Gloranthan gamers: weíre at the edge of the Upland Marsh, and Iím sure I donít need to say more.
Non-Glorantha gamers: thereís very little Gloranthan content here. All you need to know is that the Marsh is a dangerous place, at the centre of which lives Delecti the Necromancer, creator of Zombies and various other Undead. This little lot should fit into any pseudo-medieval universe where bad puns are welcome.
BackgroundThe Marsh Haggis is descended (in both senses) from the well-known mountain haggis. This famous beast hardly needs describing: the round, hair-less body, the long luxuriant white tail in which it wraps itself when asleep, the asymmetrical leg length enabling it to run around mountains, the plaintive wailing cry that echoes from peak to peak in the mating season.
The marsh haggis (pl. haggi) is a similar beast in many ways. The body is somewhat more streamlined, befitting its aquatic existence, but the asymmetrical legs and the furry tail remain (the tail shorter and flatter than in the mountain species). Young haggi have a mere stump of a tail to begin with. This combined with their leg length means that in their youth they can only swim in circles: a safety measure, ensuring that they can never get far from their parents or deep into the Marsh. As the tail grows, its usefulness as a steering device increases, and adult haggi can swim in any direction they wish.
The main physical difference between the marsh haggis and their mountain brethren is in fact the main reason they are hunted, despite the difficulty of the task. Marsh haggi swim underwater whenever they can, breathing through horny tubes growing from their noses. A young haggis has but one tube (or "pipe"), but a mature male may have half a dozen in different lengths and at varying angles. Swimming among the reeds, with only the tops of their pipes visible, a haggis is very hard to spot. If a hunter does see a pipe moving (and bubbling, perhaps), the traditional cry to give chase is "Thar she blows!".
When the haggis has been caught, the flesh can be eaten as normal (though some people dislike the rather fishy flavour), and the tail is used as a fashion item for trimming clothes, or as a belt pouch. However the hairless body skin (or "bag") is carefully preserved, with the pipes intact. When it is sewn back together, the pipes enable it to be used as a "musical" instrument: or at least, as a signaling device. Great prestige is derived from the number of pipes on the bag, though any beyond the first three serve little practical purpose and are known as "drones": a flattering description of the quality they add to the sound.
There are two methods of hunting the marsh haggis. One is a group activity, often involving the whole clan. Beaters walk through the reed-beds, driving the haggi into open waters where their pipes can be seen, and nets are used to scoop them up without damaging the precious "bag". This results in large numbers of haggi. but often of inferior quality. The greatest catch can be obtained by hunting at night, when the haggi have gathered in family groups to sleep in the reeds. The beaters then carry torches, using fire to scare the haggis families out. (Reeds are extremely non-flammable, so fire is a new concept for most haggi. But they retain the instincts of most small mammals when it comes to running away).
Among the Marshedge clan, this has become an annual celebration, known as "Burn Night". A reed-woven effigy of a giant male haggis is soaked in some flammable liquid and set alight, before the entire clan set off into the Marsh, waving torches and nets as needed. A bonfire awaits them on their return, and small haggi may be cooked whole in the ashes.
The second method is used by solitary hunters in search of the highest quality specimens. They take a bag from the previous yearís hunt, and use it to imitate the female haggis mating call. Male haggi will then approach, seeking a partner, and will fight amongst themselves for the honour of mating. The winner of this struggle will be the oldest, wiliest haggis in the area, and is the prize the hunter seeks. Catching such a beast can be dangerous in itself, though one would not think so from the tales told by rival hunters on "Burn" Night. ("Wee, sleekit, cowering, timorous beastie", begins one famous poem on the subject.) The actual capture method varies: some hunters engage the haggis in a wrestling match in the mud, while others prefer to net or lasso it from a distance, taking the risk of being towed through the Marsh until the beast tires.
This method has been introduced to the Highlands with some success, though the clansmen there have so little taste that they actually use the "Bag-Pipes" as they call them as a form of music.
(And having finally invented a "fact" so outrageously silly as to be obviously Untrue, weíll stop there!)
Plot It is Burn Night. The Haggis has been woven, and soaked in spirits. Once it is alight, the players are off haggis-hunting. They may be Beaters, or net-holders: their choice. Beaters are running through a swamp at night looking for small moving shadows: make the most of this! Net-holders are waist deep in murky water, with things swimming in it. Again, make the most of this. Atmosphere. Creepiness. Getting very, very wet and muddy. Losing equipment in the mud. All good fun. If you wanted to get rid of any annoying magical items, this would be a good time.
When the first wave of haggi strikes the nets, test against the PCs strength to see if they manage to keep hold of their section of net. If not, they have fleeing haggi to retrieve (mud-wrestling!): you might even manage to drown them as they're trampled under a herd of stampeding haggi if you're feeling mean.
The main hunt goes well. The beaters meet up with the net-holders, and help retrieve and subdue the struggling haggi. Those hunters with some energy left (like, say, the PCs) then draw the nets through the pool to retrieve any stragglers. At this point disaster strikes. At a point in the net right by the PCs, a huge, hideous haggis-like creature appears, dragging the nets with it. Itís pallid, scarred, bloated, festering, rotten: a Zombie Haggis! One of the experienced hunters recognises it from legends of the Marsh. "Mouldy Dick!" he cries.
(And we pause while all the PCs groan, and make suggestions about what the hunter's name is. )
There is a fight. Well, there had to be, didnít there? Possible results:
- They win, heroically! The body is dragged back to the bonfire and burnt, with the Pipes being kept as a trophy.
- Or does Mouldy Dick escape to fight again? Heís famous for that, after allÖ
- Does the aged hunter lasso Mouldy Dick, and get towed into the Marsh, never to be seen again?
- Some complicated combination of the above, such as only a group of PCs could come up with?
Rules, stats, and so onAll you need is the combat stats for normal Haggi, and for Mouldy Dick. I'd suggest you make them up to fit your system and the combat strength of your players. I was using RQ3 and a group of 15-year-old beginners, some of whom were Ducks. If you're using 10th level AD&D, you'll need to rescale things a bit.
Haggi come in sizes and ferocity varying between rabbit and wild boar. They attack by stabbing with their pipes. The pipes also count as armour on the head, and they have fairly tough skin. Swim and Dodge should be good, and Mouldy Dick at least should have high strength and weight: enough to drag, say, a small boat, a net, and three or four PCs.
There's only one Rule you need to stick to: have fun!