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Zhochal Shocklance:

by Geoff Gander

Although the Zhochal are hideous enough on their own, and are physically more than a match for most creatures their own size, they possess weapons and other assorted equipment that make them even more deadly. The primary weapon of choice among this otherworldly race is the "shocklance" - a term coined by one adventurer who was lucky enough to venture to one of their remote citadels, and return alive. In the Zhochal language, the name they have given this weapon is unpronounceable to native Mystarans.

In appearance, shocklances measure between six and eight feet in length, weigh eight pounds (80 cn), and in thickness are roughly twice that of a staff. It is clear, by looking at one, which end is which; the "front" end flares outwards at its tip, ending in four barbed protuberances curving inwards once more, while the "rear" portion is rather bulbous, and covered with slots and grooves of varying width, as well as a handful of chitinous protrusions. Their colouring ranges from a sickly green to a dark grey. These weapons are clearly not made of wood; their texture is different (being uneven and thorny), and they are slightly flexible. What truly makes these items unique is that they are always warm to the touch, and, if one observes them for a prolonged period, they will notice that shocklances pulsate slowly - as though they were "alive".

Such an impression is not, in fact, far from the truth. These weapons are made from living alien tissue, the origin of which has been forgotten even by the Zhochal themselves. The Zhochal "grow" these weapons within their citadels, where they float in tanks filled with liquefied nutrients (which are themselves extracted from other products produced by the Zhochal, as well as the occasional captive). As they are composed of living material, shocklances will "die" if they are not immersed in their nutrient baths at least once per week, for a period of 24 hours.

Each shocklance contains enough stored energy to fire up to 16 normal blasts of concentrated electricity (each inflicting 3d6 damage to the target), which can be fired at targets up to 200' away. A Zhochal user may adjust the settings by manipulating the various protrusions - an action which takes one round to perform. If they do so, the shocklance can also fire more powerful blasts (which inflict 6d6 damage and consume two "charges"; a fully-charged shocklance can only fire up to eight times at this setting), or one tremendous burst (which inflicts 12d6 damage and consumes all of the energy within the weapon, which must be fully-charged beforehand). The effective ranges of the shocklance also change according to the setting, with greater energy expenditures reducing it, due to the wildness of the energy burst. In all cases, a successful save vs. Death Ray halves the damage inflicted on a target. Additionally, shocklances may be set to a "stun" mode, which consumes no charges and stuns victims for 2d4 rounds each time they are jabbed with the weapon; users must roll to hit their opponents in this case. The table below provides a summary:

Shocklance Setting Charges Used Per Shot Damage Range
Stun 0 Stun for 2d4 rounds 0'
Low 1 3d6 200'
Medium 2 6d6 120'
High 16 12d6 70'

Once a shocklance's charges have been spent, it will be useless until it is placed within a nutrient bath, which will restore its charges at a rate of one every three hours.

Should an adventuring party obtain a shocklance, there are a number of obstacles to using it. First, shocklances were designed with Zhochal physiology in mind - this includes having four tentacled appendages that serve as arms. The slots and grooves located at the rear end of the weapon are the grips into which tentacles are inserted, and the protrusions are the actual controls that change the weapon settings - and fire it. Needless to say, a two-armed humanoid will not be able to hold the weapon, change its settings, and fire it in nearly as coordinated a manner as a Zhochal. The second obstacle is the technique of changing the settings themselves - no less than two controls must be manipulated to do so. Zhochal wielders change the settings through a combination of manipulating the controls and applying pressure in various places. As a result, non-Zhochal wielders will be unable to change the settings on any shocklance they obtain while using it in combat, unless two people use it simultaneously - one person to fire it, the other to help hold it and change the settings as needed.

Firing the weapon, and learning how to change the settings, must be figured out through trial and error - a process requiring three successful halved Intelligence checks (this needs to be performed only once; as all shocklances have their controls in the same location), and which consumes 1d4 charges. A way around this would be to locate a sage or high-level wizard (12th level or higher) - such knowledgeable people need only make a single halved Intelligence check to figure it out. Those sages or wizards who specialise in the Outer Beings and related lore may receive a +1 or +2 bonus on their rolls if they possess the Outer Being Lore, Planar Physics, or Alternate Magics skills.

The final problem is that, as the shocklance is composed of living material, it requires nutrients to survive. As non-Zhochal wielders are unlikely to have access to a supply of the nutrients, in the appropriate quantities and proportions, the weapon will likely "die" soon after being acquired. Shocklances will survive for 1d6 days when obtained, unless immersed in a nutrient bath before the end of that period - DMs should keep the time limit secret. This problem can be prevented by obtaining a sample of the nutrient solution, and hiring an alchemist to duplicate it. Stealing a sample would be a dangerous feat to accomplish, and a very difficult alchemy check (at the very least a halved check, possibly a quartered check might be more appropriate) would be required to duplicate it. Needless to say, this would also be an expensive undertaking, as the alchemist would no doubt charge a hefty fee for the work.

Despite these limitations, however, shocklances have their uses. They can bolster a party's strength (provided they figure out how to use it), and even after the weapon has "died", it would be valuable to an alchemist or a wizard purely because of its construction. In terms of useable ingredients for experiments and the like, the average shocklance can fetch 400 to 800 gp, depending on its condition. A "live" shocklance could easily command twice this price.