Bog Butter
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Basic Information

Bog Butter (also known as butyrellite) is a substance created in a peat bog that was most likely a food once upon a time. There's some controversy or mystery about it's exact purpose back in the day. From time to time an archaeologist or random lucky civilian will be poking around one of the many bogs in Ireland or the United Kingdom and find an old wooden container full of a waxy adipocere-like substance. This bog butter was made by people going back as far as the 1st Century. Was this butter for eating? Or just to use as sealing wax, grease, or in the production of candles or rushlights? We don't know for certain.

Tests have shown that some bog butter was originally a dairy product, and some was originally animal fat instead. Bogs tend to be cold, and the lack of oxygen and presence of acid does a remarkable job of preserving things put in it. So it's possible this was just normal butter or tallow stored in a bog to keep it fresh, and over the intervening centuries the bog turned it into something else. Butter was a luxury item at the time, so it's also possible the stuff was hidden in the bogs as a way of reducing or discouraging theft.

It's also possible that the bog's effects happened in the short term (or at least shorter than centuries), and were intentional. Storing your dairy in the chemical environment of a peat bog may well have been a way to turn it into butter without salt or churning. The specialized food angle certainly seams possible: there's a delicacy in Yemen called smen that is a sort of butter like substance that's supposed to taste kind of like blue cheese. One step in the production of smen involves burying it (in a ceramic pot) in a bog to age. So, maybe that means bog butter was a very special food. If it took a long time for it to ripen, that could explain why so many containers of it got lost or forgotten for centuries.

(Remember kids, don't eat mysterious buttery substances you drag out of the swamp.)



Game and Story Use

  • Ointment, wax, grease, candle, fuel or food: Whatever it is, Bog Butter seems like an interesting way to add some local flavor to your game. It may well be high-value trade goods that's exported far and wide, or it could just be a local delicacy that's a bit of an acquired taste.
  • Burying things in the bog is an interesting way to hide your treasure. This is likely to be used by reptilian humanoids or potentially anyone who lives in or near a wetland, such as a leech-collector or bog-iron-hunter.
  • A magic item such as a potion gets buried in a bog for hundreds of years. It is later recovered.
    • Has the bog transformed it? Is it stronger? Weaker? Corrupted? More dangerous? Has it taken on water-based elemental powers, or a druidic potency? Has the preservation expanded it's scope to effect the undead? Does now add acid damage to its weapon stats?
    • Is it found along side a bog mummy?
    • Is the culture that made it even around any longer?
  • Perhaps bog-butter is a poor-man's version of alchemy. The cunning man or hedge wizard may use this method to make their potions and ointments.
  • Possibly the dairy equivalent of orc ale or iron rations.
  • An interesting "trap" and "treasure" combo: The PCs are walking across a quaking bog. If anyone fails a luck check or dexterity roll, they fall through the crust and are in danger of drowning. While they are down there, they see (or bumble into) an old wooden barrel. Dragging it up, they discover it is filled with a mysterious waxy substance.
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