The terrible news of Oakmoss's fate reached me in Bell Town, some five leagues away. The entire village had been burned to the ground. Apparently, the raiders hadn't been much for taking slaves -- they killed everyone they saw. One or two survivors might return to the site, but I expected to find the whole area lifeless, with everything of value gone and no one to call it a village anymore.
Except, of course, for things that use the dead for their own purposes. Those monstrosities couldn't resist the freshly-killed corpses staring lifeless into the sky.
I left for Oakmoss immediately. I was, at that time, lucky enough to be traveling the countryside by coach. As we drove, I studied my notes about what might lurk in the area.
Oakmoss was a coastal fishing village near a small inland lake. A stretch of cliffs a short walk from the village were riddled with small, shallow caves. I knew what I would be facing: the gutpuppet.
The gutpuppet is a small, devilish creature born on this plane. It has developed its necromanical desires into a way of life, using corpses to propagate itself. Whereas a fly will merely implant eggs into a corpse and leave, letting its offspring use the corpse as nourishment, the gutpuppet instead crawls entirely inside a corpse then uses it to walk it around, spreading small nodules shaped like spikes and akin to seeds as it walks. A clear ichor that serves to accelerate the growth of its nodules accompanies the spikes.
When not in a corpse, the gutpuppet is an ungangly lump of muscle and short tubing, looking not unlike a human heart. Instead of having a cluster of tubes at one end like a heart, one-inch prehensile tubes protrude from all sides. It moves by rolling and using its tubes as a grotesque steering mechanism. Since it's quite muscular, it can move much quicker than it looks like it should.
Upon encountering a humanoid or animal corpse, the creature crawls into the lifeless chest through the victim's mouth and extends tendrils to deliver its horrible ichor. It takes over the victim's circulatory system and floods the body with its own fluids. This process happens quickly, usually taking no more than three or four minutes. The gutpuppet flushes out the corpse's fluids to make room for its own. This is a particularly violent and gory process: Witnesses report seeing the heaving chest of a dead body, a wet, ragged breathing-like sound coming from the mouth, then a sudden gout of blood bursting from every opening of the body accompanied by a violent, grotesque, lifelike twitching.
It's quite possible to mistake a dead body in this condition for someone in some kind of acute distress. Woe, however, to the person who tries to lend assistance.
Once the gutpuppet is firmly attached inside the body, has flushed all the body's blood and other fluids out, and filled it with its own, it's ready to "walk the corpse." On its own, the gutpuppet is very slow, but it can walk a corpse easily -- sometimes moving faster than the original owner could. To aid the appearance of being just an ordinary living creature, the gutpuppet washes itself in streams and steals fresh clothing when possible.
Corpses under the control of a gutpuppet do not resemble zombies or most other undead. First, they do not smell as bad as other forms of undead, as the gutpuppet's fluid prevents flesh and connective tissue from decaying any more than it already has. Second, the intruder moves the host body quickly, more quickly than undead typically move. Third, the corpse's flesh takes on a particularly strange pallor. It's not pale -- certainly not leathery by any means -- but is rather glassy. Such a complexion could be mistaken for a healthy one under the right circumstances, especially on nights with a bright moon. In addition, host bodies profusely sweat the toxin from every pore. This effect, more than anything, can lead someone to mistake a walking corpse for something living. (I, for one, have never encountered another form of undead that can sweat.) Combine this ability with the chest that never stops heaving (as the gutpuppet pushes fluid around the corpse) and the intermittent, ragged, breathing-like sounds coming from the mouth, and one can see how a humanoid corpse might make some distance into civilized areas before being discovered as something not really alive.
A gutpuppet's shell body is easy to track, since every step it takes leaves behind a sweaty footprint. The fluid proves toxic to flesh, but has no effect on other organic material besides making it wet (and remaining toxic to flesh until it evaporates).
When a gutpuppet traveling inside a corpse encounters another dead body (nearly anything will do), it "spits" one of its spikes into the body. The spike injects fluid into the corpse, and the spike itself slowly burrows into the body, toward the heart, then grows. Within two days, a new gutpuppet fills the chest of the corpse, animates the body, and walks around searching for dead bodies on its own.
Gutpuppets do not seek to kill living creatures and try to avoid them. However, they are drawn to blood and, like vultures, seek out living things they sense may die. If attacked, they won't hesitate to defend themselves, spitting spikes at opponents.
The gutpuppet can sustain a corpse for up to a month. While its fluid prevents the decay of muscle and connective tissue, the gutpuppet must eat. The corpse itself is the most convenient source of food, so it nibbles slowly on the inner flesh. Once the body has ceased to be of use, the gutpuppet crawls out through the most accessible opening and inches away, looking for other bodies. Naturally, the beasts are attracted to battlefields and the enormous pickings to be found there. However, the gutpuppet is keen to pick bodies that are intact. Any gross openings in the skin will allow too much of its fluid to leak out. Therefore, a gutpuppet is more likely to pick a body that has died from blunt trauma than from, say, being hacked to death. It prefers animals and people that have died from sickness. If it cannot find a corpse, it chooses some place to wait until it smells a corpse. (It can smell a dead body from up to a mile away.) It prefers moist hiding places; ideal locations include coastal caves, since they're dark and wet, and stagnant lakes. During the night, it may sometimes roam the countryside if it is desperate enough.
Fluidic Burst (Ex): The gutpuppet typically walks around bloated, its many sacs filled with the necrotic poison it uses to animate dead bodies (see below). However, the fluid does not need to enter a body to cause damage -- mere contact is enough to harm. Whenever the gutpuppet sustains five or more points of damage from a single blow, one of its sacs ruptures, spewing fluid in a 10-foot burst in the direction from which the damage came. A Reflex save (DC 15) avoids contact with the poison. Anyone coming into contact with it suffers 1d10 points of temporary Strength damage unless he or she makes a successful Fortitude save (DC 17). Attackers are subject to this effect whether the gutpuppet is in or out of a host body since the fluid is under such high pressure. Note that a corpse with a gutpuppet inside it also sweats the poison, making contact with the corpse's skin dangerous.
Necrotic Poison (Ex): The gutpuppet's spikes inject a fluid that helps the creature animate dead flesh. But when injected into living tissue, this fluid immediately begins to liquefy the living tissue with which it comes into contact. During the first round of injection, the victim must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 17) or suffer 1d10 points of damage, 1d8 points of permanent Strength damage, and succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 17) or fall unconscious from the extreme pain that burns through the entire body including the brain. Secondary damage (see Poison on pages 79-80 of the Dungeon Master's Guide) is the same.
Unfortunately for the gutpuppet, injected fluid destroys the inner tissue it comes into contact with, rendering the victim useless as a host corpse, as the monster needs functioning muscle tissue in order to walk bodies. Someone who dies from being injected with the poison is rendered unusable as a corpse. Standing fluid is also toxic; anyone touching it suffers 1d10 points of temporary Strength damage unless a successful Fortitude save (DC 17) is made. Strength returns at a rate of 1 point per day. There is no secondary damage from touching standing gutpuppet fluid.
Spike Spit (Ex): The gutpuppet uses the mouth of the host body as a convenient opening through which to "spit" spikes at living creatures. Each spike carries a dose of necrotic poison (as described above).
Corpse Armor (Ex): When the gutpuppet is nestled inside a chest, it uses the surrounding dead flesh as protection. This tactic results in damage reduction of 2/--.
Walk Corpse (Ex): When not inside a corpse, the gutpuppet has a speed of 5. When in a corpse and animating it, the creature moves at a speed of 40.
Skills and Feats: The gutpuppet has a racial bonus of +4 on Intuit Direction and Listen checks. It receives Track as a bonus feat.
About the Author
Eric Haddock is a game content writer for Xbox and PC games at Microsoft and owner of Abashima Press, a d20 game publisher. Since learning about the gutpuppet, he no longer goes around poking dead bodies. He lives with his wife Julia Martin and two cats, Oracle and Ororo.
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