Throughout the world, there are those who find themselves touched by the Far Realm. Perhaps they possess an innate sensitivity to the Outside’s emanations, or they might have sought a link for their own purposes. Regardless, the subtle and horrible influence of the Far Realm lingers, and these unfortunates must find a way to deal with their connection to the place beyond. Most try to reject that taint, hoping it will fade with time. The aberrant soul instead strengthens the tie to create a link with a Far Realm denizen. By choosing a particular aberrant creature as their totem, aberrant souls gain some of that creature’s power… and more importantly, a razor’s edge of control over the corruption that threatens to overwhelm sanity.
Aberrant souls are few in number. It is no small thing to forge the unnatural link that gives them power. Few even believe that such a thing is possible. Each aberrant soul discovers the way alone, learning the rites from scratch and guesswork. But what leads them to walk such a difficult path?
Some have always been able to sense the Far Realm. A young druid lurches awake every night, sweating from his nightmares of contorting masses of flesh and bone. He may seek the bond to understand why he is plagued each night, and to gain control over his dreaming. A shaman initiate summons her first spirit, and calls a mass of writhing tentacles and eyestalks. Perhaps she has no choice in the matter, her primal summons inexorably twisted by the Outside. Or perhaps she decides to embrace the strangeness as a gift that no other shaman could replicate. For these individuals, forming a bond with a totem creature allows them to shape their innate connection to the Far Realm into something they are able to influence.
But there are some whose ambitions drive them to terrible lengths. They witness the power of the Far Realm and desire it for themselves. A monk believes that to defeat a threat, she must first know the threat. She alters her mind and body, changing so that she may truly understand these alien creatures. A barbarian of the wolf tribe barely survives a battle with a gibbering mouther. He decides that his totem animal is too weak, and takes the creature that nearly defeated him as his new exemplar. These aberrant souls seek the power of the maddening place beyond, though they will find it comes at great cost.
As people who have experienced the ineffable touch of the Far Realm, aberrant souls are viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. It can be difficult to hide the mental and physical changes an aberrant totem creature can bestow.
Tribal societies have a variety of reactions to the primal character that becomes an aberrant soul. Some are treated as pariahs—the elders claiming that such activities create a bridge between the Far Realm and the natural world. Other tribes may be awed by the terrible power that an aberrant soul possesses, and name the character as the tribe’s champion. Reactions vary, but one thing is certain; once discovered, an aberrant soul is set apart from the rest of the tribe.
Hardly surprising, therefore, that many aberrant souls live as hired mercenaries or adventurers. It is easier to hide one’s true nature among people who have never experienced the touch of the Far Realm and who don’t recognize its influence. Some don’t even bother to hide their strangeness from their new allies, taking advantage of the pragmatic attitude that many adventurers possess.
Becoming an aberrant soul changes the way one perceives the world. All aberrant souls are aware of the danger of the Outside’s soundless whispers, and know they cannot rely on their own senses to keep madness at bay. They yearn for someone with whom they can be honest about their fears of straying too far from sanity. This need has driven some aberrant souls to seek one another. Who could understand their condition better than another who has been touched by the Far Realm? Over time, these occasional contacts have coalesced into an informal network known as the Morphic Web.
When a member of the Web meets someone who might be a fellow aberrant soul, the pair begin a complicated verbal dance, for only a fool would admit the secrets of an aberrant soul to a stranger. They use euphemism and metaphor to convey their similarity, identifying themselves through innocent if puzzling phrases like “I awoke one morning to see that the stars were alive” or “Have you ever trained threeeyed frogs to speak?” This interchange always ends with a key phrase: “Tell me, do you know any other like-minded friends?” If the stranger answers with the names of other Web members, then the questioner has found a member of the Web. If the stranger does not, but does reveal a Far Realm connection, the Web member reveals the existence of the organization and its purpose.
Each member of the Web knows five or six contacts, meeting with one or two each year to discuss the status of their mutual friends, share stories of their recent adventures, and pass along any information they have gathered on the Outside. Though these conversations seem innocuous to outsiders, they serve a hidden purpose. Each aberrant soul analyzes the discussion to determine if the other still holds the upper hand over madness. In cases where one is slipping, the other will attempt to reestablish a sense of reality. Warning someone that “tentacles grasp strongly and can pull you under” is a key phrase within the Web that is often enough to shock the hearer into swift action. If this attempt fails, members of the Web have a final duty—when an aberrant soul falls into madness, he or she must be neutralized before becoming a danger to the world.
This watchful patience is normally the extent of the collaboration and organization of the Morphic Web. However, some twenty years ago, a call went out warning of a threat that required all members to work together. A shaman named Kalandas had become known as a prominent Balancer. The Balancers are a faction of the Web that believes that their conduit to the Far Realm works both ways, allowing them to influence their totem creature toward more benign behavior, even as they themselves are influenced by the Outside’s attitudes. Most Balancers believe this will be the process of generations or of centuries, but Kalandas believed that he could speed up the process. He found many followers amongst the tribes of his people, offering power beyond imagining. By turning these followers into aberrant souls, he could more rapidly alter the nature of his totem creature. Instead, he brought the maddening touch of the Far Realm to those who were not strong enough to resist it. As Kalandas imbued his followers with the power of malignant aberrants, he became overwhelmed by the powerful urges of his totem creature. The Morphic Web learned of his blasphemous teachings and took action. In what is now known as the Gibbering Massacre, the entire Web banded together to kill Kalandas and his crazed and gibbering followers. The orphans from this battle were taken to nearby tribes and schools to be raised, away from the touch of the Far Realm. Each orphan is still watched by at least one member of the Web, to see if as they grow, they show signs of corruption, or if they might follow the path of the aberrant soul.
How does the connection to the aberrant totem creature manifest itself? When an aberrant soul uses psionic powers, those nearby might hear faint incomprehensible whispers in their minds. When calling upon primal evocations, the spirits summoned are subtly twisted, with echoes of creatures from the Far Realm. The aberrant soul’s form alters, subtly at first and becoming more apparent over time. Even so, these changes can usually be explained as the result of some other magic, or concealed without too much difficulty.
The mental changes are far more insidious. To touch the Far Realm is to risk madness, but also to gain unparalleled insight. Aberrant souls experience visions from the perspective of their totem creatures during their dreams and trances. The feeling of malevolent pleasure as a mind flayer consumes its victim or as a gibbering mouther rips apart its prey can lead the weak to madness, but the strong can gain understanding. Stories tell of a druid who traveled a hundred miles to cure a child of the touch of a chaos beast. When asked how she knew the boy had been attacked, and how to cure him, she said only that she had seen it in a dream. In the Underdark, spymasters tell tales of a drow who stopped a major illithid incursion. When a scout’s brain was devoured by a mind flayer, the drow used his totemic connection to siphon off the knowledge gained by the mind flayer, and thus learn the scout’s findings.
It is possible to try to control these flashes of insight, and some aberrant souls who are more experienced with ritual magic have created a ritual to aid with this control.