“What should have been a bustling mining village stood abandoned in the early morning mist. A cabin door flapped open and shut, and we stepped cautiously inside, our weapons drawn. A noise drew my eyes upward, but it was too late. Four gold rushers had wedged themselves in the rafters, and dropped upon us. I was pinned to the floorboards by the prodigious strength of a pallid-faced, sunken-eyed madman.
“My shock quickly turned to horror when I saw the parasite crawl over the shoulder of my attacker. A tick, bloated to the size of a child’s head, clambered down the man’s arm as he held me fast and stared into my eyes. In a panic, I squirmed and clawed for the weapon, but it was beyond my reach. The tick reached my attacker’s elbow, and in disgust and desperation, I turned my face from it, unintentionally exposing my neck. Across the room, a cluster of ticks buried their heads into the armpits and shoulders of my friends. Circles of necrotic flesh bubbled around the bite wounds. I will never forget what happened next—the feel of its legs upon me, the sting of its bite, and the smile of the man that held me down.”
Necrotic ticks are normal ticks that have gorged themselves on blood rich with negative energy. They grow unnaturally large as they feed, reaching the size of a human child’s head and weighing in excess of 4 lbs when fully engorged. Most begin their voracious lives attached to the backs of animal zombies, and it is not uncommon to find a cluster of them on a single animal. [More…]
When the blood of a necrotic tick’s undead host runs dry, the parasite rides its victim to a new host—usually an unfortunate living creature. As it sucks the living creature’s blood, it leaks negative energy into the bite wound and starts a process that slowly turns the hapless victim into a zombie one pound of flesh at a time.
Necrotic Tick CR 1
N Diminutive Vermin
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., Listen +0, Spot +0
AC 19, touch 16, flat-footed 17 (+4 size, +2 Dex, +3 natural)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +1
Spd 5 ft, climb 5 ft.
Melee bite +6 (+0 BAB, +2 Dex, +4 Size) (1 plus attach)
Space 1 ft.; Reach 0 ft.
Special Attacks attach, blood drain, necrotic regeneration, ride host
Before Combat Necrotic ticks only attack with surprise. A hostless tick crawls onto a sleeping victim or drops from a tree or eaves. IIt attaches at the victim’s armpit, groin, or back. A tick sharing a host with other ticks uses its ride host ability to seek and transfer to a new “full-blooded” host.
During Combat A necrotic tick attempts to attach itself to its opponent and use its ride host ability to end the fight as quick as possible.
Morale An attached tick remains attached even if skewered and killed in place. Only when presented with extreme heat will these mindless vermin voluntarily detach and clamber away.
Str 1, Dex 14, Con 12, Int —, Wis 12, Cha 8
Base Atk +0; Grp -5 (+0 BAB, -5 Str, -12 size, +12 racial)
Feats Weapon Finesse (B)
SQ vermin traits
Environment Temperate Forests
Organization solitary or cluster (2-5)
Advancement 2-3 HD (Tiny), 4-6 HD (Small), 7-9 HD (Medium)
Level Adjustment –
Attach (Ex) If a necrotic tick hits with a touch attack, it latches onto its opponent’s body with its eight legs and buries its head in its opponent’s skin. An attached tick effectively grapples its prey, holding on with great tenacity. Necrotic ticks have a +12 racial bonus on grapple checks (already figured into the grapple entry above).
If the tick caught its victim flat-footed, it attaches to its host’s back or other hard to reach location and receives an additional +5 circumstance bonus to its grapple checks. A host may remove an attached tick by pinning it. When a necrotic tick detaches, voluntarily or otherwise, its host takes 1 point of damage.
Blood Drain (Ex) An attached tick drains its host’s blood at an alarming rate. For every full hour the tick feeds, the host takes 1 point of Constitution damage and the tick’s translucent sac body distends with a fresh pint of blood. Once the victim has accumulated 5 Constitution damage from one or more necrotic ticks, all attached ticks stop feeding until any of this ability damage heals.
Necrotic Regeneration (Ex) While attached to a living host, a necrotic tick leaks negative energy into the host’s bloodstream. If the host does not already have regeneration, it gains regeneration 2… at a price. Wounds dealt to the host quickly heal over with scabrous, necrotic flesh that spasms with a life of its own. Evidence is first visible at the bite mark, where polluted blood pools under a round patch of translucent skin. These necrotic areas feel cold to the host, who covers them up to conceal the damage (and the tick) from view.
Track how many “necrotic hit points” a host recovers via necrotic regeneration (including the tick’s attach and detach damage). Magical healing reverses the necrosis and subtracts an equal number of necrotic hit points from those accumulated. Once the necrotic hit points equals the host’s total hit points, the host becomes a zombie.
Ride Host (Su) When a necrotic tick attaches, it releases mind-affecting toxins that race through the victim’s bloodstream to its brain. A host who fails a (Charisma-based) DC 13 Will save considers the attached tick as a normal part of its own physiology—ignoring it, cleaning it, and protecting it as if it were any other part of the host’s own body. The tick gains the host’s Armor Class. A host even replaces a dislodged tick unless prevented from doing so for a full minute, after which the tick’s influence fades.
If a tick’s host has taken 5 Constitution damage from Blood Drain, the tick’s toxins fill the host with an unnatural desire to approach other living beings. Once a vertebrate creature enters a square the host threatens, the tick incites a sudden rage in the host (as per the barbarian class ability), who uses all methods at his disposal to pin the nearby creature. Once the new victim is pinned, the tick attaches itself to the new host. If no potential hosts are available, ridden hosts hide in dark crevices or in trees, where they wait to pounce on the next passerby and deliver their crawling passenger.
A normal tick becomes a necrotic tick when it feeds on a zombie’s stagnant blood. As it sucks in undead blood, it draws in wisps of negative energy that swim in its swollen body. Thereafter, the tick never deflates to a size smaller than a toad.
When the zombie’s blood is spent, the necrotic tick may detach. More often, it remains attached until close enough to hop to a new host. Wolf zombies are the most common carriers of the parasites. Packs of the tick-ridden beasts plague mountainside villages and frontier towns.
Necrotic ticks are dreadful combatants, so they rely on surprise and the strength of their existing host to secure a new host. Their host elevates the necrotic tick from a pest to a dangerous foe, for a potential victim must face not just the tick’s bite but also the brute strength of a host intent on transferring the parasite. A human commoner has little chance of escaping the hold of a hill giant infested with necrotic ticks.
Some creatures harvest necrotic ticks for their own purposes. Goblins stuff the ticks’ inflatable bodies with vile substances to create tanglefoot bags. Vampires sow and reap them like a crop of blood oranges. A bit of bardic lore tells of a vermin lord with a necrotic tick familiar.
Habitat and Society
Necrotic ticks cluster in undead hot zones. Far from such centers, the ticks dwindle to one per host, often vanishing entirely before a city wall is reached. The parasites enter civilized areas on the backs of trappers, furriers, and other deep woods rangers. These men’s anemic faces disguise the strength to pin an unsuspecting nursemaid or overcome an opponent in a back-alley brawl. In crowded areas—particularly where fisticuffs are common — necrotic ticks transfer hosts often and fare well.
A female necrotic tick making a three-day blood meal on a large undead creature may mate and lay as many as 2,000 eggs on that host. During the six months until the eggs hatch and the larvae become adults, ticks battle for blood and most of them die. A hero who finds a knee-high pile of desiccated husks and succeeds on a DC 20 Knowledge (nature) check knows a large undead creature roams nearby. In rare cases, most of the brood survives as a necrotic tick swarm. An unlucky troll that hosts such a nightmare takes great care of the ticks that cover his skin, crawling like a thousand tightly packed tumors.
Using the Necrotic Tick in Your Game
A necrotic tick hiding in a hero’s bedroll makes a memorable evening out of just another night in the wilderness. With a fair chance at “riding” the hero, an attached tick may go undetected by the hero’s comrades for days. It may reveal itself when necrotic skin seals the hero’s new wounds. It may reveal itself when the hero attempts to transfer it to his friend by force. Once the tick is found, expect an interesting parley involving the host hero reacting as if his friends have just suggested that he cut off his own finger.
Though necrotic ticks are CR 1 critters, they can pose a challenge to mid-level parties as well. Consider hosting necrotic ticks on foes that the heroes would normally face. Hosts with improved grab and Large size have the greatest chance of transferring the tick, and thus introducing an element of horror to the encounter. A tick-infested ogre or hill giant might be ideal, for example.