Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Murderous Menagerie: The Beast

Now, as I passed among the ancient trees that tower thickly, growing toward the postern, I thought that Ibeheld a light from one of the abbey windows and was much cheered thereby. But, going on, I saw that the light was near at hand, beneath a lowering bough beside my path; and moreover, it moved as with the flitting of a restless fenfire, and was wholly dissimilar to the honest glow of a lamp, lantern or taper. And the light was of changeable color, being pale as a corposant, or ruddy as new-spilled blood, or green as the poisonous distillation that surrounds the moon.

Then, with ineffable terror, I beheld the thing to which the light clung like a hellish nimbus, moving as it moved, and revealing dimly the black abomination of head and limbs that were not those of any creature wrought by God. The horror stood erect, rising to the height of a tall man, and it moved with the swaying of a great serpent, and its members undulated as if they were boneless. The round black head, having no visible ears or hair, was thrust forward on a neck of snakish length. Two eyes, small and lidless, glowing hotly as coals from a wizard's brazier, were set low and near together in the noseless face above the serrate gleaming of bat-like teeth.

This much I saw, and no more, ere the thing went past me with the strange nimbus flaring from venomous green to a wrathful red. Of its actual shape, and the number of its limbs, I could form no just notion. It uttered no sound, and its motion was altogether silent. Running and slithering rapidly it disappeared in the bough-black night, among the antique oaks; and I saw the hellish light no more.
-- Clark Ashton Smith, "The Beast of Averoigne" 

The Beast revealed!

The Beast

Certain individuals are born with a latent psychic abilities which allow them to glimpse briefly beyond the limits of the physical into the Overworld, a dimension unlike our own in form and aspect yet which exists parallel to our own. A few of these individuals manage to join the ranks of magic-users, but most simply experience particularly powerful dreams and flashes of insight. Unfortunately for these untrained individuals which stand at the edge of the unknown, they are particularly susceptible to the depredations of the predators of the Overworld.

One of these predators is the Beast, a psychic parasite which invades the mind of one of these so-called 'sensitives' and thus uses the brain of its unwilling host as a conduit through which it can manifest in our world. By employing the sensitive as a 'back door' through which it can slip through the gulf between worlds, the Beast comes to feed upon man. In particular, the Beast has a insatiable desire for bone marrow and spinal fluid; some sages have posited that it is through this method that the Beast may devour the very 'essence' or 'soul' of man.

Few sane men choose such an unequal partnership, but some sadists and power-mongers come to enjoy the benefits of such an arrangement. For the rest, it is a curse they must bear for the Beast will not ease its grip until the moment of death.

Psychic manifestation of the Beast

"Makes me think of something I heard somebody say about hoodoo folks," she said. "How the hoodoo folks sometimes put a stuff out, mostly in dark rooms. And it's part of them, but it takes the shape and mind of another person--once in a while, the shape and mind of an animal."

"Shoo," I said again, "now you mention it, I've heard the same thing. It might explain those Louisiana stories about werewolves."

"Shape and mind of an animal," she repeated herself. "Maybe the shape and mind of a bird. And they call it echo - no, ecto--ecto--"

"Ectoplasm," I remembered. "That's right. I've even seen pictures they say were taken of such stuff. It seems to live--it'll yell, if you grab it or hit it or stab it."
-- Manly Wade Wellman, "Oh, Ugly Bird!"

No. Enc: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Hoard Class: XVIII

 Human Form

Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 8
Hit Dice: 1 - 1
Attacks: 1
Damage: per weapon
Save: F1
Morale: 6

Beast Form

Movement: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice:   8
Attacks: 2 or more (see below)
Damage: 1d6/1d6 (claws)
Save: F9
Morale: 9

A sensitive enjoying the fringe benefits of being host to the Beast

When encountered in its human aspect, the Beast appears to be a normal person, although weak and sickly. They are not defenseless, however, as the Beast gifts their 'partner' with a number of psychic gifts. Once per day, they may cast Cause Fear, Hold Person, and Suggestion.

However, it is when the Beast manifests on our plane that it becomes truly terrifying. This manifestation is actually an ectoplasmic projection of the Beast into our world, which gives the creature a shimmering, multi-colored aura and a semi-transparent aspect. The Beast may appear as a sort of 'shell' or armor which encases their partner or as a separate creature altogether.

The actual physical form and abilities of the Beast can vary, although they generally manifest within our world as a bizarre mockery of animal life, being some combination or distortion thereof. To determine the exact abilities of the Beast, roll twice on the following chart:

1. Vulture: Gain a fly speed of 120' (40')
2. Wolf: Gains an additional bite attack of 1d10
3. Serpent: On an attack roll of 19 or 20 the Beast will coil itself around the victim, automatically doing 1d6 damage a round until a Save vs. Paralysis is made
4. Spider: Can cast Web once per day, can climb sheer surfaces as movement speed.
5. Bull: Gets an additional gore attack at 1d8, can charge for one round to do x2 damage.
6. Man: Can use tools and weapons.

Note: If the same result is rolled twice, the creature gains no special abilities but instead earns one additional HD.

DMs are encouraged to dream up the most nightmarish and distorted combination determined.

Despite its ferocious aspect, the Beast has a singular weakness to silver and will do everything within its power to avoid the hated substance. In both human and Beast form, any contact with a silver object (even a coin) will do 1d6 damage, and silver weapons will do 2x damage.

Should the Beast's ectoplasmic form be destroyed, their host must make an immediate savings throw versus death. Failure indicates that the sensitive is slain by a psychic backlash and the Beast is denied access to our dimension. If the save is successful, the Beast survives but will not manifest for 1d3 weeks. Should such a Beast survive, it will inevitably seek bloody vengeance on those that threatened it.

Postscript: I recently started reading the Silver John stories of Manly Wade Wellman and was struck by the similarity of "Oh, Ugly Bird!" to Clark Ashton Smith's "The Beast of Averoigne", which I had interpreted as ectoplasmic manifestation for some time. Moreover, both displayed mind control powers, a reinterpretation of the werewolf myth, and sickly 'partners' to the actual monster. This is my attempt to synthesize the two.

The table above is fairly lazy, and crafty DMs will create different animal aspects with which to personalize Beasts that occur in their campaign.


  1. Very cool synthesis of a lot of disparate pieces. This is one of my favorite things to do on my blog and I really enjoy it elsewhere: find the common ground between two or three cool references and blend 'em into one thing. This does that masterfully.

  2. green as the poisonous distillation that surrounds the moon.
    Man, there's a whole adventure right there.

    Love the use of Forbidden Planet. I think I've found the other half of how my version of Dune's shields should work. And also why glassworms cannot tolerate them. This is probably the overworld's equivalent to the hemogoblin. other words, great work as usual. Setting me thinking.


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