Golden Fire Seals
for GURPS and In Nomine
by Elizabeth McCoy
The Golden Fire seal appears to be a sub-species of fur seal, with a particularly fine amber pelt. Rare, its fur is prized for its color and texture by those who have no understanding of the Golden Fire seal's complex life cycle.
It is said that in the spring, Golden Fire seals come to birth their young between the sea and the land. Or, less poetically, on the beaches around the high tide mark, during low tide. Then, after the baby seal has suckled its first rich milk, they may remain on the beach until it's old enough to return to the sea . . . or, if they're close to human habitations, the baby may push itself up and toddle towards men.
Toddle, yes. Golden Fire seals are also a sub-species of Selkie.
When exposed to something from humans -- psychic vibrations, pheromones, magical auras, whatever -- a baby Golden Fire seal will turn into a human toddler, appearing somewhere between six months to two years old. The Golden Fire child, with its amber-brown hair and tanned skin, will then proceed toward the nearest humans, happy, unafraid, and beautiful.
Most of them are quickly adopted, and spend the next 18 years of their lives cared for by human parents. (The mother seal mates shortly after, if she can find a male, and returns to the sea.)
Scholars who know of this species consider that Golden Fire seal is actually a mammalian version of the cuckoo bird, foisting its young off on other species. Fortunately, the Golden Fire children are not -- unlike cuckoo hatchlings -- prone to shoving "siblings" or other eggs out of the nest. They are all very good swimmers, rarely get sick, and tend to be a little on the zaftig side, unaffected by cold temperatures, but are otherwise normal children with a normal range of personalities.
And at 18, they are drawn back to the sea. It is an overwhelming compulsion, possibly mistaken (by those who read the Cthulhu mythos, or who live in it) for something akin to what is felt by those suffering the Innsmouth Look. If the Golden Fire child can get there within a year, then he or she will cast off human guise, and return to the waters as a seal. Sapience fades, until the Golden Fire seal is just a bright animal. It seeks out a mate at the appropriate time, and cycles resume.
There are two ways to avert this fate as a sub-sapient animal.
Firstly, if the Golden Fire child is prevented from returning to the ocean -- it will still change shape by the end of the year. Many Golden Fire seals are returned then, back to their home, and continue as above: animals. However, if one is kept in captivity (and it is captivity, as they seek to escape to the sea), and kept away from salt water, after a year . . . Sapience returns, and the shifting becomes mostly voluntary. (They have trouble resisting when swimming in large bodies of water, especially if it's salty.)
The second method is more chancy. If a Golden Fire seal (even one who never changed as a baby) is prevented from mating, during mating season, for approximately three months -- it will revert to human, to seek a human mate. Sapience does not return immediately. Females are sweet, wide-eyed, and show themselves willing by shy caresses. Males are a bit more assertive, but can still be given a good shove; it seems to bewilder them mightily, but they are not prone to violence in return.
Naturally, if they succeed in mating, they quickly seek out the waters again, and revert. To recover their sapience, they must remain captives until their intelligence grows back, a process of several months. Then they frequently remember their human lives, and are -- as above -- able to shift voluntarily.
Golden Fire seals are cross-fertile with fur seals, but the Golden Fire genetics are recessive, and have their activation, apparently. on the X chromosome. Male Golden Fires can father bright seal children, and a Golden Fire may crop up a few generations down the line, but it's rare. Likewise, Golden Fire Selkies are cross-fertile with humans, but the offspring is not a full shapeshifter (unless the human happened to have a Golden Fire ancestor, and bears the recessive gene); Golden Fire-fathered children tend to be good swimmers.
Seal-mothers of half-human or half-normal seal babies are a bit more odd. Somehow, she manages to impart some of her magic in the womb, and in the first milk. Her half-human babies will change once, from seal to human, after birth, as normal. After that, they simply grow to be good swimmers, as their Golden Fire-fathered cousins do. The seal-sired babies may or may not change (approximately fifty-fifty odds, or higher if the fur seal father carried the Golden Fire recessive); if they do, they may or may not change back at 18 (though they are never the brightest of humans). And after that, if they revert to full seal-dom, they remain seals whether or not they fulfill the biological imperative to mate in any given season. Fortunately for the breed, they tend to carry the recessive, and may have or sire Golden Fire children.
Naturally, this is a complicated life cycle. Golden Fire Selkies are guaranteed approximately a year as an animal, no matter what. Even if a sapient breeding pair exist, their children will go through the same processes as "wild" Golden Fire babies. Knowing the call of the sea themselves, it is hard for parents to prevent their children from returning -- though not impossible. Still, far more Golden Fire stories end in bittersweet tragedy; they are happy in the waters, but to go too soon, and for too long, extinguishes their minds.
- Any PC can be a Golden Fire Selkie. If he is younger than approximately 18 (which, it should be noted, may be counted as "20" if he was a "two year old" at the time of adoption), then his change is in his future. Adventure fast, and hope that when the time comes, your friends hang onto you. (Suitable for any character with a secret disadvantage.)
- Likewise, any PC may have relatives who have recently adopted a child. Being the paranoids they frequently are, player characters may notice the oddities about the youngster and travel to distant libraries and countries trying to find out what's going on. This may save the child down the line. If they don't get a clue that something is strange, mysterious would-be kidnappers may attempt to steal their cousin for study by a shadowy organization or researcher. (Can Golden Fire Selkie marrow hold a cure for AIDS? Will Golden Fire blood cure the Black Plague? If you taste of a Selkie's flesh, will you be immortal? Or is that only mermaids?)
- Alternatively, they may hear that their adopted cousin has vanished from college, and was last seen feverishly buying bus tickets for California. (Or stealing a horse and heading for the Magoon Ocean, depending on the setting.) Can they track their cousin, or will their aunt and uncle's hearts be broken? And will those same shadowy kidnappers, as above, be after the newly-revealed Selkie as well?
- Naturally, a functioning Selkie, who has somehow managed to return to humanity and voluntary shapechanging, will have a secret to keep. Hopefully, he'll also want to keep the secret of any other Selkies he finds -- not to mention crusade against the killing of Golden Fire seals in the wild! They're an endangered (sub)species, true enough . . . but sometimes it seems it would be so easy to explain that they're potentially human.
- Revealing the secret deliberately is a player-motivated plot, but could afford a great many sessions dealing with publicity, unethical researchers, ethical researchers who only want a few blood samples, panicked Selkies and Selkie-descendants who are terrified of changing, would-be Selkies who want to change and "return to nature's womb," and circus or theme park offers of employment . . . or stud fees.
- And for the less-ethical groups, they are hired to "acquire" someone's prized seal. Funny how the stolen animal is gone shortly after the snatch, and a confused young woman is in its place. Will they traffic in kidnapping and human slavery as easily as stealing an animal? If they do, then there will be private investigators or troubleshooting teams after their victim. If they return the captive, their employers are going to be upset. Life's just full of tough choices . . .
- As above, only the group is hired to recover a stolen seal. Or maybe a kidnapped youth. Either. Both. Their employer isn't very coherent; you'd think that he'd lost his only child or something.
ST +1 ; DX +1 ; HT +1 .
Advantages: Breath Holding +2 ; Disease-Resistant ; Temperature Tolerance +4 (to cold, for a comfort zone of -5 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) ; Amphibious (No Obvious Features, +10%) 
Disadvantages: Up to 20 points from Bestial [-10], Chummy [-5], Curious [-5, -10, -15], Easy to Read [-10], Enemy (Unknown would-be kidnappers) [varies], Gluttony [-5], Hidebound [-5], Honesty [-10], Impulsiveness [-10], Innumerate [-1, -5, -10], Light Sleeper [-5], Lunacy [-10], Motion Sickness [-10], Overweight [-5], Shyness [-5, -10, -15], or Truthfulness [-5].
Quirk: Loves fish [-1].
Base cost for being a Golden Seal Selkie is 30 points.
Pre-change Golden Seal children add Youth [-2, -4, -6, more at the GM's option], and Secret Disadvantage [-5]. "The Change" is half the cost of Terminally Ill, minimum -25. (This means that a Selkie-child unaware of its nature has a 0 point racial package, and normal Youth.)
Adult Golden Fire Selkies add the advantages of shapeshifting into a seal form requiring a Will roll to avoid changing in large bodies of water, and a Will -5 roll to resist changing in the ocean. They add the disadvantage of Secret (Selkie) [-10], and may have Enemies (unknown or otherwise).
See GURPS Bestiary, p. 111, for the Sea Lion racial template. See GURPS Shapeshifters, p. 19, for the shapeshifting advantage. An adult Selkie who has regained human form after the first seal-change removes the IQ modifiers, Presentient, and (assuming that he does not possess them in human form) Bestial and Innumerate; as Amphibious is part of the Selkie template, it is not paid for twice. Human-form Selkie attribute bonuses are replaced with the normal sea lion ones (attributes added during character creation are treated normally). He adds the Enhancements of Absorptive Change [+5%], Once On, Always On [+150%], and Proportional Damage [0%], and a Limitation adapted from External Trigger, Urge to Change (as in the description) [-5%]. Total cost is 23 points.
Optional advantages: Appearance (Attractive or better), Absolute Direction, Animal Empathy  or Beast-Kin , and Enhanced Move (Swimming), plus any not already taken from the sea lion template.
Optional disadvantages: any of the above not already taken as part of the racial package, plus any from the sea lion template.
In Nomine stats
In an In Nomine setting, most creatures of myth were actually ethereals (or offspring of ethereals with the appropriate Song of Fruition), and died when the Archangel of Purity attempted to wipe out ethereal "leeches of mortal Essence." Naturally, Jordi, the Archangel of Animals, objected to slaying creatures who were mortal. Still, Golden Fire Selkies -- never numerous to start with -- were among the casualties.
Except, that is, for a few carefully protected cross-breeds. (They weren't Selkies, so why should they die? Jordi wasn't doing anything but protecting his Word . . .) After Uriel's recall to the Higher Heavens, recessives have combined, and finally reached a critical level: Golden Fire seals are a recently discovered (and endangered) species. So far, no other celestials have really noticed that they exist.
For his part, Jordi would rather they didn't turn human at all, but simply remained bright seals. He hasn't managed to find a way to make this happen yet, though.
Servitors of Jordi might be assigned to watch over certain human young (Golden Fire Selkies, pre-change), or protect Golden Fire seals and keep them away from humanity (to keep the human-change from happening). Jordi rarely bothers to explain why he is assigning one of his angels to these projects, which can cause a bit of surprise or consternation on the part of the angel in question.
(A Selkie-assignment can be used to explain why a Servitor of Jordi is in the area and generally available to assist other PCs; a very distressed Jordian might also follow a shape-shifted baby into human territory in an effort to retrieve or protect it. The seal-herding task is better for NPCs or an all-Animals group trying to retrieve a human-formed baby.)
Golden Fire Selkies have 5 Forces, with 2 additional attribute points in their Corporeal attributes, Strength and Agility. They frequently acquire a third in that realm, too, and sometimes achieve 6 Forces. They automatically have Swimming/3, and are -- as noted above -- comfortable even in the cold. They take a minimum number of disadvantages with combined levels of 3 from the GURPS selection above (typically each will be -3 points per level, or -3 points for a disadvantage that the GM rules has no levels).
A pre-change Selkie has no additional disadvantage points. A Selkie adult has a 10 point "attunement" allowing appropriate shapeshifting. They roll Will+1 to avoid shifting in large bodies of water, or Will-1 to avoid shifting in oceans.
Article publication date: July 2, 2004
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