When in search of new creature for a RPG session or campaign to entertain the fellow players at home, a GM is well advised to turn to old scifi stories for inspiration. Especially short stories are a wonderful source as their format makes sure that the available descriptions and further data are provided in easy-to-access-and-digest chunks of text. Take by way of example the Cedrans that are mentioned in the 1980s short story “The Stone City” by George R.R. Martin.
“By night, the Cedrans were terrifying. He’d seen them many times on the darkened streets of the stone city, moaning in their soft speech and swaying sinister. Their segmented torsos unfolded into three meters of milk-white maggotflesh, and they had six specialized limbs; two wide-splayed feet, a pair of delicate branching tentacles for manipulation, and the wicked fighting-claws. The eyes, saucer-sized pools of glowing violet, saw everything. By night, Cedrans were beings to be avoided. By day, they were immobile balls of meat.” [Quote: Stone City / George R.R. Martin]
This is a description of one the alien races that inhabit a city with a star port. It is brief and to the point but paints a vivid picture of a creature that would make for a wonderful encounter for your player group. While many people are familiar with Martin´s more recent and commercial successful work (like Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones) his older short stories are not so well known. Which is a shame, mind you. I recommend Sandkings, Star Lady and In the House of the Worm, which I bought as used books over the internet.
Now, back to topic and to the Cedrans (singular: a Cedran). Besides being nocturnal creatures that seem to be aggressive and fierce Stone City describes them as living in small family like units called “nests” and attributes to them the ability to write (at least in a sign-based language to mark their nest huts), to craft objects, a tradition of ancestor worship and a strict code of honor. The later I would like to explain with a further quote from the short story.
“The polished, jeweled fighting-claws of some illustrious ancestor sat in an honored place on the wall, but Holt was careful not to touch them. If their family god was stolen, the entire nest would be obliged to find the thief or commit suicide”
This points to a code of honor with draconic consequences. The mentioned nest contained five individuals, three of them adults.
So, how to use the Cedrans in an RPG?
In a classic fantasy setting they make for a good “minor race” that the major civilizations (humans, elves and dwarfs are the usual suspects here) don´t have much contact with or might have driven back themselves generations ago as they settled in a region. With this set-up the Cedrans are a civilization that is not widespread (and perhaps about to die) but that most folks will have heard rumors about. If the “history of war” is added, there will even be a reason why the Cedrans keep away from the other races (which they see as invaders) and to be rather hostile towards them. Individual nests of Cedrans might be encountered in the wilds, and if the characters don´t leave the area quickly they will have a run-in with one or more of its inhabitants at night. Even if such an encounter does not immediately end in a fight, it might very well have a hostile undertone to it and be the prelude to the appearance of a complete little Cedran war party on the night to follow. I suggest to make use of a language barrier here and to emphasize the body language of the Cedran. Us humans tend to fear the alien, and writhing maggot-men are as alien as it gets.
In settings with extensive cave systems and a large underworld the Cedrans would make a fine addition to the portfolio of underground races. Individual nests could have loose alliances with other races and factions, or could simply sit in their own territory and try to keep trespassers out. After all, a species that seems to be completely vulnerable during sleep is well advised to remove potential attackers from the vicinity their nests.
In a scifi game I see the Cedrans not as a space faring race but as rather primitive one that reached the stars by being taken along on the ships of other species. The individual Cedrans encountered by the characters might thereby be members of nest colonies that underwent some kind of exodus or could be the interstellar equivalent of nomad families. If a GM plays up the mentioned honor aspects and assumes that certain kind of crimes against a nest (or other perceived violations) demand a violent response from a Cedran by cultural standards, individual nests might be forced to leave non-Credran worlds regularly to avoid the responses of the local law agencies to what the Cedrans consider justice.
In a weird post-apocalyptic setting the Cedran could be a a stable mutant race, perhaps one that emerged rather recently and that the PC are thereby about to discover on their journeys. As race of maggot-mutants the Cedrans might be similar to Neanderthal tribes in habit. One or more Cedran nests near a ruin could be the perfect reason for why it has not be plundered yet, as any group that stays near after dark is likely to have a run-in with those nightly terrors. Especially if one assumes that they could recognize the shine of a fire in the night from miles away.
Even in a game centered on the Mythos, as created by H.P.Lovecraft, the Cedrans will fit in nicely. Most players who enjoy that kind of games are familiar with the Mi-Go, the Great Race and other parts of the wonderful and wondrous menagerie the works of Lovecraft provide to us. But confronted with a Cedran the very same players might pause for once and (finally?) experience what initially made the stories of H.P. great: an encounter with something unknown, alien and menacing. In such a setting the Cedran could either be used as a replacement for the Mi-Go or as species that is a slave or an ally to them. Due to their nocturnal nature the Cedrans can easily be seen as a species is at home at the dark planet of Yuggoth, too.
Last but not least, in a setting where planes of existence overlap another and nexus points of inter-dimensional pathways create exotic cities that house dozens of strange species and cultures, the Cedrans make for a good further addition if a GM threatens to run out of strangeness to add into the stew.
As this article of mine already borders on what us internet-people tend to call a “Wall of Text”, I shall stop here for today. Stay tuned for a further article where I will suggest stats for some RPG systems (but only after I continued my CARCOSA / CHTHONIAN HIGHWAYS conversion).