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Triffids near a house

Triffids


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Powers and Abilities

Triffids are plants with a limited intelligence and survival instincts. In temperate latitudes they average 7 feet in height when fully grown, while in the tropics they can reach 10 feet.

Triffids have a tall straight stem springing from a woody bole which is shaggy with little rootlet hairs. This bole is roughly spherical with three bluntly-tapered roots extending from the lower part. At the top of the stem is a funnel-like cup formation which has a tightly-coiled green whorl within, resembling a rolled fern frond. This whorl can uncoil to form a ten foot-long, prehensile stinging lash which can strike out at passing animals or humans with considerable speed and force, drawing blood if it strikes unprotected skin.

It is noticeable that triffids tend to aim at the most vulnerable areas, usually the head.&emsp:The end section of the lash is studded with small sacs filled with a deadly poison which burst on impact, releasing their contents into the bloodstream of the victim through the wound inflicted by the sting and causing death almost instantly. The sting leaves behind a distinctive rectangular welt with linear cuts running along it, with traces of the dark green poison often visible in the wound.

The triffid can bend its stem somewhat, extending the reach of the sting by several feet. The stem does not snap under pressure but is weak enough to be crushed. Three small, bare sticks grow straight up beside it, along with short sprays of leathery green leaves. The sticks can be moved enough for the triffid to tap them against the stem in order to create a rattling noise which in some way enables it to communicate with other triffids.

It is clear from experiments that triffids can hear, or at least sense vibrations in the air. Triffids are very sensitive to nearby movement and can be very dangerous to unwary passers-by.

Triffids are primarily carnivorous. They can digest insects which become caught in a sticky liquid secreted within the cup formation at the top of the stem which contains the coiled-up sting. But a triffid is also capable of assimilating an animal or human it has killed with its sting, using the prehensile lash to pull chunks of rotting flesh from the decomposing corpse and placing them in the cup to be digested by the liquid there.

It is necessary for the triffid to wait until decay sets in before it can begin to feed upon its kill, as the flesh on a freshly killed body is too tough for the sting to pull apart.

Triffids are the only known plant capable of locomotory movement. They can lift themselves about 1 foot off of the ground on their three thick roots. They walk rather like a man on crutches, sliding two roots forward and then lurching so that the third draws level with them. At each step, the stem whips violently back and forth. Their maximum speed is about average human walking pace.

In the wild, triffids move slowly and apparently at random, emitting their distinctive rattling sound all the while. Their calls can carry for a considerable distance. When a triffid senses the presence of potential prey its call will become faster and louder and it will home in on its prey along the path of least resistance until it becomes close enough to attack with its sting. Wild triffids may also conceal themselves in thick foliage, lie in wait for prey and ambush them.

Once its prey has been stung and killed, a triffid will approach and wait to one side with its roots sunk into the earth until the body becomes decayed enough to eat. A triffid hearing the rapid call of another triffid will become more active, and will follow the sound. This can result in a lone triffid, or a small group, quickly becoming a large threatening herd.

Typically, triffids will push against any barrier separating them from their prey. A lone triffid will have little impact on most barriers, but a large herd can bring down even a strong fence. They possess sufficient inherent survival instinct to be repelled from an electric fence. They are intelligent enough to learn that, if they cannot hear the sound of a generator powering the fence, it means that the fence is inactive.

Triffids are plants and as such their vital functions rely on distributed systems instead of distinct internal organs. This makes them difficult to kill using firearms and allows them to absorb considerable blunt force damage to their trunk without being impaired.

Triffids are also capable of limited bodily regeneration, and can regrow their sting if it is damaged or destroyed: this takes about two years. The most effective way to stop or disable a triffid is to sever its stem or otherwise destroy the cup formation containing the sting.

Triffids are vulnerable to fire. Once a triffid is set ablaze, it is unable to put the fire out itself. However, it may take several minutes for a triffid to succumb, during which time the triffid still presents a threat to those around it.

Triffids propagate by expanding a dark green seed pod just below the cup until it bursts, broadcasting extremely lightweight white seeds into the air. The usual season for this in Europe is late August. Fortunately ninety-five per cent of these seeds are infertile.


History

Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko (1898-1976) was a biologist and agronomist in the Soviet Union who rejected orthodox genetics in favor of an alternative system centering on the creation of hybrid plant species. His theories claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited, an idea rejected by scientists in the rest of the world but supported by the Soviet authorities because it meshed well with their ideology of reshaping human nature itself in order to build a truly collectivist society.

Between 1940 and 1965 he was the dominant figure in Soviet biology and during the period 1948-53 he was its total autocrat. In the real world and in the mainstream DC Universe, all Lysenko accomplished was to retard any real progress in the field for decades. In one extremely unfortunate alternate universe, however, his bizarre experiments are believed to have somehow produced a definite result: the creation of the triffids.

It has never been revealed exactly how the triffids were created. Material from several existing plant species is believed to have been combined in a series of unsystematic experiments with little in the way of a clear purpose to them. Somehow this process eventually resulted in a viable new species. The creation of the triffids was considered a successful outcome to the experiments because they were a potentially valuable source of protein and natural oils.

For unknown reasons, the history of this alternate universe differed from that of the real world or the mainstream DC Universe in another important respect: rocketry experiments progressed more slowly after the Second World War and manned spaceflight appears never to have been developed at all. [One possible explanation for this occurs to me: perhaps the Royal Air Force were more successful in their attempts to bomb Peenemnde, killing Wernher von Braun and the other leading German rocket scientists and forcing the Americans and Soviets to develop their own research programs from scratch after the War.]

When satellites were eventually placed in orbit, they included weapons systems which generally operated on the principle of remaining dormant in a parking orbit until they received a signal ordering them to descend onto a target on the surface and detonate. These were believed to have included nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the existence of a climate of suspicion and fear intense enough to produce such developments as these, there was never a dtente between the Communist East and the Capitalist West.

In the real world and the mainstream DC Universe, the Cold War thawed for a time in the mid-1950s after the death of the Soviet dictator Iosif Stalin, whose paranoia had been largely responsible for creating it in the first place. This situation did not last, but it set a precedent for another easing of tensions during the 1970s. In the alternate world it appears that none of these developments occurred. The Soviet Union remained closed to the outside world even after the death of Stalin.

Triffids growing

In the early 1950s an entrepreneurial international criminal named Umberto Cristoforo Palanguez was hired by a Western European multinational corporation to smuggle triffid seeds out of the Soviet Union. He succeeded in obtaining a box of sorted fertile seeds by bribing workers at a plantation in the Kamchatka region to steal it for him, but as he tried to make his getaway after collecting it his aircraft was intercepted and destroyed at high altitude by the Soviet Air Force.

The box of seeds was blown apart in the process and the seeds were scattered into the stratosphere. They were blown all around the world before eventually falling to earth and taking root across the globe.

Within a couple of years, the first triffids to grow outside the Soviet Union were reaching maturity and beginning to make their presence felt by attacking humans and their livestock. In the developed world they posed little threat, since modern organization and communications could easily co-ordinate the hunting down and destruction of isolated triffids.

In the developing world they were considerably more of a threat, but humans are adaptable and even primitive peoples were eventually able to learn how to keep them in check. Before long, the usefulness of the triffids as a source of protein and natural oils became common knowledge and the focus of the human response to their presence shifted from trying to exterminate them to finding ways to safely cultivate them as a commercial crop. The benefits of doing so were generally agreed to outweigh the risks.

Within 20 years triffids were a common crop in numerous countries. Though triffids kept by private breeders and collectors had their stings docked for safety reasons, most commercially grown triffids were left with their stings attached, as docking was found to reduce the quality of the oil that they produced. Consequently the triffid keepers had to wear protective clothing. This situation continued until May 1974, when the world went blind. [The year is never specified in the book, but someone has worked it out from internal evidence.]

During the night of Tuesday 7th and into the morning of Wednesday 8th, the sky was filled with brilliant green flashes resembling shooting stars. These were assumed to be the result of the Earth passing through a cloud of comet debris, as with a conventional meteor shower. Naturally everybody who could avidly watched this spectacular display. Within a few hours, they all lost their sight permanently. Civilization literally came to a halt overnight.

Only a handful of individuals who had been prevented by various circumstances from watching the green flashes still retained their sight as the new day began, and they immediately began to find themselves torn between, on the one hand, the humanitarian impulse to try to keep the masses of blind people around them alive, by finding food for them, while waiting for help to arrive and, on the other hand, the pragmatic realization that the global nature of the catastrophe meant that it was almost certain that help would never arrive, and that the only thing they were likely to have even a chance of accomplishing in the long term was to save themselves.

Without sighted keepers to maintain their fences and to check the tethers that kept them in place, small groups of undocked triffids began escaping from their farms and established wild populations. Docked urban triffids, with nobody to prevent their stings from regrowing, soon joined them. Although slow-moving and limited in intelligence, the newly-freed triffids found blind humans to be easy targets and began to attack and kill them in droves.

Day of the Triffids movie poster

As starvation, disease, accidents and infighting between rival gangs of the few remaining sighted people competing for limited supplies of preserved foodstuffs further reduced human numbers, the increasingly bold and numerous triffids began to take over as the dominant life form, forcing those humans who could still move about freely out of the dying cities and into isolated hamlets and fortified farms in the countryside, later followed by settlements established on small islands off the continental mainlands.

Some of them stil sought to live in accordance with traditional values, while others aimed to build model communities according to the principles of some favoured ideological system. Some degree of conflict was virtually inevitable, but it generally did not involve shooting wars.

It would eventually be speculated that the source of the blinding green flashes was in fact an orbiting weapons system which emitted radiation at wavelengths specifically selected to burn out the human optic nerve. Although it would presumably have been designed to descend to low altitude before detonating, in order to target its effects at only a limited area of the surface, it had evidently malfunctioned and detonated while still in orbit, allowing the entire world to be stricken by its effects as the Earth rotated beneath it.


Notes

The Day of the Triffids as written is a fine book, albeit a little talky at times. However, it contains one major oversight that John Wyndham himself later freely admitted to. The largest groups of people in Great Britain who escape being blinded in the book are coal-miners in places like the south of Wales who were on the night shift below ground when the blinding flashes occurred.

They somehow managed to get back to the surface and became the leaders of their communities, holding their own against the triffids and refusing to have anything to do with the other groups of survivors. This pattern would probably have held true in the rest of the world wherever there were mining communities.

However, there is another group of people who should logically have escaped being blinded in the same way – submarine crews who were out at sea and submerged when the blinding flashes occurred. They would have come ashore and sought to take charge, in Britain imposing martial law in the vicinity of major Naval bases such as Portsmouth in the south of England and Rosyth in the east of Scotland.

Before long they would have found themselves unable to care for all the blind people in these places and realized they were too large to maintain against triffid incursions, at which point they would surely have thought of taking over small islands before anyone else did. But since John Wyndham never thought of this, there’s naturally no mention of it.

It was belatedly thought up by the makers of the 1962 movie adaptation starring Howard Kiel. It’s about the only interesting idea they had IMHO.

If you’ve ever seen said movie, you may remember that the triffids depicted therein had what in game terms would be a Fatal Vulnerability to being sprayed with salt water, dissolving into gloop in less than a minute. This has no basis in the book !


Personality

I don’t think plants, even ones as dangerous as these, can really be said to possess any personality.


Personality

The triffids are probably best used as written, by having PCs struggling to survive and protect others in the world outlined above. The likes of Superman or Captain Atom would be unaffected by the blinding flashes and the likes of Wolverine would rapidly recover from their blindness, but how would the likes of Captain America, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Tony Stark or Spider-Man cope?

There could be an interesting contrast between a blinded Bill Batson, Don Blake or Bruce Banner and a still-sighted Captain Marvel, Thor or Hulk. Matt Murdock, of course, would be unaffected.

Someone like Doctor Doom could surely design something like a helmet to give him simulated Radar Sense in his head and then have his Doombots construct it to his directions. Once his own blindness had been alleviated he could probably mass-produce it in time to save most of the population of Latveria.

The triffids alone probably aren’t enough of a menace to hold the interest of most players. I suggest running a standard post-holocaust scenario with superhuman villains immune to the blinding flashes in the role of neo-feudal warlords. Someone like Apocalypse would be ideal for this. They establish human reservations protected by electric fences and enlist (or conscript) normal humans who escaped blinding by chance as overseers to enforce their rule over blinded serfs.

Anyone who disobeys will be punished by being thrown to the triffids waiting for them outside the fence. When your PCs liberate them they’ll find themselves responsible for ensuring their continued survival. They’ll have to try to make them realize that freedom is the choice between working or starving, without being seen as no different to the oppressors they’ve just overthrown. Not an easy task…

I imagine alien infiltrators like the Dire Wraiths and Manhunter Androids will react to the collapse of the established power structures they’re used to working through and the mass blinding of most of their potential slaves by simply deciding Earth is no longer worth conquering and leaving.

But if you’re using the triffids in a game world which also incorporates elements from other classic stories, then not only the likes of the Deviants but also the likes of Orcs and Deep Ones are likely to try to profit from the downfall of humanity as well.


DC Universe History

If the above doesn’t appeal, Jason Woodrue is one obvious choice for their creator. Or alternatively, they could have been created by worshippers of the Great Old Ones. I recall from somewhere that Yog-Sothoth is sometimes called “Father of Trees”, which might suggest he has an affinity for plants in general.


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

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Triffid

Dex: 00 Str: 02 Bod: 08 Motivation: Kill and Eat
Int: 01 Wil: 02 Min: 02 Occupation: Plant
Inf: 01 Aur: 01 Spi: 02 Resources {or Wealth}:N/A
Init: 008 HP: 000

Powers:
Plant Growth (Self-Linked): 00, Growth: 01, Skin Armor: 06, Systemic Antidote: 08, Running: 01, Poison Touch: 07, Super Hearing: 03, Directional Hearing: 03

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Plant Growth (Self-Linked): Power Always On
  • Growth: Power Always On. Already Figured Into Statistics
  • Skin Armor: Only effective against blunt force attacks which strike the trunk
  • Systemic Antidote: Protects against poisons or drugs which were designed to affect humans or animals rather than plants
  • Poison Touch: Has a Range of 1 AP. It will diminish by 1 AP each time the Triffid uses the Power. For each day (15 APs of time) that passes after that, the Triffid will recover 1 AP of the Power

Skills:
Accuracy (Poison Touch): 08, Military Science (Camouflage): 02, Thief (Stealth): 02

Advantages:
Life Support (No Need To Sleep), Altered Anatomy, No Vital Areas, Iron Nerves, Stability, Misc.: As a plant, a Triffid can sustain itself by sinking its roots into the ground if no human or animal prey is available., Misc.: Triffids demonstrate a collective intelligence significantly higher than their individual intelligence. While functioning as a member of a group, a Triffid may raise its INT to 2 when attempting a straightforward task such as finding a weak point in a fence designed to keep it out.

Drawbacks:
Attack Vulnerability (Chemical Defoliants) (-2 CS), Attack Vulnerability (Fire) (-2 CS), Attack Vulnerability (Cold) (-1 CS), SPR (Blind), Misc.: A Triffid effectively has no manipulatory appendages – its prehensile sting lacks the dexterity or strength to do more than pull chunks of rotting flesh from a decomposing corpse. Accordingly, it has no DEX for game purposes and its STR is only usable for extremely basic tasks such as pressing against a fence in order to try to break it down. If knocked prone it will be unable to right itself. Although buoyant, it lacks the ability to propel itself through water and will simply float helplessly if immersed., Misc.: An opponent can target the upper stem of a Triffid with a Trick Shot. If this is successful and inflicts 2 RAPs of Killing Damage, the cup formation at the top containing the sting will be severed or blown apart, depriving the Triffid of its Poison Touch Power. It will take 2 years (24 APs of time) for the Triffid to regrow the destroyed section and thereby regain the Power.

Equipment:
Triffids themselves carry no Equipment. Humans unfortunate enough to have to live in their world may carry the following:

  • Triffid Gun
    [BODY 04, Projectile Weapons: 04, Range: 03, Ammo: 06, R#03, Limitations: Projectile Weapons has No Range — Uses listed Range, Drawback: Long Reload Time]
  • Triffid Gun Ammunition Drums (x5)
    A Triffid Gun is a spring-operated gun which shoots spinning discs, crosses or small boomerangs of thin steel. It has a Range of 3 APs but is inaccurate above 2 APs (+1 CS penalty to hit targets at 3 APs). It is designed to be used for Trick Shots which are intended to slice through the stem of a triffid and sever the cup formation at the top containing the sting, but it can readily inflict fatal injuries on humans too. It has obvious advantages as an almost silent weapon. At GM discretion, a Character with Weaponry (Crossbows) or something similar may be able to use it as readily as one with Weaponry (Firearms) or the like.
    If expecting to enter an area with a high concentration of triffids, humans will wear basic protective clothing such as (for example) the leather suits and crash helmets normally associated with motorcycle riders. Anything which leaves no exposed skin will usually do in a pinch.

By Hominid71

Source of Character: The novel The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951). There was also a comics adaptation in Issue #1 of a Marvel magazine called Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction (Jan. 1975), but I’ve never read it. The Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark (2001) was the authorized sequel to the book, but I wasn’t very impressed by it and I’ve ignored it for the purposes of this writeup.

Helper(s):First and foremost, Wikipedia entry for Triffid, and a page describing triffids (including original sketches of them by John Wyndham) (most of the text in the Description/Powers and Abilities section is pasted from these sources). Also, Encyclopedia Britannica CD-ROM (2005 Edition) entry for Trofim Lysenko, Mike Surbrook, Morgan Champion, Kal-El el Vigilante, Darci, Sébastien Andrivet.

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