An Invasive Species
Phil Nicholls blogs at Tales of a GM, where he writes about narrative gaming, faster prep and more story. He is currently running a HeroQuest Glorantha campaign in a home-brew setting. Phil has written for Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter and has a selection of self-published pdfs.
This essay is taken from the archives at Tales of a GM.
This essay is another written for the travelling Blog Carnival. For this month, the carnival was hosted by Hereticwerks, where the chosen topic was invasive species.
Eight White & White Blood
I wrote about an unusual invasive species revealed during play in my Tales of the Hero Wars campaign. This invasive species, which I describe below, was introduced into the campaign as a follower for Eight White, one of the Heroes of the story.
Eight White was a nomad warrior injured so badly by sorcery that he was left a withered husk. However, the magic also unlocked his spiritual powers, allowing him to mind-link with animals. Starting with a riding lizard, Eight White slowly surrounded himself with loyal animal companions who did his bidding.
In this article, I discuss Eight White’s eighth and final companion, a giant albino leech. The leech companion, inevitably named White Blood, was added to Eight White’s roster during play. This was another example of the creativity which arises through brainstorming with the Players.
All of the previous followers were typical animal companions, although growing progressively more fantastical. Eight White had acquired scouting, flying and fighting creatures, which allowed him to participate in those areas of the game that would otherwise be denied to him due to his physical condition.
So for him to choose his final companion to be a creature in a symbiotic relationship with Eight White was unexpected. Yet, this was such a great choice, as it was an original approach to the role of companion follower. Finally, it offered fascinating options for the story, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. Once again, the Players took upon themselves a plot twist far harsher than one I would ever inflict.
Albino Blood Leech
Once I was over my surprise, it was time to brainstorm some natural abilities for the giant leech. First of all I needed a name. I am not a big fan of simply adding “giant” to a creature name to label a large, fantasy version of a creature. I know this is common with certain highly popular RPGs, but it feels a little lazy to me. Do we call a creature a giant fire lizard? No, it is a dragon. We have created a unique label to describe a dragon, and I believe fantasy scholars would do the same for the denizens of their world.
So, instead of giant leech, I decided to call it an albino blood leech. On reflection, I suppose the blood in the name appears a little redundant. However, this leaves me design space to have leeches that drain something other than blood. Off the top of my head, how does a bone leech sound? Or a brain leech? For a fantasy setting, we could also have an arcane leech too.
So, the albino blood leech. In my version of HeroQuest, I compile a short list of abilities for each creature in play. These abilities represent the typical physical and magical traits of the creature. In consultation with Eight White’s Player, we came up with the following abilities for the albino blood leech:
Bite and Drain
Tail Burrows into Host
Secrete Healing Salve
Flaw = Symbiotic to [Host]
The values are set to Base as default, or scaled up according to the level of threat you want from the leech.
The first two abilities represent the standard combat abilities of the leech. The third, Tail Burrows into Host, gives the leech a way to form a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the Flaw makes this symbiosis into a potential limitation for the leech. Such relationships are beneficial for the leech, but a leech in a symbiotic relationship does not have total freedom. The Flaw represents this restriction.
The final ability, Secrete Healing Salve, was another product of brainstorming with the Players. We wanted this symbiotic relationship to be beneficial to the host, in this case Eight White. Thus, the leech secretes an ambrosia-like substance which aids healing. This is a very useful ability, but the Player is happy to limit the impact of the salve.
Plus, it seems the salve has addictive qualities. The effects of the leech are very much a work-in-progress, but the salve is already shaping up to be a two-edged sword. Negative consequences are slowly accumulating around the use of the salve. This gives me a lot of story to work with, which is a great opportunity.
The Future of the Leech
Just as the arrival of White Blood was the result of Player imaginations, so too were the interactions of the giant leech with its host. The leech developed an agenda of its own. It evolved into being the dominant consciousness within the relationship. Towards the end, the Hero began vomiting small balls of leeches.
The Player agreed to their character becoming a puppet for the leech. The final stage of symbiosis saw the host reduced to just a head supported by a body made of entwined leeches. Wrapped in a voluminous cloak, the character still appeared human, but only the head remained of the original host.
The arrival of the leech took our game to new places, and illustrated how much my Players like body horror. The blood leech proved such an interesting creation, that I revisited it in a later story arc, where it made a chilling centrepiece for an evil cult.
How have you used invasive species in your game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
For more essays from Phil, and updates about his latest campaign, visit Tales of a GM.