Friday, January 6, 2012

Vulture-Men of Buzzard Gulch

RPG Blog Carnival: Fantastic Locations


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“Buzzard Gulch?  Why in tarnation wouldja wanna go all the way out there?  So’s y’all kin get strung up an’ eaten?  Damn fool kids.”

Amongst the badlands which line the edge of the Devil’s Desert lies the area known as Buzzard Gulch - a rocky patch of flaming-orange stone, swirling dust, and dry bones.  And at the center of it all, dwelling in hidden caves and outcroppings along a forsaken arroyo, are the rapacious Vulture-Men.

RUMORS CONCERNING BUZZARD GULCH & THE VULTURE-MEN
1 - The Vulture-Men serve dark powers, and can see through the eyes of the buzzards which circle above.  Oh, they see what you’re doing long before you get there...
2 - Once human like you or I, the Vulture-Men chose their path and devolved into twisted bird-folk according to some greater plan.
3 - The Vulture-Men are man-eating scavengers who would much rather taste your innards than trade or give you the time of day.  I hear they like intestines best.
4 - Those feathered freaks have ancient secrets hidden deep in their cliff-caves - forbidden knowledge, and artifacts from the long-ago.
5 - Sure, they feast on decaying flesh, but some of ‘em also have a sweet tooth -- if you’re headed to Buzzard Gulch, bring along some sarsparilla or grape soda to trade to the Vulture-Men.
6 - The Vulture-Men might eat your flesh, but those huge dog-things they ride will eat your soul; those slain by the Vulture-Men rise as ghouls!
7 - The only reason to go out to the Gulch is to try to gather some of those strange white peppers that grow wild down that way.  Those things are rare, hard to cultivate in captivity - and in demand.
8 - Hell no I won’t go back - the one damn time we went out there, a Vulture-Man attacked me with a basket full of goddamn rattlesnakes!
9 - Y’know what I heard?  One o’ them caves in the cliff is full of rubies the size of a baby’s fist.  Like, a well-fed baby at that.
10 - Damn vultures’ll stab you in the crotch soon as look at you.  Don’t trust ‘em for a second.


The Badlands
RANDOM VULTURE-MAN ENCOUNTERS IN BUZZARD GULCH
use in lieu of, or in addition to regular badlands/desert table
1 - giant rattlesnake
2 - 2d4 vulture-men, armed (axes, spears) in a hunting party; 30% chance of 1-2 trained hunting buzzards
3 - 1d4 vulture-men scouts, armed (axes, spears, short bows), mounted on bonecrackers
4 - pack of 1d6+1 bonecrackers
5 - 1d3 vulture men gatherers (looking for bone, precious metals, useful plants); they are barely armed (50% chance each has an axe or digging-stick (club)), but may be more willing to talk or trade than a hunting party
6 - d6 buzzards circle overhead
7 - animal corpse, d4 days dead
8 - d3 giant desert lizards
9 - patch of d4 moonshine cactus plants (see Secret Santicore)
10 - hoop snake rolls by
11 - strange tracks/disturbance in the scree suggests a very large creature has been through here recently (see Tui-Tui-Sem, the Beast With Three Heads)
12 1d6 badlands gargoyles (red-orange in color)

Vulture-Men: use whatever humanoid (orcs, hobgoblins) suits for stats.  For exceptional individuals (war-chiefs, shamans), treat ‘em like humans with class levels.
Bonecrackers: use hyenadons, dire hyenas, or similar.
"Look, just give me the orange soda and nobody has to get eviscerated."

The Vulture-Men of Buzzard Gulch are known as degenerate barbarians who feast on the rotting flesh of animals and men who wander too close to their hunting-grounds.  And yet there is another side to them beyond the savage facade.  Vulture-Men can speak broken Common, but often communicate amongst themselves with grunts and hisses.

Standing at about average human height, Vulture-Men are gangly, wiry, and sparsely feathered (usually black or grey).  They have no wings, but instead long, knuckle-dragging arms which end in a hand with three fingers and an opposable thumb; each finger sports a wicked curved talon.  Henna tattoos are common on the exposed reddish flesh of Vulture-Man warriors, and all castes wear whatever garish baubles they can afford or craft.  Sexual dimorphism is unknown amongst the Vulture-Men, so any given specimen may just as likely be female, as far as most observers can tell; the species is oviparous, with most females laying only one or two eggs per year.  Given those numbers, the Vulture-Men fiercely guard their young and rarely let them out of the protection of the cliff-caves.  When setting out on a hunting sortie, or into battle, Vulture-Men typically carry tomahawks, throwing-spears, and occasionally short bows; a few have taken up regular use of wooden or hide shields.  The superior warrior caste of Vulture-Men ride trained bonecrackers, a fierce badlands beast which is predisposed to scavenging like the Vulture-Men themselves.

Dwelling in cliffside caves above the dry riverbed, the Vulture-Men have placed wooden racks and gibbets here and there on the ground below.  Stretched and hung upon these racks are the fruits of their hunt, decomposing in the sun, ‘seasoning’ until ready to be consumed by the colony.  On any given day, some of the racks will be empty - containing only some bones, or scraps of fabric - but others will contain kill from the past week, including livestock, buffalo, desert lizards, and humanoids.

The Vulture-Men are led by several warchiefs, the most respected of which is the eldest, known to outsiders as Sweet Prince Many-Marrows.  The Prince is a hulking example of a Vulture-Man who has the webbing between his fingers pierced with gold hoops procured from some brave merchant; he sometimes wears elaborate armor constructed from the bones of his kills, and a war-skirt stitched from rattlesnake skins.  Many-Marrows is a bit of an isolationist and does not appreciate visitors to Buzzard Gulch.  Other influential Vulture-Men, however, do - including one of the shamans, called Four-Day-Stench, and one of the young hunters, one Handful-of-Maggots.  While Handful-of-Maggots will happily receive any sentient which comes to Buzzard Gulch to trade, as he is quite fond of exotic food and drink, Four-Day-Stench has a very different motivation.  The old shaman, half-blind as he is, knows of the old ways, and how the Vulture-Men once stood ready to aid the forces of Law in preserving order.  He knows, too, how Men rejected the Vultures as allies, but he seems somehow immune to the bitter dislike of ‘man-things’ which now infects the mindset of the inhabitants of the Gulch.

Although generally held to be nasty, evil things, the Vulture-Men are in fact proponents of the natural order and servants of a lesser godling of decay which they call the Maggot-Father.  To the Vulture-Men, death (and the attendant rotting) is the expected end of the natural process of life, and something of which they are the blessed beneficiaries.  The ability to eat carrion is a gift given to them by the wise Maggot-Father, that their race might prosper even in the leanest of times.  So, too, are the bonecrackers a gift of this deity - a brother-species which aids the Vultures in the hunt, and in battle.  The shamans of the Maggot-Father have access to several specialized magics dealing with rot and decay.  No civilized priest has spent enough time with the Vulture-Men to determine whether the Maggot-Father is merely another mask of some other, better-known death god, but one thing is certain: the Vulture-Men are sworn enemies of undeath.  To them the walking dead - zombies, ghouls, and the like - are as twisted an abomination as can be witnessed upon this earth, and all such mockeries must be destroyed.  It is in that belief that the possibility for understanding may lie; the Vulture-Men volunteered to stand alongside the forces of civilization at Cadaver Canyon, to fight against the seething hordes of the Dune-Lich - but apparently the Vultures were spurned, and turned away all those years ago, and only anger at the rejection remains.  Most Vulture-Men do not know why they dislike the men of Wampus Country; and most men do not question why they should fear the savage Vultures.  In generations past the Vulture-Men have occasionally aided the Scorpion Cult against the Web of Spiders, but only the eldest amongst them now have any recollection of that dark rivarly.

Deep within the caves of the Vulture-Men lies a secret: the Still Room.  This small, unlit cave is an anomaly, placed in the care of the Vultures by their bizarre god: within the Still Room, that which should rot and decay does not; hence the name of the place.  Within the Still Room, dead bodies will not rot or even experience rigor mortis if placed quickly enough; dead plants do not crumble, and books and scrolls will never turn to dust.  The Vulture-Men see the Still Room as a balancing-place, a hidden cave of “opposite space” where things are not right.  They do not place their own dead here, for rotting away to nothingness (or being tearfully consumed by one’s relatives) is the proper end to a Vulture-Man’s life.  No, the Still Room holds other, stranger things, things worth keeping secret, things worth guarding by an entire species.  Perhaps the secret, time-lost cave holds scrolls of great age, or books in strange tongues printed before the long-ago; or perhaps, hidden in the recesses of that still, quiet, blackness, there is hidden the body of a great hero who was cut down when the world was young, but will rise again when the time is right...

3 comments:

  1. Vulture-Men? You wanna hear about Vulture-Men. Tough customers, they. I once spent two winters with a band of them. They had taken me in as an equal. You don’t wanna know what I had to do to earn their trust. You do?! What kind of sick prevert are you?

    One of them, I guess you could call him a friend, as far as that goes. The closest thing they come to. Rode with me for nine years. You know what their word for friend is? It translates as “He who I will eat next week at the earliest.” Indeed. Anyway, this fellow was almost civilized, in our lights. He name was… lemme see if I can get the pronunciation right after all these years. It was sumthin like KeeKAIhaYiyEEwopwopEEferdanaYa-Ya…Ya. The pauses are important. Where was I? Oh yes, I’d like another snort of your likker. Anyhoo, I never got KeeKaiYa to take to using a spoon like a man does. KeeKaiYa is what I called him, for short. Took to it, well enough. Was murder on the riding stock, he wa. As I was saying, keep yer mule fed and your powder dry. What? No I don’t need to go to the necessary. Eh. Well leave me be. Time for my nap now. Wazzat? Tomorrow morning, dammit. I’ll finish the story THEN.

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