Monday, August 18, 2014

Carceri Part 1: The Death's Head Tree

Carceri is an archipelago of islands on Tartarus, the second planet from the sun.  Tartarus's proximity to Baator has made its civilizations into casualties in the endless war between the devils and the angels.  The two warring races of tieflings and dragonborn live on this planet, having established, annihilated, and reestablished their empires several times.
The tieflings were originally a small outpost of the kali empire.  When their powers vanished as a result of the ritual of the obyriths, they settled in the archipelago of Carceri.  They were known as Turathi, and eventually they created a vast kingdom they named Bael Turath, but with the covert influence of Baator it rapidly descended into civil strife and decadence.  A thousand years ago the turathi and the dragonborn first came into conflict. the turathi became commonly known as the tieflings when they made a deal with the devils to save their empire from destruction at the hands of the dragons. Both lands were ravaged by the war, but only Arkhosia, kingdom of the dragonborn, has been able to rise again.

Carceri was once home the expansive kingdom of Bael Turath.  It has six major islands, with a few smaller ones scattered around the north.

Othrys, in the west, is a watery, swampy island of warfare between native bullywugs and their former tiefling masters.  It is dotted with the rotting ruins of tiefling settlements such as Vor Rukoth.  The briny waterways of Othrys are home to many vile creatures such as the death's head tree.

(The following is a 4th edition version of the Death's Head Tree from 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and much of the text is copied directly from the official linked text.)

A death’s head tree looks much like a weeping willow, except its branches are thicker. Its seeds need blood to germinate, so it grows most commonly in places where a great deal of blood has been spilled; battlefields and places of sacrifice are two areas where death’s head trees thrive. In fact, these trees often mark places where ancient battles have been fought or where evil temples once stood.

A mature death’s head tree bears a strange and terrible fruit: rotten-smelling “death’s heads”. Each of these appears to be a severed head of a humanoid, except for the fact that each head grows from a branch of the tree and is attached to the branch at the neck. In time, these heads ripen and “fall” from the tree, actually floating away on organic gases, seeking the bodies of warm-blooded creatures in which to plant their seeds.

Like most carnivorous plants, the death’s head tree engages in combat primarily when potential victims come within its reach, but this plant has a unique lure: It grows heads that are distinctly humanoid in appearance and then, with its very limited intelligence, animates them just enough to enable the heads to softly make mumbling and struggling noises. While those who investigate the source of the sounds have few problems identifying the heads as monstrous, curiosity or repugnance (and a resulting urge to destroy the tree) frequently draws them in close enough for the tree to attack.

While most carnivorous plant life is largely anchored to a single spot, the fruit of the death’s head tree becomes fully mobile, once it has ripened and broken from the branch. Buoyed by gases produced by their own rot, the fallen heads actually float off, seeking a warm-blooded creature in which to plant their seeds. The smell of blood can attract a death’s head from as far away as a mile, and it can travel up to 20 miles in search of a host.

The sliver of the death's head fruit may be removed within 24 hours in much the same way as one would remove a normal sliver (inflicting another point of damage in the process). However, the points of the seeds excrete a low-grade natural anesthetic, which means that they don’t bother the victim after the initial sting of penetration. Therefore, many victims forget about them after the battle is over, allowing the seeds to take root.

There is only one factor controlling the number of death’s head trees that can grow in a given area, and that is how much blood has been spilled there. Theoretically, there could be one tree for every corpse. In fact, it is not uncommon to see an entire forest of tiny saplings springing up a few days after a large battle. Of course, until these reach maturity, they can be killed or uprooted as easily as any other plant. Also, they tend to sink their roots into each other, attempting to steal extra life’s blood and grow stronger, so eventually only one tree is left within 50 or more feet. Thus, the fully mature death’s head tree is a rare find.

The average death’s head tree takes 50-60 years to mature to the point where it can grow a crop of death’s heads. Until the time when its branches thicken enough to bear the weight of its ghastly fruit, it looks much like a weeping willow. Only a knowledgeable observer can tell the difference.

Once it reaches maturity, a death’s head tree is capable of living for thousands of years. A few sages have speculated that cutting down a specimen and counting its rings can establish the number of years that have passed since a battle was fought or a place of sacrifice was abandoned. The theory is a sound one, but few people who are aware of the tree’s nature will volunteer to chop one down and prove it.

Once a death’s head tree matures, it produces a crop of death’s heads every other year. Within 1d6 days of budding, the death’s heads grow from the size of walnuts to the size of normal humanoid heads. Having reached their full size, they take on a distinctive appearance (and foul odor) and then begin to softly whimper and cry. Within another 3d6 days, they ripen and begin to “fall”.

Aside from its need for blood to germinate its seeds, the death’s head tree takes its daily sustenance from the sun and soil like any other plant. It does not require any more blood to survive, once it has successfully germinated and rooted itself in the ground. Because there is no limit to the type of terrain on which blood is spilled, the death’s head tree grows virtually anywhere. One may be found growing among the stones of a ruined temple or on an ancient battlefield that is littered with rusted weapons and the bleached bones of the soldiers who once fought there.  Some say that the fruit of a death’s head tree resembles the face of he or she whose blood nurtured it.

Death's Head Sliver
level 9 disease

The roots of a death's head sapling reach through your body.
Stage 0: The target recovers from the disease.
Stage 1: Initial Effect: The target is slowed, and suffers a -2 penalty to all attack rolls and skill checks, as his body is wracked with pain.
Stage 2: The target is immobilized, and suffers a -5 penalty to all attack rolls and skill checks.
Stage 3: Final State: The target dies, and a tiny death's head sapling grows from the corpse.
Check: At the end of each extended rest, the target makes a Constitution check if it is at stage 1 or 2.
14 or lower: The stage of the disease increases by one.
15-19: No Change 
20 or higher: The stage of the disease decreases by one.

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