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A barren, frozen planet. A pristine icefield, burnished and cleared by constant katabatic gales. Graven in elegant Old High Martian glyphs a meter deep in the never-thawing ice, a mathematical proof of such beauty and elegance as to make a genius weep...and a series of universal planetary coordinates. No advanced species could forbear to investigate further!
These are the work of the Neh-Thalggu, more commonly known as the Braincrabs. Know them. Fear them. Do not trust them.
Rugose and four-limbed, the first instar is little more than a brain-shaped crustacean beast. (Little Nolzur's Intellect Devourers, came with the Alhoon or Illithilich.) They are shed when the parent has a surfeit of brains and wishes to jettison lesser ones to make room for greater.
Most perish, being less clever than their prey. But if one can bring down a sentient creature through luck and stealth and devour its central ganglion or brain...it begins to grow, absorbing the knowledge and cunning of its prey, much as some sea slugs repurpose the stinging cells of their prey and make them their own.
After absorbing a few brains, the instar grows into a juvenile. This involves generating more frontal eyes and a pair of brutal skull-cracking pincers. Recently-added brains are sequestered into thin-shelled bubbles, an adaptation to make sure other, stronger Braincrabs do not kill them when marauding.
The juveniles are very dangerous, acting as psionic predators with the strength of a tiger and the intelligence of three or four sentient creatures, all brought to bear on the problem of obtaining more brains. Depending on its previous history, it is very likely to outwit the average sentient being.
A Braincrab that has assimilated more than eight brains again metamorphoses, this time into a mountainous, many-limbed hulk, a spiny rugose colossus with a first-class think tank worth of neural tissue working for it. Psionic power abounds, and the elder Braincrab can create immersive illusions at-will or psychically dominate lesser wills.
The really unpleasant bit is the way it will out-argue you and succeed. It can make an excellent claim to being a Utility Monster, better at experiencing both reality and pleasure in the cosmos than us single-brained chumps. And what gives it the most pleasure, on the level you and I could never experience? (for so it claims, and has data to back it up--is the data faked? if so, it's too good for us to be able to tell!)? Why, devouring and assimilating more sentient brains! Do you have inconvenient brains in your society? Antisocial or sociopathic ones? It can redirect those energies! Oh, it's a persuasive monstrosity!
The Martians fear and detest them, of course, having as they do great juicy brains practically dripping psionic energy.
But hunting something that is hunting you, while your strongest weapon is their favorite prey--it's not easy!
A Martian High Intelligencer can outwit all but the eldest Braincrabs, but the gamble is a perilous one indeed. You do NOT want a braincrab with the powers of a High Intelligencer. That's how you get a planet converted to a brain farm, which in turn leads to Great Old Ones. Not even once!
Oddly, the best defense against the Braincrab is a hive of the insectoid Mandibulate Commonweal. One has the intelligence of a beast, two of a slightly smarter beast, five of an average human...and a whole hive can rival a supercomputer. Their individual brains are not worth a Braincrab's attention, and yet the hivemind can outmaneuver it intellectually as easily as the workers can swarm and savage it physically.
The Commonweal will not gain knowledge from the reclaimed brains, though. Only nourishment.
Below, how to make a juvenile Braincrab.
FROM SPACE IT CAME! Its motives--INSCRUTABLE! Its desires--UNKNOWN! This is why the Galacteer Academy requires three semesters of Xenodiplomacy, cadet!
This spacefella was an excellent excuse to experiment with colorshift paints.
Betty (50150) and Rizzo investigate.
Further scans are necessary!
Good news! It seems to be benevolent, desiring only TO SERVE MAN. Whew! What a relief! That could have gone so much worse. Another crisis averted, thanks to the Galacteers!
These have been pending for a while, but waiting on an impenetrable and incomprehensible bureaucracy is very much in character.
A formidable trio of problem solvers and troubleshooters, here to defend Lunar-Kompleks Alfa!
Comrade Janiss has Blue-level clearance for equipment needed to contain 'unscheduled reality incursions.'
Comrade Jonesy prefers to rely on tried-and-true methods of containing ideologically impossible entities (i.e., more radiation is a good thing):
whilst Comrade Janey, knowing that incorporeal entities are degenerate religious propaganda of Earth pig-dogs, has never met a ghost she couldn't punch.
POW! RIGHT in the dialectically-material kisser!
Lunar-Kompleks Alfa is not proud of eccentric elements such as these, but they have saved the station on several occasions. Space Ghosts are, of course, a delusion...but a particularly persistent one. And on the barren, cratered moon, who ARE you going to call?
Look at this dude. What a sculpt. I choose to believe he's convinced he's 'undercover,' 'perfectly disguised as a human.' This is Broose Axe from Zombiesmith.
There is just a lot of personality and backstory implicit in that surly face and sloppy casual wear. The Andromedan's deep-cover specialist, perhaps? Or perhaps just a slacker enjoying some Terran culture.
Either way, I'm going to say there's some sneaking involved.
And that in the Juvenalian Jeeves and Wooster tradition, that his valet/baggage handler (Zombiesmith's Vaelant Goos) is the brains behind any particular operation.
Leave Broose on his own and it's just going to be a disaster. Medical science isn't even sure how an Andromedan can even GET that kind of disease!
Guest appearances by a Hydra Valkeeri Leader and Galacteer Cadet Skippy, along with a couple other fellas, one an Ape Medic a friend was kind enough to give me.
Matthew Beauchamp recently sculpted an excellent line of Dragon Men for his Retroverse. I had to get them--and they are massive and burly, about 45mm or so! Great scaly brutes,
But the heads were a little less reptilian and more orcish than I would like, having committed to the Antediluvian aesthetic of Buckland Rogers. Don't worry, I'll find a use for that head somewhere.
So I took a couple of hours with Green Stuff and a dental tool and made a new hunchbacked crocodilian/mosasaur head, scarred and with a toothy muzzle. This is a prominent NPC in my spacefuture games, Atrox the weapons merchant.
He is about nine foot tall, cheerfully violent and moderately amoral. Won't sell biological weapons or anything with long-half-life decay products, but otherwise it's fair game if you have the credits.
Pretty scarred about the face and neck, because he's a professional and insists on testing each type of weapon before selling. Also from ritual Laser-Glaive duels.
I have decided his species mostly practices gigantocracy: whoever is biggest gets to rule. Not a perfect system, but very good at supply logistics and famine avoidance.
"Perhapf sir would care to infpect our line of Deathshead blafters? Only the finest quality!"
"Flamerf, zapperf, plafma-bolterf, we got it. Throw in a laser free with every third purchase."
"We think thif one is from the future. I call it an Ontological Disruptor. Dunno HOW it works, but push thif button and the target vanishes from the physical univerfe for 6.3 secondf. The savvy tacticianf can immediately fee the poffibilitief."
"Or perhapf sir would like a more ELEGANT weapon, from a leff civilized age?"
"Clubf, maces, nooses, axes single or double, goads, prods, glaivef, fpears, throwable mambelef--oh, the Vault?"
"I see that sir is a discerning customer! Only the moft DEVAFTATING beam weaponf and mortarf to be found thif side of New Xibalba!"
"But don't juft take MY word for it! Liften to the teftimonialf of our satisfied customerf!"