Ecology of the Bereaver

June 2013

Written by Bryan Fazekas

This article was originally published in & Magazine Issue 5 in May 2013.


Hal thumped the table to emphasize his point, "And THAT is how to kill an ogre!" Someone placed a fresh tankard in front of the old duffer which he quickly lifted with his left hand, nodded his thanks to his benefactor, and slurped half of the ale noisily down. He was well into his cups and it was early afternoon. An old adventurer missing his right eye and half of his right arm was well entitled to enjoy his cups as often as possible. Telling tales until he was too drunk to talk coherently helped to keep the cups replenished. The mixed crowd around his normal table boded well for more drinks.

A half-grown boy asked another duffer sitting at a nearby table, one not quite as old as Hal nor as weather beaten. "Trajan, did you ever fight an ogre?"

Hal glared first at the boy and then at Trajan, enflamed that his glory might be stolen. The boy was oblivious but Trajan smiled back at Hal's one-eyed glare and spoke softly. "Yes, David, I fought ogres, but Hal already told you best. If you do what he said and manage to not get killed first, you'll certainly win against an ogre."

Several snorts of amusement from the audience meant a few people understood the ironic humor of the reply. Still oblivious the boy pressed the retired adventurer further, "What have you fought?"

Hal chugged the remainder of his ale and was of mind to dress the boy down for stealing his thunder, and more importantly, more free drinks! He belched thunderously, looked owlishly around the table, and decided to tear a stripe off the boy's back. Right after a short nap. Hal nestled his head on his folded arms and started snoring softly.

Glancing amusedly at his suddenly sleeping compatriot then at the crowd that shifted to surround his table, the old man replied, "In my day I fought a lot of monsters. The most interesting was the magical construct called 'bereaver' by wizards and other spell casters."

"Interesting?"

"That means scary." The old man laughed.

David brightly piped up, "More scary than an ogre?"

Trajan realized, not for the first time, that the boy had no idea what scary was. "FAR more terrifying than an ogre!" He sipped his wine and continued, "There were six of us. My right hand partner Etjar, a better friend than any of you will ever have. Adelf, an elven scout." He sipped again. "An exiled wizard, and a couple of young dwarves looking to make a reputation."

"We were exploring the tunnels below the wizard Ar-Rul-Val's ruined tower ..."

* * *

Trajan shuddered. The hallway was wide and the ceiling was high, vaulted an easy 10 feet above his head. But the hallway was deep beneath the ruins of the ruined tower and the oppressive atmosphere made it feel narrow and restricted. The weight of being so far underground was palpable. He was generally fearless and certainly not claustrophobic, but something about this maze of tunnels awoke an ancient fear. They had been in narrower and deeper places that didn't have this feel.

Ahead of him the elf Adelf tread slowly and carefully. An excellent scout, his tall, thin, and wiry frame remained generally relaxed no matter how bad the situation. Here? "This place must be getting to him, too", thought Trajan. Adelf's shoulders were tight and when he turned to glance at the walls his normally exceptionally good looks were marred by tension, making him oddly hideous. Instead of his usual sliding glance that covered a room all at once, his eyes darted around fearfully.

Looking forward, up, down, and left all at once, Trajan didn't look to the right. His right-hand partner was there, covering his section. Etjar always did his duty. Etjar, who was even bigger than Trajan's 6 foot plus, and possibly more fearless than Trajan who had a reputation for having ice water in his veins. The combined light of their magical swords illuminated up to the ceiling and 30 feet in front of them ... leaving everything beyond in an oddly frightening gloom. Odd to Trajan anyway.

Senses stretched to their max Trajan could hear the nearly silent tread of Marissa behind him. As per her habit, she was out of sword range. Once a backswing had accidentally slashed her cheek. Never beautiful, the resulting scar had not done her any favors, nor had she forgotten who inflicted it. Funny that she didn't remember whose fault the cut really was. "Bitch," he thought. "One of these days her bitchiness is going to overrule her usefulness."

Adelf stopped suddenly, causing Trajan and Etjar to close distance on him before they, too, stopped. The hallway ended with double doors sized for an ogre marring the center of the smooth stone wall. Once gilded, the door was defaced with odd scratches.

Adelf stood where he was, drinking in the details of the door before moving closer. "A cautious one, that one is," Trajan considered. The elf drank in the wall and doors for a very long minute. Then another.

A high pitched, strangled scream came from behind. Spinning, Trajan saw that the two newest members of their group had failed their charge. The back line's job was to keep anything from sneaking up on them. In this the dwarves failed, evidently their attention had wandered to the door instead of watching the gloom behind them.

The first would never learn that all important lesson. A bulky figure, a man-shaped thing whose rolls of fat were covered with pasty white skin clubbed the young dwarf with fists like battering rams. His torch arced up to the ceiling from the force of the first blow, while the second slammed him against a wall with a sickening "crunch". He toppled to the stone floor leaving a patch of gore on the wall.

The thing rounded on the second dwarf. This youngster may have wandered from his duty but his reflexes were up to the task. Dropping his torch he yanked a glowing dagger from its sheath while slashing with his sword. Dwarven muscles powered a telling blow that slashed open what would have been a human's ribs. Following up with the dagger he slashed at the arm.

The glow of the magical dagger snuffed out like a match in water, gone in an instant.

The slash would have opened a human's arm to the bone but barely scratched the pasty flesh. In return the thing punched him with enough force to bounce him off the wall, sprawling him bonelessly to the floor. He too, left a patch of gore on the opposite wall where the back of his head struck. Still alive he struggled to his feet.

Marissa cast a short spell and sent three spikes of bright green radiant energy lancing into the thing. She gasped expecting three charred-edged holes in the white flesh, instead it absorbed the bolts, and a moment later the ugly slash opened by the dwarven sword closed almost completely.

"Magic heals it?" the wizard thought in horror.

The thing clubbed the dwarf as he reached his knees, slamming him back to the stone floor. A CRUNCH of bones breaking said that the dwarf would not get up again soon. Probably never.

Rounding on the wizard the pasty thing clubbed at her, striking with both fists. Thankfully the blows were glancing ones or she would have died as instantly as the dwarves. The raw scream wrenched from her throat shook Trajan from his shock. She crumbled to the stone floor in a ball, another scream peeling from her tortured throat.

Etjar reacted first, throwing himself across the intervening space to skewer the pasty attacker before it could strike the downed woman. Like the dagger before it the magical light of the sword snuffed instantly upon touch and instead of puncturing the thing it merely drove it back a step from the force of the lunge. Its return swing missed Etjar, instead hitting the sword as he withdrew, hitting with enough force to spin him in a circle, thankfully out of its range.

Trajan flicked a heavy dagger across the space, burying it to the hilt in the thing. His brains scattered from being flung around, Etjar still managed to lunge again. This time instead of skittering off the thing's skin it plunged in true to the hilt!

"It eats magic!" Trajan cried out. Sheathing his sword he yanked two more daggers and launched them, one after another. Each struck true although both passed closer to Etjar than his right side partner would have appreciated.

Unfortunately for the human, Etjar's lunge had been off balance and he collapsed against the pasty creature. Ignoring the daggers in its side it wrapped its arms around him in a grotesque hug. Etjar's snapping ribs echoed through the hallway.

Time froze. The vision of Etjar in the grasp of that grotesque thing burned into his memory. The shocked look on his best friend's face as his chest was crushed and the bright light of those eyes dimming.

Trajan froze, unable to move. An eternity passed as he watched Etjar crushed.

Marissa groaned in agony. That sound was enough to break the trance that locked Trajan's mind and muscles.

As if waking up from a trance, Trajan realized for the first time that Adelf had fled in the first moment of combat, somehow making it around the fight without being noticed or impeded. "Just like that elf to run out on us!" he thought.

Etjar groaned. "Run," he said feebly. "Marissa "

Time froze again for Trajan. His best friend told the soldier to run, to take the woman and leave him to die. The thing flung Etjar aside, his groan of agony as he hit the wall burned into Trajan's memory.

Marissa groaned again, waking Trajan from another eternity that lasted about three seconds. Looking at the woman he made a decision he knew he would regret for eternity, yet the only decision he could make. The soldier reacted like a soldier, his body doing what the situation required without the interference of thought. Flinging his last two daggers at the thing as it charged him, Trajan evaded it, scooped up the sobbing woman and bolted, leaving his best friend to die.

* * *

Eyes shining, the boy was on the edge of his seat. "What did you do next?"

"When she recovered Marissa told me that thing pulled two spells right out of her mind, slurping them up like you or I would eat soup. Her master had told her of things like this - bereavers, magical constructs made to eat magic."

"How can you kill something like that? Can you kill it?"

The old man looked down at the wooden floor. The story brought back memories that he would rather not revisit. Children had no concept of what it was like to leave behind your best friend. "Yah, things like that can be killed. Maybe destroyed is the right word, since they're not really alive." Sipping his wine he continued, "Marissa and I used ourselves as bait. Her spells and my sword."

An older man interjected, "Bait?? You went back in there?" The faces of the audience were mostly incredulous.

Trajan looked down at the table, his shoulders slumped. Taking a larger sip of wine he said, "Etjar's body was there. I owed it to my best friend to give him a good burial and to even the score with his killer."

He looked up from his cup, his steely gaze pushing his audience back. No one saw a kindly old man who told stories; this man was a hardened veteran of many battles. "We went back in ... with a dozen bowmen." A glint filled his eyes, one that made some of the more knowledgeable wonder about this old man. "Marissa and I lured it into range and they filled it with arrows like it was a pincushion. Took 30 arrows to kill it. In the end it puffed up and then deflated, dissolving into a cloud that burned the eyes and made us choke."

"Yah, we destroyed it and gave Etjar the burial he deserved."

"What kind of treasure did you find?" the boy nearly shouted, all bright eyed and bushy tailed thinking about brave deeds and great treasure. "Did you ever find the elf?"

"Those are stories for another day, David."

"But, but, but," he gulped "I want to know!!!"

"Tomorrow I'll tell you more tales after Hal takes his nap."


Bereaver

Frequency:very rare
No. App.:1
Armor Class:0
Move:12"
Hit Dice:7 to 11
% in Lair:nil
Treasure Type:nil
No. of Attacks:2
Damage/Attack:1d10, 1d10
Special Attacks:de-magic touch
Special Defenses:absorb magic
Magic Resistance:170%
Intelligence:non-
Alignment:Neutral
Size:L (5'-6' tall)

Appearance:

The first sight of a bereaver typically frightens the viewer, for this man-sized humanoid creature possesses a skin of a ghastly grey hue, one not normally found on anything but a week old corpse. It appears grossly overweight, with bulbous fat sacs all over its body, including the hideous face. Most creatures' first instinct is to run, and for spell casters or those with magic items this is good advice indeed!

Combat:

Bereavers immediately attack spell casters and creatures carrying magic items. They always target the one with the most powerful magic and will fight through other creatures to get at the most powerful magic, although if multiple creatures have roughly the same magic it will generally choose the closest one.

Striking with its two fists, the bereaver inflicts 1-10 points of damage per strike. Any round in which both fists hit, 1 to 4 randomly selected magic items or spells may be drained of magic. Items must save vs. Disintegrate or be drained of all power; spell casters must save vs. Death Magic or have the spell stripped from their mind. If multiple spells are selected the victim must save separately for each one. Magic items remain a serviceable item of their type (if appropriate) and spell casters can regain their lost spells through their normal process (studying or praying).

Note that the strength of the bereaver affects the saving throw:

HDSaving Throw Modifier
7-1
8-2
9-3
10-4
11-5

The absorbed magic gives bereavers greater power, adding hit points that restore damage and can increase their power. Hit points are gained from the absorbing of the power, increasing the bereaver's hit points with no known limit. Note that points above the bereaver's maximum drain away at a rate of 1/turn until the bereaver is at the maximum value for its hit dice. As magical constructs they don't heal normally -- absorbing magic fulfills this function for them.

The hit points gained by absorbing the power of magic items and spells is as follows:

Itemhp Gained
spell1 hp/level
weapon or armor3 hp + 1 hp/plus
scroll1 hp + 1 hp/spell
potion1 hp
rod, staff, or wand3 hp
ring3 hp
misc magic item2 to 5 hp (DM's discretion)
intelligent itemshp for item + 8 hp

Note that at the DM's discretion certain more powerful objects may impart additional hp to the absorbing bereaver. Also note that artifacts, relics, and other certain powerful objects may not be subject to draining, but through prolonged contact a bereaver will absorb some magic from the item, restoring lost hit points and growing the bereaver's strength.

In addition to absorbing the power of magic items and spells in memory, bereavers can also absorb the energy of cast spells. This includes individual spells such as Magic Missile and Charm Monster, as well as area effect spells such as Fireball or Flame Strike. In the case of an area effect spell the spell will execute as expected but the bereaver will "suck in" the power and the effect will disappear. In the case of damaging spells such as Fireball other creatures in the area of effect will suffer minimal damage, e.g., 1 hp/die or no damage if a saving throw is made.

Any spell cast within 3" of a bereaver or which include the bereaver in the area of effect may be absorbed. Check the bereaver's magic resistance against the spell -- a successful resistance check indicates that the spell has been absorbed. If not, the spell will function normally.

Note: Being mindless these creatures are immune to charm, possession, or illusion spells, or any that affect the mind. However, they are subject to the effects of all other spells that successfully execute.

Also note that bereavers possess an unprecedented resistance to magic. Their 170% resistance means their resistance is based upon 18th level magic, not the typical 11th level. Spells cast by any spellcaster below 19th level automatically fail and are absorbed by the creature.

These magical constructs gain hit points from cast spells the same as they do spells drained from a spell caster's mind.

Magic weapons do not function properly against these terrible monsters. Instead of adding the plus of the weapon to the "to hit" and damage rolls, the value is subtracted from it. Thus when using a +3 weapon a fighter subtracts 3 from each attack roll rather than adding it. If using a cursed weapon the minus value of the weapon applies to both the "to hit" and damage rolls. In any case a minimum of 1 hp of damage will be inflicted by a successful hit.

Note that any magical weapon or other item striking a bereaver must save against the absorption (see above) or have its magic drained. This is in addition to the possible 1-4 items that may be drained each round.

Habitat/Society:

As non-intelligent magical constructs, bereavers have no society. They do not eat, sleep, or breathe. They may be found in any environment, including under water or in a vacuum. They otherwise conform to the normal of humanoid life, e.g., excessively high or low temperatures will burn or freeze them. In the case of burning they are destroyed; for cold they freeze until defrosted.

Note that strong magical locations will attract a bereaver, and it will not leave the vicinity, apparently absorbing background magic while not being capable of draining the magic.

Ecology:

The origins of the bereaver are unknown, as is the motivation of any intelligent creature for creating such a monstrosity. No tome or treatise for creating a bereaver is known to exist.

Bereavers do not eat or breathe, but apparently absorb magic to maintain themselves. The least powerful known is 7 HD, while the most powerful is 11 HD.

They can increase in strength -- should a bereaver absorb enough magic to increase its hp total to more than 24 points above it's normal maximum its HD will increase by 1, e.g., a 7 HD bereaver normally has a maximum hit point total of 56. Should one increase its total to 80 or more it will become a 8 HD monster with corresponding maximum hit points. 11 hit dice is the known maximum.

When killed (reduced to 0 hp or less) the monster immediately breaks down into a grey mush, which stinks terribly (treat as Stinking Cloud) and turns to dust in 1 turn. No known use for the remains has been discovered, and all means to preserve it fail.

It has been reported that a spell caster whose spells were all absorbed but wasn't killed by the physical damage transformed into a bereaver, but this is hearsay and considered unreliable.

Variants:

Bereavers are all within the Medium size range (5' to 6'), and while ghastly looking, certainly do not look exactly alike. Those of greater than 11 HD and/or capable of absorbing more than 4 items/spells per round have been reported, but such reports have not been substantiated.

Experience Point Values:

HDDMG XPLL XP
7 HD1,475 + 8/hp2,275 + 10/hp
8 HD2,275 + 10/hp3,500 + 12/hp
9 HD3,500 + 12/hp5,250 + 14/hp
10 HD5,250 + 14/hp6,450 + 15/hp
11 HD7,650 + 16/hp7,650 + 16/hp

Author's Note: By my count the bereaver has 3 SA and 5 EA. I use Len Lakofka's 5% tables for XP calculations, as published in the Dragon in the mid-80's. The above table shows the differences between the two methods, and it's interesting that the 11 HD are the same while the others vary by a constant amount. A version of Lenard's tables is available on in the menu here on my site.


Copyright 2013 Bryan Fazekas