Inspirational Art: The Mechanical Turk

One of the most interesting but least used (in my experience at least) types of monsters is the automaton. Mechanical constructs have a long real world history and, if not quite as magical as their creators would have liked the certainly captured the public’s imagination.

Among the most famous automatons is the Mechanical Turk. Build by Wolfgang von Kempelen to entertain the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa in the second half of the 18th century. It would defeat a variety of opponents including Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin. It was only after 50 years that it was show to be a fraud in 1820. The elaborate desk that held its table had a concealed human operator within. It was captivating enough that it would continue to be shown up until its accidental destruction by fire in 1854. It’s owner at that time was Dr. John Kearsley Mitchell. Among Dr. Mitchell’s other claims to fame he was Edgar Allen Poe’s personal physician.

It was succeeded at least two more machines, Ajeeb and Mephisto. The later was remote controlled instead of having an operator. A true automaton capable of playing chess on its own would not appear until 1912 with El Ajedrecista. Even then, it was limited to three piece end game of its own king and rook against a human king.

The Turk, or, better yet, a truly self-actuated version powered by magic, would be a great addition to a campaign. A court magician could have created one for his king’s entertainment. From there plots from the Turk as evil adviser, rival of its creator, or test of potential advisers or employees only scratch the surface. I can see two uses of the Turk in a dungeon. He could be an encounter of his own, perhaps a trap of some kind or a way to gain information. He could also constitute an item of treasure. I find this later idea deliciously old school in the ingenuity players would need to see it as treasure, retrieve it, and find a way to make us of it in the outside world as well the interested parties the later would create. These traits are increased if your campaign eschews the traditional medieval setting for something slightly more modern as LotFP is moving towards (perhaps it could be the key focus of high level players’ inn) or my own World After.

Age of Freedom Tomb Features: Zombie Fonts

A common feature of heroic tombs after the fall of the Old Ones was the zombie font. While necromancy in general was shunned by those who overthrew the Old Ones (who generally didn’t engage in it either) it was used in that time for a handful of things. Given how the property of raising someone as a zombie not only desecrates the body but severs the soul’s link to it the executed were often used as menial labor in zombie form for a brief time after their execution. Given grave robbers were engaged in desecration anyway there was little thought to the horrific fate these devices were engaged in little thought was given to their fate. They were seen as having earned it.

Zombie Font, Dungeon Feature

A Zombie Font is a deep pool placed in many tombs to protect them from grave robbers and eventually use the robbers against themselves. Generally 20 feet in diameter and about 5 feet deep they were typically surrounded by masonry walls with a flat slate top. A deep necromantic enchantment, similar to that which creates huntsmen, was cast on the pool and it was filled with water and a mix of alchemical components.

Bodies of any dead or unconscious mammalian or avian (bird-like) creature placed in the pool will arise in 1d10 rounds as a mindless zombie. Every 2d4 weeks half the zombies degrade into skeletons. Zombies have two-thirds the hit dice of the creatures they were created from (minimum of 2) and skeletons half that of their zombie form (minimum 1). In a working dungeon the DM should track this number. Initially seed the two numbers with the “encountered in lair” value for both zombies and skeletons. Bodies of creatures eligible to be used in it can be considered retrieved and placed in it with 1d6 turns for every 300 feet their point of death is from the font. Add 1d6 for level traveled to beyond the one the font is in.

While these skeletons and zombies obey all the general rules for their type (including being controlled by other undead as per the Rules Cyclopedia) they have one special ability. Half of the zombies will guard the font (which was generally placed in the path to some feature they are to protect) the rest will roam the complex (or part of it) they are in. Not only do these patrols help prevent grave robbing they also retrieve bodies which can be made into zombies and place them in the pool, thus increasing their numbers. As they defeat tomb robbers they will increase their numbers via the description of those they have defeated.

While generally they will not try to drag bodies from an ongoing battle to the font the one exception is a battle in the font room proper. In that case if a character is take unconscious or killed the zombies and/or skeletons which killed him will immediately try to place him in the font. Any character raised as a zombie this way can only be destroyed. Even if taken to zero hit points resurrection magic will not work on him.

Due to the number of victims raised as zombies in these fonts the bottoms fill with treasure. In a normal dungeon the bottom of the pool will be filled with a Type D treasure. Any magic weapons generated, however, will be in use by the zombies and skeletons guarding it.