Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Murderous Menagerie: Varmints

While I really do want to cleave as closely to my design goals as possible, it is exceedingly difficult not to brew up new monsters. So far I've resisted temptation, and to sate my creative urges I've decided to fill in additional details on monsters invented by the pulp masters in a series I'm calling Murderous Menagerie.

Our first entry into the series is our goblin stand-in, The Varmint. This nasty little beast was inspired by the following passage from C.L. Moore's "Black God's Kiss":

"[A]t her feet a ravening circle of small, slavering, blind things leaped with clashing teeth. They were obscene and hard to distinguish against the darkness of the hillside, and the noise they made was revolting. Her sword swung up of itself, almost, and slashed furiously at the little dark horrors leaping up around her legs.They died squashily, splattering her bare thighs with unpleasantness, and after a few had gone silent under the blade the rest fled into the dark with quick, frightened pantings, their feet making a queer splashing noise on the stones."

Disposition of the Varmint.
One of the most persistent scavengers of the savage world of Krül, Varmints are a vile semi-sentient infestation of twisted humanoids that, while individually only a nuisance, will butcher entire villages if allowed to spawn in great numbers.

Face of a Varmint.
A Varmint is a sexless critter of roughly humanoid shape, covered in thick, matted black fur and stout of frame. They are often seen with a drooping, distended potbelly and even those that have not fed for some time will have a flaccid, dessicated flap which hangs limply over their crotch. They possess unnaturally long, thin and knobby limbs with gigantically oversized hands and feet and thick black nails set with deep-cut grooves. Their most notable aspect, and their most horrifying, is their wildly varying countenances which make it quite easy to distinguish one member of the species from another. Resembling nothing so much as children's Halloween masks, but often possessing an mocking or surreal quality, reliable sources have documented jack o' lanterns, clowns, devils, popes, pigs, and other creatures and personages far and wide.
Limbs of the Varmint.

Being nearly universally despised, with almost every sentient creature exterminating them on sight, the Varmint is a cautious and crafty beast during the first phase of their life cycle, either as solitary creatures or as part of a small enclave. More often than not they will burrow in a shunned locale in close proximity to a settlement, despite the potential dangers, for they love nothing but the cries of children and the gurgling screams of their parents as they are dragged into the crypt, warren, or sewer they inhabit.

Once settled, the Varmints will begin stalking outlying homesteads or crumbling slums, having an almost preternatural ability to identify the wretched, the desperate, the outcasts, and the loners. They prey on those for whom no tears will be shed and few inquiries will be made about their untimely demise. After a victim is selected, the Varmints will stalk the poor sod, learning his or her habits and routine. It is at this point that their ingenuity at sabotage and trap-making comes to the fore, as they will carefully arrange an "accident" to befall the victim, preferring to main or disfigure their prey, both to prevent flight and to further repulse those around them.

Fur of the Varmint.
Scholars are uncertain why Varmints do not attack in this moment of weakness, as it is exceedingly rare that they will kill their prey directly after the accident. Some speculate that the Varmint has too great a love of suffering, and would rather extend the agony of their victim rather than quickly snuff it out. Others, however, argue that the maiming of their victims is actually a practical matter - tragedy brings people together, and the injured party may attract friends and relatives. If so, the Varmints will shift their attention to newer, easier prey. In either case, after a week or so, if the opportunity presents itself the Varmints will attack. Their favored method is to strike quickly and from darkness, concentrating on the wrists, ankles, and throat, so as to prevent escape and the summoning of aid. It is at this point, once the victim is completely helpless, that they will drag their prey to their lair so that he may be eaten at their leisure. More often then not, the victim will survive for hours as they dine on his still-living tissue.

That Which Remains
Although the above example is the favored hunting method of the Varmint, it should also be noted that their tactics will change in the presence of children, which they seem to consider a particular delicacy. Despite the inherent risks, Varmints will often risk life and limb to play out a sadistic game of their own devising for which they are particularly well suited. Like with their adult victims, they prefer children who are ostracized from their peers, shut-ins who have grown too dependent on their parents and, likely, the parents on them. Varmints are quick to stalk the child, eliminating them with much greater haste than their traditional victims so as not to raise the suspicions of the parent. It is at this point that the Varmint severs the tongue from the mouth of the deceased and actually sows it into their own. As previously mentioned, the Varmint is only semi-sentient, and has no tongue of their own, both in the physical sense and in the linguistics. Indeed, they only communicate through inarticulate gibbering, snarling, and howling, but with the tongue of a child a loathsome transformation takes place, giving the Varmint a voice, if only temporarily. Until the tongue rots away, the Varmint is able to speak with the voice of the child like a parrot, repeating any phrases that the child has previously uttered. Using this bizarre ability, the Varmint will stalk and harry the parents, sometimes drawing them, siren-like, to their dooms, or (should the child's disappearance be noted) mocking the bereaved as a voice beyond the grave.

Inspiration for the Varmint.
Once properly engorged, Varmints do not undergo what we would consider "normal" biological functions. Indeed, Varmints do not possess intestines or anus, and therefore do not defecate. Instead, they become increasingly bloated with their own filth until they perform a sort of ritualistic purification process. A pack of Varmints will gather around a large cauldron which they will fill with the collected fat and hair skinned from their victims along with semen and the collected filth which they disgorge. Then, heating the cauldron, they croon a horrible song without lyric or rhythm, but which they seem to know instinctively, as they hop and caper around the fire. Inside the cauldron, a strange alchemical process takes place wherein the attendant matter begins to congeal and shape, until a fully formed (and fully grown) Varmint leaps from the pot, ready to join his compatriots. As such, there are no children amongst the Varmints, nor any females. They are ravening monsters to the man, and should even a single Varmint survive, their awful cycle will continue.

Despite the murderous intentions of these small bands, however, they would hardly be a threat to civilization as a whole if it were not for their unusual relationship to that essence of life itself, clean water. While the Varmint is perfectly capable of slurping down brackish or polluted liquids, pure spring water is the bane of such creatures, acting in the same manner as the most potent of acids, causing them to dissolve into boils and black sludge. A danger lies inherent in such a method of dispatching the creatures, however, as the boils will soon thereafter pop, discharging a noxious gas. If inhaled, the gas will cause temporarily hallucinations, causing those that inhaled the fumes to hear a raucous cacophony of Varmint screams and gibberings, driving them into a temporary state of violent madness. Moreover, if confronted with a source of natural spring water, Varmints will, lemming-like, irrationally rush towards the offending pool and leap into it straight away. This befouls the spring with the grotesque black sludge from which they are constituted for generations to come. As water is such a precious resource in many parts of Krül, this can lead to the depopulation of entire towns as they are forced to migrate to a new source of clean water.

A spring destroyed by Varmints.
It should be noted that while the toxic effects of a Varmint dissolving in water can leads to sickness for years, the greatest danger lies in the shorter term, as for up to a week the soiled spring will have additional, mutagenic properties. Those foolish enough to imbibe such foul stuff will grow greatly ill over the next few days as their stomach swells to an abnormal size. Indeed, should this happen they are most certainly marked for death as a Varmint is gestating inside of them. With a scant few days, the foul critter will claw its way out, slithering either from the mouth or the rectum, where it will immediately try to kill its weakened host.

Finally, the greatest threat posed by Varmints is not their destruction of the water supply (although that is terrifying enough), but rather when their population reaches a certain critical mass. None are certain exactly when the tipping point is, but it is estimated to be between fifty and two hundred. Once their communities reach this point, they gain an extraordinary boldness, gathering in an open area beneath the moonlight to unleash a mad series of screams and howls, piling atop one another in ritualistic fashion, blindly biting, scratching, and copulating with one another in a gigantic orgy of violence. As a single mass they then go forth, tearing across the land in a murderous rampage that descends on every living thing it spies upon. This twisting, crying tower of bodies will only stop briefly to rest and spawn before setting out once more, growing ever greater in size until it is put down, and leaving only devastation in its wake. 

Another (obvious) inspiration for the Varmint.
Since we're not at the point where I'm ready to stat out monsters for Rogues & Reavers, I'll leave that to you and your favorite system. Here's a quick recap on their abilities, though:

* Mechanically similar in strength to a D&D goblin.

* Can use weapons, build traps and sabotage devices to create "accidents".
* Will attempt to cripple/disable foes instead of killing them outright.
* Cannot speak except when using the tongue of a child, tongue will rot in 1d4+3 days.
* No women and children, new spawn made from boiling fecal matter.
* Treat clean water as acid. If destroyed through such a method, boils will pop in 1d3 rounds (10-30 seconds), requiring everyone within a 10' radius to make the equivalent of a savings throw or go violently insane for 1d6 minutes, attempting to kill everything in sight.
* When the Varmint population reaches a certain number (i.e. Referee fiat), they combine into a huge rolling ball / weirdly tilting tower that should be treated as a much tougher creature with a swallow ability and a hefty hit point total.


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