NPC concept: Cat Person


As we all know, H.P. Lovecraft invented the Worm That Walks.

"Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl."

Mm, good stuff. But it's been done many times now. What else did Lovecraft like? Ah yes: cats.

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see.

Can we combine these two ideas?

Sure we can.

* * * * *

There's a city where nobody will kill a cat. It goes further: nobody in this city will harm a cat, or even bother or annoy a cat. People will walk around a sleeping cat rather than disturb it. People will tell you that it's because cats are good luck. This is a lie. It's because harming, annoying or bothering cats is a very very bad idea.

That's because of Crato Felv.

Sometimes you get people who just really love cats. Your classic Crazy Cat Person, yes? Stereotypically a woman, but men can go that way too. And sometimes you get people who are really powerful sorcerors. Sorcery is pretty random! So, logically, once in a great while you'll get someone who is both. Like Crato Felv.

Here's an open question: did Felv intend for what happened to happen? Or did he just die suddenly, old and alone, only to have his dozens of cats do... well, do what cats do naturally when presented with a sudden windfall of fresh meat. It doesn't really matter whether it was intended or not, because the result was the same. A "normal" Worm That Walks is a swarm intelligence inhabiting tens of thousands of worms or insects. Crato Felv is a swarm intelligence inhabiting several dozen cats.

Build notes:
Build Felv like a standard Worm That Walks with the following differences:

-- Alignment is not necessarily evil. Felv is CN. He's cranky and obsessive and all gods help you if he decides you're a threat to his cats, or any cats. But not /evil/. Really, he's beyond your notions of morality. He understands that only one thing really matters: cats.

-- DR is 5/-, not 15/-.

-- New creature type is Animal, not Vermin.

-- Not immune to sleep effects. (Come on, he's made of cats.)

-- When Felv uses the Discorporate ability, he doesn't turn into a swarm. Instead he breaks up into 10d6 cats, who scatter in all directions. In terms of physical stats, hp, move and AC these are ordinary cats. Felv himself no longer has a fixed location. He can see and hear through every one of these cats and can control them as part of himself, and -- oh dear -- he can cast through all of them. The Felv-cats cannot speak but they do have the Natural Spell feat. Having multiple bodies doesn't allow Felv to cast multiple times per round, but he can cast from any of his cat bodies wherever they may be.

The only silver lining here is that in this form, Felv's intelligence grows dim and animalistic: he's Int 6 until he pulls himself together again. Oh, and he can speak freely with cats and with creatures that are essentially feline.

-- The only ways to permanently kill Felv are (1) reduce him to negative HP while he's in solid form, or (2) kill every single one of his swarm-cats. Good luck with that.

-- CR +3 instead of +2.

Feline Intervention:
Felv spends most of his time discorporated, living as a sentient swarm of feral cats scattered across the city. If the PCs encounter a random cat, there's a 5% chance it's one of him. Remember that Felv can speak with all cats, so he'll soon become aware of any interaction the PCs have with a cat, or any notable or unusual behavior they might undertake otherwise.

He pulls himself together into his sort-of human form only for special occasions. He's much more intelligent then, and he can talk. But he's also more vulnerable and he knows it. Also, he likes being a cloud of cats. So you'd better have a good reason for calling him together.

An audience with Felv is, frankly, messed up. He's a vaguely humanoid pile of cats. It's hard to get a pile of cats to stand up straight (although he can manage it if he has to), so most of the time he'll be stretched out on a couch or something. He'll gesture languidly with a hand whose writhing fingers are furry tails. He'll frown at you with a face that's made of a dozen whiskery little faces His eyebrows and mouth are cat limbs. His voice is an absolutely indescribable mash of growls, purrs, and hisses. He smells like, well, like a big pile of cats.

He's not very patient and his attention span isn't great. Talk fast.

Cat House:

Felv's former residence is a run-down townhouse in a formerly pleasant neighborhood now gone considerably downhill. The PCs may hear about the old "wizard" who loves cats so much -- a decent Gather Information check will do this. (Note that people aren't sure if Felv is dead or not. He hasn't been seen in person in a while, but he was always misanthropic and solitary.) And once they arrive at his place, it'll be clear that something's up: it looks abandoned, and there are cats *everywhere*.

It's pretty easy to break in. It really stinks of cat inside. There's a half-hearted trap or two. There are a couple of minor magic items. And there's Felv's skeleton, in the shreds of his robes, picked very clean by the sharp teeth of hundreds of hungry cats. (Clever PCs may think that the skeleton will serve as Felv's phylactery or something, or can be used against him somehow. Nope. Messing with his skeleton will only annoy him. And it won't even annoy him that much, because it doesn't directly involve, you know, cats.)

The one thing you get from the townhouse: it attracts Felv's attention and causes him to coalesce into humanoid form. If his skeleton has been left undisturbed, his cats will wrap themselves around it, but that's not strictly necessary -- it's just force of habit.

This is the PCs' one guaranteed chance for an interview. Start at Unfriendly, give +2 to a druid, +2 to a caster with a feline familiar. Then give anywhere from -4 to insta-kill if the PCs have annoyed, mistreated, or (shudder) killed a cat. Then just remember that Felv is a cranky misanthropic obsessive who is capital-D Difficult, and who really only cares about one thing. Good luck!

What if... Cats are our friends?:

Maybe the PCs ace the interview! That's fine. Felv doesn't have to be an antagonist. He makes a useful friend and a fantastic ally. You want to know what the evil queen is really up to, or who's blackmailing the Mayor? Felv is a disembodied intelligence who can bounce around dozens of stealthy little bodies. He can discover pretty much anything worth knowing.

The big problem here is getting Felv to help. He starts out as neutral towards PCs /at best/. More likely he's Unfriendly: why are you bothering him? When he was human he was a cranky, solitary obsessive. Now that he's... whatever he is... he's five times worse. Is the evil queen spreading plague through the city? Do people writhe under the unjust tyranny of the Chelaxian occupation? Felv deeply, profoundly, does not care. He only has interest about these things insofar as they affect cats.

Play Felv as just plain difficult. Getting his attention (without pissing him off) is difficult. An audience with him is difficult. Getting him to help? This should not be impossible, but it should be a nontrivial challenge. He'll want something like "ten tons of fresh fish, to be dumped in 100 lots of 200 lbs. each at the following locations around the city". Bonus points if the city is located in a desert. Will fulfilling his demands be embarrassing or expensive? That gets a writhing furry shrug.

That said, if you can get him on side, he's pretty powerful! So he should only be helpful for a single task or a fixed period. And then the next time, he'll want something else: the fish were great, but now he wants ten thousand small, wingless birds. Or fifty cat-grooming stations set up around the city, each with two designated combers, plus ten roving veterinarians on call. Or passage of a law banishing all dogs above 5 pounds weight.

There is one shortcut to getting Felv's help: once the PCs are aware of his existence, clever players may try to kneecap their enemies by having them harm or attack cats. If you can get the evil queen's Gray Maidens to kill a cat or two, suddenly their lives will become much more difficult. This won't make Felv friendly to the PCs, but it does add an interesting wrinkle. Getting a rival adventuring party to kick a cat? If your PCs can pull it off, let them take the win.

What if... Cats are NOT our friends?:

It's not hard to get Felv mad at you. Just annoy, harm, or (shudder) kill a cat. Did I mention that there are cats everywhere in this town? Because there are. Lots of them. -- To keep this fair-ish, make sure the PCs are aware of the city's odd tradition of exaggerated deference towards cats. Then have cats be everywhere, and be kind of obnoxious. (I like cats perfectly well myself, but it's not hard to make them obnoxious.)

If the PCs don't bite, that's fine. Keep Felv in your back pocket. Later you can have the PCs see someone kick a cat, and then die screaming an hour later. (Probably a Phantasmal Killer, but season to taste.)

If the PCs do cross him... Felv should be an elusive and terrifying antagonist. Spell-casting cats, for goodness' sake. And did I mention this city is full of cats? Any of which could suddenly launch an attack with spells of up to 6th level, or higher if you're really feeling vicious. Is that cat watching you? Wait, there's another one over there! Lashing out randomly is not going to accomplish much, and will definitely not improve the PCs standing in the city. (Really, once people realize that "the cats are angry", the PCs will become complete pariahs -- people refusing to do business, crossing the street to avoid them, you name it.)

Felv's low Int means that he can't easily switch up tactics in mid-combat. However, between fights he's perfectly capable of assembling himself in some quiet sewer somewhere to think things over in his human-ish form (which is Int 12 or so). So, he is absolutely capable of ambushes, planting evidence to frame the PCs, and other sorts of strategic surprise.

Oh, and he'll start off wanting to play with them and torment them rather than kill them outright. Because, you know.

Killing Felv is hard. If he's reduced to 3/4 hp while in humanoid form, or if he just feels threatened, he immediately discorporates. This can be stopped with a Forcecage, circular Wall of Fire, or similar effect, but otherwise you're now dealing with several dozen cats that are fleeing in all directions at top speed. In theory you could track them down and kill them one by one -- scrying could help, or a high level ranger. Clever players may think of other options.

Felv does have a weak spot, and that's spells that target Will. If you hit one Felv-cat with a Will spell, you hit the whole organism -- and Felv's Will save, while decent, is not amazing. (This also applies to a bard's song, a mesmerist's stare, and the like.) So he can be fascinated, slept, charmed, dominated, you name it. That said, note that Felv's type is now Animal. So Charm Person and other spells that affect humanoids will do nothing -- you need spells that will affect creatures of the Animal type.

Phew. -- Oh yes: this is inspired by an idea from Arnold, of the Goblin Punch blog. Everyone should go read Goblin Punch, it's amazing.

So. Thoughts?

Doug M.

It's pretty cool, though I am probably biased since I am owned by three cats...

Personally, a rat king (Bestiary 4) comes to my mind as something related, being a bunch of different mammals fused to one creature.

Finally, if you put that much effort into a single NPC, I hope he will have serious impact on the campaign - and that at least some players will care about him.

Isn't this cat swarm pretty vulnerable to fireballs and similar? Not to mention color spray. That's about the two most common wizard attack spells. The PCs might accidentally hit on the tactics to permakill Felv.

avr wrote:
Isn't this cat swarm pretty vulnerable to fireballs and similar? Not to mention color spray. That's about the two most common wizard attack spells.

I didn't specify Felv's level, because that's up to the individual DM. But your standard Worm That Walks is always a high-level caster. So he's probably at least 9th level, and more likely something like 13th. Color Spray isn't going to help.

Fireball would affect his humanoid form normally. But once he's discorporated? He's 10d6 cats that can spread across the entire city. You can Fireball one cat (probably doing way too much collateral damage in the process, because you're in a city). And... now there are 10d6-1 cats left. Literally all that's accomplished is to annoy him.

Also, if you really want to be a jerk DM, two can play at this game. PCs are strolling down the street and FWOOMPH they get hit by a Fireball from a cat 400 feet away. They'll need a decent Perception check to even see where that came from! Okay, so they spot the cat and retaliate with missile attacks. Individual Felv-cats have normal cat AC and hp so they probably kill it. And... FWOOMPH they get hit again next round, from a different cat 400 feet away in a different direction.

If he uses higher level slots, Felv can probably keep this up for 20 rounds or more. Basically he's a spam-casting sorceror with 10d6 throwaway disposable bodies to cast from. The +3 CR is there for a reason.

Doug M.

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SheepishEidolon wrote:
Finally, if you put that much effort into a single NPC, I hope he will have serious impact on the campaign - and that at least some players will care about him.

This started as a throwaway idea, but sometimes these things just snowball. If he ends up being minor but interesting wallpaper in one campaign, I'm okay with it.

Doug M.

I've created a Rat that Walks similar to this, though I ended up just using a hivemind rat swarm for ease of play.

Damn, I should have titled this thread "Tiger King". D'oh.

Doug M.

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