Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Parasite zombies (October 2014 RPG Blog Carnival)

I realized that I overlooked making my "Things that go bump in the night' entry for this month's Blog Carnival.  I had my wife sketch up a critter and everything!  Oh well, here's another extrapolated real-world nasty for your gaming environment...

There are several varieties of parasites that, as part of their life cycle, 'zombify' or mind-control their hosts in order to procreate.  The typical strategy is to cause the host to lose inhibitions or self-preservation, and therefore expose itself to predation or other harm in order to distribute larva or advance its life cycle. The Cordyceps fungus takes over ants and spiders, the Horsehair worms take over crickets, the broodsac flatworm controls snails.  All lovely lifeforms that are cause for plenty of skin-crawling.

Although known since the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the Rhizocephala parasitic barnacle popped up on several nature blogs last year, probably due to a lull in people finding things to cringe at on the Internet.

Illustration by the incomparable Ernst Haekel
Briefly, the Rhizocepahla is a parasitic barnacle that has shed its shell, appendages, and most organs in order to become, essentially, a swimming set of gonads and a nervous system.  Which it attaches to, and infiltrates, a crab host, co-opting its digestive and nervous system.  Oh yeah, and reproductive system, making the host a brainless walking reproductive organ...

And so, I'll make it a game critter...

A number of villages along the fetid Ieno Delta have failed to send their monthly tithe upriver.  A revenuer party sent to investigate returned, ashen and stunned. The villages were found to be populated by shambling, misshapen zombies. Individuals were noted to have odd lumps and growths. Much to the party's dismay, their cleric was ineffective in turning and they were set upon by these creatures. Although they appeared unintelligent and terribly weakened, they were persistent, and the revenuers, hard pressed, only saved themselves via retreat. During their retreat, they noted several villagers' bodies along the shore of the Ieno or floating in the water. The bodies appeared to be deflated.

Upon return to the capital, a couple of the revenuer's guards have begun to slur their speech and complain of lumps on their belly and groin.

Parasite zombie (Rhizocepahlian)

HD & AC - as host
Damage: 1d4 plus 25% chance of infection.
Special:  Immune to charm or similar mental spells, not undead, and will not be turned by clerics. Parasites are spread via physical contact with/injury by infected, or free larvae in still water.

Early effect: This occurs over the first 10 days of infection:
Languid behavior (1d4 CON loss)
Loss of intelligence and language (INT decreases to 3 over a period of 10 days)
Odd bulges begin to form on the body, especially in the lower abdomen. Parasitized males begin to develop secondary female characteristics.
If the host is killed during this stage - the parasite may escape (1/4 chance) if conditions are favorable.
The host will become sterile due to reproductive system damage by the parasite.
Early effect may be 'cured' though cure disease or similar, however, any initial INT/CON/HP loss will be permanent

Late effect:  This occurs after 10 days.  All effects are permanent and irreversible.
Total language loss (INT <3).
Permanent HP reduction due to starvation and system shock from the parasite (1d4 HP/day to min. 1pt. per HD).
Biological castration and co-opting of reproductive system by the parasite in order to reproduce.
The host will actively seek reproductive environment - either direct transfer, or still water.
No recovery after full implantation, due to permanent digestive and nervous system compromise.
Death of host after full implantation will kill the parasite, likewise, if the parasite is killed, the host will succumb due to system shock.


  1. Excellent nasty critter. Love that Haekel illustration as well. I have been looking at that very one as a reference for a digital painting I'm working on right now.

    1. Excellent! My wife is a microbiologist with a marine biology background. Hence, I let her scribble up critters for me. Several of her ancestors were biologists, as well, including a great-grandmother who was a illustrator in her own right.