Back before I stopped listening to Radiolab (because every single one of their shows eventually becomes about death, and it began to bum me out) I really enjoyed one of their episodes about emergence—how simple systems, including the behavior of individual insects, can yield surprisingly complex results and even problem-solving behavior when these entities work in concert.
And so we have the hive mind beetle swarm—a species whose control over electricity is such that, when coalesced into a swarm, they operate as a psychic magic-wielding, CR 13(!) creature so intelligent (Int 15) it can communicate with other electricity-users and even read divine portents in thunderstorms.
Of course, all that is dependent on having a critical mass of hive mind beetles swarming together in the first place. And while PCs shouldn’t feel guilty about eradicating these lightning-charged horrors—they are ravenous consumers of mammalian flesh—they will be put in the odd place of murdering a mind well before they stamp out the swarm that constituted it.
A blue dragon uses a hive mind swarm as a sentry, spy network, and lair cleaner (the hungry bugs are very thorough). Early on the blue dragon found it expedient to pose as a thunder god to compel the newly conscious swarm’s obedience. After a recent breeding cycle, the growing collective has gained enough sentience that it has begun to question its master’s divinity and his right to rule them.
Aboard a wandering starship, a crew of android biologists experimented with using a colony of hive mind beetle swarms as a kind of living computer. After the ship crashed on a medieval world, one of the swarms got loose. The three remaining swarms still inhabit the downed vessel, fed by the biomass the ship’s nanocollectors continually assemble for them. The swarms have crude control over some of the ship’s systems (including internal doors, lights, and certain mechanisms they operate as traps). If interlopers breach the vessel, the swarms use this control over the ship as leverage to gain their freedom.
A hive mind beetle swarm seeks to enter a college of the psychic arts. This raises several questions, both philosophical (what constitutes a person versus a mind?) and practical (how do we keep it from eating the other students?) in nature. The shedu psychic who runs the college seems inclined to allow the swarm to audit, but given his centuries of experience and the beetles’ facility in locating lost artifacts, his long-term plan may be more subtle than the education of insects.
—Occult Bestiary 29
It’s been a while since we had an Occult Bestiary monster!
I’m spending New Year’s at a fancy private school in New England…whose guest Internet access blocks nearly every useful site on Earth, including Tumblr, Blogger, and even Paizo and Google, apparently. Guess how amused I was to discover that at 11:30 PM last night…