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Paracuda (New Monster)

Michael O. Varhola

Paracuda are probably magical in origin, and it is possible that they are a genetically altered cross-species of barracuda and shark. They appear to be fish, about 6 feet long, with large heads and wide mouths. However, they are not merely fish, and have the ability to leave the water for periods of up to three hours. When operating outside of water, they may stand and propel themselves in an upright position on their strong tail fins. Paracuda troopers conduct their operations using a large motherfish as a mobile base. This huge monster is over 40' long and 10' wide, and has a thick, plated hide.

Combat: The paracuda motherfish is equipped with a powerful blowhole (located near the back of her head, about ten feet from its front end), from which it can project its children, firing them 60–90' into the air. It is then that the troopers will use their most dramatic ability: ejecting a parachute-like membrane from an internal pouch, and slowly drifting down to the attack. Roll a saving throw versus breath weapons for each paracuda to see if they land on target. If they miss, they will typically land 30–180 feet away from their objective, in the direction that the wind is blowing. The parachute itself can take only three hit points of damage before being destroyed, but damage to it will not directly harm the paracuda. Indeed, upon landing, the monster can automatically detach itself from the parachute, forming a new One within three days. Should their chutes be destroyed while they are in the air, the armored hides of paracuda prevent them from taking any damage from falling into water, and they will take only half damage when falling onto hard surfaces, such as ship's decks. When settling to the attack, paracuda will employ missile weapons. If not directly over their targets, they will generally fire powerful heavy crossbows, which will inflict 1–8 points of damage. If directly over a target, they will employ one of two attacks: the first is to throw a specially weighted dagger, which will be at +2 to hit and inflict double damage (2-8) because of their skill at throwing these weapons onto a target directly below them. The other attack is to hurl a brace of three caltrop-like darts, each of which hits at –2, but will inflict 2–6 points if successful. Paracuda will often carry specialized equipment for certain operations. For example, those attacking ships might carry bone hooks on the end of knotted cords, to help them climb aboard if they miss the deck and land in the water instead. The paracuda mother fish will usually cruise a few feet under the waves, parallel to the target, launching her crew at the rate of ten per round. She will never fight if she does not have to. If necessary, however, she can inflict a devastating bite, and, if charging, can cause one point of structural damage to wood by slamming into it. The motherfish has an eye-like organ, connected to her head by a tough nerve cord, which she can run out to about 40' length. This organ will float on the surface of the water, and can see, as well as gauge temperature and wind speed. Any information she gains thus is telepathically communicated to the paracuda troops inside her. The organ has no attack, but has hit points and saving throws as if it were a 4 HD monster, and AC 4. If it is destroyed, it can be regrown in 2–3 weeks.

Habitat/Society: The paracuda troop travels inside the mother, sallying forth to fight; one half of the troop sits on either side of her body cavity, in niches formed by her rib cage. They will regenerate three hit points per day while inside her. The motherfish grows sacks and pouches, many of which are detachable, in which the the paracuda troop stores their weapons, equipment and wealth, and if necessary, even prisoners; they will only accumulate wealth which is easily transportable. Paracuda instinctively have the knowledge to craft their weapons, usually from bone, coral and shell. Paracuda can increase in hit dice with experience, and up to 20% of any force might be more powerful leaders. Some leaders may have up to 9 Hit Dice, but such Commanders will be incredibly rare. Leaders, particularly Commanders, will be crafty soldiers with much tactical expertise, and will have Champion morale (15–16). Any magic items within a troop will be used by them. It is also possible that a paracuda troop will have a chaplain, with priest ability of up to 5th level. (1 % chance per paracuda in the troop). If a chaplain is present, then the same chance exists for him to have a lower-level assistant, of up to the 4th level of ability. Such chaplains will have access to the All, Combat and Protection spheres of influence. A motherfish will have a brood of 12–21 troopers, which will hatch mature inside of her. If there are 21 children, the 21st will be a female. Females do not resemble males at all, looking from birth like heavy, boxy, fish. When born, the female will be about 10' long, AC: 3, D/A : 1–12, and will become fully mature within four years, at which time she will be able to mate and produce a troop of its own. At this point they will decide whether to stay with the troop they were raised with, or head out on their own. On rare Occasions, it is possible for up to five paracuda platoons to group together into a company, usually for an assault on a particularly tough objective. In this case, the paracuda leader with the highest HD becomes the company commander. All paracuda have limited telepathic ability, being able to communicate with other paracuda. The mother fish will have contact with the leaders in her platoon, typically 1 – 4 of them with more than 3 HD. Similarly, each leader will have contact with the sub-leaders and troops under them. Each trooper will have contact with the leader above him. In large, company level operations, the company commander will have telepathic communication with each of his platoon leaders and each of the mother fish under his command.

Ecology: The role of the paracuda in nature is questionable; they could certainly be categorized as predatory in light of their military ambitions. They are, indeed, genetic naval commandos. Paracuda are omnivores, and will hunt and gather most of their food. Paracuda troops often serve as mercenaries for other underwater races. On some occasions, small aquatic kingdoms may have come under the control of a paracuda troop.