Monday, March 8, 2021

The Troll Eater Act 1: Forestia

"I live where the drum beats in the belly of God, Lipula. I live in the house of wood with the floor of skulls, I hold my banquets there, Lipula. I fear my shadow wants to live in me, Lipula. My shadow speaks in growls and sends two legions of flies drink of my chalice, Lipula.  Lipula tell me will I live for long? Lipula tell me will I stay for long? Lipula will you not come to the hall, Lipula? Lipula will you not eat with me, Lipula?"

Song echoing from the mountains, only heard when alone. 

It's a powerful call. Many fear it. If your game takes place somehwere like this, in a place of great mountains and trees larger than they ought to be, in a place where the earth growls, then the players might heed it.

Reasons to answer the call:

  • There are so many questions. Dangerous questions. You can't resist the allure of this morbid, visceral mystery.
  • The call makes children scared and animals violent. The sheep are being eaten, not by wolves, but by deer. Someone must protect the village. The call must be silenced.
  • The call is making burial earth churn and old bones reemerge, carried by processions of insects. It's disturbing the souls of the dead. Peace must be restored.
  • The call is deep. It speaks to your guts. It beckons something deep inside you that feels powerful. Untamed. You want to indulge that feeling.
  • The song is like the smell of honey and grease to you. You are lean, hungry, and it will feed you.
  • You are destroyed. Bereft and broken. It is all that speaks to you now.
  • ...

If you want to answer this call, you'll have to travel into the forest that grows against the mountains. Dark and musty beings await you there. Skins of men that travel across the treetops. The Nillijders, five forest kings old and young dwelling in their cave with the court of fairies. Women who sweat blood. Bones between human and animal, and the roots that cradle them like eggs. The smell of lavender, which does not grow here. Your goal is to find the house with the floor of skulls, where the call comes from. 

At any point you can isolate yourself to listen to the call, and see whether it has grown louder or softer. This is your compass.

The Troll Eater is an adventure presented in three parts, or acts. This first act describes the forest you have to go through to find the eponymous Troll Eater. The next will describe the Troll Eater's lair and what it has in store for you. The third and final part will make itself apparent as it comes.

Chopwood Opera, my previous post, was born from the combat mechanics of a dead game. This adventure is born from the lore and setting of it. Credit to Vulnavia from the Lovely Dark for making stuff so good I felt I had no choice but to write this. If you want a game system crucible to pour this post into, Charlie F-A's Into the Wyrd and Wild is perfect.

Content warning: Annihilation meets A Field in England.

Art by Sergey Averkin

The forest adheres to a few principles. That is to say, the druids and hermits of the forest have gathered from its savage phenomena a set of through-lines that appear to underpin their observations and rites. They Incorrect, perhaps. Or rather, drawn crudely on copying paper laid over an alien web. They are the product of druid mythology surrounding the forest, which is just that: a mythology. The forest does not obey them. It isn't dictated by them. At best it is described by them.

They are:

“All things are in a cycle above and below. Below, the earth: slow, dead, the object, the substrate. It exists in more shapes than the red, and more colours. It has a million mouths that the flesh cannot see. It breathes so deeply that it does not breathe. It moves so slowly that it does not move. The Nillijders live in its skull.” 

Death, Decay, Soil, Subduing, Rest, Plants, Silence

"A forest is the feeding organ of the dead. It is a site of fundamental bereavement and consumption. The woodland animals lick the leftovers off the lips of the earth. It is also like a brain. The thoughts of the dead are the cries in the forest at night, racing like banshees across the treetops. You will not know when it is digests you on its spiral tongue."

Confusion, Obfuscation, Maze, Forlorn, Tragedy, Loss, Secrets Kept

"All things are in a cycle below and above. Above, the flesh: rapid and alive, the subject, the savage self-instrument. The giantess Ividraud has borne the red from her blood and her seed. Flesh is a substance that the kings would not accept, so they chase it on its heels until it is exhausted, and dies.

Life, Body, Blood, Animals, Fear, Ecstasy, Fever

"There are warriors who eat the fallen antlers of stags, ground into powder that they pour into their gullet like sand and then spit at each other. The older ones do not grind them but swallow them whole, which destroys their innards. This turns them into creatures that can kill with a finger, but starve in a week."

Decision, Violence, Dominance, Contest, Weapon, Battle, Hate

"Inside an inside, there is another inside. In a wound you will find thin tubes of white meat that are like ways through the unknown. Robbers crawl in them, thieves. The birds have sharp beaks, thin like wires and long as an arm, to stick into the tubes and eat the things that travel from corpse to corpse. As they tear them apart, more tubes spill from their body."

Entry, Key, Invasion, Theft, Defence Pierced, Uninvited Guest, Travel

"When a body dies its spirit leaves it, crawls out of its mouth and flies away as a white-pink moth. Bugs are the bastard children of the spirits and the souls of other things. A corpse that swallows enough insects will stand and its eyes will turn scaled, and the eyes will grow bushels of long antennae and the words of this apparition will be the language of the soul."

Lure, Spirit, Ghost, Poison, Transformation, Congregation, Infection

“This Principle is wrong. It has never been agreed upon by druids, but over time, it has been found in every list, every diagram, every calendar. It has been called Cave, Mouth, Pit, and many other names. Where does it come from? Why is it always here?”

Mistake, Transgression, Abnormality, Fault, Fluke, Vestige

Art by Akeussel

As you travel through the forest, following the sound of the call, you will encounter many manifestations of the forest. Here are a few:

D10 Phenomena
  1. Roots of a tree lie exposed. They twist among each other like the knots in a brain. When you leave and come back, the pattern has changed. The third time you return, the tree is dead and mushrooms grow from its rotting bark. The fourth, it is expelling a human skeleton. The fifth, the tree is gone.
  2. A fleshy hole hovers in the air. It expands and contracts rhythmically like slow breathing. Anything you throw in disappears. If you crawl into it, you see a vision, and then flip a coin. If you roll heads, you die and the next four animals the rest of the party encounter have part of your body merged with them. If you land tails, you are born to an animal the party encounters the next day, both you and animal unharmed.
  3. When you find an animal carcass or make a wound on something, the wound spills out stringy white worms, thin like hairs. Anyone who touches them, contracts Heronway. If left alone they exit the wound they protrude from, and move across the forest floor in unison like a white rustling doormat.
  4. A cobblestone hut that's devoid of people. Inside is an anvil, a hammer resting on it, and a mountain of bones. They have been smashed between the hammer and the anvil. Some are broken, but some are bent like metal bars.
  5. Five standing stones, resembling tall and lean naked male human figures, each well over 8 feet tall, each one embracing itself giving it a pillar-like appearance. They all have flower crowns set on their heads, in various states of decay. When it is full moon they all clatter their teeth for a full hour in the middle of the night, then stop.
  6. You see a creature, seemingly humanoid but appearing made of densely knotted organ meat or carapace. A troll. It quickly removes itself from your vicinity. If you pursue it you will get lost in the forest, and there will be obstacles to overcome if you want to find your way back to your previous route.
  7. A group of pale white-pink moths sit on trees in the area you are in. If you kill one, the next human you meet will be empty: they will be a stark skin, full of nothing. If you eat one, you are not alone in your head anymore. There is another thing, a horrible thing. You get a vision every time you sleep until someone drills a hole into your skull to let out a white-pink moth. If they let out two, all your flesh and bones inside your skin are compressed into a ball (you die).
  8. A 6 foot high wheel of tree roots rolls through the forest, crushing undergrowth and animals getting in its way. If you chase it, it will stop at twilight, open like a flower, and release the smell of lavender. Inside is a dead wolf whose head is twisted into a knot. Touching the wolf gives you a vision and then peels the limb you touch it with like a fruit. The wolf carcass then moves horizontally sideways, unmoving and hovering, until it hits an obstacle which presses it flat.
  9.  ♫ Song bird song bird where have you been, I've been waiting foooor bird song bird songgnos drgnbibngrd where haah erehw foooor youuu... ♪ 
  10. A thin brook. It clatters over rocks smoothened by its running. At one point it drops down into a hole into the ground. Anything you drop down this hole disappears. If you force your head down this hole, your skin and then muscle begin to run like water, down the hole. Bones drop in too. Party members will see insects the next day carrying your teeth and building a tiny house with them. Drinking from it, it is just normal water.
Art by me!

D10 Monsters
  1. A raw and skinless creature, hopping around, four feet tall, and shaped like a big human heart on two legs, with thin arms dangling from the middle. It may look ridiculous, but it beats as it jumps around, which is an eardrum-rending and rib-cracking sound if you are too close. Comes in groups.
  2. Appears as a lithe young woman with translucent-pale skin and (body) hair, concealed by a mantle of skinless bleeding arms that sprout from its collarbone, by which it does not seem weighed down by in its prancing and laughing. Potent, nauseating musk. Eight feet tall. Wears entrails as scarves and clothing, otherwise naked.
  3. A long centipede made of frontal wolf halves, each back half being swallowed by the maw of the next wolf. Total length unknown. Possibly circular.
  4. Person in warrior's garb ravaged by stag antler jammed into their body via the mouth. Head hidden by copious horn and bone spike growth. Blind. Its fingers, with bear claws, pass through armour and clothing. Kills everything it encounters. Dies after a few days from starvation.
  5. A human skin, rubbery and outstretched in the length, and a face that has no features except for a maze of gyres. Lives among the trees, where it stretches itself out between branches and trunks. When travellers appear it whips them with the branches and twigs or pulls them by the neck into the treetops, and strangles them.
  6. Something like a large flatworm, its back earth-like and camouflaged to look like a dirt path, concealing many bear trap-like jaws that are ready to spring open once an unwitting animal or traveller walks on it. Its underside looks like an outstretched human skin, face and all.
  7. You see the moon among the trees. It shouldn't be there. But it is. When you get close enough the dark around it becomes an enormous black wolf/bear-like creature's head and swallows you together with the moon. The next night will have no moon in the sky and your head, gnawed, will show up floating in a pond during the next full moon.
  8. Naked humans with membranes between their arms and legs. Hover in the sky just above the treetops, slowly moving, limbs outstretched but not flapping them. Do not attack and seem in a coma state.
  9. A chalice made of fungus-like material that runs across the forest floor on four small legs. Filled with black thick liquid. Will flee from you. When you drink the liquid, you can fly for an hour. Humans who fly become obsessed with it. If you haven't gone back to the ground after an hour you become the above listed creature (entry 8).
  10. Skinny white three feet tall human with a black boulder the size of a beach ball as a head. If you crack open the rock, you will find a skinless head of roughly the same size. Wants to steal your food, to feed birds with it.
Art by Calder Moore

D6 Infections:
  1. Many thin white worms, hair-like in size, fester in a wound. Those able can travel through the worms between two different creatures infected by Heronway. Cured by eating poison to drive out the worms, then taking an antidote.
  2. Quickly spreading skin mould that looks like mangy pelt. Craving for raw meat. Cured by cauterising the infected skin.
  3. Blood becomes filled with small fish, crustaceans, river insects. Matter of time until one grows big enough to clog an artery and give you a stroke. Cured by bloodletting.
  4. Hallucinations, invasive manic thoughts, and fever for a day. Then you lay an egg. The egg is white, slightly larger than a chicken's. Roll d6: if 1-5 it contains black, viscous fluid that stinks immensely. If 6 the egg seems unbreakable, keeps growing until barrel-sized, then hatches into a child version of you. The child does not speak any language you know or can understand, but otherwise behaves normally. Cured by laying the egg.
  5. Swelling of the chest cavity until twice its normal size. Chest heats up progressively until boiling, which blisters the skin. Cured by swallowing a spoon.
  6. Extreme paranoia about the reason why and how you are alive. Your notion of individuals erodes. Everything is made up of more life: fungi, bacteria, and so on. It's a recursive fractal, and also one single thing. Visions of a giantess walking around the forest, the trees reaching to her knees. Cured by a near-death experience.
D20 Visions:
  1. Vision of a long dark hallway full of fungal aggregates of tiny red humanoid shapes. Inhaling sound.
  2. Feeling of warm breath in face, overpowering odour of iron, salt, decay. Sound of wind rushing through tunnel.
  3. Memory that isn’t yours, lingering in your head, then it suddenly disappears.
  4. Feeling of warm soup or broth filling your mouth, when opened only releases strong smell of lavender
  5. Silent but sharp vision of bearded bald man screaming as bright white light hatches from his splitting head.
  6. Others suddenly all smell like blood. Who are they? What are they, really?
  7. Deafening scream of deep-voiced woman. Smell of blood. Sky, if visible, briefly turns red.
  8. Vision of white-cloaked figure, viscera and blood spilling from underneath cloak. Feeling of grass brushing against legs. 
  9. Overwhelming stench of carrion. Loud sounds of hammer striking anvil.
  10. Brief notion of unreality, urge to escape without knowing the prison.
  11. Deep feeling of fever and heat, short amnesia episode. 
  12. Sound between human and horselike scream. Smell of salt and potash.
  13. Everything silenced. Smell of wet leaves and blood. Voice says: “Oh, it’s you again.”
  14. Feeling of warm, wet hands on body. More than two. Sound of clacking teeth. 
  15. Sudden impression that there is one more person with you than there is. 
  16. Vision of small squat pale gremlin sitting on white rock, chewing on skinless head. Overwhelming smell of lavender.
  17. Everything feels wet, even stone, and it pulses. Touch becomes taste, taste of iron. 
  18. Vision of feral woman writing in book with own blood tears. Sound of many insect wings flapping.
  19. Feeling of embrace, so tight it presses the air from your lungs. Smell of body odour and blood.
  20. Singing voice: “Song bird song bird where have you gone, I’ve been waiting for youuu
Art by Ivan Shishkin
D6 Conditions for finding the house with the skull floor:
  1. All but one member of the original party have died, disappeared, or been replaced with new characters.
  2. An in-game month has passed.
  3. Three recurring monsters have been defeated
  4. All characters have accepted that they will not leave the forest, dead or alive.
  5. All characters die at exactly the same time. They then wake up, alive, in front of the house.
  6. The players have gotten used to the forest and it is time for new things to keep them invested.