Saturday, October 20, 2018

Beware the Nameless Dead

Last time I wrote about the self, how it is constructed, and how it can be broken. Here are some monsters who actually use those rules.

Who am I? I want to be you.
(Source)

When a person dies their self breaks and flies across the dreaming world. All the parts are frightened, spinning and whirling, all except memory.  It knows where to go. It flies across the vast expanse of the dream, over the river of death, to that cold, quiet land from which none return. The other parts are less astute, they have other places to go, bodies of descendants to take root in, halls of ancestors to return to. If a shaman does not guide these parts to their proper home then they might return to their useless skin and try to make it move. Shuddering to half-life, cold, unwhole. This is how the Nameless Dead are born, usually.

Sometimes when a hard fall is taken, when an arrow goes right past the heart, when you lose your breath for just a moment too long your whole self is thrown in disarray. Are we dead? Do we live? You might lay for days, in a shallow grave, not sure of anything. When your parts are all in order, when you rise again, you are missing something. You are not quiet yourself. Not alive. Not whole. Your memory has gone ahead to the land of death without the rest of you. You too are one of the Nameless Dead.

The Nameless Dead wander the world aimlessly. Their faces are all strangely blank, impossible to keep fixed in your mind. When war rages across the steppe or strikes through the forests of the upper river, they follow the war path like scavenging animals. They dig up the recently dead, feeling over the cold flesh, sucking up what dregs of vital energy remain. They wander through looted homesteads, basking in the ashes of extinguished fires. Their skin is like ice, to feel it is to have your life ripped from you, into them. They do not know they can do this. They just grab and grab, so amazed to feel warm again, to be touched again like this. Is that what it felt like? Before?

How soft you are
Love and Pain by Edvard Munch, 1895

They also scavenge for memories. They cannot remember, by definition, but the other parts of the self can still recall being whole. It’s an odd sensation. Each piece knows something different about the past, they cannot agree. They are desperate to feel like a self again, to be somebody instead of this nobody. They pick up trinkets and mementos. They tell themselves stories. This is my walking stick. It was my mother’s walking stick. Now it is mine. Me. I am me. These things become full of memories, heavy with connections and false recollections. One of the Nameless Dead could talk to you for hours about themselves, all their stories, all their friends, in all their objects so lovingly held. They like to hear about your memories too. They can see it, fluttering in you, making you who you are. Somewhere, deep inside themselves, they know they can pull it out of you, like hot air being sucked out of a tent when the flap is opened. It is an instinct not a choice. They must be whole again.

1 in 12 of the Nameless Dead are technically alive, just clutching to life. 

Nameless Dead
Medium Undead, Evil
Armor Class: 12
Hitpoints: 17 (4d8)
Speed: 30ft
STR 12 (+1) DEX 14 (+2) CON 10 INT 10 WIS 12 (+1) CHA 1 (-5)
Damage Immunities: Poison, Necrotic
Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Poisoned
Senses: Darkvision 60 Ft., passive Perception 11
Languages: Whatever it knew in life
Challenge Rating: 1 (200 XP)
Tell me your name. The Nameless Dead have advantage on all attack rolls against creatures whose name it knows. (A note on names: Any title which would cause your ears to perk up if you heard it counts as your name. Even a pseudonym may become a real name if its internalized.)
Still hanging on. All effects which detect the undead (such as Detect Good and Evil) have a 3 in 6 chance of failing to identify the Nameless Dead or of identifying them as living if possible.

Actions:

Draining Touch. Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 5ft, Hit 2d4+2 necrotic damage. The Nameless Dead regains hitpoints equal to half the amount of damage dealt by this attack. Any physical contact a living creature makes with the Nameless Dead (such as grappling it or being grappled by it) causes this attack to automatically hit them. So long as contact is maintained, the living creature is hit by this attack at the start of their turn until contact ends.

Eat Memory. The Nameless Dead may attempt to steal the Memory of an unconscious humanoid it can touch and whose name it knows. The humanoid must succeed a DC 16 Charisma saving throw or lose their memory. Without a Memory:
Your proficiency bonus is -2
You lose all armor proficiencies
You forget everything you know and you cannot form new memories. You can only remember things by using objects and mementos to fix information in your unwhole mind.
All your acquaintances forget you. All your friends, family, enemies, and allies have a 4 in 6 chance of forgetting you. All your closest friends and any animal companions you have have a 2 in 6 chance of forgetting you. Even if you are remembered by a person, your face seems vague and indistinct.

If the Nameless Dead is killed, then the memory it has stolen escapes and is lost in the spirit world, a shaman can retrieve it in exchange for  10d20 gp in gifts and one favor, to be rendered at a later date. The Shaman will then enter a trance to find and return the missing piece, which takes 1d6 days.

 A shaman can also return the stolen memory to your self over the course of a few hours for half the cost if you can bring the Nameless Dead, stolen memory and all, to them. This ceremony will destroy the Nameless Dead. 

Something odd happens when a number of the Nameless Dead get together. They start talking to each other. They share false recollections, fake histories, and come up with a story to explain why they're all out here, missing something. They act the part, picking up or making the appropriate props and giving admittedly hammy performances. When they come upon the living, they try their best to seem normal but their hunger for a memory often overtakes them, especially if their guests refuse to play along or ask too many probing questions. They'll drop the act and fall upon you mercilessly, shouting "WHAT IS YOUR NAME YOUR NAMTELL ME YOUR NAME PLEASE."

If the party encounters a group of the Nameless Dead, roll a d10 on the table below to determine what delusion they abide by. Consider that it might at one point have been true. 

1. They raise tattered banners. They think they are warriors.
2. They wear the skulls of horses. They think they are shamans in a trance.
3. They drag loose reigns along the ground. They think they are lost horsemen.
4. They carry bags of stones and dry grass. They think they are merchants
5. One goes ahead of the rest in a tattered robe. They think they are a chieftain and their retinue
6. They wear wreaths of withered flowers. They think they are a wedding party, but nobody is sure who the bride and groom are
7. They all show off broken chains and burst ropes. They think they are escaped slaves
8. Each has a distinct marker of identity, a busted harp, a rusty sword, ect. They think they are heroes from an old story
9. They carry a bloated corpse (it might be a calf) wrapped in rags. They think they are children looking for a place to bury their mother.
10. They drag the dry carcasses of sheep and dogs behind them. They think they are shepherds.


I am me. Don't you remember?
(Source)

Don’t be naïve. Having the wrong memory is worse than having none. There are scars vividly remembered which don’t appear on the skin. There are thoughts deeply known which the will cannot construct. There are ghosts of passions which the follower cannot understand. There is a terrible sensation. It’s hard to describe. You are you. You are not you, you are somebody else.

Once fitted with a stolen memory, the Nameless Dead wanders back to a home it never knew. It is remembered, connected to false relatives and friends. A beloved daughter returns from battle. A child taken in a raid finds his way back home. A lost farmhand stumbles out of the bush. A spurned lover comes crawling back. Were they this tall? Was he this thin, this pale? Did she talk like that? Was her skin always this cold? Does it really matter? We’re all safe, together again.

This is how a Name Eater is born. It grows fat off of siphoned life force and learns better how to control its growing powers. It is aware of its double nature, of the incongruity within its self. It knows it should be someone else. Here are all these freshly familiar faces. They look so happy. One of them must have the right piece. 


Name Eater
Medium Undead, Evil
Armor Class: 13 (natural armor)
Hitpoints: 52 (8d8+16)
Speed: 30ft
STR 14 (+2) DEX 16 (+3) CON 12 (+1) INT 10 WIS 14 (+2) CHA 8 (-1)
Damage Immunities: Poison, Necrotic
Condition Immunities: Charmed, Exhaustion, Poisoned
Senses: Darkvision 60 Ft., passive Perception 12
Languages: Whatever it knew in life
Challenge Rating: 4 (1100 XP)

Tell me your name. The Name Eater has advantage on all attack rolls against creatures whose name it knows.
Whole Enough. All effects which detect the undead fail to detect the Name Eater or identify them as living if possible
Vampiric Aura. Living humanoids who take a long rest within 200ft of the Name Eater lose 1 hitdice and cannot regain hitdice by any means while within the aura. The Name Eater gains all hit die lost this way and may spend them to use its other abilities. (whenever an action calls for an amount of hit dice, noted as hd, to be rolled, those dice are spent. xhd notes that any number of available hitdice of any size are to be rolled.)

Actions:

Draining Touch: Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5ft, Hit 3d6+2 necrotic damage. The Name Eater regains hitpoints equal to half the amount of damage dealt by this attack. If hit by this attack, the target must succeed a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or have a hit die stolen by the Name Eater.

Siphon Life (1 per day): The Name Eater attempts to pull the life from 1hd creatures who are up to 1hd x 5 feet away from it. Each creature must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. A target takes xhd necrotic damage on failed save and half as much on a successful one. The Name Eater regains hit points equal to the amount of damage done by this ability.

Revitalize: The Name Eater consumes some of the energy it has stolen to heal itself. The Name Eater regains xhd hitpoints.

Dislocate (1 per day): The Name Eater may break it's self into it's five parts, becoming a gust of wind with a fly speed of 40ft and dropping everything its wearing. After 4hd rounds it reforms. 

Twist Memory (3 per day): The Name Eater manipulates the memory of a humanoid within 20ft of it. Roll xhd, the Name Eater may alter the target's memory in one of the ways below depending on the result of its roll.

1-3. The Name Eater may alter a major detail in a memory (i.e who you were speaking too)
4-6. The Name Eater may erase a memory (i.e you forget the whole conversation)
7-10. The Name Eater may implant one of its own memories in the target
11-12. The Name Eater may implant a compulsion in the target (i.e a desire to visit the deep wood)
16+. The Name Eater may do all of the below to the target and change their name

 The target of this ability will not notice that it's memory has been changed, but the Name Eater can be seen doing something strange, as if its casting a spell.

Swap Memory (Recharge 5-6): The Name Eater swaps its memory with that of a humanoid it can touch unless they succeed a DC 16 Charisma saving throw. Unconscious creatures do not get a save. The Name Eater may use Swap Memory as a free action against any creature it reduces to 0 hit points. When two people swap memories they exchange:
-The contents of their memories
-All proficncies (skills, weapons, ect)
-Facial features, but eyes remain the same
-Identities and names (i.e if you have Gertrude's memory, you think you are her)
Acquaintances, friends, and enemies will recognize a person based on their whose memory they carry but strangers may notice incongruities (you look awful young for a woman whose says she's seen so many seasons). Don't think of a memory swap as the minds of two people being sorted into different bodies. Rather imagine it as if two new people who should not exist have been created out of old parts. Though identity and the associated memories remain stable, those parts of a person are forced to interact with a different personality. The follower and will of Donar the Barbarian may react differently to the mournful memories of Lord Debonair's lost lady love.What experiences may have caused Lord Debonair to become hopeless and limp may fill Lord Debonair in Donar's skin with brooding and rage.

The Kiss, 1897 by Edvard Munch
Each face is my own.
The Kiss by Edvard Much, 1897

A Name Eater is a jealous force, more like a shadow that moves through people than a person itself. All it wants is to say is "I am me" and know it is true. It constantly switches memories, sorting them into wrong bodies, causing others to suffer from the same anguish as itself. It can't fully comprehend what it's doing. It just does. It can only steal recollections, dim awareness that something is deeply wrong are borrowed and cycled through the same persons over and over again. The Name Eater does not know that each attempt to repair itself has failed. It sees the contentment it was starved for drain out of the faces of those it thinks are family. It loses track of which memory went where. These faces are all so marred now. Who are you? Are you me? Are you my mother, my friend, my brother? I'm so sorry. Let me fix you, let me try. Who are you?  Are you me?

Name Eaters know they can fight and how but they do not want to. If they can tell that someone is close to uncovering their horrible secret that they themselves don't fully understand they will try to isolate and neutralize them by altering their memory or stealing it. If they are threatened with violence they will be cautious about using their powers, they try to conserve hitdice. If out numbered or outgunned they will be quick to dislocate themselves and flee, usually picking up another memory somewhere else.

Notes on running a Name Eater: For each npc who might have their memory shoved into a player's character, write down a few formative memories, opinions, and important relationships to help with role playing as well as whatever proficiencies they have. A farmer or laborer might be trained in nature, animal handling, or survival. The monster manual states that commoners have 1d8 as hitdice but I think 2d4 works a bit better for the purposes of running a Name Eater.

To help keep track of how many hitdice a Name Eater has stolen, you can make a simple table with all the different dice sizes, like so:

Stolen Hitdice
d4s:
d6s:
d8s:
d10s:
d12s:

Possible Scenarios/Adventure Seeds:
1. Simple, an isolated farmstead has a Name Eater in its midst. The residents have noticed the strange goings on, they think the farm is haunted by an evil spirit living in a nearby mound.
2. A group of soldiers is transporting one of the Nameless Dead which had stolen a companion's memory to a shaman. It became a Name Eater during the journey and now the party is tearing itself apart with paranoia. 
3. A Name Eater has stolen the memory of a shaman and understood what it is. It wants to get its true memory back from beyond the river of death. 
4. A string of murders, people are reported dead and then seen killing others. A Name Eater is behind the slaughter. 

A person is a question. Now answer me.
(Source)

What cure is there?

Name Eaters leave wakes of agony and grief behind them. Memories which don't fit their other parts, scars of loss and distrust. Sure, life can go on with mismatched memories but nothing will ever be the same. A shaman can help, but most don't know how to break the self apart, only how to heal it. The Lapuans have shamans who would be willing to perform the correct rites and certain unscrupulous magicians, those who deal with evil spirits, also know how to crack the self and put it together again.

If none of these options are available, there is a more dangerous route. If two people with swapped memories each take near lethal damage at the same time then there is a chance that their memories will be knocked out of them and return to their correct owner. I'd say that chance is around 3 in 6, 4 in 6 if you manage to get both people unconscious at the exact same moment. 

Related image
Take care, my dearest
Mother and Son by Osip Braz, 1896
Not much can be done for the Nameless Dead. If their memory really is gone beyond the river, only a miracle could bring it back. A mother's lamentation can often do the trick, it's happened before. A great spirit would have to intervene though, One Eyed Chief, Mother Huldra, Sky Father.

But it's not always that bad. There's a 2 in 6 chance that the lost memory is caught in the fens and the stones around the river, or denied passage across the cold water. This chance rises to 5 in 6 if the Nameless Dead is technically still alive, just clinging to life.

It is dangerous to go that far through the dreaming world. A shaman will demand a great favor indeed and his journey will take 2d6 days. They'll return absolutely exhausted but warmth, life, will begin to return to whoever it is who has been made whole again. They'll spend 1d4+1 weeks in a coma but they can make a full recovery. There is a 4 in 6 chance that they've brought something back with them from the land of death, roll 1d4 on the table below, the item will found clutched in their left hand. 

Items:
1. A feather from Desires-to-Know. A large raven’s feather which glitters all colours in the moonlight. Hold it and you will remember everything perfectly. Burn it and inhale the smoke and you will learn one secret. Roll 1d4: 1. The location of a forgotten treasure 2. The secret weakness of a powerful monster 3. The name of an ancient ancestor 4. The greatest fear of a great leader

2. A stone from the bank of the River of Death. It is round, blue, cold as ice. If you clench it in your hand its chill flows through your body. The dead and the undead will recognize you as one of their own.

3. A swan feather. Long and white, running your finger through the barbs makes them crackle with cold electricity. Carry it on you and your self cannot be broken in the mortal world. However, death is closer to you. To succeed a death save you must roll a 13 or higher.

4. A piece of a hero. He was chopped up and thrown in the river a long time ago. This is a part of him, his viscera and his bone. Anybody who eats it is put into a coma forever. They do not age and cannot die. If a whole village and all its livestock mourn for the comatose person for a week they will wake. They will tell you death was the best sleep they've ever had.

This post is dedicated to my friends. You know who you are. 

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