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Friday, July 31, 2015

Orthos's Observations: Entomorphs

I'll admit it, I have a thing for transformations and metamorphosis. From a storyline, worldbuilding, and legends and myths standpoint, they're really cool - and occasionally really disturbing - things that can have a profound effect on the world. There are a lot of creatures on Finiens who can tie their origins back to a transformational effect. Obviously we just discussed the Children of Arachne, whose ancestor and creator was transformed into a spider, then into a spider-taur creature like a Drider when she ascended, a form her descendants now share. In the same myth we have Irshya, once Arachne's predecessor Athene, who transformed herself and her followers into the first Harpies. Of the player races to come the Ael-Varan, Girtablilu, and Leanaí-Dubh all share a similar metamorphic origin, with their first members having originally been some other type of creature, transformed by magic or other means into their current form.

The main difference between these and the Entomorphs is that, outside of occasional malevolent events or deliberate willing transformations, these races do not have unfortunate souls being transformed into them in the present-day, whereas Entonyds still roam the plains of Wachara.

Entomorphs represent a rather dark turn in my character concepts for races for the setting. I wanted a race that was insectoid, fully so in contrast to the tauric Arachnes, and I've always liked moths as an inspiration, with their interesting patterns and designs. I came up with the concept of the Entonyd and the forced metamorphosis shortly after as a method of explaining their origins, but it was only after I let the race loose among my players that I got to see just how disturbing the implications could be. One of my players is planning to play a non-natural-born Entomorph in a future campaign and has already run their backstory by me, and just imagining it is actually rather terrifying: you're attacked by an enormous insect, stung and paralyzed into helplessness, forced to extrude your own cocoon out of your very skin, and fall asleep knowing that when you wake up, you're either going to have gotten lucky and been rescued and have to spend the rest of your life (or until you can afford/acquire extremely powerful magic) as a bizarre bug-person, or that you won't be rescued and you'll lose yourself to a hiveminded, instict-driven monster.

Fantasy worlds aren't all sunshine and rainbows, though, and Finiens is no exception; things here can get pretty dark. PCs are the lucky ones, the ones who managed to just scrape out of danger or who got rescued in the nick of time. The ones who are forced into uncomfortable, unwanted situations and make legends (or something even grander) of themselves by what they do in response.

But this does bring something tangentially related to mind, and that's something I mentioned in an earlier article, the one on the Elves's Shadow Curse: the nature of souls in Finiens and their status when a body becomes compromised by an outside agent. I mentioned in that article how, thanks to comments by Mikaze over on Paizo as well as others and conversations with my players, I'd taken steps to avoid unfair or unkind treatment of souls in my setting, avoiding things like commonplace soul-theft, soul-stealing trickery, and souls being trapped in bodies of the undead, cursed, or physically devastated. In the article, I explained that the soul of an Elf who suffers from the Curse leaves the body, and the Curse continues to operate the "meat puppet" that remains behind, sort of like a living undead. Likewise, by extension, the only kind of undead in Finiens that retain hold on their souls are the free-willed or willing sorts, such as vampires, liches, ghosts and their kin (which are souls in and of themselves, simply lacking bodies), and so forth; mindless undead such as zombies, skeletons, and the like are empty, animated as dolls by negative energy and the necromancer's will, with no soul to them whatsoever and no connection at all to the now-departed soul that once occupied their body.

Thus, I feel it prudent to explain here that Entomorphs operate under a similar system, and that the turning point is that last hour or two where the 'Morph's brain is being rewired by the transformation. Prior to this point, the soul remains in the transformed body, providing the Unbound Entomorph its free will. However, beyond that point, the person the Entomorph once was essentially dies, their soul departing the body and replaced with a newborn animalistic soul no different from any other beast of sub-sapient intelligence. The free-willed soul of the person a Hive-Minded Entomorph used to be is not trapped within their body in a state of unconscious limbo or, worse, impotent imprisonment, looking out from within but unable to exert any control over their own body or send any message to the outside world that they still remain. However, there's a rather unique interaction between the souls of Entomorphs and their bodies. If a Hive-Minded Entomorph is slain and a raise or resurrection spell is cast on the corpse (provided everything is within the proper time constraints for whatever variant of the spell is being used, relative to the transformation rather than to the actual death of the corpse), it's the original, sapient soul that is given the option to return to the world of the living. If they accept, the spell not only mends the body from whatever injuries killed it, but also repairs the mind to serve as one that can operate for a free-willed soul, severing the majority of the Entomorph's connection to the racial hivemind of the Bound.

Honestly you should probably expect something like that to be the standard for anything resembling this situation in Finiens. There are still a few ways for an innocent soul to end up in jeopardy - dastardly fiendish dealings, badly-worded agreements with fey, and the like - but I'm working on heavily reducing them, especially where interactions with PCs are concerned. "Souls in danger" is too good of a plot point and story drive to completely eradicate from the game, but it should be something the PCs are striving to undo or outwit, a problem that primarily targets NPCs and that PCs are there to solve, rather than something a player should have to worry about being pointed their way.

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