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Monday, 22 October 2012

Headcases (5)

The first evidence I can find of my predilection for severed-head monsters was way back in 1984 when I wrote the first Dragon Warriors book. That was the death's-head, pictured here by definitive DW artist Jon Hodgson. The description runs:

These vile supernatural creatures have the appearance of a human head with a long horn sprouting from the forehead and black bat-like wings behind the ears. They flap swiftly about their opponents, presenting a very difficult target (hence the high DEFENCE) and attacking with stabs of their sharp horn.

However, during the hours of daylight, the wings and horn of a death's-head become invisible and intangible, rendering it unable to fly. The monster gets around this problem by acquiring a host body. It devours the head of a victim and binds itself magically to the severed neck, using its sorcery to animate the body as a zombie. The death's-head then uses the host body to move around by day, passing itself off as human. It will always be on the lookout for a new host, however, as the decomposition of the body becomes obvious after a few days. A death's-head's disguise is thus 90% perfect on the first day after taking a new host, then 80% on the next day, and so on.

If attacked before sunset, the death's-head is bound to its stolen body and is thus less dangerous. It will use its host body to fight, using any weapon to hand, but the host body will have only the fighting skill of a normal zombie instead of the death's-head's own abilities given below. The fight is resolved just as though it were a combat with a normal zombie, except that any successful blow struck against the monster has a 10% chance of hitting the head and inflicting a wound on the death's-head itself. Otherwise the blow strikes the zombie body and reduces its Health Points.

The moment the sun sinks below the horizon, the death's-head regains its wings and horn and takes to the air. It will then scour the forests and lonely hill roads seeking a new host. It has a special spell, Spellbind, to help it overcome a foe without damaging his/her body. This spell is usable once per night, and cast with a MAGICAL ATTACK of 13. It has a range of 10m and, if successful, will cause the victim to stand in place while the death's-head kills him. Although a Hold Off the Dead spell will keep the stolen body of a death's-head at bay, it will not affect the death's-head itself as these creatures are not undead.

ATTACK 16    with horn (d10, 4 points)
Armour Factor 3
zombie host – 6m 
flying  –  30m
Health Points 1d6 + 2
Rank-equivalent: 6th

I'm not sure that I've ever used death's-heads in a game, though the Dragon Warriors scenario "The Honey Trap", written many years later, features a village of eerie critters obviously inspired by the penanggalan or the nukekubi. The reasoning there was probably that the players would expect some kind of vampiric nastiness, given that the adventure was set in Emphidor, but I obviously didn't want it to be too obvious. Come to think of it, I should have thrown in a harmless albino peasant just to incite the PCs into doing something they'd be ashamed of later. The differences from the usual South-east Asian flying heads (the sleepwalking, the taste for honey, bouncing like balloons) would be so that the knowledgeable Orientalists among the players (such as Paul Mason, Tim Harford or Jamie) couldn't accuse me of anatopism.

1 comment:

  1. I remember being utterly scared witless by the death's heads in DW!