Oct 23

Updated: An Invasive Species


This essay was written for the travelling Blog Carnival. For this month, the carnival was hosted by Hereticwerks, where the chosen topic was invasive species.This essay was written for the travelling Blog Carnival. For this month, the carnival was hosted by Hereticwerks, where the chosen topic was invasive species.



Eight White & White Blood

This unusual invasive species was revealed during play in my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign. It 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 performed his bidding.


In this article, I 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. This was another example of the creativity which arises through brainstorming with the Players.



Invasive Leech

All of the previous followers were 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 for him to choose his final companion to be a creature 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 fascinating options for the story, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. Once again, the Players took upon themselves a plot twist far harsher than one I would ever inflict.



Albino Blood Leech

Once I was over my surprise, it was time to brainstorm some natural abilities for the giant leech. First of all, it needed a name. 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 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 fantasy scholars would do 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 the blood in the name appears a little redundant. However, this leaves 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.


We settled on the name albino blood leech. In my version of HeroQuest, 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
  • Constricting Coils
  • Tail Burrows into Host
  • Secrete Healing Salve
  • Flaw = Symbiotic to [Host]


The values were set to Base as default or scaled up according to the level of threat required 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. 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 which aids healing. This is a very useful ability, but the Player is happy to limit the impact of the salve.


Plus, the salve had addictive qualities. The effects of the salve quickly shaped up to be a two-edged sword. Negative consequences slowly accumulated around the use of the salve. This gave me a lot of story to work with, which was another great opportunity.



The Future of the Leech

Just as the arrival of White Blood was the result of Player imaginations, so too were the interactions of the giant leech with its host. The leech developed an agenda of its own. It evolved into being the dominant consciousness within the relationship. Towards the end, the Hero began vomiting small balls of leeches.


The Player agreed to their character becoming a puppet for the leech. The final stage of symbiosis saw the host reduced to just a head supported by a body made of entwined leeches. Wrapped in a voluminous cloak, the character still appeared human, but only the head remained of the original host.




The arrival of the leech took our game to new places and illustrated how much my Players like body horror. The blood leech proved such an interesting creation, that I revisited it in a later story arc, where it made a chilling centrepiece for an evil cult.


How have you used invasive species in your game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Happy Gaming



The Updated series of posts are articles taken from my archives, given a fresh edit and generally rewritten in light of my current GM style. I doubt I can update every post on the blog, but I am pleased to give a least a few of my essays a new lease of life.


To save memory space, I plan to remove the old version and re-direct links to the updated essay. If you spot a broken link, then I would appreciate a quick email notifying me of the problem.


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