Ethereal Swimmer
Ethereal Swimmer

Ethereal Swimmer

Ethereal Swimmer

MOVEMENT:12, Swim 24
HIT DICE:4 + 4
SIZE:L (9′ tall)
MORALE:Average (8-10)
XP VALUE:2,400
AD&D 2e statistics

It was like I was drownin’ in barmies, I tell ya, an’ it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a body nowhere that was believing me. Sure, I’d been called a blood by folks in the Land and out of town, an’ pikers from The Mount to the deep Abyss knew me as a righteous basher in the know.

“So I ask ya now – why would I make up the Soup Demons, eh? They’re real, alright…and they’ll put ya in the dead book right quick, ’cause you’ll never know who they are. An’ that’s what they’re scared of too…so be careful how deep ya swim in the Ether Soup.”

—Chant from a planewalker just back from the Deep Ethereal

Ethereal Swimmers are an elusive and poorly understood race that have an intimate connection to their native plane, similar to that of the baatezu and the tanar’ri and their respective Lower Planes. Due to their unique culture and situation, communication with Swimmers is extremely limited, but it is known that they refer to themselves as The People or in longer form, The People Of The Heart Of The Dreaming. As natives of the Deep Ethereal, their ecology and habits have been difficult to track, so DMs should ensure that most of this information is either hearsay or conflicting rumours, with the truth being scanty and difficult to come by.

Ethereal swimmers are bipedal humanoids that measure nearly nine feet tall, weighing only 140 pounds, on average. They’re thus extremely thin and have almost semi-translucent skin, with their internal organs visible as a number of pulsing masses slowly moving within them. Overall they appear extremely aquatic, with hands that have been moulded into fins edged with primitive fingerlets that do allow tool use.

Their heads are roughly humanoid, slightly elongated and missing eyes – no eye sockets, just a smooth and rubbery skin passing over that space. The mouth cavity is an open gash, no teeth and no tongue. Even the bones of the body are pliable, and watching the creatures swim in the ether is very reminiscent of looking at fronds waving in currents undersea…and nearly as unnerving. It should be noted that it is nearly impossible to see the swimmers in their native forms, due to their empathic abilities.

Swimmers have no senses as we know them… rather, they absorb the wants and desires of those around them, through empathy. As such, their senses are nearly impossible to understand for the rest of the universe. They do sing to one another in the Deep Ethereal, and it appears that their entire culture is centred around a mutual dreamscape that they all contribute to. If removed from the Dreamsong, they adapt their senses to the empathic desires of those around them.

COMBAT: Ethereal swimmers are more inquisitive than dangerous, but their diet of dreams (as some cutters would have you believe) gives them some interesting powers which they can use against potential foes. Firstly, if a swimmer so wills it, it can, by touch, cause great drowsiness in a victim. A swimmer can attack in this way twice per round; each successful hit causes a temporary -1 penalty to hit and damage, a +1 penalty to AC, and a cumulative 20% chance for spellcasting failure, as the victim drifts closer and closer to sleep. When the target has been hit successfully five times, he simply falls asleep. It’s unknown what swimmers do to berks they manage to disable in this way, but very few are ever seen again…

A second power of the swimmers involves a strange magic called dreamstirring. The swimmers are somehow able to call the energies that sleeping primes channel into the Ethereal plane. Basically, they can reach into a dream and pluck out creatures, people or items that might be useful to them. In game terms, this is like a limited wish spell, that each swimmer can use once per day. Only the swimmers can see these dream objects as they float around the Ethereal, or so the chant goes. It’s unknown what effect using this power has on the poor prime who’s dreaming the dream in the first place.

HABITAT/SOCIETY: It is difficult to understand the swimmers’ culture, as it is so entirely alien to most of the universe. Their races’ concerns revolve around the Dreamsong, the song of their people. In a fashion similar to that of great whales, the swimmers echo their dreams through the Ethereal depths – and live out their lives in that song.

This leads to some unusual conditions. Although seemingly advanced, it is difficult for ‘normal’ beings to understand the wants of the swimmers. They spend endless days and weeks swimming in complex and eye-bending patterns in the Deepest Ethereal, moving so slowly that to the human eye, they seem to be still for hours, and then abruptly flash into new shapes.

It’s said that the ether in the vicinity of their dancing (generally 20-40 swimmers) takes on bizarre forms, creating symbols and landscapes that approach reality in the soupy mist. There are even those that maintain that should an individual be trapped alone in these illusions, over time the other swimmers make use of the being, slowly transforming her into a swimmer themselves. As it is difficult to get many sages to confirm a belief in these bizarre creatures, this theory is very sketchy.

ECOLOGY: Simply put, Ethereal swimmers are whatever you want them to be. The creatures immediately adapt the shape and personality of whatever person the viewer most desires: A long lost relative, a good friend, even a hated enemy if the desire is right. Through a process that is poorly understood, they absorb a creatures’ innermost desires, even through psionic protections. They then become that being, down to any trait that the subject wants the fantasy to have.

It bears noting that the swimmers are not dopplegangers; they sincerely believe that they are the creature they turn into, and will behave in a manner entirely appropriate to the being they are mirroring. One of the few desires that will be different is the swimmers constant desire to be alone with the subject – this emerges from self-preservation.

Because they’re so malleable, if a swimmer encounters more than one being at a time, it will try to fulfil two desires at once, and become conflicted. Maintained pressure of this kind will kill the Swimmer in time, as its body and mind morph from one state to another. If dropped into the middle of the Grand Bazaar, they would die in moments as hundreds saw their greatest desire before them and tried to impose their will. It is due to this chief weakness that swimmers are a rare and legendary race.

CURRENT CHANT: Two groups that display great interest in the swimmers are the Godsmen and the Signers. The Godsmen organise search parties for swimmers when funding allows as part of their exploration of the Ethereal Plane, and because the swimmers obviously create a reality around themselves, which appeals to some Godsmen. There is, however, a conservative faction of Godsmen who think that because the swimmers immerse themselves in the dreams of others, their being is flawed – thus the Searchers seek evidence of Dreamer culture in a hope of proving their creativity and then seeking protection for them.

Signers think that swimmers are the perfect looking glass – they reflect the multiverses’ adherence to the idea of self by showing a body just what he wants to see. Signers want desperately to acquire swimmers for aesthetic and propaganda purposes – rather than simply saying the multiverse is created by each being, they could display an example. So far they haven’t had any luck.

One persistent rumour that just won’t die is that the Sensates actually have a swimmer that lives in the secret chambers of the Great Festhall. According to who you talk to, it is an emissary, a prisoner, an awe struck scholar or a non intelligent shapeshifter. This chant has been dancing up and down the wards for a decade, but it always seems somebody new sees it in the Festhall just before it is about to die down again. As usual, the Sensates have no comment, but will have a gorgeous reception party in a week to address any new questions on policy. Unusual dress is required.

ADVENTURE HOOK: Berks are lounging in Sigil, back from their last jaunt. A young tiefling approaches them, saying he represents folks interested in a little kidnapping. They are to break into a small tower in the Lady’s Ward that is owned by a second-rate alchemist and steal away his daughter, because he is doing “unsavoury” experiments with her flesh…the mother is the sponsor of the little expedition.

What really happened is that the Signers have been smuggling swimmers into the city, how no one yet knows, and using them as “perfect mirrors”. The Godsmen would be completely appalled, but only the conservative faction that thinks they approach “false perfection” knows about the cross trade. A factotum (the alchemist, really a mage) of the conservative Godsmen managed to capture a swimmer from its Signer shipment, but promptly became enamoured of his perfect lover.

The Signers are hoping that the PCs will break in to “save the girl”, and by doing so kill her. If they do, the alchemist will do his level best to make sure the body is never seen by the public, and thus hide his failure to inform the high-ups.

The players will be very surprised, not be paid, and chances are a good DM can find hooks galore with this unusual slave ring…and where do the Sensates fit in…?

Source: Michael Daisey and Jon Winter-Holt, art inspired by Chris Appelhans

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