This post is inspired by and contains spoilers from The Croning by Laird Barron. I highly recommend it. I also recommend his other novel, The Light is the Darkness.
|by Greg Scott, cover of Extraterrestrial Live|
"He's a junior member of a peer group, the elite of the elite...The Order of Imago. You've probably heard of it during your investigations. It's one of those loudly whispered secrets- like the Masons and the Satanists, only more so. Powerful, powerful men. Tycoons, industrialists, Old World nobility. A wicked old-boys secret handshake society. We know it exists. We've met a member or two, heard some stories. They've established a few communes in remote areas. There's one in Arizona and another in Southern California."
- Agent Singh, The Light is the Darkness
Their beginnings are shrouded in mystery, but they are older than the civilization that birthed you. Their religion is an ancient faith of bones and blood, of sacrifice to the horrible gods of the Great Dark. They come, first as subverters and puppet-masters, but then as conquerers. They spin webs that entangle the lives of important people and lead entire civilizations to destruction. They plan on the time scale of immortals, for that is what they are, what they and their father promises.
The rites, practices and membership of the cult is shrouded in mystery. Little is known about them, some do not even know there is a cult, only that they are being attacked by incomprehensible horrors. But there is a cult, a secret society from which the Children draw their resources, targets and new recruits.
The Federal Government is vaguely aware of this cult and tolerate it, albeit reluctantly. This is because the majority of the cult is composed of those from the upper levels of society: CEOS, politicians, professors, generals and journalists. The Cult's members command huge amounts of financial, social and political capital and use it to protect their brethren. Through these bonds of mutual cooperation and shared blame should they be exposed, the Cult's lay-members are controlled and kept orderly.
The Cult, at it's lower levels, instructs its members to prepare for a coming catastrophe. Members are encouraged to use their power to sculpt society into a more beneficial shape and to make the necessary preparations. When the others are consumed by the rising flood waters or starve in the coming famines, they and their families will be safe: or so they are told. Whether or not it is true is anyone's guess.
Those who have been conducted higher into the cult are invited to hidden, discreet locations on the grounds of manors or private islands where they gather with other members to perform wild, profane rituals. For the lower members, these rituals mostly entail sexual depravity, or acts that embarrass or humiliate. This builds camaraderie among members through shared suffering, while also providing the leaders with convenient black-mail material, should it become necessary.
For the still higher members, darker things await.
The Power of the Great Dark:
"You see, the alchemical formula comes from Drake and Souza, which is akin to Satan handing the Apple to Eve or Prometheus teaching some Greek how to make fire. For them, the inkblot cards and the serum are trappings of science design to enthrall and enslave modern minds. A charade of rationality. Drake could simply breathe on you and transform you at the cellular level. He could snatch your brain and show you cosmic horror that would turn your soul black. The Drake Technique is a joke, the mechanical rabbit greyhounds chase. And when Dad glimpsed the true nature of Drake and Souza, when he realized he'd made a deal not with the high priests of a demon cult, but the fucking demons themselves, he opted out."
- Imogene Navarro, The Light is the Darkness
Few are ever chosen, but some lower members are selected, groomed for the higher mysteries. They are taken to the inner sanctums and shown the truth, terrible and bleak. The Children here shed their false faces and show the members what they actually are- inhuman monsters. Those who endure these revelations without succumbing to madness, their minds folding under the strain of the Children's unnatural powers are transformed, given the power of their Father, Old Leech.
After this adoption, the new Child is educated on the secret history of the cult and instructed of their purpose. They are to feast on this world, wringing every bit of fear and pain they can from it. They will destroy the world, first by subtly removing all institutions and groups that could oppose them, then once that is done, destroying those who cannot be removed through more elegant means. Then they will transform this world into their personal playground. They will rule for a million years or until the Worm turns. Then their Father will come and the remains of the world's population, degenerated and deformed, will be fed, screaming, into his gaping maw. Their rage and sorrow, their fear and tears will nourish him for another cycle, until it begins all over again.
Then the Children will blacken the skies of that world, or yank it from it's comfortable orbit. Once it cools, they will dig massive caverns beneath the crust and fill them with blood and screams, the ideal nursery to raise the next generation of Children. While some will stay to rule over these kingdoms of endless night, the rest will scatter across the galaxy, spreading like a contagion, seeking new worlds to conquer.
How goes the War?
If you don't know how long the Children have been on a particular planet, roll on the table below:
1- The Children have been on this planet for less than 10,000 years. They are served by small cults and scattered individuals, but they have little power to affect the government or culture of any of the world's nations. They prey upon the vulnerable and inspire stories of monsters, cannibals and secret cults. Some of them are even true. The Children could be removed from the planet, but likely they will leave on their own once they are summoned to another land. In the meantime, hunting down the few of them scattered across the world will be a difficult and dangerous ordeal.
2- The Children have managed to corrupt a small nation or a small minority of the ruling class of one of the Great Powers. They work in secret, peddling information and influence, seeking whatever scraps of political power they can find. They are playing the long game, but this is when they are most vulnerable. Should their work be discovered, their supporters could easily be exposed and arrested, their allies scattered and the Children themselves confronted by angry mobs and champions of law and righteousness.
3- The Children have managed to corrupt a large minority of the ruling class of a Great Power or a coterie of small nations. They have built a power base that will make them hard to dislodge, should they be discovered. But through networks of agents and overlapping interests, they can protect themselves from casual discovery. This world is likely to be chosen for further exploitation and more Children will soon be arriving via the Worm-Ways to further the contamination.
4- The Children have managed to corrupt the majority of the ruling class of the Great Power, or control the vast majority of the world's lesser leaders. They are the power-brokers and string-pullers, the masters of the universe. Very little of note that occurs is without their blessing. Those who refuse their gifts find themselves against well funded opponents in the next election or facing "grass-roots" rebellions, with suspiciously well-supplied rebel armies. Despite changes in governors and politicians, nothing ever really changes. Things are also slowly getting worse for the common people, who have come to resent their rulers. All goes according to plan, soon will come the death-blow.
5- The Children have revealed themselves and unleashed armies of their monstrous servitors on their enemies. Those who could not be subverted or co-opted are to be removed via violence. Civil war, political purges and other atrocities spread throughout lands the Children control as their enemies fight for their lives. Besides the monsters, their enemies will also have to contend with the armies of the nations that the Children have conquered, who will dismiss stories of monsters as enemy propaganda or wild rumor.
6- The Children rule this world with an iron fist. They dwell among smoke-stained palaces while the population starves in squalor, oppressed by monsters both horrible and horribly familiar alike. Blood runs in the gutters and smoke from sacrificial pyres and pointless industry floods the air with toxins, even as it poisons earth and water as well. All resistance to the rule of the Children is ruthlessly and immediately crushed, those who still resist do so from the most desolate corners of the world, where armies cannot reach them, or hide in the darkest places, where even the Children's many spies do not think to look. The Children will squabble and fight amongst each other, dividing up the planet amongst themselves, but their is no threat on this planet that stands any change of reclaiming this world from them, not without decades of build-up at minimum, or a significant amount of outside help.
Hierarchy of Horrors:
"A kaledeiodscope of images fractured in his mind's eye: Frick and rack hunting him in the Wolverton mansion; naked men dressed as horrors from Aztec mythology menacing him with axes and knives; a ruddy young man in a ridiculously tight sweater stepping into a dolmen; Kurt, bronzed and middle-aged running through the woods, screaming, screaming; Bronson Ford, bloated to gigantic dimensions plucking Don from floor of a museum gallery with one huge paw-"
- Laird Barron, The Croning
Child of Old Leech-
Number Appearing: 1
Alignment: Any Evil
Languages: The Lingua Franca plus 1d6 (exploding) local languages. Also speaks a language called Worm-Speech, a tongue used only by acolytes of Old Leech.
Treasure: Children dwell in sumptuous splendor most of the time, living in places of great beauty, overflowing with gold, jewels and other trinkets, which are primarily used to bribe mortals or to show status. The Children are contemptuous of beauty and the supposed security of wealth, and will quickly part with it in exchange for something they actually want. Should you steal from one, however, they will hunt you down to make you suffer.
Atk Varies, see below
Saves (7+SHP) or less
Magic Resistance Z or below
Damage Threshold: X. Ignore all attacks that do less than X damage as if they did none.
Shapeshifter: The Children of Old Leech are shapeshifters. They can alter their physical forms at will, as long as they stay within one size category of their base form. They can also disguise themselves as normal humans or other humanoids.
Magic Resistance: Mana-based attacks and abilities are hard to use against the Children. When someone uses one of these against them, there is a Y/100% chance (Z or less on a d20) that the mana-based ability (magic, psychic powers, bio-energy blasts) or attack does not affect them. This causes the attack or ability to slip around them and strike the nearest target. If there is no obvious choice, roll randomly.
Innate Spellcasting: Children have A Mana Dice (MD). They can cast the following spells as an action. They does not trigger Chaos, but their MD do burn out on a 5 or 6.
- Determine who is the strongest
- Weaken with magic
- Fight smart, never fairly
To customize one of the Children of Old Leech, roll on the tables below:
What rank is the Child?
1- Offspring. The Child has a Damage Threshold of 1d4+2 and a Magic Resistance of 30% (6-in-20). It can make 1 melee attack that does 2d6 damage. It knows 1d4+1 spells. This Child is a newborn by the standards of it's kind, someone prone to rash action and most in need of help.
2- Mandible. The Child has a Damage Threshold of 1d6+2 and a Magic Resistance of 40% (8-in-20). It can make 2 melee attacks that do 1d10+1 damage. It knows 1d4 spells. The Mandibles are the military class of Children, used by the Scions to crush any objection to their rule, from within or without. They are terrifying to face in battle, horrors that make mincemeat of armies and meals of kingdoms.
3- Scion. The Child has a Damage Threshold of 1d8+2 and a Magic Resistance of 50% (10-in-20). It can make 2 melee attacks that do 1d12+1 damage. It knows 1d6+2 spells. The Scions are the eldest of the Children, the nominal rulers of their race; consummate in cruelty and powerful beyond imagination. They will devour your world, just like they have fed on countless others.
What resources can the Child call upon?
1- Money. This Child has deep coffers, or more likely, allies with the same. If money is the solution, money can be found.
2- Political Power. This Child has connections to one or more politicians who can intervene on the Child's behalf. Depending on the political system and situation, this could mean anything from back-up from the security forces to harassment by regulatory agencies, or anything in between.
3- Propagandists. The Child can count on favorable media coverage and regardless of what happens, it's allies will spin the events of today in the favor of the Children, while it's enemies will be branded as villains and instigators. If there is violence or death, it will be blamed on them, even if the evidence seems to point the other way.
4- Favors. Someone who could help the Child owes them a favor. They dare not fail to repay it. The person who owes the Child a favor is 1d6 [1= A constable or police officer; 2= A military officer; 3= A politician; 4= A wealthy businessman; 5= A crime boss or gang leader; 6= Another Child of Old Leech.]
|by Anatolii Leoshko|
Number Appearing: 1d4
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Treasure: The Limbless do not collect or care for treasure, so places that they inhabit tend to be carpeted with the possessions of those who died there, valuables scattered carelessly on the ground.
AR 3 [Natural Armor]
Atk Bite (1d8+1) + Pharyngeal Jaw (1d6+1 + grapple)
Saves 10 or less
Magic Resistance 5 or below
Sunlight Vulnerability: The Limbless are sensitive to sunlight. When in sunlight they make all Attack rolls and saving throws with disadvantage, with the exception of Magic Resistance Saving Throws.
Magic Resistance: Mana-based attacks and abilities are hard to use against the Limbless. When someone uses one of these against them, there is a 25% chance (5 or less on a d20) that the mana-based ability (magic, psychic powers, bio-energy blasts) or attack does not affect them. This causes the attack or ability to slip around them and strike the nearest target. If there is no obvious choice, roll randomly.
Worm's Eye: The Limbless have no eyes, but their sense of smell and hearing is almost good enough to compensate. Quiet foes can sometimes sneak by them, but the Limbless are perceptive enough that they can hear your heartbeat and breathing if you get too close. They get +2 to detect things with their other senses and cannot be blinded.
- Isolate target from pack, grapple and drag away
- Charge and retreat
- When target is grappled, descend on them in a feeding frenzy
The Limbless are the horrible servitors of the Children, created through horrible sorceries enacted in caverns of bone and basalt, full of the blood of billions of murdered souls. There hunger and searing aggression are given form, melded into flesh that may have once been something much more benign. The Limbless are squat and low, pathetic in appearance until they move, oilly smooth and fast than you can blink. Their razor teeth resemble a rodent's or a primate's, with long fangs and huge incisors that smash armor and cut through bone, even as they shred flesh and leave nothing behind but scarlet-stained ribbons.
They fear sunlight and do not come out when it shines. Their hunting ground is beneath the cloudless sky or in the bowels of the earth, where no light penetrates. There they slither through the dark, feasting on the unwary. As Limbless are blind, they do not need light to hunt, and are able to find prey through vibrations, scent and the sounds they make. It is said that if you can hear your heartbeat around one, it is already too late, as they've heard it too.
Sometimes the Limbless hunt with the Children, leading the way like hounds, while other times they hunt alone or in packs, merely for the thrill of the chase and the spectacle of the kill. Not all Children have the privilege of being able to summon the Limbless, but to those who do, they treasure it almost beyond words. It is a sign of one's superiority, but also a statement that should the Child grow displeased with someone, they should not have to stoop to dirty their hands, unless they should wish too.
The Limbless might look like animals, but despite their hideous appearance, they actually possess an intelligence equivalent to the low end of the scale for humans. They aren't super intelligent, but they speak, make art and have elaborate social structures. They ask the questions of "Who am I?" and "Why do I exist?" They know the answers, of course, but the question is still raised. The Limbless believe they were created by the Children, and they're right, and revere them as living avatars of Old Leech. The Children hold the Limbless in affection as well, though they treat them more like animals than others would find appropriate. Yet this treatment is not considered demeaning by the Limbless, who regard it as a high honor to be acknowledged by the Children.
And to those who feel that beings as vile as the Children cannot feel anything close to affection or even love, then you should reconsider what it actually being said here. For the Children do not hate you, even though they plan to despoil your world and feed upon it's corpse, they do not hate you. In fact, they love you and have some many beautiful things to show you.