Dungeoneer’s Diary #10 – The Pernicious Pollex Fati

Posted: December 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

A Pollex Fati throwing the tools of their trade. No word why this particular example needs to wear scary killer purple rubber gloves…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Another slow news day trying to avoid the real work of this blog…reviewing another writing manual. Luckily, I can avoid work by doing other work, one of which I was going to warm up my story dice, make a few throws and call it a two thousand word day. I have to clean up my table or dig out a box top to do that. I’ll be chasing dice under cabinets otherwise.

Still, the thought that I should be shooting my dice and writing down the prompts that result wouldn’t go away. In an effort to work diagonally, I get to wondering if there is a way to incorporate said dice into a monster sure to ruin the average adventure team’s day…my currently preferred method for avoiding the next writing manual.

A monster that throws story dice and with failed Wisdom or Intelligence checks, a blown Remove Curse spell and/or the player failing to white-knuckle the ancient artifact The Ruby Heart of Sartre (an obscure library card reference) forces the poor devil to enact whatever actions and thoughts come face up on those dice. Yeah, we’re cookin’ with charcoal, I think rubbing my hands with the kind of glee usually reserved for tax plans pushed forward without doing the math. And just to acknowledge the giants on whose shoulders I stand, there is no way a monster thumbs the Scales of Fate like this without seeing the Tweedledum Dance Nimoy and Shatner did in the OG Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Still only cookin’ with charcoal…

I need a name. Luckily, the name is usually carried forward by understanding function…auto-translated into Church Latin. If the monster puts his/her/its thumb on the Scales of Fate, then thumb gets you pollex and fate becomes fati. And use the noun forms…easier that way. Pollex Fati, I don’t do rocket science folks!

Name, check. Now we have to define the beast further for the benefit of the average DM/GM out to pummel his players just enough to keep the game interesting. On the surface the Pollex Fati has a simple to explain ability, point at the player most likely to be entertaining as a fate-puppet and roll dice (first to determine resistance to the curse and then to see what the character actually has to do). Resisting the Pollex Fati’s curse usually results from making either a Wisdom or Intelligence check on the theory that smart and/or wise people can puzzle out that we choose key parts of our fate making decisions every day, but only if the dice are with us. A nod to Free Will based metaphysics.

Personally, I see this monster as a magically corrupted gambling addict that made the dumbass mistake of asking an annoyed in-game deity for a positive shift of fortune and fate once too often. As an added modifier, the strength of the individual Pollex Fati’s ability to affect local Fate quotient depends on how pissed off the god or goddess was at the time of the ask. I envision that a deity that doesn’t do Fate, Fortune, Gambling or Luck as a divine niche will make the strongest Pollex Fati; members of pantheons seem to hate asking siblings for favors.

An easy Greco-Roman example, Athena does Justified War, Weaving, Knowledge, Olives and Owls. She also has a mean streak when it comes to direct affronts to her ego (Arachne anyone?). Imagine one of her favored warriors needing more of the minimal thumb on the Scales of Fate she gives as the War Goddess.

In order to make nice with her sisters, the Fates, especially the one holding the scissors, Athena has to ask a favor. If the mortal making the ask abuses that trust in any way, expect bad things to happen…and welcome the newly-minted arch-Pollex Fati to the world once the rubble lands six miles away.

Regardless of the backstory, I suggest a range of modifiers to the Wisdom/Intelligence check between -3 and -15. Most Pollex Fati will likely land on that normal distribution (bell curve) between -5 and -10. The player rolls, applies the modifiers and starts his/her version of the Tweedle Dance.

Because the DM/GM always holds final sway over his players, there’s nothing stopping he/she from just declaring what the afflicted character will do – “you, chow down on that Green Slime!” This allows the game a little extra flavor to have the same kind of fun with any random result generator: playing cards, matching coins, tarot cards, I Ching coins, or even Inka-binka Bottle of Ink You Stink. This is a logistical concession because in addition to the result dice common to most RPG systems, the GM has to bring 10-15 (RPGs, an evil corporate plot where dice manufacturers paid Gary Gygax to invent Dungeons & Dragons to move dice sets…discuss now) extra picture dice to the table. It’s your game and your mayhem.

I see the Pollex Fati as a monster and not an in-game deity. The difference is that the Pollex Fati can only pick out one victim per turn to force the relevant Wisdom or Intelligence saves (Gods/goddesses can do lots more all at once). And to seek balance, so that DM/GMs don’t use the Pollex Fati as an annoying character assassination machine (ask me about the Halls of the Falls dungeon from the Stone Age sometime), whatever modifier the beast brings to the table I suggest it is halved when the Truth or Dare request is directly lethal (eat Green Slime, fall on thy sword, O, Bereaved Roman Gentleman, etc.), but indirectly lethal (dance, Bitch, make a lot of noise to attract the sleeping orcs in the next room!) is, to my mind, perfectly okay.

Additionally, the Pollex loses a point off the negative saving throw modifier for every turn in battle past the third that they stick around to fight it out. Any player character that survives two saving throws becomes immune to the workings of that particular Pollex Fati’s curse for a whole year. Pretty much the point here, I see the Pollex Fati as a hit and run distraction and narrative plot point monster that should be tough to corner and kill not as a straight ahead bloodletting machine (most DM/GMs have armies of orcs, ogres, skeletons and my personal fave, Vorgons for that).

For instance, Polly appears from around a corner waggles fingers, starts up the Tweedle Dance or sets a character off on side quest and decides to be anywhere else for coffee. Cornering one should actually be the stuff of legend (better suited to D&D fan fiction posted on Wattpad instead of a feature of an average campaign or an adventure).

My best suggestion for fitting the Pollex Fati into a food chain of energy, magic and a fantastical ecology is that Polly eats the energy from a successfully affected Fate. The player character injured while cursed feels the life going out with each moment under the curse that eventually wears off and heals with physical healing. The beast gains strength using this Fate energy as food and/or in a similar fashion to how player characters use experience points to gain hit dice and the skills to match. Polly is driven by their need and they are immortal until killed.

Given my assertion that a Pollex Fati started out as a mortal that either asked a capricious deity for the wrong favor and/or abused the help of a kinder, gentler divine eminence, it seems that I’ve just walked into a wider than usual range of alignments than seen in most D&D monsters. Alignment has always been one of the weirdness of Dungeons & Dragons where all creatures smart enough to speak and form societies have a moral alignment that is supposed to inform the personality. Monsters that fall into this category are all evil and generally inappropriate to play as player characters. But, with the Pollex Fati the multiplicity of backstories of who asked for the wrong divine favor, you get all kinds of personalities…alignments.

I can see DM/GMs with a good Pollex Fati trying to use their power for good, but continuously fighting against the hunger induced by their power. Yes, this is basically the Good Vampire/Tragic Werewolf narrative that wore thin after Angel, but we really do tell the same stories over and over. The good Pollex Fati steals energy from bad people and may create change for good, but how long can they last against the hunger…This could result in good Pollex, however temporarily.

Now for the other boring statistics for the listing in next year’s Monster Manual (posting will do). As the Pollex Fati is a regular human/humanoid PC race that asked too much of the gods, they will bring the hit dice they had as people and retired player characters to the party. However, the curse magic will add hit dice roughly equivalent to the negative modifier on the saving throw that they gain from how spectacularly they pissed off the gods (a -15 Pollex Fati gets that many extra hit dice, but this is the campaign world’s probably singular arch-Pollex best saved for the very end of the video game). I see armor class being a function of whatever gear they brought with them.

Now, we turn to any tricks for players to get past this monster. It occurs to me that a classically reported limitation on many monsters might go a long way for game balance. Medusas don’t like mirrors. Sirens cry legendary songs of sorrow confronted by wax and cotton earplugs. I suggest that we steal from another Star Trek episode – “I, Mudd.”

If we get to part of the Pollex Fati mythos from “Plato’s Stepchildren” (Tweedle dance), then we should perhaps borrow the distraction campaign that resolved the second Harry Mudd episode…dance around illogically until the robots’ ears blow up. What this means is that if a player character party already does weird things around a Pollex Fati, the beast will get caught looking entranced by these weird players giving it what it wants without being forced. It will not point and use its curse magic while such a show is going on. The monster may stay too long and lose points off its modifier and become vulnerable just as if it tried to stick around more than two turns.

Of course, the give the monster what it wants plan can only be employed if the adventure party knows they face the Pollex Fati. Until said dramatic obstacle rolls dice, flips a coin, pulls a Suicide King or Queen of Spades from the deck, or even rolls regular dice in place of story dice and consults a table (how a DM/GM might get around the Wonder Woman Tie-in Story Dice Set not existing, yet), all the adventure party might see is a humanoid figure with the tightly yanked in skin of any number of immortal humanoids that have lived too long. Once the dice hit the floor, it might be too late…or not.

And so here we are, presenting my thought process and the newest new monster for the discerning DM/GM’s bloodletting pleasure. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to meet one used well by another DM trying to get one over on me as a player. See you at the gaming table…


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