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Deep Coverby Geoff Gander from Threshold Magazine issue 22
A rather unusual cloak-and-dagger scenario for 6 players
Special thanks to my gaming group for being such awesome play-testers.
About this Adventure
This adventure introduces the zhochal as a player character (PC) race, presenting the world of Mystara in a very different light in the process… It is highly recommended that players be thoroughly familiar with the campaign setting. The DM and his or her players should also ensure that they understand my previous article on the zhochal race/character class, which contains notes on that race’s society and values, before playing. For ease of play, pre-generated PCs (complete with backgrounds appropriate for the storyline) have been included at the end of this adventure. This adventure is designed as a one-shot to showcase the playability of the zhochal and to provide a roleplaying challenge1 to your players, but if you enjoyed the scenario you are welcome to take the storyline in new directions!
The zhochal collective to which the PCs belong is located north of the Darokinian city of Corunglain, just over the border with the Broken Lands. The collective established a stronghold in a narrow, steep-sided valley roughly 100 years ago, and has finally convinced the local goblin tribes to leave it alone. However, a rival collective that follows the Outer Beings has also established itself in the region. This rival collective mounted an attack on the PCs’ stronghold and inflicted enough damage that it is no longer able to produce any decent weaponry. A subsequent attack could be devastating.
The leader of the PCs’ collective, the First, has learned, through field operatives, that a powerful zhochal weapon—a shocklance—was recently acquired by an adventuring party and sold it to the city of Corunglain. The PCs must go to Corunglain and retrieve the shocklance, ensure that the humans do not figure out how to produce them on their own, and obtain enough genetic material to help the collective produce more weapons.
Author’s Note: Although this adventure is set in the Republic of Darokin, it is my interpretation of the country. The main difference is that I decided that Corunglain, being a frontier city with ties to the Principalities of Glantri and subject to frequent humanoid raids, probably relies on magic to bolster local defences. As a result, the ruler (whom I call the Lord Mayor) has established a Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs to foster magical learning, and regulate its use. Whatever the Chancellor of Darokin might think of this move, he is a practical man and officially turns a blind eye—whatever keeps Corunglain strong and free is good for the Republic, after all.
Beginning the Adventure
Give your players a chance to read the character sheets, review the zhochal character rules, and ask any final questions. Once they are ready, read or paraphrase the following:
Your people are few, huddled in scattered citadels and strongholds on the fringes of indigenous civilisations, dimly remembering where you came from generations ago. When your people first came to this world they were united in the worship of beings of cosmic power, whose aims were unknowable yet tied to your own destiny. Yet there were some among you who turned away from that faith, who remembered an earlier, more rational time. Your ancestors were among those, but not everyone wished to abandon their faith. Your people were sundered, and bitter rivalries grew.
Some of those rivals live near your collective, in a ruined city known by humans as Ardelphia. They began expanding their reach and your First deemed it necessary to counter them. Their attack was repulsed, but the destruction was nearly absolute and you are among the few who survived. And now, your First summons you…
Assuming the PCs respond to the summons, continue:
You make haste to the First’s chamber, located deep within your citadel. Here, you could almost think no attack had occurred. Two Guardians, each bearing wounds from the battle, step aside to let you enter. The First looks up from a record disk it had been examining. “The collective need has been articulated,” it says. “Our Surveyors have reported increased activity in the enemy collective’s citadel. Another assault is likely and, as long as our defenses remain critically damaged and we continue to lack the resources to fashion new weaponry, the probable outcome is our destruction.
“An outpost of the rival collective has been located near our position; however, a sub-collective of humans from the nearby city of Corunglain attacked the facility and eradicated its occupants. It was observed that a number of artifacts of our people—including one possibly functional shocklance—were transported to the city.
“After reviewing our remaining records, including those of human battle tactics, and conscious of the circumstances, the most viable option is to do that which is most illogical…and most human. The enemy collective will not expect a reprisal. All remaining Guardians have been instructed to act accordingly. While the enemy is engaged by what remains of our forces, you will form a sub-collective to enter the city of Corunglain to locate and retrieve the shocklance. Once successful, return immediately.
“Should this mission prove successful two strategic aims will be satisfied. First, the local human population will be deprived of a shocklance which, even if not working, could theoretically be reverse-engineered to the detriment of our race. Second, successful retrieval will provide our Artificers with viable material to fabricate additional shocklances and other materials currently beyond our capabilities since the attack.”
The First will allow the PCs to ask for additional details if they wish, but it knows little more. If asked about details concerning the people of Corunglain, the First will say that most of the inhabitants seem to be more combative than the human norm. Zhochal psychologists have been unable to determine the reason, but have advised that the local populace can be expected to react in an extreme fashion if confronted by one of the PCs in its true form. As a result, each PC will be issued a ring of shapeshifting for the duration of the mission.
In departing, the First will express a hope for success on the mission, and reminds the PCs that while they are away from the protection of the collective, none of them will hear the Voice of All, and it will warn them of strange thoughts and feelings while they are away. Should this occur, the PCs are advised to ignore these sensations and refocus on the mission objectives and achieve them in as expeditious a manner as possible, in order to re-integrate with the collective more easily.
The party can either approach the gates in their guises, or they can await a suitable time at night and fly over the wall. If the former option is chosen, the guards will question the party closely as to its business in the city. Any checks against social skills will have a -2 penalty, due to the suspiciousness of the guards. If such a check is failed, the guards will search the PCs. Should any zhochal items be discovered the guards will insist that the PCs accompany them to their guard post, where they will be interrogated even more. There is also a 20% chance that one of the guards present will be familiar with zhochal items, and alert the guard captain on duty. The PCs will have to explain what the items are (another social skill check should be made—this time at -4). If the check fails the guards do not buy the story, and alert their captain (see below).
The captain (F9) arrives in one turn and oversees the transfer of the PCs to holding cells under the Department of Thaumaturgical Affairs (which happens to be where the shocklance is being kept). All of the PCs’ equipment is confiscated for further study. Go to Inside the Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs, below. Although this is a huge setback initially, the PCs could turn it to their advantage later.
If the party decides to fly in during the night, there is only a 10% chance that a guard sees them. There is a good chance they will be able to find a safe place to land undetected, but must then try to locate a contact to learn what is going on in the city, and where the shocklance is being held.
Although the party is in a foreign city, they are not without resources. There are ten members of the PCs’ collective in the city, all of whom are disguised and occupying positions of varying degrees of influence. Each of them has been tasked by the First to infiltrate one section of Corunglain society in order to acquire as much information as possible about how the local human population acts. They operate in this capacity for years at a time, masquerading as locals and gaining the confidence of as many people as possible.
Using their psy sense, the party can locate other zhochal in the city if they are within 120 feet. However, they will only have a general direction, and if the other zhochal is in a guise (highly likely) and in a location where humans are present the PC must use other clues to locate them (since they will not willingly give themselves away). At any given time, there is a 15% chance that one or more members of the party will detect a member of their collective 1d12x10 feet away.
Because infiltrators always live with the threat of discovery, and are practiced in the art of pretending to be human, they will at first pretend not to understand the party's attempts to contact them discreetly (even though their own psy sense would tell them who the PCs really are - enemies are everywhere), or dismiss the idea as being something completely outlandish. A successful Intelligence check by any PC will allow them to realise the extent to which infiltrators hide themselves, and that sending out consistent signals (e.g., make references to items or events in the stronghold that only a member of the collective would understand) will gain the infiltrators' confidence.
Once the party does make contact with an infiltrator, they will recommend meeting the group as soon as possible in a safe place. Each infiltrator has their own network of unsuspecting human informants, as well as a small number of locations where they can hide, should their cover be blown, and they need time to plan their escape from the city. There is a 75% chance that the infiltrator will want to meet right away, but otherwise will suggest the following day. The meeting is handled the same way regardless, but if it is delayed until the next day the DM should have the party decide how it will seek shelter for the night (see A Night at the Inn, below). The infiltrator reveals the following information:
A party of adventurers was observed bringing a wrapped package into the city that was the same approximate size as a shocklance.
The party was followed to an inn in the city, and was placed under observation. The item was held there for a little over a day before two of the party members took it to the Lord Mayor's palace. The party members later left the palace empty-handed.
A wagon was later observed leaving the Lord Mayor's palace bearing a long crate. Several men rode in the wagon with the cargo until it reached a building known to house Corunglain's Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs. The men unloaded the crate and carried it inside.
The infiltrator does not know anything else, and to his or her knowledge there are no zhochal working in the building. A rough description of the building can be given (see Breaking In, below). The PCs will also be warned that a hostile collective has infiltrators in the city as well, but it is not known how many are active, or whether they are aware of the shocklance.
A Night at the Inn
If the party has to wait to meet an infiltrator, they will need to find a place to lay low for a while. Although zhochal have little need for sleep, the PCs should realise that failing to appear to need rest will make them look very suspicious to the local population. There are many inns in Corunglain, and the party has been issued enough local currency (120 daros) to rent modest lodgings for a couple of nights. Provided no one in the party behaves too oddly, they will have no trouble finding accommodations.
If the party sleeps in a common room, other guests will try to engage them in conversation. This would be an ideal opportunity for some potentially difficult roleplaying, as what (to the other guests) is an innocuous question may receive a very strange answer. If this is how the DM chooses to handle the scene, then he or she should pay close attention to what the players say and exploit opportunities for misinterpretation. Depending on how such a conversation goes, the PCs could have a fight on their hands.
The party may decide to do some investigating, and ask if anyone has seen an item resembling the shocklance. They should make a reaction roll at -2, and if the result is positive there is a 20% chance that the person asked saw something long and thin be loaded into a crate and taken somewhere in the richer part of town. If the reaction roll fails, the person will refuse to answer and will keep their distance while looking strangely at the party.
The PCs are not the only zhochal active in the city. In fact, the collective from which the shocklance was originally stolen also has infiltrators in Corunglain, and they suspect that their lost weapon is in the city. Once per hour, there is a 5% chance that an enemy infiltrator is within 1d12 x 10 feet of the party. The DM should gauge how discrete the PCs are pursuing their tasks—if they are too obvious they could receive a great deal of unwanted attention. Enemy infiltrators will not attack the party if there are witnesses, but they will memorise the appearance of their guises2 to help identify them for future attacks.
The actual ambush will take place either at whatever inn the PCs are staying, or at a time when the ambushers are confident that they can eliminate the party before any locals can run to the scene. During the ambush itself, four zhochal will fly down and seek to encircle the party. Once they have done so, they will attack in full force, with the aim of killing or incapacitating as many PCs as possible in a short amount of time.
Zhochal Ambushers (4): AC 4; hp 18 each; MV 60’(20’)/210’(70’) flying; #AT 2 (sword) or 1 (needler); D 1d8x2 or 1d6 + poison; ML 9; SV F4; AL C. Three zhochal carry two swords each, while a fourth carries a needler (see New Weapons at the end of the adventure). If the ambush fails, the surviving attackers will flee and not be heard from again. They will seek to avoid capture at all costs, and have sworn never to reveal their instructions.
Eventually, it should be clear that the PCs must go to the Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs offices in order to find the shocklance. The party should be allowed enough time to develop a plan, since they will not have any information about how the building is laid out, and they will certainly not know where their treasure is located.
A successful Intelligence roll will result in a sudden insight that not only is the building guarded, but those guards regularly patrol the building. There are always six guards in and around the building: Two guards always stand watch at the main entrance, while another two make their patrol, and a third pair rest. When the patrolling guards return to the entrance, they go to the guard room to rest, while the guards at the door go on patrol and the formerly resting guards take their posts at the door. Each patrol takes one hour to complete, and covers all the floors of the building (three above ground, two below).
Although the guards are on alert, they have not been told about the shocklance, and therefore are not being especially watchful—unless the PCs were captured as outlined above (see Entering Corunglain), in which case they will be on high alert because they will know that the party is being held inside.
The party will be challenged should they draw near (the guards' instructions are to forbid anyone entry unless they have an appointment with someone working inside, or they have a special permit to enter). As the party will not know anyone inside, and will not have any documentation, they will be told politely (but firmly) to go away. If the party attacks the guards, they will have one round to silence them before they can shout an alarm (two guards will arrive in 1d4 rounds, and the other two in another 1d6 rounds). If the attack happens during the day, passers-by will witness the altercation (no roll required) and call for the constabulary, which will arrive in 1d6 rounds (the building is located in a well-to-do neighbourhood). If the PCs attack the guards at night, there is only a 20% chance that any witnesses will be around (if so, there is a 50% chance that 1d2 constables happen to be passing by, who will attack immediately).
The DM should decide when the next shift change will take place. Should this happen while the party is dealing with the first guards they encounter, the second group will be able to raise an alarm and summon their resting companions, who will arrive in 1d4 rounds.
The guards do not know what the shocklance is, let alone where it is located. They do know that classified work goes on in the underground levels of the building, but they do not have authorisation to go down there. They also know that a separate corps of guards works on the lower levels, but there is very little fraternisation between the groups.
Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs Guards (6): AC 5; hp 14 each; MV 90’(30’); #AT 1; D 1d8; ML 9; SV F2; AL N. Each guard carries a normal sword and wears chain mail armour under a green cloak.
City Constables (1d2+): AC 5; hp 10 each; MV 90’(30’); #AT 1; D 1d8; ML 8; SV F1; AL N. Each constable carries a normal sword and wears chain mail armour under a dark blue cloak.
Inside the Ministry of Thaumaturgical Affairs
The building that houses the Ministry is rectangular with a single corridor running along its length, broken by an atrium in the middle that rises all three storeys to a skylight. A circular staircase winds up through the atrium and down into the basement, but there are additional ones at each end of the building. A detailed room key is not provided with this adventure, but a general description of what can be found on each floor has been provided. Should the party explore the above-ground floors, it should quickly become apparent that there is nothing relevant to their mission to be found there.
It should be noted that if the PCs travel unescorted through the building during the day, they will be challenged by employees (most of whom are 1st- and 2nd-level magic users). The DM should determine beforehand what sort of spells they would have available. Once the party shows that it means business, however, most employees will flee, and panic will likely ensue.
This floor contains a series of offices along the corridor to either side of the atrium. The offices to the right contain numerous small desks, loaded with stacks of parchment. This area is where low-level officials work—mostly filling out paperwork to register the sale of magical items, documenting the payment of magical license fees, and recording the use of magic in the service of the city, such as lighting magical lamps. If the party comes here during the day, dozens of low-level officials (1st-level magic users) will be hunched over their desks.
Much of the area to the left of the atrium on this level is taken up by a dining hall for Ministry officials. Although employees are welcome to bring their own food, a kitchen on-site prepares inexpensive (if not exactly tasty) meals. At any given time during the day, a dozen or so employees will be here. Four people work in the kitchen area. The PCs may find the bland chicken soup almost palatable, since it is similar to the greyish porridge that they normally eat.
To the right of the atrium are a handful of offices where archivists (2nd- to 3rd-level magic users) work to record all magic-related events that have happened in Corunglain, as well as details on all of the known spellcasters living in the city. These offices are connected to a large record room, filled with rows of wooden filing cabinets, that takes up most of this floor. Here, files on every magic user ever known to have lived and worked in the city are kept). This side of the floor also contains a water closet3, located next to the atrium.
The corridor to the left of the atrium contains offices that are better-appointed, and contain only one desk per room. This is where senior officials (3rd- to 5th-level magic users) work, and where members of the public can meet Ministry officials to request the casting of a spell. Only a handful of these offices will be occupied during the day—most of the people who work here are usually out and about on city business. If confronted, however, they will defend themselves. Should one of them be interrogated, there is a 50% chance that they will know that a strange object was recently taken to the laboratories on the lower level.
The corridor to the left of the atrium (blocked by an imposing set of unlocked double doors) contains the offices of the Inspectorate, a group within the Ministry charged with overseeing how the Ministry itself operates, and with ferreting out unregistered spellcasters operating within the city. Few of the ten inspectors (3rd- to 5th- level magic users) are ever in their well-appointed offices during the day, but there is a 30% chance that 1d2 inspectors will be present at night, catching up on their paperwork. The Inspectorate holds itself apart from the rest of the Ministry, so unless an alarm is raised by the guards or the party barges in here, anyone working up here will probably not get involved. No one here knows about the shocklance. There is also a water closet here, just off the atrium.
The corridor to the right leads to the luxuriously-appointed offices of the Chancellor to the Lord Mayor on Magical Affairs (a 12th-level magic user)—the head of the Ministry. There is a 50% chance that the Chancellor is away during the day, but his private secretary (a 5th-level magic user) is always present. The secretary has instructions to not let any uninvited guests in, and he will not let the party get close enough to do any damage. He (and the Chancellor) are fully aware of the shocklance, and will deduce the PCs’ true natures very quickly. Their priority will be to neutralise the party in order to have them taken down to the lab for further study, rather than kill them. The chancellor enjoys a private water closet of exquisite quality.
The structure of this level mirrors the floors above. There is a large, open landing beneath the atrium, lit by enchanted spheres embedded in the walls. The corridor to the right of the landing leads to a series of dry storage rooms containing crates of ink, sheets of tanned leather to make book covers, boxes of pens and nibs, spare furniture, and the like. Few people come here—day or night—except for the odd employee sneaking away for an unauthorised break. A second, much narrower, staircase leads down from the landing to the sub-basement.
The corridor to the left is taken up by a large room containing a mass of copper pipes running down from the ceiling to a massive metal cylinder that rumbles ominously, or alternatively into the stone floor. This is the boiler room for the building, which has recently been refitted with indoor plumbing (courtesy of the dwarven community in Corunglain). This room is the private domain of Glorin Makkrast, a dwarven boiler technician/plumber. He rarely leaves his noisy, damp empire, and resents intruders (he is afraid they will steal his trade secrets—he has only recently moved to the city and has not yet grown accustomed to humans (who are not, generally speaking, passionate about the trades to the level that dwarves are). He does not know anything about the shocklance (or much of anything not plumbing-related). Nestled in the far corner of this chamber is a dwarf-sized cot (for those days when he really gets into his work).
Glorin Makkrast, the Plumber King: AC 8; hp 15; MV 60’(20’); #AT 1; D 1d6+1 (heavy wrench); ML 8; SV D3; AL N. Glorin is armed with a heavy wrench and wears a leather apron to protect his clothes while he works. He will refuse to let the PCs touch anything in the room, and will defend the boiler if need be.
The boiler itself is AC 2 and has 150 hit points. Should it be reduced to less than 50% of its hit points, the rumbling will become more ominous and Glorin (if he is still alive) will flee the room. The boiler will explode in 1d4 rounds, inflicting 10d6 damage to everyone in the room (save vs. Dragon Breath for half damage). The sound will be audible everywhere inside the building, as well as within 300 feet of it. If the PCs survive the explosion, they will have to contend with the remaining staff, plus a good number of constabulary.
If the DM is feeling especially perverse, there is a chance that the explosion did enough structural damage that the ceiling could collapse, bringing everything from the dining hall onto their heads. The DM should percentile dice, with the following results:
The staircase ends at a very narrow landing (also illuminated by softly-glowing spheres embedded in the walls) and a set of reinforced double doors (which are locked—normal chance to unlock them, otherwise the doors are AC 2 and has 100 hit points). Beyond the doors is a single hallway that veers to the right and leads to another set of reinforced doors (unlocked), which are guarded by three guards. The guards will challenge the party immediately, and will demand to see some form of authorisation. They are aware of zhochal and will soon figure out what the PCs really are, and attack. If the PCs break through the first doors, the guards will be waiting.
Elite Guards (3): AC 5; hp 20 each; MV 90’(30’); #AT 1; D 1d12+1; ML 10; SV F3; AL N. Each guard carries a normal sword (Skilled Weapon Mastery + Strength bonus4) and wears chain mail armour under a dark red cloak.
If the battle goes against the guards, one of them will yank a cord hanging from the ceiling next to the doors, which will sound an alarm in the laboratory. The three guards on duty in that room (use the same stats) will arrive in two rounds to aid their companions. All of these guards are aware of the shocklance.
Beyond the doors is a large, rectangular, brightly-lit chamber, staffed by three guards (same stats as above) and four researchers (stats are below). Four six-foot-long metal wheeled tables, as well as a handful of trays holding surgical implements of various kinds, are in the centre of the room. The researchers are clustered around one of the tables, on which the shocklance rests. Six stone vats with metal covers line the far wall, and an imposing metal door is embedded in the wall to the party's right. A hand crank is mounted on the wall next to the door.
If the alarm has been raised, the researchers will wheel the shocklance to the metal door, which they will open using the crank (this takes three rounds). The storage room beyond the door is kept cold (the temperature inside is 2 degrees Celsius/35.6 Fahrenheit) with the aid of magic. The shocklance will be kept here until the intruders have been dealt with. Once the door is cranked shut (this takes another three rounds), an internal mechanism will keep it shut for 24 hours. If the party tries to break through the door, they will have their work cut out for them (the door has an AC of 0 and 175 hit points). One researcher will watch over the others while they work, and will be prepared to cast spells at any attackers.
Once the shocklance has been stashed, the researchers will use their spells to aid the guards (assuming any are still left). If interrogated, the researchers will say that they were instructed to dissect the shocklance to determine its inner workings, and to test its various components. They are unwilling to sacrifice themselves for their jobs, and will hand the shocklance over if asked. They will not mention the notes they have taken so far (which are not located in the building), which contain enough information about zhochal bio-technology to allow them to begin reverse-engineering in a few years' time, provided they acquire a few more samples.
The shocklance itself is still alive, and has not been fully dissected. It can still be wielded by a zhochal (but not by any other race), and there is enough energy inside it to fire four more shots of 3d6 damage each, or two shots of 6d6 damage. It is also a viable sample that the party's collective can use to resume creating devices.
Only one of the vats at the other end of the room contains anything of interest—half of a zhochal corpse suspended in vinegar. The party will immediately recognise it as having belonged to the enemy collective (it was found near the site of the first tower that the adventuring party destroyed). The researchers have already examined it extensively (this will be apparent), and copious notes have already been made—these notes are also kept elsewhere.
Researchers (4): AC 7; hp 13 each; MV 90’(30’); #AT 1; D special (see appendix) or by spell; ML 7; SV MU 3; AL N. Each researcher carries a scalpel or a bone saw. They have nothing of value.
Assuming the PCs acquired the shocklance and it is reasonably intact, they should be able to make their way out of the building with few problems—especially if they have already handled the guards. Due to the soundproofing effects of the surrounding bedrock, anyone working on the 3rd floor will not have heard the sounds of battle, and thus if no alarm has been raised no one will come down from that floor. This is especially true if the party staged their raid during the night. Once out, it would be a fairly simple matter of taking wing, flying over the city wall, and returning to the stronghold.
If the PCs conducted their operation during the day, then full-blown panic has likely ensued. Regular staff will have fled the building, and several squads of city constables will have arrived on the scene (use the stats provided above). They will have been apprised of the situation, and will not be in the mood to ask questions. Provided that at least some of the party manages to escape the building, they will have to flee an increasingly agitated city. Constables are being mobilised, and messengers would be dispatched to the border fortresses to the north to warn them that someone is fleeing the city and must be stopped. Although the safest means of escape is by flying, the party will be highly visible, and if one or more are injured may not be able to fly away quickly as a group.
The party will be pursued as long as they are visible; although the city constabulary will not follow them beyond the walls. It is not outside the realm of possibility that adventuring parties might be offered a sum of money to chase the PCs. Pursuit will slacken once Corunglain is no longer in sight. If the PCs manage to bring the shocklance back to the stronghold safely, the First will acknowledge their collective success, and order the cloning of the weapon.
APPENDIX A – NEW WEAPONS:
Bone saws are too flexible to stab an opponent; however, they can inflict nasty slashes (1d4 damage). Due to their shape and balance, bone saws are awkward to wield effectively (-2 to hit), and the blade is not heavy enough to cut through metal or hard armour. If a natural 20 is rolled on the attack, the saw inflicts a ragged gash on exposed skin that bleeds profusely (1d4+2 damage). At the DM’s discretion, the victim’s head or face may have been hit in such an attack, in which case Charisma is reduced by 2. If using Weapon Mastery rules, a bone saw can be treated as being equivalent to a hand axe.5
This weapon resembles a palm-sized, brownish-green, iridescent milkweed seed pod (weighing 20 cn). The wielder can fire the flamer by squeezing it, which produces a small jet of yellow, sulphurous flame up to 15 feet long (range is 5/10/15). Roll normally to hit. There are enough chemicals inside for six shots (which inflict 1d6 damage each), or three longer bursts (which inflict 2d8 damage each). Once spent, the hand flamer turns dull brown. As a living zhochal weapon, hand flamers must be immersed in a nutrient bath for at least 12 hours once per week (they will be recharged during this time). If this is not done, the weapon will “die” after another week has passed. Furthermore, if a hand flamer is not immersed in a nutrient bath within 24 hours of being exhausted, it will “die”.
When a hand flamer is found, the DM should roll 1d6 to determine how many single shots remain. Halve the result (rounding down) to determine how many longer bursts may be fired.
This weapon resembles an iridescent green snail shell about the size of a boxing glove (weighing 40 cn), from which rows of two-inch-long purple spines protrude in clusters along its leading curve. The wielder inserts their hand inside the “shell” and grasps a handle, which is squeezed to fire the spines (venomous needles) in a cone-shaped burst measuring 20 feet long and 10 feet wide at the end. Anyone in the area of effect must save vs. Dragon's Breath or be struck.
The venom affects native Mystarans differently from zhochal. If a native Mystaran of any race is hit, they take 1 point of damage and must save vs. Poison. If this save fails the victim takes 1d4 points of damage for three rounds, and all physical attributes (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution) are reduced by 4 for 12 hours. If a zhochal is hit, they take no damage and must save vs. Poison at -8. If the save fails they are paralysed (as per the hold person spell) for 12 turns (2 hours).
When found, a needler has enough needles growing from it to fire 1d6 bursts. When a needler has fired all of its needles, it turns a dull grey colour while it grows new needles (this process takes six hours), at the end of which time it will be capable of firing another six bursts. As a living zhochal weapon, a needler must be immersed in a nutrient bath for at least 12 hours once per week. If this is not done, the weapon will “die” after another week has passed.
Scalpels can stab for 1d2 damage, or they can be used to slash an opponent for 1d4-1. Due to the small size of the blade, a scalpel is completely ineffective against metal or hard armour, and its damage is reduced by 1 if used against the hide or an animal, or against an opponent wearing leather armour. A scalpel, due to its high concealability, could be quite effective in a sneak attack (the DM may wish to give an attacker a bonus to surprise or their attack). If using Weapon Mastery rules, a scalpel can be treated as being equivalent to a dagger for the purposes of determining critical strikes and the like.
Shocklances are roughly seven feet long and weigh eight pounds (80 cn), and are roughly twice the thickness of a staff. The "front" end flares outwards at its tip, ending in four barbed protuberances curving inwards once more, while the "rear" portion is rather bulbous and covered with slots and grooves of varying width, as well as a handful of chitinous protrusions. Their colouring ranges from light green to a dark grey, and have an uneven—and occasionally thorny—texture. Being composed of living tissue like other zhochal devices, shocklances are warm to the touch, and, if one observes them for a prolonged period, pulsate slowly.
Each shocklance contains enough stored energy to fire up to 16 normal blasts of concentrated electricity (each inflicting 3d6 damage to the target), with a range of 200 feet. Zhochal wielders can adjust the settings by manipulating the various protrusions—this action which takes one round to perform.6 If they do so, the shocklance can also fire more powerful blasts (which inflict 6d6 damage and consume two charges per shot), or one tremendous burst that inflicts 12d6 damage and consumes all of the energy within the weapon, which must be fully-charged beforehand. The effective ranges of the shocklance vary with the setting, with greater energy expenditures reducing it due to the wildness of the energy burst. In all cases, a successful save vs. Death Ray halves the damage inflicted on a target. Shocklances can also be set to a “stun” mode, which consumes no charges and stuns victims for 2d4 rounds each time they are jabbed with the weapon (save vs. Death Ray to avoid the effect). The table below provides a summary:
Charges Used per Shot
Stun for 2d4 rounds
Once a shocklance's charges have been spent, it will be useless until it is placed within a nutrient bath, which will restore its charges at a rate of one every three hours. As with other living zhochal devices, shocklances will “die” if they are not immersed in their nutrient baths at least once per week, for a period of 24 hours.8 Even dead, a shocklance is a valuable commodity. Its components can be used in magical and mundane experiments, and as such the average specimen can fetch 2d4 x 100 gp, depending on its condition. A "live" shocklance could easily command three times this price.
Zhochal web armour is a net, measuring approximately four feet on a side, made out of a green, slightly sticky, rubbery organic material that constantly ripples—even when there is no breeze. Several two-foot-long strands, each ending with a sucker, trail from each corner. To use web armour, the wearer must drape it over their body (the holes are large enough for a head) and attach the suckers to their flesh. At the point, the suckers will start draining bodily fluids. If worn by a zhochal no damage is sustained, but a native Mystaran will take one point of damage per hour. The web will then vibrate roughly half an inch to three inches from the wearer's body, breaking up their silhouette slightly and causing the wearer to flicker intermittently. This effect is disorienting to observers, and as long as the web is worn it will confer an AC bonus of -2. However, non-zhochal will find web armour cumbersome—attacks made with any weapon except firearms are penalised by -1—unless a Weapon Mastery slot is spent on it. Spellcasting is not affected.
As long as web armour is able to feed from a host, it does not need to be immersed in a nutrient bath. If it is disconnected it must be immersed within a week (and stay immersed until used once more), or it will “die”.
APPENDIX B – PREGENERATED PLAYER CHARACTERS
1This point cannot be emphasised enough. The zhochal are utterly alien to Mystara and have a very different cultural mindset, which I have tried to present in my previous article. Players who enjoy getting deep into their characters, as my own players do, found them an interesting change. I would not recommend them for novice players.
2It is important to remember that a zhochal’s guise never changes once it is created, and it will remain as it is even if the zhochal in question uses a different ring of shapeshifting. Guises, and how they work, are explained in more detail in my article on zhochal player characters.
3My version of Mystara is more technologically advanced than the default setting, with urban centres in the Known World having technology from the late 17th or early 18th centuries, whereas wilderness and fringe regions are more medieval. If your setting is more traditional, you may wish to change this feature into a Thyatian (Roman) toilet, or a garderobe.
4As per the Rules Cyclopedia, Skilled Weapon Mastery in the normal sword also confers a -2 bonus to Armour Class, each round, against the first held-held or thrown attack made against the wielder. The wielder also has an opportunity, once per combat round, to deflect an incoming attack with a successful Save vs. Death Ray.
The wielder may also, in lieu of an attack, try to disarm an opponent. The wielder rolls an attack as normal and, if successful, the target must make a Dexterity check in order to avoid dropping their weapon.
5See page 79 of the Rules Cyclopedia.
6Shocklances were designed for zhochal physiology (i.e., having four tentacled appendages serving as arms), and learning to operate one requires three successful halved Intelligence checks—this only needs to be done once, since all shocklances are identical—and consumes 1d4 charges.
The slots and grooves located at the rear end of the weapon are the grips into which tentacles are inserted, and the protrusions are the controls that change the weapon settings, and fire it. A two-armed humanoid will not be able to hold the weapon, change its settings, and fire it in nearly as coordinated a manner. For non-zhochal to change settings and fire in one combat round, two people must use it simultaneously—one person to fire it, the other to help hold it and change the settings as needed.
8This problem can be prevented by obtaining a sample of the nutrient solution (likely a dangerous feat), and hiring an alchemist to duplicate it (at the very least a halved alchemy check, possibly a quartered check might be more appropriate). Needless to say, this would also be an expensive undertaking.