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The Calixis Sector is the campaign setting for the first edition of Dark Heresy, the Warhammer 40,000 role-playing game. In this RPG, the player characters are low-powered agents of the Inquisition investigating (amongst other things) heretical cults. Within that setting, the Vile Savants are a manifested Warp disease that spread their infection via Plague Zombies.
"To our eyes, human existence is filled with hopes, desires, nobility and weakness. To see mankind through their eyes is to see the corn waiting for the reaper's scythe."
—Inquisitor Herrod, A Discourse on the Enemy Beyond.
The Vile Savants are a warp-spawned disease made flesh, sent to wrack worlds with suffering and drag them into festering ruin. There are no followers to their cause, no fanatics, and no deluded fools worshipping a false god, only the restless dead claimed by their plagues marching to the will of the daemon.
Legend among the worshippers of the Ruinous Powers has it that they were born of an unholy union of contagions unleashed centuries ago in a forgotten war. It said that in the distant past a great hospital ship was sent to tend the outbreaks of sickness and plague occurring as a result of the constant wars around the Eye of Terror. However, as well as alms and healers, it secretly carried another deadly cargo, an arsenal of dreadful weapons - biological agents, necrotic poisons, and alien fevers collected from a hundred worlds.
Legend has it that this great ark of salvation, whose name has been lost to myth, suffered a breach in its Geller Field while traversing the warp close to the Eye. In the moments that followed, the powers of the warp shattered the protective stasis of the deathly vault and sank into the viral samples aboard, filling them with unholy life and consciousness. The horrors that were unleashed quickly overwhelmed most onboard and sent a thousand screaming souls into oblivion. The medicae personnel trapped aboard faced a far darker fate indeed, as a daemon virus possessed them and made them its own flesh. With this, the Vile Savants were born, embodiments of unfeeling, indiscriminate death unleashed by the warp to wage a silent, implacable war against all life.
The Savants themselves are hideous to behold, reeking and defiled bio-containment suits filled with bubbling rot that stumble on, boneless and implacable, silent as death itself. These foul entities are possessed of the skills and knowledge of their long dead occupants coupled with a malign warp-intelligence and the occult might of the daemons of rot and pestilence. They are consumed by hatred for all that live and breathe and have the most horrific means of enacting their war of annihilation. The contagion that animates them is their dark harbinger, spilling out through the warp and infecting a single individual whose despair and morbidity attracts it from worlds away. From there, it spreads as plague, the infection runnning rampant and preparing the way for the Vile Savants to emerge, wreaking their vengeance and showering mankind with the gifts bestowed on them by the Lord of Decay.
The Vile Savants are daemonic entities who require no scheming mortal agents. They do not plot or foster nests of cultists, nor do they answer a sorcerer's summons when called (unless it suits their purpose). While other cults may spread like a disease, the Vile Savants are literally a warp spawned contagion. They spread and multiply through the flesh of reality just as mortal viruses spread from organ to organ, choking its host with sickness until it fails and collapses. The Vile Savants have a single and consuming desire: spread their contagion and kill until nothing is left alive. These horrors cannot be bargained with, reasoned with, placated, or diverted from this task.
The Ordo Malleus believes that this most unholy contagion is the design and will of the Ruinous Power called the Lord of Decay, known to some as Nurgle, Father of Plagues and Bringer of Despair. As warp entities, they serve to embody several types of daemonic contagions that are categorised by the Ordo Malleus as the Fydae Strain (named after the area of the Calixis Sector where they were first encountered). The Savants themselves are little more than murderous vessels, avatars of these hell-sent plagues. Each stage of a Fydae outbreak cycle escalates the amount of death and horror until it has reached such a weight of destruction that the barriers between real space and the warp can be breached, the dead walk, and the Vile Savants come to claim their master's prize.
Outbreaks of various strains of zombie plague or incidents where the dead have been known to rise as a result of a warp-spawned rift, fell-technology, or necromantic witchery have been known to the Imperium for millennia but are thankfully comparably rare. In recent decades, however, the sectors and worlds of the Segmentum Obscurus have seen a marked upturn in such incidents linked to disease cults and the ancient enemy.
The involvement of the entities known as Vile Savants in the outbreak of these awful plagues is likewise a new development and a dangerous one. They bring a malign intelligence to these events, making them far harder to combat or contain. The Holy Ordos Segmentum Tabernacle believes that the Vile Savants are responsible for various outbreaks of plague and the massacre of settlements, ships, and cities across the Segmentum Obscurus occurring in the Calixis, Mandragora, Medusan, and Ixaniad Sectors. Of particular concern to the Conclave Calixis is that in the last 50 years there have been five confirmed contacts with what has been named the Fydae Strain (after the Sutter's Rock outbreak) in the Calixis Sector.
Although far from the most common of the Holy Ordos's foes, the walking dead have long been known as a blasphemous foe of the Inquisition. Animated at the behest of fell sorcery or creations of the darkest of the psyker's arts, such creatures can make for powerful and loyal servants. Forbidden science can also bring a twitching carcass to a semblance of hungry life. To represent such unnatural abominations, use the Plague Zombie shown here, but remove the references to the Fydae Strain infection and modify them to suit your needs. For example, ravenous daemon-bound corpses with a taste for human flesh might have the Berserk Charge talent and +10 Strength and Agility but will be subject to Warp Instability. Alternatively, shambling creatures created from a baleful chemical spill or forbidden bio-weapon might have the Toxic quality to their attacks and lack the Unhallowed special rule, but have a fear of bright light or fire and continue to rot until they finally collapse.
Exposure and Chance of Infection:
Incubation Time: Varies between 10 minutes and five days (the GM decides).
Base Toughness Test Modifier to Resist: Hard (-10).
Effects: If the victim succumbs to any degree of failure, he is racked by an intense fever and green marks blossom on his flesh, which quickly withers and sloughs away. The victim also begins to vomit foul blood. These symptoms last for approximately an hour during which the victim suffers a -30 penalty to all Tests. After an hour, the victim is gripped by violent spasms and dies in agony, but may later return as a Plague Zombie.
During this time, medicine cannot save the victim but exorcism might (see the Purge the Unclean Talent, in The Inquisitor's Handbook), though this will likely leave the victim in a precarious state suffering -1d10 permanent Strength and Toughness Damage.
Immunities: Owing to its daemonic nature as a thing of despair and occult corruption, individuals with the Pure Faith or Rite of Pure Thought Talents, the From Beyond, Machine (3+) (unless they contain considerable living matter), or Daemonic Traits, or those with a Dark Pact cannot be infected by the Fydae Strain. Likewise, the Unshakeable Faith Talent provides a +20 bonus to resist infection.
Subject Zero: The first person infected by Fydae Strain only suffers intense fever for approximately an hour. After this time, they are a contagious carrier of the disease but will suffer no other effects from it. They are also immune to the effects of all other diseases and toxins.
The Vile Savants are a brutal and immediate threat and are ideally suited to high action scenarios focussing on character survival and the defence of innocent bystanders. The Savants and their rotting minions are violent and horrific antagonists, and there is unlikely to be much political subtlety in a scenario involving them! A good way to approach a classic outbreak scenario is to follow the progression of the zombie plague outbreak and then the arrival of the Vile Savants. Such scenarios could start from the beginning of an outbreak of an unknown disease. The Acolytes are then rushed in to determine the nature of the hazard, only to find themselves trapped and having to fend off tides of plague zombies.
Alternatively, an outbreak and subsequent arrival of the Vile Savants is a great, unexpected diversion that can interrupt an investigation in an unconnected matter. This last type of scenario is a classic case of the Acolytes just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A third option is to break things down and perhaps use the plague zombies without the Savants themselves - perhaps on a hulk or ship in transit, or perhaps a single Vile Savant is behind a diseased mutant cult that hunts down medicae personnel in order to sacrifice them to its hidden master. It is, however, advisable to treat infecting Acolytes with care, as the diseases involved in such scenarios are utterly lethal. It makes for a rather dull roleplay session to have the PCs drop dead as soon as they enter an area of infection! Plan your adventures accordingly.
The Vile Savants are creations of the Chaos powers of disease and pestilence, and, as such, daemonic creatures of the Lord of Decay heed their call and follow in their wake. Such daemonic incursions appearing in the final stages of the outbreak could include the Plague Bearer (see page 354 of Dark Heresy), the Plague Swarm detailed here, or any suitable rot-glutted daemon of your own design.
Like any disease, the contagion of the Vile Savants follows a particular pathology and path of infection as illustrated in the following section.
The cascade of events that culminate in the arrival of the Vile Savants begins with the infection of a single person. How this first infection occurs is not known for certain, as the ways of the Chaos Gods are fickle, but the Ordo Malleus believes it may be some deep and dark lesion within a person's spirit calls out to the contagion and it responds to that call. If true, it would be a dark and macabre despair of such singular depth and malice that it resonates in the warp and calls the disease like a moth to a flame. While the exact means of infection are confined to theory, the Inquisition has had several confirmed cases from which to establish how the contagion progresses once it has infected its first victim.
At first, the only sign is a period of intense fever and terrible nightmarish visions that passes in a matter of hours and leaves the host apparently in perfect health. As healthy as the person seems, his soul is now lost and he has become a fever that walks and a vessel for unholy disaster in the shape of the Fydae Strain. Utterly infectious and yet outwardly healthy, he ignorantly goes about his life, not knowing that the contagion inside him is tainting all he comes in contact with.
Thus, the carrier spreads the contagion with a thoroughness that could never be achieved by obviously sick individuals. It is with this subtlety that the Grandfather of Fever shows his genius and his beneficence. This first subject will never be touched by any disease or sickness ever again, but will infect and doom all he meets and so is destined to stand at the centre of a storm of pestilence and see all he cares for dissolve and decay. In the terminology of the Ordo Malleus and the Ordo Sepulturum, this blighted individual and most damned of souls is named "Subject Zero".
Once Subject Zero has unwittingly begun to spread the contagion, as time progresses, so will the spread of the plague at an ever-accelerating rate. Unlike mundane diseases, the contagion spread by Subject Zero can take weeks or hours to claim its first lives, dependant on its fickle daemonic nature. It is as if the disease itself is patient and willing to wait to spread to as much of the populace of a locale as possible before it begins the next fatal stage of its cycle. However, if tempted by a particularly choice group of victims (such as medicae personnel) or the threat of discovery, it will suddenly erupt with full force. Its hunger to kill may drive it to full outbreak sooner rather than later as the daemon will not be denied its feast.
Once the disease begins to manifest fully, it presents as a wild and vicious mixture of symptoms ranging from bloody flux, vomiting, and murderous fever, blooming strange green marks on the skin and the rapid necrotising of flesh, all finally resulting in a spasm-wracked death usually within hours of the disease's first symptoms manifesting. Once the first lives have been claimed, matters accelerate and worsen rapidly. Hundreds, even thousands may die within hours causing mass panic and civil disorder and straining any authority's ability to cope to the breaking point.
In this stage, the disease does not simply attack the bodies of the infected but moves to overwhelm the few threads that keep humanity together in the plague's aftermath or may contest its decaying dominion. Rising from their graves, the plague dead walk in search of the living, the daemonic plague driving their corpses like the many cells of a single vile organism.
The walking dead fall on the living, hunting them down implacably, and each person they kill rises to join them in turn. As the walking dead multiply, wild terror and anarchy is the natural consequence unless the Inquisition, the Imperial military, or some other powerful force can step in. Short of total cleansing with fire and faith, there is now little that can be done to avert the next stage of the cycle, save contain it with brute force and merciless purpose.
Once the dead have risen in great numbers, the hour of their masters' arrival has come. At the centre of the outbreak, in a silent, dark place bathed in death and despair, reality falls apart to the buzzing of flies. The Vile Savants step through into reality, and in their wake come the daemons of the Lord of Decay.
The number of Vile Savants that appear is dependant on the extent of the contagion's spread. If a great city is consumed by the contagion and the walking dead numbers are legion, dozens of Vile Savants may come, while the death throes of a small settlement may bring a single savant to perform its final rites. As manifestations of the contagion itself, the Vile Savants can command the throng of walking dead, wield diseased powers of the warp, and consume life like a hungry cloud of locusts. With a deliberate will at the centre, the walking dead begin to destroy any remaining resistance and a disaster becomes a war.
The final stage of the contagion's cycle occurs only if the Vile Savants are victorious and have brought their targets to ruin. With death and decay holding limitless dominion, the walking dead begin to collapse, their flesh putrefies, and the air is filled by the buzzing of bloated corpse flies. In this perfect garden of decay, the Vile Savants move about, harvesting the outpouring of death and decay and sampling the changing contagions born by the outbreak. Not all are killed, however, as a few people are allowed to survive and the Vile Savants do not seek them out - for the Lord of Decay needs life and flesh upon which to work his wondrous diseases and requires witnesses to bear testament to his all-consuming power. Finally, the Vile Savants step back through the hell that made them and wait until the next outbreak, wherever and whenever it may be.
The Vile Savants and the Fydae Strain contagion are a threat not simply because of the destruction that they cause, but because the Inquisition fears it is geared to some greater dark design. It is the considered opinion of the Conclave Calixis that it is only the gift of the Emperor's providence and thanks to the valiant actions of his servants that there has not already been far greater loss of life at their hands in the sector. All of the Holy Ordos must be ever watchful for the reappearance of this threat and take whatever action is needed to confound and destroy them wherever and whenever they are encountered. It is also the duty, particularly of the Ordo Malleus, to further pursue these terrible creatures and learn of their nature and limitations so that they may be more effectively countered in the future, as the threat posed by the Vile Savants is not only severe but perhaps eternal. They are truly the disease that walks, always searching for a time and place to surface and whose only goal is suffering and death.
Fydae Strain Zombies first appear to be no more than gaunt, dead-eyed plague victims in soiled and blood spattered clothing, but this does little to dim the horror for friends and loved ones wracked with grief. As the outbreaks worsen and the Vile Savants themselves make an appearance, the Fydae Zombies decay at an unnaturally accelerated rate. They turn into horrific rotting husks of putrescent flesh, but no less active or deadly for it.
Traits: Dark Sight, Diseased (Fydae Strain), Fear 1 (Disturbing) (but may increase to 2 for particularly horrifically decomposed examples), From Beyond, Natural Weapons (Dead Hands and Teeth), Unhallowed, Unnatural Toughness (×2), Walking Dead.
Walking Dead: An animate corpse propelled into life by dark forces is, as might be imagined, quite difficult to "kill". These creatures do not need to breathe, they do not tire, and they are immune to poisons and diseases, as well as many environmental hazards. They do not suffer the effects of being Stunned or the penalties for being injured. In addition, only Critical Wounds suffered to the head or body can destroy them, any suffered to an arm or leg simply renders that limb useless.
Unhallowed: Blessed and Holy weapons inflict double Damage to Plague Zombies.
Weapons: Dead hands and teeth (1d5+4† R; Primitive, plus infection).
†Includes Strength Bonus.
Gear: None (Zombies are able to use basic tools and weapons if directed to so by a Vile Savant, although firearms and other complex devices are largely beyond them).
Threat Rating: Malleus Minima.
The Vile Savants are horrific manifestations of the daemonic diseases that claimed the mortal lives of the putrescent remains of the flesh they wear, and are avatars of plague and destruction. They appear as figures wearing sealed containment suits that are slick with filth and beaded with moisture like sweat on fevered skin. Inside, there is nothing but putrefied liquid flesh and writhing vermin, held together by the sagging structure of the suit. The daemonic forces that motivate them drive their stumbling, boneless limbs on with macabre and implacable purpose. A palpable aura of utter horror and rotting miasma surrounds them, and to simply be unfortunate enough to witness these awful things is terrifying. Worse still is to hear their buzzing voices inside one's head or become the subjects of their experimentations in the death of flesh.
Skills: Awareness (Per), Chem-Use (Int), Climb (S), Common Lore (Tech) (Int), Deceive (Fel), Evaluate (Int), Forbidden Lore (Warp) (Int) +20, Medicae (Int) +20, Psyniscience (Per), Speak Language (any needed) (Int), Tech-Use (Int) +10.
Talents: Melee Weapon Training (Chain, Primitive).
Traits: Daemonic (TB 6), Dark Sight, Diseased††, Fear 3 (Horrifying), From Beyond, Strange Physiology, The Horror Within, The Stuff of Nightmares.
Daemonic Presence: All those within 20 metres hear snatches of technical medicae chatter, weeping noises, and pleading screams, all overlaid with the buzzing of insects, while colours appear to fade, paint to blister, and metal to rust. All creatures within this area take a -10 penalty to Willpower Tests.
The Horror Within: A Vile Savant may peel away its containment suit to release the daemonic essence within. This takes a Full Action, and once complete, the Vile Savant is replaced by a Plague Swarm. If the Vile Savant is destroyed by mundane weaponry, this also has a 50% of occurring, rather than the daemon being slain outright.
††Diseased: Vile Savants carry the Fydae Strain and are infectious at will (as per a Plague Zombie), additionally all their attacks carry the Toxic quality, as Wounds caused by them instantly become infected and rot.
Telepathy: The Vile Savants have no mouths to speak but can use the Telepathy Psychic Power automatically and with no possibility of Psychic Phenomena or Perils of the Warp. When heard inside a person's head, a Vile Savant's voice sounds like a buzzing swarm of insects crawling in one's mind. Hearing this voice automatically inflicts 1d5 Insanity Points unless a Challenging (+0) Willpower Test can be made to resist the horror. This power is treated as a Psychic Power in all other respects.
Zombie Mastery: Fydae Strain Plague Zombies are an extension of the disease contained within the Vile Savants. This connection allows them to have complete control of all Fydae Strain Plague Zombies within 300 metres, and they are able to perceive and act through them. Controlling the zombies within this area is a Free Action. This power works automatically but is treated as a Psychic Power in all other respects.
Armour: Soiled containment suits (All 2).
Weapons: Filthy surgical blade (3m; 1d5+3† R; Pen 3; Toxic), bone severer (1d10+4† R; Pen 2; Toxic, Unwieldy, Tearing) or contaminated corrosive spray from its suit (10m; S/-/-; 1d10+2 E; Pen 6; Toxic, Infectious, Flame).
†Includes Strength Bonus.
Gear: None other than rusted and contaminated medical equipment.
Threat Rating: Malleus Majoris.
A plague swarm is a daemonic force of mindless destruction that materialises in the corporeal universe as a rippling mass of locusts, beetles, flies, or other such creatures twisted into utterly horrific form and redolent with rot and decay. These hellish swarms move as one implacable and unholy mass, stripping flesh from victims as they pass, tainting and destroying everything they touch.
The following profile indicates a swarm with the approximate mass of an adult human being. Smaller and much larger swarms are possible.
Skills: Awareness +20 (Per), Dodge (Ag), Psyniscience (Per).
Traits: Bestial, Daemonic, Daemonic Presence, Dark Sight, Fear 2 (Frightening), 50% chance of Flyer (roll 2d10 to determine Speed), From Beyond, Natural Weapons (A Thousand Gnawing Maws), Swarm Creature, Warp Instability.
Daemonic Presence: All creatures within 20 metres feel the scuttling of numberless things under their skin and hear a sound like the buzzing of flies from all around. All creatures within this area take a -10 penalty to Willpower Tests.
Swarm Creature: Any attack from a weapon that does not either have the Blast, Flame, Scatter, or Holy qualities only inflicts half Damage. In most circumstances, a swarm creature cannot be Grappled, Knocked Down, or Pinned, and the swarm may "pour" through suitable small openings such as ducts, vents, and the like, but they may not Jump. The swarm is counted as being destroyed once all its Wounds are lost. The swarm's attacks have a variable Penetration value (roll each time an attack lands), representing its ability to engulf their victims and attack vulnerable areas. Because of its diffuse nature, plague swarms suffer double Damage from Blessed attacks and the effects of warp instability.
Weapons: A thousand gnawing maws (1d10 R†; Pen 1d5; Tearing).
†Includes Strength Bonus.
Threat Rating: Malleus Minoris.
They come, in the depths of the starless dark. They come, with pestilence and plague. They come, faceless and shambling and hungry. They come, bidden by the Grandfather. They come, to share their gifts with all they meet.
|Creatures||Beasts of Nurgle; Blight Drones; Foetid Bloat-drones; Great Unclean Ones; Hooktors; Lords of Contagion; Mabrothrax; Malignant Plaguecasters; Noxious Blightbringers; Nurglings; Pestigor; Plaguebearers; Plaguebulls; Plague Hulks; Plague Ogryns; Plague Toads; Plague Towers; Plague Zombies; Poxbringers; Poxwalkers; Rot Flies; Sloppity Bilepipers; Spoilpox Scriveners|
|Characters||Abcellyoth; Aynthrexes; Bilerot Vomitflesh; Lothar Bubonicus; Bubonis; Vorxec Calvarius; The Carrier; The Entomancer; Epidemius; Ferrue Fayne; Tormus Fayne; Foulspawn; Nathaniel Garro; Ghulroth; The Glottkin; Goresqualor; Gulgoth; Horticulous Slimux; Jibberjaw; Ku'gath; Mamon; Adrius Meinloka; Mephidast; Mortarion; Mortius; Mulch; Necrosius; Nurgle; Pestilaan; Putricifex; Rotigus; Scabeiathrax; Septicus; Achkovas Spengh; The Thanator; Typhus; Ussax; Karloth Valois; Plaguestrangler Vilestench; Jonas Whitespore; Ystareth|
|Groups||Apostles of Contagion; The Befouling Host; Blessed Flesh; Bringers of Decay; Brotherhood of Plague; Callers of Sorrow; Carnival of Chaos; The Cleaved; Company of Misery; Death Guard; Deathmongers; Death Priests; Flylords; The Grey Death; Inevitable Order; Legio Mortis; Legion of Festering Death; Lords of Decay; Mournful Song; Nurgle's Rotters; Plague Legions; Pox Tribes; The Purge; The Reborn; The Scourge; Septicus Legion; Sorcerer-Kings; The Tainted; Tainted Sons; Vile Savants|
|Things||An'garrach; Balesword; Blight Grenade; Bloodrot Rounds; Bone Maul; Corruption; Cursed Carillon; Death Head; Dolorous Knell; Doomsday Bell; Entropic Knell; Epidemia; Father of Blades; Foulswarm Grenade; Gem of Nurgle; Horn of Nurgle's Rot; Icon of Despair; Icon of Seeping Decay; Manreaper; Palanquin; Pandemic Staff; Pestilaan Light Cruiser; Pestilent Flail; Plague Banner; Plaguebringer; Plague Cauldron; Plague Chalice; Plague Claw; Plague Flail; Plague Knife; Plague Sceptre; Plague Skull of Glothila; Plaguesword; Poxwalker Hive; Puscleaver; Rot Giver; Scab; Scourge Shells; Staff of Nurgle; TP-III; Undead Heart; War Altar|