Arcimboldo Syndrome

Scenario hook for a Fear Itself one-shot

Rudiger and Dietrich Thalbach had a problem. As descendants of the noble Vilsdorf family of ancient Bavaria, they were born as lebendurghul, or living ghouls. A congenital condition requires them to periodically ingest fresh human DNA or lapse into a feral, pre-sapient state. Their forebears compensated for this easily, by hunting, capturing and eating the occasional peasant or traveler.

For decades the Thalbach brothers continued the practice in their adopted homeland of America, a place where people regularly disappear without trace. This went awry when both were bitten by the lone star tick while seeking prey near their Florida lodge. They contracted alpha-gal syndrome, which confers a permanent allergy to meat and dairy products.

Unwilling to lose their personalities and devolve into outwardly evident monsters who would be discovered and culled by the authorities, they combined their skills. Rudiger, an experimental geneticist, and Dietrich, a rogue horticulturalist, devised a serum that would transform their living victims into plant-based products they could still ingest. They called this the Arcimboldo Formula, after Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th century painter whose surreal portraits depict people composed of various fruits and vegetables.

Captives injected with the serum, if suitably nourished, watered, and kept to an optimal temperature, sprout an unpredictable variety of fruits and vegetables before eventually dying of shock. These don’t taste particularly appetizing but become tolerable with generous quantities of sugar, butter, garlic or MSG. They do satisfy the brothers’ DNA consumption needs.

Recently one of their victims escaped mid-transformation, plunging into the swamp surrounding the brothers’ lodge. The dying plant being seeded itself, infecting the swamp’s snakes, crocodiles, deer, and nutria populations with Arcimboldo Syndrome.

The player characters are biologists from the fish and wildlife department and a local university. They enter the swamp to conduct a routine biodiversity survey, only to discover an entire ecosystem undergoing rapid, hideous mutation. Noting that the new plant-animal hybrids seem particularly suited for evolutionary survival in a time of climate change, some of the group may be tempted to leave them as a new, robust branch of life. However when the group’s GMC guide gets bitten by a botanicized alligator and begins to mutate, they realize they’ve been plunged into the fetid ground zero for an eco-horror catastrophe.

Invasive species that cross taxonomic kingdoms aren’t their only worry. Rudiger and Dietrich have run out of raw materials for their harvest. They also need to ensure that no nosy authorities learn of their increasingly strange nature preserve. The Thalbachs prefer to hunt with crossbows but may switch to rifles if their quarry demonstrates excessive competence.

Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into horror situations. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world.  Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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