The Effulgence brought many gifts to the folk of the sewerscape. The blind creatures known as Starsnouts were given one of the greatest gifts of all – a second sight, which they call the Mindscent. Powerful psychics and prognosticators, these Molekin are also amongst the most dangerous denizens of the tunnels. The mass of slimy tentacles sprouting from about their nostrils are not only physically powerful, able to wrench a Ratkin’s head from his neck with the twist of a tendril, they contain psionic receptors giving the Starsnouts the ability to literally smell the minds of others and, through concentration, the power to manipulate and mutilate them. As a result, Starsnouts are usually served by a caste of psychically dominated thralls, who perform virtually all manual labour in Starsnout settlements. The Starsnouts themselves dedicate themselves principally to mystic matters. Indeed, most Starsnout tribes resemble religious cults, dedicated to ancient idols dredged from the muck, particularly revering ancient machines that exude powerful vibrations: rusted jukeboxes, washing machines, autopianos, stereos, and other devices the Starsnouts are able to psychically power (such machine-deities effectively run on “prayer” – through the collective mental adoration of their worshippers). Being blind, Starsnouts usually eschew guns and similar weapons favoured by other tribes. They have few laws save prohibitions against blasphemy and similar malfeasances; heretics, smelled out by Starsnout inquisitors, are punished by having their nasal tentacles severed, leaving them powerless and blind.
There are hundreds of different Mouldkin strains in the sewerscape, but none more common than the insidious Mouldwight. Shambolic husks reanimated by the fungi that infest them, Mouldwights appear as near-skeletal corpses covered in fruiting bodies, their skulls often crowned by a prodigious mushroom-cap or cluster of puffballs (depending on subspecies). Displaying rudimentary intelligence and an alien, predatory cunning, Mouldwights roam the tunnels below in search of additional carcasses to colonize. If they come across living beings they do not hesitate to attack, breathing clouds of toxic spores which, if inhaled, infect a host and slowly eat away at them from the inside-out, necrotizing their organs and spreading beneath their flesh, finally bursting through their skin in a horrific profusion of caps, stalks, and toadstools. Many Mouldwights also possess lash-like, cankerous tendrils they use to pull victims towards them in order to administer their corruptive exhalations. Mouldwights rapidly decompose their host bodies, however, and eventually the decayed remnants of their hosts simply collapse. The Mouldwight fungi linger for a short while before withering and dying, unless a new host wanders by in the meantime. Because Mouldwights can reproduce quickly they frequently form packs, coordinating their efforts to trap would-be prey – presumably the creatures communicate using spores since, unlike some Mouldkin, Mouldwights do not speak. They are highly vulnerable to fire, sunlight, and fungicides, and prefer the dampest, darkest areas of the tunnels – fortunately for them, such areas are common in the mildewed labyrinth of the sewerscape.
Some believe Vermigorgons are mutated humans, warped into their current form by the Effulgence. Others claim they were birthed in bygone days by the Biowitches of yore as living weapons, experiments that escaped into the sewers and thus survived the conflagration above. Physically, they resemble human females (indeed, their bodies are closer to pre-Effulgence humans than most Trampkin) but with a mass of writhing, giant earthworms sprouting from their scalps instead of hair. Through some quantum psychokinesis, a Vermigorgon can use her powers of observation to radically affect the molecular makeup of her surroundings, transmuting almost any known substance into mud simply by looking at it. In this manner Vermigorgons can dig tunnels through the sewerscape and deliquesce predators and enemies, making them extremely dangerous foes. The power is activated through the use of a specialized nictating membrane a Vermigorgon can almost instantly draw across her eyes; normally this membrane is drawn back into a Vermigorgon’s face. Vermigorgons seem to dislike one another and rarely congregate in numbers. Gatorkin, Frogkin, and other creatures are sometimes adopted by Vermigorgons as bodyguards, consorts, and servants; their lairs are usually labyrinthine mud-warrens with many mud pools where minions frequently lurk. The motivations of Vermigorgons are frequently inscrutable and highly individualistic. Certain members of the species have been known to collect large libraries, obsessing over matters of ancient history or mystic lore, while others lead hedonistic lives of debauchery and decadence. Few seem to aspire to positions of real power, however – something which other denizens of the sewerscape are thankful for.
Some time ago I ran an intense but short-lived forum game called Underdeep, a play-by-post strategic roleplaying game where the players adopted the role of subterranean rulers warring for control of an underground realm. Underdeep featured a pretty typical fantasy world – deliberately vanilla (Orcs, Goblins, Dwarves, Dark Elves, etc) – but while running it I found myself wondering about alternate possibilities for underground worlds…
The Great Effulgence burnt the world above to a cinder, and now only Blindghasts and gibbering Glowghosts dwell in the Lambent Lands above, lingering in the poisonous, glimmering wreckage of the megacities that once spanned the globe. But down below, in the vast, interlinked sewer systems of those incinerated metropolises, life survived and thrived. In the irradiated entrails of the earth, a seemingly endless labyrinth of pipes, passages, shafts, and tunnels, new societies have arisen, tribes of animals and people twisted by the same corruptive energies that desolated the world above.
The Ratkin are the most common – scabrous, plague-ridden scavengers and raiders who roam the tunnels in murderous Mischiefs, plundering and stealing, hoarding treasure in their feculent Middens. The various Molekin tribes dwell deeper, extending the sewerscape with fresh excavations. Perhaps most formidable of the Molekin societies are the Naked Queendoms, militant hive-realms dedicated to conquest and empire, though individually the dreaded psionic monstrosities known as the Starsnouts are more dangerous, telepathic abominations who delight in violating the minds and bodies of their enemies with their psionic powers and writhing nasal tentacles. Then of course there are the Gatorkin, a pack of depraved, inbred, albino lizard-people with an insatiable longing for raw flesh, the nigh-unkillable, survivalist Roachkin, the conniving Batkin, the revolting, carrion-feeding Flykin, the rabid Racoonkin, and the pallid, mewling Trampkin, warped descendants of the tunnel-dwelling homeless.
Yet these creatures are not the only denizens of the sewerscape. In the lower tunnels stranger beings stir. The seething horror known as the Wormhost squirms through the lowermost bowels of the world while the protoplasmic Filth Elementals self-assemble out of coagulate effluvia made animate by the puissant rays that scoured the surface. Deranged machines wander the deep places, pining for their former masters, while in certain ancient caverns of primordial origin the Wizened Ones groan in their dotage…
A handful: Necromunda, Redwall, Gamma World, Fallout, Metro 2033, Railsea.
I’ll be writing this as systems-neutral, but good systems would include hacked-up versions of Savage Worlds, Mutant Future, Omega World/Gamma World, d20 Modern, and probably lots of other systems.