I have a soft spot for bugs that turns into humanoids and vice versa—note my affection for the aranea. But I think I like spooky “humanoids” that were bugs all along even better. Enter the xenopterid, a nicely creepy new monster from the Bestiary 4. The first time the mute barkeep in that run-down inn unfurls his wings and begins to munch on your character’s face, look up to see the grin on your GM’s.
There’s that famous example of peppered moth varieties being naturally selected for based on pollution levels. So it makes since that in a fantasy world a big enough moth would camouflage itself as a human.
Obviously, xenopterids are good side trek/at-a-stop-along-the-way monsters—note how their hives are found in “abandoned ruins, old castles, decrepit farmsteads, and similarly abandoned human structures,” according to the B4. If the PCs need a dash of experience or the dice haven’t turned up enough wandering monsters…well, let’s get creepy at that next barn.
But I also think xenopterids are good canary-in-the-coal-mine monsters—a first sense that things are about to go seriously wrong. In urban and dystopian settings, xenopterids might be a symbol of the rot in the heart of a city. (Consider Tangiers in the film version of Naked Lunch.) In a steampunk or New Weird setting, they might indicate pollution, magitechnical toxic waste, or evolution gone haywire. And even in a strictly high fantasy setting, they add a nice dash of dark. Like encountering skum or a marsh giant, running into a xenopterid might foreshadow that the next few sessions are going to be a bit darker than the usual goblin/orc/dragon adventure arc.
Oh, right—let’s not forget that if your character is killed by a xenopterid, your liquefied remains will be bottled in spheres for later consumption, either by the vermin themselves or by evil creatures who ferment the slurry for liquor. Sláinte!
Brothels are not permitted to serve alcohol in Tannery—a provision that keeps the girls somewhat safer, and keeps the taverners on the side of the Seamstresses’ Guild rather than the Church. The Crook and Tankard is the most rundown of the 14 bars squatting down the street from Madam Stone’s. By the time most patrons reach this far, they are so blind drunk they never notice the holes in the roof, the silence of the bartender, or the sticky patches by every exit…
Made from xenopterid capsules, the liquor Mothgut is popular in many evil societies. Duergar love it, but the authorities usually clamp down on any attempt at xenopterid “farming” or wholesale manufacture—producers are too apt to turn to slaves and indigent dark dwarves when other food sources dry up. Derros and hobgoblins are more enthusiastic, especially if there are plenty of goblins, kobolds, or humans in the area. They allow the hive to grow for a season and then use alchemical smoke or poisoned-laced goblins to knock out the drones while they harvest the capsules. Meanwhile, practical-minded adventurers who survive encounters with xenopterids have used the capsules to gain entrée into evil settlements where they might not otherwise be welcome.
An injured leucrotta has formed a symbiotic relationship with a hive of xenopterids. He lures victims to the vermin’s lair with his suggestive voice, then helps himself to a limb or two, snapping off his prize with his powerful bite and dashing away before the xenopterids can react.
—Pathfinder Bestiary 4 283
I tend to completely whiff on horror movie references and memes, so I’ll take the Internet’s word for it that xenopterids recall the Mimic franchise. Your thoughts?