Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Black City Bestiary: Berserkers

Berserkers are a common "monster" type throughout the Black City. As various groups of competitive raiders pillage the city for hidden wealth and alien artifacts, it might seem natural that some groups would abandon the hard work of finding treasure for themselves, and instead lay ambushes in the ruins to take take the treasure of other adventurers. Banditry is indeed common. But the darker flavor are those groups that enter the ruins and never come out - not because they perish, but because they choose to retreat deeper into the city and live as wildmen and ragers, away from the laws of Trade Town. Over weeks and months, some of these outcasts even devolve to a bestial state, setting snares and death traps, skulking in the shadows and deeper in the sublevels of the city, savagely attacking former friends that trespass on their territory. These are the Berserkers.

New arrivals to Trade Town will be warned about sleeping in the ruins of the city at night. The delvers spread rumors that a devil spirit flies on the night wind, enters the souls of men and infects them with the hunger for human flesh, filling them with the blood lust and transforming them into berserkers; they call the spirit "wendigo". The less superstitious amongst the delvers just call it "cave madness", from spending too much time in the weird ruins. The truth is both more insidious and prosaic.

The ancient Greys that built the Black City were masters of biotechnology and life form engineering. They created a parasitic organism that enhanced the aggressiveness and bestiality of terrestrial life forms to make their captives fitting specimens for the arena. Long after the city had fallen, these microorganisms spread to the fresh water sources used by creatures in the sublevels of the city, polluting wells and cisterns alike. Many of the "dire animals", giant insects, and other monstrous natural life forms (especially those in the vast caverns of level two's "Warrens of Decay") have evolved due to the constant biological pressure generated by infection. Outsiders like the Northmen, with no natural immunity to the parasitic "roid worms", often become infected, developing into berserkers (and ultimately cannibals) after drinking polluted water in the dungeons.

Worm Madness
Worm Madness is caused by drinking water infected with the microscopic roid worms. These parasites alter the victim's brain chemistry, increasing rage, paranoia, and suspicion. Advanced stages of the infection increase the victim's muscle mass, strength, and size, and inflict a punishing hunger that drives the victim towards violence and cannibalism.

The dungeon text will indicate whether a specific water source is infected with roid worms. Worm Madness can only be cured by Cure Disease; once infected, there is no normal recovery.

Exposure: Victims must make a save vs poison after drinking contaminated water.

Incubation: 4 hours - after a few hours, a victim must make a second save or advance to Stage 1 of the disease (see below). The victim is now a Berserker.

NPC's will avoid returning to civilization once infected and will be more comfortable camping in the ruins for extended periods, becoming agitated and aggressive around the uninfected.

Interval: 2 weeks. Every few weeks after infection, there is the chance the victim mutates to the next stage of worm madness. Once a player character advances beyond Stage 1, the character is a monster and an NPC until cured.

Stages of Worm Madness
Stage 1
Humans and demihumans infected with roid worms will function like standard Berserkers (Moldvay page B32 or Labyrinth Lord p87) with the following modification: the infection alters the victim's perceptions, increasing paranoia and aggressiveness towards outsiders; all reaction rolls by these Berserkers are made at -2.

Stage 2
At this stage of infection (2+ weeks), the victims of the parasites are less than human. They will be ravenously hungry to fuel their gains in strength and biomass, driving them towards eating raw flesh and cannibalism. Statistically, the cunning stealth and raw strength granted to Stage 2 infected make them equivalent to Bugbears (Moldvay B32, Labyrinth Lord p66).

Stage 3
In the final stage of the infection, the victim will no longer trust any other beings (even other infected); the Stage 3 infected will wander off to a secluded section of the ruins and create a cave-like lair protected by cunning traps. These mutated monstrosities are no longer remotely human, and function statistically as Ogres (Moldvay B40, Labyrinth Lord p90).


  1. This is some cool, evocative stuff.

  2. yeah really cool. The black city is really coming alive as a setting.

  3. Me like. Good way to design a disease too. I like the way this is shaping up.