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The Ecology of the Umpleby (unpublished Monster Hunters "Ecology" article)

This is an idea I had for a Monster Hunters Association "Ecology" article, back in the days when Dragon magazine was still a print product and their "Ecology" series of articles used the "fiction and footnote" format. Of course, before I had even started writing it, Dragon's editorial reins were passed to a new editor who decided to do away with that format and go for a drier, more "encyclopedic" feel. (Incidentally, this trashed six of my "Ecology" articles that had been all but approved for future issues - mega-bummer for me! But those six articles have since been posted here in the EN World Story Hour forum.)

But, since both of my 3.5 campaigns are currently on COVID hold (one where I'm the DM, one where my grown son DMs and I'm a player), I thought dusting off the concept and actually sitting down at my computer and writing "The Ecology of the Umpleby" would be a fun side project for me. It allowed me to flex my creativity a bit and keep my toe in the D&D waters, as it were. This will, of course, never see publication but I enjoyed writing it and I hope some of you will enjoy reading it.

Johnathan
 

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THE ECOLOGY OF THE UMPLEBY

Dreelix pounded the gavel three times upon the table in front of him and, once convinced he had everyone's attention, declared “This meeting of the Monster Hunters Association is hereby opened.”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Buntleby, looking around the meeting hall. “We can't start yet – where's Willowquisp?”

“'Can't start?'” repeated Dreelix, astonishment in his voice at such an odd notion. “We have started – I already banged my gavel! Here, I'll do it again for you if you like; try to pay attention this time!” And he gave the gavel another three bangs. Despite the sternness of his demeanor, he was secretly pleased at this initial interruption for it gave him another opportunity to bang his gavel. Dreelix lived for the moments when he banged his gavel and he instantly became the most important person in the room, with all eyes upon him, eager to hear what he would say. He'd gladly bang his gavel all day long if he could find a reasonable excuse to do so.

“But Willowquisp--” began Buntleby, looking around for his friend.

“He won't be here tonight,” interjected Spontayne the Studious from the back of the room. “He's giving a guest lecture at the Sage's Conference.”

“Oh, no! Was that tonight? I told him I'd be there for him!”

Dreelix banged on the table with his gavel again, a good six times in rapid succession this time. “Order!” he called. “I will have order in this meeting hall! Now then, Willowquisp's current whereabouts are not on tonight's agenda! Instead, Zantoullios is going to demonstrate--”

“I'm sorry,” interrupted Buntleby, standing up from his chair and taking care not to wake up Ozzie, his osquip familiar, who had fallen asleep at the bald wizard's feet. “I promised Willowquisp I'd listen to his lecture. I'll, uh, I'll catch up with you later, Spontayne – you can fill me in on what I missed. And you'll look after Ozzie for me? Thanks! Sorry, everyone! Carry on!” And the bald wizard scrambled out the door of the meeting hall, while Dreelix banged his gavel yet again (four times, just to mix things up a bit) and announced he was charging Buntleby ten pieces of gold for disturbing the evening's meeting and delaying the agenda.

“Grindle: make a note of that!” he called out, pointing with his beloved gavel at the heavyset wizard sitting at the table to his right. Grindle the Coin-Counter, the Association's Treasurer, frowned but did as requested, jotting the charge in a notebook he pulled from a pocket of his stained robe.

Exiting the building, Buntleby focused his mind and then said the words to a teleport spell. Even by teleporting across the city in the space of a mere instant he feared he was going to be late and would very likely miss the beginning of the elderly sage's speech, but he wanted to support his friend and was actually interested in the subject of Willowquisp's lecture: the umpleby, a rare and most unusual creature indeed, if the things he'd heard about them were true.[1]



NOTES
1.
Umplebies are rarely encountered, spending most of their time in temperate forest environs. The few times they are encountered in the wild is usually when their curiosity gets the better of them and they wander about in search of bits of “treasure” - anything from actual coins and gems to sparkly bits of broken glass and shiny scraps of tin.
 

Buntleby appeared at the edge of a gathering of multicolored tents. Looking around the fairgrounds for the lecture tent, he was both surprised and pleased to find it was one of the larger tents – good for Willowquisp! He'd attracted quite a crowd! Buntleby was less pleased to learn there was an entry fee to attend the lecture, but pulled open his coin purse and paid over the required silvers. Ducking inside the tent flaps, noting a sign marked “Umpleby Lecture” on the side of the tent opening, he completely missed the sign posted on the other side of the flaps which advertised “The Battle of the Bards.” Stepping fully inside, he found an open spot upon a bench in the back row and took his seat, glad to see the elderly sage's lecture had not yet started.

Up on the wooden stage, seated nervously in a pool of illumination from a glowing globe hovering just overhead, Willowquisp looked out at the crowd, quite amazed at the number of folks who had shown up to hear his dissertation on the umpleby. He often received some good-natured ribbing for his interest in the more obscure and unusual creatures to be found; it was nice – if somewhat surprising – to see so many who apparently shared his interests.

The announcer, a gaudily-dressed man name Pantalfrume, stepped forward into the pool of light, beside the wooden podium where Willowquisp would give his lecture. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he announced, throwing his voice to the far ends of the tent so all within could hear him and pausing momentarily as the audience quieted their low-level conversations, seeing the event was about to begin, “we are pleased to have with us tonight the esteemed Willowquisp the Zoophile of the famed Monster Hunters Association, who will be presenting us a lecture on the...umblety.” Pantalfrume turned to the elderly sage, who rose from his seat and approached the lectern to a smattering of polite applause. He wished the lighting extended farther out into the audience instead of just to the first few rows so he could try to spot his good friend Buntleby – whose shaved head should be easy to pick out, the sage mused. But no matter; Buntleby said he'd be here, so Willowquisp was sure he was out there somewhere.

“Umpleby, actually,” corrected Willowquisp upon reaching the lectern and pulling out his notes for the speech. He cleared his throat, looked out into the audience again, and began his presentation in a loud voice. “First of all, thank you all for your attendance this evening. It's quite gratifying to see so many of you who share my interest in the more obscure biological specimens to be found in nature. Tonight's discourse is on the umpleby: a truly unusual creature, believed by many to be nothing more than an eight-foot-tall, animate pile of brown hair[2], looking rather like a gravity-defying stack of hay or straw when standing still. However, in this case appearances are quite deceiving, for beneath its layers of shaggy fur is a rather gangly creature of general humanoid build, in truth something rather like an emaciated ogre, but with arms perhaps somewhat longer than would be generally expected, slightly bowed legs, and overly-large feet. In any case, even a cursory examination of an umpleby shows its eyes and mouth are readily visible, even if most of the rest of it is obscured by its wild hair.”

There was a sudden blast of music off to Willowquisp's right and another figure stepped forth onto the stage and into the radius of light around the podium. He was dressed entirely in various shades of red, including the lengthy feather dropping off behind his pointed cap. Strumming a lute, the man accompanied himself as he sang the following:

“The umpleby, as you will see​
Is something of a mystery.​
It bounds through life with nary a care​
And seems composed of only hair.​
But this is not true, say the wise​
For it has bones, and teeth, and eyes.”​

The crowd roared its approval and the red-garbed bard grinned his widest grin at them as the announcer cried, “Ladies and Gentlemen: let's hear it for our first contender, Scarnivale the Scarlet!” Scarnivale bowed deeply to the audience, doffing his cap to them and then placing it back on his head at a rakish angle.

“I say!” gasped Willowquisp, his own somewhat shaggy brows furrowed in consternation. “What's going on here?”

“What's going on?” replied Pantalfrume, making an exaggerated look of incomprehension at the elderly sage's question. “Why only...the Battle of the Bards, two songmasters vying for the title of quickest of the quick!” Scarnivale gave a little riff of notes on his lute to the approval of the crowd while Willowquisp looked about him in puzzlement.

“I was under the belief I was to be presenting a lecture on the umpleby,” groused Willowquisp, only now coming to realize he'd been brought here under false pretenses.

“Oh, but you are,” agreed Pantalfrume. “Please, by all means, continue with your fine lecture upon this little-known creature, and we'll allow our musical foes to duke it out, spontaneously taking your information and spinning it into a cohesive song!” He turned back to the audience. “And would you like to meet the second of our competitors?” he asked, his wide grin betraying the fact he already knew the answer to that question – as was evidenced even further by another roar of cheering and applause from the crowd on the benches around the lectern. “Then here he is – Jaspernyck the Reveler!”

At this announcement, another bard stepped on stage into the light, this time approaching from Willowquisp's left. He also strummed an instrument but his was a hand lyre, flashing jewels embedded along its length and others gleaming from gaudy rings placed upon his nimble fingers. Jaspernyck's outfit was primarily in blues and greens, one leg of his hose in each color and the opposing sleeve matching, giving him a non-symmetrical air he no doubt used to showcase his attitude of nonconformity and wild abandon. He picked up the tune his bardic opponent had started, adding the following lines:

“If you could shave this bumbling giant​
(I don't advise it, they're quite defiant)​
You'd find that under all that hair,​
There's really very little there.”​

Not to be outdone by the sudden appearance of his lyrical foe, Scarnivale grabbed the tune back with his lute and added his own contribution to the ongoing musical discussion of umplebies:

“They're skinny as a rail-post fence​
Or a scarecrow, if that makes sense.​
Their legs are long, their arms are dangly,​
All in all, they're rather gangly.”​

To which Jaspernyck replied without a moment of hesitation:

“But once they're covered in their pelts,​
Well, then they look like something else.​
They seem quite stout; don't be believing;​
It's mostly hair - it's quite deceiving.”[3]

Both bards played a little flourish on their respective instruments, each apparently having come to the shared conclusion they'd taken what little information the white-haired sage had provided them as far as they could go. After all, they'd managed to wring out quite a few verses out of the fact umplebies were rather skinny beneath their layers of fur; what more, really, could be said? Now each looked expectantly at Willowquisp for him to throw more fuel onto the fire of their bardic duel, both bards wanting to be the first to craft a line or two about whatever new information Willowquisp could feed them.

But Willowquisp was looking back at Pantalfrume with a look of irritation on his face. “Is this really necessary?” he asked, exasperated. “I thought I was simply going to give my briefing on the umpleby. Surely we don't need all of this folderol?”

The announcer stepped forward again, facing the audience. “What say you, Ladies and Gentlemen? Shall we excuse these bards from our midst and simply listen to a no doubt fascinating lecture about a tall, hairy creature – or shall we let the bards have their duel?”

“Duel! Duel! Duel!” chanted the crowd, much to Willowquisp's consternation. The sage's shoulders slumped and a look of despondency crossed his weathered features. But then, from somewhere in the darkness of the audience, Buntleby cast a message spell, delivering his whispered words across the throng to arrive at Willowquisp's ear. “Never mind, Willowquisp. No doubt some of us, like me, are here for the actual discussion. Press on and ignore their ridiculous theatrics!”



NOTES

2.
No one is quite sure why all umplebies have brown hair, but that's the way it is – there are no blonde umplebies, or any with red or black hair. However, while an umpleby's hair often turns white or silver as the creature enters old age, they undergo no loss or thinning of hair as they age, nor do the older males ever suffer from male pattern baldness. Their hair remains thick and lustrous – if often matted and unkempt – throughout their lives. Baby umplebies are even born already fully covered in hair.

3. The apparent bulkiness derived from mounds of lengthy hair growing all over an umpleby's otherwise quite lanky body grants the creature some definite benefits. It not only grants the umpleby the ability to resist 5 points of cold damage, but it also all but makes the creature immune to blood-draining attacks by creatures like stirges and weasels who are unlikely to be able to actually reach all the way to the umpleby's flesh with so much hair in the way.
 

Buoyed up by the reassurance, Willowquisp squared his shoulders and pressed on with his briefing. “An umpleby lives a simple existence for most of its life, wandering about in temperate forests. On the rare occasion when they are spotted they show no fear of strangers, make no attempts to hide or flee, and likewise make no attempts to drive off invaders to their territory. Instead, they tend to stand there rather stupidly, gazing at the intruders as if mildly curious as to what might happen next.

“Umplebies are insatiably hungry and while they generally subsist upon a diet of berries, fruit, and nuts they will eat just about anything offered to them.[4] It has been shown that giving an umpleby something to eat is seen by the beasts as an immediate sign of loyal friendship, and umplebies have been known to blindly follow along in the wake of anyone who feeds them. Their digestive systems are quite efficient, allowing their bodies to process a great deal of what is ingested, resulting in very little bodily wastes in comparison to their overall great size. In fact, umpleby dropping can often be mistaken for those of rabbits.”

Willowquisp was about to say more on the subject but Scarnivale interrupted with a short burst of music, picking up the same tune he'd started minutes earlier.

“Once an ump thinks he's your friend​
He'll stick with you until the end.​
Hard as it may be to believe,​
He's just too dumb to want to leave!”​

But Jaspernyck had focused on the latter part of Willowquisp's recent statements and received loud guffaws and applause when he came out with the following:

“When it comes to an umpleby​
Guess how big his dump'll be?​
Not all that big – while it sure varies​
It's mostly made of dingleberries!”​

Willowquisp seethed quietly at the interruption for a moment, then burst out in indignation, “That's not at all what I said! Now you're just making things up to try to be funny!” But the audience thought the elderly sage's outburst was humorous in and of itself; some were even convinced this was all part of the show.

“Please, by all means, continue,” prompted Pantalfrume, eager to keep Willowquisp providing grist for the verbal jousting mill. This idea of his, getting some stuffy academic type to blather on about some stupid topic nobody really cared about was paying all kinds of dividends by pairing the boring old lecture with the Battle of the Bards. He was mentally calculating the evening's take; given it looked as if they were playing to a packed house, they'd be coming out with quite a small fortune!

With a conscious effort to restore his wounded dignity, Willowquisp began his lecture once again, shuffling his papers to skip over the rest of the discussion about umpleby digestive capabilities, not wanting to hear any more “dingleberry” lyrics by these two capering idiots.

“Of course, by no means is an umpleby completely defenseless. When provoked, although it tends not to use weapons the creature is as capable of biting or punching as well as any humanoid being, but it more often relies upon zapping its foes with an electrostatic charge generated by the constant motion of its hair. An umpleby seems capable of storing a fixed amount of electrical energy in its body each day and can send out a bolt of all or some of its electical reserves, depending upon the situation. In either case, the zap of electricity is released upon contact; they have no means of transmitting their electrical attacks over any distance.[5] And, as might be expected, an umpleby is completely immune to any electrical attacks that might be made upon it.”

That gave Jaspernyck the inputs he had been waiting for; strumming the ongoing tune on his lyre, he sang:

“Now they might seem like simple chumps,​
But they can be quite fierce, these umps.​
They're known to bite; what's worse for me​
Is they make electricity.​
Now it should come as no surprise,​
With all that hair on shanks and thighs​
That simply walking down the lane​
Stores enough juice to fry your brain.”​

Not to be outdone, Scarnivale added:

“On the plus side (it isn't much)​
But umps can only zap by touch.​
So if zapped you'd rather not be,​
Don't go touchin' no umpleby!”​

The crowd clapped furiously at the quick-wittedness of the bards' responses; Willowquisp merely sighed in frustration that his presentation was being used in such a crass fashion. Seeing the two bards had come to a temporary halt, he pressed on.

“Upon depleting all of its electrical reserves, the umpleby has a unique response: it immediately falls fast asleep. This naturally puts it at quite a disadvantage, so most umplebies tend to leave at least a small amount of electrical energy set aside to prevent their bodies from shutting down in such a way, choosing to go 'all out,' as it were, only in the most dire circumstances, when fighting for their very lives. In any case, as the umpleby sleeps it recharges its electrical reserves.” Willowquisp then stopped talking, having learned by now that if he continued he was likely to be interrupted in any case. Sure enough, Scarnivale continued his musical discourse with the following:

“Now umps only hold so much charge​
And while the quantity seems large,​
When it's all gone, without a peep,​
The ump curls up and goes to sleep.​
And once the ump sleeps long enough​
He recharges his zapper stuff.”​

Sensing no further interruptions for the moment, Willowquisp continued. “Umplebies are thought to have only a very low level of intellect but they are quite capable of speech, although they seldom choose to speak aloud and when they do speak they do so only in a halting fashion. Despite being the size of an ogre, umplebies have only been heard speaking our own common tongue, never the languages of giants. It is believed they are reluctant to engage with giants – they have yet to be seen trafficking with giants of any type in the field – perhaps fearing they will be robbed of the various treasures they like to amass.

“This leads to another interesting fact about umplebies: they have an intrinsic ability to find treasure, even through barriers of solid rock. Umplebies have been observed detecting large amounts of precious metals and gems at a range of up to 100 feet away.[6] It is for this reason that many adventuring bands go out of their way to generate a friendship with an umpleby, but it should be noted the umpleby – despite its low intellect – is well aware of the intrinsic values of the items it unearths and expects to be granted a fair portion of such treasures[7]; those who are cheated of their rightful shares generally depart from their new-found 'friends' immediately thereafter.”

Willowquisp paused to see if either of the bards would be able to do anything with the information he'd just dropped, but apparently neither was able to come up with any ditties about the umpleby's inherent treasure-finding abilties. He was about to press on when the strummed strings of Scarnivale's lute indicated the red-clad bard had come up with a line or two after all. He sang:

“Now here's something that won't get old:​
An umpleby can sniff out gold!​
And gems as well, so in the end​
I think I'd like one as a friend!”​

Before starting again, Willowquisp looked over at Jaspernyck to see if he had anything in the hopper he'd start singing as soon as the sage started speaking. But the lyrist shook his head slightly, indicating for Willowquisp to continue on. With a sigh, he did so.


NOTES

4.
This is not limited to normal foodstuffs, either. Once an umpleby has accepted someone as a friend, he generally eats or drinks anything offered to him by his new buddy, whether it was intended as food or not. Paper or parchment maps and scrolls, leather scroll cases, and even socks and boots have been devoured by umplebies in the mistaken belief that their friend, who once gave them food, was merely doing so yet again. Fortunately, umplebies enjoy a quite robust digestive system and seldom experience gastrointestinal distress from imbibing things not normally deemed edible.

In fact, an umpleby currently without any other means of transporting its own treasure often swallows the coins and gems making up its personal hoard, confident the items will be unharmed by the trip through its digestive system once they come back out the other end, for their gastrointestinal systems are not geared towards digesting metals or gemstones.

5. Each day, an umpleby stores a maximum of 50 points of electricity in its body. It can choose to discharge this all at once or in smaller bursts by making a melee touch attack. A “standard” burst deals 1d8+8 points of electrical damage, but the umpleby can choose to do less damage or more as the situation warrants. It cannot parcel out each individual point of damage, sending out a blast of a slightly variable range; a good rule of thumb is to allow it to deal 1dX+X or 2dX+2X points of damage.

The exception to this rule is the umpleby can choose to deal exactly one point of electrical damage if it so chooses – and in fact usually chooses to do so the first thing each morning, sending a minimal blast of electricity all over its own body. This is generally enough to rid it of any unwanted fleas, ticks, or other vermin it might have accumulated over the night.

Umplebies recharge their electrical reserves by sleeping, at the following rates:

1-4 hours: 25 points​
>4-8 hours: 37 points​
8+ hours: 50 points​

Without any outside stimuli to awaken it, an umpleby can sleep up to 12 hours at a time. They tend to get cranky if they go more than a few days with under 10 hours of sleep per night.

6. Umplebies can only detect large quantities of gems or precious metals, around the equivalent of more than 1,000 coins or 50 individual gemstones. They're no better at finding a single gemstone dropped in the grass than anyone else.

7. Umplebies store their personal treasures in their own private lairs: generally a cave or hole dug into the earth or in the side of a hill. The location of these lairs are the umplebies' greatest secrets, shared with no one, not even their mates. (When a pair of umplebies get together to produce a child, they stay together in a communal lair quite separate from either of their own personal lairs.) An umpleby will never willingly give up the location of its own personal lair, even if threatened with death, unless enchantment magic (such as the charm monster spell) is put to use.
 

“Getting back to the creature's most distinctive feature, its hair, it has been observed that umplebies on occasion craft items with hairs plucked from their own bodies and woven into strands. These are most often simple ropes – quite durable due to the inherent strength of the creature's hair[8] – although items as intricate as nets and mesh bags for storage are occasionally crafted as well.[9] These items are usually stored upon the umpleby's body by wrapping it around the torso or a limb, where it is instantly camouflaged by obscuring layers of the creature's own hair.”

Jaspernyck ventured a quick verse:

“Umps make bags of middling size​
Hanging there between their thighs​
Umps have proven they're no fools​
It's where they store their family jewels!”​

That got him a roar of laughter from the audience and a round of appreciative applause. Ignoring this, Willowquisp continued on with his briefing.

“Given the vast amounts of hair covering an umpleby's body, there is little external differentiation between the sexes.[10] Like all mammals, females nurse their young, although to do so they must dig through layers of hair to allow their baby to feed. In fact, when a female nurses her young the baby is most often completely obscured by the mother's hair; some females go to the lengths of creating a harness made of braided hair much in the manner of a papoose to keep the baby at close quarters without restricting her own movements and keeping her hands free as needed.

“Umplebies, for the most part, live a solitary existence, forming a family unit only long enough to create a single child – no more than three umplebies have ever been seen together before at one time – and raise it long enough that it can survive on its own. At that point, the child eventually wanders off and the parents take that as their cue to each go their separate ways. The family den is abandoned, each parent likely returning to its own secret lair to verify the status of its own personal treasures, which it hides even from its temporary mate.”

In a sudden spurt of inspiration, Scarnivale sang:

“When an umpleby takes a wife​
Do you think they mate for life?​
Nope, long enough to raise a child.​
Then each goes off into the wild.”​

Without missing a beat, Jaspernyck picked up the tale:

“Where do they lair? Well, no one knows.​
A cave? A den? Sure, one of those.​
A sep'rate place for family:​
The mom, the dad, and babe makes three.”[11]

But Scarnivale wasn't willing to give up the last word on the subject. Plucking the strings of his lute, he continued:

“But one day, when that babe is grown​
And he wanders off on his own​
His mom and dad say, 'Well, that's that​
No telling where that kid is at.'​
The time has come, by then, of course​
To grant an umpleby divorce​
So mom and dad go separate ways​
And look ahead to better days.”​

A chorus of laughter erupted from the crowd. Jaspernyck kept a smile on his face but was apparently starting to worry that his red-clad opponent was faring better of the two of them. Willowquisp's scowl told quite readily his thoughts that he had no use for either of the two bards or their silly contest; he'd much rather be able to give his briefing uninterrupted. Seeing the musical interruptions had once again abated, he continued.

“Umplebies have a reputation for clumsiness, and in fact are often found bumping into things and tripping and stumbling about, but it is believed this is only due to a decrease in their ability to see clearly when their hair is in their eyes, restricting visibility. When they are focused upon something – for example, crafting a net from their own hair – they have been shown to have quite an innate dextrousness. In fact--”

But Willowquisp was cut off, quite abruptly, by Jaspernyck, who had apparently found the moment he'd been waiting for: another brilliant use of a rhyme for “umpleby” he was sure would grant him a additional heaping helping of respect for his quick-wittedness. The words practically flowing from his mouth without any need for conscious thought or effort, he plucked the strings of his lyre and sang aloud:

“Take your average umpleby.​
Guess how far his jump'll be?​
You'd think, 'Well, maybe ten feet long.'​
Yes, you'd think that, but you'd be wrong.​
It defies rational explanation,​
But umps have no coordination.​
They bump their heads, they stub their toes,​
They trip and get a bloody nose.”​

Jaspernyck, in turn, was cut off by an interruption from Scarnivale, not about to let his rival continue for too long without him being able to stick in his own two coppers. He sang, accompanied by his lute:

“(And as things go, that ain't all bad,​
Else we'd not know a nose they had!​
It's hard to tell a nose is there​
When it's covered by so much hair!)”​

With a black scowl, Willowquisp gathered together his notes, shuffled them into a neat pile, folded them in half, and stuffed them into the pocket of his robe. “That's it!” he barked. “I have had quite enough of this travesty! It's quite apparent none of you have any real interest in the topic at hand, and I for one have no desire to continue being interrupted in what I had been led to believe was a serious discussion of the umpleby....”

“But we are all interested!” insisted Pantalfrume. He looked to the audience, waving his hands in a gesture to get their approval. “Aren't we, folks?” The crowd clapped, increasing the level of ther apparent enthusiasm by the frantic hand gestures of the announcer. “By all means, please continue with your presentation, Willowquisp!”

“You want more information about umplebies?” asked the elderly sage, his face now a bright red from indignation. “Fine: Umplebies have been known to spontaneously grow seven extra noses in times of stress! Their favorite color is chartreuse! Blue dragons consider them to be a particular delicacy![12] Inhaling smoke from burning umpleby hair can be used to trigger euphoric visions![13] The finest wigs are usually made from a shaved umpleby's butt hair, but they sometimes end up smelling funny! An umpleby can be taught to sing in a perfect falsetto, but only if it wears a purple hat! Do with that what you may; good day to you, gentlemen!” And with that, the elderly sage stormed out of the ring of illumination around the lecture podium, leaving the two bards and the flustered announcer standing alone at the front of the tent.

Pantalfrume opened his mouth to speak but could think of nothing to say; the evening's entertainment had collapsed all around him and he was already worrying the audience members would start demanding reimbursement of the money they'd spent to watch the Battle of the Bards. But then Jaspernyck, in a fit of inspiration, turned to the crowd and sang:

“It looks as if, the truth be told​
Our Bardic Battle is on hold!​
It can't be finished at this stage:​
It seems as if we broke our sage!”​

The crowd erupted with laughter, not sure if this was part of the planned event or not. Scarnivale added, as the last word on the subject of umplebies:

“These umplebies are shaggy folks.​
Surely one of life's little jokes.​
Good for a laugh, if you can find 'em.​
I wonder just which god designed 'em?”​

He and Jaspernyck then bowed as if this was how the event had been planned; they didn't want to face demands for a refund any more than did Pantalfrume. The cheers from the audience showed they'd been bilked into believing all was as it had been intended to be, even if neither bard had come out as the definitive winner of the verbal joust.



NOTES

8.
An umpleby's hair is very tough: it's 50% more difficult to cut, break, or burn than the magical strands of a web spell. A jermlaine tribe would absolutely love getting their hands on umpleby hair, given its inherent superiority over the hair of humans, elves, and dwarves – their normal sources. In fact, if a tribe of jermlaine had access to a deep-sleeping umpleby and were able to shave it while it slept they'd likely have more hair than they'd know what to do with.

9. Hair bags are usually tightly woven and used to store coins and gems for transport; the bags are usually worn around the neck or waist and tucked into the creature's ample body hair, where it disappears from view. Nets are used to catch the occasional small prey (generally rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional chipmunk) or to fend off attacks; they are often worn wrapped around the waist like a belt or sash until needed. A high-quality (masterwork) net of umpleby hair can be sold for up to 100 gold pieces; most umplebies are perfectly willing to sell their nets, realizing they can always craft another one easily enough.

Due to the creatures' ability to generate electrical blasts, masterwork nets made of woven umpeby hair cost only half the normal amount to imbue with the shock or shocking burst magic weapon special abilities.

10. This is not at all surprising, given just how much hair we're talking about. It would be similarly difficult to tell a human man from a human woman if each were garbed in 18 different layers of clothing.

11. While it's true there will never be more than three umplebies ever found together (and then only as a mated pair with a single child; umpleby pregnancies never result in more than one baby at a time), there are on occasion lair guardians hanging about an umpleby's abode. Shambling mounds are most often of these lair guardians, attracted by the umplebies' ability to generate electrical attacks, upon which the shamblers feed. Umplebies are smart enough to “zap” their shambler guardians to temporarily increase their Constitution scores, granting them additional hit points and the ability to stay in the fight that much longer.

Shocker lizards are often found around umplebies as well, generally attracted to them when they use their morning “flea-zapper” burst of electricity, which the shocker lizards can detect. Once they figure out neither creature can harm the other with electricity (as both umplebies and shocker lizards are immune to it), they often fall into an alliance of convenience; by lairing together they ensure their dens are easier to guard.

Volts, on the other hand, are never found around umplebies, for the umplebies consider the floating, large-eyed volts to be nothing more than horrid pests. This is because the volt attacks by biting with its lampreylike mouth, getting a good grasp, and then stinging with its electrical tail-stinger. Having only animal intelligence and the ability to sense electrical discharges, volts are often attracted to umplebies and don't let the massive amount of shaggy hair, which prevents them from establishing a firm grasp on the umplebies with their mouths, from stopping them from trying to bite the umplebies again and again.

12. Willowquisp's spouting off nonsense at this point, but this particular fact is true: blue dragons do consider umplebies to be somewhat of a delicacy, no doubt having something to do with the umpleby's likely employment of its defensive electrical zap while being devoured. (Blue dragons, of course, are just as immune to electricity as are umplebies and are not harmed at all by this gesture.) To a lesser extent, behirs also find umplebies to be fine eating for the same reason.

13. No it can't; the rancid smell of burning umpleby hair is more likely to induce vomiting than euphoria.
 

Buntleby exited the tent and went around to the back side, where he caught up with Willowquisp leaving from the rear tent flap. “I'm sorry things went the way they did,” he commiserated with his elderly friend. “It would seem there aren't as many who find delving into the little-known facts of the odd creatures in the world around us as we might have been led to believe.”

“That's for sure,” agreed Willowquisp. “Still, there wasn't a whole lot more I was still going to mention before I finally had enough. Mostly the various magic items that can be made from umpleby hair.[14] And, in hindsight, I'm sure Dreelix would probably be happier if I didn't go broadcasting that to the world at large, in any case. And then I was going to mention a legend as to the possible origin of the umpleby, although that was mere supposition in any case.”

“Origin story? Really? I'd be interested in hearing it.”

“Well, again, there's no proof that this is anything more than mere folklore, but there's a tale of an ogre bodyguard serving a hag of some type: a green hag, perhaps, or maybe an annis – accounts vary. In any case, the ogre was caught by its mistress stealing food from her pantry; she was apparently unaware he'd also helped himself to some coins and gems from her personal treasure. She then cursed him to always be hungry and thirsty, with the curse accidentally branching out – perhaps due to the guilt felt by the offending ogre for its other actions of thievery – to cause him to hunger for coins and gems as well.”

“That doesn't explain all the hair,” pointed out Buntleby.

“Indeed, it does not – which is why most sages tend not to give it much credence,” Willowquisp admitted.

“Well, I was impressed by your speech, in any case. And in your forbearance – at least up until the end. You probably lasted longer than I would have, in any case.”

“Thank you, Buntleby. I enjoyed doing the research, even if the end result wasn't all that could have been desired.”

“That often seems to be the case,” lamented the bald wizard. “Just imagine if you had given this presentation to the Association, though: Dreelix would have us hunting down umplebies, armed with barbers' shears as if we were all sheep farmers!”

At that, Willowquisp finally gave a slight smile, proof that his evening's dour mood could be lightened after all. “You know, he probably would at that,” he agreed.

Buntleby looked back over at the front of the tent, where the audience was exiting through the flap where they had entered after paying their fee. He waited until it looked as if the flow of bodies had stopped. “I haven't seen the announcer or the bards leave yet, have you?” he asked Willowquisp.

“Hmm? No, I imagine they're still inside.”

“I think you're right. Wait here for me, Willowquisp – I'll be right back.”

The elderly sage put a hand upon his friend's shoulder. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

“I'd just like to have a quick word with them,” promised Buntleby.

“A word?”

“Just a word,” Buntleby agreed. “A single word, as a matter of fact, and then we can head on back home.” He smiled at his friend and turned back towards the rear exit of the tent, through which Willowquisp had departed in his angry huff. As he pulled back the flap and stepped inside, he said the words to a polymorph spell, pleased that he had one on hand for just such an occasion.

Walking into the darkened tent, the hair that Buntleby routinely shaved from his face and his bald scalp grew back – with a vengeance. It sprung out in all directions, and not just from his head, either; it practically exploded from his entire body, as his robes were absorbed into his skin and he added a couple of extra feet of height to his lanky frame. He had entered the tent as a bald, human wizard – but it was an umpleby that stepped into the radius of the magical illumination spilling out from the hovering sphere above the podium.

“I think that went about as well as we could have expected,” remarked Pandalfrume to the two bards.

“Well, it was cut short, but I agree – we did have a packed house,” added Scarnivale.

“Perhaps next time--” began Jaspernyck, but he cut off his sentence when he saw the lumbering, eight-foot giant mass of brownish hair ambling toward them, a look of burning hatred in its eyes.

DINGLEBERRIES?” roared Buntleby, raising his arms up and making talons of his fingers as if ready to rip the two bards and the announcer to shreds with claws that – if they had looked closely enough – weren't even present on his umpleby form. But the trio didn't take the time to examine the angry umpleby's fingernails; instead, they bleated in terror and stumbled into themselves in an effort to rush through the dark tent and get to the presumed safety of the front exit.

“I say!” called Willowquisp from outside the tent. “Is everything okay in there?”

“Perfectly fine,” replied Buntleby with a slight smirk, strolling back out of the tent in his normal form. “Let's head on home.”


NOTES

14.
Umpleby hair can be woven and braided to create an inexpensive minor ring of energy resistance that provides electricity resistance 10 at half the normal crafting cost. (This is one of the few instances where a magical ring is crafted of something much more flexible than the normal metal, ivory, or even wood that makes up most magical rings.) However, only the minor version of the ring can be crafted using umpleby hair; rings providing greater protection against electricitry require stronger building materials.

In addition, a strand of woven umpleby hair is often used as the core of a rod of metal and mineral detection, given the umpleby's inherent ability to detect coins and gems.
 

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