Sample from the Compendium of Universal Knowledge

The following sample article from the Dying Earth RPG‘s Compendium of Universal Knowledge originally appeared on between 2004 and 2007.

The Asm

The asm is a demon-insect cross. They are primarily black in color, humanoid with compound eyes, and with other insectoid features such as their grinding mandibles and bristling antennae. In many specimens several large fangs protrude from the mouth, as many as eight being recorded. They are known in Ombalique and especially the Plain of Standing Stones. When full grown, asms are confident of victory in single combat against an armed opponent.

“Asms, who have spread into both Ascolais and Almery from the Land of the Falling Wall, are sometimes capable of considerable understanding, including such concepts as symbolism and theology.
Members of the more intelligent subspecies of asm have unusually human sensibilities, and sometimes rob victims without killing and eating them as well. No one is sure why some asms behave in such a human-like way.”

“Some not only covet goods and foodstuffs but also engage in smuggling and resale, and sometimes even fight with crude weapons. One imagines that at first their human accomplices were reluctant to trust their intentions; and only after recovering from their surprise at remaining undevoured did some kind of mutually beneficial trading agreements evolve. It is likely that part of the reason why robber asms do not automatically slay their victims is in order to cultivate a relatively benign presence in a region and avoid evoking armed response or fearful avoidance – which would disrupt their business. Robber asms may be enticed into regular conversation, and clearly possess a different level of intelligence than their more bestial counterparts. In particular, the robber asm has a solid conviction that its presence and behavior in the world is part of the Law of Equivalence – in that its relative successes make up for the treatment and poor social condition of half-men the world over.

Even if a traveler has no ill intent, it is nevertheless wise to approach asms cautiously. Around their dens, asms may place deadfalls, spiked pits, branch-spear traps and the like. Some are designed to capture their foes, others to slay or disable. When exploring a likely area for prey, the Asm also uses net-traps and non-spiked pits – hoping to capture its victims alive. It is important to note, that as with all half-men, humans play only a small part of their diet (or virtually none in the case of the Robber Asm), and they mostly subsist on medium and small game animals.”
Sakonity the Adamantine

Game Statistics: Asm
Persuade (Forthright) 1~[12], Rebuff (Wary) 1~[10], Attack (Ferocity) 1.5~[14], Defense (Dodge) 1~[8], Health 1.5~[10], Athletics 7, Concealment 3, Perception 4, Stealth 6, Tracking 3, Wherewithal 1~[8].

Special Rules

Victims take a levy of 1 on their Persuasion rolls unless they evidence interest in the anticipated culinary process.

Using Perception to spot a trap, as one moves across the terrain, requires a single die roll against the trap’s Concealment rating. The GM assigns this rating as suits their campaign, depending on the PC ability levels, and how well the asms have performed their jobs. Traps that the asms have had plenty of time to prepare should be extremely hard to spot. Typically a trap’s Concealment rating should be assigned against the Perception ratings of the party, at somewhere in the range of 1~ to 1.5~. Note that those PCs with high Perception may Wallop (DERPG, p33) this Concealment. This happens automatically if it is possible – even though the PC does not consciously act against the trap. Since ‘Living Rough’ is said to embrace the habits of half-men (DERPG, p64), GMs might consider this as a valid alternative to Perception. Additionally, if any PC has been declared as using ‘Tracking’ and this ability is higher than their Perception, it would be unnecessarily cruel to disallow it as a counter to the trap’s Concealment.

Rumors of Impending Hazard

Dealing with Robber Asms
Travelers to Cuirnif have been routinely ambushed by robber asms. These creatures attack in groups of eight or more – lunging from concealment in ditches and wild hedgerows. Fortunately for the travelers, those that surrender are spared harm, and those that fight or flee are subdued with injuries whenever possible. Instead, the asms make off with all trade goods and valuables, including fashionable clothing. Even the most pedestrian authorities regard this as most unusual.

Only three days ago, Duke Orbal’s daughter, Clarassa, was part of such a group returning from Azenomei. She was unhurt, but two of the guards fought back so fiercely that one was slain on the spot and another died later of injuries. Additionally, one of the items taken was a gold amulet – an heirloom to Orbal’s family, and the Duke has posted a staggering reward for the person who recovers it, before the asms can pass it on to their human contact. (A person about whom the Duke knows nothing, but is certain must exist.)

The asms are from the forest twenty miles to the east of Cuirnif, but range across the entire district between, using a variety of hideouts. Adventurers might pose as wealthy travelers, engage in an asm hunt, or trawl the curio shops of Cuirnif seeking trade items believed to have been stolen. The mastermind behind this venture is unscrupulous trader Antamara Gollip, who herself was a victim of the asms last year. Since then she has been supplying them with details of trading groups, and rewarding them with quantities of hallucinogenic herbs that she imports from Val Ombrio. The stolen goods she collects at pre-arranged drop-off points near Cuirnif on her regular trade expeditions between Troon and Azenomei.

The Bandit Trail
Through the mountains east of Efred is an ancient trail leading to certain ruins on the edge of the Songan Sea. This trail passes across stark hillsides, through primal forests, and sometimes through long rocky gullies between craggy peaks. Though the remains of the venerable roadway, and the shells of blockhouses that once provided nightly shelter, reflect better days, this trail is now fraught with hazard. Asms of the more dangerous and primitive kind wander this area in bands, hunting wild game, but are particularly eager for human prey.

These canny creatures know that human magicians and wizards can be dangerous quarry, and so set various ambushes and traps along the way. The asm leader is an aging, yet powerful, individual of unusual cunning, armed also with three stolen magical items that it has learned how to use. For adventurers unable to fly or teleport, this journey becomes a battle for survival. Even at their objective the humans are not safe, as the asms follow them into the ruins.

The Dying Earth — and its rules-lighter version the Revivification Folio — take you into the world of master fantasist Jack Vance, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words,and a fine sense of fashion. Survive by your cunning, search for lost lore, or command the omnipotent but quarrelsome sandestins. Purchase The Dying Earth or the Revivification Folio in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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