Friday, May 29, 2020

The Skairosian Bestiary Revisted: the Faceless Kine

"I think most powerful foes should be at the very minimum right frightening to even the very tough end of starting scrubs" -Kalzazz

So, my previous version of the Skairosian Bestiary elicited some criticism as being too tame.  This bruised my ego a bit, but I think a lot of good came out of it, including yesterday's post which gave me some much needed perspective.  I also really appreciated getting a sense of what people expected out of monsters of the labyrinth, which is that they are scary.  This makes sense, though: if House Kain uses the Labyrinth as a rite of passage, then we would expect this to be challenging to a starting heroic member of House Kain.  With that in mind, let's revise each of the 4, one at a time, starting with the Faceless Kine.

This one was more popular than I expected, I suppose because it has some good imagery associated with it.  As I was looking for inspiration for additional critters, I decided I needed "the Cattle of Hades," as cows tended to be sacred to ancient peoples (and the Skairos are meant to evoke ancient myth) and we have a long association of cattle and labyrinths.  I struggled with what they would be and how they would function, until I saw a wonderful picture of this eyeless demon-ape thing with great horns.  Ah, there were my cattle.

The real point of the "Cattle of Hades" was that you would want to steal them for some particular reason.  Thus, I settled on their flesh (and especially their hearts) empowering those that ate them.  Naturally, the Skairos would defend them, but they would defend themselves too.

They're primarily tough.  I borrowed the justification for IT:DR from the Madness Dossier (so, hat time Kenneth Hite) as the idea of "partially real" creatures fit the Skairos well.  Between that and their tendency to go Berserk, they're actually really hard to kill, the definition of the "pile of hitpoints" opponent.  This version requires ~600 damage (300 after accounting for ITDR) to kill, but this is slightly toned down from my second try, which was close to 1000 ("Did you bring a isomeric torpedo?" felt excessive for this sort of encounter).  I beefed up the skull armor and the armor in general, as they give off a rhino vibe, and thus particularly heavy skin (roughly on par with someone in heavy battleweave) felt right, and this enormous, impressive crest deserved more impressive DR.  The net effect is that someone with a force sword will deal an average of 23 damage to the body or 14 damage to the face (or 56 damage to the brain), all halved for IT DR (to 12, 7 and 23 respectively; which means you'd need about 13 hits to the brain with a force sword to take down a raging Bull Kine). Of course, this is all the defense they have, as if they berserk, they're not going to actively defend.

They're substantially less impressive on offense.  Their best goring attack will deal ~40 damage (I'm using the new, DF rules for slams here) with an armor divisor of 3.  Against DR 100, that will deal an average of 7 damage (or 14 injury), which is nasty, but that's the best they can do.  However, Psi-Wars is very generous with crushing damage, inflicting 1 point of injury for every 5 absorbed by DR, so I've emphasized this with some additional comments on the attack.  To make it more visceral and impressive, I've added additional notes about its size, including its ability to trample, grapple, throw targets around, and smash them into walls.  These are less lethal (though they average 4 damage per hit to anyone with 20 DR or more), but spectacular and will make it feel more impressive.  At skill 13 (plus a penalty for hitting smaller targets), it won't make deceptive attacks, which makes it fairly trivial to avoid if you have solid defense.

Thus, if Axton Kain faced off against a Faceless Bull Kine, it would mostly involve him carefully defending, with the primary concern being to avoid a grapple.  If it's a one-on-one fight, this should be relatively doable while whittling his target down.  However, if the Bull Kine gets a lucky hit, or other Kine join in the fight, it could go very badly.

Commandos might find this a more pleasing challenge.  They can put a lot of firepower "down range," and thus reasonably pepper a target this big with 3 or so hits per turn that deal between 15 and 25 damage, dealing 50-80 damage per turn (25 to 40 after ITDR), which means the Commando would kill it in 9 to 12 seconds of concentrated fire from a squad-support weapon.  Given the tight confines of the Labyrinth, the Bull Kine would probably be on him in less than that time, and the Commando would lack the additional defenses of the Space Knight, and so would start to take some real damage, but depending on how long he held it off, might be able to finish killing it in the last, hectic moments of combat.

Gunslingers should probably avoid it. None of their specialties will help them here, and their armor tends to protect less well against crushing damage.

Faceless Kine 2.1

Sometimes called “The Cattle of the Skairos,” 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 of a “Bull Kine,” that protects a herd. Most Kine are smaller, with ST 20/45, HT 12 and FP 12 (24) and have Bad Temper (15) and lack Berserk. 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 (Remove them entirely for non-Alphas), improve Chummy to Gregarious and replace Wild Animal with Domestic Animal.

ST: 25/55 HP: 55 Speed: 6.75
DX: 12 Will: 10 Move: 7
IQ: 3 Per: 13
HT: 15 FP: 15 (30) SM: +2
Dodge: 9
Parry: 10 (unarmed)
DR: 70/25

Fright Check: -3 (or +3 Intimidate; typically triggered by the bellows of a Bull Kine) 

Bite (13): 6d (3) cut, Reach C

Punch/Kick (13): 6d cr, Reach 1. This attack is at -1 to SM+0 targets, and on a miss, the Kine is at -2 to DX and -1 to defense until the start of its next turn.

Grapple (13): +2 to hit SM +0 targets; +6 to pin SM+0 targets.

Grab-and-Smash (13): 6d+6 cr, Reach 1. Usable after a grapple. (Note that if the target grapples the Faceless Kine, the Kine treats a normal person as Light Encumbrance, for -1 to Move and Dodge).

Throw(13); 6d+6 cr; The Bull Kine can throw 150 lb rocks (or people) up to 15 yards away.

Gore (13): 6d+6 (3) imp, Reach C-1; treat as a weapon for the purposes of parrying. This attack is at -1 to SM+0 targets, and on a miss, the Kine is at -2 to DX and -1 to defense until the start of its next turn.

Slam (13): 6d-2 (3) imp if moved 1-2 hexes; 6d+4 (3) imp if moved 3-4 hexes; 5d×2 (3) imp if moved 5-6 hexes and 6d×2 (3) imp if moved 7+ hexes. This cannot be parried by anyone with less than 17 ST.

Trample: 6d-2 cr; this is a “free” attack if Kine simply moves through the hex, or knocks the target prone as part of a slam, and hits automatically (the target may dodge as normal).

Traits: 360° Vision; Bad Temper (9); Berserk (9); Blindness (Mitigator, Psi); Chummy; Dark Vision; DR 70 (Head only); Dread (Planetary Surfaces); Energy Reserves (Psionic) 30; Ham Fisted 2; Impaling Striker (Horns); Incurious (12); Injury Tolerance (Damage Reduction 2 (Temporal), No Eyes); Penetrating Voice; Psychic Beacon 4; Sense of Duty (Herd); Sharp Teeth; Wild Animal.

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

Notes: Truly Alien. Too stupid to negotiate or to be affected by Telepathy; use Animal Telepathy (or appropriate Telepathy techniques) instead.

A Kine “Alpha” or “Bull” is highly protective of its group. It will ignore anything that doesn’t matter to it, or its group, but if someone gets too close to the group, or begins to pester the Bull or its herd, it will fly into a berserk rage and attack. While Berserk, it will not attack its own herd, but it will rage at everything else until the targets are out of sight. Characters may attempt to soothe a Bull Kine with Animal Handling (Skairosian Clade) at the usual -5 for wild beasts (+0 if domesticated). If enraged but not yet berserk, Bull Kine will rear up and beat on their chests and bellow and howl; treat as an Intimidation attempt at +3.

It will generally initiate an encounter with a charge; if it knocks its opponent over, it automatically tramples them. If the target is still alive, it will attempt to grapple the target, either as a “Grab and Smash,” treat as an All-Out Attack (Double) where it grapples the target and immediately proceeds to smash him bodily into things for the listed damage, or All-Out Determined for the +4 to hit. Once grappled, the Bull Kine might continue to smash the target, or may throw them, inflicting the listed damage. Reminder: for every 5 damage crushing damage would inflict before DR, a minimum of 1 point of injury is inflicted. Even if the target is fully armored, they can expect to take 4+ damage from a raging Bull Kine. Use the lower ST for all grappling rolls! If it makes other sorts of attacks, it will often make All-Out (Determined) and apply the bonus as a Deceptive Attack, applying a -2 to defend against its attacks.

All Faceless Kine are only partially in the present timeline. Their partially insubstantial nature protects them from attacks: unless the attack could hurt an insubstantial target, the Kine suffers half damage. The great crest protects the face and skull with DR 70; the rest of the body (and the jaw, if it matters) has DR 30 (as Tough Skin). Between its DR, Injury Tolerance, high HT and being Berserk, a typical Bull Kine will need to take 600 damage before it will die if treated as a Boss. If treated as a Henchmen, consider requiring a berserking Kine to be reduced to -1×HT rather than 0, to emphasize its durability (this only requires ~200 damage). Other Kine should be generally treated as normal Henchmen, unless the fight gets especially tedious, in which case treat them as Mooks that require 4 points of injury to be removed from the fight.

Rituals of the Faceless Kine

  • If in a cavern or chamber filled with layer of dust, the Kine begin to “graze” on the dust, reaching down to scoop it up and eat it. The patterns they leave in the dust can portend omens, like tea leaves.
  • The Faceless Kine migrate seemingly at random, but the sequence of rooms the visit can be portentous; learning this route typically involves trailing the Faceless Kine (at a safe distance) for a few days.
  • The Faceless Kine bellow great songs when lonely or when one of their own dies. The chords are different each time, and they can provoke powerful visions from the oracles.
  • The Faceless Kine will, as a group, begin to devour themselves, ripping into their own flesh until they die. They will, somehow, leave nothing behind. Later, a similar herd will appear or migrate into the same region, as though descended from the original.
  • The Faceless Kine expel one of their own. All turn their back on the exiled one, who will accept his fate. It looses all Bad Temper and Berserk and becomes Selfless (6) and willingly accepts death. Which is shunned is portentous, and this is often done when someone perform a great task on the behalf of the Kine, with the exiled Kine seemingly offered up as a sacrifice.

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