Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Invaders - Invid, Inheritors, Dreamers, Ividia

The Invid were one of the first monsters I ever wanted to fight. The Invid are the villains of season 3 of Robotech.

The villains of season 2 of Robotech, the Robotech Masters, spend about half the season worrying that the Invid are coming. While the human heroes of the story are all going crazy wondering whether they can beat the Robotech Masters and their seemingly invincible army of clone pilots and bioroid mechas, the Masters themselves are going crazy because they're certain they CAN'T beat the Invid, and their only hope is to hurry up and finish things on Earth so they can run away before the Invid get here. In other words, the Invid are introduced by reputation as the REALLY BAD GUYS that even the regular bad guys are scared of. I have to tell you, as a suspense-building device, kid me found it pretty successful.
 
The evolution of the Invid from the Legends of Zor comic
 
Season 3 of Robotech opens with the Invid coming to Earth and completely wrecking up the place, so that the rest of the season is set in a ravaged, post-apocalyptic wasteland where humans are barely eking out subsistence. Which is to say, from the moment of their arrival, they absolutely lived up to their reputation.

The Invid we see appear to be crab-like crustaceans with partially mechanical/electronic components. On the show, it's ambiguous if what we're seeing are the Invid themselves, form-fitting suits of battle armor the Invid wear, oversized mecha with the same body-plan as their human-sized pilots, or mecha with entirely different looking aliens inside. (It's possible, for example, that the blue-green ooze that bleeds out when the armor is pierced IS the pilot, not the pilot's blood.)
 
Invid Scouts
This and subsequent images from the Robotech Picture Archive
 
Invid Armored Souts
 
Invid Trooper
 
Invid Shock Trooper
 
The Invid come to Earth seeking the Flower of Life. In season 1 of Robotech, a battle fortress crashes into the Earth, and the alien Zentradi come to seize it. Humans eventually repel the Zentradi  invasion. The battle fortress is so desirable in part because it's fueled by a large supply of a power source called Protoculture. In season 2, the Robotech Masters come to Earth to try to retrieve the Protoculture for themselves. Unfortunately, over the course of the season, the Flower of Life starts growing in the Protoculture, which makes it both useless to the Masters, and irresistible to the Invid, who can sense its presence from across the galaxy.

There are some interesting anti-colonial themes and themes of decadence at work in all this. The Robotech Masters enslaved the Zentradi, turned them into giants, and gave them their fleet of warships, but by the start of season 1, the Zentradi have escaped from the Masters' control, and are just a roaming army. They know how to pilot their warships, but not how to repair them or build more, and everything looks pretty heavily worn, even broken. They're hoping the battle fortress that crash-landed on Earth will include schematics that will let them make things and not just use them.

The Robotech Masters have also forgotten some of their technology. They can use Protoculture to grow clones, build bioroid mecha, and fuel their whole civilization, but they no longer remember how to make more Protoculture. They want the battle fortress basically just to buy time. The entire season, we see them fighting at far less than full strength because they're almost out of fuel. They want to seize the Protoculture in the fortress to replenish their supply, and it's pretty heavily implied that if they fail, they'll go extinct. They might be doomed even if they seize it though, since they have no particular plan to relearn how to synthesize the stuff for themselves, and the fortress might be the last great untapped supply anywhere in the galaxy. What they need is renewable energy, and instead, they're going absolutely all-in on using up the last bit of irreplaceable fuel.

Meanwhile, the Flower of Life itself is like a prion or a parasite, at least from the Robotech Masters' perspective. They describe it as both a pest that grows in Protoculture and as a mutation of Protoculture itself. Regardless, the Flower of Life contains all the energy of Protoculture, but in a form that's unusable to the Zentradi or the Masters. The Invid, we're told, were once either non-sentient, or at least a non-technological species from the same planet where Protoculture originated. The Masters' uplifted the Invid and enslaved them to either grow Protoculture, or to grow the Flower of Life and convert it into Protoculture. By the time of the show, the Invid have also escaped the Masters' control, and now outnumber and overpower them. All the old Protoculture farms are controlled by Invid who use them to grow the Flower of Life for themselves, and when they come to Earth, it's to enslave humans to farm and harvest the Flower of Life for them.
 
The Invid Flower of Life
 
The Invid use bio-technological Genesis Pits to experiment with ways to better adapt the Earth to their own purposes. They also use the Pits to transform a few of themselves into human-like bodies.

So to summarize, the Invid are simultaneously the sympathetic victims of a colonialist empire, and a terrifying unstoppable invasion force. They come to Earth to transform it into a slave-tended garden for growing their sole food-source, the Flower of Life. And they control their own biology to such an extent that we see them as both giant crab-robots and as humanoid spies.
 
Marlene was grown to be an Invid spy,
but her egg was damaged and she hatched with amnesia
 
Sera retained her memories,
but found that her human form gave her human emotions
 
Now these are absolutely some monsters I want to fight. BUT, they also remind me of some other monsters, and so rather than leave well enough alone, I want to put my own take on them for Gilded Age horror gaming. What shall we call these not-Invid? I think I would call them the Invidia, the Invaders.

In Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford's novel The Inheritors, the eponymous Inheritors are humanoid invaders from the Fourth Dimension who are endlessly fascinating to actual humans, and who are successfully able to exploit this fascination to ascend to fame, power, and prominence within British society. The book ends at about the point when they're about to move from acquiring power to using it to remake the world.

The Inheritors look basically human, but their presence is like a superstimulus that overwhelms most people's psychological defenses against being abused or manipulated. It's sort of not clear to me if Conrad and Ford intended these characters to be alien invaders, or just like a new "breed" of modern humans who are unbounded by tradition - but for the sake of gameability, let's go with aliens. Likewise, it's not clear if they intend the Fourth Dimension to be a literal place, or just a metaphor, and both interpretations of 4D were pretty popular at the time, but again, for the sake of gaming, let's assume it's a place. If the Inheritors are from another world, and take on human-like bodies when they come to ours, it's possible that they have another appearance entirely when they're at home.
 
The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story by Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford, 1901

In Samuel Delaney's short story "Aye, and Gomorrah", Spacers are essentially a third gender of humanity. Delany describes them as being agender and asexual. They live full-time in space stations that orbit the Earth, but can teleport down to the planet for recreation. When they come down, they're idolized, exoticized, and fetishized by "frelks" - people whose only sexual attraction is to Spacers. The story seems to imply that most people have a low opinion of both frelks and Spacers, and Spacers seem to see frelks' attraction to them as basically a joke. Throughout the story, frelks basically beg Spacers to exploit them, and Spacers are easily able to get cash, or a favor, or a laugh at a frelk's expense.

Although Delaney writes about a public that is distinctly un-sympathetic to his main characters, he seems to be pretty sympathetic to both the frelks and the Spacers, while showing that their relationships aren't healthy for either party. They kind of can't be, since they're fleeting, and so one-sided. But what if Spacers were more like Inheritors? What if almost everyone fell in one-sided love with them the way frelks do?
 
Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967
 
In James Tiptree's story "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side", humans have encountered aliens, and have joined galactic civilization. We're the newest members, so we have the least technology, least political power, and are economically the poorest species in galactic civ. And a significant portion of humanity becomes sexually obsessed with aliens from the moment we first meet them.

Tiptree describes this almost exactly like superstimulus - whatever qualities we find attractive in other humans, aliens simply have MORE of those qualities, more than any human ever could, so much MORE that we become unable to feel attraction for other humans again. The humans who love aliens love them desperately and one-sidedly, and never seem to get more than a pity-fuck out of their pursuit. Tiptree never says if the aliens who go along with this exploit their human lovers, economically or in any other way. But the relationships are clearly unhealthy, both emotionally and physically, as every human who loves aliens is shown to have permanent injuries they sustained during sex.

The Invid spies with human bodies do elicit deep feelings of affection and attraction in season 3 of Robotech, but throughout the series, love between humans and aliens occurs over and over because both sides sometimes find one another alluring and irresistible. The difference is, in Robotech, this love is shown to be reciprocal and valuable. The xeno-philia or xeno-sexuality of humans and aliens alike proves again and again to be the first step toward greater mutual understanding and diplomacy. Robotech is a war story - three war stories, really - but in each season, it's people who feel inter-species attraction who make the first overtures to peace. Tiptree's vision is different, like Delaney, she imagines a lopsided attraction that leaves one side willing to sacrifice everything, and the other side only willing to condescend to interact at all for the sake of receiving their sacrifices.

(Quick thought that serves no purpose: what if there were a setting were "homosexual" referred to ANY humans who loved humans - who loved the SAME species as themselves, who loved other HOMO sapiens? What if "heterosexual" referred to humans who loved aliens - who loved DIFFERENT species? That has no real relevance to what I'm talking about here, but I would find that to be a fascinating linguistic drift.)
 
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1972
 
To take another tack, in D&D's Eberron setting, the Inspired are humanoid bodies inhabited by the minds of extra-dimensional aliens - the Quori from Dal Quor. The humanoids are explicitly described as being not quite human. Their species, when not combined with a Quori to become an Inspired, are simply called Empty Vessels. The art depicting the Inspired often shows a phantasmal Quori floating behind the Inspired body. Personally, I interpret this not just as a way of illustrating that we're looking at an Inspired rather than a human, but as an indication that the Inspired sometimes project psychic images of their Quori when they're being overt about their identities.
 
Inspired and Quori
 
Inspired and Quori surrounding adventurers
 
In Jack Shear's Umberwell setting, he describes a species he calls Dreamers. Just describes Dreamers like this: "Dreamers are a rebirthed race; they are the souls of an insectoid species originating from a lost age of the city’s history reincarnated in bodies indistinguishable from the human form. If the theory that the city’s islands are the remains of a dead god is true, it may be the case that the insectoid souls of the dreamers achieved their initial sentience and innate psionic powers by feeding on a divine body as parasites. When they sleep they dream only of Scarabae - the precursor city that stood on the islands currently occupied by Umberwell."

You could imagine Dreamers as being like the Inheritors - human bodies with alien minds. You could imagine them like the Khepri from Perdido Street Station, as humanoids who simply followed a different evolutionary path to arrive at much the same place humans did. You could imagine them like the Insect-kinden from Empire in Black and Gold, as humans whose psychic powers and tribal identities draw on actual insects as a source of imagery and fictive-kinship. Or you could imagine them like the Inspired - humanoid bodies with phantasmal insects hovering behind them, like the totem animals that appear DC comics' Vixen or Mera use their superpowers.
 
Umberwell: Blackened be Thy Name by Jack Shear, 2018
 
Lin the Khepri by Justin Oaksford, 2011

In Greek myth, Invidia is the goddess of jealousy. Invasion, I think, could be imagined to be like jealousy. You want what someone else has, and you try to take it away from them.
 
Circe Invidiosa by John Williams Waterhouse, 1892
 
From there, it's a simple misspelling to arrive at Ividia, a genus within the family of pyramid-shelled snails. Is there any animal more D&D than a snail? It's almost too perfect to learn that Ividia snails are hermaphroditic, and usually parasites.
 
Turbonilla acutissima, not a member of the Ividia genus,
but still part of the Pyramidellidae family

And that, I think, is enough to start building our Invaders, our Invidia.

The Invaders come to us from somewhere beyond. Some of them claim to hail from the Crab Nebula, situated in the night sky between Aldebaran and the Pleiades. Others claim a kingdom within the Fourth Dimension, a realm but a sidestep away from our own reality.

The Invidia appear to us in humanoid guises. They are intoxicatingly beautiful, with flawless androgynous features. Some dress in men's clothes, others in women's, others in some mix. They claim no human gender, and each addresses itself like royalty, as "we" and "our". Those humans who have seen the Invidia without their clothes claim that all their bodies are alike, no matter what they wear, and that the resemblance to humanity only goes so far before giving way to impossible alien anatomy, unattainable foreign beauty. Those humans who have been trusted to see the Invidia like this are inevitably too far gone to really return to humanity. The rest of their lives will be spent as the Invidia's evangels.

Humans are like thrall before the Invidia. We lack the strength to refuse them, lack the will to oppose their desires. The first encounter with an Ividia is an unsettling, uncanny experience. They seem too good to be human, too perfect. Their strength of personality is overwhelming, their very presence, overaweing. Many who meet the Invidia fall instantly in love with them. They become suitors, followers, hangers on who accompany their beloveds everywhere they go. Others fall so deep in thrall that they become almost insensate. These "sleepwalkers" are uncanny in their own right, nearly mindless servants despite their human form.

It is as easy as breathing for the Invaders to enter the highest echelons of human society. They collect socialites and celebrities as their most valued sycophants. The Invaders' power over humans with worldly power makes their domination almost instant, almost complete.

The earth, to these Invaders, is like a garden, where they seek to grow Golden Lotus. This flower is life to the Invaders, it is the source of their abilities and their only food. It is also a powerful narcotic that affects them as opium affects humans. The effects of Gold Lotus on humans is even stronger. It can turn lotus-eaters into "sleepwalkers" or put them into a near-permanent twilight sleep. It can also imbue seemingly magical properties on the eater. The Invaders have come to earth to grow their garden, and though their vanity seems insatiable for our adoration and our praise, what they really want humanity for is to labor as their gardeners.

Though they usually appear in their humanoid form, the Invaders have other bodies as well, kept just a sidestep away in fourspace. When roused to anger, or high on Lotus, these ghostly golden bodies appear just behind the Invidia, always behind, no matter which angle they're viewed from. The translucent gold bodies of the Invidia are not human. They appear as the ghosts of giant, monstrous snails. A lesser caste of Invidia exists, who dwell on earth in their snail-bodies, and are summoned to act as soldiers when their leaders' charisma and diplomacy fails them. Sightings of the soldier caste are rare, for few can refuse the Invidia any request.
 
Should the Invidia be snails? or crabs, like the Invid?
Should they just have golden eyes? or entirely golden bodies like the Sovereign from Guardians of the Galaxy?
Consider this idea a work in progress.
 

14 comments:

  1. I love all of this. So many different things I like being woven into something new that I also like.

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    1. Thanks, Jack. As I was bringing things together, I realized they fit even better than I initially thought. Now to make sure I use them effectively...

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  2. This is brilliant. I find, both in terms of my own ideas and the ideas of others that I most resonate with, that they come from synthesizing the best parts of already interesting ideas, into something that both epitomizes those things, but also puts a new and personal filter on them. Additionally, I enjoy the way you play with language and etymology. These kinds of layers are what elevate a fantasy world or concept.

    I've been meaning to watch robotech for years, now I definitely have to. The way you describe it is so evocative, that I want to know more about it, and the other inspirations you reference, if for no other reason than to better appreciate how you came to this idea.

    Very well done!

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    1. I hope you like the show! It was a childhood favorite of mine.

      I hadn't really thought about what makes an idea resonate, but your suggestion feel right when I think about it. I'm glad these struck a chord with you!

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  3. I saw Robotech when I was 9 year old and barely spoke English. It was a fascinating jumble to my young mind... clearly I have to watch it as an adult.

    The notion of aliens as being a "superstimulus" is also quite interesting. I wonder if that notion could also apply to fey or elves, who are often described as having an otherworldly attractiveness to them...

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    1. Ooh, good idea about elves/fey! You're right, we usually think of elves as being "humans but better", so it would make sense for them to be irresistible.

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    2. It would help perhaps explain a bit of the human elf dwarf relations? The dwarves can establish strong business and military alliance with humans (well, some humans), but then they are baffled and a bit upset when humans swoon over elves... (supposing that the elven charm just doesn't work on dwarves)

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    3. I like that detail, and it makes sense. It would be pretty infuriating to dwarves the way humans get all puppy-love-sick over elves, both because that sort of erratic behavior probably interferes with predictable dealmaking, and because dwarves feel a certain amount of jealousy that no one gets that way for THEM.

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  4. I don't have an answer for your final query about what the invaders should be... only a childhood anecdote. In Jr. High, sometime around 1990 I player a lot of Palladium Robotech - and it was always post Invid invasion. I had never seen the cartoon beyond maybe a few minutes, but our GM took the whole concept of fecund post-apocalypse as his base set of images. Everything was a weird jungle of carnivorous plants and giant ferns rising up to engulf crashed battleships and crumbled arcologies with tiger striped vine and cyan butterflies that drank blood.

    I don't know where he got all that from, but the Invid - oxblood crab mecha-things fit in with it well and the idea of an invasion so complete that it brings with it a conquering alien biome is pretty powerful.

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    1. Oh man, that biome sounds really gorgeous. And yeah, I agree, the idea of the Invid is quite powerful, moreso than almost any other image from the series.

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  5. I love this!

    (As a footnote, the adventure I wrote in Narcosa is based around the concept of an old Genesis Pit and Vilnid the Master is barely disguised Invid Enforcer - https://dysonlogos.blog/2014/08/18/adventure-the-molds-slimes-of-vilnid-the-master/ )

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