“A copper for a cripple?”
Meurtle looked over at the shabby heap of clothing from which a filthy hand emerged holding out a battered hat; the opposite sleeve was pinned up and a rough crutch lay on the ground beside the figure. It was a reminder of how much further there was to fall. But unless he did something soon he might end up the same way.
With a blink, he was back to when his problems began.
The map they had found had led them well, through the swamps to a crevice in the rock which appeared to be just a fold until Senera the rogue had inspected it and discovered the opening hidden behind an illusion. It was unnerving reaching out, seeing their hands disappear into what looked like solid rock, and even more so actually walking through, but once inside, and suggested by the map, they had found a narrow, twisted opening in the rock forming a rough passageway.
They scrambled along it carefully, Senera as always scouting ahead, her sharp ears and nose as much alert for danger as her eyes. Hauling themselves over ledges and squeezing through gaps, trying to make as little noise as possible, they followed the dim light of her lantern as an acrid, choking smell built in the air around them, merging with the ever-present damp rotting stench of the swamp. With a muffled oath, Peneter snatched up the hand which had been reaching for a ledge, shaking off a scorpion which had pierced it with its sting and then sucking the place it had attacked while grasping at his holy symbol with the other.
Suddenly Senera gasped and shuttered her lantern, throwing them into darkness. With sight gone, their other sense became more acute. Meurtle could hear the breathing of his companions, along with various scuttling sounds which brought to mind the scorpion and other creepy-crawlies, and the acrid smell seemed somehow more intense. A light breeze crossed his cheek, like the caress of a pickpocket’s fingers, making the reek briefly catch in his nostrils and throat.
A scrabbling sound, a deep throaty cough, and then a whoosh which made them all turn their faces, tears streaming from their eyes, and suddenly the place felt more spacious. As they huddled, frozen and paused, waiting to see what would happen next, their eyes started to adjust to the gloom and they started to make out vague shapes in the darkness.
A few minutes later, Senera cautiously advanced a few steps, then triumphantly stood up erect. “It’s gone”, she said. She unshuttered her lantern, making them all blink in the sudden brightness. As their eyes adjusted, they realised just what was in front of them.
“We’re rich!” Matuska cried, rushing forward a few steps and sliding to a halt with a clinking sound, knees sliding into a great pile of coins. The light from Senera’s lantern picked out strange lumps and shapes sticking out of the heap, knobs and handles and cups. Quickly digging a sack out of his pack, Meurtle started scooping coins into it, Peneter fell to his knees, holding up his holy symbol and looking up in a prayer of thanks to his god, and Petra started burrowing in, excavating a crown and putting it on his head. Matuska suddenly jumped forward and grabbed a handle, pulling a sword free of the pile and swinging it through the air triumphantly.
Senera reached out and picked up a necklace, reverently sliding the tarnished silver links through her fingers then looking at the pendant hanging from it. A sudden flicker of light from the gem inside the pendant made her blink, and then suddenly it was there, lazily flapping its black wings and hanging in the air in front of them.
A stream of black fired from its fang-filled mouth, hitting Matuska square in the chest and making him scream in agony as his skin bubbled and cracked and he fell to his knees, wrapping his seared arms around his agonised core. A deceptively slow swipe of a claw caught Petra round the ear, tearing it off along with the crown and half of her head and another claw hooked in Senera’s clothing. Grabbing the back of his robe, Meurtle pulled Peneter and tried to run back towards the gap but he was too slow. A second stream of acid hit both of them, taking Peneter full in the face while Meurtle felt his right hand and leg start to burn. He screamed and half ran, half fell into the crack, pulling Peneter behind him. Senera dived over both of them, somehow having managed to free herself from the claw, rolled, and disappeared into the darkness. Peneter’s body suddenly lifted off Meurtle, caught in a claw and raised to the massive jaws of the dragon, and Meurtle fell into the blackness beyond, which rose up and swallowed him whole.
Meurtle still didn’t know how long he had been unconscious, but he was roused by the gentle touch of Senera wiping his face with a wet rag. Agony hit him, making him gasp, a gasp which he struggled to contain as Senera put her finger to his lips. He raised his arm, feeling a burn, and looked in horror at the stump which was all that remained below the elbow, the remaining flesh blackened and cracked and oozing.
“What…?” he croaked incoherently. “The others?”
Senera shook her head, tears in her eyes and a slump to her shoulders. Meurtle sobbed, and details flashed to his attention – the shortened stump of her pigtails, shrivelled back unevenly, the large rent all the way up the front of her leather jerkin – he suddenly remembered the massive claw which had done that.
“Peneter!” he cried, trying to sit up.
“Shhh”, Senera admonished, holding her finger to her lips and looking anxiously over her shoulder. “We’re not safe yet.” Meurtle subsided again, then gasped as stabbing pains ran up his arm from his stump, along with other pains from other parts of his body.
“Can you move yet?” Senera breathed. “We should try to get further away as soon as possible.”
“I’ll try”, Meurtle said equally quietly. Tears came to his eyes as his stressed body complained, but he forced his creaking body up, only to pause in horror as his eyes fell on his right leg, a bloody, cracked stump stopping above where his knee had been. Senera looked, too.
“Come on, I’ll help you up”, she murmured, moving to his damaged side, helping him sit up, then crouching down, pulling his mangled arm around her shoulder and heaving him upright. They staggered down the rocky tunnel, Meurtle leaning heavily on Senera with every hop.
Meurtle blinked again, the visions from the past receding. He glanced over at the beggar, grimaced, and continued his slow, painful way up the road, the crutch strapped to his right stump seeming to catch on every crack between the cobbles, his left hand cramping from the grip on the crutch held under his left arm.
Senera had been very good to him, managed to get him out of the passage, through the swamp, cowering under vegetation to hide from the flights of the dragon overhead, and eventually to a road where they were able to hitch a lift in a farmer’s cart to the nearby village. From there they managed to travel in painful stages, hitching lifts all the way, back to the city of Akorros and the streets of home.
Amazingly, she had managed to get away with her pockets full of coins, old and verdigrised but still platinum and gold and acceptable to the money changers in the city, so they weren’t destitute, and she had generously shared with Meurtle. She had also let him stay with her, knowing there was no way he could manage on his own as he learned to live with the change. But recently Meurtle had seen the restless glint in her eye, and she had been spending more and more time out, coming back with tales from the Adventurers’ Guild. He had also seen scraps of parchment poking out of her pockets. He knew she would be heading off soon with another group, and he would be left behind. So it was time to try to take control of his life again, and one of Senera’s new acquaintances had mentioned this establishment in the dwarven quarter.
It was another painful, exhausting half hour before he was finally making his way up Artisan Street – the dwarves tell it like it is – and found himself looking up at the sign above the window, “Domenech’s Ability Restorers”.
Hoping his painful journey hadn’t been in vain, Meurtle swung himself forward towards the door, ready to lean and push, when it silently opened before he could touch it. He stumbled forwards thrown off balance, caught himself on his crutches, and stared.
“Well, come on in then and let the door shut. It’s too cold to be leaving it open.”
Meurtle looked around for the source of the deep voice, and found himself facing a strange apparition. Somewhat shorter even than Meurtle’s stooped height and with deep brown, bushy hair and beard over most of the face, except for a large patch around the left cheek and eye which was completely hairless and looked melted. The left eye glittered in a jewelled socket, pinning Meurtle with a piercing gaze which made him feel he was being turned inside out.
Meurtle blushed and dropped his gaze, then looked up again quickly. Gold ankles and feet? What was going on here?
“Good afternoon. I’m Raimon Domenech. You look like you’ve been through the mill, literally, but you’ve come to the right place. Let us look after you, give you a hand and get you back on your feet. Okay, okay, it’s an old joke, but it’s also true – it’s what we do. Now, what’s your budget, and do you have any special requirements, or are you just looking for something simple and effective?”
Disability, The Adventurer’s Malady
A common sight on the streets of Akorros are pitiful wretches, sitting on a street corner on a scrap of rug with a cap in front of them and a sign begging for a few coins to buy food.
Such unfortunates are not uncommon in any city, but somehow they seem more prevalent in Akorros, and there does seem to be a higher proportion who have twisted or missing limbs, and who, when they pack up for the day and hobble off to wherever they shelter for the night, move with the help of a stick or crutch.
Not all such cripples live on the streets. Others pass their time in alehouses and bars, looking for sympathetic listeners. Spend a bit of coin to treat one to a hot meal or a drink, and you may find they have tales to tell of adventures they have had, fantastical beasts they have encountered, and magical scrapes they have survived, maybe on the streets of Akorros, maybe out in the wilderness.
Yes, many of these have fallen foul of “The Adventurer’s Malady” – coming off second-best in some encounter and losing limbs, suffering broken bones, and having their very skin warped and damaged, so that they can no longer keep up with their former compatriots on the trail. And so they are left to scrape a living how they can, living off memories and the generosity of strangers.
Many of them are still of sound mind, and they have all the memories and knowledge they built up over their years, so if you are heading off on a quest, you may find it worth spending the time with one or other of them, and maybe you can learn from their mistakes.
The trick is finding the one with the knowledge you need…
Donemech’s Ability Restorers
Some of those unfortunate enough to suffer from The Adventurer’s Malady are indeed just wretches, reduced to begging just to keep from starvation. But for those with a bit more coin to spend, Marlena and Raimon Domenech might have just what they need to restore at least some of the mobility they have lost.
Most famous is, of course, the combat wheelchair, but they have many other prosthetics and aids to offer, at a variety of price points.
For the less well-off, there are the traditional peg leg and hook for those who have lost a leg or arm respectively. But the Domenechs have finer solutions than these.
Who would have a hook, when they can afford a carved arm with hand carefully shaped so it can grasp items in the same way? These come in a variety of colours and sizes to suit any body, and the curved hand serves dual purpose as a fist should combat ensue. Or for the more adventurous, the Domenechs can craft a hand perfectly suited for your weapon of choice. A bit obvious? Select the plain hand with hidden compartment – the hand falls forward on a hinge and a concealed dagger slides out on a spring. enchanted with an attached mage hand tuned to their use?
And if you find yourself needing to catch up on bookwork or accounts, exchange the hand for one with attached quill pen and write away to your heart’s content. Or if that doesn’t give enough control, move up to the premium model enchanted with a permanent mage hand tuned to you and regain your full capacities.
For the leg-deprived, the next step up from the simple peg is a carved foot. This can either be shaped to fit into a normal shoe, come with built in shoe effect, or be left open for admiration – a choice of hair levels and styles can be selected to match the pair, or make your mark with a silver or gold inlay or indeed complete leg. Designs can be engraved and adorned with jewels for the really ostentatious.
A solid foot and ankle is a step up from a peg, but better yet are those models with subtle springs incorporated into the ankle so that they flex like a real foot would, making the whole process of walking and running more natural and less effort.
Of course, in the same way as the hands, the Domenechs can offer specialised foot attachments. They have the grasper, which will clamp round a protrusion, branch, rope or other similar sized item almost like a hand, giving a much more stable footing. Just make sure that the straps holding the prosthetic to your leg are very securely fixed if you wish to try actually hanging from the foot. A stamping action will close the foot around the item, and a twist will unlock it again.
There is also the running blade, spring-loaded – the finer versions are said to allow greater speed than a normal person, and enable jumps of double the normal height, although they do increase the chance of tumbles.
Developing the combat prosthetics
When Sara Johnstone @mustangsart first released the combat wheelchair in 2020, it opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about disability, as you can see in I want to be normal. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want a chance to pretend to be like everyone else. It may mean they want what they are to be represented and normal in the imaginary world, and want the chance to play someone like themselves, only with added adventure.
This has continued to mull over the year and a half since, and when a couple of prompts for WorldAnvil Summer Camp last year were “a medical condition which is feared by some” and “a new medical cure, treatment or breakthrough” I decided to return to the concept, resulting in the The Adventurer’s Malady” and “Domenech’s Ability Restorers” above.
As you can see, though, this is really just an outline with no mechanics behind it yet, and I’d like to flesh out the catalogue. However, I don’t have personal experience of disability, so I’d welcome help to make it realistic and representative. So if you are a D&D player with a disability who’d like to help me get this right, I’d love to hear from you.
You may also be interested in a Kickstarter which is currently in its funding phase. Limitless Heroics: Better worlds via Dice and Disabilities by WyrmWorks Publishing is taking the concept much further. I am only considering physical disabilities, but that Kickstarter is expanding it to all sorts of other disabilities as well. As they put it:
Limitless Heroics is the most comprehensive disability compendium ever created for a Tabletop Role-Playing Game.
For Fifth Edition, it provides:
- 450+ Symptoms: Game mechanics for nearly every symptom in existence (plus some fantasy symptoms, because that’s what you should expect in a world with magic) with 4 Severity Degrees, and 6 Frequencies. With 1–6 symptoms per character (or more), that’s 64,800+ combinations with the option to add more. (Free Sample Symptom: Blindness)
If you are interested in disability representation in D&D, you may also be interested in D&D Disability “creating disability mechanics and content for DnD and other games – because disability belongs in TTRPG”.
When I read about that Kickstarter, I thought there was no point me continuing, but I got in touch with them and Dale encouraged me to continue with my development as well, saying:
“I want to encourage you to keep going with your ideas — like Jen told me once, “I’m a firm believer that the more of this material put into the world, the better.”
So, thank you Dale, and good luck with your Kickstarter (I’m looking forward to my copy arriving – backers may see the Domenech name appear…). And if anyone would like to help me with my development, get in touch, or follow along here as I show my working. Patrons get early access to my posts and the option of chatting on Discord.