Icky Ichor of the Beast

One thing which can be very unsatisfying in an investigative role playing game about the paranormal, the cosmic, the profoundly non-human, is a lack of results from scientific analysis.

If a player chooses a character who is a chemist, a biologist, a physicist, etc., they have as much right to fruitful scientific research as the tough character has to punch people, the shooty character to shoot stuff, and so forth.

Behind the screen I know the armor value, hit points, POW, etc. of the bad guys and monsters, but what do I know about the biology, biochemistry, and anatomy of the monsters themselves? Once the player characters have defeated the threat though the use of punching, shooting, and magic, what does the scientist do? They collect samples and bring them to their lab.

What is their reward? “It’s an unknown protein,” “The musculature is very unusual,” “It’s the scale of an animal you can’t identify” are not gratifying answers–in fact they’re simply unfair. Subsequent evidence which proves to be identical to previous samples may help in solving the problem, but it still yields no reward for playing the scientist character.

I did a couple of Google searches: first involving blood, the other cellular structure.

Blood

The Following, other than brief passages of prose I have removed, is taken verbatim from:

Arnold, Carrie. In Animal Kingdom, Blood Comes in a Rainbow of Colors, National Geographic, March 12, 2015, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/03/150312-blood-antarctica-octopus-animals-science-colors/

Blue

Several species of octopus have blue, rather than red, fluid running through their veins. The blue comes from a copper-rich protein called hemocyanin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream and then to the cells of the octopus’s body. Hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein found in the blood of other animals—including humans—serves the same oxygen-transporting function but turns blood red. 

Both hemoglobin and hemocyanin release their bound oxygen when they reach tissues that need it.

But for the Antarctic octopus Pareledone charcoti, transporting oxygen via hemocyanin poses problems at subzero temperatures. That’s because in polar waters oxygen binds so tightly to hemocyanin that it doesn’t let go very easily. If these tissues can’t get oxygen, the octopus will die.

A new study, published March 11 in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, shows that this cold-water creature overcomes this obstacle by producing an overabundance of hemocyanin. To solve this mystery, study leader Michael Oellermann, an ecophysiologist at the Alfred Wegener Polar Institute in Germany, compared P. charcoti with two other hemocyanin-carrying octopus species that live in warmer waters: Octopus pallidus and Eledone moschata.

He found that on average, P. charcoti had 40 percent more hemocyanin in its blood than either O. pallidus or E. moschata. “We really weren’t expecting to find this,” Oellermann said.

Clear

The ocellated icefish, for instance, may brush fins with the Antarctic octopus in the same chilly habitat, but its blood is quite different. It runs completely clear. The polar dweller lacks both hemoglobin and hemocyanin, leaving its blood without any color at all.

“Cold water can hold a lot more oxygen than warmer water. There’s enough dissolved oxygen at these depths that the fish doesn’t need an active oxygen carrier like hemoglobin,” Oellermann said.

The icefish is strange in other ways too. Unlike most other fish, it completely lacks scales. Scientists believe that the absence of scales helps oxygen diffuse through the icefish’s skin, where it’s pumped around the body by an unusually large heart.

Green

The country of Papua New Guinea is home to the green-blooded skink, which biologist Christopher Austin at Louisiana State University has spent his career studying. The skink uses hemoglobin to carry oxygen, and as in many animals, the liver breaks down the used hemoglobin into by-products such as bilirubin and biliverdin. Humans normally excrete these by-products into the intestines, since a buildup of them in the blood can cause jaundice or a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes.

The skink, however, seems to thrive with high levels of biliverdin in its blood, which gives the blood a green color.

Cellular Structure

Inspired by the fungal nature of the migo, and their proliferation throughout Cthulhu Mythos gaming, I chose cellular structure as my other search. This article is fairly deep science, but some Google searching should be able to bring it to a simpler level for laymen such as myself.

The following is excerpted, verbatim, from:

https://sciencing.com/how-are-bacteria-plant-cells-alike-12401277.html

Updated July 21, 2017

By Donna Earnest-Pravel

Eukaryotes are any kind of organisms that have complex cells that include mitochondria, nuclei and other cell parts. The three major cell groups are fungi, plants and animals.

Many fungi are only related to plants in a superficial way. They might look somewhat like plants and have cell walls that are similar to plant cell walls, but there is a phrenology tree that shows how fungi can be more closely related to animals than plants. Because animals are closer in evolutionary history to fungi than plants, it could be said that a mushroom is closer “kin” to a human than to vegetables.

Protein

The protein sequences of fungi are more similar to animals than plants. For instance, cellular slime mold protein looks more like animal protein than plant protein. The length of the ribosomes in fungi show an amino acid that is similar to muscle. In fact, there are several amino acid sequences that are similar to heavy-chain proteins in mammals. One of these amino acids is 81 percent identical to a human amino acid.

Chlorophyll

Plant cellulose is different than fungal cellulose. When X-rayed, plant cellulose is more crystalline than fungal cellulose. Both fungi and animals do not contain chloroblasts, which means that neither fungi nor animals can process photosynthesis. Chlorophyll makes plants green and provides plant nutrition. In contrast, fungi absorb nutrients from decomposing plant material through an enzymatic process, and animals ingest their food.

Chitin

Fungi and animals both contain a polysaccharide molecule called chitin that plants do not share. Chitin is a complex carbohydrate used as a structural component. Fungi use chitin as the structural element in the cell walls.

In animals, chitin is contained in the exoskeleton of insects and in the beaks of mollusks. Chitin functions similarly to plant cellulose, but chitin is stronger. Studies done on fungi polysaccharides showed that adding alkali containing nitrogen destroyed fungi and produced acetic acid. These chemical reactions did not occur in plant polysaccharides.

Fungi Are Not Algae

Algae are the simplest and most primitive plants. In 1955, Dr. George W. Martin concluded that fungi were derived from algae which had lost chlorophyll. However, Martin’s hypothesis did not consider that atmospheric conditions might have been different when life began than what they were in 1955.

Also, Martin did not take into consideration that nitrogen-fixing bacteria could have existed even before plants evolved, which could have been used as a food source for the fungi. In 1966, Dr. A.S. Sussman observed that while fungi looked superficially like algae, there were aspects of fungi, such as cell nuclei and organization, that could not be explained.

Sterols

Some biologists have cited that animal and fungal sterols are different, therefore, fungi cannot be similar to animals. Animals produce cholesterol, while fungi produce ergosterol. Upon closer examination, both fungal and animal sterols contain lanosterol, while phytosterols in green plants contain cycloartenol.

Its Own Category?

Perhaps fungi are neither derived from plants nor single-celled animals. Some biologist have argued that fungi are phylogenetically distinct from all other eukaryotes. Fungi appear to be unique in the fact that they alone require a translation elongation factor called EF-3. There are some protein activities that are essential for in vivo translation elongation.

Making up Stuff

It is incumbent upon the Keeper, GM, etc. of a role playing game to present published material, or their own, to the players. Either way, a degree of creativity is required. Does the goblin cave have a second entrance? Is that community of hill giants friendly? Why do the people in Innsmouth look kind of like fish?

I tend to view deep ones and ghouls as the orcs and goblins of Cthulhu Mythos games. Granted, they’re a bit more powerful than your default orcs and goblins, but they fill that niche. As such, I feel they are two of the most important species for which the Keeper to have discoverable information.

Let’s look at the example of deep ones. They, or at least the ones from Innsmouth, are part human. Perhaps their scales have characteristics of both fish scales and human skin cells. That’s weird, and gives the scientist character an active role in unraveling the mystery.

I view Lovecraft’s shoggoths and The Thing in John Carpenter’s wonderful 1982 film The Thing From Another World as essentially the same creature. They’re both giant globs of sentient and sapient goo which can absorb other life forms, then imitate them perfectly. Not only does this make them incredibly scary, it also begs the question of how they do this. The how must be preceded by the question of their composition.

The movie tells us The Thing is fully functional at the level of its individual cells. To me this means its intelligence is at that level and the entire organism is, among other things, an enormous brain. There is evidence to suggest the same is true of shoggoths.

Both are fairly easy to incinerate, given a sufficient source of fire, and neither need be concerned about firearms. No data I’m aware of mentions the effect of cold on shoggoths, but The Thing seeks freezing temperatures as a means of concealment and hibernation. I’m certain a shoggoth is equally capable of freezing, thawing, and continuing to be a threat.

That said, what about their physiology, if that word even applies, gives these creatures such qualities? That’s for you to decide, fellow Keepers, I haven’t worked out that one yet.

Thanks for reading. Iä! Fhtagn!

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