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Really Wild West Bestiary: Gulchers

Of course you can use any creatures from the Starfinder Alien Archive as threats in a Really Wild West campaign, but in most cases you’ll want to reflavor them to something more appropriate for it’s 1891 aesthetic and technology level.

It’s useful to dream up brand-new threats as well of course, to get foes hat are unique to the dangerous world of pulp theosophy and super-science that is Really Wild West. Here is a very RWW-themed undead, which may be encountered alone or in mass numbers as dictated by the plot. If you want to make different of higher-CR gulchers, just take any undead and replace one of its offensive powers with bad off, add false life, lower its EAC by 2 and raise its KAC by 1.

NE Medium undead
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +5
EAC 9; KAC 14
Fort +3; Ref +3; Will +3; DR 3/magic; Immunities undead immunities
30 ft.
Melee pitchfork (or other tool) +8 (1d6+5 P; critical: bad off) or
Ranged revolver +6 (1d6+1 P)
Special Attacks bad off (DC 11)
+4; Dex +2; Con —; Int +0; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Athletics +10
Other Abilities unliving
Bad Off (Su)
A gulcher is imbued with the bad times that lead to its sorry state, and can sometimes inflict its bad luck and sad-sack existence on those it hurts. Any attack from a glucher that scores a critical hit causes the target to feel down and out, gaining the sickened condition for 24 hours, or until the target receives a morale bonus (to anything) or is the recipient of a Diplomacy check to improve their attitude.
A gulcher can also attempt to inflict its bad off ability on a creature as a standard action, screaming in contagious misery. Used this way the ability is sense-dependent and the target can negate it with a successful DC 11 Will save.
A DC 11 Mysticism check can identity the nature of a creature being bad off, and reveal the circumstances that negate this effect. Bad off is a curse effect.

False Life (Ex)
A gulcher that doesn’t realize its own true nature is not affected by spells or abilities that only target undead.
Organization solitary, pair, posse (3–12), or settlement (13+)

Gulchers are undead that appear to be gaunt, dirty, badly-tended humans, often dressed in patched and worn prairie clothing, though they can also have the appearance of drovers, gunfolk, miners, merchants, gunfolk, and native people can also become gulchers. Most have sallow skin, yellowed, crooked teeth, stringy hair, and sullen or bloodshot eyes. A few appear jaundiced.

Gulchers are most often normal people who went through a time of despair, tribulation, hunger, and pestilence, and died. But they didn’t notice. Things had been so bad, for so long, that dying would be a relief, and gulchers just don’t expect anything to get better.

As long as a gulcher is unaware it has become an undead, it goes about the dreary and colorless motions of living a life. It eats, if food is available, lies in bed and doesn’t realize it never sleeps, sucks down duststorms and doesn’t realize it should choke. In this state, the gulcher isn’t affected by powers that only effect undead, but it also isn’t immune to fear and emotion effects, and takes the penalties for being shaken at all times (though this is more a dreary lack of verve than true fear).

All this changes if the gulcher is made aware of its state. The easiest way to do this is to deal piercing or slashing damage to it – gulchers have thick, black blood and realize the horrible truth of their state if they see their own tarlike vitae. Evidence of their lifeless existence, lack of food, lack of sleep, and so on, can also be used to convince a gulcher it is no longer living with a DC 15 Diplomacy check. Once it knows that even the peace of the grave is denied it, a gulcher is slowly consumed with a desire to make everyone and everything as pained and hopeless as its own existence.

It’s not unknown for entire towns to become gulchers, often during thunderdusts, droughts, and locust plagues. Sometimes one or two take the gray journey, and their desire to cause misery slowly kill off everyone else in town. Othertimes a real bad situation takes out near everyone most all at once. And sometimes, a drakul, ghul, black spirit, or other bigtime black hat decided to take over a town as a base of operation, and intentionally nurses the despair that causes god-fearin’ folk to become the things other folk fear.

In very rare cases, gulchers perform a useful service, such as toiling at a mostly-played out mine that would be pointless for living creatures to port the food and water needed to operate, operating rickety barges on distant rivers with little traffic, or slowly clearing stones from areas that might, in a few decades, be worthwhile farmlands. Of course, these gulchers are also likely to be angered by the sight of anyone doing better than they, and may drown passengers, or dump scorpions into their sleeping blankets.

Optional Rule: Dolorous Wounds

This is an idea I have played with a lot, but never felt I had a good home for it or a final version of the rule.

New Optional Rule: Dolorous Wounds

Dolorous wounds are an option rule that both explains why the dead and undead are sometimes depicted with injuries sustained in life (if magic can make a skeleton get up and walk, why can’t it fix chipped ribs and cracked skulls?), and to give GMs another option to deal with questions of PC mortality and resurrection other than raise dead and similar spells.

The dolorous wounds rule assumes that some wounds are so deep, so horrific and life-threatening, that they damage the life force (or “soul) of their targets. Dolorous wounds never fully heal of their own accord, and because the wounded creature’s life force is also wounded, healing magic cannot restore them to full health. As long as the wounded creature’s soul has a piercing near its heart, for example, the creature’s heart will never be at full strength.

When using dolorous wounds, when a character would normally be killed, the player may instead choose for the character to suffer a “dolorous wound.” The dolorous wound produces some physical ailment, agreed upon by player and the GM (normally a -1 penalty to one category of skill checks, most often Str, Dex, Con, or Cha-based skills, though a penalty to range modifier for losing an eye or a reduction of movement rate for a limp are also appropriate). In general, the penalty should be to skills of an ability score that is one the character’s 3 highest, and that have related skills the character has put at least a few skill points in – a 7 Charisma fighter who never uses any Cha-based skills shouldn’t think he’s immortal because he’s willing to take penalties to social efforts and UMD.

A dolorous wound is so severe the damage is duplicated on the character’s soul, making it impossible to heal with normal magic. A special ritual may be able to fix a dolorous wound, but it has at least the cost and difficulty of a true resurrection spell. You cannot use the dolorous wound rule to escape death as a result of a coup de grace.

The dolorous wound rule should only be used for player characters and major NPCs. (In some campaigns it’s appropriate to restrict dolorous wounds to creatures with heroic class levels). These rules allow a game to make magic that raises the dead very rare, without having players constantly have to replace a favored PC (or GMs come up with a new master villain) when someone actually dies. The penalties for a dolorous wound are severe enough to encourage players to avoid dying, but not so great at to make characters unplayable. A campaign that allows dolorous wounds makes death a much rarer occurrence among players, and thus prevents it from losing all meaning and impact. A campaign using this rule can even eliminate such spells as raise dead, presenting a world where death is permanent (or much more so than in a typical campaign), without making it impossible for players to keep their PCs after a major defeat.

Alternatively, dolorous wounds can be a background rule, something the GM makes players aware of but largely as something that explains why the king has an old war wound while surrounded by 13th level spellcasters, and why some undead come back missing heads, arms, or other body parts. Dolorous wounds as a concept—injuries that inflict damage on the target’s soul and thus defy standard healing, can be useful purely for story purposes.

Patreon Exclusive Content

Over at my Patreon, I added an undead template, the gan ceann, which turns any corporeal undead into a headless monstrosity due to a dolorous wound preventing them from being whole, even in death. It’s a minor patron exclusive idea, check it out!