This stealthy predator inhabits the vast plains of Tarak III, where it preys on the great herds of herbivorous kavamadu feeding on the tall grasses. The creature’s broad back is covered with stiff fur similar in coloration and texture to the grassland foliage in which it lurks. Grassy fur also grows atop the head and the upper-facing portions of the forearms. When hunkered down, the predator looks like a clump of grass amid the open savanna. Several short, sharp horns project from the snout of the broad, flat head, with enlarged nostrils to the front and slit eyes at the sides. The creature has no jaw or mouth, breathing completely through its nostrils. Small forearms end in razor claws, which are used with the horns to subdue prey. Muscular rear legs give a mauler incredible speed and amazing power to leap on victims from concealed locations.
Tvpical Grassback Mauler
Agility 5D: brawling 6D, running 7D
Strength 5D: climb/jump 6D
Knowledge 1D: intimidation 4D, survival 4D
Perception 4D: search 5D, sneak 6D
Strength Damage: 3D
Move: l S
Body Points; 25
Wound levels: 3
Natural Abilities: claws (damage +1D); horns (damage +1D); camouflage (sneak +1D in grassy environments)
Although savage and tough on the outside, a mauler’s underbelly remains soft and vulnerable. Fist-sized feeding nodules cover its underside, each bubble concealing a small sucker-mouth. After felling its prey, the mauler drapes itself over the carcass; the nodules open so the suckers can slowly consume the body beneath the beast.
Although they exhibit typical male aggression tendencies, grassback maulers have no male or female reproductive organs. Adults reproduce by depositing a single, ravenous larva in a partially consumed carcass at the time of breeding (usually once every two years). The parent mauler leaves half the carrion to the offspring, which grows as it eats its way out of the carcass. Infant maulers prey on smaller game, usually rodents or carrion avians, until they reach young adult size after a year. Even juvenile maulers have a feisty sense of self-preservation.
These solitary hunters stalk prey that can supply enough meat for a week (one kill satisfies the beast’s hunger for that time). Leaping from its concealed location, a mauler races at its victim, lunges at it with its claws, and thrashes its head about, shredding flesh with its pointed horns. Most herbivores or herd animals suffice; maulers do not intentionally pursue prey that turns to fight an active defense. They do not attack sentient creatures like Terrans unless provoked by violating their territory, interrupting a feeding, blocking a food source, or cornering them.
Maulers follow the kavamadu herds across the Tarak plains, resting just out of sight until ready for the hunt. Occasionally they encounter parties of sport hunters who come to the planet for game, though the local smuggler communities also hunt kavamadu to supplement their food stores with fresh meat. Maulers sometimes follow their prey too close to settlements or savanna landing fields, where they become nuisances as they stalk pets, domesticated livestock, or lone, helpless settlers.
Maulers can survive in any hospitable grassland environment where game abounds. The Mesa Lords of Tarak III often capture, tame, and train maulers as guard-beasts to roam their isolated estates and deter or eliminate intruders. Some entrepreneurs export trained maulers off world, selling them as sentry beasts to nobles with lush lawn gardens or fiefs of plains territories. During several weeks of adjusting to their new habitat, the transplanted creatures shed their old grassy coat while a new one mimicking the local savanna grows in its place. Criminals engaged in growing fields of narcotics also employ the creatures as guards. On worlds where industry has overrun or destroyed the natural habitat, trained maulers serve as luxury pets to the elite, who keep them lurking on leashes in their audience chambers; such captive beasts rarely survive long, as their protective fur shrivels and dies in the absence of any natural habitat.