“Jonan pulls himself through the rusty portal back to the safety of Tunnel Aph. He never thought he would escape the rampaging prime but the village desperately needed the spark cels he got from above ground. After a short rest here, he can make his way through the collapsed section of the tunnel back to the village. Whether it was his exhaustion or the steam rising from the rubble of the tunnel, something prevented Jonan from noticing the sign of the formless appearing above him. The village would never get the spark cels.”
The Tunnel Zone represents an alternative post-apocalyptic recursion. Humanity huddles in small enclaves underground while the surface is dominated by mindless destructive forces known as “primes”. Among the rubble on the surface, great technologies (now long forgotten by the remnants of humanity) may prove to be alluring… if one can survive long enough to harvest them. In the tunnels, humanity has carved out a relatively safe refuge from the primes but has succumbed to internecine tribal warfare. In this fragile moment, the Formless are gathering, possibly to make their move.
The primary location in the Tunnel Zone are the series of subterranean tunnels that represent the hiding place of humanity. It is not clear what the original purpose of the tunnels were. They are too large to be simple sewers or maintenance tunnels. They snake for miles beneath the surface. Of course, they long ago fell into disrepair. Hubs in the network of tunnels have been filled with makeshift communities. Most people hide in the cloth tents waiting for the time when the hub collapses, the tunnels around them are destroyed, or they are simply overwhelmed by some other gang.
The largest of the human settlement is Aph. Like all of the human settlements in the tunnels, the community is merely a collection of makeshift buildings. Many of the buildings are nothing more than scavenged fabric draped across ropes or cables. The result is a complex maze of improvised housing and mobile markets. Navigation can prove a challenge for any non-native of the community (consider allowing players to buy a local skill for 2 xps to navigate a particular community). Chasing any native through the community adds a step of difficulty due to the environment.
The richest residents have put together more permanent homes made of wood, metal, or other materials brought back from the surface. Given the lack of consistent materials, protection comes more in the form of gang members.
The scarcity of raw materials shapes the human communities in important ways. There is no consistent supply of ammunition, making the use of firearms rare. Gangs are much more likely to rely on simple hand weapons. The weapons themselves are mostly retrofitted out of availability material. Anything larger than a knife is likely to be either a family relic or otherwise highly sought after as a status symbol. Most gang members wield sharpened pieces of metal, wooden rods with nails driven through them, or other crude (but effective) weapons.
As inhospitable as the network of tunnels may be, the surface represents an even more dangerous location. Immense bio-mechanical beasts, known as primes, rampage across surface world fighting each other and destroying anything in their path. Only the oldest people recall a time before the primes arrived — and none seem to know from where they came. The war of the primes has reduced all of the known structures on the surface to rubble — and would do the same for any new structures built there. Though individuals sometimes brave the fury of the primes to search for valuable assets or technology on the surface, any permanent establishment is infeasible.
A generation of living in the tunnels has led to a modus vivendi between the various gangs. A new threat has arisen to endanger this stability: the formless. While the human communities cower from the earth shattering force of the primes fighting above, something is bubbling up from lower in the earth. The formless oozes seep through the walls of the tunnels to assimilate animal and vegetable matter. Some of the oozes burn any organic matter they touch, others freeze or liquify flesh.
Cyphers in the Tunnel Zone are going to take on a post-apocalyptic flavor. They can be some mixture of abandoned and now poorly understood technology or active and functional pieces of primes.
1 — A clear (but cracked) piece of plastic with dull lights shining through like a HUD
2 — A large metal plate that, on further investigation, has the qualities of a reptilian scale. Despite being shed, it continually rotates through a series of colors.
3 — A 1 meter flexible tube with a bulbous ending resembling a large nerve
4 — A cylinder of viscous fluid resembling the blood of a prime
5 — A short rod with two electrical nodes at end. The handle of the rod is badly worn and breaking off in parts.
6 — A cylindrical section of a hard mineral rock that resembles a tooth, claw, or bone. There are odd crystalline deposits in the object that pulsate erie aqua light.
Artifacts are present within the tunnels as well. The artifacts are the remnant technology from the previous, prosperous civilization from before the arrival of the primes. Players may find various forms of beam technology, advanced communication technology, and explosive devices. Most of the artifacts appropriate for weird science recursions could work in this setting — as recovered technology.
A] Agents of the OSR have learned of the existence of the recursion and the primes. In a logic that only makes sense to weapons researchers, they decide that capturing a prime is the key to several technological breakthroughs. They are building a large enough inapposite gate to allow the OSR to bring a prime through to their labs on Earth. Estate operatives are asked to sabotage the gate to prevent this potentially disastrous event.
B] Operatives of the Estate are chasing a notorious recursion miner. To escape them, he leads them through to the Tunnels.
C] Evidence at a Karum safe house reveals the existence of an important lab in the Tunnels. The lab is developing technology that could divide Ruk from Earth — possibly at the expense of all life on Earth. The lab is disconnected from the main tunnel system for privacy. To stop the research going on in the Karum lab, the players will have to journey across the surface, risking exposure to battling primes. Evidence in the lab suggests that there is more than a trivial connection between Ruk (or its original home recursion) and the Tunnels.
Formless drone (lvl 4) — Formless drones are shapeshifting pools of transparent gel (level 5 for stealth related tasks). They attack by extending pseudopods towards opponents. Some drones are composed of gels that leech heat from anyone they touch, others cause caustic burns. Some extrude pseudopods of such density that they can cause blunt trauma.
GM Intrusion — When the PC makes a melee attack against a formless drone, the formless drone could extend its mass along the weapon until it is covering the attacker. Until the PC can separate herself from the formless (with a level 5 speed task — as her action for the round), all attacks against the formless are at 2 levels higher difficulty or they risk (50% chance) to split their damage between the formless and the PC.
Prime parasites (lvl 5) — While the primes, understandably, get the attention of anyone crossing the surface, they are not the only threat. Smaller creatures skitter around legs of the passing primes, sometimes left in their wake. The form of the parasite depends a great deal on the form of the prime, but they generally vary in size between that of a house cat and that of a wolf. The parasites adopt a form based on the theme of the prime (discussed below) but are similarly bio-mechanical.
GM Intrusion — The parasite is in the form of a large insect the size of a collie. An attack to the back of the parasite activates a latent bio-mechanical program that results in a metal shell extending over the creatures back. From this point, the parasite has 2 points of armor.
Prime scavenger (lvl 6) — Only the strongest surface animals have survived the rampages of the primes. The destruction of the primes have reduced the structures of the former inhabitants to rubble; this has left a space for nature to return to control the surface. Small creatures may skitter through the ruins and the emerging forests and jungles. Most of the larger predator populations have been dramatically reduced in population — but some have adapted to this new environment. The predators who have begun to scavenge the corpses of fallen primes. These creatures have become larger, stronger, and faster versions of their former self. Appropriate base animals could include bears, lions, great apes, etc. depending on the base ecosystem.
GM Intrusion — The scavenger in the shape of a large mountain lion begin to bleed a caustic substance that ignites as it comes into contact with the air. All of its attacks now add 3 points of fire-based might damage to their base effect. Any successful attack will result in some of the caustic substance adhering to the victim, which will cause an additional point of fire damage every round until the victim uses his action for a round to rub the substance off of them.
Formless agent (lvl 6) — Some of the formless have learned to take the shape of humans. While these formless retain the ability to change shape when it suits their needs, they can take a form that will let them pass through human hubs (including changing their perceived height, weight, build, gender, facial structure, and other characteristics). These formless are generally experts in the manipulation of their biomass as well as possessing their camouflaging abilities (all intellect to detect the agents are at level 8).
GM Intrusion — As the formless agent senses that defeat is imminent, its form begins to fade. Rather than fade into a pool of plasm, however, it volatiles into a transparent gas. Players can track the cloud of gas as it tries to escape with a level 5 perception task. Of course, the gas can flee through tunnels that may be very difficult for the PCs to follow.
Primes (lvl 9) — The primes are easily represented using the statistics of Kaiju (Strange Bestiary — page 73). The primes represent bio-mechanical monstrosities based (loosely) on actual Earth animals. The unique qualities of each prime should communicate the base animal with mechanical alterations that exaggerate the particular characteristics of the animal. For example, a kaiju based on a bison would be a particularly large prime with broad shoulders and huge pistons in its limbs. Its unique attack might be based on a charge with its horned head.
GM Intrusion — Damage to the prime causes an eruption of its vital fluids to spill to the surface. Where the fluid collects on the ground, large worms emerge transformed by the prime’s blood. These worms act as four scavengers (detailed above).
There are several creatures from the Strange core book and bestiary that may be appropriate for this setting.
- You can use the statistics for the Kray as alternatives for parasites and scavengers (Strange core — pages 277-278)
- A Quinod Destructor (Strange core — page 287) could be a last ditch attempt by the previous civilization to defeat the primes. It was never finished or activated — unless the PCs make a terrible mistake.
- A Shoggoth (Strange core – page 289) could be a Formless weapon
- Similarly, a Utricle (Strange core – page 296) fits the tone of the Formless
- The presence of the primes could have greatly upset the ecosystem of the surface, leading to the emergence of Vaxt (Strange core — pages 298-299).
- A Blob (Strange Bestiary — page 21) could be a leader of the Formless.
- The strange bio-mechanical nature of the primes can lead to a variety of emergent threats in their paths — including Catastrophe Clouds (Strange Bestiary — page 27) or Scrap Drones (Strange Bestiary — page 119)
- One could design scavengers who use the statistics of a CRAZR (Strange Bestiary — page 33)
- Exposure to the strange fluids of a prime or remaining experiments from the previous age could result in a colony of Devolved (Strange Bestiary — page 42)
- An Ignitherm could serve as a model minor prime (Strange Bestiary — page 70)
- A Mytocytic Pool (Strange Bestiary — page 90) may be the source of the Formless.