the leech, but a leech in a symbiotic relationship does not have total freedom. Thus, the Flaw represents this restriction.
The final ability, Secrete Healing Salve, was another product of brainstorming with the Players. We wanted this symbiotic relationship to be beneficial to the host, in this case Eight White. Thus, the leech secretes an ambrosia-like substance that can aid with healing. This is a very useful ability, but the Player is happy to limit the impact of the salve.
Plus, it seems that the salve has addictive qualities. The effects of the leech are very much a work-in-progress, but the salve is already shaping up to be a two-edged sword. Negative consequences are slowly accumulating around the use of the salve. This gives me a lot of story to work with, which is a great opportunity.
The Future of the Leech
Just as the arrival of White Blood was the result of Player imaginations, so too are the interactions of the giant leech with its host. It is apparent that the leech has an agenda of its own. Already, it is starting to show signs of becoming the dominant consciousness within the relationship. Furthermore, the character has begun vomiting small balls of leeches.
The Player is now talking about the character becoming a puppet for the leech. A suggested outcome is that the final stage of symbiosis will see the host reduced to just a head supported by a body made of entwined leeches. Wrapped in a voluminous cloak, the character will still appear to be human, but only the head will remain of the original host.
So, it seems that the character will come to a bad end. The leech is evidently a dangerous parasite, who rapidly seeks to overcome its host. This is proving an interesting character arc to explore with the Players, and suggests that the character’s time as a Hero is limited. This is going to work well with the mini-campaign that I am currently running.
Once more, I am very grateful for having such collaborative Players in my game.
The arrival of the leech has taken our game to new places, and shown me just how much my Players like body horror. The Blood Leech has proven to be such an interesting creation, that I am tempted to revisit it in the next mini-campaign as it would make a chilling centrepiece for an evil cult.
How have you used invasive species in your game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Something for the Weekend next week: Another Guest Post from Kenny the Cabbage