Magical Mondays: Diredusk   Leave a comment

Spooky Raven

Diredusk draws you in to sleep
Saps the strength to walk or leap
Irajil begins to reap
When stars are true in number

Diredusk Ravens serve the night
From Irajil the shadow flight
Weakens prey till they can’t fight
Defenseless in their slumber
-The Diredusk Song, verses one and two

Whoops, looks like today’s Magical Mondays ran a bit later than usual. Sorry about that, folks! Last week I promised you something spooky, and I’m here to deliver. This is something that I actually prepared for last year’s Halloween posts, but a combination of shaky Internet access and procrastination kept me from putting it up.

Some time ago I talked about how a Curse was not actually a spell, not under the Vancian Magic systems that you find in games like D&D and Pathfinder. Rather, a curse is a magical effect that requires some dark force to generate. Magical illnesses like lycanthropy and mummy rot are good examples. And no time’s more appropriate than Halloween to introduce a disease-like curse onto your players.

A good way to build your curse is to figure out what it represents or what effect you want to generate. Mummy rot comes from contact with undeath and unholy energies that corrupt the living. Lycanthropy is an uncontrollable wildness that infects anyone who’s exposed to it without being killed. Come up with some sort of origin or effect based around a concept (like Decay, Starvation, Greed, Wild Growth, Pain, or something like that. I’d get more specific, but I don’t know what your campaign world is like.)

As an example, in Cantadel, my campaign setting, there’s a disease-based curse called Diredusk. I based it on a story I read about a raven that flew into a church and put the entire congregation into a trance (a story that, coincidentally, I was able to tell in a game when one of my players was asked to tell a story and my imagination went on the fritz.) In the story, everyone who ran in to the church to try to save the people or fight the raven slowed down until they knelt onto the floor and joined the trance. Eventually, the day was saved when a child climbed onto the roof of the church and disturbed the thatch roof, causing a beam of sunlight to strike the raven, making it squawk angrily before flying away. As the members of the congregation came out of the trance, they revealed that they had been experiencing a voice in their head claiming to be an old power that demanded their fealty. They were in the trance because they could resist giving in to worshipping whatever the dark force was, but they weren’t strong enough to walk away from it.

I’ve always liked the flavor of that story, and it seems especially appropriate for Halloween. I took the trance-like effect, and made the disease be a sort of catatonia that sprang from a loss of a sense of self. Charisma is the ability score most closely associated with a person’s sense of self in d20 games, so naturally this curse needs to affect Charisma.

I linked the disease to ravens and other corvidae in Cantadel’s folklore (because… well, because it was a raven in the story, and birds like ravens, crows and rooks tend to be associated with the occult in a lot of stories.) The raven in the story was chased away with light, so I also linked the disease to the plane of shadow. In Cantadel, the “plane of shadow” is part of a realm called Irajil, “the land of light and shadow.” It’s home to the fey, shadow creatures, goblins and some genies (among others.) The name Diredusk came from this connection to Irajil’s shadow denizens. Here’s the write-up that I eventually settled on for the disease:

Diredusk Forest

Diredusk
Type curse, disease, injury; Save Fortitude DC 13
Onset 1d3 hours; Frequency 1/hour
Effect 1d8 Cha damage, skin grows greyer; Cure 2 consecutive saves or drinking a dose of holy water. Darkfolk are immune to this disease. If the target hits 0 Cha, it enters a catatonic, trance-like “sleepwalker” state (though they stop losing Charisma at this point). They can be persuaded to walk, but not much else. Their body continues to fight the disease while in this state, with two consecutive saves (or a dose of holy water) causing them to be cured as normal (this does not restore any Cha damage.) Once cured, they fall into a true sleep, able to do little more than wake to eat or drink small amounts if needed (though most adventurers are hearty enough to sleep straight through to the point where they regain a single point of Charisma, either through natural rest or through magical restoration of their ability damage.)

Legends insist that Diredusk can be fatal. This is likely just an exaggeration from commoners who confused it with other diseases. However, the possibility remains that stronger versions of Diredusk may exist, spread by more sinister versions of Dusk Ravens (or worse creatures from Irajil’s Shadowlands). Another possibility is that Diredusk is not deadly in and of itself, but triggers a state from which other shadow beings can take advantage, either by possessing the victims of the malady or by allowing them some ability to whisk said victims away to Irajil without consent. Feverish reports from some children of a “dark rabbit” appearing and waiting to steal them, only to sulk away after holy water is applied, have never been confirmed.

***

That’s what I came up with. What do you think? When I went to copy/paste the information, I forgot the flavor text at the bottom. The “dark rabbit” probably seems a little out there, but I had a reason for that, too: while working on the disease, I was reminded of a part of the book Pinochio when the living puppet boy got sick. The sickness was a strange thing, and shadowy creatures (including a rabbit) were waiting to cart him off to some ill-defined “elsewhere” if the disease got too bad. The Blue Fairy could give him medicine that would cure the disease and chase the shadow things away, but Pinochio didn’t want to take it because the medicine tasted horrible. Eventually he took it, of course. (Note: this was based on a memory of Pinochio being read to me rather than me reading Pinochio as an adult, so forgive me if I’ve got some details wrong. On the other hand, if nothing like that actually happens in Pinochio… let me know so that I can figure out where on Earth that freaky story comes from.)

Anyway, I made this disease as “part one” of an adventure called Darkened Eaves that was going to basically go through the story of the raven at the church. The ravens encountered in the forest on the way to the church would be the first part of that scenario. Lemme give you the stats for the Diredusk Ravens:

The Raven

Diredusk Raven (or Dusk Raven)
Tiny Magical Beast (Extraplanar, Shadow)
¼ d8 (1 hp)
Initiative: +2
Speed: 10 ft. (2 squares), fly 40 ft. (average)
Armor Class: 14 (+2 size, +2 Dex), touch 14, flat-footed 12; Shadow Blur (20% miss chance)
Base Attack/Grapple: +0/-13
(Full) Attack: Claws +4 melee (1d2-5 (minimum 1) plus disease)
Space/Reach: 2 ½ ft./0 ft.
Special Attacks: Disease (Diredusk)
Special Qualities: Darkvision, Shadow Blur
Saves: Fort +2, Ref +4, Will +2
Abilities: Str 1, Dex 15, Con 10, Int 4, Wis 14, Cha 6
Skills: Listen +3, Spot +5
Feats: Weapon Finesse
Environment: Dark Forests, Irajil (plane of shadow/fairy land)
CR: 1/3
Language: Most Dusk Ravens that spend time around creatures with a language can pick up smatterings of a tongue. Typically this will be Umbral, the language of shadow creatures. Dusk Ravens on the central plane often learn Common instead. Though they learn enough to communicate simple messages, only very rare Dusk Ravens (either with intelligences as high as 6, or by being a familiar) have the intelligence required to speak intelligently.

Dusk Ravens are creatures from Irajil’s shadow lands, though they often migrate to incredibly dark forests in the central plane. Some spell casters seek them out as familiars, though typically after searching for a means of becoming immune to the Diredusk disease that they carry.

Shadow Blur (Su): In any condition other than bright light, shadows appear to wrap themselves about Dusk Ravens, causing their appearance to shift and fade in a way that grants a 20% miss chance. This effect is similar to a permanent Blur spell. In addition to True Seeing being able to negate this effect, any opponent wielding a light source is able to pierce the shadows enough to see clearly. This can range from carrying a lit lantern or torch (or even candle) in one hand, or wearing a pendant that has been enchanted by the Light spell. Similarly, a Daylight spell negates this effect. Creatures with low-light vision or dark vision are immune to this effect.

Diredusk (Su): See above.

***

As you can see, Diredusk Ravens are very weak in small numbers. Three or four of them, though, might be enough to truly pester a farming village located near a forest (especially villages of humans or other people who don’t have low-light vision.) While I’ve not given up on running the Darkened Eaves story someday for players (or posting it here) I think it’s a useful monster and curse on its own. Feel free to use them in your own stories. Or, even better, develop your own curses tied in to the lore of your game world. (After all, my players will be told to expect the occasional monster speaking Umbral, but that’s not a common language in most published settings I’ve seen.)

That’s all for this week’s Magical Mondays! See you next week for yet another installment of spookiness!

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