This article originally appeared in Pyramid #6
Creatures of the Night
By Chris WardenThis issue - a real bunch of nasties called the Sleepers!
Our usual terror-monger, Scott Maykrantz, failed his Fright Check this issue but he'll be back next time with "The Bottomless Pit" and some other exotic and unexpected creatures to add a couple of phobias to characters that haven't had the "new" scared off of them yet.
SleepersThe sleeper is a large, bipedal amphibian that lives in arid regions. It is about six feet tall and weighs 200 pounds when fully grown. It is crafty, fast, violent and predatory.
In order to survive in the harsh desert environment, it enters a state of suspended animation called anabiosis. When water or food become scarce, the sleeper will bury or otherwise conceal itself. Soon it dries up and become a husk. It can survive like this for decades. When the husk is exposed to water (a hard rain will do), the monster revives. It will immediately start looking for prey. A revived sleeper is a voracious eater; it will not be satisfied until it has eaten its own weight in fresh meat. While its hunger is not as keen after that, it will not pass up an opportunity to feed just because it is no longer hungry. The sleeper is intelligent enough (just barely) to not attack well-armed groups, though if the sleeper is newly revived, it may attack anyway.
Once sated, the sleeper will seek a mate and then breed. The female lays eggs, and the two creatures then die. While an adult sleeper is dangerous, it is the eggs that are the real problem.
Sleeper eggs can survive for centuries without water. The eggs are small and look like plant seeds. They appear harmless. Their finders must roll their Naturalist skill (at -8, as sleeper seeds are very rare) to recognize them. Once the eggs come into contact with water, they immediately hatch and begin growing. At this early stage of development, they resemble worms. A Naturalist who sees these "worms" may recognize them with a Skill-3 roll.
After about a day in water, the sleeper larva becomes a miniature version of its parent. It is about the size of a frog, and extremely vicious. After growing to rat size, sleepers leave the water. They form swarms and roam the land. Once they are too big to form swarms (nearing three feet in height), they scatter and become rogue hunters. In all of these incarnations, they are tenacious and dangerous. However, the sleeper can follow another line of development that is more deadly to man.
Damage/Turn: 1d Move: 5
Dispersed by 10 hits
A swarm consists of approximately a dozen sleeper young.
ST: 13 Move/ Dodge: 6/6 Size: 1 DX: 12 PD/DR: 2/1 Weight: 100 lb. IQ: 5 Damage: 1d+2 cut Habitat: D HT: 12 Reach: C,1
Adult sleepers often use branches for weapons. Swing damage is 5d. All the above sleeper forms are capable of going into suspended animation. They are diurnal and become lethargic in cold or dry weather.
ST: 26 Move/ Dodge: 6/6 Size: 1 DX: 12 PD/DR: 2/1 Weight: 200 lb. IQ: 8 Damage: 1d+4 cut Habitat: D HT: 15 Reach: C,1
ST: 6 Move/ Dodge: * Size: <1 DX: 12 PD/DR: */0 Weight: 10 lb. IQ: 4 Damage: 1d-1 cut Habitat: * HT: 10/5 Reach: C,1
If a sleeper egg is swallowed, it becomes a parasite. After the egg is ingested, the victim is allowed one HT-6 roll to pass the egg. If the roll fails, then he is infested. He will lose one point of ST, HT and DX each month for six months. At the end of that time, the parasite (now grown to the size of a cat) will eat its way out, doing 6d impaling damage in the process. It is conceivable that the victim will survive this, but in his weakened condition it is unlikely.
Certain assassins have been known to use sleeper eggs. The slow growth of the parasites makes them an attractive alternative to poison. The assassin can do the deed and then leave the area, knowing that it will be months before foul play is suspected.
In order for someone to plant an egg in food, he must make a Sleight of Hand roll, or a Poisons roll at -3. (The GM should allow modifiers for a good plan, or favorable circumstances, like being the victim's cook.) The victim is allowed an IQ roll to notice the seed, but it is unlikely that he will know what it is. Often the seeds can be disguised or concealed in such a way than no IQ roll is allowed: a favorite method is to stick the seed into a fig. The fig is too dry to activate the egg, but once it is swallowed . . .
Discovery of the infestation is difficult: roll Naturalist-5 or Diagnosis-2. If the condition is detected, then treatment can be attempted. The methods of treatment are limited.
Surgery is often useless. Since the parasite can lodge in many different parts of the body, any operation can only be performed after the sleeper grows to a considerable size, in the fourth, fifth or sixth month. By then, the parasite is well entrenched and has grown formidable claws. Most surgeons will hesitate to expose themselves (and especially their hands) to such a dangerous animal.
Once the victim is opened up by a surgeon (which in some campaigns is a dangerous propsition in and of itself), the next step is to kill the creature - no easy task. Picture fighting a weasel lodged in a stomach! All attack rolls are at -5, unless the attacker is not concerned about damaging the victim. If this is the case, then all rolls are made normally, but any misses will automatically hit the victim and do impaling damage. Obviously, the Toughness advantage would not count in this situation.
Fortunately, there is a (somewhat) safer and easier treatment. The parasite can be poisoned. A naturalist can prepare an antidote (skill roll at -1) out of herbs and an adult sleeper brain. If the GM desires, additional (or different) ingredients could be needed, but at least one key ingredient must be hard to find (and only rarely available from a merchant). The herbs and other common ingredients cost about $50 to obtain; the key ingredient, on the other hand, might be the subject of an entire adventure in itself!
The potion, once complete, will kill the parasite in a day; however, the subject must make a (current) HT+2 roll to avoid also being killed by the potion; even if that roll is successful, he still takes 1d damage and loses 1 point of HT permanently. There is no fair market price for the antidote, and few victims will haggle. A confrontation between a victim with Miserliness and a naturalist with Greed will prove interesting. In most cases, however, death by sleeper parasite is so grisly that only the most evil, heartless naturalist or doctor would stand by and let nature take its course.
If the parasite is killed without killing its victim, lost characteristics can be recovered over time. Once a month, make a HT roll for each attribute. A successful roll means that one point in that attribute is recovered, and a critical success means that all lost points are recovered. A critical failure means that one point is permanently lost.
Sleeper Adventure Seeds
The sleeper works well in fantasy campaigns (especially ones with a desert culture in the world), and is a natural in an Arabian Nights campaign. In any situation where the PCs have "cleaned out" a region of marauding beasties, the sleeper can be used to put them back on their toes. Sleepers could be in hibernation anywhere: a dried-out pond that is being used as a regular campsite, an abandoned ruin, a dead tree. Any dry area could harbor concealed sleepers. If a character or NPC is careless with water, or if there is a sudden storm, the ground might suddenly erupt with sleepers. Perhaps a sleeper crawled into a large abandoned cistern, one that the PCs decide would be a good place to store water.
Another scenario might involve a traveling circus that has an adult sleeper husk as an attraction. The circus might be visiting the adventurers' town when the husk is exposed to water.
Probably the most interesting scenarios involve sleeper eggs. Perhaps one of the characters has been exposed to an egg. Was it accidental or an assassination attempt? After about a month, the victim will know something is wrong. Simply finding out what the problem is could be an adventure in itself; and once diagnosed, either collecting the ingredients for the potion (or submitting to the surgery) has perils of its own. The GM should goad the players on with graphic descriptions of the excruciating abdominal pain one of the PCs is suffering.
Another scenario could involve the transport or selling of sleeper eggs. On the black market, a single egg will go for between $1,000 and $2,000. Perhaps the players find a packet of the eggs and don't know what they are. They might swallow a few, or they might take them to a greedy naturalist. Possession of sleeper eggs should carry a stiff penalty. Known dealers of sleeper eggs have a -3 reaction, even from other underworld figures. However, they are also greatly feared.
Professional sleeper hunters do exist. Depending on the situation, a naturalist will pay $500 to $1,000 for a sleeper brain. One brain will make one potion. Sleepers store fat in their tails, which makes them good eating. A restaurant will pay $250 for a full-grown sleeper tail.
Sleeper hunters have access to sleeper eggs, and they will have a -1 reaction penalty, even if they are honest.
In a fantasy setting, sleepers would make a good ally to the Fish Men. Perhaps Fish Men have planted sleeper eggs in dry regions for the day that the waters return. In a space setting, the sleeper is a good alien creature for a desert planet. In a modern-day setting, sleeper eggs would be method of torture and/or assassination. And in a horror setting . . . well, do you need an excuse for something this nasty in a horror setting?
Article publication date: April 1, 1994
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