Dissecting Monsters: The Mother’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man”

The Mother's Creature by Jennifer Rodgers
Illustration by Jennifer Rogers

You may have noticed I didn’t post anything last week. That is because I was dead. Or at least close to it. I did very little with my time aside from trying to take breaths between coughing fits. I did manage to work in some “holding my head in the vain hope that it stops pounding,” but that isn’t exactly blog-worthy, you know?

But now I’m only mostly dead, and that’s well enough to get back to work.

-The Mother’s Creature-
Armor 14, 5 Hit Dice, Movement 30’, 1 limb attack doing really weird things (see below), Morale 12.

This creature appears as a human torso with arms in various stages of bone coverage poking out of it in all directions. It even walks on a pair of its hands. It has a head, stuck sideways on an exposed spine. Its limbs, not being attached to its torso by a firm skeleton, can attack targets up to 50’ away. On a successful hit, it does no damage, but instead attaches a new human arm to the character in a random location.

If the creature is damaged and it successfully attacks, it will instead take the arms of the persons it targets, one arm at a time. This does 1d8 Hit Points of damage to the victim, who must then save versus Paralyzation or go into shock. Adding the arm into its collection will restore 1d8 Hit Points to the creature.

The new limb is instantly wired into the character’s nervous and circulatory systems and is for all intents and purposes a new permanent limb. The character will not know how to control it, however, and it will flail and thrash around as familiar thought patterns, conscious and unconscious, now lead to unpredictable results. In response, familiar body parts will operate less effectively as the body attempts to compensate. The character will suffer a 1 point Dexterity modifier penalty for each limb added. The modifier can be restored at a rate of one point per week as the character learns to use his new limb(s).Note that current equipment can be destroyed by the attachment of a new arm. An arm being stuck into a character’s chest or back will destroy armor worn, for instance. On the plus side, extra arms means that a character can have more equipment to hand, carry an extra shield, or even wield a weapon—once they are under control, that is.

First off, the appearance of this creature cannot be undersold. If you’re flipping through the pages of the book, glancing this piece will make you stop. Even writing this now I find my eyes drawn away from my screen to the book sitting open on my desk. This monster scares me. It’s a rare and glorious thing. Most monsters, including The Provider’s Creature, look the way I’d expect a monster to look. Even if their appearance is entirely unique, they follow some unwritten formula for creating a monstrous creature. But this fucker looks like he comes from some forgotten childhood nightmare. Something you can never quite piece together in your mind, but which unsettles you none the less.

Mechanically, there’s really only one interesting thing about this creature, but that thing is complex and requires a lot of dissection.

First, this creature has no basic attack. No bite, or claw, or even the ambiguous “slam” attack. It has only its own special ability. And while this may not be appropriate for every monster, it seems to me an underutilized idea. If a monster can do some strange crazy thing to its victims, focus in on that. Many creatures we hear about in stories prefer to kill in their own special way, and won’t resort to biting and kicking.

Second, the creature only deals damage when it’s wounded. It can certainly attack aggressively, and cause serious inconvenience for those it targets. But aside from a temporary dexterity penalty and some potentially damaged equipment, the Mother’s Creature causes no harm until it itself is harmed. This gives the players a curious way to defeat it: don’t fight it. Once they start fighting it, the bastard can start immobilizing party members and causing serious damage. It’s a kind of hidden trick which the players might figure out which makes the creature pretty non-threatening. I like the idea that while a monster can be defeated using traditional methods, there’s also a much simpler method which requires very little effort, but may be difficult to figure out.

Third, while having an extra arm growing out of your knee is sure to make people wary of you; will cost you a lot of silver in equipment repairs; and temporarily gives you a penalty to your dexterity; it’s ultimately beneficial. People are wary of adventurers already, more silver can always be plundered, and if your character survives a few days the dexterity penalty will go away. After that, you’ve got a kickass third arm which can hold a second shield to protect your lower half, or wield a sword to make your opponents wish they could protect THEIR lower halves. The idea that an encounter with a monster could leave you better off for having suffered its attentions is enticing.

Fourth and finally, this creature is just as likely to leave you alive and armless as it is to kill you. At higher levels, it’s actually more likely to leave you alive an armless than it is to kill you. I like that. I’ve become very fond of high mortality play in the last few years, but there’s no reason every monster needs to be a life or death encounter. Some could be encounters like this one where a character may end up useless (and therefore functionally dead). Others may have a worst-case outcome of a character being severely impaired, but still playable. And, occasionally, there’s no reason a monster couldn’t simply be a theme park ride. A very scary experience which, in truth, has very little chance of causing any harm.

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One thought on “Dissecting Monsters: The Mother’s Creature from “Better Than Any Man””

  1. Really interesting dissection. You put the fingerr on points I have been thinking about in my worldbuilding effort and defined them.

    Horrible monster tho… *shudder*

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