by Andrea Sfiligoi
"Ice Age Stalker" is a short GURPS Horror adventure for 4 to 6 characters, built on 100 points each. It introduces a new (but very old) type of vampire. The Stalker lacks most of the typical vampire weaknesses . . . and while it has vulnerabilities of its own, the adventurers won't know about these during the first encounters!
The PCs are hired as consultants and (for some unexplained reason) bodyguards by the well-known paleontologist and anthropologist, Dr. Albert Notting. Notting is working with his wife, Fiala, at an excavation site near Monrovia, in the African republic of Liberia. He tells the adventurers that he is about to announce an important paleontological discovery to the scientific community. The excavation camp is on a dry plain near Careysburg, a desolate area, home only to a few shepherds and their flocks of livestock.
The flight to Liberia is uneventful, and the party is driven by open truck to the camp. Half a mile from the camp, the group encounters a skinny, ancient-looking native, dressed in what appears to be leopard fur. He stands in the road, blocking their way.
A successful Anthropology or Occultism-3 roll reveals him to be a shaman of the Anioto, a cult of leopard worshippers. The old man neither speaks nor responds to any attempt to communicate; he dramatically unsheathes an obsidian blade, his eyes ablaze with divine inspiration, points it at his chest and collapses. If anyone examines the man, a Quick Contest of Skills between the examiner's IQ and the man's Acting skill of 11 will indicate the he is merely feigning unconsciousness. If unmolested, the man rises after 30 seconds and walks quickly away. He walks a mile into Careysburg (a medium-sized African town), and blends into the crowd at the market place. He will not respond to any attempt at communication (he's deaf and mute). Regardless of how the PCs pursue the shaman, he eventually loses them.
The old man's act superficially hints at suicide, but a successful Gesture-3 or Anthropology roll will let the group realize that it was more suggestive of a ritualized killing . . .
Upon arrival, the hirelings find a gruesome scene: Dr. Notting's still-bleeding corpse, crumpled against a wall of the excavated dig, his clothes torn and matted with blood. His neck is broken, and there are two large stab wounds into its side, where the jugular vein has been opened. At first glance, it appears that the holes could have been made by a tool like the shaman's blade. However, a successful Forensics or Surgery roll rejects this theory.
Further inspection of the body reveals several vertical slashes on the paleontologist's chest. Rolling against Naturalist, Zoology or Survival (Jungle)-2 allows a PC to deduce that these are wounds made by a great cat, at least as large as a panther or puma, but probably bigger. In Albert's right hand is an obsidian blade, virtually identical to the shaman's; small digging tools and the nearly-unreadable remnants of the doctor's notebook are scattered about his corpse. If someone examines the dirt around the dig and makes a successful Tracking roll, he makes a startling discovery – there are lion tracks inside the dig and leading away from the camp. But anyone who is actually familiar with lion tracks will say "No, that's a big cat, but it's not a lion!" However, anyone who makes a Naturalist or Zoology roll will know that tigers do not live anywhere in Africa. (And, to deepen the mystery, if anyone in the party happens to be familiar with tigers, they'll know that these are not tiger tracks either. Making plaster castings of the tracks would be a very intelligent precaution, and one which will later confuse any scientific examiner . . . the tracks are of no known species!)
There is surprisingly little blood around the corpse. Anyone with Forensics skill, or anyone who has ever participated in a vampire investigation, will notice this automatically. Others may notice it on an IQ-2 roll. (If all PCs miss this clue, tomorrow's events will call it to their attention.)
Not much of the notebook is readable – much of it has been intentionally shredded, and many pages are blood-soaked and illegible. Only one still-intact page proves useful; on it is pasted a photograph of a skeleton lying in the bottom of the dig, recognized with an IQ roll as a saber-toothed tiger (Smilodon). Embedded in the ribcage of the skeleton is what appears to be the same blade that Dr. Notting holds in his dead hand. Taking a minute to compare the photograph and the blade verifies this. A small note is included under the photo:
. . . . and this very well-preserved skeleton demonstrates the desperate struggle that must have taken place here, confirming my interpretation of the cave drawings. It can also be supposed that the primitives thought obsidian to be . . .
The remainder of the note is unreadable.
A successful Paleontology skill roll indicates that no saber-toothed tiger skeletons have been found anywhere near this site! No roll is required to draw the obvious conclusion that the tracks might have something to do with a saber-toothed tiger, but a roll at Paleontology-1 will give the information that the tracks are "not inconsistent with" the skeletal structure of the Smilodon . . .The group may want to immediately head out to follow the tracks, or they may want to search the rest of the excavation site. If they choose the latter, skip to In the Tent.
At some point, of course, the party will want to notify the authorities of the murder! If they choose not to, one of the workers at the dig will run for the police that same night. The party can easily alienate the official investigators if they fail to cooperate, or if they have obviously interfered with evidence. The local investigative team, led by Detective Sergeant Lafayette Johnson Jones, seem quite competent.
The obsidian blade, like others which will soon be encountered, is a slender flake of black glass. It holds an incredibly fine edge. Treat it as an ordinary small knife, not balanced for throwing, doing +1 damage because of its sharpness. However, all these knives were designed to have their handles wrapped with leather, which has long since rotted away. A successful Armourer or Survival roll will suggest that new hilt-wrappings should be made. If this is not done, all attacks with these knives are at -2 because they are hard to hold.
The glass is brittle. Treat obsidian knives as Cheap for the purpose of determining whether they break in combat. There is a 1 in 3 chance that an obsidian knife will break if simply dropped on a hard surface, and it cannot be used for prying, opening cans, or any of the other purposes to which a steel camp knife might be put.
Nothing about any of these knives is magical in any way. Although they have power against the stalker from the past, this is a vulnerability of the creature, not a magic property of the knives. Any obsidian blades would have the same effect.
After five minutes and an additional Tracking roll, the investigators encounter a cold, eerie mist blocking their way. Anyone who has had previous experience with vampires can make an Occultism roll at -3 to recognize it as similar to a vampire's Body of Air mist form. Seconds later, a deep, feral growl emanates from the mist itself. Roll a Fright Check at -1. Anyone who fails the roll and has Epilepsy, Split Personality, Danger Sense or other ESP or empathetic power will have seizures accompanied by visions: a mental image of primitive men and something huge and threatening moving through dense African foliage . . .
The mist abruptly disappears, and there are no more tracks to follow.
Fiala is here, suffering from extreme shock. She's armed with a machete and attacks the first person to enter the tent. Treat this as a Wild Swing, All-Out Attack, with +2 to damage (1d-1 cutting). If someone restrains her, she calms down, going semi-catatonic, sobbing and babbling incoherently about ". . . dangerous dust . . . the ancient dust of the old world . . . those who unearth the secrets of the old world shall all be buried . . ." and so on.
Fiala is 35 years old, with long, curly red hair, green eyes, a pale complexion and a round, freckled face. She is Attractive, with ST 9, DX 11, IQ 13, HT 10. She has Mild Shyness, a Sense of Duty to the scientific community and a recently-acquired Phobia of dust and dusty places. Her relevant skills include History-13, Archaeology-13, Anthropology-13, Paleontology-14 and Writing-12. She speaks in a childish voice and won't be much use to the party because of her extreme terror and her limited knowledge of her husband's theories. She wants to get as far from the camp as possible. She agrees to drive Albert's body to the authorities, as long as she doesn't have to look at it; she gives the PCs the address of a hostel in town where she'll be staying.
The explorers can discover a paleontological treasure-trove in the tent: ten obsidian knives, a Neanderthal skull with signs of a saber-toothed tiger attack and several other insignificant Neanderthal tools. Also in the tent is a map, drawn by Albert, showing the entrance to a cave some 5 miles from the camp.
There are four wall paintings in the cave, spaced regularly along one wall. An Artist or IQ-4 roll reveals that they are meant to be read as a story, one panel at a time, from left to right.
However the explorers choose to spend the evening, there is a rash of killings that night in the town nearby. At least seven people are murdered in a manner that matches the death of Dr. Notting. The party will be called in for questioning in the early afternoon. The tone of the questioning will depend on the way the party behaved toward the authorities yesterday. If the murder was reported immediately and the party members were helpful toward the investigators, the questions will be short and formal. If the party went off after cat tracks before calling the local police, trampled all over the evidence, and so on, the interrogation will be more serious, and Detective Sergeant Jones will warn them not to leave the country without his permission.
In the end, the PCs are released, but in the course of the interview, the group can find out some vital information.
Local authorities blame the Anioto, believing the murders to be ritual cult killings. However, there are no leads, and the police are stymied in their search for the source of the "leopard" killings. So far the autopsies have revealed that the hair and tissue samples found on the body do not come from a leopard, but some other big cat. However, the police technicians have not been able to identify the species. The bodies were almost completely drained of blood, which is the primary clue pointing to ritualistic killings. It is definitely a human act, ruling out in the authorities' minds the possibility of true animal attacks.
A successful Streetwise-3 roll allows the party to contact the Anioto. The meeting takes place in an abandoned shepherd's cottage, a mile outside of town. The cultists are intolerant of strangers and act rudely and snobbishly; the encounter could easily turn violent. They refuse to speak English (Liberia's official language), but will provide an interpreter who understands Sudanese (skill 14 – failed rolls produce an interpretation problem and will distort information received). The party member with the highest skill level should make four rolls against either Diplomacy or Savoir-Faire skill. Each successful roll reveals one of the following facts. A failed roll reveals nothing. Any critical failure, or two successive failures, causes the Anioto leader to request that the party leave. If the group stays or tries further communication, the leader gathers the cultists and vanishes into the night.
The following information can be gathered from a successful talk with the Anioto.
If the interview goes well and the PCs have done nothing to offend the Anioto, the cult promises to assist the party by sending two Anioto warriors to help them face the beast. This is the warriors' only function.
The fighters have the following stats: ST 14, DX 12, IQ 10, HT 12, Move 6, PD 1, DR 1 from leopard skins. Their pertinent skills are Knife-15, Stealth-15 and Shadowing-12. They possess claw-hooks which do Swing+2 cutting damage, but in a fight against the stalker, they will use obsidian knives. (The party will have to provide these knives; the Anioto know that the party has them.)
Note that if the Anioto meeting leads to violence, it will come to the attention of the police. In that case, the party is likely to be jailed or expelled from the country, either on suspicion of murder, for being Anioto sympathizers, for being general troublemakers, or all of the above.
Whether the adventurers realize it or not, they are facing an ice age vampire. Albert and the other corpses will reanimate in the town morgue. These "stalkers" are a special form of vampire – see p. 8.
Not all the new vampires will be monsters. Those who were good people will retain some of their original conscience; they will avoid taking the animal form. Their lust for blood is lessened, and they can resist the temptation to drink life force from living creatures. They cannot be saved until the creature that began the vampire plague is killed. While incorporeal, they roam the places they once lived and try to repeat everyday actions – of course, they can't unless they take on physical form, in which they are dependent on blood . . .
However, those who were not good people will become clever, gleeful killers. They will also return to their old haunts, but they will seek to destroy the people they knew. They will have the power to become beasts . . . and they will use it.
The PCs should, during the course of their investigation, find out that the corpses have risen and that they are returning to familiar places and people. This should lead them to either the excavation site or the hostel where Mrs. Notting is staying.
The professor, dead though he is, still loves Fiala. He returns to the camp, and seeing that she is not there, he finds her at the hostel (they had stayed there several times since the dig began). He tries to remain incorporeal, but it is horribly frustrating since he cannot touch his wife. She doesn't know whether to be terrified, heartbroken or both. It is only a matter of time before he gives in to his blood-hunger. Before this happens, the investigators must find a way to communicate with him. The best method is to play upon his guilt and sense of failure: "Look at yourself! You parody of a man, you walking blasphemy – how dare you appear like this in front of your wife who loves you so much, and after you failed so badly to protect her." If the PCs roleplay this well, Albert will be totally subdued and tell the whole story. He must become solid to talk, and resisting the blood-hunger is difficult, making his story confused and choppy.
"I had my own theory about Smilodon . . . just too crazy to tell . . . what do you think the great fangs were for? Slicing through the jugular! They couldn't eat normally – no meat . . . no normal diet, just blood! Blood, do you hear me, blood! A whole race of vampire-tigers declared war on mankind . . . and lost, or so I thought until I found that well-preserved skeleton and took the blade out of its ribcage . . . the dust . . . the dust in the dig filled it, reconstructing every single cell . . . and now an ice age demon stalks the earth, searching for more victims . . ."
A critical success on Fast-Talk or Diplomacy will talk Albert into committing suicide with one of the knives. If this happens, he takes a blade, plunges it into his chest and collapses; the onlookers get a momentary sense of déjà vu as the stabbing and his collapse are exactly like the Anioto shaman's act. His body will remain normal and solid. If the blade is removed, nothing will happen until after dark; they he will rise again.
Otherwise, Notting's blood-thirst will eventually prevail, and the party has to deal with him the hard way. He can only be killed on a successful hit to the vitals (A) with the obsidian blade; only one point of damage needs to get through Albert's DR, which is 1 from his clothes.
The investigators should finally realize that they must attack and kill the source of the vampiric curse, the saber-toothed vampire itself. Fiala cannot help; she is in shock again from seeing her husband die a second time. She merely pleads desperately, "Please, end this curse – save my husband's soul."
To summon the Smilodon, the explorers merely have to issue a firm challenge, like "I challenge you, vampire," or "come out and fight, Smilodon." Anything remotely like this will draw out the creature. Each combatant should wield an obsidian blade; all other weapons are useless. A creative character might suggest making obsidian-tipped arrows or loading a shotgun with obsidian shot. These will harm the vampire, but only as much as a normal weapon of the type would harm a normal creature. The final blow must be struck by a knife, wielded or thrown by hand.
The details of the encounter will depend on the party's tactics and the GM's sense of balance. The stronger the group, the stronger the tiger should be, up to the maximum stats for the saber-toothed tiger (see p. 8).
If the PCs are non-combat types, the GM may want to have the Anioto fighters do all the work, or rule that any hit to the chest or stomach that lets at least 1 point of damage through instantly kills the vampire, crumbling it to a dusty skeleton. But remember . . . it can always be revived.
Within an hour of the beast's death, the Anioto shaman reappears and performs ritual exorcisms on any remaining vampires, including Albert. He will make no attempt to explain where he has been or why hew took no part in the battle; on an Occultism-3 roll, the party may realize that the combat against the stalker was purely physical, and the old man was simply being prudent! He made sure they had the tools and the knowledge . . . then he got out of the way.
Amazingly, a happy ending is possible. Not only can the shaman cure the victims of vampirism . . . when they're cured, they remain alive! The shaman also exorcises the dusty skeleton of the original stalker. It does not become a living cat; it falls to pieces entirely! This will upset Dr. Notting, if he is present.
Albert and Fiala are reunited, and Albert decides to pursue that teaching career the university has been offering. The couple pays the party their previously agreed-upon sum, plus a $10,000 bonus for all the trouble they went through.
The PCs may want to hold on to the obsidian knives – a good plan, as Dr. Notting cautions them before leaving: "The world may not have seen the last of the ice age stalker."
If Dr. Notting continues his researches, he may loose more stalkers. By now, of course, he knows what to expect, and he might have the sense to call for backup before he's killed again. But he wants a skeleton to study, and if exorcism will destroy his scientific evidence, well, he'll just have to have an unexorcised skeleton!
Of course, it's also possible that the professor harbors some lingering taint of vampirism. It's also possible that Fiala was touched in some way by the vampire curse. In either case, the professor or his wife might suffer from a compulsion to find and revive more stalkers, without taking precautions.
Or someone else on the scene may have figured out what is going on, and have a use for an "instant vampire kit." Perhaps the Cabal would have a use for a stalker . . . could an experienced human vampire control the undead animal?
Copyright © 1997-2014 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved.