Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Canoptic Eels

In the proud D&D blogging tradition of monsters with the word "canoptic" in front of their names, which is in fact a profoundly flawed tradition because the word is spelt "canopic" and so my life is over now.

dis gai cain't even spell "canopic". what a loser. what a nerd

Anyway I'm just going to declare that it's spelt "canoptic" in my fantasy setting and also yours and move on with my life, and also yours. So.

In a kingdom which vanished millennia ago they mummified their dead. They left the heart in the body, because they believed it was the seat of the soul. They liquefied the brain and let it drain out the nostrils, because they believed it was just an instrument for creating mucus. And they extracted the four primary organs - the lungs, the stomach, the liver and the intestines - because they believed their dead would need these organs in the next world.

They were wrong. The heart is just an instrument for circulating fluid, you don't need your lungs in the next world and the seat of the soul is the pineal gland. All their rulers vanished screaming into the outer darkness. They could scream pretty loud, though, because they still had their lungs. Anyway.

Time went on. The earth shifted. All the tombs and mastabas and sphinxes and pyramids sunk into the sea and were overgrown by coral. Fish patrolled the sacred halls. Barnacles adorned the sarcophagi. Sharks tore apart the mummies, which had been deliciously spiced with cassia and myrrh. And eels got into the four primary organs.

Now, when the four primary organs were extracted from the chest cavity of the corpse they weren't just unceremoniously bundled up in linen and crammed into a corner of the coffin. They were (ceremoniously) separated out and carefully decanted into four specific jars, each decorated with a different animal's head, each dedicated to a different god. It was this god's job to watch over the organ for the buried ruler, to preserve it until the royal spirit arrived at the Place of Reeds to reign forever in a place of obliging wooden peasants and sweet water. The fact that this never happened, because none of the rulers ever made it to the Place of Reeds, does not mean the jars weren't magic.

(The Place of Reeds was prepared especially for these people and now stands empty, forlorn and kind of confused. The Measurer of Souls, a crocodile-headed monster with an infinitely long brass tape measure, has not seen a single client in ten thousand years and is beginning to wonder if it's okay for him to pack up and go home. Some of the wooden peasants are thinking about forming a republic.)

The monkey jar is protected by Opetepo, Salt Wind of the North. It holds the lungs.

The cobra jar is protected by Huashabtu, Blesser and Preserver. It holds the stomach.

The human jar is protected by Sebsepket, Herself Alone. It holds the liver.

The owl jar is protected by Ata-Apaaq, Who Troubles Us. It holds the intestines.

Each of these jars is about the right size to hold one medium-length eel, if they compress themselves, which they always do. Each of these eels has eaten the organ that was originally in the jar and is now cursed to never die or know rest. The only way the eel can break this curse is if it finds a new organ to replace the one it ate.

yes. hi. we're canoptic. ask anybody

The organ has to be human. It does not have to be fresh, necessarily, but it has to be recognizable as the original organ. If you've still got a bunch of salted human liver in your backpack from those cannibals you traded with last week, you might try using that. It has to be whole though, not fried, not sliced, not spiced or boiled. How are the monarchs of the afterlife going to filter poisons from their bloodstreams with a liver rolled in breadcrumbs? Don't be stupid.

You cannot bargain with the eels, because eels are not intelligent. (They know the details of the curse as a pounding sensation in their head bones but would not be able to, like, make dinner-party conversation about it.) You can, however, bargain with the gods. Each god is capable of speaking through any entity it has cursed. In the case of the eels they will speak not through the primary mouth of the eel but through the secondary, pharyngeal jaws in the back of the eel's throat, which are visible only when the eel opens its primary mouth very wide. This causes the eel great distress but if it didn't want to be caused great distress it probably shouldn't have broken into the sacred jars.

Canoptic eels will almost always make their first attack from ambush. Their preferred scenario is one in which you are exploring a sunken tomb, the water up to your waist, say, and decide to prize open an animal-headed jar on the basis that there is probably treasure inside. They are clever (not intelligent, no, but clever) and are not bound to the jars. They might hide inside sarcophagi, in pits, behind secret doors, in cavities in the ceiling, in parts of the tomb where the roof has collapsed inward and you are forced to swim under it. They cannot breathe air, but they also cannot die so it's a moot point. They can slither across the ground at a fair pace, and they can jump. If their first attack fails they will circle back to a safe distance and consider their next move. If you seem easy prey they may attack again. If you are well-armoured they may swim off and hide somewhere else.

atmospheric? maybe. educational? yes.

This is also where the gods will consider negotiation. They speak your language only haltingly, they learnt it from other explorers whom they then killed. They will promise you blessings and treasure and kingship but have no ability to deliver any of these. They may demand you leave something behind you as collateral. They have the power to spit curses at you, and bind you to sacred oaths.

They need more organs than one, or three, or four. What they truly seek is paladins, to fill the jars of all the cities of the dead. Organs are all they want. They have almost no other motivations.

Opetepo is wheedling, peevish, aggressive when she does not get her own way, ungrateful when she does.

Huashabtu feigns aloofness, acting above it all, but will drop her affectations and start to beg and grovel at the first hint a stomach might be coming her way.

Sebsepket pretends to be the voice of reason, apologizing for her sisters and stressing that they don't want to kill you, it's simply their assigned role. She is the only outright sadist of the lot.

Ata-Apaaq is terribly, terribly tired. Bargaining exhausts and disgusts her but if an opportunity was dangled in front of her nose she would take it reflexively, unthinkingly.

The sisters will present a united front for exactly as long as it suits them but each one would stab any of the others in the back in a heartbeat, except Opetepo and Ata-Apaaq, who are actually friends. None of them will hold grudges against any of the others, since they have all paid and repaid each other endlessly over the centuries. Any eel cursed by one of them will obey their wordless commands without question, 95% of the time. A human would get a Will save. The eel is also getting a Will save but it needs a 20 to succeed, it's just an eel. Most the time, however, the eels act on their own recognizance, the gods only stepping in where reason and communication are needed.

If a new organ of the appropriate type is placed into a canoptic jar the curse on the eel who ate the old organ is broken. It's now just an ordinary eel. It can be killed. It's as old as it was when the curse was first placed on it. The new organ is now the old one, for all intents and purposes, and anyone who steals it suffers the same curse as the eel. If your PCs try to game this system to live forever then I hope they enjoy making a save every ten minutes to not cut out their own lungs and put them in the jar, whereupon the curse will break, and they will die.

Nothing preventing them from carrying around the jars forever for a brief lung-fueled burst of temporary immortality, though. Like you take out the lungs, you go volcano diving, you put the lungs back in the jar. Pretty straightforward. Let's say you have to make a roll on the insanity table every time you get cursed w/ this? Maybe the lungs disintegrate into dust when taken out and you have to get new lungs? Maybe just make the final boss of the dungeon a tomb robber who tried to get cute and something inconceivably horrible happened to him. That'll show 'em.

bonus picture: a giant piece of shit idiot

1 comment:

  1. I made the same error in a novel that is now too close to being published to change it....