by Drake Dun
Art by andi jones
Other statistics not applicable.
In the form that humans know them, bog glows are luminescent clouds that frequent swampy areas during summer and early autumn evenings. The locals in areas where bog glows can be found keep well away from the marshes during this time of year, for they know through hard experience that the touch of one of these eerie beings spells death to even the strongest of men.
In reality, bog glows are swarms of tiny, semi-luminescent gnats. They become active in the spring, when they hatch from their aquatic hatcheries and take to the air as a swarm. Each individual in the swarm is genetically identical, and they act as one being -- the bog glow. Until the late part of the year, it swarms during the day and feeds on dead animal and plant material, shunning live prey. Its extremely lethal poison is undeveloped, and the ambient daylight hides its light giving properties. Humans therefore take little notice of it, even swatting absentmindedly at it as they pass safely through the swarm.
However, the bog glow undergoes a radical transformation in the early summer. First, it shifts over to night time activity. Almost simultaneously its member gnats develop a powerful poison and a piercing rostrum through which to inject it. The bog glow now marauds about the area in a predatory rampage, storing the energy gleaned from its many prey in preparation for the mating season. In the low light its luminescence casts an eerie reverse shadow that seems to brush over the landscape with aimless ferocity. When autumn comes, the bog glow takes the last of its victims and retires to shallow water to lay its eggs. Each member of the swarm lays hundreds of eggs genetically identical to itself and the other members of the swarm. By far the largest portion of these eggs are eaten by fish and other predators as they gestate helplessly below the water surface. However, the sheer number of eggs laid, made possible by the recent feeding frenzy, insures that enough will survive the winter to form a new swarm come spring.
PredationThe bog glow's methods of capturing prey are remarkably intricate. As a swarm of loosely coordinated smaller beings, it is ill equipped for rapid movement or sudden changes in direction. Its ground speed is slightly less than that of a running man. Therefore the bog glow employs highly developed deception schemes to lure prey in its direction. These schemes are detailed below. Apart from its clever ability to lure prey, the bog glow's greatest strength is its highly lethal poison. Injected through the surface of the victim's skin by thousands of tiny gnats, this poison can kill a man or even a horse in under ten seconds. Characters and their beasts of burden get no save against this poison -- a successful attack by the bog glow spells certain doom. The poison is a powerful neuroinhibiter which stops all communication within the victim's nervous system. The immediate effects of its introduction to the body include instant paralysis and loss of all five senses. Mere seconds later the poison will work its way to the brain where it kills all functions, and to the heart where it stops the automated beating process. Death follows shortly after.
To the observer, the victim will seem to simply lose consciousness and collapse to the ground. The bog glow then settles upon its catch to feed. It carries out the process by sucking away at the victim's body from every point on the skin with its many microscopic syringes. Within a few minutes of the kill, the victim becomes extremely pale and begins to shrink away. His cheeks press inward as if suffering from starvation, and his features become gaunt before his skin begins to wrinkle over the decreasing volume of his insides. By the time the bog glow leaves, the body has been subjected to what appears to be the effects of extremely rapid aging. This is the reason for the belief that the bog glow "sucks life," and also a cause for the common misconception that it is a ghost, as detailed below. The terrifying effect is heightened by the fact that the glutted bog glow, which came to the victim as a pale green cloud, leaves the corpse with a healthy red flush as a result of the large amount of blood consumed. Many humans believe this to be proof that the bog glow steals the soul of its victim.
The bog glow retains this scarlet coloration for several hours as it fully digests the blood and liquefied flesh of its prey. Those who are familiar with the bog glow's habits will be aware that during this time it is quite harmless unless foolishly provoked, as it has no further interest in feeding. Gradually, however, the organic materials are converted to complex energy-storing compounds, and the cloud returns to its pale green color. The bog glow is then ready to feed again.
Luring the PreyAlthough the bog glow is not fast or subtle enough to use stealth, it is truly a master of the bait and catch. Because it feeds on a variety of animals, it has developed various mechanisms to lure prey. Often more than one method will be used, especially in the case of humans, whose powers of reasoning make them fairly difficult prey. Some bog glows have evolved to feed on specific types of prey, and a bog glow specialized to feeding on humans is a rare and terrible thing.
The basic luring method of all bog glows is a combination of pheromones and hypnosis. When a potential victim is located, each gnat in the swarm releases a small amount of pheromone tailored to attract the prey. The pheromone will trigger positive responses in the more primitive areas of the brain, stimulating basic hunger or sex responses which cause the victim to regard the bog glow with interest. When the prey's attention is captured, low level hypnosis is achieved by the elaborate lighting patterns the bog glow casts. These patterns are minute enough to go unnoticed by the conscious mind, but work subliminally in such a way that even humans may be affected. Once mesmerized, the prey stands enraptured as the bog glow moves slowly in for the kill. This is the point at which a human victim makes his defense, for if he can bring himself to regard the bog glow as a threat, he will certainly be able to escape it. Avoiding the bog glow's trance requires a basic Intelligence check. If a character falls under the trance, he may attempt to shake it once in the next round with a roll against half his IQ. The bog glow will not pursue unless it senses that the victim is wounded. In this case the bog glow picks up the scent and will give chase in the hope that it can outrun its prey.
The bog glow is not limited to the usual hypnosis attack, however. It has developed alternate techniques which supplement the basic attack. The first of these, used by all bog glows, is the hide and seek method. Bog glows will usually employ this trick when luring humans. When the bog glow senses that it has been noticed by a human, it puts on a brief light show to arouse interest. Then it immediately begins to move away. With luck, the intended prey will follow out of curiosity. The bog glow begins to play hide and seek with the human, appearing more and more mysterious. The purpose of this cat-and-mouse game is to insure that the human will focus raptly on the bog glow when he is at last allowed to catch up. Bog glows which use this method are responsible for the legend of the "will-o-the wisp."
Players are responsible for the initial decision to follow the bog glow. Obviously, this means that characters who are aware of how dangerous the bog glow is are in no danger, at least from this particular luring method. Characters who are aware of the bog glow's danger are also entitled to a +3 bonus on the hypnosis check. If a player elects to follow the bog glow, the Game Master should lead him on for up to four turns. Each turn the character continues to follow, he incurs a -1 penalty to the hypnosis check. Characters who have the curiosity disadvantage are in particular danger from bog glows! Their players may not decide to ignore the bog glow's allure, and are subject to a -3 penalty on the hypnosis check (up to -7, including the hide and seek penalty). Such characters may ignore the bog glow if they are aware of its danger, but are still subject to the -3 penalty if forced to make a hypnosis check. Characters must make a hypnosis check if they look directly at a bog glow.
Many bog glows take the art of deception still further. One common tactic is to mimic a member of the victim's species. This has resulted in many stories about pale green ghosts which drain the life from their victims. Bog glows are asexual and their offspring are identical to them, including the forms they may take. Stories of a ghost that takes the same form and returns summer after summer are due to this. Other bog glows terrify their victims deliberately, driving them into the worst areas of the swamp where they are unable to run properly. The bog glow then sweeps down on its hapless victim as he struggles to get his feet out of the mud or untangled from brambles. Otherwise the prey can simply be chased until it is too tired to run. Bog glows have even been known to work in groups to accomplish this.
Killing the SwarmBecause bog glows are essentially ethereal, they are invincible to many of the normal attacks employed by humans. They are not subject to the effects of swords or bullets. Weapons which spray, such as flame throwers or chemical ejectors, will work, however. Treat an average bog glow as having 10 HP, not because it can actually sustain damage, but because the entire swarm may not be covered by such an attack. These hit points are used in place of any defense roll the bog glow would otherwise have. If reduced to 0 HP, the surviving members of the swarm scatter, and die shortly after. The bog glow loses its hypnotic powers if reduced to half HP, and briefly stops using them immediately if affected by an attack. Until killed, however, its poison is fully effective.
An alternative to killing the bog glow is to simply avoid it. In high tech level campaigns an easy way to do this is to wear protective clothing that covers every part of the body. The piercing mouths of the bog glow gnats are not long enough to get through a layer of clothing and the victim's skin. Another way to get around the bog glow is to be aware of its danger and carefully avoid it. A character cautious enough to take this course of action is only under threat on the rare occasion that the bog glow gives chase.
Furthermore, there is a way to vaccinate against the bog glow's poison. If a significant number of bog glow eggs or immature bog glow gnats (those captured before summer time) are eaten, then the character's body will develop a natural immunity to the poison. This immunity protects against the poison of all bog glows, because all bog glows use the same poison. Players lucky enough to discover this fact may be able to use bog glows to their advantage.
The final limitation of bog glows is that they can only survive in the miasmal atmosphere of swamp areas. If forced to leave, they will perish within hours. The same effect can be accomplished by somehow aerating the swamp or using a spell of some sort to dry out the air in which the bog glow is hovering.
Bog Glow Adventure SeedsBog glows are probably a one shot monster for a game group, as players will quickly become familiar with what they are and how they kill. Game Masters should therefore tie them into a plot somehow so that they become an important element of an entire adventure. Also, Game Masters should carefully consider what further methods the bog glow might use to catch prey and focus on these methods through roleplaying, rather than relying on hypnosis checks too often.
Limited Resources. The quiet village of Shallow Water has had several experiences with bog glows in the nearby swamp, and the townsfolk keep well away from the area during summer. They are even kind enough to warn the player characters, who have just arrived just in time for summer. However, the swamp has recently become the source for a thriving fishing industry which carefully operates during the safe times of the year. What the fishermen do not know is that they are rapidly driving the bog glow's major predator to extinction through their activities. When summer arrives thousands of eggs which might have been eaten before hatching are allowed to grow into bog glow gnats, and the local bog glow population rockets. The swamp's meager wildlife is unable to satiate their ravenous appetite and they become more and more aggressive. One summer evening the town holds a festival to celebrate the fishing harvest and the powerful aroma of fish drifts toward the swamp . . .
Imaginary Friends. The characters meet Ellie, a lonely little girl who is immune to the bog glows' poison and lives with her elderly mother at the edge of the swamp. She helps the characters get something they need out from the dangerous area, disturbing the bog glows there. They react to her immunity by evolving complex mimicry schemes -- they make themselves look like other children. Ellie wanders out into the swamp to find her new friends and gets lost. The characters are understandably concerned, and most find a way to rescue her without falling to the bog glows themselves.
Article publication date: January 14, 2000
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