Thursday, September 11, 2008

Grognard's Challenge #4: The Crib of the Sleeper

My apologies for the delay in posting the winning entry to Challenge #4. I had several entries I liked a great deal and could easily have chosen any one of them. In the end, I settled on Michael Curtis's "The Crib of the Sleeper," because it was extremely evocative -- lots of little hooks and unanswered questions -- and its general tone fit with the kind of pulp fantasy I like (it even uses the term "Men"). In addition, I'm a sucker for evil artifacts and have been ever since I first read the descriptions of the Hand and Eye of Vecna in my AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide back in 1980.
Description: The Crib of the Sleeper appears as a reliquary measuring 2' wide x 1' tall x 1 ½ ' deep. It is constructed of the darkest mahogany and bound with gold and brass. It bears lapis lazuli, carnelian, onyx, chrysoberyl and ruby gems as ornamentation. The Crib is warm to the touch and seems to pulse and hum if held for more than a few moments.

History: Much of the history of the Crib remains obscured by the shadows of time and secrecy. The little that is known has been pieced together by sages, priests and madmen.

It is said that during the Years of the Rotted Moon, a cult of devil idolaters arose in the cities to the South. Their hunger for wealth, power and prestige led them to bend their knees to one of the Dukes of Hell, offering grim sacrifices in return for his aid. Those who have witnessed the powers of the Crib believe that it was unto Mammon that these idolaters gave tribute, although Baal and Belial have also been connected to the Crib's origins, albeit in hushed whispers.

Regardless of their patron's identity, he was pleased with their devotion. In return, a dark messiah was promised. A child born of human and devil who would lead the cult to the assumption of their desired position of power in the lands of Men.

So it came to pass that on the night of the first new moon of winter, the cult gathered to bear witness to the birth of their infernal master's progeny. Amongst screams and blood and the clash of steel, something was given entrance into this world. But something went wrong.

The sages debate what exactly occurred on that night. Some argue that the child was stillborn, arresting the promised campaign before it could even begin. Others adhere to the belief that the child survived its birth, but had not yet come fully to term. In either case, what was born that night was placed within a reliquary and secreted away by the cult.

In the following years, a schism arose between factions within the cult. Crumbling from within, it was not long before the secrecy of the cult's activities was breached. Alerted to this threat, the paladins of Law were marshaled and put the cultists to the sword, the pyre and the noose.

Amidst the chaos, the cult's heresiarch and the Crib of the Sleeper escaped.

During the years that followed, rumors of the Crib's reemergence have appeared. For a short time it was said to lie within the treasury vaults of Eastern merchant-prince, only to be stolen by two rogues during the Feast of St. Amencia. One of those thieves was found the following night; his massive frame emaciated as from hunger, his mouth sewn shut by green silk thread and his eye sockets filled with flax seeds. The fate of his partner is unknown. Others have whispered that the Crib is now in the possession of the Snakes That Walk as Men, who dwell in the southern jungles. Still other rumor-mongers speak of torch-lit rites that are practiced on a certain rocky strand abutting the western sea.

What is agreed upon is that whatever sleeps within the Crib must one day awaken, and if the powers of the Crib are any indication, the Sleeper will awaken hungry…

Game Details: Whoever possesses the Crib of the Sleeper gains several powers. They may cause darkness 15'radius 3 times/day, gain the benefits of a ring of protection +2 while physically holding or touching the Crib, and are immune to any sort of fear during their ownership of the Crib. In addition, they may cast suggestion up to twice a day and, with their bare hands, causes serious wounds on a successful attack. The major power of the Crib, however allows the possessor to bring forth the assistance of the Nine Hells itself. The Crib's owner may once a day summon either 1 bone devil (25% chance) or 1-2 bearded devils (75% chance) with a 70% chance of success. Drawing on this power awakens the hunger of the Crib, causing any creatures friendly to the possessor, but excluding the possessor himself, within 20' to take 5d4 points of damage as their life force is drawn from them.

In addition to the powers granted by the Crib, ownership has its side-effects. The possessor of the Crib serves as a conduit between the physical world and the Sleeper itself. The Sleeper gains nourishment threw the owner of the Crib, causing him an intense hunger and thirst. The owner must eat and drink six times the normal daily amount to sustain both himself and That Which Sleeps. Failure to obtain the required nourishment results in 5d4 points of damage as the Crib siphons of the life force of the owner.

Also, the Crib of the Sleeper requires further nourishment in the form of the blood and the souls of living sentient beings. Before each new moon, 45 HD worth of such creatures must be sacrificed to appease the hunger of the Sleeper Within. Failure to do so brings about dire repercussions for both the owner and those around him. If the Crib does not get the required sacrifices, it draws the life energy of its owner, perhaps slaying him in the process. The Crib draws (45 – total number of HD already fed to the relic) levels or HD from the possessor. For example, if 32 HD of creatures had already been slain to appease the crib, the owner would lose 13 levels of experience or HD. If this number is equal to or greater than the owner's total number of levels or HD, he is slain and is unable to be resurrected by any means. Should this total still not reach the required 45 HD, the Crib will begin siphoning of energy from the next closest living sentient creature, continuing outwards until the full 45 HD has been accumulated. This effect has no distance limit, ending only when the Crib has been satiated.

The above powers are suggestions for use requiring no additional work on the part of the DM. For DMs wishing to customize the Crib of the Sleeper for their own campaigns, the suggested number and type are listed below in accordance with the template described in the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide:

3 x I ____ ____ ____

2 x II ____ ____

1 x III ____

1 x IV ____

1 x V ____

1 x VI ____

Congratulations to Michael Curtis, who is now a two-time winner of the Grognard's Challenges -- a great accomplishment! Since, laggard that I am, I have not yet sent out the prizes for the most recent contests, I'll be doing so this coming weekend. Michael can expect two OD&D books being sent his way and I still owe Ed Moretti his prize as well for his winning entry as well. Thanks to everyone for their patience.

Thanks too to everyone who's been submitting these great ideas to me. I wish I had enough OD&D books to give everyone copies and it pains me to have to choose one entry over another sometimes, especially as it did in this case, where there were several really excellent ones.


  1. I have to applaud this. I definitely intend to insert it into one of my games.

  2. It's a pretty amazing piece of work in my opinion and rather nicely evokes some of the feel of early D&D, at least as I remember it.

  3. What did you think of my entry, James? I wasn't quite sure if it fit this contest, which is why I included the little postscript, but I thought it might be suitable. Even outside of the context's criteria what was your opinion?

  4. I appreciate the kind words and again, I'm honored to have been chosen. It seems that I'm amongst the right crowd around here with my thought process.

    I've been trying to shed a lot of the "bad habits" I've accumulated from playing and running more modern RPGs. Not that those habits are wrong, in the context of the games that I've acquired them, but sometimes I get a little "post-modern" in my design process and have to step back and ask myself "what would Gary or Dave do with this?" That usually puts me on the right track when it comes to things D&D related.

    If you don't mind a plug, I've been documenting my attempt to get back to my old-school roots at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope. I'm going to be going live with it tomorrow, but it's been up since Aug. 21st and I've accumulated a some content since then. I'll be playing along with Berin Kinsman's "Dire Shark Week" next week, so there'll be a few more strange AD&D creations with a shark theme on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from me. Then it's back to my megadungeon with a classic feel design process.

    But enough of that. I'm just glad that I can evoke the pulp feeling of D&D as it was intended and that people find my attempts useful and entertaining.

  5. Rach,

    I liked your entry a great deal; it was in fact one of the ones I considered as a possible winner. The only reason I didn't select it was because I felt it didn't quite fit the theme of the contest, even though it was very nicely done.

    You're definitely getting into the spirit of the old school, make no mistake about that.

  6. Mike,

    You will note that I already included a link to you blog; I found evidence of its existence earlier and took the liberty of adding it to my collection on the right.

  7. Thank you, James.

    I'd be interested in seeing some of the other entries for any of the past or future contests, perhaps in a Grognard's Grimoire.

    One never knows where inspiration or the right gee-gaw for an adventure or campaign might strike next.

  8. Mike,

    Any time you want to send me more of your stuff to post, I'll gladly take it. You've clearly got a great imagination and a solid old school sensibility.

  9. James: Dude, you have made my day knowing that I was so heavily considered. I fully intend to keep on entering.
    Keep in mind that any future stuff would have to be pretty stat-lite, or else would have to be for a system I did know reasonably well (IE Castles and Crusades or d20). I could try to use OSRIC or something, but it might run messy.

  10. I wish I had enough OD&D books to give everyone copies

    Kind, but shipping it to (for example ;P) Poland... Price and distance kills everything. ;)

    Nice thing, Mike!

  11. Keep in mind that any future stuff would have to be pretty stat-lite,

    That is the essence of old school!

  12. True enough, I guess. Do you consider Castles and Crusades an acceptably compatible retro-clone?

  13. Hmmm. How exactly do you sacrifice to it? It seems to me adventuring parties might well get through 45 HD of monsters a day, but does that count? Perhaps they don't get any XP from monsters so sacrificed, or perhaps (maybe more interestingly) they do, and they only notice the hunger of the sleeper when they exit the dungeon...
    Very, very interesting, and possibly Elrickian in its repercussions: an imperative need to keep the adventures going. Just try to attract hirelings once word of this gets out.

  14. How exactly do you sacrifice to it? It seems to me adventuring parties might well get through 45 HD of monsters a day, but does that count?

    I left it open to personal interpretation on the DM's part on purpose. But I'd run it that sacrifice would require some sort of ritualistic method ala stock pulp tradition (big altar, hooded worshippers, candles made of some vile substance, maybe a BIG snake for set-dressing...), so just hauling it around with you as you waded through beasties wouldn't count towards the 45 HD goal.

    Very, very interesting, and possibly Elrickian in its repercussions: an imperative need to keep the adventures going. Just try to attract hirelings once word of this gets out.

    There was certainly Moorcockian elements in my mental stewpot, the "paladins of Law" reference in the history being the most obvious. I figured that this little wrinkle in the ownership contract would make a great adventure seed --the party notices that there's been a lot of mysterious disappearences in town, intensifying just around the time of the new moon, and decides to investage --, but it also can be used as a litmus test to how far the party is willing to go for power.

  15. Awesome. I'm all over it, like ugly on an aberration.