Sunday, February 5, 2017

Creatures of the Deep

My players met one of the biggest baddest creatures on my random encounter table last session, "the kraken" (not actually a kraken, just had that name in there as a placeholder for giant squid beast.). They handled it amazingly well by fleeing to the nearest island with a shallow reef to get away from it. They then convincing a Spirit to help them distract it so they could sail away, by making up a song and building a small shrine in praise of the Spirit.

Part of their roleplay discussion with the Spirit was about the nature of the kraken and what it feared. It came out that the kraken is locked in an eternal hunt with what was implied to be a legendary Kētos. Both prowl the Sea looking for the other. This got me thinking about creating simple movement rules for the Kētos and the "kraken" to map and keep track of their struggles against each other.

In the amazing Joseph Manola's post about the Triple Crown he describes three cosmically damned beings wandering the world. The PCs have to find and interact with these beings in order to retrieve the Triple Crown, a stunning example of his romantic fantasy philosophy to gaming. This got me thinking about how one might keep track of these wandering agents on a hexmap as a way for players to concretely get and use information about their quarry, and so these rules for wandering titanic sea creatures were born...

But First, Some Lore!

So we have two ancient sea creatures hunting each other. One is squid like, the other is "The Great One", an ambiguous large animal implied to be one of the Kētos. Since Kētos already exist as an identifiable group with my players, I want to distinguish this as another creature, and my random encounter table says it should be a "dragon turtle" what ever that really is. So we have a "kraken" and a "dragon turtle", lets write something more interesting than their generic D&D counter parts.

Like this... this and massive and old.
The Great One:
This massive sea turtle is the last of its kind. It once had mates, brothers and sisters, but that was an Age ago before the world changed and before its ancient enemy ripped them from fin to shell. This relic of the ancient ocean cruises the shallow waters of Ánemos with powerful strokes of its fins, grazing on kelp forests and fish when it is not taking long naps near islands. Often mistaken for a reef or a small island the people of Ánemos have many stories of the "island that awoke" or the "reef that lived".

When it catches the scent of its enemy in the water it rises in a flurry of activity, bent on entering a final battle with its ancient foe. This has happened many times before, each ending in a draw were they both flee to lick their wounds and fight another day.

You know, classic kraken but....
...also horrifying gold worm beast.
The Tentacled Fiend: 
Resembling a giant squid or octopus in appendage only this fiend of the deep lays in wait in the deep ravines between the shelves of islands, letting its rubbery arms drift with the currents. Perhaps it slumbers, each tentacle with enough autonomy to grasp and wrestle whatever poor creature happens to graze it. Then the tentacle pulls the poor thing to the depths to its gaping maw, all with out the greater beast awakening. Few sailors have sighted the true beast, though the stories are many of the piece of drifting flesh that would rise up and drag men to their graves.

After its long months of quiet rest the Fiend again extricates itself from its deep crevasse in search of its ancient enemy, either in a deep-seated pattern of predator seeking natural prey, or ancient vengeance for broods lost to the fell beaks of a scavenging enemy.

Their "True" Nature

Legend has it that the Tentacled Fiend and the Great One are halves of the same whole. The Fiend is the incarnation of the terrors of the deep, the Great One the mildness of the shallows. They are the rent asunder Avatar of the Spirit of the Sea. Some say when they finally commit to it their final battle will be their reunion, and as they are locked in each others death grips their blood will mingle with the sea foam and the Spirit of the Sea will be whole as in the ancient world.

This must never be allowed to happen. As every channel, bay, reef, and shoal has a splinter of the greater Spirit, they are short sighted and self interested fragments. Would a unified Spirit of the Sea tolerate the presence of Civilization on her shores? Would she let people fish her bounty to eat her children? Could a man ever feel safe aboard a ship again? No, humanity would crumble underneath the fierce apathy of the Sea.

But these are just stories...

Tracking their Movements

So when the PCs encounter the Great One or the Tentacled Fiend on the random encounter table for the first time you start tracking their movements (or when they start caring, perhaps to hunt them or to commune with them). On your hex map they can move three hexes each week, rolling a 1d6 to determine their heading, discounting results that have them back tracking. They also have a 1 in 10 chance of settling down in a hex and "sleeping" for 1d6+2 weeks.

Information about their movements only reaches the PCs if they:
  • Enter civilized waters, there are sightings by trade/military ships
  • They encounter each other and engage in titanic combat, some poor fisher man is bound to see that
  • Get rolled on the random encounter table again
I like this system because its simple enough to keep track of, and should give the PCs enough info to track them, but still gives them an element of surprise with them showing up unexpectedly as random encounters. I'm implementing this system right now, so I'll report back with how it goes!


  1. This is some fantastic stuff! The tracking system is nice and elegant, but with enough depth to add to the sandbox, and I'm really digging both creatures.

    The Tentacled Fiend reminds me, in its kraken-like-but-not-just-a-squid aspect, of the Akkorokamui of Ainu folklore: a gigantic (120m+ long) crimson octopus that lives near Hokkaido and is worshipped as a kami.

    Are the Great One and the Tentacled Fiend worshipped?

    The Great One makes somewhat more sense, with what seems to be a gentler nature. Are there ceremonies that can be held upon its sleeping back to make spirit-pacts with it when it is dormant?

  2. Hey thanks for the thoughtful comment!

    Thanks for bringing the Akkorokamui to my attention. I haven't done to much reading about Japanese folklore, only really some Buddhist koans and stories.

    I think they are less worshiped and more appeased. They are some of the oldest creatures in the archipelago, so they certainly revered for their knowledge. The Spirits probably have the closest relationship with them, and through them I imagine druids (Drysgnós) and wizards (Mágos) consult them.

    I like the idea of the PCs using some magic to talk to the Great One while it sleeps by entering its dreams...

  3. Whenever anyone in RPG spaces talks about dream-entering adventures these days, I think about monstersandmanuals' Behind Smiling Jaws mega-dungeon about adventuring through the memory-palace of an immortal crocodile-god.

    1. I wasn't aware of that dungeon, but I love that blog! I'll have to read up if my PCs go giant monster dream delving soon...

  4. My Greek teacher would be thrilled that you use ketos and not kraken... he always would mark us down on translation passages if we used the word kraken, and would often heatedly vent his frustration that Greek and Norse myth were being both bastardised at the same time.