Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Sown

I waffled back and forth on whether I should design this as a monster (probably as a template for undead creatures) or as a playable race. Eventually my love for playable monsters won over and I designed it as an LA 0 race, although it definitely pushes some boundaries. It can also serve as a parallel to the entlings, since it is another plant race, although I hope you don't think it is a "typical" or "cliche" one.

The Sown
“First you plant the seeds in the body. Then it grows, nourishing itself on the flesh, until a new baby is born.”
-Willow Johannsen, Sown Midwife
The terror inspired by the legions of undead has become a visceral thing for many humanoids, like that of snakes, spiders, or the like. Something inherently about them inspires fear and disgust in them, and causes them to shy away instinctually as every one of their senses screams danger. Although the sown are not technically a form of undead, few people who have met them make a distinction, and certainly the same sort of revulsion is hard to avoid when seeing one of these beings lurch into view.
The sown start their lives as tiny, barely sentient seedlings, capable of a small amount of independent motion and little else. If chance or, more often, their parents see fit to implant them near or in the dead body of a humanoid, however, the seedlings sprout on the dead flesh, consume it for nourishment, and quickly ensconce the skeletal system in a rigging of vines and tendrils, rising up as a verdant mockery of its former self. Dispassionate scholarly treatments of the sown have compared them to a sort of plant-like hermet crab, using the skeletons of former beings in the same way crabs use the shells of former mollusks, but few peasants feel the same way when their Aunt Myrtle comes back from the dead with green vines twisting through her bones.
The sown are at once very similar and very alien to humanoids. They live in communities, they feel emotions, and they are not inherently malicious, but their almost parasitic nature sets them apart from most other sentient creatures causing them to be isolated and reviled. As a result the sown are largely misunderstood, isolated, and suspicious creatures, despite the remarkable similarities between their lives and those of normal humanoids.

The Sown Racial Traits
At first glance the sown appear to be nothing more than undead skeletons. Their joints are connected not by necromantic energy, however, but by trailing vines and tendrils. Small, pointed leaves sprout from these vines, almost giving the impression of body hair, and extraordinarily long vines often sprout from the back of the sown’s skull, mimicking hair. In the springtime the sown also sprout blossoms along their foliage, the color of which varies from individual to individual. The sown typically avoid wearing clothing except that which is necessary for whatever task they are currently performing.

·         +2 Constitution, -4 Dexterity, -2 Charisma. The sown’s unique physiology makes them tough and resistant to things which might kill normal humanoids. However, their joints are stiff and woody and they have a difficult time relating to other races and expressing themselves as individuals due to their plant brain chemistry.

·         Plant: The sown are of the plant type, and have all plant traits save those mentioned below under Humanoid Host.
·         The sown base land speed is 20 feet.

·         Vile Appearance(ex): The sown gain a +4 racial bonus on Intimidate checks and a +2 racial bonus on bluff checks, since their face is unreadable.

·         Racial Skills: The sown receive a +2 racial bonus on Profession (Herbalism) and Profession (Chirurgeon) checks. They also receive a +4 racial bonus on climb checks due to their tendency to live in trees.

·         Humanoid Host (ex): Their adaptation to living as a form of mixture of plant and humanoid has given the Sown several weaknesses as compared to other plants. During the implantation of a seed into the humanoid body and the consumption of the flesh and brain, for instance, the viny tendrils which infest the skull follow typical humanoid pathways for neural tissue, resulting in an intelligence very similar to humanoid, and as a result, the Sown are not immune to mind affecting spells. The necessity for specialized tissues to control movement of limbs and joints as well as sensory organs and a centralized brain have also resulted in a loss of the immunity to critical hits that plants normally have. The sown are still immune to poison, sleep affects, paralysis, polymorph, and stunning.

·         Consume (Su): An individual of the sown may take a full minute to incorporate the bones from the corpse of any creature into its own body to replace those it has lost, both by direct replacement and by consuming the calcium carbonate to fortify its existing frame. The body cannot have been dead longer than one month. This process destroys the corpse and prevents any attempts to use resurrect that require a body. The sown who consumes the body heals one point of damage per hit die of the creature consumed.

·         Diet Dependant (ex): Although the sown can photosynthesize and thus do not create traditional food, the sown do require repair to their frames from time to time. At least once per month the sown must consume using its Consume ability a number of hit dice equal to its own. If the sown fails to do so, it takes 1 point of constitution damage each month until it consumes enough bones for all the months it has fasted. This damage cannot be healed until the sown has consumed its fill. 

Automatic Languages: Common, Sylvan Bonus Languages: Elven, Gnomish, Draconic, Undercommon, Terran, Aquan, Auran.

·         Favored Class: Barbarian

The sown live surprisingly mundane lives, aside from their bizarre physiology.
                Lands: The sown typically live in forests close to humanoid settlements. Because they are almost universally reviled, they tend to live reclusive lives, hiding from their neighbors for their own safety. Their dependency on humanoids requires them to live on close proximity, but contact is usually minimal, and oftentimes the humanoids only clue to the presence of a settlement of the sown will be a series of exhumations and possibly a rare nighttime glimpse of a sowing in progress, a dead humanoid rising from the grave as a new child of the sown.
                Settlements: A settlement of the sown usually involves a small group of five to fifty individuals living in a forest, oftentimes up in the trees where they can easily hide from their humanoid population that they parasitize. Such a group is known as a grove. The sown photosynthesize, so they spend much of the day in the upper branches of trees so they can absorb the sun. Although the sown are intelligent as humanoids and use tools, they typically do not build shelters, as they find the sun and rain nourishing rather than hardships.
                Power Groups: Their alien nature and physiology forces most communities of the sown to live as raiders of sorts, and as such success is often a result of military prowess, and such is often honored amongst them. Most high level leaders as such are barbarians or rangers. Druids however also play an important place as advisors to leaders, and age is considered a status symbol as well amongst the sown, so even one who does not excel in breaking into humanoid settlements to sow the children and retrieve bones for consumption can gain prestige and power over time. The sown generally lack any overall organization beyond the level of individual communities.
                Beliefs: The sown often worship nature deities like Obad-Hai. However, worship of both Evening Glory and Nerull and other deities of death or undeath are not uncommon as well, since it is through death that they gain life. Typically such communities border on the more vicious and predatory of the sown, although it varies.
                Relations: The sown never get along with their humanoid neighbors, and their relations tend to vary depending on the strategy the local sown use for harvesting bodies and bones for sowing and consumption. Some groves live only by digging up recent burials; these tend to have no interaction with the humanoids whatsoever apart from tales of grave-robbing skeletal bogeymen being a part of local folklore. Other groups more towards the evil side actively prey on humanoids, capturing travelers and merchants and even occasionally raiding whole villages. In these instances, the humanoids generally treat them similarly to orcs or other savage humanoid menaces and actively attempt to exterminate them. Some communities of the sown have been known to take up a nomadic lifestyle, often following armies or even adventurers to reap the harvest from battlefields. Regardless of their interactions with humanoids, the sown typically get along well with other plant creatures, fey, magical beasts, and animals, all of whom are more sympathetic to the unique physiology of the sown.
The Sown Characters
Fundamentally the sown adventure for much the same reasons as any other race does. A sense of adventure, of curiosity, or a need to prove oneself can all drive one of the sown to seek out the adventuring lifestyle. However, their unusual needs and appearance may shock humanoids, and it is rare that one will find itself accepted in greater society. Still, this means that any of the sown who wish to interact with the world at large tend to become adventurers, because the adventuring career is often the most accepting of strange or bizarre practices.
                The Adventuring Sown: As noted, the same motives which drive other characters to adventure drive the sown. Almost all of the sown who leave their communities turn to adventuring, as no humanoid settlement would ever permit one of the sown to live unmolested within its walls. Their hardy nature and natural isolationism prove an asset to such a prospect as well, and uniquely the sown find it beneficial to take up a career in rampant mayhem and slaughter of evildoers for profit, since it provides a steady stream of bones to consume.
                Character Development: The sown do well as barbarians and rangers, both classes which complement their toughness and immunities. The sown pursue many different career paths, though, even ones which one might think they are unsuited such as rogues and even bards, as their society has much the same needs and pressures as any similarly fringe group, and is such patterned very similarly to most savage humanoids, and few classes are thus absent among them.
                Character Names: The sown tend to name themselves after local plants and trees. Their last names tend to be taken from the gravestone of the humanoid they were sown on, although oftentimes they take from the wrong grave, and the sown who were planted on a fresh kill or battlefield often are given last names to match the individual who sown them.

Roleplaying the Sown
The sown are fundamentally alien yet all the same incredibly similar to other humanoids. Playing up this dichotomy is perhaps the key to roleplaying one of the sown, marking the great differences and the eerie parallels between humanoids and this bizarre race.
                Personality:  The sown are typically very insular and suspicious of humanoids initially; this however stems merely from mutual distrust due to their prior antagonistic relationships. With those one of the sown trusts, they’ll open up and display their true nature, which can be just as varied and individual as any humanoid. It thus would help to conceive two modes of behavior for your character, one for his friends and one for strangers. It is unlikely one of the sown would ever let their guard down among strange humanoids, no matter how close his adventuring friends are, and one who did would likely regret it.
                Behaviors:  The sown do not eat and do not sleep. They must photosynthesize to stay vibrant and consume bones to stay sturdy. They have gender and mate, but their children are sown in the chest cavities of cadavers. While one of the sown may have the same hopes and dreams and fears as a normal humanoid, their day to day realities are colored by these odd behaviors. Consider what sorts of things one of the sown might consider normal behavior, and what behaviors of humanoids might mystify him.
                Language: The sown speak with a strange rasping tongue caused by the scraping of vines on one another. Do be careful in trying to mimic this – don’t strain your vocal cords.


  1. Oh, I love these guys! This race is absolutely A-1 in terms of flavor; I've never seen anything like them. The closest would probably be the pequeninos from Speaker for the Dead, but there were only a few similarities there. Now, presumably they can subsist on the bones of any creature type, but can they only create more Sown from humanoids?

    Mechanically, I also like what I see. The Con bonus is appropriately offset by the penalties, and the watered-down plant immunities feel useful without being TOO awesome. Strong skill bonuses are also nice. If anything, I might wonder if the stat adjustments are too harsh, given Pathfinder's generosity with bonuses compared to 3.5, but I think it's reasonable as-is.

  2. Although I did not have the pequeninos in mind when designing these, it's probably impossible to say they didn't influence it at all since I read Ender's Game and subsequent books for the first time about two months ago. Although I have had the idea for these guys for a few years; I've been creating them as a race in Spore periodically, although I never seem to have the patience to reach Space stage anymore.

    I had envisioned yes that they must be sown on humanoids but can subsist on anything. The flavor justification would be that they can only successfully parasitize (not quite the right word, but close) on a few species, but they can actually consume the bones themselves and repair the humanoid bones with calcium carbonate once they are established. It's a little weak, but the mechanical/real reason I felt the need to do this is the following:

    If they could be sown in any creature, then they couldn't feasibly be a playable race, since there would be unlimited variability in what they were like. This is the route I would have went if they were a template, of course, but I decided against it early on in the design process because I thought they'd be cooler playable.

    If I had said they needed to consume humanoids to live, though, under DnD rules that makes them evil. Just like its evil to wear a cloak made from leather of a sentient species, it would almost certainly be evil to eat the bones of one, even if they were taken from already dead individuals. This gives them a bit more wiggle room, although of course I'm sure technically the act of sowing would be considered evil. DnD's morality can not handle complexities like this, unfortunately.

    But yeah, basically, I wanted to restrict them mechanically to being humanoids but allow them the freedom to simply be misunderstood rather than actively hunting out humanoid corpses to eat.

    Another option of course is to say they don't need to eat bones at all, but that's a lot less cool.

    Their design I would say is balanced for 3.5, although possibly overcorrected a bit. For Pathfinder I would probably reduce the penalties a bit, but not eliminate them, as plant type and immunities are still very good bonuses. -2 on each would probably be fine; you might be able to get away with only a -2 in Charisma since the twenty foot move speed is also a significant penalty.