Some of you may be inclined to think of the mutant in his suffering, to show him mercy, or pity. You may be inclined to wonder what it is like from his perspective. Perhaps, such a line of reasoning leads, he is a victim and we are the persecutors. BANISH! this thought from your minds. Do not let tricks of intellect sway you in your faith. The mutant is to be destroyed, cleansed so that his taint cannot spread. Pity him, if you wish, but do not show mercy. Our God is gracious and forgiving, yes. But the Mutant is an abomination, a blight in our most generous Lord’s eye. Purge him, destroy him, only in the destruction of that which is unhallowed shall justice and piety be served.
Reverend Joachim Boaz, Arms Militant
The Face of Mutation
Mutants are often overlooked in the realm of traditional fantasy. They are reserved for post apocalyptic fare, or modern horror movies based around the dangers of radiation, genetic manipulation and other things of science that many people feel should not be tampered with. This is fine, but it leaves a visually interesting and morally gray super-group1 of NPCs out of the genre at large.
Adding the Mutant to Traditional Fantasy
The main difficulty with adding the mutant to traditional fantasy is the cause of the mutations themselves. Radiation and other modern ideas do not fit comfortably in the fantastic milieu so some other mode of contamination will be required for the exciting odd and extra body parts.
The blasphemous form of the mutant is a black mark of favor from the fallen ones, the calling card of the demonic, and from their form you may discern the method of their evil, and the focus of their being. The mutant with the head of a swine is obviously dominated by the sin of gluttony, just as the succubus is a monsters obsessed with vanity.
Taint of the Underworld
The cause of mutation is the influence of demons and devils. The servants of the infernal have their flesh warped and twisted by their monstrous masters. Sometimes this is for the amusement of the infernal, such as turning formerly pious men and women into mockeries of their former selves. It can also be to serve a purpose, such as creating a mutant who is a more formidable warrior to defend the weaker mutants and the cultists who have not yet been corrupted in the flesh.
The hellborn mutant has some significant strengths and weaknesses. Thematically, the mutants are more than just random rolls on a mutation chart. A dark menagerie can be formed by created a different caste of mutations for each of the cardinal sins, or even for a specific demon or devil. The downside is that such heavy handed mutations lends itself to a draconian presentation of the faith. There is also no much in the way of moral dilemma as the mutants are willingly corrupted by the infernal.
Exposure to the plasm taken from the pit reliably causes drastic alterations to any living flesh it comes into contact with. The substance is quite chaotic in nature, as the mutation is consistent, the specific type of mutation is not. In three separate trials, I have had toads grow feathers, double in size, change colors, explode, grow multiple extra limbs and in one case, belch puffs of flame. This substance is quite dangerous, and I shall endeavor to make sure that it’s secret remains that way.
The cause of mutation is exposure to a magical substance, such as the plasm found in a hellpit or the strange light produced by an exposed clathrate, or being caught in a flaring celestial lense. This sort of mutation is impersonal and can affect humanoids, monsters, regular animals, pretty much anything alive and some things that aren’t.
Meddling mages has the advantage of being the easiest method to explain, as well as leaving the door wide open for any sort or class of mutations. The downside is that unless some consistency is used with the Mutatgenic Ooze, using magic as the culprit can come across as lazy, uninspired, or pure handwavium.
Chaos happens. Sometimes it’s a spring that appears in the middle of the desert, sometimes it’s an uncharted island right next to a shipping lane. You can call it a higher power at work, but think of the child born with four eyes, or the two headed calves, and then think it is a higher power, something divine or infernal. There are places where things don’t work right, places that if you go, or if you see leave their mark on you. If you are lucky you just go mad, if you are very unlucky you are left twisted, with a serpent for an arm, two heads, a taste for blood, or some other mish-mash of accidental body parts. I was one of the unlucky ones, which is why I wear a leper’s shroud. No one can see what touching the madness of the void did to me. Curious? You want to see?
Into every fantasy there are things that are not meant to be known, not meant to be seen. These things, be it twisting nether, warp space, the blind eternities, or the daydreams of the demi-urge just being close to them changes the fabric of reality, mutating living flesh. All you have to be is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Like the magic theory, the chaos theory leaves the door of variety open, and also retains the notion that a mutant can be innocent, a victim. Unlike the magic item theory, the usage of chaos limits the numbers of mutants and where an evil magic user could create his own cadres of mutants with ooze, with the presence of chaos, he would have to control the area where it appears, or create an artificial portal to said manifestation of chaotic energy.
The sacral node seems to be working fine, yet the problem of the functionality of the tail still eludes me. The subject has tactile sensation from the new appendage, but none of the muscle groups seem to be responding. Perhaps there has been a misapplication of the binding spells or an alchemical imbalance in the uguents I used. I will have to remove the tail and try again.
The Home-Made Mutant
Not all mutation is random, some is done intentionally. This can range from alchemical potions that cause a body to change shape to strange sorceries and exotic magics that meld bodies together. A final product might be desired, but in something as imprecise as patching bodies together there are going to be a great number of cast-offs, failed experiments, botched creatures and all sorts of anger, hostility and resentment on the part of the experimentee. On a side note, there can be entire cultures that exist upon such willful mutation.
The Home-Made mutant has the advantage of adding a boss level encounter with whatever the final mutant desired was. After a group of heroes fight their way through a catacomb of ghoulish mutants with three and four poorly constructed arms, they encounter the final product, the six armed war mutant that can use a weapon in each hand. On the down side, these mutants can quickly become moralizing about medical experimentation.
The blood’s bad, always has been. Breedin to close together, sleeping with animals, all sorts of bad juju. You try not to look too hard when some of the Bottomers come up to buy supplies. They have a bit of gold, you just don’t look at their eyes that don’t match, or the withered hands, or the extra limbs. It ain’t polite, and they ain’t bad folk, just queer.
Mutation, It Happens
Sometimes mutation just happens. The cause of the mutants is a localized event that is rare or singularly occurring. Once the initial mutants were created, they pass on their diseased genes to the next generation creating more. These mutants can very easily go bad as they are very likely pariahs and outcasts from their parent community. In this case, these mutants have a closely knit community, are suspicious of outsiders, and are loyal to a fault once their friendship has been gained.
Classes of Mutant
Rather than providing a 1D100 table of random mutations or an accompanying 30 Mutants submission, I’d rather cover a few broad categories of mutants.
The weakest sort of mutant, this creature has gained no special abilities from their mutation. Either they are no more capable than a normal human or equivalent member of their race, or are weaker. Deviants are likely to be among the most common mutants, as the majority should ideally be funny, absurd, or tragic looking members of their parent race.
The mongrel man is a mutant who is a mish-mash of random parts. While they might have a neat ability such as a giant lobster claw, it is overshadowed by a similar mutant flaw, such as being aquatic in nature, or allergic to sunlight. Mongrels of this sort are reviled even by the mutant community in general.
The make-up mutant has purely cosmetic mutations that serve only to separate them from their parent race. A human with one cyclopean eye, being covered in profuse stiff hair, having a dangling proboscis like trunk, or having extra limbs that are atrophied or non-functional wings constitute cosmetic mutants.
Another very common sort of mutant, Lumpy has misshapen limbs, potato-like heads and other malformations that clearly mark them as being disfigured members of their parent race. Lumpy mutants can very often bear significant grudges and easily join evil organizations and fall into unacceptable behavior. Lumpy mutants are technically make-up mutants but are prevalent enough to warrant their own entry.
The basic mutant has one ability that sets them apart from a basic human. With some effort, they can pass for their parent race for a short time under minimal scrutiny.
The beast man mutant has a number of animalistic traits and features. While sometimes these are a hinderance, most of the time, the beast-man mutant is moderately superior to the parent race in it’s area of expertise. A half-wolf beast man will be a better tracker and hunter than a similar human without said mutations. The beast man in question is also much more likely to have fleas and be killed by a group of heroes who think him a werewolf rather than a mutant. Most beast men mutants are a blend of common animal, usually a predator, a mammal or a reptile.
Be it scales, thick warty hide, or chitinous plates, this mutant is just tough. Likely to be inured to suffering and pain, the Tank wades into combat as a living shield and likely user of heavy weaponry such as great clubs and mauls.
Much like the cosmetic level Lumpy mutant, the Slavering mutant is basically humanoid but obviously disfigured and horrific in appearance. Beyond the basic lumpy, the slavering mutant has increased strength, and speed. While not automatically tougher than their parent race, they are a good deal stronger. A slavering human mutant could bare handed tear the limbs from a basic human, and could go toe to toe with larger humanoid races such as trolls or ogres. Slavering mutants, as their name implies, are brutal and vicious monsters.
Uncommon among mutants, the freaks are mutants that are no longer recognizable as members of their parent race. These are extensive mutations that have given the mutant in question three to five inhuman abilities. These mutants can have serious flaws, but for the most part, these flaws are minor considering the strength of their mutation based powers. Most freaks are in the thrall of a greater evil master, usually by indoctrination, fear, or magical manipulation. When freaks turn against their masters, it is never pretty.
This mutant has been grafted with so many additional limbs that the original body is almost lost among the joints and hands and feet. This mutant is fast moving, able to scale almost any surface, and if engaged in close combat can rip armor plates off of a foe, tear clothing, and generally shred foes with whatever sharp things it can find.
The Mongrel Master
Unlike the pitiable mongrel man, the Mongrel Master is a mish-mash of devastating weapons. This mutant might be covered with armored scales, have poison spines bristling from it’s fists and joints, and have multiple hearts for greater endurance.
This mutant combines the best features of a monster or animal with the strongest traits of the parent race. These mutants are strong, often driven by massive territorial and dominance based urges. Such examples might be a combination of bear and troll, or an eagle and an elf.
There is almost nothing left of the original parent race in this level of mutation. Mutants of this magnitude are often the culmination of years of mutation, dark gifts, and other things that have driven the process of change beyond what most mutants experience. Nothing terrestrial is really out of the question for the abomination level mutant.
The Ooze mutant retains it’s intelligence and sentience even now that it’s body has been reduced to a homogenous jelly like substance. Like a slime or ooze, the ooze-mutant is a stalker and ambush monster that attacks with alien like psuedopods backed by a once human intelligence.
This mutant has been swollen to the three times the normal size of a human. It’s limbs are massive clubs of bone and calluses and it exists only to smash things at the command of it’s mutant-rider.
The Wing Mutant
Through drastic body modification, this mutant has sacrificed everything not expendable to gain the power of flight. Long membranes of flesh and spider thin hands make up the wings, while the skull is smaller and arrow shaped.
Roleplaying and Gaming Notes
The ideal use of the mutant is as a goon or a mook, expendible minions that are sword fodder for PCs. In this role, they are little different than orcs, zombies, or brigands. Unlike those minions, the mutant is has the functionality of being a victim as few would choose to become horrific lumpy ghoulish monsters. In contrast to the ‘please don’t kill me I used to human like you!’ there are plenty of mutants who will have forsaken their humanity to embrace monstrous natures.
Creating Mutants isn’t horribly difficult, a few minutes with a random table of mutations can render pages of usable mutants. But the real value of the mutant is lost if the humanity behind the monster is overlooked. Aside from creating mish-mashed mutants with extra odd bits tacked on, mutants can be made by several other methods. A mutant can emulate another monster, such as the Ooze-mutant copying the basic ooze monster, just starting with human material. If the previous note of humanity is used, it is less likely that a player will recognize a reskinned monster being called a mutant. Another basic technique is to give a mutant a few abilities from a monster that you like to use. Then, add a few bits to make the mutant visually appealing. There is no reason a mutant can’t have poisonous blood, regeneration, chameleon skin, gills, or any other neat trick or ace up the sleeve to thwart PCs.
The mutant also can be a customizable ace in the hole for a DM. If the players in question are abusing a rule or mechanic, or even item, a mutant can be tailor made to eliminate it and a suave DM can pass it off as a random from the cuff creation. After getting all new metal armors in a metal poor setting, a Rust Monster/Mutant can be brought in to restore balance without the cussing and groans from players who know that the only reason the Rust monster exists is to destroy magical items.
1. Super-Group - This term I use with no connotation of superiority, rather as a term encompassing multiple monster entries that fall under the same basic umbrella. Unintelligent undead such as zombies, skeletons and their kin would be a super group as would be the Orc-goblin-hobgoblin faction.