Though the Dread are a force of evil in the Aliens & Asteroids universe, we only describe them in broad terms in the main book. There are many reasons for that, but mostly it was because I had one idea of what the Dread were for myself but I didn’t want to pigeonhole other GMs into thinking the same way right off the bat.
The Dread are a multidimensional evil beyond the human experience. This could be as simple as the “Bugs” from Aliens, Starship Troopers, or Ender’s Game. Or it could be as complex as the creatures from a Lovecraftian universe of horrors. I wanted it left to the GM to describe the Dread from their own points of view, customizing the experience for their players instead of simply reading something out of the book.
We described the Dread in a bit of detail in Chapter 7, talking about the Monarch and her loyal subjects – Queens, Lords, Harvesters, Brutes, and Soldiers – plus one of the signs of their handiwork, the Hollows. But in Chapter 6, we only provide stat blocks for Soldiers and Hollows.
Today we’ll dive a bit more into the Hollows, which ought to be one of the first active signs of the Dread most PCs discover…
Design Thoughts – Human Hollows
The Hollows were initially going to be simple zombies, drained of their life essence and under the basic control of their Dread masters. But they soon became much more.
Ultimately, when a Dread Harvester drains the life essence from a victim, that victim becomes part of the Dread hivemind, connected to every link in the chain from the other Hollows all the way up to the Monarch. Obviously they would have less of a voice in the din raised by all those minds, but anything they saw or encountered would be “known” by every other Dread in the vicinity and beyond. As extensions of the hive, they would help protect the Queen and all of the harvested life energy for the Monarch in a small way, contributing to the ultimate goal of satiating their Monarch.
Starting with humans, I discovered that they really couldn’t do much against an organized foe. A human, devoid of free thought and access to their own life experience, can essentially claw or bite an enemy. But when they got together, they were more of a force to be reckoned with. Two or more could grapple a target and pull it in multiple directions, potentially ripping off limbs or armor, eliminating weapons, and so on. Definitely more zombie-like in a George Romero sense.
But things are rarely that simple. What happens when the Dread encounter other forms of life? What would they do with native species on an alien world that were less organized and more primitive than human beings? That really started the wheels turning.
Design Thoughts – Lamprey Hollows
In the first adventure where our heroes actually encountered the Dread, there were multiple life forms on that world, including a species of lampreys. A lamprey on Earth looks like an eel, but has a toothed mouth that it uses to bore into its target (usually fish) and drains blood. They’re parasitic. And they’re not typically very big. Maybe 6 inches to three feet or a bit longer.
What happens if these lampreys are “enhanced” a bit when they’re a lower order on the food chain? Turns out the Queen and Harvester can work together to “enhance” some Hollows given enough time. If you take a look at the very end of Chapter 6, you’ll see some of the random traits they can gain as part of this enhancement. I hope people come up with others over time because I’d love to add to the list.
Alien Swamp Lamprey
When our heroes were exploring the first planet they found to have a small Dread presence, they encountered an alien species of lamprey in the lowland swamps they were tromping through. These creatures ignored the PCs, instead focusing on other fish and normal targets in the water. But as they explored the underground areas where the Dread started to call home, they discovered that they had transformed one of these lampreys into something much more ferocious and deadly.
- Space Lamprey (Low-level): Attribute 8, Traits: Swim (10m), Sprinter (in water) (doubles speed to 20m), Bite (d6), Lockjaw (additional d6 damage on Bite) (included in book)
- Space Lamprey, Enhanced (Mid-level): Attribute 11, Traits: Swim (10m), Sprinter (in water) (doubles speed to 20m), Bite (d6), Lockjaw (additional d6 damage on Bite), Drill (gnaws into target once locked on, drilling d6 into victim each turn), Tough Hide (AR2) (included in book)
- Space Lamprey, Enormous (High-level): Attribute 12/Toughness 14, Traits: Swim (10m), Sprinter (in water) (doubles speed to 20m), Bite (d6), Lockjaw (additional d6 damage on Bite), Drill (gnaws into target once locked on, drilling d6 into victim each turn), Tough Hide (AR2), Tough Bastard (HP: 24), Regenerating Health (heals 1 HP per turn) (NEW!)
The enormous Lamprey Hollow nearly killed one of the party’s NPCs (Space Marine Jennifer Yattara), who eventually upgraded her legs because she was so affected by the memory of being half eaten by this creature (read here). Imagine one of these things roughly 8 feet long, chomping on the legs of a full grown human and you will get the idea.
Note: Yes, I know technically actual lampreys only suck on their victims, but I imagine an alien vortex of suckers and serrated teeth used to cut open and help drain their victims more quickly — a genetic adaptation to having more size and a hunger on their side. This is a science fiction game with horror elements, after all! The scarier and more awful, the better!
Essentially the formula for a Dread Hollow is to take a planet, look at the life forms that may exist there, and then warp them to new levels of awful. There are no limits to the levels of horror you can achieve. The book includes a few additional ways to warp your poor victims, so apply them in creative ways to terrify your players!