Monday, 18 May 2020

WOUNDED BIRD - Build a witch challenge

From the labyrinthine libraries of babel, this ancient piece of forgotten lore was retrieved at the behest of

What kind of witch is she?
Wounded Bird smokes herbs and speaks with spirits, and that is the true source of her power.. Had she been born to the hunter-gatherers, she would have been recognised as a great shaman.

In another life she would have been a a high priestess, drenched in the blood of her sacrifices at the centre of a stone circle... or atop a crude pyramid, enraptured by the chorus of 1,000 chanting voices.

Wounded Bird has seen these alternate timelines, but does not distinguish between them and her present fate, an old wisewoman on the fringes of settled society.

What’s her name?
"Wounded Bird" to those still old enough to remember the little fledgling girl limping through the dense rainforest collecting mushrooms; "Old Mother" or "auntie" to those wishing to show her respect; "crone" or "hag" to those who don't know any better and may yet live to regret their bad manners.

Her true name is a mystery, though the people of the jungle say she gave it to a tree demon in a profane ritual, and that is the true source of her power.

What kind of wand does she use?
Those who till the land warn the little children not to stray too close, and to be extra careful if they see her smoking her long pipe. It is fashioned from the long, straightened horn of the gazelle, and in its bowl burns a pungent herb which sends you to sleep. It is said she can suck your soul through her pipe, and that is the true source of her power.

What’s in her cauldron?
Humanity has yet to master metalwork in her realm, but she keeps a beautiful earthenware pot on the boil, blackened by soot. She brews up all manner of concoctions using herbs, mushrooms and more sinister ingredients, for that is the true source of her power.

Why don't you take a look?

1   A delicious, unctuous, meaty stew of unknown provenance, richly spiced and well-seasoned.
2   A powerful cocktail of multiple entheogens: imbibing sends you on a journey to another plane.
3   Poison! It could cause damage, sleep, blindness, paralysis, agony or even death.
4   A delicious, unctuous, meaty stew... with a human jawbone floating on the top.
5   Mutagenic power: a ladle full will have an unusual effect
6  Just some water and some roots for flavour. It's a big pot... could probably fit a whole person in there! I hope she's not sneaking up behind you...

What kind of familiar does she have?
Wounded Bird speaks to all the creatures of the forest: creatures of feather, fur and scale. Some serve her willingly, others are coerced... some are spirits trapped in the bodies of another animals.

But her greatest ally is an enormous, black-gossamer winged moth, delicate as the petals of the flower. At night it flies by the homes of the settled peoples and listens to their dreams, faithfully re-telling the tale to Wounded Bird... and that is the true source of her power.
Where does she live?
Where the water comes tumbling down from the mountaintops it has carved innumerable caverns and caves hidden in the steep forested slopes ranging down towards the lands of the settled people. One such cavern lurks behind a beautiful waterfall: it is an ancient place, bearing the marks of a people far older than those that now walk the earth.

If you are seeking her - or if you are lost - you might find her there: tending her pot over the fire, or perhaps bathing her old body in the crystal waters of the waterfall... or else unravelling the secrets of the past that are said to lurk at the back of that cavern. Those secrets are, of course, the true source of her power...

What does she look like?
If she wants you to see her, you will her as she is: an old woman with smooth dark skin and a shaven head; a straight back, though barely reaching five feet in height. She wears a tunic woven from goats' hair, and a single topaz bangle around her left wrist. Sometimes, when the rains bring cooler weather, she wraps herself in a orange and violet chequered blanket which doubles up as her hood.

But of course, she can take many forms: an athletic youth, a lost lover, a black panther, a slithering snake... she can look into your soul and see how she needs to be seen, for the true source of her power arises from what you believe her to be.
1d8 Things the witch is doing when the PCs meet her
1 - Bathing in the waterfall. She is unashamed of her nakedness. 
2 - Reading the entrails of a monkey. It blinks at the the PCs.  
3 - Facing the entrance to her cave, away from the PCs, hovering one inch from the ground.
4 - Gathering mushrooms from beneath the trees, as she did as a young girl.
5 - Making a fetish of a horrible entity from animal parts.
6 - Preparing a love potion for an important settled person.
7 - Healing a sick child.
8 - Following two children who are lost in the jungle.

1d6 Adventure hooks about the witch
1 - To cure a pariah of a curse, travel to her cave and spend a night in the darkest depths of her mysterious cavern (that's not a metaphor). It harbours many dark secrets (that want to kill them) and ancient wisdom (that they can receive at a cost) and entrances to other realms (that they can explore without taking entheogens).
2 In order to win Wounded Bird's assistance and free the chieftain from his curse, the PCs must first release the witch from her own curse! This will involve tracking down the wolf-demon that cursed her and then negotiating a truce with her.
3 Forest spirits are unhappy with the alliances Wounded Bird has made with the dawn spirits and are building towards a war. The settled peoples rely on the witch for her magic, and will defend her at any cost. Whose side are the pariahs on?
4 The elders blame the witch for an outbreak of sickness in their village and want her brought to justice. The real culprit is a spirit in the form of a parasite worm that has infected the water supply... but did the witch summon it in the first place?
5 A princess has arrived from a  far-off city state, her retinue bear fine polished-stone axes and she wears jewellery fashioned from copper and turquoise. She believes the witch can save her dying mother, who once came from these lands, but the settled peoples will not help her. Can the pariahs find the witch and convince her to help the mysterious princess? Is she all she seems to be, or is this a ruse by a powerful dawn spirit?
6 A dead pariah holds the secrets to a great power, but all of the entheogens necessary to speak with them have died. Only the witch has a reliable supply, but the PCs must take care that she does not steal the secret they seek.

1d6 Rumours about the itch
There are many rumours listed above, but here are a few more:
1 - She cannot lie to you if she is eating (false).
2 - On a full moon, she takes the form of a beautiful young person of any gender she desires (partly true - she is not limited by the lunar cycle)
3 -  Despite her power, she possesses an elder's fondness for sweets (true).
4 - Her skin retains its lustre not from human blood, but from the juice of a stinking fruit in the heart of the jungle (true).
5 - Her moth familiar contains the trapped spirit of a young girl who once spied on her. The girl's body is sealed in a clay jar in Wounded Bird's cavern (partly true: it is a trapped spirit, but her body is long gone).
6 - If you can trap her in your arms long enough to whisper your true name into her ear three times, it summons the demon to whom she is bound as your servant (false - she circulates this rumour in order to gain Nameless Ones as her followers).

1d4 Spells known only to the witch
Spells in PARIAH are summoned spirits which must be given a six-word command. The outcome of these commands is negotiated between the GM and the player.

Here are some commands and the accompanying spirits Wounded Bird likes to use:

1 - Peel back skin, show what's within! (THE BEYOND, the horrible truth of the cosmos)
2 - A dog then, as you wish. (HERE, nature)
3 - Long for my approval above all! (DAWN, capricious and manipulative)
4 - Speak only the truth or else... (MOON, divination and reflection)


  1. This is really fun! I like all the details about Wounded Bird from her name on down.

    1. Thanks Karel it was fun to write her up. I see that you too have made a witch, I shall have a look...