So a few days ago I learned how storm petrels used to be used as lamps – they’re a bird so oily that they can be caught, dried, and essentially turned into a lamp. With the two of us being such phenomenal dorks, however, we promptly turned to thinking about how one of these would play out if included in a tabletop game like Pathfinder or D&D. The result is “The Fall of the Flaming Petrels, and the Rise of Pazuzu the Ever Burning – or, How Petrel-Bob Became a Demon God.”*
The GM of this hypothetical game would be one of those poor bastards who wants to make their game richer, more alive, and they’ve been reading books on how to do it. They decide that in the next dungeon, they’ll include some scenery pieces to hint at the lives of the orcs living there. One of these is a storm petrel that has been turned into an arts-and-crafts lamp by the orc’s kid. At an attempt at humor over the idea of a dead flaming bird, they decide it’ll be 100% five-year-old crafts project. Glitter, elbow macaroni, ribbons, you name it, this poor bird is decked out in it. The petrel’s spirit is in the afterlife, weeping at the desecration of its corpse.
And then… Then the PCs come along. The GM has stocked the room with some nice loot – a magic greataxe, a bunch of platinum coins, and so on. And there’s the lamp, on a table where the orc works on his epic saga that he’ll finish someday. The players bust into the room, find it unoccupied because the orc is off someplace else doing orc middle manager things, and they have this horrible lamp described to them. They’re adventurers, so of course they grab the lamp and ignore the actual treasure. The orc comes back after they’e left to find the lamp missing but his actual treasure still around – but that was the lamp his kid made, and he wants it back.
The adventurers, meanwhile, spend the next several days burning magic spells and making Knowledge checks to try to figure out what this obviously magical and important lamp is and what it does. They’re not willing to believe the GM’s declaration that the lamp is, in fact, a lamp; he made a point of describing this horrible arts-and-crafts nightmare and he wouldn’t do that without it being important. Everyone wants to be the one to carry it; the ranger figures it may apply a blessing if they light their arrows with it, the rogue wants to backstab with it, the mage and cleric are both furiously casting Identify and Detect Magic and so on in hope of it being a spell focus or something. It eventually ends up with the fighter, who writes it down under Magic Items with several question marks around it.
The orc has called in several favors to get Speak with Dead spells cast on the orc who ran afoul of the adventurers, and has started gathering a warband to get hunt them down and get his lamp back. Most of the orcs who sign up do it because they’ve got keepsakes from their kids, too, and people who steal things like that are scum. It only takes a couple weeks at best before a sizable orc army marches on the kingdom where the PCs hang out, led by an orc whose battlecry is “WHERE IS MY PETREL LAMP!?”
The PCs spend the next few levels hearing rumors of the orc army marching on them and doing ridiculous adventuring stuff. The lamp gets whipped out every time they hit an inconvenient spot, in hopes of the magic powers activating. Puzzle room? Whip it out to light the way forward. White dragon juvenile? Whip it out to see if the lamp holds it at bay. Ancient magically sealed door? Wave the lamp around it to see if it acts as the key. None of it works. One player recognizes that the lamp is probably just a lamp, and can be attributed with most of the party’s advances because they look for actual solutions while the others faff about with the lamp. They have, by this point, taken ‘The Flaming Petrels’ as their group title, but everyone else calls them “those weirdos with the bird lamp.” The petrel’s ghost is haunting them out of sheer mortified embarrassment and horror, leaving spectral bird poop all over.
The kingdom has sent out their best diplomat with a well-crafted petrel-shaped lamp in hopes of appeasing the orc. While the replacement lamp is a bust, the diplomat recognizes the orc; their kid goes to the same arts and craft classes as the orc’s kid, because the diplomat is a firm believer in the value of multicultural experiences. Once they figure out what the lamp in question is, they head back to the kingdom and explain that the orcs won’t be a problem if they’re given aid in hunting the adventurers down, and the diplomat would like to be their liason. Next thing the party knows they’re on wanted posters as thieves.
This convinces them they’re on the right path, because clearly some dark and terrible force has turned the kingdom against them and unified the orcs and the army in their hunt. They take their lamp on escapades further abroad, venturing into the planes. A trip to a frozen and icy layer of the Nine Hells leaves them banished back to the material plane by devils muttering about mortals who shouldn’t be allowed out without supervision. This gets taken as more proof that they’re on the right path, and they plan an excursion to the mightiest library in all the lands to research legends and prophecies about a petrel lamp. Spectral bird poop is everywhere by now.
The diplomat and the orc get together some summoners and call up a devil – one who, incidentally, serves as an infernal ambassador and has a kid in the same arts and crafts class. Upon hearing the story, the devil decides to let them have this one on the house and works with them to summon the petrel’s spirit and give it an incarnate form.
The party takes the lack of ghostly bird poop as another good sign, and heads out toward the library just in time to see a force comprised of the army and the orc warband crest the horizon, a massie demon-bird figure in the vanguard. The player who has been paying attention passes the GM a note saying that they intend to defect ASAP and leaves to go to the liquor store. The rest of the party is slaughtered, mostly by an incredibly angry demonic storm petrel.
The other players leave, complaining about the TPK, leaving the GM sitting with their head on the table until the one who went for booze gets back.
“So, uh, my character wants to pledge service to the demon bird. Can I be the first worshiper?” A bottle of gin gets slid across to the GM as they sit back down at the table.
“Sure. Congratulations, you’re the high priest of Pazuzu.”
“Sweet. Hey, did the orc get his lamp back?”
“I ask him if I can have it to build a temple to Pazuzu in his home turf, so he can show his kid that the lamp was awesome enough for a demon god.”
“He loves the idea. You have a really putrid lamp and a mob of orcs willing to help build the temple.”
“I pay to have it enchanted with a Continual Flame spell, so I don’t have to burn up the original body of my new god and head back with the orcs. So that’s done, let’s go drink, yeah?”
“Yeah.” They head off to get drunk; future campaigns occasional reference the origins of Pazuzu, and in that GM’s campaigns the reason Lamashtu hates Pazuzu is that while she’s the Mother of Monsters, none of her offspring ever gave her something like a storm petrel lamp. Adventurers remain eternally on Pazuzu’s hit list, and he personally collects the souls of all dying storm petrels to be part of his infernal flock.
And there we go.
* – This is a nod to Ursula Vernon and Kevin Sonney, who were the ones to begin calling creatures -Bob to indicate their importance. Their D&D adventuring group has a lot of -Bob types, and there’s a thrush named Thrush-Bob that keeps coming back to visit them each year. Their adventuring party wouldn’t have had all these problems, likely, as Rooster would have probably felt bad about stealing the lamp in the first place and would have probably managed to give it back before leaving the orc settlement.