|by Kev Crossley|
This forced Yidrick to flee into the wilderness with his companions, leaving most of his flock behind. Unfortunately, they weren't fast enough and were ambushed by servants of the Empire on the road. Yidrick's companions were scattered and he was wounded. He fled into the nearby forest, believing that the soldiers would not follow him inside. Unfortunately, these soldiers were emboldened by the presence of a Magi, sent from the Imperial Court to aid them. The Magi led the way, using his witchflame to ward off predators and his gift with inhuman languages to speak with the birds and trees.
Yidrick didn't know this, however, and looked for a place to hide. He found a tree with a hollow in it and humbly asked the tree for permission to rest within. The tree was hesitant, as Yidrick was an axe-tongue (a tree word for mortal) but seeing his plight, the tree took pity on Yidrick and allowed him to hide within the hollow. Then, when his pursuers caught up to them, the Magi asked the tree if it knew where the Dwarf had gone. The tree informed the Magi it hadn't seen any other axe-tongues in a season, up until them. The Magi believed the tree and moved on, and so Yidrick escaped.
Afterwards, Yidrick dressed his wounds and slipped away, going on to have many adventures before eventually meeting his end as he foresaw it. But that is a story for another time. What happened to the tree though is almost as interesting. After Yidrick left, the tree was visited by an Angel who thanked it for sheltering Yidrick. In exchange, the Angel blessed the tree and it's descendants, declaring that the tree would be a shield against tragedy, honored by all generations to come.
They resemble elm trees, but with streaks of metallic color running up their trunks and through their heartwood. They have leaves the color of burnished copper, polished silver or gleaming white-gold. They are also considered lucky by many people, not just Sanhelions, and charms made from their seeds, branches and leaves are very common in the South.
Fake charms allegedly made of their wood or leaves are equally common, of course.
The Sanhelions value them above all other people, with elaborate rituals for the planting, trimming and cutting down of the trees, which they regard as sacred. Their priests are also known to wear rings and ornaments made of varnished angelwood.
However, just as it is considered good luck to have an Angelwood tree growing on your property or carry a charm made from it's wood, if a tree is not cut down in a sufficiently respectful manner and a seed is not planted, then the tree will curse whoever acted dishonorably toward it.
Angelwood Charms grant good luck. If the Referee needs to assign a negative effect toward a random PC, they will never select the person carrying the good luck charm.
If someone damages or otherwise disrespects an Angelwood tree, then assign any undirected negative effects toward the PC cursed with misfortune.
As bad as being cursed by an Angelwood tree is, it's usually not so bad. The curse can be broken by visiting a priest and doing what he suggests. Angels, Paladins and Prophets can also diagnose a cure for your curse. Most of these curses can be broken through some small act of kindness or relatively minor sacrifice.
Things get really bad when an Angelwood Tree is corrupted.
This usually happens when the Angelwood Tree is forced to unwillingly participate in a tragedy or act of injustice, or witnesses an act of great malice. This can corrupt the tree, turning it into a Night Twist. A Night Twist is a dark-wooded tree with leaves of brown or bone white with wood that ranges from dark purple to purest black. These trees demand sacrifice. Any who come close enough to see one or rest near one will feel it's tendrils invade their minds and present them with a demand. This demand will be for something gruesome, usually a human sacrifice or something equally abhorrent. If appeased, the tree will let those who obeyed pass on their way. Those who refuse, on the other hand, are cursed by the tree. And unlike Angelwood Trees, a Night Twist's curse is always terrible and hard to break.
This is common knowledge among adventurers, with any reasonably educated man of that profession having at least heard of Night Twists. But there is another danger of such trees, one that adventurers or other people are much less likely to know.
Night Twists demand sacrifice and if no one approaches them, will probe far and wide, looking for anyone who will provide the blood and fear it desires. But as it reaches out farther, it cannot compel, only request. This means that most often, it's requests will be ignored or disregarded as nightmares. But a certain type of wicked soul is instead drawn by such gruesome demands. The wicked and highly charismatic will come to the tree of their own volition and seek to serve it, using it as an excuse to do what they have always desired to do. Sometimes these individuals work alone or with a partner, but other times they can accumulate vast cohorts of followers, all who live in fear of their master and the Demon-Tree which he serves.
Most of these cult-leaders keep control of their followers through fear of the tree cursing them, usually by claiming to command the tree. This isn't usually true, but the tree will curse those who try to harm it's most precious servant. If that doesn't work, the shame and guilt of doing vile things for the Night Twist will usually do the trick as well. Additionally, sometimes the tree will share some of it's accumulated dark power with the leader of it's cult, or perhaps even his lieutenants, if he has any he trusts enough to ask for such a boon.
Finally, regardless of what happens to it's servants or cults, Night Twists are very hard to kill. They can only be hurt by things that could destroy a normal tree, such as axes, lightning and large amounts of fire. And even if they are destroyed, unless they were slain by a righteous person who burned them and sacrificed themselves to the flames or cut down by a holy weapon, in a year a new sapling will grow where the Night Twist was and will lay a new curse on those who attempted to destroy it. The only other way to ensure that a Night Twist does not return is by finding the evil that spawned it and destroying it, or making amends towards those who were originally hurt.
To customize a Night Twist, roll on the tables below:
What created the Night Twist?
1- An innocent person was hung from it's branches while it was an Angelwood tree. A frayed noose dangles from one of the tree's branches. That noose, if looped around the neck, makes the wearer ageless and immune to saves vs death. However, if worn by an enemy of the Night Twist, the noose will hang that person from the nearest tree or gallows.
2- A murder victim was buried under it's roots. The ghost of that victim appears nearby, crying and weeping in the forest at night. If the ghost is spoken to, it will tell you how to kill the Night Twist, but only if you help put it to rest.
3- The family whose land it grew on committed some grave crime or sin that went unpunished. Unless restitution is rendered, the Night Twist will always return.
4- The people of the community around it were massacred by their fellow man. The survivors of the massacre must be brought back here and resettle in this place, or the Night Twist will be able to raise those buried in shallow graves or burned near the village as vengeful Undead.
What does it demand?
1- Human sacrifice. Kill someone and spill their blood on the ground before the Night Twist. Do so and it will be satiated.
2- The loss of innocence. Bring a child or other innocent before the Night Twist and crush their innocence. If you're not sure what that means, use your imagination.
3- Shame and disgrace. Bring someone honorable here and have him do something horrible or shameful. Make sure there are witnesses, otherwise it doesn't count.
4- Pain. Torture someone beneath the tree. He doesn't need to die, but that helps.
5- Fear. Bring someone to the tree and put him in a situation that is terrifying, so the tree can drink his fear.
6- Injustice perpetuated. Some crime created the Night Twist. The Night Twist demands you repeat that foul act, so it can grow even larger.
What curse does it lay on you if you refuse?
1- Insomnia. You lose the ability to sleep. You can't take long rests anymore and will rapidly go insane. This curse is broken by making a Pact with the Queen of Air and Darkness or the God of Dreams.
2- Cannibalistic Urges. You start to crave the flesh of mortals. You will feel ashamed of these cravings, but once you become a Ghoul, I doubt you'll care anymore. This curse is broken by chopping off a limb and giving it to a creature that eats mortals.
3- Rage. You develop a volcanic temper and explode at the slightest insult. This curse is broken by apologizing to your worst enemy.
4- Hatred. You develop an irrational hatred for a specific person or type of person. This curse is broken by making a great sacrifice on behalf of the person or group you hate.
5- Sexual Perversion. You develop an unhealthy sexual appetite. You become attracted to 1d6 [1= Animals; 2= Dragons; 3= Demons; 4= Vampires; 5= Diseases and those who have them; 6= Giants.] This appetite of yours gradually becomes the axis around which your life orbits. This curse is broken by siring a child with a creature of your own race.
6- Empathy. You feel everything that everyone around you does. Every emotion, every physical sensation. Whenever another creature takes damage, you feel it. This curse is broken by walking barefoot from one city to another, flogging yourself the whole way.
Does it have any servants? And if so, how many?
3- Yes, a lone murderer. This murderer is charming and personable when not killing. They are pretending to be a normal person in town.
4- Yes, a vile partnership. The Night Twist's servants are a pair composed of a leader and a follower.
5- Yes, a group. The Night Twist is cursed by a group of criminals and ruffians, led by a psychopathic and charismatic leader.
6- Yes, a whole community. The village elders lead the people in service of the Night Twist, in order to protect their community from it's predations. If they could kill it, they probably would, but they don't know how.
If you wish to make a pact with the Night Twist, what can it offer?
1- Skin like bark. The Night Twist lends you the strength of it's bark, giving you skin that resists easy cutting and scoffs at most blunt weapons.
2- A Curse on your lips. The Night Twist gives you the ability to curse a person or group of persons. You cannot curse someone else until your first curse is resolved.
3- Misfortune for your foes. The Night Twist lets you bend luck. You can subtract 1d4 from any person's d20 roll 3/Day.
4- A Specific Death Condition. Unless chopped into pieces or consumed by fire, you cannot be killed.
Night Twist Plot Hooks:
1- A village in recently conquered lands has a Night Twist growing behind the mayor's house. The new rulers have been enslaved by it and are sacrificing people to it, in the hopes that it will not curse the settlers that followed the army.
2- A ghost has been seen in the woods, and your client thinks it is his uncle, who died many years ago under mysterious circumstances. He wants you to find out if the ghost is really his uncle and if so, put it to rest. Unfortunately, the ghost is a poor soul who was murdered and the Night Twist that holds the ghost here wants the crime repeated before it.
3- One of the King's courtiers wants you to investigate the death of a noble lady. Apparently, she was eaten by a crocodile. In the middle of the capital city, in a luxurious and exclusive bathhouse. The courtier suspects a curse, but doesn't know who could have hurt her. Secretly, a noble who was sent to the frontier has returned to establish himself as one of the city's power-players, and has a secret weapon: a Night Twist he found in an abandoned village.
4- A Night Twist's servants angered a group of adventurers, who are looking for a way to destroy the vile tree. The servants have come to the same conclusion that the adventurers have, that the Axe of Hanrim Goldteeth, the famous Bealar hero, might be just the thing that can kill the Night Twist. You don't know any of this, however. All the players know is that they've been hired to steal a magic axe.