The maggot farmers

I’ve always found something a little creepy about Breughel’s engraving “The beekeepers.” Before I learned the title of the picture, the basketry masks looked, to me, like sawed-off tree stumps, and I thought these were more of his Bosch-like monsters. The furtive sidelong glance of the left-most beekeeper also seems vaguely sinister to me, as does the central figure’s stiff posture and limp arms. There is something wrong with him; maybe he is in a trance.

These beekeepers with their blank wicker masks remind me of the featureless faces of the figures in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity,” a woodcut I first saw as a child in a book of optical illusions. Here is a detail:

Although I never found these guys eerie or disturbing, once I had a fairly odd dream that reminds me of both images.

In my dream there were zombie-like creatures that were descending the steps of a tower. Their heads looked approximately like paper wasp nests while their bodies were those of normal people. Their heads were surrounded by a halo of flies, which flew in and out of them. In my dream these zombies were largely unaffected by damage to their bodies (like Romero’s zombies), but when struck with a heavy blow to the head, or when knocked down, their heads would shatter like clay pots and a cloud of flies would emerge. These flies would attempt to infect people by crawling into their orifices (ears, nose, mouth, even eyes). In my dream I thought of the whole phenomenon as a sort of fungal infection for some reason. I found the whole thing fairly stomach-turning but when I awoke I wanted to develop the image into a short story, which I never did, although the image does come back to me once in a while.

So, instead I’ve decided to incorporate them as a new monster in my Telengard game.

<My players, if they happen to be reading, should stop now!>

Maggot Farmers

No. appearing: 4-24

AC: 8

HD: 3

Attacks: d6/d6 (fists) or infection

Move: 12″

Treasure type: C

Saves: as Fighter 3

The Maggot Farmers (so-called because they have been observed to tend to “crops” of maggots when no living victims are accessible) are zombie-like creatures. They are humans, humanoids, or demihumans that have been infected by strange foreign flies, which nest in their skulls. The victim’s head is usually encased in a hard, mud-like shell, giving their heads the appearance of a wasp nest; this semblance is enhanced by the swarming flies which fly in and out of the “nest”.

In combat they strike with their fists (2 attacks for d6 each due to their unnatural strength). Victims beaten into submission will be infected — flies will swarm out of the creature’s skull and into the unconscious or dead creature’s orifices. In 2d6 rounds the infection will be complete and the victim will rise as new Maggot Farmer. The brain is completely riddled with maggots , and the Maggot Farmer will remember nothing of its former life or abilities.

Maggot Farmers can be destroyed by damaging spells and magical effects, as well as normal fire, but they resist most weapon damage as follows: Maggot Farmers take damage only from blows to the head (AC 4). Body blows that do at least 8 points of damage will, however, knock them down, with a 50% chance that the fall will fracture the head, killing the Maggot Farmer but releasing a swarm of flies. Killing the creature with head blows also releases a swarm of flies. In either event, these flies will attempt to land on and infect the closes living human, demihuman, or humanoid. Victims must save vs. Poison immediately and on each round the flies swarm on them. Failure results in infection, which will turn the victim into a Maggot Farmer in 2d6 rounds if unconscious or in 2d6 turns if the victim is conscious when infected. The flies can be killed with fire, cold, drowning, or swatting — 5 points of cold or fire damage must be inflicted, or the flies submerged for 5 rounds, or 4 rounds of swatting will be required to kill them (any fire or cold damage will also affect anyone covered in said flies). Players may discover that coating one’s skin thoroughly in oil, or in certain herbal concoctions, will repel the flies too. Large groups will often have treasure collected from their victims — new Maggot Farmers will toss anything they were carrying prior to infection onto a heap in the lair.

Maggot Farmers killed by fire, drowning, spells that do not rely on impact for damage (i.e. not Earthquake, Bigby’s Hand spells, Spritual Hammer, and so on), freezing, or acid do not release flies.

The motives, if any, of the Maggot Farmers are unknown. They are brainless and unintelligent, but if left alone will cultivate maggots and flies in large baskets similar to artificial beehives, and from a distance they might even be mistaken for beekeepers. They are not truly undead and cannot be turned, although they are unaffected by Sleep, Charm, Fear, and other mind-affecting spells.

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The one in the center is probably giving the news to the bees.

  2. Just a thought – this kind of content would make a nice, creepy ‘lead in’ to something like the old TSR module A1 or something similar.

    I’m thinking of a town that’s known for its honey, and that the family run beekeeping business has suddenly gone quiet. When the players investigate, they find the beekeepers have become drone-like servants to ‘insectoid’ clans…

  3. Like this idea. Creepy!

  4. coolest new monster i’ve seen in a while. and i had never seen that breughel before–thanks

  5. Yes, extremely evocative!

    In the Breughel image, the figure clasped to a tree branch in the background is clearly progressing to the next stage, where the host becomes a hive.

  6. That is disgusting and amazing.

    • And I probably shouldn’t have read it while eating. :/

  7. The Beekeepers, 1567 Pen and brown ink on laid paper

    Pieter Bruegel and his friends go to see Graaf de Hoorne get his head chopped off in the Grand’ Place. Bruegel is impressed by the heads being on display and then being put in baskets by hooded Inquisitors to send to King Phillip. He has a vision of Christ. The heads are put in baskets that look like beehives. Bruegel thinks about beekeepers who wear baskets over their heads, forms an image for a drawing.

  8. Awesome! I think I’ll try these chaps out for my topical islands OD&D game…

  9. […] and reappear on land, flooded and strewn with seaweed.  I also have been meaning to use the ‘maggot farmers‘ for some time, and the idea of tower, filled with foul water and decaying sea life, kind of […]

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