OSR: The Olm, Part 2

Continued from here. More notes on Patrick Stuart's Olm.

Olm Villages

After a difficult climb or a disastrous fall, you find a cave with a smooth, polished floor. The walls have alcoves and sub-buildings. There are windows without glass. Streets, even, but more like alleys. Some doors are 5' off the ground, designed for creatures with long bodies and small limbs. Everything looks defensible. There's a central square that could hold a hundred people. The ceilings are never more than 10' high. You can hear water trickling somewhere.

You turn a corner and find three Olm hard at work cracking dungeon oysters. Two of them, the slightly smaller ones, flit away like a silk scarf tied to an arrow. The third holds the stone oyster knife cautiously, swaying slightly, sniffing the air.

If they heard you coming, this conversation will occur with the air and with echoes. The Olm won't show itself until it's sure it's got your measure. It tries a few questions first in the languages it knows. One of them might work. If not, it will keep stalling, trying to see what the PCs know and how many of them are present. It can read tone fairly well. It might even offer to share an oyster. It's buying time.

The second Olm comes back in a few minutes. If things are going well, there's now a second translator and set of languages.

If the PCs have something to trade or interesting questions, a third Olm shows up. If they have food and offer to share, a fourth and a fifth. As Peter Webb put it, "best place to store calories is their bodies". Olm slip out of the sump one by one, arriving secretly by a dozen hidden paths. The sump isn't exactly hidden, but casual visitors are discouraged. Poison is always a risk. An accidental visitor might wake up hundreds of Olm and be torn to shreds before they get a chance to explain anything.

The chart below lists how many Olm will show up for a given food offering. Drag a few dead bodies into the village and the Olm with throw a party.

Accessible Calories Sale Value Rations ~# of Olm Appearing
Cave Crab 200 2sp 0.1 1
Blind Rat 750 7sp 0.3 1
Medieval Chicken 2,000 2gp 1 2
Person 100,000 100gp 50 10
Medieval Cow 600,000 600gp 300 50
Wurm 3,000,000 3,000gp 1500 200

Ok, this is an axolotl, but still!

Olm Parties

Caloric surplus is a reason to celebrate. If more than 20 Olm are awake and there's no reason to be alarmed and no urgent work to do, they'll start a party. Decorations (bells, fluttering banners) will come out from hidden storage chests. Young Olm (some as small as terriers) will be woken up to meet the outsiders.

Party Events

1. A swarm of juvenile Olm (2d6) sneak up on a PC and climb all over them, poking and asking questions and generally making dignity and diplomacy impossible.

2. Two young olm start doing a courtship dance in a corner where they think the elders can't hear them. The PCs can see it clearly. If they say anything, the two Olm will like, almost die of teenage embarrassment. Low-stakes shenanigans may be required to repair things. The elders could not give less of a fuck.

3. The PCs will be asked to describe surface food, cooking, and plants. The elders have tasted many things; they like to study trends. If you have any spices, the party gets raucous. The Olm don't like cooked meat. Cheese makes them bloated and apologetic.

4. An elder Olm, bones showing through stained-glass flesh, hands the PCs a stone cup full of liquor. The Olm trade for the raw ingredients and mature them for decades or centuries. They've got all the resources to maximize time and minimize cost. The liquor is astonishingly potent. If you have a carousing after-effects table, roll on it. A stone bottle would sell for 10,000gp on the surface - the secret to making it would be worth a king's ransom.

5. A drunk Olm warrior wants to wrestle one of the PCs. It's like wrestling a snake. It's not a status thing; the other Olm think the wanna-be wrestler is a bit of a blowhard. Nobody's going to get injured unless someone makes a mistake.

6. Circle dance! Lots of crooning, high kicks, tail flicks, and coordinated sine-wave undulations. Imagine a sea anemone squaredance. The PCs can't really join in (unless they have jelly spines and perfect timing). This might be a good time to sneak away or check a forbidden area.

7. A group of Olm bring a box of trinkets to the PCs and ask them to play a guessing game. They'll show an item and pass it around the assembled Olm (mostly young ones). The PCs will describe its colour. The Olm will pass another similar item around and try and guess its "colour" too, based on whatever spurious logic they choose to employ. 

E.g. "The tree-part was 'brown' so this tree-sphere is also 'brown'?"

"Ah, but the tree-part was long and pointy, while the tree-sphere is round, so it will be 'grey', like a stone."
"Can a thing be two colours mixed together?"
"Aaaah! You looked through the gem-stone and made me green! Am I still green?"

Some of the trinkets will be valuable (a ruby the size of a fist, occultum, etc.) There are Olm in the crowd who are listening very carefully. They'll hear if the PCs express surprise, or start breathing quickly, or reach for weapons, or pocket an item. It's an honesty test as well as a test of values. The Olm want to figure out how they can bribe you.

8. Etiquette lessons. A mature Olm rounds up any younger Olm and drags them towards the PCs. The PCs are asked to judge etiquette and surface-world knowledge. Some of it is woefully out of date; some is just lies. The mature Olm clicks its tongue in dismay as the youth make mistakes, invent tall tales, or ask silly questions... but it also makes mistakes.

"When you are presented before the snake-man Emperor, you should..."

"Bow... low?"
"Bow low? Crab-splinters, bow low? Surface-dweller, tell them. When you are presented to before the snake-man Emperor you should ensure your fingers are dipped in blood to the second joint! Correct? What do you mean the snake-men have been extinct for centuries?"

9. Warrior dance! Young Olm put on their ceremonial battle gear (fancy swords, gill-protectors, etc), while the older warriors assemble bones, leather, and feathers to make a costume-creature. The fight is for display; movements are elaborate, slow, exaggerated, and described in whistling tones. The crowd of Olm around the fight surges in and out like the sea, close enough to sense the action but just out of the way of the swords. If the PCs pay attention, they can learn about other creatures in the Veins.

10. A good-natured PC will be lead to a stone seat in the middle of a square. A crowd will gather. A crown made of dried cave coral and old silk will be placed on the PCs head. Two Olm will take turns singing a traditional love-ballad to the PC, trying to "woo" them. Everyone will find this absolutely hilarious. The centre of the ballad is traditionally something silly (a dead fish, an Olm who has outlived a dozen partners, etc.), but a confused surface-dweller just beats everything. Someone will translate for the rest of the party in between howls of laughter.

Olm comic-singing sounds like opera through a kazoo. If you have a kazoo and you can sing opera I encourage you to try it.

Olmec infant statue, 1200-900 BC

Loot and Trade Goods

1d4 Standard Weapons Cost (Veins) Value (Surface) Damage Notes
1 Bone weapon (light, medium, heavy) 2gp/6gp/10gp - standard Light, not made from Olm bones.
2 Finger-Daggers 3gp - +2 to unarmed A second set of razor-sharp claws.
3 Tail Dart 1gp - Extra attack Requires expert training.
4 A Rock - - 30' range, 1d6+SB Inaccurate but thrown with force.

1d4 Special Weapons Cost (Veins) Value (Surface) Notes
1 Blood-Fountain Wand 50gp 30gp 30' cone of horror-movie blood.
2 Dormant Barnacle 50gp 5gp Clay pot. Barnacle instantly adheres, slows swimming.
3 Bottled Spotlight Dog  - 1,000gp Blinds and terrorizes. The Olm feel its magnetic buzz.
4 Limb-Snipper. 300gp 60gp Adamant thread on a wood pole.

The Limb-Snipper has a -8 penalty to Attack if the target is aware or moving. On a hit, target must Save or lose a limb (or head).

1d4 Art Items Cost (Veins) Value (Surface) Notes
1 Portable Stone Head - 300gp Heavy. Tells the same story over and over (in Olm)
2 Tactile Veins Map 600gp - Carved stone negative space map of local caves.
3 Jade Mask 600gp 20gp No eye holes. Beautifully carved status symbol.
4 Wrestler Statue 1,000gp 4,000gp Stone in fluid motion. Beautiful. Will start a revolution.

The Olm will trade minor items (jade or stone rings, carvings, etc.) for food at whatever value they think they can get away with. They won't trade war-trophies. They accept gold, gems, and occultum at enormously reduced value. They will not trade in silver, copper, paper, or anything else that can't endure total immersion for decades.

Dragons in Darkness, Tiffany Miller Russel

Olm Guide

If you pay 300gp in food (a dead person or half a cow) up front, an Olm might agree to escort you to a known location, provided the journey takes no more than 3 days. It will spend most of its time 100' ahead of the party, hidden in the darkness, listening and moving carefully.

Olm Religion

This is specific to my setting. Your mileage may vary.

The Olm are faithful to the Authority. They have little temples and situational offerings (statues of animals as proxy sacrifices). They don't elect priests, but local nobles or warlords might be given ceremonial roles. If you're interested in technical terms, the Olm are non-sacerdotal.They know of the dual Archpriests (via the slow grumbling of stone elementals) and think it doesn't concern them at all.

Olm believe in heaven and are reasonably sure they'll go there after death. Their vision of heaven is pleasant but not free of danger and trouble. It's not paradise. It's more like a family-run buffet in a good part of town. The Authority's laws are simple and obeying them is rarely as challenging as survival.

There are Olm angels and Olm demons. They are extremely weird. 

Things the Olm Don't Want To Discuss

Otherwise known as "secret plot seeds".

1. The Unspeakable Death

Vanishingly few Olm return as undead. They sleep most of their lives (from an objective pont of view). Death is just another kind of sleep. They aren't morbid or squeamish or prone to brooding. Rapid consumption of the dead also helps.

But if an Olm dies in a particularly tragic, brutal, or terrible way, with a curse on its lips and hate in its heart, it might rise again as a kind of vampire. The Olm have no words to describe how terrible this is. It's an unspeakable fear, like a gamma ray burst or a sudden aneurysm. Their culture has no vampire-hunters, no exorcists, no equipment or cultural tools to deal with a powerful undead and this is why; there are no survivors.

Just imagine how terrifying an Olm vampire would be in the Veins. It already moves nearly silently in water and air; now it can fly and climb like a spider. It can hear your heartbeat and smell your fear. It doesn't smell like anything. It can hide in a sump full of other thousands of other cold, silent, immobile Olm. It's the perfect predator. In the sump, it feasts.

By the time the other Olm figure out that something is kill them it's usually too late. A few might evacuate, carrying tales of some unknown disease or invader or spell. Paranoia and false leads draw them into further traps. In the end, the vampire Olm is alone.

It can't leave the now-deserted sump for more than a few hours. Something always calls it home. For a time, the rotting bodies of its victims will draw in fresh prey, but eventually the blood stops flowing. The vampire waits in the sump, cold, patient, buried in the bones that coat the floor. These ghost-villages are shunned for a reason. Olm wizards entomb them in living stone and blot their names from memory. They might be rediscovered. They might have forgotten something inside. There might be treasure in unlocked chests, just waiting for some
one to stumble into the empty village and wander through the ice-cold sump.

Olm Vampire

HD: 6
Appearance: an Olm. Outsiders can't tell an undead Olm from a living one at a glance. It sometimes forgets to breathe.
Wants: to drink the blood and devour the marrow of living creatures.
Armour: none / as plate in water. Immune to non-magical, non-silvered weapons.
Move: 1.5x normal / 1.5x fly / 2x swim
Morale: 12
Damage: 1d6 claw/1d6 claw/ 1d8 bite. If max damage is rolled on any hit, roll another attack.

The vampire relies on stealth and speed. It has effectively perfect soul-vision up to 100'. It is next-to-invisible (Stealth 16) most of the time. It cannot leave its massacre-sump for more than 1hr at a time. It is cunning but not intelligent.

2. Tunnel to Hell

Hell is very real and much closer than you'd think. The Olm found a path down. The heard the screams and the flames. They will lead you there, for a price.

It might not be Hell itself. It could just be a nightmare city or something even stranger. The Olm want nothing to do with it.

3. Rebelllion

The Olm don't keep slaves. Their metabolism is very efficient; eating a captive and having an Olm do the work is more effective than feeding and guarding a slave. It's not altruism, it's pragmatism. And fungids tend to leak into the water supply.

For the same reason, the Olm make excellent slaves. There's a city in the dark somewhere with thousands of Olm working tirelessly. If they were liberated, there's no room in the sumps for them, and they don't have enough useful skills to be worth saving. The Olm leaders know this and it troubles them. The status quo is acceptable. A rebellion that destroyed both the city and its captive work force, leaving a power vacuum the outsider-Olm could occupy and thousands of corpses to eat, would be ideal. Can the PCs be "trusted" to "lead" a rebellion? Can they be convinced it was their idea?

4. Time Mine

There's a deposit of raw time somewhere in the Veins. It looks like asbestos and it's soluble in alcohol (makes sense, doesn't it?). The Olm are mining it very carefully with picks made of chalk and skin. They have thousands of litres of bottled time stored in thick stone casks. 

Olm change very slowly. Their generations are all stacked up; the gene pool is more like a bowl of spaghetti. They know this (they breed crabs and blind milipedes and have the lifespan to see out a hundred short generations.)

The first step was breeding Olm who can survive in a dilute solution of alcohol and water with no ill effects. It wasn't difficult.

The next step is building a perfect cave. They are almost done. It's a cathedral-fortress-prison-training chamber stocked full of every useful good and tool and environment.

Next, they will add specially selected Olm and liquid time. The generations inside the sump will pass like flip-book pages. Outside, time at a normal pace. Activity inside will be strictly regulated and mercilessly selective. Eventually, they are going to breed law-makers, seers, and poets by this method. But first they are going to breed warriors and take over the world.

This plan is insane, by the way. The Olm who developed it is insane. The results are going to be catastrophic. Liquid time doesn't work the way they think it does.

1d10 Liquid Time Effect (ingested, soaked, etc.)
1 Age 1d6 years
2 Age 2d10 years
3 Age 2d100 years
4 De-Age 1d6 years
5 De-Age 2d10 years
6 De-Age 2d100 years
7 Jittery and excitable for 1d10 hours
8 Languid and slow for 1d10 hours
9 No Effect
10 Time-Locked 2d100 years

Time-Locked characters cannot be affected by anything but cannot act. You could use them as building blocks or as shields. 

A given cask/bottle of liquid time has a 4-in-6 chance of having the same effect as the effect rolled if ingested/rubbed/injected into someone else. 


  1. This is beautiful shit. Lovely and thanks

  2. fantastic post and very complimentary to the source
    i did axolotl, newts and salamander beastmen recently too