Tsochari are a species of highly intelligent, parasitic, worm-like aberrations who have the ability to possess both living humanoids and corpses, using the host bodies as puppets to complete their goals. Comprised of fused colonies of individually-mindless worm-things from an alien world, they were released on the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons when ancient wizards foolishly opened portals to their planet. They were a species invented brand new for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, making their debut in the 3e splatbook Lords of Madness, and this means they never really developed the same fanbase as the beholders and illithids.
Murderous assassins and infiltrators from a cold and distant world, the tsochari come to this world to steal magic for their own nefarious purposes. Their appetite for arcane lore is limitless, and every tsochari success feeds their dark hunger for more and more magic. Tsochar spies and imposters prowl the streets of human cities, haunt the halls of wizards’ guilds, and secretly seek out and attack the isolated towers of powerful mages. In a kingdom suffering the deadly plague of a tsochar incursion, anyone might be a puppet of the alien invaders, and no one can be trusted.
The tsochari hail from a world distant in space, a cold and lightless place so remote that the sun is little more than a bright star in a black sky. Long ago, evil wizards or cultists built gates linking certain terrible ruins in the normal world with the horrible world of the tsochari. Through these ancient gates, the tsochari steal into the world to roam human lands and infiltrate human society. Humanoids of interest—favored minions, powerful allies, or hapless captives—are sometimes taken back through these gates to the tsochar world. By all accounts, it is a place of numbing cold, thin air, shrieking winds, and madness-filled gloom, where monsters far worse than tsochari stalk the ruins of antediluvian civilizations.
Tsochar incursions are, thankfully, rare. Either the tsochari are not a numerous race, or they are limited in their ability to use the world-spanning gates that allow them to enter the human world. They are not as prevalent or dangerous as powerful aberration civilizations such as those of the aboleths or mind flayers, and not as individually powerful or as commonplace as the dreadful beholders. The tsochari pose a different sort of threat, one of infiltration and assassination. The common folk of a human land have little to fear from the tsochari, but the learned arcanists and mages have reason to be worried—if they suspect they are being watched.
A tsochar resembles a tangled mess of knotted ropes or a ball of barbed wire. It has dozens of thin but strong tentacles, each studded with small, sharp, sicklelike claws. Its body is little more than a thickening and joining of its multiple limbs. The creature’s eyes are small, dark orbs that rest at the end of smaller, thinner tentacles, well hidden in the mass of its other limbs, and its mouth is a round, lampreylike orifice in the middle of its underside. The tsochar is an indigo blue in color, with a mottled pattern of lighter blue spots on its upper surface.
The tsochari are products of an alien world. Tsochar flesh is freakishly strong and tough, more like iron cable than the bodies of creatures of this world. This accounts for their damage reduction and their surprising strength.
A tsochar is not actually a single living creature, but instead an aggregate being. Each of the dozens of coiling tentacles and limbs that seem to comprise its body is, in fact, a living creature in its own right, known as a strand. A strand has its own nervous system and organs of respiration, digestion, and reproduction. Carefully detached from the rest of the body, a tsochar strand could live on indefinitely, but it would be virtually mindless. Only in close association with twenty or thirty similar strands, linked by nerve ganglia and blood vessels into a tangle, do the tsochar strands achieve a collective sentience and sense of self.
Like some of the simplest animals found in the mundane world (such as jellyfish), the tsochar strands show a degree of specialization for certain tasks. For example, the creature’s lampreylike mouth is actually a specialized structure composed of the mouthparts of four to eight strands, fused together in common growth. Fighting and motive limbs are another specialization, as are the sensory limbs with their dark eye-structures at the tips. Since they share nervous tissue, blood vessels, and sentience, the tsochar strands collectively form a single entity, just as vulnerable to physical damage as a more mundane form of life.
A tsochar strand is about 3 to 8 feet in length and averages about half an inch in diameter, but it commonly coils and tangles with other strands close to the center of the body. Tsochar strands are strikingly strong and tough for their size and weight, armed with numerous sicklelike barbs. The barbs contain small grooves or channels through which the tsochar can inject its poison, but each barb administers only a tiny dose. It takes numerous tentacles working together to administer a dangerous dose of venom, which is why the tsochar only poisons creatures it is constricting.
The internal arrangement of a tsochar is minimal for such a complex creature. Within each strand, the vital organs are concentrated within a foot or so of the “front” end, the part of the creature that binds itself to the other strands. The brain is a studded string of nerve ganglia resembling a string of pearls. The digestive tract is an undifferentiated gullet that absorbs food from the collective “mouth” of the monster. Each strand pumps its own blood through a constriction of its motive muscles, which is why a tsochar at rest coils and seethes constantly. Tsochar take in oxygen through tiny holes spaced along the length of their strands.
Unlike some of the other aberration races, tsochari enjoy little in the way of truly extraordinary senses. Tsochari see well in complete darkness and have an uncanny knack for “seeing” heat, although they do not possess true infrared vision. A tsochar typically has between five and ten eye-strands, well hidden in the mass of motive and fighting limbs. Each eye is somewhat weak, but by focusing multiple eyes on objects of interest, tsochari attain a visual acuity equal or superior to human vision under good conditions. Since tsochari use multiple eyes on the same target, they do not possess the all-around vision one might expect of a creature with many eyes and no particular bodily orientation.
Tsochari hearing is comparable to human hearing, despite the conditions of their native world. Undoubtedly, the shrieking winds scouring their homeworld made hearing a sense that provided little information to the forebears of the race. They have no true sense of smell, and instead taste their environment much like snakes do, sampling scents through their hidden mouthparts. Tsochari do not have very acute senses of touch, since their hard flesh resists small impressions or stimuli that a soft-skinned human notices easily.
The most unusual tsochari sense is their telepathic ability. The race is somewhat empathic, and can easily receive and transmit information through telepathy. Some tsochari are so sensitive that they can detect and locate nearby creatures by their mental signatures, but most tsochari do not ascertain another creature’s presence through mental awareness alone.
More so than other aberrations, tsochari are physically associated with creatures of other races. Monsters such as aboleths, grell, and mind flayers frequently eat or enslave humanoids, but tsochari possess the unique capability of inhabiting the living bodies of other creatures, sometimes for months or years at a time.
While a tsochar can skillfully position its thin tendrils within its host’s body cavity without killing the victim, it still requires a fair amount of room. Tsochar can only enter the bodies of creatures that are their own size or larger. Thus, a typical tsochar, which is size Small, can enter a victim that is size Small or larger. Tsochari lose the ability to invade Small humanoids as they grow older, simply because they grow too big to fit in their bodies. They can and do infest larger creatures, given the chance.
A tsochar establishes physical contact with the key nerves and blood vessels of its victim by growing the ganglia connecting its own limbs into the key parts of its victim’s anatomy. The monster can deliberately avoid inflicting lethal injury, remaining an unwelcome hitchhiker hiding in the victim’s body, or it can set about ripping out and replacing brain tissue, major nerves, and other critical parts. In the former case, the victim revives, awake and quite aware that an alien presence is now ensconced in his or her body. In the latter case, the victim suffers a death of indescribable agony, leaving behind a ready-made shell for the tsochar to masquerade in.
A humanoid carrying a tsochar in his or her body appears normal enough at a quick glance, but a closer look shows several telltale signs—a slightly distended abdomen; long, snakelike cordings bunched beneath the skin; and glints of blue-black alien flesh in the navel, the throat, or the ear canal.
Tsochari are completely hermaphroditic. Each tsochar strand is both male and female, and the creature can spawn any time it cares to. In general, a tsochar reproduces once every five to ten years, laying a clutch of about one hundred small, tough eggs. Each egg hatches into a single undifferentiated tsochar strand. A single strand is not a new tsochar; instead, thirty to forty must assemble into a collective tangle before a new tsochar comes into existence. New tangles can spring from a single parent, but tsochari take no special steps to make sure that this happens. In places where tsochari breed, it’s more common for a new tsochar to arise from strands hatched by multiple parents, as egg-clutches from several different tsochari hatch and intermingle. Thus, a single mature tsochar might have anywhere from one to dozens of different parents.
Development and Aging
A single tsochar strand is only a small portion of an adult tsochar. During their first four to eight weeks of life, individual strands in the same area encounter each other and slowly self-organize, joining each other by ones and twos as they grow into tangles. These accumulating tangles begin to grow together, fusing mouthparts, sharing blood vessels and nerve connections, and gradually waking to full sentience about one year after hatching.
Tsochari are virtually immortal. As strands age and die, a mature tsochar subsumes newly hatched strands to replace the old. Roughly half of all tsochari strands become incorporated into mature adults in this fashion (the other half assemble new individuals, given the opportunity). An individual strand lives about 100 years. Tsochari grow larger as they grow older, adding more strands than they lose. The more strands a tsochar has, the larger those strands tend to be. Very old tsochari might consist of a hundred or more strands, some close to 20 feet long and 3 inches thick.
On rare occasions, tsochar strands never find others of their kind to fuse with, and live out their lives as small, solitary predators that prey on rodents and vermin.
Tsochari are spiteful, ambitious, avaricious, and self-centered. They would likely entertain all sorts of murderous schemes against one another, except for the fact that a tsochar is not well equipped to inflict serious harm on one of its fellows. They can’t poison or inhabit each other, and their hard flesh is difficult to damage with their own natural weapons. Two tsochari can fight all day long and not do much harm to each other.
Since they are so resistant to each other’s physical attacks, tsochari naturally limit their competitions to battles of intrigue, status, and prestige. Tsochar society is organized into a number of rival castes, each constantly jockeying for power and wealth. The five most important castes are the nobles, the priests, the arcanists, the soldiers, and the merchants. Other castes might have more members than these, but they rarely interact with creatures of other races.
Nobles are the rulers of the tsochari, consisting of a meritocratic group of especially strong, old, cruel, and manipulative individuals. No tsochar is favored by its birth position; the creatures have no sense of family or hereditary posts. Instead, any tsochar that demonstrates that it is capable, clever, and ruthless can slowly worm its way into the ranks of the nobles. High-ranking individuals in other castes frequently work toward achieving enough status and wealth to abandon their old castes and become nobles.
Priests belong to perhaps the most powerful caste. Tsochari are fervently devoted to their sinister deities, and the cult of Mak Thuum Ngatha is the single most influential organization within tsochari society. Even the nobles must pay heed to the priests’ proclamations of divine will. Priests view the plundering and sacrifice of otherworld races (such as humans) as a holy mandate, and constantly seek to bring the worship of the Nine-Tongued Worm to new spheres.
The arcanist tsochari assimilate and study stolen magical lore from other races. All tsochari are fascinated by arcane magic, but the arcanists actually take levels in sorcerer or wizard classes. Tsochari plots to subvert human wizards’ guilds arise in the black halls of the arcanists.
Soldier tsochari serve the dictates of the leader castes. They do the bidding of nobles, priests, and arcanists. Soldiers strive to ascend to nobility through useful service, demonstrated successes, and a certain ruthless streak. The soldiers balance the rivalry between noble and priest by following noble dictates and priestly mandates as they deem advisable.
Tsochari merchants are not really merchants at all, since no tsochari would offer payment for the things it desires unless no other option is available. They work as far-ranging explorers, raiders, slavers, and spies in search of opportunities to enrich themselves at the expense of less-capable races.
Tsochari speak their own language, Tsochar. Much of it consists of complex raspings and buzzings created by rubbing strands together. While humanoids could conceivably learn to understand tsochar speech, actually speaking the language would be difficult indeed. Because tsochari are telepathic, the Tsochar language is relatively simple, with a broad vocabulary of technical terms and concepts but no syntax to speak of. It exists primarily to serve as a written form of tsochar telepathy. Tsochari rarely use the languages of other races, again relying on their telepathy. Typically, a tsochar speaks Tsochar, Common, and one additional language useful in its dealings with specific races, such as Draconic, Giant, Goblin, Orc, or Undercommon. Tsochari understand these languages much better than they speak them, since their vocal apparatus is nothing like a humanoid throat. When they do speak aloud in humanoid languages, their voices are tinny and high-pitched, and buzz abominably. A tsochar inhabiting or animating the body of a humanoid is much more intelligible, since it can use the existing vocal arrangements.
The tsochari are one of the most religious aberration races. The cult of Mak Thuum Ngatha comprises an elite priestly caste within tsochar society, even more powerful and influential than the noble caste. The Nine-Tongued Worm embodies the opening of infinite knowledge, the destruction of barriers, and the spanning of space and time, all things that the tsochari deeply revere. In turn, Mak Thuum Ngatha regards the tsochari as its favored servants and agents (as much as it favors anyone or anything), and entrusts tsochar priests with tasks it deems important.
Since Mak Thuum Ngatha already holds sway over the tsochari, its commands to its priests involve spreading its worship, and the dark and perilous lore it brings, to other races and lands. All too often, this means humanoid realms in the mundane world. Tsochari priests therefore serve as emissaries or messengers from the Nine-Tongued Worm to humanoids foolish or reckless enough to be tempted by the power the tsochari offer. More than one human cultist has gained the services of tsochari spies and assassins by promising to perform awful sacrifices and summonings at the behest of tsochari priests.
Tsochari constantly fight for status, looking for opportunities to prove that they have the personal competence, ambition, and intelligence to merit acceptance in the noble caste. In practice, merchants and soldiers most often advance in this fashion. Arcanists care little for the schemes of their fellows and concentrate on amassing magical power, while priests enjoy so much influence and station that it’s more expedient to advance within the priestly caste than to seek acceptance as a minor noble.
Because the noble caste chooses new members from the other castes, the nobles can count on at least a modicum of loyalty and faithfulness from other tsochari. Angering a noble by failing to comply with its directives is a good way to ensure that one will never be selected for that exalted class, after all. Lower-caste tsochari that determine disobedience is not likely to be noticed or punished frequently do as they please, ignoring the orders of their superiors. The race would doubtless collapse into eternal infighting and warfare if not for two unifying factors: the racial hunger for arcane magic, and the racial devotion to the great powers of the Far Realm.
Within the noble ranks, age, personal power, and cunning establish a pecking order of sorts. Newly elevated nobles seek the patronage of older, more powerful tsochari, and work to advance their elders’ purposes. High nobles can command the allegiance of some number of minor nobles. Great nobles are rare indeed, each the satrap of a whole city or region. In tsochari society, birth plays no role in achieving power; the great nobles represent a circle of equals, each of whom holds its position for centuries until some ambitious underling finds a way to unseat it.
Relations with Other Races
The tsochari are contemptuous of most other forms of life. They recognize other powerful aberrations as kindred of a sort, and maintain cool relations with monsters such as neogi or mind flayers if conditions permit. While tsochari are far-ranging travelers with the ability and inclination to trade with other elder races, they dislike the fact that many other aberration races hold deities in little regard. Tsochari willingly ally with cloakers, which share their goals.
Humanoids are little better than steeds, mounts to be used and discarded at will. Humanoids exist to provide tsochari with wealth, magic, and ready sacrifices to the glory of beings such as Mak Thuum Ngatha. Tsochari look forward to the day when they can launch a truly massive incursion, seizing the bodies of high mages and great priests alike and establishing themselves as the eternal and secret masters of enslaved humanity.