My interpretation of whatever monster I feel like talking about, primarily from the 1st ed AD&D Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, but not limited to them, treated in a way that deals with the stuff I find interesting. That is: ecology and culture, if applicable. Stats can go hang.
The CIFAL (Colonial Insect Formed Artificial Life – and isn’t that a crap name) was one of those much maligned creations that came from the Fiend Folio. The Fiend Folio was predominantly a collection of monsters that were submitted to White Dwarf magazine (when White Dwarf was a general role-playing magazine and not an extended advertising vehicle for Warhammer miniatures). Fiend Folio came after the 1st edition Monster Manual and suffered some embarrassing contractual problems.
For reasons that I do not really understand, the American reviewers generally hated it, citing such things as inconsistency. Which sounded then and still sounds now like sour grapes to me. All the monsters in every supplement are nonsense. None of them make sense. Almost none of them conform to known laws of biology, chemistry or physics, so pointing out such a failure is taking yourself – and your association with a particular national or corporate identity – way too seriously.
For reference to the real world, coral is a colonial organism. Coral ‘flowers’ many look like they are the organism, like a tree, but what we see is actually thousands or millions of tiny independent creatures that cooperate to form that structure. Since the coral is sedentary like a plant, the tiny creatures have specialised their bodies. Some form walls. Some form catching limbs to snag food, and so on. This is true – look it up.
Similarly, the real social insects are often described as really only being a whole creature in terms of the whole swarm. Individuals have different body forms and cannot live or reproduce outside of the whole ‘body’ of the swarm/hive. This, too, is true – look it up.
From this viewpoint the CIFAL is completely rational. The only, perhaps, unlikely thing is its mobility: getting 10,000 bees to make legs and walk. But we have gigantic Amoebas, for cripes’ sake, and giant levitating eyeballs. So an insect swarm moving together seems positively normal, I say. But I say that being man shaped and walking is just artistic license. I also say that they are a collection of all kinds of insects is just weird.
But enough of the past. Let’s move into the future.
The CIFAL is a colonial creature. By this we mean that thousands of individual creatures, each of which can be identified separately, when joined together act in a new and coordinated way. This new emergent behaviour in many ways mimics intelligent behaviour, leading many observers to call the CIFAL an actual creature in its own right.
The CIFAL is one particular form of swarm for a particular species of wasp. These wasps do not form static nests in hollowed trees or in underground burrows as is usual. Instead, they group together in the open, perhaps hanging from a tree, or on the ground. By this behaviour they keep the temperature of the whole colony up, resisting the effects of cold. Additionally, since individuals are moving around in this mass – migrating to the edges and then back to the centre to warm up again – the whole lump can move. This mass, a living, writhing swarm, can move surprisingly quickly in a combination of rolling, swelling and flying.
Attack by a CIFAL is exactly the same as that from other aggressive insects. The great difference is that the CIFAL, as an entire entity, can pursue a victim, continuously bringing to bear hundreds or thousands of attackers. You cannot escape from the region of a nest of one of these beasts because the nest is where the mass is and the whole mass will chase you.
Finally, unlike bees which are nectivorous (they drink flower nectar), CIFAL wasps are carnivorous. They attack to kill and eat. In nature their normal prey would be the hives and nests of other insects that they envelop and invade. But they are certainly capable of, and known to, bring down animals of all sizes including humans that are unlucky enough to disturb them.
Their normal habitats are vast fertile wood and flowering plant plains, where their regular prey of other social insects are likely to be found.