It’s been quite a long time since my last update, during which time my wife gave birth to our second child, a beautiful baby girl who we named Meridian. So, needless to say, things have been busy at the Rambler Household of late. Despite this, it was never my intention to neglect this blog for so long. Starting this month, with this post, I’m going to try to get back on track to do at least four updates a month. This always seems like an easy goal when I write it down or say it out loud, but with work and kids, and not actually playing any games, and – let’s face it – a little bit of laziness, things aren’t always as easy as they seem. But enough about me; let’s talk about Yellow Musk Creepers.
The Yellow Musk Creeper is one of those “save or get screwed” monsters, where someone fails a save and rushes over to have his or her brain devoured while the rest of the party tries desperately to defeat the Yellow Musk Zombies in time to save their hapless comrade. This is all well and good, but I had a few more interesting ideas for how to use this monster.
Maybe, if processed and handled correctly, the musk from a yellow musk creeper could be a much sought after component in “ordinary” perfume. Ordinary except for the fact that it does seem to attract amorous attention a bit better than other, less expensive perfumes. Oh, and there is also the thing about how the manufacturing process involves kidnapping people and feeding them to plants so that more plants can be made and more musk can be harvested. But aside from those two things it’s basically just ordinary perfume.
The party is either sent out to specifically obtain, or otherwise finds a strange seedling and brings it back to town for an alchemist, apothecary, druid, or what-have-have-you. They then go about their journeys, only to return to the town weeks or months later to discover that everyone in town has been turned into yellow musk zombies. This is fun because they are kind of responsible for the problem, and there is actually a way to help these people if they can kill the plant (and they can cast neutralize poison and heal) without killing the townsfolk. Trying to destroy the root system of a giant plant while trying to not destroy the woodcutter who is trying to hack you up while you try to destroy the plant sounds like good times! Maybe if your party isn’t able to cast heal spells or you want to go in another direction with this, you could say that the original reason the alchemist wanted the seedling was to develop a yellow musk antidote. Maybe his notes indicate he was successful in creating this antidote even, and all the party has to do is go out and obtain some dangerous to obtain ingredients while under a time crunch. Can they find the ingredients for the antidote before everyone in town wanders off two hundred feet or so from town and their heads burst like ripe melons, spawning dozens of yellow musk creepers?
Another fun twist on this scenario involves tweaking the monster stat-block for yellow musk zombies somewhat. The AD&D 2nd Edition stat block for the musk zombies indicates that they have “Animal (1)” intelligence, but wouldn’t it be neat if they retained a “Low (5-7)” or “Average (8-10)” intelligence, and sort of went about their normal daily business whilst being yellow musk zombies? Also, in addition to their normal routines, the townsfolk also have a new thing they like to do. Basically, when outsiders come to town, the townsfolk like to try and lure them to the yellow musk creeper so they can become zombies or, failing that, murder them! Fun times, right?
Another thing that I thought would be pretty cool is a whole pack of yellow musk zombie apes deep in a jungle, or a whole bunch of doppelgangers or aarakocra or some other weird humanoid being turned into yellow musk zombies. You know, for funsies. And while we’re having fun, what’s with this restriction that the yellow musk creeper will attack anything larger than a cat, but can only turn humanoids into zombies? I mean, there is actually a fungus in the real world that we live in that turns ants into zombies, so why restrict ourselves when it comes to made-up fantasy plants? I think it would be a blast to have a pack of crazed badgers, wolverines, deer, wolves – whatever – savagely attacking people along a stretch of road that just happens to be near a musk creeper that they are protecting. Or maybe they are giant spiders or toads or literally anything you can imagine. I think it’s a real shame that the monster manual says only man-sized humanoid creatures get to have yellow musk zombie fun, and I encourage everyone to ignore this silly restriction.
Likewise, feel free to ignore the 100 foot range restriction and allow your zombies to roam a great distance to bring back prey for their plant master, because you can also ignore the part where the plant is mindless. Instead, make it a sentient thing that maintains a telepathic link with its minions and actively sends them forth in search of fresh victims.
In fact, if you ever find yourself looking at any monster and thinking “I have a really cool idea for this monster; too bad rule “x” says I can’t do that,” I would strongly encourage you to ignore whatever rule is getting in the way of your cool idea, or think of a way to make an exception to that rule. And definitely don’t cheat yourself out of an awesome adventure because the Monster Manual says yellow musk creeper zombies have an intelligence of 1, can only be humanoids, and can only wander 100 feet from the plant. It’s your game so do what you want!