This is a creature that can be used for Esoterrorists. The Crawling Flesh offers some interesting challenges as it has a mundane origin but gives the impression that it is supernatural. The fear that it creates, along with the speculation about what it is, can weaken the barriers of reality. As such it can be encountered following its own agenda or being used by Esoterrorists.
A species of centipede roughly 60cm long, found in many parts of the world, where ever moist ecosystems can be found. They are normally pink or beige in colour, taking a red or black appearance after recently feeding. Carnivores by nature they have an appetite for small mammals, such as dogs and cat but can consume humans.
Unusually for centipedes the Crawling Flesh travel in swarms. They gain their name for their habit of covering a living creature, striping it of its flesh and then animating its skeletal system using their own bodies.
The Crawling Flesh have an amazing talent for working together to move a subject in this manner and have even been witnessed using simple tools and operating door handles. They show great co-ordination and can use their subjects body to their advantage, such as using a cats nimbleness or dogs bite.
At a distance the Crawling Flesh may appear for a hairless, featureless version of their subject. Once someone gets closer it they will cleverly see that its body consists of several coiled, wriggling bodies. Seemingly aware of this Crawling Flesh keeps to the shadows to approach its prey.
When attacking the Crawling Flesh will attempt to restrain their prey. Individual sections will then detach, attempting to apply a paralysing bite. To an observer this can look like a mass of tentacles rising out of the Crawling Flesh, accompanied by a terrible hissing sound.
When the prey is vulnerable the mass of Crawling Flesh will detach from the skeleton they were riding. Within minutes the hungry centipedes consume the subject. If the Crawling Flesh feel safe in their current location they will wait for their digestive system to process their meal, lying in a engorged mass on the corpse.
Once this is done, or if they feel threatened, they will retreat to their lair. They prefer swamps or forests, preferably finding shelter in rotting trees. They have also been found in sewers and dank basements. It is here that young Crawling Flesh and members of the swarm without skeletons to ride stay.
Crawling Flesh do think of the group and will collect skeletons for others to ride. This will either be the skeleton they’ve just abandoned in favour of their current victim but there have been instances where they’ve dug up graves and taken bodies from morgues. It is unknown if this was by chance or if they understand the purposes of those areas.
Infestations of Crawling Flesh can spread quickly, restricted only by the fact that it takes at least 10 to 30 centipedes to control one skeleton (depending on the size of the subject). They know enough to pick isolated subjects in order to avoid detection.
When food is scarce or a skeleton isn’t available, Crawling Flesh can hibernate. It is unknown how long they can do this for. They are sensitive to heat, especially body heat. This will awaken them and send them into a feeding frenzy.
Fighting Crawling Flesh is difficult. Shooting one centipede will not prevent the rest from animating the skeleton they are riding, giving the impression that they are invulnerable. Striking one part of the Crawling Flesh does not affect the rest of the mass.
If they encounter overwhelming opposition the centipedes will abandon the skeleton, scattering and regrouping at their lair. They also have instinctive fear of fire, causing the swarm to disperse from the heat and bright light.
Crawling Flesh can appear to be a supernatural force. A shadowy tentacle mass that can vanish in a blink of an eye, leaving skeletons in their wake. It is possible to capture or eliminate individual sections, revealing their organic nature.
Proving the existence of this unknown type of centipede or locate a specimen can help Veil out at the end of mission. Biologically the Crawling Flesh is completely terrestrial, if unusual. If the games master wishes they could be of alien origin or genetically modified, maybe by Esoterrorists.
The Crawling Flesh can be presented as a highly intelligent animal, motivated by a need to feed and spread, or it can be a sentient being, with a complex agenda. This will depend on the needs of the games master.
Their main purpose is to represent the uncomfortable feelings that insects can inspire, coupled with their ability to disguise their nature by assuming the forms of small animals and humans. Having a dog lurch out of the darkness or be tackled by a faceless figure only for the centipedes to rise up and starting biting them would be a terrifying experience.
NATURAL HISTORY & FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGY: These investigative abilities are the best chance that the PCs have of realising the truth nature of the Crawling Flesh. Examination of any of the component centipedes will reveal there terrestrial nature, just as examining their victims will reveal they were devoured by a group of arthropods.
Once a PC knows the nature of the Crawling Flesh they can these abilities to track them down, seeking out areas that centipedes, even those of such unusual size, might seek out.
Athletics: 6, Health: 10, Infiltration: 10, Scuffling: 7, Health Threshold: 2
Stealth Modifier: +1 (The centipedes spread their wait and move using their own tiny legs, almost gliding)
Armor: +1 vs Scuffling, +2 vs Shooting
In a small town (situated near where the PCs operate from) there was an old man named Wilson Forbes. A keen collector of insects Forbes came across several hibernating Crawling Flesh. Bringing them to his basement to study he unwittingly awoke a batch who quickly devoured him and began riding his skeleton.
Unfamiliar with the local area the Crawling Flesh they took some time to explore the area, surviving on local animals. In the mean time Wilson Forbes’ absence hadn’t gone unnoticed and was soon declared missing, presumed dead.
His house was renovated, the dank basement, along with the concealed section containing more hibernating Crawling Flesh, was sealed away. The Lawson family moved in and have lived there for 1 year.
Daniel Lawson is 21, living alone, expect for his cat Ginger, in the house since his parents have gone on a world cruise. Daniel’s room looks out on to the rear of the house and has become aware of a mysterious figure in the alley out back, apparently staring at the building. Each time he has investigated the figure has vanished by the time has got outside the house.
A regular poster on various supernatural and occult forums Daniel spread tales of what he had seen, believing that the figure he has seen is Wilson Forbes’ ghost. This raised a red flag for Ordo Veritatis and the PCs have been despatched to find out what is going on.
In actuality the Crawling Flesh want to get inside the house to reawaken their slumbering brethren. Until now they’ve stayed away, wary of the number of people in the house. With Daniel all alone they became bolder. Soon they will strike.
Arriving in town can seek out Daniel, using flattery or impersonate to pretend to be people who have read Daniels’s posts (he has made no secret of his identity) or using Intimidation to force him to tell the group what he knows. Daniel is happy to explain his theory and take them around the local area. He freely admits that he hasn’t seen the figure well enough to confirm if it is Wilson Forbes’ ghost, but what else could it be?
PCs might notice the many missing pet posters that appear in the local area. They can meet people who knew Wilson and learn of his passion for insects and the suddenness of his disappearance. They might also bump into a homeless man, Old Jake, who may be important later.
That night the PCs can stake out Daniel’s house, with Surveillance being very useful here. They don’t have to wait long for the Crawling Flesh to make its appearance. If they wait in the alley and surprise the Crawling Flesh it will likely scatter, leaving the bones of Wilson Forbes behind. If confronted by only a single person it may very well attack.
If they watch from a distance then they will witness Old Jake enter the alley, going through the trash. Spotting the shadowy figure of the Crawling Flesh he will approach him, asking for money. Before the PCs eyes the Crawling Flesh strikes, wrestling Old Jake to the ground.
By the time they get to the alley way the Crawling Flesh is gone, leaving Wilson’s skeleton behind, which they might mistake at first for Old Jake’s body. Evidence collection can also revealed the remains of some of the centipedes, crushed in the conflict. Their remains are to badly damaged to identify as a new species.
In the event that the PCs end up with the skeleton they can alert the authorities, although mentioning anything about shadowy ghosts or giant centipedes will be met with disbelief and even suspicion. If they’d prefer to keep things quite they might have the skeleton taken away for analysis or do the examination themselves.
Forensic Anthropology can reveal that the skeleton belongs to Wilson Forbes.This can be puzzling for the PCs if they expected them to be the remains of Old Jake. This can cause them to question the nature of what it is they are dealing with.
The next night the Crawling Flesh returns. If the PCs made their presence known then the centipedes will take a more stealthy approach. They devour Ginger the cat and use its body to enter through the cat-flap. If they still have a human skeleton to ride they will use the cat to open to door (as long as it isn’t locked) to allow the remaining Crawling Flesh to enter riding the skeleton. They then concentrate on gaining access to the basement.
The basement door was covered by flimsy panelling. It doesn’t take much effort for the Crawling Flesh to smash or claw their way through, no matter which skeleton they are riding. It is likely that the noise will attract the attention of the PCs and Daniel.
Hearing their approach the Crawling Flesh will flee, hoping to pick them off one by one. It knows enough how to turn light switches on and off or smashing light bulbs, using the darkness to their advantage. A real threat is in the house and those who stay could find themselves devoured. It is especially dangerous for them to split up, with the Crawling Flesh preferring smaller targets.
Whether the PCs begin to hunt the intruders immediately or not they are now aware of the concealed basement. The door is rotten, breaking it open isn’t much of a challenge. Descending down the stairs they’ll find what remains of Forbes insect collection, now just empty tanks and books on the subject.
Their presence is enough to reawaken the hibernating Crawling Flesh. The ravenous swarm will spill out of their hiding place and head for the nearest food source, which may very well be the PCs. To a frightened observer the wriggling mass could appear like hellish black tentacles seeping out of the wood work.
During these sequences Daniel’s fate should be in the hands of the PCs. If they don’t take every precaution to protect him he can act as an illustration of what could happen to someone who falls prey to the Crawling Flesh. In particular he will be concerned about the fate of cat, Ginger. The Crawling Flesh can use this to their advantage, luring him into a trap while riding the cat’s skeleton.
It is up to the PCs if they decide to stay and fight the centipedes. The easiest way to do this would be to set the house on fire, hoping to burn them alive before they can escape. Of course they are under no requirement to do this and might have to come up with a good cover story for the authorities and Daniels’ family if they do.
If they run then the Crawling Flesh will become distracted by any other prey they come across. They will spread out throughout the neighbourhood, consuming animals and people alike. Once they have skeletons to ride the mass of Crawling Flesh will leave town, taking to the wilderness. The next day the PCs may hear that people have gone missing and know that the Crawling Flesh is out there, loose. This could set up future adventures where they try to contain new outbreaks or track down samples.
Remaining calm and identifying the Crawling Flesh for what it truly is can be an important lesson for the agents of Ordo Veritatis. When the esoterrorists are using fear as a weapon the last thing the agents should do is add fuel to the fire.