Thursday, August 4, 2016

Fire walk with me.

This is a write-up based around a creature-type found in the books Nethereal and Souldancer by Brian Niemeier. I wanted more folks to hear about the books, so I got Brian's permission and made an OSR/AD&D version of his creatures, called Souldancers. This post only covers Souldancers 'aligned' with the Fire Stratum/Plane, if I get interest from this post I will make more for the other planes/stratum. I have included a short background, if you wish to integrate these poor monsters into your game. At the end of this post will be a bit more background about the books, why I like them, and why you might like them, dear reader.

The Souldancer of Fire from the book Souldancer.

 Through the darkness of future's past,
The magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds...
"Fire... walk with me."
- David Lynch

They are the hollow ones, heads filled screams of elemental force. They are the unfortunate ones, their souls containing a piece of a goddess. They are the powerful ones, bodies made into conductors for unrelenting power. They are the lonely ones, minds and souls made unrecognizable by pain.

Souldancers are the victims of a cult looking to reconstruct their goddess, and began as people unfortunate enough to be born with a piece of a Void goddess embedded in their souls. They were stolen off the street, leaving loved ones to spend the rest of their lives wondering what had happened. Each person was a solution and an experiment, having a divine part removed from the soul, the cult sought what could be put in its place. Gates, metaphysical ties to the elemental stratum and places far stranger, were used to plug the holes created by divine excision. The bodies of the soon to be Souldancers were altered, pieces removed and replaced with metals that could conduct forces, rather than be destroyed by them. Each person was different, no set rules for what was to be replaced and what was kept. Teeth, limbs, digits, and eyes were just a few of the pieces that were, or were not, replaced, with one even having her entire body replaced. These surgeries were brutal, only enough numbing given to ensure the experiments survived the shock of pain and dismemberment.

Upon activation of the spiritual gates, their souls and minds were twisted and broken, while their bodies thrummed with the power of barely checked elemental force. Those that survived the process often wished they had died, those that died were counted as lucky by the survivors. Some were used as weapons, their will broken by the surgeries, their souls no longer sang the common song of life lived. Others kept their will, despite madness and grief, and were sealed away to be used as power sources. They were no longer people, to the cult they were merely a means to an end, some even having their names stolen to be replaced by puns or project names.

Freedom came with the end of everything, the breaking of worlds, the knowledge of ages slipping into canyons of rubble. The Souldancers were free, their cages broken, their watchmen now dead or just no longer concerned with their jobs. Their souls mutilated, their past now so much rubble in the city streets, their lives now as meaningless as wind through dry grass and rats' feet over broken glass. This is how their world ended. This is how their world began. 

An ancient depiction of a Fire Souldancer.
Each Souldancer has a unique connection to a plane/stratum, the raw power of the stratum funneled through their souls. The connected stratum provides a unique set of capabilities and drawbacks that become inherent to the very nature of the character. A Souldancer can be from any race, they are creature/race that is created through magic, torture, and surgery rather than through natural phenomena.

Construction Materials
The planar gate within the Souldancer's soul causes so much elemental force to be channeled through the person, that the force bridges the gap between the physical and metaphysical. To keep the individual from being completely consumed by the raw power thrumming through them, parts of the person have to be removed and replaced with elementally attuned metal. There is no exact system as to which parts have to be replaced, each person is different, and requires different levels of surgery/torture. The new pieces are animated through arcane means and powered by the very force coursing through the Souldancer. These replacements still conduct the same feelings of touch that the originals possessed. What remains of their original flesh is fortified and made immutable, their skin and bones held in the exact state of when the torture ended and their existence began. Souldancer's aligned with Fire have their unneeded flesh replaced by Orihalcum (brass alchemically altered to survive the heat and energy given off by the Fire Plane/Stratum).

Percentage of Replaced Flesh1D10
While there is no change in the mechanics of a character, no matter the percentage, it can help with creating the background of the character to understand how much torture they went through in their metamorphosis. Some part of the original body must remain, no matter how small, for the soul of the person to cling to in order to stay alive.

  1. 10 – 19%
  2. 20 – 29%
  3. 30 – 39%
  4. 40 – 49%
  5. 50 – 59%
  6. 60 – 69%
  7. 70 – 79%
  8. 80 – 89%
  9. 90 – 99%
  10. 1 – 9%

To give you a practical idea of how much of the person was replaced, here is the percentage breakdown of the human body by weight. The percentages were taken from: Human Body Dynamics: Classical Mechanics and Human Movement by Aydin Tozeren.

Trunk (Chest, Back, and Abdomen) – 50.8%
Thigh (Each) – 9.88%
Head – 7.30%
Lower Leg (Each) – 4.65%
Upper Arm (Each) – 2.70%
Forearm (Each) – 1.60%
Foot (Each) – 1.45%
Hand (Each) – 0.66%

The Fire was with them. The Fire was of them. Art by Harry Clarke

Game Mechanics
These folks are an incredibly powerful 'race', to help mitigate the level of power it is recommended that GM's require 1.5 – 2 times the normally required experience in order to level up (e.g for a rogue to reach level 2 in AD&D 2nd edition they would need 1,250 experience. A Souldancer rogue would require 1,875 – 2,500). While race as a class is a staple of the old-school style, each Souldancer in the series is so unique that creating a single Souldancer class would water down the concept from the books.

+5 to Strength (Max 20)
Constitution is reduced to 0, they never receive bonus hit-points (Their flesh is even less natural than undead flesh).

Fire Souldancers are completely immune to all Poisons and Diseases.

Fire Souldancers do not need to eat or drink, though they still require sleep.

Fire Souldancers receive a +/- 7 bonus to AC.

Fire Souldancers receive Acid and Electricity Resistance 10 + Level.

Fire Souldancers receive Magic Resistance 15 + Level%.

Fire Souldancers are healed by fire damage on a 2 to 1 ratio. (e.g. 8 fire damage would heal 4 HP)

Once per day, a Fire Souldancer can allow the power of the Fire Stratum to cascade out of their bodies. This cascade is treated like a fireball centered on the Souldancer that causes 1D6 points of damage per level. Use of this ability does not heal the Souldancer.
Optional Rule: The GM may allow a Souldancer to heal themselves using this ability, since in the book one character actually does so. The restriction was put in place as a possible balance to the power.

Unarmed attacks by the Souldancer deal an additional 1D6 fire damage.

Unless provoked, Fire Elementals and other creatures from the Plane/Stratum of fire will not attack a Fire Souldancer. These creatures see the Souldancer as being part of the 'family'.

The world, a match. Their souls, a flame.

Souldancers suffer from an extreme form of PTSD due to the torture and change that was forced upon them. Each character must have a 'trigger' that causes them to enter a fight or flight behavior pattern. Whenever the character encounters their trigger, they must make a save versus Paralysis. A successful save means they are able to stay calm enough in that situation for approximately 10 minutes before they must make another save if they are still in the presence of their trigger. A failed save means they must either run from the trigger or attempt to kill/destroy the trigger or its source.

Souldancers cannot be healed through normal healing spells (e.g. Cure Light Wounds or Heal). To heal a Fire Souldancer, they must be exposed to a source of fire that would normally cause damage to others. They are healed by this fire at a 2 to 1 ratio (e.g. 8 fire damage would heal 4 HP).

Fire Souldancers take double-damage from water or cold based damage, though due to their internal heat they are immune from the detrimental effects of extreme cold due to the environment.

A Fire Souldancer always radiates an incredible level of heat, causing 1D6 points of damage to anyone who touches their exposed 'flesh'. This heat is always on, and can never be turned off no matter how hard the Souldancer concentrates. The Souldancer has to go to great lengths to find non-flammable clothing and equipment. Keep in mind that a standard campfire does about 1D6 damage, much like a Fire Souldancer. A campfire can reach temperatures as high as ~930 degrees Fahrenheit / ~500 degrees Celsius. Paper will spontaneously ignite at 434 – 475 degrees Fahrenheit / 218 – 246 degrees Celsius, while leather will spontaneously ignite at 392 – 414 degrees Fahrenheit / 200 – 212 degrees Celsius. A Fire Souldancer needs to wear/use items that are made out of materials that act as strong insulators, in a fantasy world these materials are very difficult to find. Generally, the skin of a Fire Salamander or a Red Dragon works well, and allows them to touch flammable objects if they wear gloves made out of said material. (The GM is encouraged to highlight the fact that everything that the character physically touches is destroyed, and how a normal romantic relationship with any humanoid being is completely impossible without some kind of magical intervention.)

If a Fire Souldancer dies, everyone nearby has a very short period of time (1D6 rounds) to flee from the area as the Souldancer's body begins to come apart. Once their body has completely broken apart, a screaming gate to the Plane/Stratum of Fire opens, releasing a level of heat that can only be found in the heart of a volcano. Everything in 30 feet of the portal takes 20D6 fire damage, this damage is reduced by 1D6 for every five feet beyond the 30 foot point. This opening is not merely a portal, but the soul of the Souldancer, continually torn and twisted in pure metaphysical agony. The Souldancer cannot be brought back to 'life' by anything short of a Wish, and their agony will continue until some way is found to close the portal. Even after the portal is closed, they still cannot be brought back to 'life' by anything short of a Wish due to the level of damage that was done to their soul.
Optional Rule: The body of the Souldancer has to be healed with fire back to positive hit-points within 1D6 rounds of the character's death. If the body is healed in time, the soul of the Souldancer remains intact and near the body as a ghost that is bound to their lifeless vessel with chains of fire. The soul can be reinserted back into the body with an amended form of a resurrection spell. If the Souldancer's body is not healed within 1D6 rounds, then the previously described situation occurs along with the inability to resurrect the fallen character. 

Read it, you won't be disappointed.
The Source Material
As I mentioned before, the Souldancer was taken from two books written by Brian Niemeier called Nethereal and Souldancer. To start with, these books encompass the best science-fantasy, and even horror, has to offer. Lots of action, a plethora of characters with real depth, and even some scares can be found in these books.

I have known Brian personally for almost 16 years now, so this might seem like a friend trying to do another friend a favor by promoting his book, and at one level it is what it seems. But, it extends beyond the duty of a friend, because I really do like these books and if you like my work, you will most likely like Brian's. Brian taught me how to tell a story, and if it wasn't for his support, I would have never started this blog. I inherited a great deal of my aesthetic for the weird and wonderful from Brian, and looking at Brian's stories is like looking at the ideal form of how I want my own ideas to be. I don't want my own world to be just like Brian's, but I want the level of reality he gives his to be in my own. Give his stuff a shot, you won't be disappointed.

Brian's Blog

The Soul Cycle page on Amazon

Brian's Twitter feed