This article originally appeared in Pyramid #4
By Scott Paul Maykrantz
ST: 30 Move/Dodge: n/a Size: 100+ DX: 7 PD/DR: 5/8 Weight: Unknown IQ: 1d+3 Damage: Special Habitat: just below ground HT: 18/5d+100 Reach: Special Other Names: Cavercysts, underscourges
A mazeworm is a maze of living subterranean tunnels and caves. Like a gigantic buried digestive tract, the mazeworm's body consists of intertwined tubes and ducts of gray-yellow flesh. No one has ever seen the exterior of a mazeworm, nor has a mazeworm's interior ever been mapped or charted. They can be found anywhere, lying just below the surface of the earth.
Each mazeworm has several tunnels, each three to ten feet in diameter. Close examination of the fleshy walls reveals veins and arteries, random blowholes, sores, lesions and clumps of wiry hair. The walls are saturated with a sticky mucus. The "floor'' is a shallow river of circumplasm: flowing, bubbling, acidic bile. Anything that touches the circumplasm will take 1 die of damage per minute.
Strange lumps of flesh and soft bone grow haphazardly from the tunnel walls. These appendages and organs seem to be in a state of jumbled evolution. They look functional, but the majority are harmless and useless - examples include a flailing pseudopod with a comb of jutting bone, a blinking eye nested in a web of tendons, and a chirping larynx mounted on a swaying trunk of twitching muscle. There are also thin veils of skin blocking the tunnels; these can be torn down with surprisingly little effort.
Occasionally, a creature or rodent will build a home in a mazeworm. Of course, such a creature must be hardy: it would have to be, to survive in the odorous, lightless interior of the mazeworm and subsist on the carrion flowing through the tunnels.
Anyone trapped inside is in grave danger. The air is permeated with noxious fumes. These fumes, rising from the circumplasm as it digests prey, drift throughout the tunnels in hazy clouds.
The smell is overpowering - without a respirator or at least a handkerchief, an explorer will be overcome with nausea. Explorers will also need boots with a high DR, to avoid the caustic effect of the circumplasm.
Each mazeworm has dozens of dead ends, "rooms'' with dimensions twice the size of the tunnels leading into them. Only one of these rooms, the nexus, has a purpose.
The nexus is a large room with a deep pit of circumplasm in the middle. It is the lowest point in the mazeworm's body - all of the tunnels flow into it. Dozens of holes on the walls and ceiling spurt circumplasm and the decayed flesh of killed prey. Anyone who falls into the pool will take one die of damage each second. Swimming rolls are at -5 due to the thickness of the bile.
Waiting for Food
Mazeworms are intelligent creatures. They actively hunt prey - their diet includes all animals, including humans - and can defend themselves. The mazeworm's brain, a greenish ball of flesh, hangs from a thick knot of nerves and tissue in the nexus, directly above the pit. The brain cannot be digested by the circumplasm, but it is easily damaged by weapons such as guns, swords, or explosives. The brain has 2d+10 hits and DR 2.
The brain can sense movement through the body's sensitive flesh. It can feel anything inside it, and can sense the size, speed and weight of any object directly above it.
The mazeworm waits for a creature to pass above it and then muscles the ground open and swallows the prey. It seals itself and slithers around to settle the turf above. The prey will be in a tunnel, scared and possibly unconscious from the fall. The flowing circumplasm digests the prey, and the resulting fluids flows into the nexus.
Reactions and Retaliations
The brain's principal defense when it is injured is a psionic attack. The psionic attack causes a loss of equilibrium. This is a Quick Contest of Wills; the mazeworm's score is 25, minus the amount of damage the brain has taken. It attacks all human and animal minds within 100 feet of the nexus. Roll a different Contest for each target. Each victim that fails will have his DX halved and his IQ reduced by 2 for the next 3d minutes. If the target wins the Contest, his DX score is halved for the next two seconds and his IQ is unaffected. Targets can use Mindshields to defend (see GURPS Basic Set, p. 169).
It has another defense as well. Serious injury to any part of the mazeworm will cause the whole creature to convulse. Anyone inside will fall unless he makes a DX-10 roll. In the worst possible case, the convulsion will cause a minor, localized earthquake.
If a mazeworm is starving, it can slowly worm its way through the ground to a new location. This takes a long time (it can only travel 100 yards per week) but mazeworms can go without food for up to a year.
If a mazeworm has eaten well for months, it will use its next victim for reproduction. Each mazeworm has a number of fetal pockets spaced evenly in its body. Each fetus can attack as a pseudopod, adhering to, constricting and enveloping the victim.
The victim can make five ST rolls to escape, or attack the fetus with a weapon. The second ST roll is at -2, the third at -4, and so on. Damage totaling 30 hits will release the victim; 60 hits destroys the fetus. A victim who cannot escape will suffocate (see sidebar, in GURPS Basic Set, p. 122).
If the victim dies, the filled fetus will mount itself on the wall of a tunnel. It will digest the body in the next few weeks; the flesh is scrambled and blended. Then the fetus, covered with a skin that resists the circumplasm, detaches and flows into the nexus. After a dozen balls have collected at the bottom of the well, they merge and develop consciousness. The new mazeworm, careful not to rupture the parent's pool of circumplasm, will slowly dig its way out and through the earth. When it is miles from its parent, it instinctively locates a suitable place and starts to grow, becoming a full-size adult mazeworm approximately one year later.
Mazeworm Adventure Seeds
Mazeworms are meant to be explored, but characters might not know they are inside a creature until it is too late. A mazeworm can be the home of other beasts, a source of special chemicals and spell components, or even a sage-like mind to be consulted. Mazeworms should exist as immovable landmarks - if they are directly under a building, harming them could cause a catastrophe.
The Pulse. While the PCs are visiting a hotel in the hills, they become aware of a throbbing sound. If they explore the cellar, they hear a heartbeat; it is steady and strong, as if a giant were buried under the hotel. If they explore further, they will find a trapdoor leading into a huge mazeworm.
This mazeworm is unlike others of its kind in one minor way: in the nexus, there is a heart as well as a brain. The heart looks identical to a human's - but it is the size of a small car. As the characters try to make sense of this, they are attacked by the vampire who lives in the mazeworm, a vampire that feeds off of it when it does not have a victim from the hotel above.
For an added twist, the hotel could be the convention center for the 54th Annual Edgar Allan Poe Festival. This little-known and largely exclusive gathering features, as its centerpiece, a theatrical interpretation of one of Poe's tales. The featured tale this year is "The Tell-Tale Heart."
The Corridors. When the PCs become involved in the exhuming of a grave, they find that the corpse is gone. The bottom of the casket is broken open, leading down into the earth. A tunnel below the grave leads to a vast, sprawling mazeworm. Its corridor extends from one end of the city to the other. There are at least two dozen more connections between graves and the creature.
What is happening? Why have these graves been looted by the mazeworm? And what has caused it to grow so large? As they explore inside, it becomes apparent that someone is using the mazeworm to move secretly around the city. Many answers will be found when the PCs enter the nexus, a huge chamber full of bats with a worm-infested floor directly under one of the city's principal landmarks.
Article publication date: December 1, 1993
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