Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Into the Labyrinth: the Skairosian Bestiary

In addition to time shades, we need an expanded set of animalistic creatures to haunt the Labyrinth.  This takes the previous version of the "Devils of Persephone as space monsters" and expands them to four related entries, allowing greater variety in what characters might encounter, and adding some flavor to the labyrinth.

These creatures are all part of the path of the "Other" and fairly good examples of the high weirdness I expect it to cover.  I've also included the first treatment of Animal Handling yet in Psi-Wars.  I see Animal Handling in psi-wars as covering entire clades rather than individual species because the galaxy is already far too broad.  Thus, we might expect one animal handling skill to cover all "earth" animals, and we now have one covering all Skairosian beasts.  Having the details to a clade (even if it's only 4 critters) certainly helps illustrate how this will work.

The Skairosian Bestiary

The labyrinth plays home to a great variety of creatures, and the specifics of the beasts within vary from world to world. But across all labyrinths, one clade of creatures remains consistent and seems deeply related to the Skairos themselves. Called the Skairosian clade by those who study the labyrinth, these animals share the same psychic vision and temporal instability of the Skairos themselves. Some even seem to be domesticated by the Skairos, and share a relationship similar to the Skairos that dogs, cattle and horses share with humanity.

The Skairosian clade can be handled with Animal Handling (Skairosian Clade). In addition to allowing to its usual effects (such as allowing the character to influence or bypass the beast), it can grant insight into the usual behavior of beasts of the Skairosian clade. All such animals react more amenably (+1 Reaction or better) to psychic characters, with usual, predatory hostility to non-psychics, and with frantic rage towards Anti-Psionic characters (-4 reaction or worse). They also engage in ritualistic behavior when left idle, performing particular actions over and over again for no evident reason, such as pacing a five pointed star, or facing each of the cardinal directions in turn after a kill, and so on; these actions often have portentous meanings that oracles can pick out (granting a +1 to any Oracle roll to notice omens). Finally, the dietary needs of the Skairosian clade remain unclear. They all seem to be carnivores, though some are never seen to eat; some seem to have a particular taste for human flesh. Sometimes, they engage in extreme autophagy, consuming their own body parts until they die from their injuries. Those who study the clade suspect this has something to do with their reproductive cycles, as areas of the Labyrinth with beasts that consume themselves will soon sport an even greater number of the creatures.

All Skairosian beasts are truly alien and fall under the Path of the Other.

Faceless Kine

Sometimes called “The Cattle of the Labyrinth,” these great beasts resemble giant, horned gorillas. They have long forearms, the gray, robust flesh of a pachyderm, and a great crest of jagged horns that covers all of their face except for their maw, which is lined with sharp teeth. At their full height, they tower over 10 feet, tall, but they generally slouch so that their shoulders come to the height of a human. Given their great size, they tend to be found exclusively in the deeper parts of the Labyrinth.

The faceless kine often move in groups of five to ten individuals, headed by an especially large member. No human has recorded what their breeding is like, nor what they eat (though entire herds have been witnessed engaging in lethal autophagy). Despite their fangs, when they kill something, they usually ignore it afterwords. They tend to aggregate near psychically potent regions, suggesting that they “feed” on psychic energy. If left alone, they tend to ignore others. If bothered, (and they tend to be extremely sensitive and territorial), they will fly into a rage and charge, gore, pummel and rend the offender to pieces.

The faceless kine are, like all Skairosian beasts, naturally psionic. They do not see with eyes (they have none), but with a psychic vision that allows them to see in all directions and ignore darkness. They tend to “light up” to psychic vision, granting a +4 to detect their presence. They also exist only partly in the physical space of reality, blurring across several timelines at once. This means they take halved damage from any attacks that cannot affect insubstantial targets.

The meat of the faceless kine is especially psychically potent. Psychics who devour the flesh of a faceless kine describe it as utterly delicious, and gain 1 fatigue immediately after consuming a full meal, above and beyond what they would normally regain; this fatigue may restore Psionic Energy Reserves. The heart of a faceless kine is especially potent; according to some stories, consuming it can unlock a human’s psychic potential (granting Weak Latency in a particular power), or they can be consumed by a psychic for a greater burst of power (restoring 12 fatigue or psychic energy reserves); the GM might even allow these reserves to exceed whatever limit the character has. However, despite the sumptuousness of the faceless kine, their presence deep in the labyrinth, the danger posed by hunting them, and the possessiveness the Skairos display over them has meant that Kine Hunting is generally illegal in the Alliance; their meat also spoils quickly once removed from the Labyrinth, and they cannot be coaxed from its depths, and will go mad if forcibly removed.

The faceless kine below represents a wild example. Some have witnessed domesticated herds in the Far Labyrinth, controlled by great Skairosian lords who are exceedingly protective of them. For such beasts, improve the Self-Control of Bad Temper and Berserk to 12, improve Chummy to Gregarious and replace Wild Animal with Domestic Animal.

ST: 25/27 HP: 25 Speed: 6.0
DX: 12 Will: 10 Move: 7
IQ: 3 Per: 13

HT: 12 FP: 12 (24) SM: +2
Dodge: 9
Parry: 10 (unarmed)
DR: 35/5

Bite (13): 2d+2 (3) cut, Reach C

Punch/Kick (13): 2d+2 cr, Reach 1

Gore (13): 3d+3 (3) imp, Reach C-1; treat as a weapon for the purposes of parrying.

Slam (13): 3d+1 (3) imp at Move 1-2; 3d+4 (3) imp at Move 3-4; 3d+6 (3) at move 5-7; this attack also adds knockback if the damage fails to penetrate DR.

Traits: 360° Vision; Arm ST +2; Bad Temper (9); Berserk (9); Blindness (Mitigator, Psi); Chummy; Dark Vision; DR 35 (Head only); DR 5; Dread (Planetary Surfaces); Energy Reserves (Psionic) 12; Ham Fisted 2; Impaling Striker (Horns); Incurious (12); Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction 2 (Temporal); No Eyes); Penetrating Voice; Psychic Beacon 4; Sharp Teeth; Wild Animal.

Skills: Brawling-13; Navigation (Underground)-13; Running-13;

Notes: Truly Alien; moves in groups; immediately goes berserk if injured or if angered, which can happen very easily, or if any of its herdmates are attacked or injured; prefers to charge, and once “stuck in” will strike savagely with its long arms, or bite. Halve all damage that doesn’t come from a source that can affect insubstantial targets.


Glance Hound

The most immediately recognizable of the Skairosian clade, the glance hound (also called a “Devil of Persephone,” or a “Devil Hound”) is immortalized in the stone gargoyles and grotesques that guard Akashic Temples. They were among the monstrous creatures that terrorized the original colonists of Persephone, but they also represent a powerful force of protection against the noxious influence of time shades.

A glance hound resembles a great dog with a bony face-plate in place of eyes, and a great maw lined with rows of terrible teeth. It has a long, serpentine tail, black, leathery flesh, and wide shoulders and paws that allow it to climb with great facility. They tend to hunt the tunnels of the labyrinth in pairs or small packs. They are absolutely carnivores, and seem to relish eating the flesh of humans. In combat, they rush forward and bite their target, usually on the leg or arm, and then clamp and twist with horrifying force that often rips the limb from the target, or at least crushes and ruins the limb, preventing their escape.

The most fascinating aspect of the glance hound is its relationship with time shades. Like all members of the skairosian clade, it “sees” not with eyes, but with psychic vision. It seems uniquely capable of seeing into multiple timelines at once, allowing it to see unmanifested time shades. More than that, it is powerfully “grounded” in the present timeline, and grounds those around it. Any time shade within 4 yards of a glance hound becomes substantial, and any beings with benefits (such as Injury Tolerance) stemming from its ability to phase through multiple timelines, loses that ability. Time shades seem to intuitively sense this, as the very sight of a glance hound, even just a sculpted depiction of one, is enough to force a time shade to flee in terror. Wherever the Glance Hounds roam in great number, time shades are certain to be absent.

Glance Hounds also make excellent trackers, but they track with a psychic sense, detecting previous uses of psychic ability and using those traces to track a target.

Like the Faceless Kine, Glance Hounds are often tamed or domesticated by the Skairos. The example below is a wild glance hound. Domesticated examples replace Bloodlust (9) with Bloodlust (12) and swap Domestic Animal for Wild Animal.

ST: 14/28 HP: 14 Speed: 6.25
DX: 13 Will: 10 Move: 11
IQ: 5 Per: 15

HT: 12 FP: 12 SM: +0
Dodge: 9 (11)
Parry: NA
DR: 10

Fright Check: -1

Bite (13): 3d-1 (3) cut, Reach C; if the attack is to a limb, immediately follow up with a second attack that automatically hits for 5d+1 (3) cut; this can be part of a Move and Attack at no penalty, and inflicts +1 damage to the initial bite.

Kick (13): 1d+2 cr, Reach 1

Traits: 360° Vision; Bloodlust (9); Bite ST +14; Blindness (Mitigator, Psi); Blunt Claws; Combat Sense 2; Dark Vision; DR 10; Dread (Planetary Surfaces); Extra Attack (Wrench Limb only, after bite to limb only); Injury Tolerance (No Eyes); Odious Habit (Man Eater); Penetrating Voice; Psychic Beacon 4; Quadruped; Run and Hit (DF: Power-Ups, p12); See Invisible; Signature Sniffer 3; Sharp Teeth; Static (Temporal Insubstantiability; 4 yard radius); Terror (Time Shades only); Wild Animal.

Skills: Brawling-13; Combat Sense-15; Climbing-15; Navigation (Underground)-13; Running-13; Signature Sniffer-15; Tracking-15; Survival (Underground)-13.

Notes: Truly Alien; Man-Eater; May move and attack with its bites at no penalty.


Jotani Mantis

Found primarily on Jotan, these strange and horrifying creatures are truly the stuff of nightmare. Their place in the skairosian clade remains a point of debate for those few scholars that study the labyrinth. They seem rare throughout the labyrinth, found mostly on Jotan and in its labyrinth, and unlike most skairosian beasts, has no problem going out onto the surface of worlds, though it reacts with great hostility to sunlight. At the same time, it displays the same capacity for blindsight that the rest of the skairosian clade does, and similar behavior patterns. The most common theory among Akashics is that the Jotani mantis is an example of a biokinetically crafted monster, built as a living weapon by the bio-engineers of Jotan.

The Jotani mantis is most certainly a meat eater. They often capture prey (which can and does include any humans they can find) and return them to a den where they trap them in a carapace-like cocoon. They seem to reproduce through their prey, somehow infecting them so that a new member of their species is born from the flesh of their prey. Fortunately, the mantis does not like to hunt in packs or groups, thus they tend to be found alone.

This is a worked adaption of the Insectoid monster from GURPS Monster Hunters 5. GMs who have access to the book may want to expand their abilities, and make use of “Baby Insectoids” and “Venom Zombies” as well.

ST: 27 HP: 27 Speed: 8.0
DX: 16 Will: 15 Move: 12
IQ: 6 Per: 17

HT: 14 FP: 14 SM: +1
Dodge: 13
Parry: 13
DR: 30

Fright Check: -6

Bite or Claws (16): 3d+1 (5) cut, Reach C (bite) or C, 1 (claw); Made as a Deceptive Attack (-1 to defend against)

Traits: 360° Vision; Bestial; Blindness (Mitigator, Psi); Chameleon 4 (only in dark environments); Combat Reflexes; Dark Vision; Dread (Natural Sunlight; Cannot be trapped); Enhanced Dodge 1; Extra Attack 1; Extra Legs (Four Legs); Ham-Fisted 1; High Pain Threshold; Indomitable; Injury Tolerance (No Vitals; No Eyes); Loner(9); Low Empathy; Silence 4; Unfazeable (not vs fire or sunlight); Psychic Beacon 4;

Skills: Brawling-18; Camouflate-10; Observation-15; Stealth-18; Tactics-10; Tracking-18;

Notes: Truly Alien; Stealth value does not include Chameleon/Silence bonuses, or the penalty for Psychic Beacon;

Shadow Serpent

These Skairosian serpents walk the line between timelines deftly. They can shift in and out of a particular timeline, allowing them to pass through doors or fade away from attacks, and then reappear a few seconds later to bite and inject the victim with their hallucinatory venom.

A shadow serpent resembles a length of inky darkness with a bony, eyeless plate over the top of its head. Similar to the glance hound, shadow serpents have several rows of teeth, all of which drip with a beautiful, prismatic venom.

The shadow serpent featured strongly in early Akashic literature and imagery, and can still be found in the statuary of the oldest temples, though its symbolism has been phased out over time. Early Akashics are believed to have “snake handled” shadow serpents, and used their venom to improve their visions; while hallucinating on shadow serpent venom, add +1 to all Vision or Oracle rolls, if this legend is true. Certain labyinthine cults continue this practice.

Some labyrinth explores report skairos with tamed examples of shadow serpents. If so, for examples of tame shadow serpents, replace Wild Animal with Domestic Animal.

This is a worked adapation of the Phase Serpent (GURPS DF: Monster 3, page 17), adapted to Psi-Wars and Skairosian physiology, with a few traits tweaked to make them a little more impressive.

ST: 10 HP: 10 Speed: 7.0
DX: 14 Will: 10 Move: 7
IQ: 2 Per: 12

HT: 12 FP: 12 SM: +0
Dodge: 10
Parry: 13
DR: 5

Fright Check: -1

Bite (16): 2d (3) imp + 2d toxic (HT-4 to resist), 1d if resisted; roll HT -1 per 2 damage inflicted by toxic follow up or Hallucinate; Reach C.

Traits: 360° Vision; Biting ST +11; Blindness (Mitigator, Psi); Dark Vision; Dread (Planetary Surface); Injury Tolerance (Damage Resistance 2 (Temporal); No Eyes); Insubstantial (Temporal); Invisible (Substantial Only; Only when Insubstantial); Psychic Beacon 4; Vermiform; Wild Animal.

Skills: Brawling-16; Stealth-14;

Notes: Truly Alien; A shadow serpent may make a “temporal dodge,” evading an attack on a 20 or less, by spending 1 fatigue. Each successive attempt in a turn applies an additional -5 to the next attempt. Furthermore, it may spend 1 fatigue to become insubstantial for up to 10 seconds. While insubstantial, it is in a different timeline and must follow the rules and geometry of that timeline. The GM may wish to apply the Shades of Hell optional rules to the shadow serpent at all times. Finally, it takes halved damage from any source that cannot attack insubsantial beings.

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