Monday, February 6, 2012

Loathsome Mass (Wermspittle)

“I looked, and a pang of horror seized my heart as with a white-hot iron. There upon the floor was a dark and putrid mass, seething with corruption and hideous rottenness, neither liquid nor solid, but melting and changing before our eyes, and bubbling with unctuous oily bubbles like boiling pitch. And out of the midst of it shone two burning points like eyes, and I saw a writhing and stirring as of limbs, and something moved and lifted up what might have been an arm. The doctor took a step forward, raised the iron bar and struck at the burning points; he drove in the weapon, and struck again and again in the fury of loathing.”
The Novel of the White Powder
Arthur Machen
Loathsome Mass
No. Enc.: 1*
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 30' (10')
Armor Class: 9
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d4 (see below)
Save: MU2
Morale: 4

Special: Unearthly Allurement, Cause Revulsion, Atavistic Toxicity

There is a rather uncommon, flaky white salt-like substance known as the 'white powder,' or Vinum Sabbati. The formulation of this illicit and soul-destroying substance is known to only a very few, but occasionally a small quantity turns up in some of the less respectable apothecaries along some of the more convoluted alleys of the Lower Town districts. Those who partake of this substance find it invigorating, intoxicating and insidiously addictive. For the space of several weeks the powder will seem to grant them an incredible boost to their health, outlook and disposition. Nearly all ailments and complaints will be cured or healed, all old wounds forgotten, even scars fade away and persistent medical problems will be alleviated...but then, at the very height of the user's recovery and great good health, the true nature of the substance reveals itself and they undergo a terrible descent into madness and worse as their very bodies dissolve into putrid masses of seething corruption and hideous rottenness.

In some ways the so-called 'sabbatic substance' is very similar to the primary active components of both the Griffin Formula and the Jekyll Serum, all three of which are well-known to promote madness, terror and death in their users. There may also be some connection to certain necromantic elixirs as detailed in the Livre Ex Mortis, but this has not been reliably verified at this date.

A Momentary Unearthly Allurement
Those who use the white powder gain the ability to cast a Charm spell up to three times per day. Even after they undergo the terrible transformation into a Loathsome Mass, should they survive the transition (it requires a Save), then they gain the ability to cloud their potential victim's minds with a mesmeric ambiguity that calls to mind their former appearance for a space of 3d6 minutes. Unfortunately, this ability can only be used once on any given person, after which the normal deep-seated sense of revulsion takes hold.

A Revolting Mess
The mere sight of a Loathsome Mass is enough to elicit a deep sense of revulsion in the viewer, causing them to make a Save or be momentarily debilitated with such a powerful sense of disgust that they spend the next 2d6 minutes wracked with intense nausea, disoriented, distracted, actually vomiting, or seeking to avoid looking upon the horrid thing any further. Those who succeed on their Save can close and hopefully dispatch the lurid, leprous thing.

Atavistic Toxicity
The milky fluids of a Loathsome Mass are poisonous, and will cause those who come into contact with them to regress to a deeply primitive state of consciousness. These fluids are potent toxins and all Saves are at a -2 penalty. Those who succeed are mentally and emotionally regressed to the level of a savage, ancestral being from a much earlier stage of development for only a few minutes. Those who fail their Save regress so deeply that they must make a further Save or suffer a secondary, physical form of regression into a much more primitive life form. In certain instances, this regression can be quite permanent.

Black Liquors, Wet Spots and Sallow Stains
There are various quacks, frauds and outright dangerous cultists who collect samples of the milky fluids of Loathsome Masses and distill these down into a number of questionable concoctions. Most forms of the so-called BlackLiquors cause a temporary loss of sanity, wildly loosen the imbiber's inhibitions, or cause a temporary loss of mental acuity (lose 1d4 from INT or Wis for 1d4 hours). If you are interested in learning more about the Black Liquors derived from Loathsome Masses, Wet Spots and Sallow Stains, check out our Black Liquors Table.

“I looked up at the ceiling, and saw a patch, all black and wet, and a dew of black drops upon it, and a pool of horrible liquor soaking into the white bed-clothes.”
Wherever a victim of the devilish white powder dissolves into a lurid, shapeless mass of putrescence remains wet and saturated with greasy, black corruption for days if not weeks at a time. These wet spots can seep through floor boards to run slowly down walls or drip languidly onto unsuspecting tenants or looters below. Wet Spots retain the Atavistic Toxicity effect of a Loathsome Mass for 1d4 weeks and remain poisonous (Save or suffer disorientation and 1d4 damage) for a further 1d4 months. This makes it possible for those who know what to look for to locate still potent wet spots in order to collect samples for creating Black Liquors and worse things.

It is also not altogether all that uncommon to run afoul of the lingering remains of one of these hideous things, their glistening black forms deliquesce into disgusting wet spots of seething corruption, but even after a few months, the things dry out and turn  into a gritty, granular heap of bleached and flaky salt or ashes surrounded by a lurid whitish stain. So-called 'Sallow Stains' can be scraped-up from the floor boards or off of ceilings and used to create sigil-marking chalks, psychically-permeable pastels, and hallucinogenic oil paints. Many young apprentices are sent out to the abandoned districts in Wermspittle to roam and comb the deserted places in search of dried-out old remains of the victims of the white powder so that their masters can formulate various sorcerously useful substances. Few of these apprentices and foragers ever really pause to consider who it might be that sells the original white powder to these unlucky or incautious victims of the Corruption Trade.


Inspiration: The Novel of the White Powder (1895) by Arthur Machen, is part of the episodic novel The Three Impostors, which also includes The Adventure of the Gold Tiberius, The Novel of the Black Seal, and others. To quote Mr. Machen himself, he set about to create The Three Impostors as "...A book which testifies to the vast respect I entertained for the fantastic, 'New Arabian Nights' manner of R. L. Stevenson, to those curious researches in the byways of London which I have described already, and also, I hope, to a certain originality of experiment in the tale of terror." It remains a classic of both fantasy and horror and we highly recommend it. You can download a copy of The Three Impostors via Project Gutenberg, Arthur's Classic Novels, Horror Masters, or any number of other sites.

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