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Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs

Ferals - A New Monster Myth for a New Millennium

by Dan Pond
Oct 09,2002


Ferals - A New Monster Myth for a New Millennium

The Problem

As inspiration for role-playing games, vampires and werewolves have been beaten like undead horses. They've been rehashed and recycled in novels, movies, TV shows, and RPGs too numerous to count. Their powers and weaknesses have become more well-known than the names of the planets. So where's the fun in sending them at your jaded and (lets be honest) over-confident players?

Sometimes, you need to throw them a curve ball, ya know? Sometimes, you need to feint left and hit 'em hard with the right. Sometimes, you need to jump out of the bushes and smack 'em in the head with a 2x4. When they come to, they'll thank you for it!

The Solution: Ferals

The curve in this ball is that the many man-eating monsters that prowl the dark corners of human mythology are all imperfect accounts of an obscure race of men who call themselves the Ferals. Their origins reach all the way back to the very dawn of civilization. While their cousins (us) were building tools and letting their bodies grow soft, the Ferals learned to use their bodies as tools.

Their techniques include controlling their adrenal responses, which lets them boost their strength, reflexes, and endurance at will. They possess arcane mental disciplines that focus and heighten their senses, allowing them to see in the dark and track by scent. They can control the flow of blood to injured areas, reducing blood loss and slowing the onset of shock. They can enter hibernation trances that accelerate their healing. Over time, they've even evolved claws and fangs that can be concealed well enough to pass casual inspection. Any Feral could go toe-to-toe with a forensic pathologist, a CIA spook, an EMT, and a Navy Seal... all thanks to training, discipline, and a little selective breeding.

Ferals do not follow a religion; they consider it one of humanity's crutches. They do have a philosophy, however: They believe that the infrastructures that humans have built to support themselves also make them weak. Humanity as a whole is a powerful force to be feared and respected. (Hence, the Ferals live in secrecy.) A single human, on the other hand, is a naked, pathetic creature robbed of its natural defenses by centuries of societal dependence. The Ferals reject human infrastructure and remain strong, powerful. They need no one and nothing else in order to survive.

For most of history, the Ferals kept to themselves, content to live and hunt in the remote wilds of the world. As "civilized" humans multiplied and spread across the globe, however, they became an attractive prey species for the Ferals. The rise of cities and industrial squalor, combined with the steady eradication of wilderness, has effectively turned humanity the best 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet in town. How could any predator pass that up? Thus, the Ferals turned from reclusive, backwater cousins into the hungry nightmares that lurk in the shadows of our own alleys, streets, and lonely backroads.

Modern Ferals come in two flavors. The original variety still prowls the agrarian places between cities. They live in familial packs of 2-12 members and control territories that encompass entire counties. In addition to the occasional hiker and hunter, their diet consists primarily of deer, birds, and livestock. A few keep ramshackle houses in rural backwaters, but most simply live in the woods, wild and free.

The new, extra crispy flavor can be found in urban areas from cities to suburbs. They walk among their human prey, silent and deadly. They live in houses, apartments, and condos. They have and use money, but they never hold jobs or buy their food at restaurants or grocery stores. Most avoid conveniences like air conditioning, too. Many of them are lone wolves, so the speak, but small family groups are not uncommon.

Their connections to werewolf and vampire myths are fairly obvious. The fangs and claws mark an attacking Feral as something obviously other than human. Their robust health and accelerated healing gave rise to stories of immortality, invulnerability, and undeath. Drinking blood and eating flesh are second nature to them. Unfortunately, all of the traditional weaknesses (sunlight, holy water, silver, needing invitations, etc.) are pure fabrication. Many Ferals will play on these superstitions to their own advantage. The only way to fight Ferals and win is with big guns, serious preparation, and a whole lot of friends.

Regular old humans can learn the Feral's Body Control skill, with a willing teacher, but it will never work as well for them as for those who have been bred to it, and trained for it from birth. For Ferals, you just slather on healthy bonuses to any stats and skills that would benefit from adrenal boosts, increased sensitivity, and accelerated healing. Humans who put in the time to learn (we're talking years, here) get more modest bonuses, through probably not the claws and fangs.

A Note on

A few weeks ago, I submitted an early version of these guys to the (then woefully unpopulated) "Unexplained" section of the Unknown Armies website. The big difference between them is that the old version relied completely on selective breeding to explain the Ferals' abilities. I think it's an interesting concept, but that's just me. If you're interested, go to and click the Unexplained link. There's a lot of other cool material there, too, and all submitted by fans.

Next Time: What do spirits, genies, and computer interfaces have in common? - Loath Your Fellow Man

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Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond