Sunday, November 17, 2013

Zone Tigers

Recently there has been talk about “Tigers” in the OSR gossip world. Tigers being animals that appear specifically adapted to hunt humans.  From my understanding of the fossil record, and especially of how the big cats hunt baboons with terror, perhaps jaguars would be a better name for these beasts, but any large hunting cat will do and the label tigers has the advantage of a Borges reference.  The beast that “can only be faced by a man of war, on a castle atop an elephant.”

Below are a pair of  “Tigers” specifically for the “Zone”, inspired by the novel Roadside Picnic, and FATE SF “Zone Project”.  These aren’t simple anomalies, mutants, or extraterrestrial horrors, they specifically hunt the Stalkers that seek to plunder alien artifacts from the Zone.
A Real Zone

Rust Tiger – While greed or curiosity is the lure that brings stalkers and scientists into the zones, once behind the nightmare curtain of the zone, every investigator craves only safety and survival.  The Rust Tiger hunts with hope, the lure of safe passage amongst the horrors of the Zone, and it hunts with a will beyond hunger and animal cruelty.  Rust Tigers hunt only men, and will not even harm the dogs that stalkers sometimes use as scouts or defenders, and Rust Tigers show actual malice and cunning, even an art, in their predations.

The source of the Rust Tiger’s malice is unknown, but the more poetic of the stalkers claim that the secret of the beasts’ rage is found in its form.  While every Rust Tiger is different they all appear as the detritus of everyday life, objects of home and convenience left to decay, corrode and rust  in the unwholesome environment of the zone.  Indistinguishable from any mound of domestic debris or spray of forgotten objects half buried in the mud of a ruined cellar the Rust Tiger waits in ambush.  Some animating force however controls these seemingly random bits of trash, and suddenly it will rear up from concealment, tearing with claws of thick television screen glass, gnashing with jaws of broken coffee mugs, and flowing quick and deadly on limbs of warped furniture.
 It’s size and ferocity alone would make the Rust Tiger dangerous, but not especially so, more troubling is its subtle ability to touch the hearts and emotions of its prey.   When a Rust Tiger skulks near, the only sign is the sense of safety or the smirking suspicion that one has discovered a safe route through the Zone. This is the way the Rust Tiger baits it’s trap, the shattered living room where the Rust Tiger awaits will seem the safest path, with a lingering bit of the old comfort it held before it became another fragment of the zone.  Yet once the Rust Tiger Springs into action this power to cloud human emotions works the other way, gone is any sense of safety and waves of terror will ripple from the tiger, leaving many who confront it bereft of any sense.  

HD 8, AC 7*, ATK 4**, DAM (claw/claw/bite/tail lash) 1D6/1D6/2D6/2D6, SV F8, MV fast, ML 10.
* Immune to bullets and other piercing weapons, 1/2 damage to all but explosive weapons
** Suprise on 1-5 from ambush, all efforts to detect at -50%, sight causes fear and confusion (save v. spells each round to act)

Grey Friend – Seemingly specifically adapted to prey on the human sense of trust and loyalty, these entities may not even be sentient themselves, existing only with a borrowed, stolen will.  Should a Stalker become separated from the group it places the entire salvage gang at risk from the Grey Friend.  In even a moment or two a Grey Friend may insinuate itself into the mind and soul of a lone stalker as long as he is unobserved.  There are no reports of the Grey Friend’s appearance in the moments before it dominates its victim, but once it has a host, the host will invariably injure himself.  An accidental gunshot wound, a broken ankle coming down crumbling steps or a clumsy spill of caustics blinding the host.  These injuries will never be fatal, or even near fatal, simply debilitating and require the assistance of others to return the host to civilization. 

As long as the crippled host is carried, led or helped the Grey Friend will remain quiescent within, the host becoming ingratiating, facing his injury with stoic camaraderie and good humor – anything to keep the rest of the band sympathetic and elicit help.  However, the longer companions aid an infected host the more difficult it will become.  The host becomes heavier if carried, wounds reopen, requiring delay and additional medical supplies, and all manner of minor inconveniences slow the group offering other zone horrors a chance to attack. 

More philosophical stalkers believe that the Grey Friend devours the sympathy of friends, and all know that it desire most to leave the Zone.  Of course the world beyond the zone is antithetical to the stuff of the Grey Friend and will catastrophically destroy it. Many a bedraggled group of Stalkers has been killed on the edge of escape from the zone, while lifting the body of an injured friend over the last barricades of razor wire, when the Grey Friend explodes in a cyclone of razor edged ash and caustic mist.

If physically attacked while in the zone, the Grey Friend will be revealed in all of its hungry twisting majesty, but this no better than attempting to evacuate its host.  Wounds made to the Friend’s host will erupt in long wisps of whips and hooks, both solid and immaterial, like sprays of fine ash that can bore and slash through the best protective suit in seconds.  Bullets, blades and blows on tear up the host, producing more deadly tendrils or pass harmlessly through the entity with a puff of grey dust.  One of the few Stalkers to survive an encounter with a Grey Friend claimed that  his band destroyed or drove of the creature with directed radiation, though why stalkers should carry a microwave gun makes his story questionable.  The Institute theorizes that high energy weapons, such as plasma jets or even lasers, might also be capable of harming a Grey Friend, but no one have ever tried to test this theory.

The only safe way to protect oneself from a hunting Grey Friend is to abandon friendship within the zone, leaving any behind who cannot fend for themselves, even if their injuries appear minor.

HD 3, AC 3*, ATK 1 per target within 10', DAM (whip) 3D6**, SV CL 6, MV slow, ML 12
* Immune to non-directed energy attacks
** If host is removed from the zone will explode in 30' radius cloud of deadly fragments, 5D6 damage, Save v. Breath for 1/2 damage.


  1. Good sutff! The Zone project has turned out some inspired posts.

  2. "Abandon Friendship": now that is one terrible last ditch defense! Both these entries are great. They finally give A.E. Van Vogt's "Black Destroyer", prowling some alien Zone on a dead world-city, some worthy company much closer to home.

    1. I felt like the Grey Friend was almost implied in Roadside Picnic. A combination of the silver web and the scene where the one fellow falls into something that jellies his leg bones.

    2. The jellied legs belonged to a Stalker known as the Vulture, IIRC. And Red was so callous in how he let the Vulture's son "lead the way" later in the book. That kind of shocked me, although I don't know why anything does any more.

    3. Oh yeah that was shocking, but the son was a product of the Zone as well, and that's unhappy, post incarceration, post Monkey going subhuman Red - not idealistic stalker Red.

  3. The only solution is to kill all your friends and shoot all piles of garbage that you see.

  4. These are nasty, especially the fiend. The rust tiger is one of those weird ideas that goes way beyond the Zone too, with a lot of potential in other places.