Monday, August 1, 2016

The Convent of St. Brigid

Author's Note: If you've read any of the articles going around about roach milk (here are examples from the Toronto Star and CNN), you already know everything you need for this blog post.

Customizing the Setting: The convent depicted below assumes an early modern setting, as per Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  (St. Brigid's association with hedges and witchery may even suggest that this is the unnamed convent from The Pale Lady.  Alternately, the convent's insect veneration may also suggest this convent is in Germany, somewhere within the vicinity of Karlstadt, as per Better Than Any Man.  Or perhaps both or none of these things are true.)  If you're using a standard fantasy setting, make it a convent (or monastery, or other cloister) representing a prominent religion in the region.  (In Isle of Anhak, for example, I'd probably use the Church of Pelor-Who-Is-Paladine.)  I'd assume the nuns or monks are level-0 nobodies (maybe with a level 1 Cleric for an abbot), as are the townsfolk, but if you want to make it a monastery of D&D-style kung fu badass monks trained to protect the secret of their temple, feel free.  Names and locations have been left deliberately vague for Referees to adapt to their own campaigns.

Off the beaten path, there is a little village where all is well.  (In true Lake Wobegon fashion, "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.")  Containing 105 residents, the village is primarily thatch huts and a few wooden buildings.  On the nearby hill is a stone convent with an attached chapel; the residents come here for services on Sundays.

Of interest to adventurers, the village has a store for general provisions and tools (and they will also accept trade or engage in resale), although almost no weapons.  The local carpenter can make arrows, but that's about it (if you place the settlement near water, he's also a boatwright; otherwise he just repairs and builds the wooden buildings in town).  The local smith doesn't make weapons (he'd no doubt make weapons or metal armor if you asked him, but I wouldn't trust the quality), although he does do a bit of leathercrafting (so leather armor is available), and he also sells tools.  One of the local wives does some sewing and mending, so clothing (even fine clothing if you've got the coin) is available.  Travelers can also receive medical attention through the local church.  If you need a scribe, one of the acolytes will no doubt be able to help.  There is no inn (not even stables), although the local families will no doubt be willing to put up travelers if they're willing to do a few chores.  (There might only be enough room for a couple of people to stay at a house, so the PCs will likely need to split up to stay the night.)

The townsfolk are all friendly and earnest — perhaps a little too earnest, just to make the PCs paranoid.  Observation indicates this is genuine, as they even interact among themselves in this fashion.  They're strong, attractive, and healthy.  (If your game is set in The Dung Ages with filthy, pock-marked peasants, this is probably the first clue that something is amiss.  Even if not, it should be described as being somewhat uncanny.)  The only notable difference in their habits is that they drink a lot of milk.  A lot of milk.  Some residents may even be observed consuming nothing else — no food, no water, just the ubiquitous milk.  If asked about their apparent good health, they will readily attribute it to the milk, and encourage the PCs to try some.  If asked, they say that the local convent produces it.

It looks like regular milk, but tastes a little odd.  For starters, it's as viscous as cow's milk, but tastes the consistency and thickness of buttermilk.  It combines several flavors that one wouldn't expect — it mostly tastes like cow's milk, but it's got a bit of the creaminess of butter, the savoriness of cheese, the saltiness of goat's milk.  There's also a savory fat taste to it, like roasted meat (or more accurately, fried chicken skin).  It tastes rather odd, but once the initial surprise is overcome, most people rather enjoy it.  (Imagine fast food in a world without it, and you can likely understand how it could become popular.)

Consuming the milk also offers a couple of benefits.  For twenty-four hours after consumption, the character gains a +5 bonus to saving throws vs. poison, and all healing is doubled (including magical healing).  Most importantly, the milk acts as liquid rations.  You still need to find an adequate source of water (which is why townsfolk tend to consume so much of it), but a pint of the milk acts as a day's rations.  (Assuming a typical wineskin holds two quarts, that's four days' rations.  If you prefer metric, about two liters is a single day's rations.)

Drinking the milk for the first time requires a saving throws vs. poison, made at a -5 penalty, to see if the character is addicted to the milk.  This addiction is subtle, but pervasive, almost subconscious.  The character seeks to have some milk each day; not necessarily a lot, but at least a mouthful.  (It's remarkably resistant to spoilage, and so carrying a cask of it will keep someone supplied for quite a while.)  More importantly, the character will do anything to make certain the milk supply is not threatened.  The character doesn't feel a compulsion to guard the convent or anything like that, but the character will respond to any credible threat against the convent.  If you're halfway around the world and hear a rumor that bandits are threatening the convent, you'll probably traipse back to make sure everything's okay.  If border patrols look like they're going to crack open your cask of milk and dump it out, you will prevent them from doing so.  If you know the secret of the milk (as detailed below), you'll make sure no one threatens it.  (Up to and including your companions.)

There is a more insidious effect of the milk.  For each week of regular consumption (assuming some milk per day), the character makes a saving throw vs. poison.  The first week, this saving throw is made at +20; each subsequent week of consumption, this saving throw takes a cumulative -1 penalty.  If a character stops consuming the milk, this penalty fades at a rate of 1 point every two weeks.  (So, if you've been drinking the milk for six weeks, you make your saving throw at a +14, and so probably do not risk side effects.  If you then avoid the milk for twelve weeks, your saving throw will again be made at +20 the next time you encounter the milk.)  Failure means that the character starts mutating slowly, gaining 1d4+1 random mutations at a rate of about one every month or so — if you're stuck for a rate, say 2d10+20 days between mutations.  (Use Carcosa or The Metamorphica or your favorite random mutation list to dispense mutations; if your list includes multiple types, you should probably stick to physical and physiological mutations rather than psionics or super-powers or whatever, but that's up to you.)  Although the mutations occur slowly, they start immediately — so if you're getting wings in a month, you'll probably have two scaly and sore nodules on your back in about a week which will then sprout and grow in size until they are fully-functional.  Astute observers will note that mutations may very well begin after a character has stopped drinking the milk, or may compound if a character continues drinking the milk.

It's up to the Referee as to whether or not she makes these saving throws in secret (thus leaving the PCs to wonder why they've started gaining weird mutations), or in public (thus leaving the PCs paranoid about what the milk is doing to them).  It likely depends on your particular playstyle, group, and what you think will get the PCs most involved.

If PCs get suspicious about all these attractive peasants, they'll likely go to the convent on top of the hill to investigate.  The convent is dedicated to St. Brigid (although Referees are encouraged to conflate her with the goddess Brigid and/or the Swedish saint Birgitta Birgersdotter), and maintains the convent by raising cattle and harvesting the milk.  (They also sell baked goods using the milk, so cakes and pies are available.)  The nuns will sell their milk for 4sp per pint.  (They usually sell it to townsfolk for 1 or 2sp per pint.)

Suspicious observers investigating the local ranch will note (1) that the nuns don't have enough cows to supply the town with all this milk, and (2) that some of the cows aren't even dairy cattle, instead being more appropriate for leatherworking.  (In fact, the local smith pays the convent for their cows for just this purpose.)  The nuns are friendly, but for obvious reasons, are disinclined to allow men into their nunnery.  They'll still be somewhat standoffish with women if it becomes apparent that they're snooping, and so may give them a tour but will quickly try to get rid of them if possible.  If inquiries become obvious, they will stonewall as much as they can.  All the nuns are addicted to the milk, and while they try to avoid violence, they will easily kill to protect the milk supply.

The tale runs thusly: some months ago, the convent began suffering an infestation of roaches.  They thought this was a normal problem until the roaches swiftly began getting larger and larger, resulting in these pale, white beetles about the size of a dog that got into the food stores and started making a huge mess of things.  (The little bastards bite, too, and the bites tended to abscess.)  The nuns put out quiet inquiries, and before long, an adventuring party appeared to handle the problem.  They traced the monster roaches to the catacombs beneath the church, finding that a wall had collapsed into a natural cave system.  Therein, they found a giant cockroach, giving birth to these monstrous things.  (Smaller cockroach nests were also found, but weren't nearly as interesting.)  The adventurers being adventurers, they thought it safer to deal with the thing by collapsing its tunnel.  Gunpowder was involved, but an accident resulted in the adventurers being trapped with the monstrous roach.  Strangely, however, they found it left them alone as long as they didn't attack it.  (It, and the other roaches, seem content to feed on the lichen that grow naturally in the caverns.)  However, only planning on a quick expedition into the caves, food quickly ran out, and the adventurers took to killing and eating the white immature cockroaches birthed by the giant mother.  By the time they dug themselves out of the caves, they were addicted to the milk found in the immature cockroaches, and had learned that they could consume the milk directly.

Isn't she lovely?
They presented their findings to the nuns, somehow convinced them to try the milk themselves, and the rest is now history.  Once the mother stopped producing young (nobody has been brave enough to ask what monstrous cockroach must have mated with it), the nuns found they could stimulate milk production by feeding ground up male cockroaches to the mother.  Removing the liquid and crystal slurry from the cockroach's hindquarters is somewhat unpleasant work, but it pays the bills and keeps everyone happy.  The nuns also mix the roach milk with water and dairy cow milk to make the taste a little more familiar and to stretch out the crystal supply.  (Although they've got a surplus to last them quite a while.)

If someone tries to kill her (a likely outcome, assuming they're not addicted), the St. Brigid roach has 7 hit dice, armor as plate, and a bite dealing damage as a shortsword.  (That's AC 18, +7 to-hit with a bite dealing 1d6 damage in LotFP terms.)  She scuttles as fast as an unencumbered man (120', or 40' per round), although she's pretty sedentary most of the time.  (She seems to enjoy being milked, as near as anyone can tell.)  If she ever ran out of fungus, she'd get more aggressive, but that doesn't seem to be a problem yet.

Good luck trying to murder a well-armored and angry roach the size of an SUV in tight caverns, though.

There is a possibility that the St. Brigid roach is related to the Shab-al-Hiri Roach, although whether this is accurate is up to the Referee.


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    1. Awesome! I assume the previous adventuring party is also addicted and will come scuttling back to save mama sustenance as well ...

    2. Almost assuredly. Maybe they took their roach milk casks and left, or maybe they're lurking nearby. Maybe they even became residents, just to stay close to the milk.


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