I am Erich of Halleschtat, sometime called the Faithless. Much have I seen, and many foul things are dead by my hand. Hear my testimony, and be forewarned.
A Gaunt Thing is a spirit of Starvation and Want. When it be seen, it prowleth at night about the edges of any campsite raised within miles of its lair. It do plead most piteously from without the circle of fire for the gift of a morsel or warmth. It shall remain beyond the reach of torch or firelight unless it be invited, and disappeareth at dawn but to return the next even. If one be so foolish as to extend welcome, it will seem affable, but hungry. First it shall inexorably devour all offered foodstuffs, then seize those unoffered, and finally seek to rend and eat its very hosts and their beasts. It will devour the light and heat of a fire , and it is healed by flames. They grow swifter and tougher as they feed, bloating into a fearsome aspect.
Allowing one into the fire’s light or slaying it within the circle will summon as many as a half-dozen more, who will arrive over the following hour. These too must be invited in to enter, but will wheedle, curse, cajole, and threaten their targets constantly and loudly. While besieged by the Gaunt Ones, characters must successfully strive against their Spells each night for each and every Gaunt One plaguing them, or they will find no restful sleep.
Dogs howl at their approach, and horses go mad with fear. Even the cruelest of monsters will be driven off in fear or devoured if they approach the Gaunt; if the Gaunt flee during the night, you would do well to follow their example! Remember too, that an “Invitation” can be broad, as one of my own expeditions did find to their chagrin, and traveling without a flame in their haunts is ill-advised. They are vulnerable to Magics, the juices of waybroad, and to iron, but fade away when slain – seemingly only to multiply as their fellows fall. A Gaunt One in its first aspect is the work of a moment to slay (can you but strike it), but its teeth and claws are as daggers, striking in heedless phrensy when assaulted (or, as my late Portraiter Michaud discovered, when struck by the actinic light of Magnesium). Yet I have felled bears more easily than the first which we encountered.
Thinking these fell things but a backwards tribe in need of succor, we unthinkingly offered warmth and feed unto the first we encountered. Soon we played the hosts to a small pau-wau, each babbling in a chatter much like the local patois. But no other words could we pry from them, of their tribe or their plight, save extasy at the food and speech of an increasing lust for meat. We were astounded at the growth of the first creature, and my chronicler prepared his contraptions to document the Beasts.
Many times have I heard the old saw that a portrait or reflection steals away a bit of the soul, but never did I believe it until after the battle, when I saw what showed on the cracked plate within.
Our greater knowledge of the Gaunt came at a steep price. Fully two day’s travel it took us, and the crossing of some unknown torrent, before the last of the Gaunt abandoned us. But five of the expedition survived; all the Natives had fled in the melee of the first night. We found two of them on the morning, but the Gaunt had found them first. Weary and half-mad with lack of sleep, even Dulac (who had slept on the trail to be fresh for guarding in the night) succumbed to the Night. An ambuscade by a great Reptile in the night claimed Dulac, and two of the fingers of my hand – but I shall speak of the rest of our escape another day. Know, then, that these beasts may only truly be conquered through a hardened heart and swift legs.
# appearing: 1 (but see below)
HD: 1, +1 per feeding turn
#ATT: 2,, @1d4 per.
Morale: 4 initially, 12 once fed.
Special Attack: Keening.
Special Defense: Half damage from most weapons (see below). No matter how they appear, however, they are inimical Fae and not Undead..
Gaunt Things are initially repelled by fire, and must be invited into firelight or a defined structure (a tent counts, but not a campsite). If uninvited, the Gaunt Things will snivel, plead, and scream just outside the area they cannot enter; characters must save vs. Magic or lose the benefits of that night’s sleep. As the sun rises, all of the Gaunt Things will vanish, to return at sundown. Each night the party successfully resists their groveling, however, 1d3 will disappear permanently.
If invited, or if they are able to infiltrate an unlit campsite, they gain 1HD per Turn spent feeding on the party’s resources. They will first take what is offered, then beg for (and attempt to seize) more. Feeding or killing one summons 1d6 more within a Turn. Summoned Gaunt Things divide any additional HD the slain one possessed among themselves as equally as possible. Gaunt Things always use the Charge or Press actions in combat.
Weapons wrought from cold iron or hawthorne, magic or enchanted weapons (even banefully-enchanted ones), and plantain-coated weapons do full damage; all others cause only half. Plantain-root powder does 1d4 damage if cast into one’s face. The beast’s true reflections can be seen in free-flowing water and silver mirrors; if cameras are present, they work as well.
No other “monster” or “animal” random encounters will appear as long as the party is stalked by the Gaunt, and a party on the march will instead find at least one of these creatures viciously mauled and partly-devoured instead. At your option, some or all of the Gaunt Things may gain HD from consuming these creatures.