It all started with me wanting to feature some myconids. I haven’t really used these before, as long as I’ve been playing and DMing D&D, but they’ve been there since the first few folios of the Monster Manual. (In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, myconids are Lawful Neutral mushroom-people who use spores to communicate, defend themselves, and procreate by taking over humanoid bodies)
I wasn’t sure how to use myconids for Dragonblade!, though, because I want to stick to the east and south Asian themes as strongly as I could, and I didn’t know if myconids existed in those cultures, or anything like them. The PCs are underground, though, and I want to creep them out with something that is threatening, alien, but not necessarily hostile. I desired humanoid mushrooms with a great desire.
My research started where you’d expect, with Toad from Super Mario Brothers, and led me to Matango, a Japenese film from the 60s about an island of mushroom people. Turns out, there is a healthy tradition of mushroom people in Japanese culture at least, just as there is a healthy appreciation for delicious mushrooms, and overall they have a similar MO to the myconids – vaguely creepy without being actively threatening, and the spores! Oh, the spores.
I figure out that the term in Japanese for mushroom-people roughly transliterates to kinoko-kozu, and my mushroom people are born. The myconids as written in the MM, though, are a bit boring, given a few things I know about fungi. The Sovereign as written is just a big walking mushroom with a couple extra spore abilities. I’d like something more.
Enter the slime mold. If you haven’t looked into the slime mold, it’s worth some googling. It is a vast colony of millions, or billions, of prokaryotic cells that function together as one organism and have this very complex life cycle. They can take various shapes, and the largest terrestrial organism is thought to be a slime mold. They show signs of emergent intelligence, and can basically expand their colony size without limits as long as they find nutrients and can replicate themselves safely.
Clearly, the Sovereign of my kinoko-kozu colony needs to be a vast slime mold. I just added the slight tweak of greater emergent intelligence than a normal slime mold, and you have an intelligent, indefinitely replicating fungus that has created the kinoko-kozu to be its literal hands and feet, colonizing them and sending them out into the subterranean world.
The player-characters met the kinoko-kozu during our last session, and so far, they like them. The fact that they’ve breathed in tons of floating spores will definitely not cause interesting problems later in the story…