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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mermaids are Undead Demon-Spawn

I’m a Savage Worlds fanboy these days, but a few years back my main interest was Eden Studios’ Cinematic Unisystem as exemplified in Angel, Army of Darkness (written by Shane Hensley!), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It’s a good system and I played many homebrewed duets with Robin using it.  The only reason I gave it up is that Unisystem only uses 10-sided dice and it’s a little number-heavy; Savage Worlds is just a little bit more streamlined and fun.

(Also, I got totally sick of waiting for Aargh! Thar be Zombies! and a print version of Ghosts of Albion -- and my love for Joss Whedon died with Wash.)

Back in 2007, I was briefly active on the Eden Studios forums under the handle “Gwalchbach.”  My main contribution during that period was a thread about supernatural threats and menaces for a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-style campaign (though I also did a bit about the Authority and the Venture Brothers).  I thought all of that material was lost when Eden changed servers but when Beedo recently wrote about supernatural pirate adventures I thought I’d go hunting for it.  You can find the original thread here and I’ll reprint the best bits in a series of posts over the next few days. 

(I know I should convert stats to Savage Worlds, but I’m lazy.)

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
Mermaids

The full moon, hanging low and gigantic in the cloudless sky, gleamed off the night-darkened waters. The sloop sat becalmed a day and a half’s sail out of Port Royal, rocking gently on the waves. The night watch went languorously about their duties, lulled by the gentle splash of the waves.

The sailor sat at the stern and fished off the back of the ship. The young man was restless, as young men will be, for some pleasurable company and ached for the winds to rise and send them onward to the wickedest town in Jamaica. In the meantime he let his mind drift as he waited for a tug on his line.


When it came, he gripped the pole hard and pulled. To his astonishment, a pair of corpse-white arms clung to the line. He dropped the fishing pole with a yelp and it splashed into the water.


The owner of those lithe, pallid arms emerged from the sea. She was beautiful and wild-looking; her lips were dark blue in the moonlight, her cascading hair tangled with seaweed. She called to him.


Her voice was a wordless trilling, but the sailor had never heard a sweeter sound. He leaned out over the boat, admiring the mermaid’s feminine charms. He beckoned to her to come up to him.


She turned and dove into the water, her gleaming form soon lost to view in the waters depths. A pang of longing overcame him and the young sailor thought to hurl himself into the sea in pursuit. Then he saw her, rushing upwards, her fishtail thrashing like a dolphin about to leap.


In the moment she breached the water, he realized in horror what a fool he had been. Her eyes were pitch-black and soulless as any shark, and two rows of serrated teeth gaped behind her drowned-blue lips. She grabbed him and kissed him with her predator’s mouth and pulled him into the sea.


Then her sisters came for the rest of the crew
Mermaids are women who attempted to drown themselves (usually over the love of a sailor) and have been transformed into deadly yet alluring predators. The curse began over 3,000 years ago, when the Assyrian queen Atargatis (also called Derketo) attempted to drown herself in despair over a lover who left her. Transformed by some malevolent Power (D’Hoffryn in a Buffyverse game, [Dagon or] Cthulhu or something similar if you want a more Lovecraftian spin), Atargatis has since traveled the seven seas offering revenge to those women who have cast themselves into the sea.


Mermaid’s skin, regardless of their ethnic origin, is pale and bloodless, though they are spared the bloating of normal drowning victims (as their patroness knows this would reduce their effectiveness at seducing victims). Indeed, their quasi-undead state seems to grant them an eerie grace; rare indeed is the mermaid who isn’t captivatingly beautiful. Their scaled tails vary wildly, matching fish species native to the seas the mermaids inhabit. Like vampires, mermaids have a game-face; their eyes go Darth Rosenberg and their mouths go all fang-y right before they strike.

Most mermaids are vain, vicious creatures like sharks with breasts, having been transformed after oxygen deprivation from drowning has damaged their minds. They spend their days in the deeps preening and fighting over fallen jewels, and spend their nights prowling the waters for prey. Some few mermaids are rescued by Atargatis sooner. These often either become dangerous sea-witches (and potential Big Bads) who command the waves, or, like certain vampires with souls, yearn for lives they can no longer have. Sometimes they make terrible bargains to visit the surface world...

Mermaid (11 or 14 Point Quality)
Mermaids gain +2 to Strength and Constitution, +3 to Dexterity, and 2 levels of Attractiveness [9 points]. They also gain Hypnosis/Gaze Into My Eyes, which they use to lure their prey into the water, but it can only be used when singing [4 points]. They are Immortal and Regenerate 1 Life Point per Constitution level every hour when immersed in water [0 points]. On dry land, they effectively have the drawback Physical Disability/Missing Limbs, but they’re rarely on dry land [lets split the difference and call it -2 points]. Their scaly hide grants them 3 points of Natural Armor and they can bite with their teeth and rake with their claws for Strength x 2 damage and Strength x 3 damage respectively [6 points]. Their lungs are vestigial, and used only for communicating with surface dwellers; a mermaid will suffocate if kept out of the water in the same time it takes a human to drown [-3 points]. Most mermaids have the Mental Problem/Cruelty (Deranged) drawback, but this is obviously unacceptable for Cast Members [-3 points or 0 points for the PC version]. Cast Member mermaids will probably also want to pay for an Enchanted Item that allows them to travel freely on land.

It is possible for mermaids to eventually buy the Wish power through their connection with the goddess/vengeance demon Atargatis. This usually involves a pact with the mermaid queen and her malevolent patron. The mermaid is given a focus (usually a comb or some piece of jewelry) not unlike a true Vengeance Demons pendant; if the focus is stolen from the mermaid, she is bound by the thief’s will. Thankfully, mermaids’ wishing powers are usually restricted to effects involving the sea (calming waves, finding schools of fish or easy prey for pirates, scavenging wrecks, etc.).

Feeding on the flesh of a mermaid can grant immortality, but this is largely unknown outside of Asian waters. A significant portion of the mermaid must be consumed; Cast Member mermaids can’t hack off a finger (knowing they’ll regenerate it) and mix it in their friends’ soup. The mermaid must die and only one person can benefit from the mermaid feast.

The attempt is incredibly risky. First, the Cast Member seeking immortality must make a simple Willpower roll (not doubled) to overcome any scruples she has about cannibalism. Any appropriate levels of Covetous or Mental Problem/Cruelty act as bonuses on the roll (as would an Obsession about becoming immortal); any levels of Honorable act as a penalty. Mermaids flesh is virulently toxic, so the Cast Member is immediately plunged to -10 Life Points (minus any levels of Resistance/Poison) and must make a Survival Test. If she succeeds, she has gained Immortality (but not Regeneration); if she fails, her corpse liquefies into fetid saltwater.  Directors are free to ban the use of Drama Points in surviving the roll.

Name: Typical Mermaid
Motivation: A dim, half-forgotten hatred for all who sail.
Creature Type: Transformed Human
Attributes: Strength 5, Dexterity 6, Constitution 5, Intelligence 2, Perception 2, Willpower 2.
Ability Scores: Muscle 16, Combat 14, Brains 9 (13 with Attractiveness)
Life Points: 50
Drama Points: 1-3
Special Abilities: Attractiveness +4 (she was the belle of the port before he left her, +2 for Mermaid Quality), Mermaid (Hypnosis/Gaze Into My Eyes, Natural Armor 3, Regenerate 5 LP per hour when immersed in water).
Maneuvers
Name:Score;Damage Note
Bite: 14, dmg 13, Slash/stab, must grapple first.
Claw: 14, dmg 18, Slash/stab.
Dodge: 14.
Grapple: 18.
Hypnosis/Gaze Into My Eyes: 13, unless the victim beats the mermaid at a Willpower (doubled) roll versus the mermaids Brains Score, he is entranced for a Turn and can take no action.

Name: Mermaid Sea-Witch
Motivation: Revenge against mankind; a terrible yearning for life beyond the depths.
Creature Type: Transformed Human
Attributes: Strength 5, Dexterity 6, Constitution 5, Intelligence 3, Perception 3, Willpower 4.
Ability Scores: Muscle 16, Combat 14, Brains 14 (19 with Attractiveness)
Life Points: 65
Drama Points: 2-4
Special Abilities: Attractiveness +5, Hard to Kill +5, Mermaid (Hypnosis/Gaze Into My Eyes, Natural Armor 3, Regenerate 5 LP per hour when immersed in water), Sorcery 3, The Wish.
Maneuvers
Name:Score;Damage Note
Bite: 14, dmg 13, Slash/stab, must grapple first.
Claw: 14, dmg 18, Slash/stab.
Dodge: 14.
Grapple: 18.
Hypnosis/Gaze Into My Eyes: 19, unless the victim beats the mermaid at a Willpower (doubled) roll versus the mermaids Brains Score, he is entranced for a Turn and can take no action.
Sorcery: 17, by spell (most mermaid spells are used for becalming vessels, summoning storms or sharks, or watching the surface world).

ENCHANTED ITEM: Talisman of the Split Tail [Level 4 Enchanted Item/8 Point Quality]

These talismans allow a mermaid to transform her tail into legs so she can walk on the surface (or do other things having legs are good for) as well as allowing her to breathe air. The transformation is accompanied by a terrible pain as her tail literally splits in two; this causes damage equal to the mermaids Attractiveness levels that does not heal until the tail knits back together again (it takes more magical energy to make shapelier legs). Walking is unnatural for the mermaid, so she suffers a -2 penalty on all rolls involving using her legs (Acrobatics, Kung Fu, Sports, or even Art if shes out dancing). She must wear the talisman at all times or her ability to breathe air vanishes and she will begin to suffocate; she automatically resumes her mermaid form when she enters the water (even a bathtub).

The talisman is usually a piece of jewelry like a ring or necklace, and made of precious stones. Since most mermaids lack the ability to enchant these for themselves, they are usually furnished by malicious demons or godlings that delight in frustrating the mermaids ambitions. These creatures usually set terms on the bargain like making the mermaid mute when on land; the Director is free to lower the cost for a Talisman of the Split Tail purchased under such a bargain.

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