Thursday, 18 March 2021

The mystery of the YAM LANDS

The latest in the multi-blog VELVET HOOKS series, where Scrap and I do a deep dive on monsters from our book 'Fire on the Velvet Horizon' and work out hooks to make them workable in adventures.

Today we have the noble

Yam Man

Desert and dry scrub, live singly, waiting buried, listening, symbiotic owls, muttering in the language of the owls, VERY PROTECTIVE. WALKS AT NIGHT, MUTTERING, combative, fatalist, irregular rains, years without a drop, people try to tap the yam. Starlit boxing matches, very formal, big on weight classes, in a hooting ring of owls, yam man slam, absolute hatred of edged weapons, blunt weapons ok, fighting with fists - very good. The hand of the yam.


Like many of these creatures, once everything is known about them, dealing with them becomes largely a matter of attention and resources.

So making them 'more interesting' means creating a context of discovery, highlighting what is not know and then suggesting interesting paths by which to know it. So; we begin with the idea that the PCs know little or nothing of the Yam, and must discover more


1. YAM LANDS on a map, what could it mean?

2. 'Spiky Jack' the wise old boxer with a face full of spines that won't come out. What are his secrets and where did he learn is slow but deceptively powerful boxing style?

3. The lost Aurulent Empire allegedly knew the language of the birds and the writing of its golden books can teach such. The Language of Owls, it is said, was never forgotten in the margins of the empire.

4. These are largely untraveled lands by outsiders. Each pueblo or nomad camp is about a days journey from another. Locals move during the day, but almost never at night. "Explorers" and merchants tend to disappear on the Plains when they move without guides. Locals just shrug. Its sad, they say. 

5. Camels get knocked out in the night.

6. The people of the Plains have a taboo against edged weapons, even edged tools. They will avoid them if at all possible, and hide them beneath ritual veils if not. Even the old girls working with machetes in the fields will look around carefully before swinging and stow them beneath their hanging belt covering after each use. Almost never is anyone killed with a blade.

7. These pueblos and nomads always seem to know a huge amount about what is happening everywhere on the plain, even incredibly distantly. It seems as if news travels across the plain faster than a horse could ride, though it’s not clear how. Your arrival is almost never a surprise and you can hear chatter of events from very distant villages commonly.

8. In foreign lands there are rumours of huge monsters moving by night, muttering like massive owls.
They may not use knives but they are a very pugilistic culture, ready to fist-fight over any argument. Everyone does it, even the cute village girls have broken noses, old people will roustabout with each other. They are obsessive over the idea of a 'fair fight' though. Only fighting someone in your 'class' is legitimate. People who brawl outside their class are shameful. No tricky business either, cheating is for scum.

9. Harming an Owl is also Taboo on the Plains. Don't do it!

General Adventure Stuff

1. Fight the yam, it’s in the way of progress! Maybe a water source is too dangerous to access due to the yam man presence, that’s good for the environment, possibly, but limits human ambitions.

2. A notable person was lost "exploring" or just moving across the plains. Either they have some important info on them or the family just wants the body back fast. (Turns out they were killed by a Yam Man and the corpse is still stuck to their spikes.)

3. Similar - An imperishable magical sword or spear has been lost on the plains and no-one knows where. (Its in a Yam Man still sticking out of their yam skin, a good nesting spot for its owls.)

4. PORTECT the Yam, it plays a part in the local culture and some ill devils are poisoning it!

5. MISSION - Learn the Hand of the Yam, this means a lot of learning their culture, owl-based level grinding (finding mice etc) and getting punched in the tits by a spiked cactus man.

6. The Mouse King has the McGuffin you need but he wants you to protect his desert tribes who are being preyed on by owls, who are in turn, protected by the Yam.

7. We keep sending people to these ancient ruins to gain valuable historical research materials but they keep not coming back. Find out why. The ruins are dangerous, but also a Yam Man Slam is taking place above them every night until a champion is found. In the day the place is ringed with slumbering and angry yams which causes its own problems.

8. Somebody wants to eat one of them yams, they might be evil but they are offering a lot.

9. YAM-MAN MEN need a Plains Witch to commentate on their Yam Man slam, but don't know where to find one, so now they are stumbling into pueblos causing all kinds of shit - will someone just find them a fucking witch! (The witches are incredibly dangerous).

10. A Pueblo was destroyed by raiders but the bodies of the children were never found. The relatives from other villages and those who were away at the time want the kids back, but where are they? (They are dressed as Owls and living with a group of Yam Man Men - they went there to hide when the raiders came and the remaining baddies have not been able to get them out.)

11. An Owl-obsessed bird enthusiast from the City has survived in the desert and learnt some of the language of Owls, to the surprise of the locals who view them with a half-wary respect. But ill-doers are using the ornithologists knowledge to hook into the owl-mail networks to do crimes on the Plains, even feeding in false information, something no-one has done before. The Ornithologist themself is innocent of how they are being used.


  1. They probably taste quite good with butter :)

    (in fact the local farmers consider them a delicacy and will do almost anything to acquire these very nutritious and tasty things)

    1. Strange thing is, I can't remember ever actually eating a Yam

    2. Oh oh, that's one of the first signs...