“I am reminded,” said the Mouser, “of what a witch told me about adepts. She said that, if an adept chances to die, his soul is reincarnated in a mouse. If, as a mouse, he managed to kill a rat, his soul passes over to a rat. As a rat, he must kill a cat; as a cat, a wolf; as a wolf, a panther; and, as a panther, a man. There he can recommence his adeptry. Of course, it seldom happens that anyone gets all the way through the sequence and in any case it takes a very long time. Trying to kill a rat is enough to satisfy a mouse with mousedom.”
- “Adept’s Gambit,” by Fritz Leiber
It’s throwaway bits of prose such as this that kick my creative gears into motion. In” Adept’s Gambit,” Leiber inserts this bit of fictional folklore to give the tale a “to be continued?” coda, but the Mouser and Fafhrd soon return to Nehwon, leaving this dangling thread unwoven. That doesn’t mean I have to.
I’ve already established a precedent for weirdness occurring after a wizard’s demise and, after reading this tale again, this paragraph begged to be stolen as a house rule to further elaborate on that topic. After all, what’s the sense of having magic in the game if you can't trick it out to make it as mysterious and unpredictable as possible? Leiber’s tales suggests a way to not only do so, but to also give the oh-so-fragile magic-user a slim chance of survival after death. Let’s drop it down the well and see if it makes a splash, shall we?
The Adept's Second Chance
Upon their death, a magic-user or elf has a cumulative 5% chance per level of experience of being spontaneously reincarnated as a house mouse (Mus musculus). The mouse-mage assumes his new rodent form 3d100’ away in a random direction from the location of his death. In this guise, the mage retains his personality and intellect, but otherwise has the attributes of a common mouse including strength, armor class, hit points, saving throws, attacks, and damage. He loses both the ability to cast spells and any spells memorized at the time of his death. He cannot speak or write.
Mouse (MV: 150’ (50’) burrow 6’ (2’), AC 7, HD 1 hit point, #AT 1, DG 1, Attacks as NM, SV NM)
If, in this guise, the mage manages to slay a rat (normal or giant), he assumes that form with all its normal attributes and abilities. Should the mage die while in mouse form, he is permanently slain and nothing short of a wish spell can return him to life. The mouse-mage must defeat his rat opponent in single combat, although non-physical assistance from another is allowed (a part member casting a hold spell on the rat, placing an animal growth spell on the mouse-mage, granting the mouse magical strength, etc.). No damage or physical harm can be done to the rat by a third party; doing so negates any chance of the mouse-mage advancing in incarnation from that particular opponent. A mouse-mage unable to ever slay a rat in single combat will live out his life as a mouse, perishing from natural causes in two to three years. At anytime during the mage’s quest for humanity, a wish spell (and only a wish spell) can return him to his normal form.
This same process is repeated for each animal along the path back to human form. As above, the mage must slay his opponent in single combat and, if successful, assumes that form with all its natural attributes and powers, but retaining his own personality and intelligence. If the mage manages to slay his way up the food chain (rat, cat, wolf, panther, then man), he returns to life in his own body with all the experience, attributes, and power he possessed at the time of his death. Material objects such as equipment, magical items, and spell books are not regained and he must replace these items normally. A magic-user or elf will only spontaneous reincarnate as a mouse once; subsequent deaths after regaining human form are permanent unless revived by standard clerical means.