Thursday, February 22, 2018

Horror Vacui (guest-starring Scrap Princess)

Scrap Princess wrote this monster and these tables for Demon City.
painting by me

In the vast darkness of human pre-history , we were hunted.  All those panicked times leading up to now, like a stark concrete peak,rising out of the food-chained ocean.
Now lions, tigers, wolves, these barely exist outside cages. 
We have plenty left to fear though: War. Strangers. Violence. Inadequacies. Inevitabilities.

And yet, it's not enough.
Our minds began back then, as minds of prey.
We have the dreams of prey still, dreams of struggling to run.
 All our phantom-pain calls out, and Horror Vacui are what answer.

A chimeric, catacryptic , ectopredator.

They aren't real though.
Not yet.
They will build themselves up from glances and impressions. Ancestral memories and might-of-beens  .
Then when they are real enough to kill, they do so. 

Its first attack is always followed by a glimpse (Row 2-3), a sighting (Row 4). Then when the attack happens, the last of its details are confirmed (Row 4).

So as Host, don’t treat the Horror Vacui as physically existing until the first attack. After then treat it like a real animal, with unpredictable intelligence, and uncanny speed and stealth, and one “impossible” ability (Row 6).

Its physical capacities are equivalent to a methed up bear. The mental capacity, less consistent.  Mostly a beast, with jags of insight and cruel cunning.

The people attacked might not be the same people who first sighted it. There is a criteria to the selection:

- To be in particular location. Sometimes this one defined by a homogeneity continuity (e.g "woods but not the suburb beside it, "industrial district until it becomes housing", "a desert area in a national park, but the rivers or copse there"), for others it can be heterogenic but geographically defined ("the area contained by state highways 1 and 2 and Packers pass, nicknamed the Corpse Triangle”).

-To be a heightened or focused emotional state. This can be bliss, dread, terror, despair, jubilation, anger, euphoria , ennui etc.

-A seemingly arbitrary criteria (see Row 1) actually informed by some weird quirk of the Horror.

If there's multiple possible prey, the following preferences will determine who sees and/or attacked:

-Isolated, or in a group of 2-3
-Lost or disorientated
-In poor lighting or bad visibility (mist, dust-storm) 

The Horror Vacui will continue this pattern until it’s killed (only possible after it has attacked at least once) or its appearance and attacks are established and known to at least 150 people. At that point it will no longer appear in the terrain, though there's a 2 in 10 chance that this particular Horror Vacui (with that appearance and power) will reappear somewhere else (drop a knife on a map).

However, 3 entirely new Horror Vacui will form somewhere else in the world. Prophetic dreams will be had by those who encountered it (See Row 8.)

If it’s killed, its body will break down rapidly into mundane and conceivable but unlikely things; a mangy bear with barbed wire grown into its snout, a deer with an unprecedentedly large facial teratoma, a wolf carcass surrounded by old farm tools.

It is possible to save and preserve notable and significant parts of Horror Vacui without them degrading into mundanity, but only if they are quickly hidden and protected by occult means. The “occult means” can be those extrapolated from religious or cultural practices, or from an idiosyncratic belief system if it's followed with enough intensity.

Any documentation of it or samples taken will always be vague , damaged or inconclusive. 

Design Notes: (by Zak)

Aside from the adventures design implied in the tables to describe it, the best way to get mileage out of a Vacui is to have players or NPCs who recognize the traces as things left by an actual creature that can be understood (somewhat) ecologically. It has behaviors and tendencies, and can be found using them. What none of the rows on the table tell you is where the thing lairs—that juicy detail is left to the Host—perhaps based on the information the other tables provide. The first row should give the Host a lot of information about how to begin setting up the adventure, what the party hears about first, etc.

Calm: 0
Agility: 5
Toughness: 8
Perception: 6
Appeal: 0

Calm Check: 8
Cards: Wheel of Fortune (10), Strength (8)

Special Abilities:

Bite or “hug” inflicts damage and grapples simultaneously.

Row 1: Connections between all the victims/witnesses:

1 In process of learning and practicing something new to them. (Uncertain, distracted movements. Like a foal trying to walk. It will avoid confidence, certainty or familiarity) 

2 Smelling like several people, either due to close physical contact with others (fucking, prolonged fight, contact sport), wearing someone else's clothing/clothes, using someone else's old towel. (From its far-outside-perceptive, smelling like more than 1 person made the victims seemed like “larger” people, and more significant as prey. It’s trying to maximize the result of a hunt.)

3 Strongly allergic to something (bees , cats, gluten etc) (Its presence triggers mild allergy attacks. This attacks are always accompanied by unusually sweating and smell. The Horror can follow this smell through closed and sealed doors.)

4 Significant body part replaced (artificial leg, glass eye, false teeth, organ receiver) (It’s drawn to the mix of flesh and other. Either as an echo of nutrition seeking or weakness. Or people like this seem to occupy more liminal states and appear more vivid to the Horror )

5 Recently travelled overseas. (The different “smell signature” makes the victims stand out to the Horror. The less someone smells like their environment, the more they stand out to the Vacui.)

6 Recent contact with or often exposed to pungent/fragrant chemicals. (This Horror Vacui is too cautious. It will only approach when comforted and slightly drugged by chemical reek.)

7 All wearing a recently dry cleaned item of clothing. (Some chemical in this process causes the clothing to luminize under u.v in a particular tantalizing way. To a lesser degree, anything that glows under U.V, attracts the Horror Vacui )

8 All the victims were well off, but more specifically had large properties. (The Vacui will actually be concealed on their property for a number of days before attacking them elsewhere)

9 Cat owners and/or people with cactus gardens (The Vacui needs to eat something gravel like to grind up the body inside it. It will swallow large amounts of washed gravel or cat litter after consuming someone.)

10 Motorcyclists and a pizza franchise mascot (Actually anyone with their face full obscured. The less it can see of a face the more sure it feels of an attack.)

Rows 2 and 3 Glimpse —“Looked like a..

1-A hunched man, knuckle walker though, an ape? 
1-But too big

2-Stilted walking, head snapping around, a crane? Stork? How big do they get?
2-But jaw was weird, hooked. Too muscular

3-Muscular slunking, a big cat, a jaguar?
3-But a few too many legs, never can count them,  twisting movement 

4-A mass until it stood up like man, a bear?
4-But seemingly no head

5-Even though I was looking right at it, didn’t realize it was there till it moved..a deer..
5-But snout too long, didn’t look it would eat plants with that jaw

6-I haven’t seen that dog before.. 
6-But eyes glowing

7-Seen the bushes shake first, then it slips out in view, eels travel overland, but too big, too cold for pythons right?
7-Hurts to look at, like someone pushing on your eyeball

8-Belly dragging; crocodile, lizard, salamander?
8-Things sticking out of , like a spears or arrows

9-Long a giraffe did have it have a snake tail? Plodded
9-Musculature swelled and rippled like film blistering in a fire

10-Some kind of shelled, many legged , clicking thing, beetle or scorpion?
10-Moved like it barely touched the ground

Row 4 Sighting “The thing about it that stayed with me..”

1 Limbs narrow to points or hooks

2 Deep bassy breath or bone humming whine.

3 Alternates between bipedal and polypedal movements and/or hops, jumps

4 Smoke or steam begins to rise off it.

5 Is it .. imitating you ?

6 Glistening, wet

7 Weird bursts of speed like speed up footage or being pulled suddenly by string

8 Pressure drop, eyes pop, became hard to breath 

9 Teeth jutting all over it

10 Mouth opened and shut like it was talking or eating the air

Row 5 Attack “Details reported before expiring”

1 Its eyes and mouth are located somewhere else on its body, what you thought was its head is a deceptive mimicry due to colouration or growths.

2 It has such kind eyes.

3 Mouth opens absurdly wide.

4 Eye watering chemical reek.

5 Hair, scales or feathers short and hard like wire, independently undulating like seeking leeches.

6 Asymmetrical; placement and size of its body parts doesn't mirror bilaterally.

7 Human teeth, various , crudely attached in mouth.

8 Obvious state of arousal. Engorged, dripping, etc.

9 Very little fat on it, “Shrink-wrapped” look. Bones look like they could rip through skin at any moment.

10 Eyes and/or nose replaced with twitching distended wart like growth.

Row 6 Impossibility

1 It’s either far away or very close, and can seemingly instantly alternate between these distances.

2 Speed matches any other being (including if travelling in vehicle) it can see, as long they can't see it.

3 Can pour itself like a liquid, but only when it’s too dark or too bright to see.

4 It can appear anywhere out of direct sight but near a previous witness/prey. Very likely to do this if no-one else matches its selection criteria.

5 It can choose to overload the senses of all but one person, everyone else being able to only have awareness of nothing but its smell/sound/ or one visual aspect.

6 Can change the weather, from clear skies to raging storm, in about 10 minutes. If weather already bad, it can make it locally extremely bad.

7 Disappears behind things too slight for its size, can compress itself down to a tenth of its size.

8 Can short out electrical devices if its near and discussed openly.

9 Can make anyone nearby unable to read or understand other visual information like maps or interfaces.

10 No sound made within 10 meters can be heard outside that 10 meters.

Row 7 Spoor/ Signs You Are Close

1 Food starts tasting metallic when it becomes aware of you.

2 Domestic animals that appear to be hit by a truck, found no-one where near roads.

3 Stolen clothing, reeking of piss.

4 Single powerpoles pushed off kilter, always about 20 degrees.

5 Vehicle dragged far off road, partially buried or up tree.

6 Teeth and skull fragments embedded in tree or other solid material.

7 Black tarry stool, in long rope like strands. Clumps of hair and teeth.

8 Depictions of human faces on signs or billboards scratched or chewed off.

9 Ripped open and partially eaten biohazard bags, sharps containers or other medical waste.

10 Animal calls, but wrong time for them (day animals at night, etc), or too loud (a cat meow but carrying for kilometres) , or unlikely for area.


1 A family pet approaches on 2 legs, it suddenly decays and coughs forth 3 ripe maggots . You wrap them in newspaper and they emerge as butterfly. As the fly away the sky bleeds after them.

2 Everyone is reading bleeding newspapers. Someone runs down the street, a screen has bitten off most their hand, no-one reacts, they hold up the remaining 3 fingers to you and scream and scream and scream.

3 The  shitting out teeth, so much teeth.  It hurts so. You go into 3 restaurants, but they are empty, you cannot ask to use the toilet.

4 You trying to tell a story, you try 3 times, but each time every time you speak a bite is taken out of your friends face and you must spit out the meat. They don’t seem to mind.

5 Something is chasing you but you open the doors to 3 houses without going inside, to trick it. The trick works. You are no longer pursued. A radio tuned to a foreign language is heard inside the houses and it gets louder and louder and louder and lo..

6 Something has bitten off your hands, you ask for directions to a hospital, but the person asks doesn’t understand you and keeps trying to get you try and point out where you got bitten on these large maps of the world. When you look up their face is blank except for 3 stump prints

7 You are very hungry and you begin to eat this meat someone was going to cook for you raw. Then they come home and you try and hide the meat inside books. They enter the kitchen and smile at you. When they go to open the fridge the fridge gobbles them up in 3 bites. You open the fridge and the raw meat is there again. (This dream repeats 4-5 times before dreamer forces themselves awake.)

8 You are at your parents house. They are back from vacation. They can’t get the lights to work. You discover the light bulbs are full of blood. You replace one 3 times , but it fills up with blood each time. Frustrated, you set the house on fire and force your parents outside in the cold night. The dream ends with them huddled, naked and afraid while you warm yourself by the house.

9 You are being interviewed on TV! The microphone doesn’t seem to work though, then it's a sausage . The interviewed holds it out to you and you slowly and carefully take it in your mouth. When you talk with your mouth full of sausage , everyone can understand you, and is very interested and pleased, even though blood and meat are falling out of your mouth. You turn at look at the cameras. They have eyes for lens, a snake, a cat and a dog. Sudden it’s raining and you realize everyone is outside.

10 You have had brain surgery and they gave you a pig brain. It works fine but you can’t write. Someone tells you to try writing with a knife on this child. The child has hair like a sheep and is trying to squirm out of your grip  .You keep trying to reassure the child that it’s only 3 chapters, it’s only 3 chapters.

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