Blame It On the Rain (Yeah, Yeah); and, Because I Like Stephen King…

This begins a new series at Many-Sided Dice about traps and making interesting ones. We’ll dial in on a running format in the coming weeks.

Baleful Rains

The Atrium—at least, that’s what Kassie thought of it as—was broad and tall and long and rich with foliage. Down here, in the murk and mire of the undercaverns of the city, it was like finding a rose amongst the ashes of a campfire—out of place, wonderous. The others felt comforted by it, the ground was a dark and rich soil, the sounds they made were swallowed by the green; it was a nice change from the miles of hard stone tunnels they’d come through.

But, something wasn’t right. Kassie couldn’t put her finger on it. There was a light misting rain trickling down and tripping from leaves and palms, a musty and moist smell from the fallen plants and trees, even the hint of a breeze here… all of it seemed right, but something made the young rogue unsettled.

It wasn’t until Kavor Kain raised his waterskin to his lips, having caught some run off from a garnled oak’s leaves in it, and the disgusted look on his face that she put it together. She remembered screaming. She remembered hell itself coming for them.

History: The Redeemers, a druidic sect that came to notoriety in the early years of the Kalamaran Empire under Malleus Exile I, saw their mission as no less than the saving of the world and existence itself. Six hundred years ago, the crusade that made them famous—a great purge of the dracolich Rast and its minions from the continent—ended with a stalemate between the cult and an unseen, ancient evil behind the armies of the dead.

So, when the forces of Krin the Arcane flowed out from their depths and began the Long Night (an eight year darkness over the face of the world that blighted and starved nations and millions of people and gave rise to the undead kingdoms) in response to the loss of his servant Rast, the cult’s leaders—having seen the folly of their short-sighted war—sacrificed themselves bodily to empower their lesser druids for the longer war to come.

Diogenes himself, leader of the Redeemers, is fabled to have brought the Rains, and others of his inner circle using their essence to form the other hazards. The druids of the Redeemers started their quiet guerrilla war, with traps and dangers for the undead kingdoms, spread wide throughout the world. It has been nearly 300 years since a Redeemer was born, virtually all have died and long ago. But, in the hidden places in the world, in the unlikeliest areas, some of old engines of their fight still survive. Often keeping things away from sacred areas, though sometimes designed to keep things inside of profane ones.

System: There are no naturally reproducing sterinreed trees and it is unlikely any but the most experienced naturalist has ever seen or read of one (Nature Check DC 20, advantaged if one has the Outlander or Sage background). They resemble a thicker form of the birch tree, though in truth they are a giant grass, with fibrous and reed-like interior structure. The wood is too stringy and insubstantial for most any practical use. However, in rainy conditions and in the presence of moisture (morning fogs, in some humid climates, for instance), they give off an oily gas in their upper branches and leaves that mingles with the precipitation. This gives the water a greasy texture that smells and tastes bark-like and bitter, but very subtly (Passive Perception DC 17).

The greasy film builds up and invades anything porous—clothing, paper, leather, hair, even steel. And when the water evaporates, and the oil is in contact with only the air, it heats and bursts into flame, burning for up to 1d6 minutes. By introducing water, and drenching an area, the greasy substance is once again contained–but on drying will burst back into flame.

Once dry, the worn materials (or skin) feels warm and tingly and at the end of the turn, the PC feels a very certain heat and burning irritation coming from anything that had been wetted by the greasy rain. At the end of every turn, they and their possessions take 1d4 times the number of turns they’ve been “burning” in fire damage (so, end of first turn nothing; end of second turn, 1d4 fire; end of third turn, 2d4 fire; end of fourth turn, 3d4 fire; etc.) as more of the oil catches and starts to burn objects and flesh as well as itself.

DM’s are encouraged to burn possessions according to a logical scheme that is predictable to players or PCs making a DC 10 Survival Check (for fluency in what is flammable and how dangerous this fire is). For reference, though, below is provided a quick guide:

  • End of first turn – no damage, nothing destroyed
  • End of second turn – some damage, scraps of unprotected paper, hair, string, ribbon, feathers, etc. are ruined or destroyed
  • End of third turn – significant damage, loose dry leather (straps, thongs, etc.), thin rope (twine, scraps), loose low quality clothes (sackcloth, cotton, etc.), etc. are ruined or destroyed
  • End of fourth turn – considerable damage, oiled leathers (books, boots, cloaks, saddles), quality clothes (wool, hide, skins), packed assets (components, some tools and kits, light wooden objects (boxes, torchest, hafts, etc.) are ruined or destroyed
  • End of fifth turn – light metals (jewelry, fastenings), heavy leathers (armors), heavy woods (weapon hafts and handles) are ruined or destroyed

Moisture is the key to dousing the fire, and that works so long as it doesn’t dry off. Soap and water is the only way to get rid of the greasy substance short of an herbal wash (Herbalism Kit DC 14, if using pieces of the sterinreed tree; disadvantaged if not).  Thoroughly cleaning everything will take ten to fifteen minutes of washing and rewashing.

Making The Trap Easier/Harder:

  • Placement – So, given the difficulty in identifying the tree (and its subsequent properties) just when its open and available to spot, hiding it amongst many other trees would make it all but impossible to notice. You may make the check to notice the “oily water” easier or more pronounced by granting a Druid or someone who “should know better” more opportunity or partial information.
  • Trigger – No two ways about it, drying is the trigger. You can advance that along by having a hot and striking environment after the rains… a desert, a very dry cavern, etc. That should allow you to have the trigger happen faster. Also, keep in mind, if you mention the discomfort of being wet enough, someone with Prestidigitation might “dry themselves” to be clever, and then they’ll feel the effects and things can go from there.
  • Combat – Combat while they dry out can up this difficulty tremendously, and its lethality. Most notably, placing the trap toward the end of a day of travel, and having items dry out while camping (and not being worn). Couple that with combatants coming in and objects burning apart and its a costly trap to miss.

Can’Ka Norey

Kurt watched from the hill, silent and quiet and soundless and damp (a trick he’d learned the hard way while tracking the Cleun Tripp Brothers through the Temple’s Forest—wet meant scentless for most purposes and some things had a good nose). He saw the brilliant gaggle of bright-eyed courage-mongers approach the tower. Sun catching this armor or that sword just so and sending flashes of golden light here and there.

He could almost make them out, what they said anyway—they marveled at the spire, of course, how could you not… big damn thing it was. But, more than that, they marveled at the carpet of deep, scarlet roses that spread out beneath it like a freshly spilled bottle of summer wine on a linen table cloth.

Kurt had trailed the gaggle of fools for weeks. He’d figured out back in his youth that some riches were better stolen from the fools that unburied them rather than braving the dungeons of the world first-hand. If there were pretty things and lovely things in that tower, he had high hopes that this group would walk out with them. And then… bit of murder, really.

But as the big fellow made his way forward into the field, there was a wrenching scream. And he fell, and the rest absolutely lost their shit… and there were screams and there was confusion and the big fellow never did get back up.

History: The Redeemers protected some places, true. Brought forth some creatures and things to fight a war against the dead and the night, of course. For the learned man, many of those stories seem fantastical—great lumbering tree giants and plagues of stinging gnats that tore flesh bit by bit. But, some of the most remote stories, the most far flung and far fetched, were about Diogenes (their leader) and his communion with beings beyond the heavens and stars.

They said he planted wild roses to hold Krin the Profane in his tower, that he locked away the necromancer-king and covered the landscape with the deadly and beautiful songs of the world so that he may never join his armies while the war raged on. The wild roses of Diogenes, his fields of nowhere—the Can’Ka Norey—kept evils in their cairns.

System: A History Check DC 20 (advantaged for anyone in the College of Lore or with a background in performance or entertainment) upon seeing the field of roses will bring to mind the tales of the Redeemers. They are apparent and not hidden, though if stumbling on the end of a field of them a Passive Perception DC 10 may be required to avoid accidentally stepping on one.

They are genuinely, just roses in full bloom (which may be unseasonal, pending when they’re discovered). Their only true property is being locked away from manipulation and utterly frozen in time and space, having had their essence ripped from the world and held safe away from them. This grants them peculiar and dangerous properties to the unwary. They should be described as lush, beautiful roses in full bloom—leave it to players to volunteer and ask for checks, keep them seeming only as a set piece and background description.

If touched with a hand, if the Pc says they touch them, assume it is a the prod of a finger on the petals—nothing happens at all. If grasped (PC uses terms like “pick” or “pull” in any way with relation to them) the thorns effortlessly rip and tear their hands like a live, whirling chainsaw might rend wet paper–except there is no dramatic sounds or motion. They take 1d4 magical slashing damage and brutally tear their hand and any gloves they’re wearing to ruins. They will be disadvantaged at many physical activities (including Melee) at DM discretion and may find some impossible (archery) outright. They will bleed profusely from the hand unless tended to (Medicine DC 16, advantaged with a Healer’s Kit) or magically healed. But even with magical healing, only some of the functionality is preserved and the hand may have torn fingers at odd angles or torn bones severed and crudely knitted back. Some penalties or disadvantaged actions may still linger with that injury unless expertly fixed with long surgery or high magic. Every turn without, if they’re bleeding, at the end of the turn they have a 50% chance of taking 1 exhaustion.

If touched with feet/lower legs, if the PC says they walk through them or run through them or otherwise graze by them, roll 1d4 to determine (out of combat) how far amongst them they get before truly bumping against them firmly (this number reflects the number of 5ft squares they may have to avoid to get out again). Once touched with a foot or leg, the thorns on the roses rend boots, flesh, bone, effortlessly. The PC takes 1d4 magical slashing damage and needs to make a Dex Save DC equal to how many d4 they moved in times 5 (if 1, then DC 5; if 4, then DC 20) to avoid falling on top of more (the field is more dense the farther in, harder to avoid falling on roses). Healing is much the same as it is for the hand, bleeding as well. They may suffer movement penalties permanently without proper care or high level magic of 5ft. for every such foot/leg interaction.

Bodily falling onto or into the roses is truly deadly. Roll 1d4 for the number of roses one falls onto with thorns exposed. The PC takes that many d4’s in magical slashing damage initially as they rend through and slice and tear into armor, packs, leathers, flesh and muscle and bone. If remaining perfectly still, the PC does not suffer additional damage, though they may not heal with them embedded in his body. The PC is Prone. If they move or crawl away, standup or otherwise detach or perform any action requiring even mild movement of any limbs, they take the previous number of d4’s in magical slashing damage again and must make a Dex Save versus the damage to keep their footing and stand up or move away without hitting new roses or settling back onto the ones they landed on to begin with. When detached, they begin bleeding (as above for hands and legs) and may suffer penalties to encumbrance limit (half), physical abilities (Acrobatics, Athletics), or use of kits from the devastation done to their back and spine permanently without extremely high level surgery or very high and powerful magical healing.

The DM should note that they will rend anything, though for the intentionally wary, they are perfectly easy to avoid so long as one does not have a negative Dex modifier (in which case, any assistance from another or very slow movement will make avoiding them easy).

The roses are eternal. They still guard some of the secret places of the world. Lost. Forgotten. A war nobody remembers anymore.

Making the Trap Easier/Harder:

  • Placement – Clearly, placing the field in such a way that it is more obstructed by other foliage or structures make the roses more dangerous. One can find one’s self deeper in or suffering the more significant dangers of a foot or leg being hurt. Having them suspiciously in an open field will far less dangerous by far.
  • Trigger – Given their being rooted to the spot and non-mechanical, the only real changes to triggering dangers would be a more or less liberal take on what constitutes contact. If one is truly worried about the trap, consider having them telegraph their danger when someone gets too close (a song on the wind).
  • Combat – Combat will make this trap deadly. Flying combat even moreso. Being pushed, shoved, transported, etc. into the field (or someone unwarily Misty Stepping into the field, not thinking or knowing what it is) will make this truly horrific. Recommend that if you have combat likely to happen, telegraph the danger of the field by showing some mangled old bodies or something on the edge of it.
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