Friday, December 14, 2012

Secret Santicore: Servants of the Old Nature Gods

Let's get primordial.  How about twelve different frightening, ancient servant-creatures of cruel nature gods?

THE REQUEST:  A list of ten, twelve, or twenty creatures that hostile, ancient nature gods would use to defend their cultists and their territory from the advance of stone-based civilization. This is for dark urban fantasy, in a time of medieval sliding toward Renaissance, with a hefty dash of Gothic. Please make it system-neutral but evocative and creepy and primordial - thanks!


1. The Wood Boy – nut-brown boy carved out of wood, with gleaming blue eyes. Likes playing with other children – tag, hide and seek, and so forth. When the other children lose a game or want to stop playing, he first scratches them, then bites them, and then devours them – either in part or in whole. Then he skips off and starts playing with another group of children. As he devours more and more, he grows larger and larger. Soon he starts playing with adults, laughing in a high-pitched voice as he rips out arms.

The Wood Boy is vulnerable to elder wood, for its connections to the Otherworld sever the wicked nature of the Wood Boy.

2. Othcrabh, Eagle of Discord – One of the ways that the Old Gods seek to strike at their foes of stone is to destroy their cohesion and unity. For this, they created the Eagle of Discord, a giant eagle with brilliant red and gold plumage. Any town that the Eagle of Discord flies over will have all babies born within the next year delivered to the wrong parents. So the butcher’s red-headed child will be delivered to the dark-haired princess, and vice versa…even if the princess’s child is born after the butcher’s child.

Othcrabh is vulnerable to hazel wood, for its properties of knowledge rend the eagle’s confusion.

3. Seed Janizars – Warriors who have been captured and ritually slain; their spirits are reincarnated into other creatures, who are then made to fight until they die. The warrior’s spirit grows to know only pain and hate. After three or four lifetimes of pain, they are reincarnated into:

1-2 wooden bodies that have been carved for them

3-4 half-plant bodies that have been grown like fruit in the center of sacred groves

5-6 bodies of stone and dirt that shear off from nearby cliff faces

The Janizars are sent out in one of the bodies below to attack and harry foes of the cult. If they die, they are promptly reincarnated in a new randomly selected body, but with a marker of their old one (so you might see a gigantic rat with a wolf’s muzzle and boar’s tusks coming to attack you, after you slew a boar and a wolf-boar).

IDing Mark
Mod.  1
Mod. 2
1 Rat
Rat Tail
Improved AC (dodge)
Decreased size
Can cause disease (15% chance)
2 Badger
Badger Stripe
Improved AC (tough hide)
Big claws
3 Boar
Big tusks
Improved damage
Increased size
Charge attacks
4 Wolf
Wolf Muzzle
Improved Accuracy
Improved Dodge
Pack hunting
5 Wildcat
Tufts near jaw, cat ears
Improved Speed
Excellent climbing
Pounce Attacks
6 Bear
Brown fur
Improved damage
Big claws
Bear hugs
7 Fox
Fox tail
Improved AC (dodge)
Improved Speed
Can cast a 1st-level spell (15% chance)
8 Weasel
Elongated body
Improved AC (dodge)
More attacks
Can drain blood of enemies

Seed Janizars are vulnerable to yew wood, because of its connections to vitality and long life.

4. Green Men – Pale figures standing seven feet tall or so, Green Men are humanoid figures covered in and composed entirely of leaves – with the exception of their piercing blue eyes. They go through four phases of life. The first is the youthful “foliate,” or spring phase, where they roam forests and hills. At some time, each Green Man feels a sudden urge to head to a given location, given to them by their dark gods. Once they have reached their destination, they enter the “disgorging,” or summer phase. Standing still, they begin setting down roots and spreading their arms wide. At noon, they begin spewing forth a stream of ivy and vines from their mouths, nurturing the plants as they dig into the rocks, or farmer’s fields, or castle wall. As the given area becomes coated in foliage, the Green Man shifts to its autumn phase – the “bloodsucker.” The vines continue extending further and further, growing thorns. New vines emerge from each of the Green Man’s orifices, spreading and writhing, while the foliage inside the Green Man continues to spread out and colonize the area. As the Green Man weakens, the vines grow stronger, seeking out new nutrients, in the form of blood. Finally, once the Green Man’s energy has been drained, it enters its winter phase and will lie there, quiet, while the vines continue to grow and feed.

Any humanoid victim that is stuck by the thorns has a chance to have a seed deposited in them from the thorns, which will transform them into a new Green Man.

Green Men are vulnerable to the oak and its powers of protection.

5. Woses – Hunters and woodsmen who wandered dark paths too many times, and saw things that city dwellers had forgotten. Unable to deal with the glimpses of primal nature that they saw, they abandoned their past lives and began living within the woods, preying upon their erstwhile fellows. They rove the forests tirelessly, protecting the vistas and standing stones that drove them mad. Woses have stripped off their clothes as remnants of decadent civilization and rove naked through the wood. They generally bear stone weapons. If a wose encounters another wanderer, there is a 60% chance that they will seek to drive them towards the standing stones and open their mind to the dark glories of the wood gods.

6. Baelr – A squat being, rippling with muscle. Hideously deformed and twisted features, with the majority of his head taken up by a single eye glowing red. Armed with wooden armor and a spear. Those that gaze into the single eye of Baelr may well perish, as the black rays of hatred emerging from it slay enemies of the woods. Baelr’s eye also devastates croplands and farms; animals that look into it become feral, and can never be tamed again. Can call up towers of crystal from the earth.

Baelr is vulnerable to mistletoe, as its powers of healing and growth counteract his eye of woe.

7. Wicker Man – a flaming effigy designed to bring ruin to the realms of civilization. The wicker man is constructed as part of a traditional festival, but will not arise to slay unless it receives a human sacrifice to inhabit the wicker man. (No, not a virgin – or allergic to bees. That second one would just be stupid.) The chosen victim must suffer the threefold death at the foot of the wicker man: at an equinox, the victim must be hung, poisoned, and dying from a wound. At the instant that the victim breathes their last, the wicker man is ignited. If the ritual is successful, the spirit of the sacrifice is bound into the wicker man and must obey the commands of the one who set it afire. The wicker man will remain active for 2d6 days, until the unholy fires sustaining it finally consume the soul and its energy fades.

While it burns, the Wicker Man is still vulnerable to ash wood, with its connections to flame and the equinox.

8. The White Bough – Deep in the forest’s heart, a tree like no other stands. It bears a bough of oak to the north. It bears a bough of ash to the south. It bears a bough of thorn to the west. Yet the bough to the east is a white bough, stretching upwards to the heavens. Upon this bough there are two lips, and should a postulant come seeking guidance or information, the lips may move and provide guidance and aid, for the tree knows many things.

Yet those that come to seek do not know that the tree hates the folk of stone and steel, and seeks their undoing. With each answer it provides, the tree quietly seeks to set sibling against sibling, parent against child, farmer against townsman, and all against all. And should a seeker receive advice three times, they shall serve the tree in all of its desires and strategems.

Being a tree itself, the White Bough is not vulnerable to any woods.

9. Tree of Serpents – when an oak, apple, or other large tree grows near a bastion of civilization, whether farmland, town, or city, members of the cult sometimes turn it into a Tree of Serpents. A paste of apples, the venom of a snake, birch wood, blood, and the powdered remains of a standing stone are applied to the tree at the dead of night, and dark runes carved into the bark.

A Tree of Serpents is so named because its roots turn into venomous snakes. As they grow, they spread their poison and blight the land nearby. Crops will wither and die. The roots will sometimes emerge from the earth and drag unsuspecting victims underneath. As the tree feeds, the trunk of the tree will start to grow a large mouth, with the fangs of a great wurm; the roots will eventually drag victims to the tree’s mouth to be devoured. If the tree is one that would normally bear fruit, the fruit will resemble the heads of the victims that it has claimed.

10. The Bleeding Hart – Wounded, injured... this beast limps around as easy prey for hunters. It will die quickly and feed an entire family. Its meat is nourishing and delicious. So delicious that all other food will taste and nourish as ash in the mouths of those who feed on it save the flesh of their fellow man. They will turn to cannibalism quickly, fueled by nightmarish dreams of delicious mortal flesh. Eventually they will be killed by their would be prey, and when they have all died at the hands of their fellow mortified man, the bleeding hart will reform. The tribes of men feared to eat easy prey and would often starve rather than risk the chance. Only being eaten by animals can harm the animal, but no wild animals would dream of harming it. At least until dogs became domesticated and loved their masters more than the call of the wild itself. Few Bleeding Harts remain.

11. The Eldest – At the bottom of bogs, it slumbered through the ages. Preserved from the doom that befell its siblings solely by the malevolent wills of the wood gods, the Eldest still sleeps. It stretches to the length of a large rowboat, its chitinous shell serving as armor and skin both. The body is not dissimilar to a lobster’s, save for the fact that the tail is tipped with an envenomed stinger. The eight eyes cluster about a fanged mouth, with an equal number of legs emerging from the sides of the “head”, giving the Eldest the appearance of a crab grafted onto the body of a lobster. It has grown through the eons, and when it wakes its hunger will be tremendous indeed. When it awakens, the Eldest will prey upon fishers and riverfolk, but will ultimately extend its search to the land and the plentiful prey there.

(See the Wikipedia article on Eurypterids, particularly Megarachne.) 

12. The Stone Serpent – Occasionally, masses of snakes will be huddled together, their saliva and venom mixing as they speak of where they have been and their foul deeds over the past year. As more and more serpents join the writhing mass, a solidification of the venom and saliva begins to form – an adder stone. Normally when these are discovered, the snakes have separated from the tangle and gone their separate ways, with the resulting stone being considered merely a beautiful precious stone. Yet if the wood gods desire a champion, the serpents will remain in their convocation until the egg is incubated, a process lasting two weeks. Once incubated, a stone serpent, carved from white marble, will emerge from the egg. Its fangs carry the deadliest of venoms. It glides amidst the trees of the forest at night, hunting and growing until it can swallow a man in a single bite. At that point, it sets forth on the mission given to it by the wood gods. Rumor states that the stone serpent may be induced to come forth from any adder stone, given the proper ritual.

Thanks to Zzarchov Kowolski for the creepy and punful Bleeding Hart, eKate Kuznetsova for her awesomely horrifying suggestions, particularly on the Wooden Boy and the Seed Janizars, and to Erik “Pigeonpunchin’ Man” Jensen for being an awesome Santicore Wrangler.  - Humza

Inspirations and Sources: Jack Shear’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque,” particularly its ‘Pagan Outskirts’ chapter; The Wicker Man (both film and novel); Corrinne Zemmour’s “Tolkien in the Land of Arthur: the Old Forest episode from The Lord of the Rings” (overly reliant on an Arthurian framework, but valuable for its analysis of what makes Tolkien’s description of the Old Forest creepy), Lucan’s “Pharsalia” describing the sacred grove.


  1. These are epic, really creepy and weird. I particularly like the Bleeding Hart, I'm stealing that.

  2. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! This will be great fun, very useful for my game in Setine!