This article originally appeared in Pyramid #12
by Scott Maykrantz
ST: n/a Move/Dodge: see below Size: 1+ DX: n/a PD/DR: see below Weight: 100+ lbs. IQ: 9 Damage: see below Habitat: any HT: see below Reach: n/a Other Names: Roadhaunts
A prowler is a haunted vehicle. When all of the passengers in a vehicle are asleep, it can be invaded by an intelligent and evil persona. The possessed machine stays conscious until all the passengers are awake, dead, or have abandoned the vehicle. Prowlers are so named because they gain power by traveling in shadows, avoiding attention to keep their passengers in slumber.
Any self-propelled vehicle can become a prowler. It could be a car, van, or train. It could be an aircraft, boat, ship, or even a spacecraft. Animal-drawn vehicles, bicycles, rafts and gliders cannot become prowlers.
Before a vehicle can be possessed by a prowler, it must be involved in a death. It could be a van that has been rebuilt after a fatal collision. It could be an aircraft from which a passenger plummeted. The more recent and grisly the death, the more likely the vehicle will become possessed when its passengers fall asleep.
Magic in the Machine
Each prowler has the spells Daze, Sleep, and Persuasion at level 15. The Sleep spell lasts eight hours, but it can be maintained. The Daze spell is effectively a sleepwalking spell (see p. B164). Prowlers can use Persuasion to send a single, simple suggestion to the subject. Make a reaction roll to determine the level of success. Persuasion can only be cast on Dazed characters.
Every prowler acts as a mana battery — they are powerstones (p. B161) with wheels. Their energy value depends on the amount of time they have spent prowling. They start with 10 energy points at the moment the vehicle becomes possessed. It gains one point for every 30 minutes of constant movement (any speed). This energy is used to cast and maintain spells a high value is vital if the prowler has many occupants.
Prowlers do not use the fuel they contain. They are powered by the aura of slumber that emanates from their passengers.
Skills and Senses
Prowlers can make Sense rolls (p. B92) with a basic skill of 15. Each prowler has the skill needed to operate itself at level 18.
Although the creature can operate the vehicle, it cannot override the control of a normal driver. Thus, a character can climb into a prowler and drive it without knowing the vehicle is a sentient creature. The creature can take over if the driver falls asleep, or "lay low" until the driver gets out. Prowlers cannot operate mounted weapons or accessories such as computers.
But their passengers can. A Dazed and Persuaded passenger may operate the vehicle or vehicle accessories in his sleep. Like a sleepwalker, he will remember nothing when he wakes. All skill uses and attribute rolls are made at -3 in this state.
A prowler can develop Area Knowledge of its haunt. If it prowls a specific area, it will gain one level of Area Knowledge for every 20 hours spent there (maximum 20). Double the hourly requirement if the area is very large (a county). Halve it if the area is small (just a few hundred yards across).
Prowlers lose one level in IQ, spells, and skills for every second without at least one sleeping passenger. They usually use Sleep to control the situation. Daze and Persuasion are helpful, as well, but riskier. If the prowler's IQ reaches 0, its consciousness fades away — it has been exorcised and the vehicle returns to normal. Moving vehicles will crash unless someone quickly takes control.
Prowlers have one motivation: To possess their vehicle bodies as long as possible. They must avoid discovery, keep their passengers asleep, and throw off pursuers. Driving at night and keeping to secluded areas are favorite tactics. To throw off pursuers, a prowler will not hesitate to run over someone, ram other vehicles, play chicken, or even ram through walls and other objects to cause confusion and damage. An angry, paranoid prowler can cause a lot of death and destruction before its passengers wake. And their high driving/piloting skill keeps them from crashing during these maneuvers.
Detailed vehicle statistics and performance rules can be found in GURPS Vehicles. If you don't have that book, use the following guidelines.
DR is normally 2 to 50. Military vehicles have DR 100+ and ultra-tech combat vehicles of any kind, tanks, battleships and submarines have DR 250+. PD is equal to the square root of DR (round up, maximum PD 6).
Size is measured in cubic feet. For example, a sportscar is about 150 c.f., a twin-engine jet is about 1,000 c.f., and a three-mast clipper ship is about 30,000 c.f. This value serves as the HT of the vehicle (double it for vehicles less than 50 c.f., halve it at 3,000+ c.f.).
The maximum acceleration rate is expressed in mph per second. The range 1 (a train) to 7 (a motorcycle) for ground vehicle, 1 (a cruise ship) to 5 (a jet-ski) for water vehicles, and 8 (cargo plane) to 20 (jet fighter) for aircraft.
Each vehicle has a Maneuver Rating (MR) and a Stability Rating (SR). MR ranges from 1 (a tank or hot-air balloon) to 4 (a motorcycle or jet-ski). SR ranges from 1 (a motorcycle or jet-ski) to 4 (a tank or hot-air balloon). Every maneuver is given a skill penalty ranging from -1 (a 45-degree turn at 10 mph, an airplane making a gradual dive) to -10 (a hairpin turn on a wet street, flying a plane through a barn). The MR is added to the skill.
If the roll succeeds, the maneuver occurs without mishap. If the roll fails by an amount equal to or less than SR, there is a nonfatal mishap — it spins out, for example, but takes only incidental damage and can resume movement. If the roll fails by more than the SR, the vehicle crashes.
All vehicles can safely decelerate at 10 mph per second. If this is exceeded, make a maneuver roll with a penalty of -1 per 5 mph over 10. If a vehicle collides with a moving object, it inflicts a number of dice of damage equal to (vehicle HT x speed in mph)/1,000. The moving object inflicts damage to the vehicle using the same formula. (The object can be another vehicle.)
If it collides with an unmoving object, roll the damage inflicted on the object. Then roll the same number of dice for damage to the vehicle. If the object was destroyed by the collision, the damage to the vehicle is equal to total hits and DR of the object. Thus, a DR 0, HT 10 pedestrian cannot cause more than ten hits of damage to a colliding car.
The Shadow Switch
If a prowler spends eight consecutive hours in darkness, it will jump forward in time. The creature must be moving during the entire eight-hour period. Once this period ends, the vehicle is ready to jump. If the vehicle enters a well-lit area, it will jump. It reappears as soon as that area is dark again. The prowler can be moving during the jump.
The darkness must be equal to or darker than a full moon night. Brief moments of bright light (passing headlights, streetlights, lightning) have no effect. A long moment of light (thirty seconds under a searchlight, for example) will disqualify the eight- hour prowl. The creature will have to start all over again.
Darkness is required, but the night is not. A prowler can prowl for eight hours underground, at the edge of the sky, or at the bottom of a lake or ocean.
The arrival point must be as dark as the eight-hour prowl — a prowler never completes the jump in the noonday sun. In some cases, the prowler will be stuck in time. If the location of the jump stays bright for a long time, the prowler will remain stuck in time until the location becomes dark again.
Its arrival speed can be equal to or less than the speed it had at the moment it jumped (the exact speed is up to the GM). If an object has moved into the space it occupied when it jumped, the prowler will reappear in a nearby location. Pick a place that is advantageous to the prowler: an alley it can roar out of, a fog bank located behind the PCs, etc. They always reappear where no one is looking — no one has ever seen a prowler materialize before their eyes.
For example, suppose a hearse prowler drives through a dark night starting at 9 p.m. on Friday. It drives through back roads under a half-moon sky until 5 a.m. It can now jump forward in time. At 6 a.m., the sun rises, ending the minimum level of darkness. The hearse disappears. It reappears in the same location at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, when the location becomes dark enough.
Prowler Adventure Seed
There are a vast number of prowler possibilities. Start with the tech level. Then pick a type of vehicle: land, sea, or air. Decide on a model — is your TL7 ground vehicle a station wagon, a sleek sportscar, or an eighteen-wheeler? It could also be a bulletproof limo, an ice cream truck, or a train engine. Finally, note what sort of death it was involved in that allowed it to become a prowler.
The cause of the passengers' slumber varies, as well. Be creative and use a loose definition of "sleep." A gas leak on a small yacht could knock out the passengers for a day or more. The driver of a taxi could have a brain hemorrhage at a stop light — he slumps over the wheel, the prowler awakes, and the taxi drives on . . . And don't forget the first scene in Alien: A starship whose passengers are in a coma-like state for months.
Prowlers can have supernatural performance. A clipper ship prowler, for example, could have MR 5 and SR 7. This would allow it to survive storms and easily outmaneuver mundane watercraft.
A single prowler can haunt an area for years. It might be legendary. Such a prowler would need either a single sleeper that lasts for a long time, or a consistent method of acquiring new sleepers. Note that, when a prowler's consciousness fades and the vehicle returns to normal, that prowler persona does not necessarily die. That same prowler could return to the same vehicle at the next opportunity.
Adventures should always involve interaction with the sleepers. The player characters can talk to people who have had strange experiences with haunted vehicles. They can also meet obsessive NPCs who take care of a prowler and won't cooperate with investigators.
Sonambulance. Two paramedics nod off in their ambulance. It comes alive as a prowler. One awakes and is Persuaded to drug the other. He then sits in the driver's seat and Sleeps. The ambulance prowls through the night.
The prowler has an idea. It finds a stretch of empty highway and, as it drives, it Persuades the paramedic to amputate his partner's arms and legs, careful to keep his victim alive. With the amputee helpless, he can be drugged easily. This keeps the prowler's consciousness secure. It also makes room for more amputated victims . . .
The prowler drives into the next county to avoid pursuers. Within a week, the county is buzzing with rumors of an ambulance that has been abducting lone pedestrians in the night.
The player characters can become involved in a number of ways. They could investigate the missing ambulance or the abductions, depending on which county asks for help. They could learn that there is a supernatural creature in the area that must be destroyed. Or, they could be walking along the street at night when the ambulance pulls upů
Article publication date: March 1, 1995
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