Monday, August 31, 2009

It’s a Mouse-Eat-Rat World

“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.


Timeshadows said...

Certainly is an interesting option. :)
Here's my suggestion for a Fighter or Thief:

Highwayman by Johnny Cash-

I was a highwayman. Along the coach roads I did ride
With sword and pistol by my side
Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade
Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade
The bastards hung me in the spring of twenty-five
But I am still alive.

I was a sailor. I was born upon the tide
And with the sea I did abide.
I sailed a schooner round the Horn to Mexico
I went aloft and furled the mainsail in a blow
And when the yards broke off they said that I got killed
But I am living still.

I was a dam builder across the river deep and wide
Where steel and water did collide
A place called Boulder on the wild Colorado
I slipped and fell into the wet concrete below
They buried me in that great tomb that knows no sound
But I am still around..I'll always be around..and around and around and
around and around

I fly a starship across the Universe divide
And when I reach the other side
I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can
Perhaps I may become a highwayman again
Or I may simply be a single drop of rain
But I will remain
And I'll be back again, and again and again and again and again...

JB said...

This is a pretty cool idea, though more as aplot point for me than an actual scenario for a PC to go through.

Still and all, it WOULD be fun to see what clever way the PC could devise for killing the rat (or cat or dog, etc.). If I was going to implement something like this, I'd probably have it apply automatically to all MUs of Name level+ rather than a 5% chance.

Tim Shorts said...

If you really want to make it tough..make them into a piece of cheese and have them kill the mouse.

Tacoma said...

Tim that was awesome.

I think this would work better as just a backstory for a villain. A way for him to be resurrected in a poetic way.

Because otherwise you're treading a fine line between giving a wizard a free resurrection or making it worthless. As you wrote it, it's a 5% chance per level of a free raise. Because he will seek out his friends, they pick him up and find a rat, buff him, and he slays it. They repeat for every other incarnation, then go bump off a bandit for the last one. Sure it takes some effort and roleplaying but it's certainly not "mouse against the world, the choice between continuing the struggle or living with what you have, a metaphor for magical study in general".

The original story, as well, appears to suggest that the adept may be reincarnated anywhere. Sure it's convenient for a Reincarnation spell to make the new incarnation wander in XdX rounds later, but it's cheesy.

I like the idea. I just don't know how well it works in a game that already has Raise Dead.

ancientvaults said...

I have been mulling this one over for a few days, it is a great idea and a cool gaming concept.