Creatures of the Night

The Cannibal at the North End of the World

by Bevan Thomas

In many fantasy stories and roleplaying games, deities, spirits, and such creatures are polarized into camps of good and evil with clear distinctions made between the two. However, the relationship between the human and supernatural worlds is often far more complex in mythology, requiring people to achieve an understanding with the dark primal forces that surround them.

Such a force is Baxbakwalanuxsiwae, a mighty spirit that haunts the legends of the Kwakiutl people of British Columbia, Canada (and is comparable to the Algonquin ice giant Wendigo). His name has been translated as "Cannibal at the North End of the World," "He Who is First to Eat Man at the Mouth of the River," and simply "Cannibal." To most, he is a being of terror, sweeping down from the cold north hungry for human flesh. However, to those who know his sacred rites, he is also a source of knowledge and power.

This powerful spirit is appropriate for any campaign where such beings control aspects of human existence. Though a creature of Kwakiutl folklore, the Cannibal can easily be adapted to other cosmologies, presenting an unexpected source of danger and knowledge to those who stumble upon the enigmatic entity.

Baxbakwalanuxsiwae

   

1,388 points

Age indeterminate; 9'; 1,000 lbs. In his true form, the Cannibal resembles a bear, with a hunched-over body covered in dark, tangled fur. However, his face is that of an ogre, with burning red eyes and huge tusks. Most hideous of all are the gaping, bloodstained mouths that cover his body. They speak in unison when the Cannibal talks, creating a ghoulish choir. He is usually naked unless dressed in his shape-shifting cloaks (see below).

Attributes: ST 25 [250]; DX 14 [80]; IQ 18 [360]; HT 14 [40].

Secondary Characteristics: Dmg 2d+2/5d-1; BL 125; HP 25 [0]; Will 21 [15]; Per 21 [15]; FP 14 [0]; Basic Speed 7 [0]; Basic Move 7 [0].

Advantages: Alternate Form (hokhiku; can be stolen 10%) [26]; Alternate Form (raven; keeps IQ; can be stolen 10%) [14]; Discriminatory Smell [15]; Humanoid Man-Eater [29]; Jump (world, only to and from Spirit World -60%) [40]; Possession (spiritual -20%) [80]; Speak with Animals [25]; Spirit [261]; Temperature Tolerance 10 (cold) [10]; Terror (hearing, -3 to fright checks) [60].

Disadvantages: Bloodlust (12) [-10]; Callous [-5]; Code of Honor (Hospitality) [-5]; Curious (12) [-5]; Frightens Animals [-10]; Gluttony (9) [-7]; Needs to Eat and Drink [-10]; Odious Personal Habit (Eats other sapients) [-15]; Restricted Diet (Fresh Meat) [-10]

Quirks: Always calls out "Hap! Hap!" when attacking; Proud [-2]

Languages: Haisla (Accented) [4]; Heiltsuk-Oowekyala (Native) [6]; Kwak'wala (Accented) [4]; Spirit Tongue (Native) [0]

Skills: Area Knowledge (Pacific Northwest Coast)-18 [1]; Area Knowledge (Spirit World)-18 [1]; Brawling-17 [8]; Dancing-14 [2]; Detect Lies-21 [4]; Diplomacy-17 [2]; Fast-Talk-18 [2]; Gambling-18 [2]; Herb Lore-18 [8]; Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore)-20 [8]; Intimidation-21 [2]; Literature (Pacific Northwest Coast)-18 [2]; Meditation-20 [2]; Musical Instrument (Whistle)-17 [2]; Naturalist-18 [4]; Navigation (Air)-18 [2]; Observation-21 [2]; Occultism-20 [8]; Public Speaking-18 [2]; Religious Ritual (Kwakiutl)-18 [4]; Ritual Magic (Pepaxalai)-18 [8]; Singing-15 [2]; Sleight of Hand-13 [2]; Stealth-16 [8]; Survival (Arctic)-21 [2]; Survival (Woodlands)-20 [1]; Symbol Drawing (Pepaxalai)-18 [4]; Teaching-15 [2]*; Theology (Kwakiutl)-18 [4]; Tracking-21 [2] *Includes 3 for Callous

Humanoid Man-Eater

   

29 points

The natural form of the Cannibal.

Secondary Characteristics: SM+1

Advantages: Claws (sharp) [5], DR 3 (skin) [9]; Extra Mouths (all over the body) [50]; Fur [1]; Penetrating Voice [1]; Teeth (fangs) [2]

Disadvantages: Disturbing Voice (ghoulish choir) [-10]; Horrific Appearance [-24], Semi-Upright [-5]

Hokhiku

   

45 points

When hunting, the Cannibal dons his transformation mask and cloak of feathers, and takes on the form of the hokhiku. This creature is a bird with a long, thin beak, feathers as black as night, and a wingspan of 60 feet. Its voice is similar to the hooting of an owl, though the words of the Cannibal's hunting cry can still be made out. He uses the hokhiku's beak to crush his prey's skulls in order to consume their brains.

Secondary Characteristics: SM+1

Advantages: Acute Vision 3 [6], Claws (talons) [8], Enhanced Move 1 (Air Speed 28) [20]; Flight (winged -25%) [30], Night Vision 5 [5], Penetrating Voice [1]; Silence 3 [15]; Teeth (sharp beak) [1]

Disadvantages: Disturbing Voice (echoing croak) [-10]; No Fine Manipulators [-30]

Biography

Deep in the Spirit World, at the North End of the World, there is a huge mountain trapped in an eternal blizzard, its pine trees forever buried in snow. This mountain is known as Naualakum (Supernatural-Face-Mountain), and it is on its slopes that the Cannibal makes his home. His lodge resembles a longhouse such as those found in the villages of the Pacific Northwest Coast, but it is of massive size and the smoke that constantly billows from its chimney is red as blood. The inside of the longhouse is always covered with red-cedar bark, and usually smells of cooked meat. For much meat must be cooked to fill the Cannibal's great belly.

Baxbakwalanuxsiwae shares his home with his wife Qominaga. She is the one who usually prepares the bloody meals with the assistance of her slave Kinqalalala. Though Qominaga appears similar to her husband, she is usually dressed in red and white cedar bark, and is more domestically inclined (her skills focus more on cooking and housekeeping than on hunting). Her powers are more-or-less identical, and she even possesses similar shapeshifting cloaks. The few times that Qominaga goes hunting, she takes the form of the gelogudzayae ("crooked-beak-of-heaven"), a large bird with a strange hooked beak (and stats comparable to that of the hokhiku).

A long time ago, a young Kwakiutl man wished to know the secrets of the Spirit World, and so he set out to find Baxbakwalanuxsiwae and learn from him. After overcoming countless hardships, the man finally arrived at Naualakum and presented himself to the Cannibal. The spirit was impressed by the man's dedicated, courage, and cunning, and as a reward, possessed him. This drove the man insane, and he ran screaming back to his village, hungry for human flesh. Eventually, the man managed to regain his sanity, resist the hunger, and even learned how to channel the spirit's power. The man became a prominent pepaxalai (a shaman, literally "powerful one"), and the creator of the Hamatsa cult, a secret society dedicated to the veneration of the Cannibal and the channeling of his power.

Motivations

Above all, the thing that motivates Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is hunger. He craves fresh meat, particularly the flesh of humans and other sapient beings, and is absolutely merciless in getting it. He is a very wise spirit, and when not eating, usually spends his time in contemplation and the pursuit of knowledge. He is venerated by a mystic order known as the Hamatsa, and is pleased by their rituals, which serve to pacify him and decrease his hunger for flesh. However, not even the Hamatsa can stave off his hunger for long, and the Cannibal must always return to the hunt.

Encountered

The mortal world is usually too warm during the spring and summer months for a creature who has made its home at the North End of the World. Therefore the Cannibal only goes hunting in the mortal world during autumn and winter (making due with much less filling spirit prey during the warmer months). When leaving his home, he dons a transformation mask and magic cloak of black feathers, exchanging his bear-like form for that of a bird's. Depending upon which mask and cloak he takes, the Cannibal will fly off as either a raven or the hokhiku bird. The raven is used for spying, reconnaissance, and to feast on fresh carrion (in this form, Baxbakwalanuxsiwae has a taste for eyes). The hokhiku is used for hunting.

The Cannibal prefers to hunt at night, particularly during storms, and will fly through the night, almost invisible against the night sky until he detects worthy prey. Then he comes down like a thunderbolt, calling out his hunting cry in a bizarre, twisted voice. The cry is "Hap! Hap!" which means "Eating! Eating!" Those who hear the horrible cry and see Baxbakwalanuxsiwae bearing down upon them are often paralyzed with fear, allowing the Cannibal to devour them at his leisure.

If he is feeling particularly hungry, then the Cannibal will consume his prey's eyes and brain then and there, leaving the ruined carcass for scavengers. However, the Cannibal prefers to simply stun his victim, and carry the unconscious prey off in his talons back to the slopes of Naualakum and to Qominaga's stew-pot.

When full, or at least less ravenous than usual, Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is contemplative and inquisitive. He often tests those he encounters, presenting them with challenges to see if they are worthy of knowledge or mystic advice. The Cannibal will temporarily possess those he deems particularly worthy, transforming them into hamatsa. Though this can be an opportunity to learn much, it is also dangerous in the extreme. For unless the people are the Cannibal's guests in his lodge (and thus protected by the laws by hospitality), he would feel no compunction about devouring them should he get hungry. However, he is impressed by courage and ingenuity, and if particularly impressed by a person's bravery and cunning, Baxbakwalanuxsiwae may decide to seek prey elsewhere.

Variations

Though Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is presented as an ambiguous figure by the Kwakiutl, some nearby Native groups portray him as entirely malevolent. For example, in an Owikeno legend, the Cannibal kidnaps a chief's daughter and forces her to be his wife. After the chief's sons rescue their sister, he invites the Cannibal into his lodge for dinner and then pushes the creature into a concealed fire-pit. After the Cannibal is completely burned, his ashes transform into the first mosquitoes, creatures that will feed on humanity forever. Such a creature is a clear-cut threat, a monster the PCs can battle without misgivings. This version of the Cannibal would lack the Curious disadvantage, probably possessing Sadism instead.

Hamatsa

   

30 points

Advantages: Blessed [10]; Channeling [10]; Medium [10]; Patron (the Cannibal, 6 or less) [10]; Reputation +3 (with all people who respect the Hamatsa, recognized sometimes) [4].

Disadvantages: Bloodlust (12) [-10]; Duty (performing the Hamatsa rituals) [-5]; Gluttony (12) [-5].

Skills: Hidden Lore (Spirit Lore) (A) IQ [2]; Religious Ritual (Kwakiutl) (H) IQ -1 [2]; Theology (Kwakiutl) (H) IQ-1 [2].

Variant: If the GM wishes for the Hamatsa's powers to instead be represented by magical spells, then replace the supernatural advantages with skill in Ritual Magic (Pepaxalai) and Symbol Drawing (Pepaxalai) and add levels of Ritual Magery. Mages who invoke the power of the Cannibal would likely favor spells from the paths of Animal, Communication and Empathy, Food, Knowledge, and Necromancy.

A long, long time ago, a young man was brave enough to travel to the North End of the World and petition Baxbakwalanuxsiwae to grant him power. Once the man regained his sanity, he taught to others the secrets that the Cannibal had taught him, and thus was the Hamatsa, the Cult of the Cannibal, formed. A secret society dedicated to pacifying and channeling the Cannibal spirit.

Anyone wishing to join the society must first stay in the wilderness for four days. If found worthy of membership, he is possessed by Baxbakwalanuxsiwae and driven temporarily insane. On the fourth day, the initiate runs back into the village in a frenzied state, biting anyone he can reach. He must be lured inside the Hamatsa's sacred longhouse (representing an integration of the Cannibal Spirit with the village and its inhabitants), where he is forced to participate in a ritual dance and must then consume and disgorge large quantities of salt water and raw meat. As the initiate vomits forth the meat, he cleanses himself of most of his insanity, while still retaining the Cannibal's power.

The Hamatsa perform dances during the Kwakiutl winter ceremonies. The dances reenact the adventures of their mythic founder and serve to both pacify Baxbakwalanuxsiwae and draw upon his strength and wisdom. They are an attempt to balance the civilized human world with the gluttonous savagery of the wilderness. They also allow the people to participate in the cycle of predator and prey that embodies the natural world, providing purification for all present.

When not participating in these ceremonies, the Hamatsa serve as intermediaries between the material and spirit worlds, seeking to balance the needs of the spirits with the needs of the tribe. They also receive visions that assist them in their duties as advisors. However, this power comes at a price, for each hamatsa must wrestle with the gluttonous nature that the Cannibal has instilled in him.

The Cannibal in the Campaign

Baxbakwalanuxsiwae is most obviously appropriate for a Horror, Illuminated, or other kind of setting in which characters explore variations of real-world legends and ghost stories. However, he could be transplanted to a Fantasy campaign with ease: the Cannibal could be affiliated with some tribal culture akin to the Kwakiutl, or be entirely on his own, his lodge on some isolated mountain, waiting for a group of adventurers to stumble upon him.

The most obvious use for the Cannibal is as a villain, with the PCs struggling to stop the spirit from pursuing any more prey. However, another possibility is for him to possess knowledge or capabilities that the characters require, forcing them to try and strike a bargain with Baxbakwalanuxsiwae. This bargain may entail some difficult task (such as scaling Naualakum or beating the Cannibal in an arm-wrestling match), or might even require that a PC be possessed by him.

Depending upon the situation, the Hamatsa could serve as patrons, allies, or enemies for the PCs. They are sources of spiritual knowledge and wield a lot of power in their tribal communities, as well as being some of the few people able to mollify the Cannibal. This would make them useful friends, and even more dangerous foes.

Further Reading




Article publication date: March 3, 2006


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