Brennus File 15: Spawners

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Spawners, Mook-Makers, Birthers, Queens: the names are many, but they all refer to the same class of abilities – those which generate ‘agents’ which are separate from the metahuman himself…

Which is actually not a very good way to classify powers with, because there is a vast difference between the various different ways in which this power may manifest and what may be a well-advised strategy in dealing with one type may lead to catastrophy when applied to another – for example, if a metahuman’s agent is independently intelligent, knocking them out may not cause it to disappear; instead, you’re now stuck with an inhuman monster that’s off its leash (and likely pissed at you for hurting its master).

But first, let’s focus on where Spawners come from.

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Common Origins

Spawner origins tend to share one common theme – a lack or loss of people. They are also overwhelmingly negative, with only a very few confirmed cases of positive-origin spawners known even within the metahuman community.

The kind of lack often informs the power – is it focused on a single person or on a multitude of people? The former might generate a single agent, while the latter the ability to spawn a great many of them.

Often, spawners and controllers come from very similar, sometimes near-identical origins, but it’s the focus which determines the result. For example, a bullied teenager might manifest either spawning or control abilities, depending on whether their origin focuses on the people who are there (and who could be controlled) or the people who aren’t there (and so need to be generated/replaced).

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SAVRIC

In general, Spawners can be classified by way of several categories relating to their agents’ abilities, its source and their control over it. This scale is mostly academic, as it’s too cumbersome to use in the heat of things, but it’s quite popular in online debates, among others. It is known as the SAVRIC scale:

Source (S): Where does the agent come from? Does it appear out of nowhere (0), is it constructed out of surrounding material, such as a golem made from rocks (1), does it have to be made in advance, such as in a lab or through a ritual (2) or is it permanent and does not need to be summoned at all, but has to be moved about (3)?

Amount (A): Does the spawner generate a single agent (3), a limited amount (2), a whole swarm (1) or an unlimited/unknown number (0)?

Variation (V): Is the agent always the same (3), does it vary along a limited template (2), can it take any form, but depending on extraneous factors (1) or can it be (nearly) anything (0)?

Range (R): How far from the spawner can the agent(s) move and still be of use? Are they limited to within their immediate presence (3), can they act within a short range (2), long range (1) or is it unlimited (0)?

Intelligence (I): The most worrisome aspect that one uses to categorise spawners is how intelligent their agents are – debates whether its actual intelligence, sub-conscious control via the spawner or something else notwithstanding – and thus, how independent they are. Do they lack any intelligence at all, being merely remote-controlled puppets (3) or are they without intelligence, but possessed of simple robot-like principles and commands they stick to, or which can be programmed into them (2)? Do they have an intellect comparable to some kind of animal (1)? Are they perhaps even as intelligent as humans or even more so (0)?

Control (C): How much control does a spawner have over their agents? Is the agent absolutely controlled (0), does it have leeway in interpreting commands (1), can it outright resist commands (2) or does the spawner have no control whatsoever (3)?

A spawner is thus rated from 0-3 in each of these categories, with their average being known as their SAVRIC score. While it’s not usually equivalent to how dangerous one is, a low score is generally considered to be bad news, especially due to spawner’s prospensity to negative origins and the accompanying derangements and other issues. Fortunately, low scores, especially in regards to Variation and Intelligence, are extraordinarily rare.

The only known spawners with a SAVRIC score of 0 are Weisswald and the Dark.

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ImPermanency

One of the most important distinctions between Spawners is whether their agents are lasting, permanent beings, or are merely projections that only exists for as long as they are maintained. Does knocking a spawner out cancel out their agent? Does killing them do it? In the case of Weisswald, for example, the answer to both of those is a resounding no. His Spiteborn, once created, are independent, living beings, if utterly twisted.

Also important is that power nullification can cancel out impermanent agents, but can, at best, knock permanent ones out (until they leave the area of effect), if it affects them at all (Spiteborn can be prevented from using their more exotic abilities, such as their black blasts or, for the more powerful ones, their telepathic abilities, but can otherwise operate as usual).

Fortunately, there appears to be some form of trade-off involved – barring extreme cases like Weisswald, the Nightmare Sun or the Dark, Spawners seem to trade off one ability for another – those who produce many agents usually have weaker, dumber ones, while singular agents tend to be more versatile and powerful. More intelligent agents also tend to be harder to control, providing another trade-off.

True permanence in particular is extremely rare. Most agents, at the very least, die or disappear upon the death of their master.

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The Question of Intelligence

One of the most hotly debated subjects in regards to Spawners relates to those who produce agents with near-human or human-level intelligence (rumors of beyond-human intelligence are usually roundly dismissed as hoaxes or delusions).

The first and most common question is this – are they truly intelligent, independently from their creator? Or are they merely being controlled by way of the spawner’s subconscious, acting as he would expect them to act? The most common evidence brought up towards the veracity of this theory is that agents tend to act in a way that seems to fit their Spawner’s personality, or else their suppressed desires. A common counter-argument is that the same can be said about most powers, that they usually tend to fit the personality of their bearer to some degree, and that the minds of these creatures may just be formed to fit their master.

The second and, perhaps, more problematic question is this – at which point is an agent intelligent (and permanent) enough to count as alive? As sentient? At which point would human rights need to be applied to them, or should they not be granted to non-humans – even if they are of human origin – at all?

Perhaps fortunately, there has never been a case where an intelligent agent came forward to claim equal rights under the law (as far as anyone knows, at least), nor has anyone ever accused another human of murder for killing a permanent, intelligent agent. However, as the number of metahumans grows, so does the number of Spawners, making permanent, intelligent agents more and more common (though they are still a vanishingly low percentage of their kind – if one made a separate category for Spawners who generate intelligent, permanent agents, they’d likely be the second- or third-smallest group of metahumans, exceeded only by high-powered Gadgeteers and, at the very top, the highest end of meta-powers, such as DiL’s, Gloom Glimmers and Baba Yaga’s).

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Duplication

One of the most common forms of Spawning (though it is still quite rare) is the ability to duplicate oneself or, in very rare cases, others. This can range from being able to split oneself into two, to being able to create a slavishly loyal copy of another person, or an unlimited number of such.

Generally speaking, Duplication, like most Spawning, tends towards being a solo-power, though Self-Duplication in particular appears to be the one most likely to have other, usually ancillary powers.

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Sub-Spawners

A surprisingly common sub-set of Spawners are those who get Spawning as a sub-rating – usually Gadgeteers and, most commonly, Contrivers, who can create some manner of agents to act in their place. They may range from summoned demons/fairies/elementals/etc to clones, to robots, to weirder things.

Like other sub-ratings, Sub-Spawners are usually described by appending the Spawner rating after the main rating, usually via a backslash, for example:

Legend: Contriver 9/Perception 8, Spawning 11

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Exemplary Spawners

  • The Eighth: One of the most feared Spawners in recent history, the Eighth was a metahuman (presumably) who appeared in Egypt during the mid-2000s. Appearing as a slightly above-human sized locust-like monstrosity with vastly enhanced strength, toughness, speed and senses, as well as winged flight, the Eighth would create permanent, apparently perfect copies of itself each time it killed another human (animals didn’t count, though it killed any it came across), eight at a time. Furthermore, it would poison humans with its scorpion-like stinger, sending them into a murderous rage – any kill these victims would rack up would cause the Eighth which poisoned them to generate four copies of itself. While the individual Eighth did not appear to be too intelligent, and nor did they seem to have a true hive mind, they did cooperate on instinct, raging across Egypt like a biblical plague. Fortunately for the world, they were discovered early and could be eliminated before they managed to multiply beyond any hope to contain them. As no core Spawner was ever found, it is assumed that the first Eighth was the source, but became just one of many once it multiplied the first time, with no one member of the swarm being the ‘original’ any longer.
  • Hydra: An old-school villain from the late 20s. Any time he took a hit, he’d split into two, with each duplicate being able to further split upon taking damage. No real limit on how many duplicates he coul dmake, but they got progressively dumber the more were made, until they couldn’t even stand up straight anymore. He usually couldn’t go beyond about a hundred selves before they became too stupid to be of use. He was killed in battle against a rival crimelord in 1929.
  • Zomboy: Creates duplicates of himself that begin to rot pretty quickly, dying off within about an hour of their creation, but has no upper limit as to how many he could do, except that he can only make one at a time (they take about 3 seconds each). While he lacks an ongoing connection to his copies, they are all of like mind and predisposed towards cooperating with each other and the original. When a Zomboy dies, be it due to outside influence, its time running out or deliberate suicide, all remaining Zomboys gain his last sensory input and thoughts.
    The original Zomboy does not decay rapidly, nor does he have their immunity to pain and slightly enhanced strength and toughness (neither of which reaches supernatural levels, though).
  • Necromonger: A major villain of the early seventies. He could create permanent duplicates of himself by touching human corpses, shaping them into his own duplicates. If he used it on metahuman corpses, they’d have the original’s powers. He was killed by Lady Light and the Dark after he crossed the line, killing over twenty teenagers with powers who’d been gathered for an attempt to make a super-school, creating duplicates out of their corpses. Even with their combined might, putting all Necromongers including the original down proved to be one of the original duo’s most challenging tasks.
  • Argus: A Greek superhero and anxillary member of the Olympians. He can create stationary duplicates of himself that share senses with him and can fire laser beams from their eyes. While he can only have up to twelve of them up at a time, they last until he creates new ones or are destroyed (though they are partially insubstantial, and so very resistant to most damage), and operate even when he’s knocked out or asleep, though with only very basic intelligence (usually following pre-programmed commands). He usually has at least two of them watch over him while he sleeps, and several more stationed all around his area, the city of Drama.
  • Matryoshka: A Russian metahuman, and a member of the Frozen family. She’s just a living skin, no internal organs or bones. By wrapping herself around a victim, she takes control of their body and drains nutrients from them. She can spawn duplicates of whomever she’s currently got inside her, who are under her complete (verbal) control. The more duplicates she makes, the faster her victim wastes away, and once they die, the duplicates made off of them die, as well. She has trouble letting someone go once she’s wrapped herself around them, making a non-lethal application of her power very difficult.
    For someone with such a ghoulish power, she’s a surprisingly pleasant young woman (though her actual age is likely impossible to determine, seeing how she woke up one day with no memories of her past and her power already active).

  • Crawler: A preteen boy from the Midwestern USA, he has command over a permanent agent the size of a small bus, a monstrosity of many limbs, huge muscles and armour plates capable of shrugging off anti-armour fire. While the agent doesn’t appear to be any more intelligent than a very smart dog, he is very independent of Crawler, and has been seen taking actions which directly contradict given orders, usually for the sake of keeping his master safe. They live a nomadic life, moving from town to town with no clear goal known; they are both rather peaceful, unless provoked (which, unfortunately, happens rather often). The agent, commonly known as Crawler (while his master is addressed by his true name), appears to become vastly more powerful (or perhaps he simply stops holding back) when his master is in danger of immediate harm and is very prone to highly destructive rampages while so empowered.
  • The Dark: The King of Supervillains can create apparently-permanent, human-level intelligent Darkwraiths, each with a custom powerset and absolute loyalty to him, going so far as to wear (at least) one of them in lieu of a costume. His Darkwraiths are at least as intelligent as normal humans, if not more so, can be created out of thin air, in any number he so wishes, have custom powersets and skills and are both able to operate at any distance from him, as well as absolutely loyal to their master, giving him a perfect SAVRIC score of 0.
  • Merkabah: Usually considered one of the most powerful Gadgeteers alive, the terrorist known as Merkabah seems to specialise in creating mechanical monstrosities she unleashes (apparently) at random to cause massive havoc. She has also demonstrated the ability to create organic monsters, so her exact capabilities are unknown; the fact that almost no one has ever seen her makes her all the more mysterious.
  • Anna Fastings: Unofficially known as “The Smiling Horde” within the United Heroes organisation, Anna Fastings may well be one of the most important members of the organisation, and one of the most influental, even though she only ever works in supporting positions, such as a secretary, a receptionist, an assistant and so on. Unfailingly polite, cheery and intelligent, Anna is a member of the group known informally as ‘her students’ – metahumans and norms chosen and mentored by Lady Light. Her power is a peculiar one, born out of loneliness and abandonment – she lost her family at an early age, bouncing from foster family to foster family, having trouble fitting in until she manifested powers and was picked up by Lady Light and brought to the UH, back in 1973.
    Anna’s power allows her to periodically spawn a duplicate of herself (the exact time it takes between duplications fluctuates, but usually averages out to four or five a year). While she has no other powers – and the duplicates are independent of each other – her new duplicate is always physically a teenager, a perfect copy of her body at the time of her manifestation, giving her an effective immortality so long as no one kills every one of her selves. Only her youngest living self can spawn a new one, but if that one is killed, the next one up the chain spawns a new self instead. Every new self has the combined memories (including skills) of all currently live duplicates. As such, she also has several selves of hers inserted as spies in various locations across the world, spies which never break cover and never send any information to anyone, yet give her a complete update several times a year when she spawns a new self.

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Rarities amongst Rarities

There are some rare, confirmed cases of Spawners coming from positive origins – and all of them were or are notable in some way:

  • Michele/Michael: Generally considered Italy’s pre-eminent superhero, Michele was once a priest who achieved his manifestation after what gaining what he claims to have been an Epiphany following an intense meditation on the bible, the world and his place in relation to both. He considers superpowers to be Gifts from God, and using them for selfish and destructive deeds a blasphemy worthy of Sodom and Gomorra.
    His power allows him to generate a multitude of semi-corporeal, angelic duplicates of himself, with several secondary abilities which he himself shares – flaming weapons, the ability to use lethal strikes without harm (he slashes someone with a sword but instead of cutting them, they merely feel pain as if they were and are drained of strength, for example), flight, healing hands and a very annoying (for villains) subconscious precognitive ability that guides him towards ‘Sinners’ (i.e. metahumans who abuse their powers).
  • Rounds: The leader of the New Lennston UH division, Rounds is generally considered to be a prime candidate for succeeding the Feral Family as a Shining Guardian, should the current Doc Feral not find a worthy successor from within her family. He manifested after defeating a notorious supervillain with his bare hands, while defending several innocents, his younger sister amongst them, from said villain, and shortly thereafter joined first the Junior Heroes and then the United Heroes proper.
    His power allows Rounds to create duplicates of up to twelve individuals by touch, one each. Each of these duplicates has any powers the original may have at half-strength, while Rounds himself gains half-strength versions of their powers as well (essentially splitting the target’s powers between himself and their duplicate). The duplicates are loyal to him, even if made out of supervillains, though they retain their original personality and can be quite hard to deal with even while being loyal. Destroying a duplicate also deprives Rounds of their associate powers. The exact time limit for how long each duplicate can last is unknown, though a time limit definitely does exist.
  • Drakaina: The original Drakaina was a gadgeteer who specialised in creating crude (by today’s standards) robots with limited ability to act independently. While not much is known about her, it is known that she gained her power after managing to build her very first robot, after many years of failures and disappointments. Her original, pre-manifestation creation is enshrined in the headquarters of the Drakainas and taking a trip to Toronto in order to visit said shrine and see the (officially) original gadget is considered something of a pilgrimage amongst Gadgeteers.

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