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Friday, 27 July 2018

Things from another world

Now that we’re just past midsummer, up here in the northern hemisphere anyway, how about an Antarctic horror to cool the blood? I came across this piece (which uses Runequest stats, but should be easy to adapt) in White Dwarf #48 while rooting out “The Lone and Level Sands” scenario. I was inspired by John Carpenter’s movie The Thing, obviously, but the timing seems off. The Thing was released in the UK in the summer of ’82, this appeared in White Dwarf in December 1983. Maybe I watched it on home video, then a technology in its early stages, but as I’m such a stickler for the cinematic experience – and was a fan of John Carpenter’s work – that’s a little unlikely. Another mystery whose answer is lost in the murk of memory.

I based my version of the creature on one interpretation of what’s going on in the movie. In the original 1938 short story by John W Campbell it works a bit differently, devouring and imitating prey rather than infecting them. Take your pick. In the absence of a name for the species I called my version the "jesmai", probably as a riposte to Jamie (who edited WD) for insisting that I give it a name at all. But all Campbell tells us is that it is
These creatures are usually encountered in remote territories – arctic climes, lonely heaths, or high mountain peaks. They can appear to be normal humans (or other animals) and are always encountered singly, often passing as hermits or trappers.

When attacking they grapple their opponent and then, if successful, lash out with a razor sharp proboscis hidden at the back of the creature's throat. Damage done by the proboscis is determined solely for the purpose of puncturing armour – the victim takes no actual damage as the proboscis only penetrates a centimetre or so, but a venom with potency equal to the Jasmai's CON is injected.

If the venom overcomes the victim's CON they black out and must roll CON as a percentage to come round. This roll is attempted at the end of each round until the character recovers. After recovering, the character experiences no ill effects from the venom for 2d6 days, whereupon they will suddenly lapse into a terrible fever characterized by alternating bouts of sweating and uncontrollable shivering. At this point the character can still be cured with a Dispel Magic 8, but if the fever is allowed to progress then the character lapses into a coma within 1d4 hours and then loses their own identity as they transform into an exact duplicate of the creature that infected them. The transformation takes one hour and can be reversed only with Divine Intervention.

At the end of the transformation the character will have all the skills, memories and motivations of the original creature. The character's own soul/ identity has been destroyed.

The creatures can be distinguished from humans when cut. Instead of bleeding they exude a greenish sap, and the inside of the body is a homogeneous pulp without bones or organs. They take 1d3 CON damage per full turn for every 10° Celsius above freezing.


  1. It's a pretty good effort. I'd have wanted a different onset, like the Thing injects venom but also injects an egg into one of its victim whom the venom overcomes. Maybe let the venom have a secondary effect in that it places victims temporarily under the creaturs's control if they fail POW rolls. I'd think fire (as a nod to the movie) would be once of its fears/vulnerabilities, too.

    1. I was never quite sure from the movies whether the alien is supposed to be more susceptible to fire than, say, a human. Maybe the original story is clearer on that point. There isn't very strong evidence for supposing it favours a cold climate, either; for all we know it just happened to crash in Antarctica. The egg-injection reminds me of the Hlüss from Tekumel, or the critter in Alien.

    2. In the movie I was never particularly clear on how it worked either - whether it was infecting them, or destroying and mimicking them, etc - but I thought that was part of what made it so effective; an unknowable horror that you don't really understand the rules of, and mostly just want to get the hell away from.

      Incidentally, I haven't read it in years but I remember Peter Watt (author of Blindsight) writing one of the best stories I ever read in Clarkesworld, "The Things," which is the film but told from the point of view of the alien - normally something which sounds like a first year creative writing student has just done a bong hit, but he does it really, really well -

    3. Interesting. I've just downloaded the MP3 version so I'll listen to that during the week. Thanks.