In the shade: Digging up the octopus’ garden

March 28, 2019 at 3:57 pm

“The fact that three-fifths of an octopus’ neurons are not in their brain, but in their arms, suggests that each arm has a mind of its own.”

–– Sy Montgomery

Another of the most distinctive creatures from the Fantasy Trip is the Octopus — fierce, sword-wielding cephalopods that can move upright on dry land. But beyond “greedy, dishonest, and cowardly” and a taste for treasure and human flesh, we get very little to flesh out what could be a creepy and dangerous enemy. Which, we like to think is more an opportunity than a problem.

So let’s take a crack at adding a little more flavor to these killer calamari.

Real-world octopus are extremely adaptive creatures, even capable of rewriting their own genetic code to adjust to changing conditions. Perhaps their fantastic counterparts are even more flexible, ranging from the deep oceans to marshy wilderness, ripe for interaction with delving heroes.

Let’s aside the truly aquatic octopus for now, although its easy to imagine coral-fashioned fortresses filled with clever octopus wizards and protected by massive eight-legged guards. But we might come back for them in a deeper discussion of underwater adventuring.

Land ho

Land-based octopus are amphibious, hunting on land but returning to the water with their catch to recover. It is thought that prolonged exposure to the open air has turned them into a degenerate version of their kind, lacking in some of the intelligence and subtlety of ocean-dwelling octopi.

An octopus is usually a solitary hunter, only mingling with others of its kind for mating. But with proper conditions and a plentiful food source, a dozen or more octopus have been known to combine into a ‘consortium’. These communities are often volatile and short-lived, as competition for supremacy or resources can turn violent quite quickly. Females dominate these groupings, with the more-aggressive males hunting and protect the nest. Octopuses have no compunction against eating their own, and devouring a rival is the supreme show of dominance.

Talk to the tentacle

Octopus do not have a spoken language, but communicate by shifting the colors and patterns of their skin. This is augmented in personal communication with gestures and intertangling their tentacles. Very few outsiders have been able to decipher even the rudiments of the octopus language, but it is widely known that flashing dark colors and rising up to loom over other creatures is a threatening stance.

It is interesting to note that they do have their own form of magic that has practiced through gestures and creating shifting magical patterns on their skins. This kind of spell-casting is always silent. Transferring spells with octopi wizards has not been successful, although they are quite capable of using magical items created for humans or other races.

Tools and trade

In fact, it does not seem that the amphibious octopi have any level of craftsmanship of their own. Their nests are usually natural formations of flooded constructions, with only minor modifications made by their inhabitants. They have no woodwork, pottery, or metal-smithing. However, octopus seem quite clever about utilizing the tools of others, and are eager to collect and use the tools of others.

This seems particularly true when it comes to weapons and armor. Octopus seem quick to understand and make us of swords, spears, axes, shields, and even bows and crossbows. Frighteningly, and octopus can throw twice the number of shaw-ken per round at the same DX penalty with their many tentacles.

One weapon that they have been loathe to take up is fire. Octopus fear flames, and will not use torches, molotails, or even black powder weapons.

The octopus’ desire for tools and weapons is the reason for most non-violent contact between the reclusive creatures and other races. While it usually frowned on to trade weapons to such violent creatures, some merchants care more about gold than the safety of travelers. Octopus have also been contracted to perform tasks (usually raising or killing) in exchange for weapons, but they care little about the words of grass-walkers and are unreliable partners.

In addition to the strength of their tentacles, the octopus’ suckers release a paralytic poison. It can not be transferred to weapons or get passed through an unarmed attack, but if a person is unlucky enough to be enveloped by an octopus, the poison may spell its doom.

Special attack: Paralytic grasp. If an octopus engages in HTH combat with a non-octopus, it may try to pin the enemy in its many tentacles. If they succeed, the victim must make a 3/ST save against paralytic poison that seeps from its suckers. Failure causes -2ST to escape the pin. This poison will continue to affect the figure each round, and if the victim falls to 0ST, they are completely helpless. This tactic is usually combined with dragging a pinned enemy underwater in hopes of quickly drowning them.

Alternative Octopi

Marshstalker. This breed of octopus has perfected the use of their color-shifting ability to provide camouflage in their swampy hunting grounds. In this environment, the octopus can remain unnoticed unless the viewer is actively searching for enemies and makes 3/IQ roll. They can evade pursuit as if they they had the Stealth Talent. Marshstalkers are gifted climbers as well, and like to lie in wait in trees, dropping on unsuspecting prey to pin them, while still being able to attack with a free hand weapon.

Noctopus. Lurking in murky waters and drains below the city streets, these sneaky octopus (also known as ‘gutter wraiths’) have adapted perfectly to their dark and fetid domain. They are deep black, mottled with the colors of mold and ooze, and are nearly invisible in the sewers. Even an active observer would need to make a 3/IQ test to see a noctopus slink by. They hoard items that have fallen into the sewers, and occasionally trek into the upper world to retrieve an object that catches their attention. Boneless, they can squeeze through nearly any opening and bypass most locks and then disappear back into the drain — leaving the theft untraceable. They have also adapted their defensive ink into a fine airborne mist that act as the Shadow spell in their hex and each surrounding hex once per day. This mist lasts for 1d rounds, and is usually used to cover the noctopus’ escape. There are many known instances of noctopus wizards as well, ruling over smaller creatures who live in the depths.

Puppeteer, or Deathshroud octopus. This very rare type is perhaps the most dangerous of the land octopi. They are smaller, rarely over four-feet long, and are mottled blue and gray. If a puppeteer octopus attacks a victim’s head — either with a -6DX attack or by pinning its foe and making them helpless — it will use its strong poison (4/ST or paralyzed) to disable them and burrow into its head cavity. After 10 full rounds, the creature’s body is stretched over what was what they head, and several of its tentacles are deep within the corpse. From there, it can command the body as if it was its own, using its movement, fine muscle control, and even its voice. A puppeteer usually will not keep a body from than two weeks, as this control does not stop the host from decomposing.