Expeditionary Dispatch01/15/2007


Dispatch 14: Q'Barra Blindenstone 1
Far, 20 Aryth, 998 YK



Our Q'Barra Blindenstone Series begins with a communiqué from the dragonmarked gnomish bard Fell Severins to his House Sivis superiors. Fell has been dispatched to the wilds of Q'Barra to make contact with a reclusive utopian cult known as the Anand. The cult is said to be in possession of a legendary relic known as the Blindenstone, an ancient tablet that may unlock linguistic secrets of great value to House Sivis. In particular, legends say the Blindenstone provides the key link between the modern Common tongue and the Old Common of Khorvaire's first Sarlonan settlers, and may reveal a portion of the Draconic Prophecy.

Far, 20 Aryth, 998 YK
From: Fell Severins
To: Viceroy Camilla Severins, Overseer, Korranberg Sivis Enclave
archival reference code 1026-F: transcribed from message via augmented speaking stone, magically sealed and encoded

Greetings, sister mine;

I must, of necessity, be brief. Uncharacteristic, I know -- I can feel your gratitude e'en o'er this distance. Our team assembled yesterday morn at the rendezvous point near the mouth of the Crimson River. The Lhazaar sea rogues proved as good as their word, for once, and the journey from Regalport was unremarkable. I'll assume you have your reasons for this roundabout approach. We disembarked and quickly set up a small, concealed base camp.

Our Q'Barran river guides, a pair of loquacious lizardfolk, arrived at the appointed hour, and we broke bread to seal the bargain. "Bread" being loosely applied here -- I suspect lizardfolk are the race for which the term omnivore was invented. You would find them interesting from a linguistic standpoint as well. They speak a jumbled mix of Common and Draconic -- incessantly. We now number seven -- myself, the Jorasco healer Jin-Mae, our guides, and the three Deneith sellswords we took on in Regalport.

We moved upriver via river skiff for half a day, then moored and began the overland journey into the Basura Swamp. Well-named, this place -- what a mess. I may be your ne'er-do-well sibling, Cami, and desperately in need of gainful employ, but knee-deep in these fetid waters, I can only assume you have assigned me this mission out of spite. I'll have my revenge.

There was a diverting interlude yesterday at dusk. I clambered atop a mound of relatively dry land, thinking to air out a bit and count my leeches, when to my dismay the earth mound rose up on two legs and flung me back into the swamp. Before us loomed a monstrosity, seemingly half-plant and half-giant, with roots and vines hanging from its massive limbs.

The Q'Barrans reacted swiftly, peppering the beast with javelins. The Deneith soldiers waded in with swords but were rudely and painfully swatted away. At the urging of the native guides, they soon switched to ranged weapons, and the Jorasco halfling ultimately felled the giant with a pillar of divine flame. Me? I took notes.

Afterward, the Q'Barrans explained that our foe was what they call a hullock, or swamp giant. These sleeping goliaths litter the Basura swamp, evidently. They are barely sentient swamp beasts, more vegetable than animal. Charming.

We resume our trek at dawn. Our guides estimate another full day before we enter the territories of the Anand. I will send updates as events warrant. Enjoy your comfortable bed.

Your brother,

Fell

Addendum: Reply from Viceroy Severins, via augmented speaking stone: You call this brief? Keep your dispatches concise, brother, and dispense please with the familiar tone. Need I remind you that this is official House business? By the Word, Fell, you are impossible! The Q'Barran's language is intriguing, though. Make some transcriptions, will you?

Hullock (Swamp Giant)

The fetid swamp waters ripple outward as the massive mound of vegetation slowly uncurls itself to stand on two legs. Steam rises from its lichen- and algae-covered limbs, trailing roots and vines that dangle back down into the water. It gazes upon you evenly, eyes calm with the wisdom of the ancient fen.

Hullock, CR 7
Always Neutral Large Giant
Init -1; Senses low-light vision; Listen +0, Spot +0
Languages Common, Giant

AC 20, touch 8, flat-footed 20
(-1 size -1 Dex, +12 natural)
hp 119 (14 HD)
Immune poison, paralysis, stunning, critical hits
Fort +15, Ref +3, Will +4
Weakness: vulnerability to fire

Speed 40 ft. (8 squares); Wetland Stride
Melee slam +16 (1d8+7) with Mighty Swat or
Melee full attack; 2 slams +16 (1d8+7) with Mighty Swat
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Base Atk +9; Grp +20
Atk Options Cleave, Improved Bull Rush, Power Attack

Abilities Str 25, Dex 8, Con 19, Int 5, Wis 10, Cha 7
SQ plant traits (partial)
Feats Cleave, Great Fortitude, Improved Bull Rush, Improved Natural Attack, Power Attack
Skills Hide +16*
Advancement 15-18 HD (Large); 19-24 HD (Huge)

Plant Traits (partial): Immune to poison, paralysis, stunning, and critical hits

Wetland Stride (Ex): A hullock may move through any sort of marsh or swamp terrain at normal speed and without suffering any other impairment.

Mighty Swat (Ex): As a standard action, a hullock may deliver a mighty swat. If the hullock hits a corporeal opponent smaller than itself with a mighty swat, its opponent must succeed on a Reflex save (DC = 24) or be knocked flying 20 feet in a direction of the attacking creature's choice, where the swatted creature falls prone. The attacking creature can swat the opponent only in a straight line, and the opponent can't move closer to the attacking creature than the square it started in. If an obstacle prevents the completion of the opponent's move, the opponent and the obstacle each take 2d6 points of damage, and the opponent stops in the space adjacent to the obstacle.

* +8 racial bonus on Hide checks in marsh or forest

Hullocks, or swamp giants, are a surpassingly rare and primitive race that withdrew from the civilized world eons ago, seeking a physical and spiritual union with the swamplands they inhabit. Hullocks spend most of the year in a kind of dormant stasis, curled under the waters of the swamp, drawing sustenance from the biosystem itself. Hullocks have, over the course of hundreds of generations, developed a hybrid vegetable/animal physiology that is still evolving.

Strategies and Tactics

When dormant, hullocks remain almost entirely still on the floor of the swamp, their curled, vegetation-covered backs protruding from the water. A DC 34 Spot check is needed to differentiate a dormant hullock from a typical swamp mound. Anyone with ranks in Survival or Knowledge (nature) can use one of those skills instead of Spot to notice the hullock. A hullock usually is indifferent to passing creatures unless the hullock's habitat is disturbed or threatened.

If a dormant hullock feels threatened, it becomes active as a standard action, rising from the waters and attacking with its slam and mighty swat attacks. The hullock's in-process evolutionary transformation into vegetable life has blunted much of its sentient thought. It acts on primitive instinct, attacking nearby creatures first, and often employing its power attack feat along with its mighty swat. Hullocks usually enjoy a mobility advantage because of their wetland stride ability; they can swat an opponent and pursue quickly for another attack. Once engaged in combat, hullocks fight to the death.

Ecology

Dormant and submerged most of the year, hullocks extend shallow roots from the vegetable elements in their bodies, drawing much of their nourishment from the soil and waters of the swampland. (These roots are snapped or pulled out when the Hullock becomes active.) When dormant, a hullock must keep some portion of its body above the water to breathe via its hybrid respiration system. Hullocks regularly become active to forage, using their animal digestive tract to consume nearby plants, fish, and small animals. Newborns are birthed underwater and remain with their group (or "stand") until maturity as non-combatants. Because of their unique physiology -- essentially an early stage of transition from animal to vegetable form -- hullocks retain the Giant type but have assumed some immunites of the Plant type. It's likely that as the evolutionary process continues, hullocks will be properly classified as Plant (augmented Giant).

Environment: Hullocks are found only in warm or temperate forests or marshes -- specifically, the most remote and fertile of swamplands. The giants seek out secluded areas where they can practice their natural commune with minimum interruption. If civilization does encroach, hullocks usually move en masse deeper into the swamplands.

Typical Physical Characteristics: When active, hullocks appear as massive humanoids with decidedly vegetable characteristics. Their skin is a mossy green, usually completely covered with algae, vines, grass, and sometimes even flowers. Larger roots hang from their arms and chest. Hullocks never use armor, equipment, or weapons.

Society

For a period of several weeks in the early spring, all hullocks in a particular ecosystem become active to gather, mate, and participate in ritual eating. Otherwise, hullocks have no society to speak of. They retain the ability to speak Giant and a primitive dialect of Common.

Alignment: Hullocks are always true neutral. Long ago, they shed most higher thought processes and now exist simply to procreate and continue their communion with the swamp environment. They are not hostile except when they or their habitat is threatened.

Typical Treasure: Hullocks possess no sense of acquisition or ownership, so any treasure is likely found among the remains of former victims, submerged beneath the water and muck of the swamp (DC 25 Search). Occasionally, valuables might be found embedded in the hybrid plant/animal flesh of the hullock itself.

Lore

Characters with ranks in Knowledge (nature) can learn more about this creature. When a character makes a successful skill check, the following lore is revealed, including the information from lower DCs.

Knowledge (nature)
DC Result
15 Hullocks are giant creatures that rest under the water of swamps, where their protruding backs are often mistaken for patches of dry land.
20 Hullocks have a hybrid animal/vegetable physiology.
25 Hullocks' plantlike traits grant them certain immunities, but they are vulnerable to fire.

About the Author

Glenn McDonald is a freelance writer and game designer in lovely Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He writes about games, film, technology, pop culture, shady characters, conflicted heroes, strange and terrible magic, and shadowy fantasy noir intrigue. Not all at the same time.

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