Solitaire Storytelling: Cryptid Apothecary

The pomegranate seeds have been weighed, the ectoplasm has been deep-fried, and the bezoar has been taken out to sit at room temperature. The dream sand has been powdered, the tannis root is in the ice box, and last night’s gambling winnings are set aside. Yesterday I took care of a mothman whose own shadow had become solid and started causing trouble, and a buru who had an odd fixation on pursuing a literature degree. I wonder who I’ll see this time?

It’s another day behind the counter for a Cryptid Apothecary.

Patient: Ozark Howler

Ailment: Regurgitation of random objects at inconvenient moments.

Consultation Notes: Patient has been experiencing symptoms for approximately three weeks. What was particularly perplexing about this case was that the nature of the objects was truly random, as in they were not items the patient had actually ingested. Glowing eyes and horns aside, an ozark howler is still feline – it may not be polite, but the odd hairball is expected. When the rook from someone else’s chess set comes up, it’s a bit more of a shock. Patient finally came in when they got sick of having to go to the lost and found all the time. Good news, they found something there that belonged to an estranged friend and have since reconnected, so at least something good came out of it.

Ingredients: A feathering of tea of forgetfulness, rainbow-striped actual gold from an actual fool, frozen tannis root, sun-soaked orihalcon

Directions: Include flower petals in every meal while taking.

Patient: Tatzelwurm

Ailment: Processes all sound as off-key narrative singing.

Consultation Notes: Patient first noticed symptoms a few days ago at a family dinner when the ‘delightfully sibilant’ conversation began to sound like a bad musical interlude. Family prank was dismissed as the culprit when even buzzing insects started butchering notes. Earmuffs were attempted as a solution, but finding ones fit for feline ears proved difficult. Consultation was mostly done by passing notes for the patient’s comfort – exchanged list of favorite ‘musical episodes’ from various shows and assorted other recommended listening for after cure sets in.

Ingredients: Tincture of honey, powdered dream sand, half-bottle of siren scale, a pygmy goat’s weight in pomegranate seed.

Directions: Keep beneath your pillow for nine consecutive sleeps.

Patient: Jersey Devil

Ailment: Uncontrolled rearrangement of furniture/belongings in their sleep.

Consultation Notes: Two months. For most of it the patient suspected a banshee they play cards with – “Great singing voice, good company, terrible loser if nobody has died recently” – but eventually had to dismiss it – personally I hope it’s because the banshee took the pot home. Nailing things down didn’t work, as it seems the furniture was not being moved so much as disappearing and reappearing from place to place. Upside: the couch looks a lot better in its latest spot.

Ingredients: Julienned cosmic eggshell, mirror reflection of adderstone, deep-fried ectoplasm

Directions: Rub into pressure points.

Patient: Sasquatch

Consultation Notes: Duration of symptoms is somewhat unclear, as the initial symptom was thought to be the result of a new diet meant to encourage a lusher coat – patient remarked that their mother has been on to them about finding someone to settle down with. Hair has been grabbing random items off the shelves for a few days, now. Trimming helped but had to be done frequently, and shaving was right out. Upon hearing instructions, patient remarked it wouldn’t be a problem – good excuse to avoid their mother’s matchmaking efforts for a bit longer, anyway.

Ailment: Hair grows at accelerated rate and gains autonomous motion.

Ingredients: Bioluminescent black orchid, room-temperature bezoar

Directions: Avoid eye-contact for at least one week after taking.

Cryptid Apothecary by Jei D. Marcade sees you playing the role of an apothecary maintaining a record of the magical remedies you are mixing together to cure the unique ailments of your non-human patients. Aside from a way to write, you only need a deck of cards, a six-sided die, and either a second six-sided die or a twelve-sided die (d12 getting more work is always good, to me).

The deck gets split into four piles, one for each suite (no jokers required). You draw a heart to determine what kind of creature your patient is, then a spade for their ailment. You jot down a few notes about your consultation – how long they’ve had symptoms, how they’ve been dealing with them, a ‘charming anecdote’ they mention during your meeting.

Then you roll 1d6, which determines how many clubs you draw – these tell you the ingredients for the mixture. Next you draw an equal number of diamonds, pairing each with a club, which is how you determine whether you’re getting an ingredient frozen, deep-fried, or as a tincture. Finally, you roll 1d12 (or 2d6, I guess) to determine the instructions for the patient using the mixture.

If you run out of materia magica you can simply reshuffle your club and diamond piles back together  (as of this writing there is an error in the text that says to shuffle spades and diamonds, but the intent is clear given the rest of the rule no longer the case!).

The game ends when you want to take a rest – that’s it!

There is actually a multiplayer, long distance variant of the game as well. Additional players take on the role of patients by drawing their own random hearts and spades cards and communicating the results to the apothecary player. The apothecary then uses scraps of paper equal to the number of clubs they subsequently drew and creates visual representations of the ingredients. Put those ingredients in an envelope, making sure to include the instructions so the patient doesn’t make a mistake, and then mail the potion to the patient! A little more arts-and-crafts than some might be up for, but it’s a cute little variant to share a little moment with some friends.

Overall it was fun to imagine the odd customers, the strange ingredients, the small-talk and the note-taking. The game has a very relaxed and homey vibe to it, and it went perfectly with a cup of tea while I waited for the next patient to arrive. The game also has some potential as a world-building or flavor text tool for other games – next time your adventuring party visits an apothecary or gets stuck with a wacky curse, you could pull from this game for inspiration.

Cryptid Apothecary is available at the always nice price of Pay What You Want at; you can find more games by Marcade at their itch page ranging from Korean folklore to cozy cottage witches to spooky choose-your-own-adventures, and all sorts of other things at their own site.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a jackalope just walked in complaining of a spontaneous misinterpretation of gravity. Let’s see, we’ll need a half-bottle of honey, some frozen tea of forgetfulness… should this be consumed under an eclipse or at a crossroad on a moonless night? Let me check my notes…

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