The Bearomone: Part One – The Bearomone

(This is the first in a (hopefully long and storied) series of posts about tabletop RPG (OSR, D&D, and D&D-adjacent) game design. Today I’ll be introducing a new monster. In part two I’ll talk a bit about the problem of spells and abilities (like charm, sleep, etc.) that take control away from players, and how I deal with it in my games.)

The Bearamone looks pretty much like this, only: (a) 30% less majestic, (b) no head, (c) spore-gulching fungus where no head is.

The Bearomone
A fungus-colonised bear with the power to control minds with its spore-laced pheromones.

Disposition: Driven by the biological urge to infect new hosts with its spores.
-> if successful: Driven by the biological urge to protect its newly infected ‘children’
Armour: as Chain
Hit Dice: 5
Speed: as human
Attacks:
– Claw Attack x 2 (1d4, 1d4)
– Slam Attack + Pin Target (make an Instinctual* saving throw or take 1d8 damage,
and be grappled + knocked prone)
– Fungal Pheromones (see below)
Morale: 10

Description:
At a distance the Bearomone looks just like a regular bear. Or rather, a regular bear with a somewhat strange and distended head. A closer look reveals that it has no head. In its place is a mass of sickly-red tendrils, each the length of a child’s arm.

These are the mature fruiting bodies of a fungus that has colonised this poor bear’s skull, broken down every useful protein, lipid, and mineral it could find, and transformed the body into a Bearomone. The fruiting bodies are covered with a sickly-sweet black slime, and are absolutely full of infectious spores.

Its degenerated neural pathways cause the Bearomone to move erratically, as if being puppeted by a thoroughly distracted host. Upon initial infection, it ceases to hunt—instead adopting a purely saprotrophic diet of decaying plant and animal matter. However, it maintains its highly territorial nature, and will stalk and try to infect (and failing that, kill) any animal or sapient creature it stumbles across.

(A Bearomone can be a one-off encounter, or can be used as a part of/an introduction to a particularly fungus-infected/cursed area: gross swamp, gross forest, cursed gross forest, etc.)

Fungi like these exist in the real world, and I don’t think anyone’s really found a way to make peace with that yet.

Combat:
In combat, a Bearomone barrels into the midst of a melee, ideally waiting to release its Fungal Pheromones attack until it is within 5 feet of at least two opponents.

Fungal Pheromones: The Bearomone violently shakes its body, releasing a cloud of spores. All targets within 5 feet must make a Mental* saving throw or be charmed into believing the Bearomone is their mama bear (charmed targets can repeat this save at end of each of their turns to break free). Charmed targets will fight to the death to protect their new mother, even against former allies. Likewise, the Bearomone will fight to the death to protect its new children.

Any successful saving throw grants immunity. Characters who are still charmed upon the Bearomone’s death are immediately returned to their senses, but experience an unbearable sense of loss for ten or so seconds.

Outside Fungal Pheromones, it will favour its claw attacks, preferring to attack anyone that happens to target one of its newly infected ‘children’.

If (a) it begins to lose the fight badly, or (b) it identifies one of its opponents as its biggest threat (DM can choose randomly if no character stands out), it will attempt to use its Slam Attack + Pin Target on that opponent, risking opportunity attacks to reach distant foes.

Flawless photoshopping leads to flawless results.

What is it doing when the players find it?
roll a d6:
1 = Stalking a group of hunters/goblins/(whatever works in your setting)
2 = Stalking the players

(d3: 1 = stealthily, 2 = stealthily, but with an overbearing smell of rot, 3 = extremely
un-stealthilystumbling blindly into trees and wetly slurping at nothing)
3 = Awkwardly gamboling about with its new ‘children’, but alert
(a deer and three ragged stoats (all of their heads already partly colonised by fungus))
4 = Standing over a rotting human corpse
(wailing mournfully through its non-mouth, and nudging it occasionally)
5 = Feeding on a fallen, rotting log, oblivious to the players
(loud and wet, sounds like a dog drowning)
6 = Currently pinning down a wailing hunter, attempting to infect him/her
(letting globs of honey-slick spores drip into their mouth)

The poor thing’s senses are a bit muddled: if it seems particularly distracted, let the players get away/get the drop on it. If not sufficiently distracted, give it a chance to notice them (stealth check for players, etc.).

In my games: I’ve used the Bearomone to interrupt (and cause general chaos during) a fight between the players’ party and a group of goblin hunters. Its ability to turn targets on both sides of a fight into its allies brought a real sense of dynamism to an otherwise ordinary fight, and led to an ad hoc player-goblin alliance that ended up having major consequences later on down the road.

Loot, Components, etc.
Being a bear, it is penniless and carries no loot. However, characters trained in alchemy will recognise the central mass of the fungus (below the fruiting bodies—buried somewhere between the bear’s neck and sternum) as a valuable alchemical ingredient:

Bearomone Heart:
– Can be brewed (two other ingredients required (humours: Rheum, Blood)—at least one of them rare) into a potion of mass charm (splash range: 10ft, effect as Fungal Pheromones ability listed above).
– Extremely rich in the Lochia humour (the humour of motherhood, protectiveness, and empathy).**
– Can be sold for good money, but only to alchemists/similar. Don’t try to flog it at the nearest pawnshop.

* in my game system, there are four saving throws: Physical, Mental, Preternatural, and Instinctual. Substitute for the following: D&D 5e = Dex save, a Pathfinder = Reflex save, most OSR games = Paralysis/Breath Attack/whatever seems to make sense, I dunno.

** more on my alchemy system in a future blog post.

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New Life on Haruspex Games, and a Reminder about ‘Kiso Valley Diary’

Hi again! Not much has been going on here lately, has there? I’ve been pretty busy blah blah who isn’t?

Anyway, when I have had time to write I’ve been posting everything on my other blog – Kiso Valley Diary. It’s a fun little blog about my experiences as a city boy moving to a picturesque spot in the Japanese countryside (i.e. the absolute middle of nowhere). Check it out if you have any interest in Japan, or life in the countryside, or if you’ve enjoyed stuff I’ve written here before.

For more delightful frogs like this, check out Kiso Valley Diary.

But what about Haruspex Games?

Well, honestly I haven’t done any kind of game development for about a year at this point. Like I said, I’ve been busy, and to be honest there’s been a fair amount of stress and minor-to-moderate health and mental health issues going on in the last 6-12 months.

But I do want to start game development up again at some point. I’m hoping to ease myself in slowly, maybe make a small side project or two in the next few months, then try to figure out what shape I want The Red Market to take in the future. I was honestly very down on the project for a while, but I recently replayed some of it (remember, you can do that here) and (absolutely amazingly, considering it’s a thing that I made), I don’t hate it, and actually think it’s pretty good.

I promise this game will be finished before I die (maybe).

So the medium-term goal is to slowly get back into game development, as a hobby and a creative outlet, rather than anything else (at least for the moment). In the shorter term, I’m going to try posting a bit more on this blog again. Not about game development, or even really about video games at all.

In the last few years I’ve gotten really into tabletop roleplaying games, and in the last few months I’ve gotten really into the OSR scene. OSR stands for Old-School Revival, and it’s a loose community of people who like to play (and make) games inspired by the early years of tabletop games.

At first I thought this would just be people insisting that cross-referencing a three-page spreadsheet every time they attack an enemy is much better than just rolling a d20. But while there’s a fair bit of “misery is good for you, because I told you so” dickishness floating around here and there, it’s actually an incredibly vibrant creative scene, with countless books and blogs full of cool-as-all-hell ideas.

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and spending too much money on internationally shipped, lovely glossy books. Blogs like Goblin Punch – a blog full of fun mini-adventures, sharply-designed mechanics, and weird, wonderful ideas for monsters. And books like Deep Carbon Observatory – a chaotic race into a mysterious, deadly ruin beneath the earth.

For more delightful boys like this, check out Deep Carbon Observatory.

I’ve fallen in love with a metric ton of this stuff, and I’ve also been designing my own things. Cool monster ideas, fun mini-adventures, and (hopefully) sharply-designed mechanics. And I’m going to start posting them here on this blog.

While video games are fun (and there’s stuff I want to do that wouldn’t work in a tabletop setting), the barrier to entry is so high. If you want to make something big and systemic like I do, then you have to learn not only programming, but a thousand other complex skills. And I want to learn these skills, and make a great game. But right now it’s so amazingly liberating to be able to make creative stuff for tabletop games – a field with essentially zero barriers to entry.

So if you liked the strange world, magical items, and horrible, horrible monsters that came out of my head and went into The Red Market, then maybe you’ll like what’s to come on this blog. Stick around, and let me know what you think!

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Introducing ‘Kiso Valley Diary’ – A Blog About Life in Japan

Kiso Valley Diary — WordPress com 1

Hi there! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here. sorry about that – life kind of got in the way. I’m intending to get back to game dev sometime in the next few months, but in the meantime why not take a look at my lovely new blog about life in rural Japan?

Kiso Valley Diary is a blog dedicated to my new life in the Kiso Valley – a beautiful, nature-filled, entirely inconvenient part of Japan’s central Nagano prefecture. As explained in its introductory post, it’ll cover all kinds of surprises and amusements of life rural Japan, including (but not limited to) topics such as: ‘exploring beautiful hiking trails’, ‘learning local customs’, and ‘oh my god it’s cold’.

So yeah – why not check it out? I’d love to see you there sometime: https://kisovalleydiary.com/

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