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Brown Note Being

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This is why that being told you not to look. Gee, better not show its picture here either.

"We still have no clue who we're dealing with...
Pam took a peek at him and her eyes burned out of her skull, and you want to have a face to face?"
Sam Winchester, Supernatural "Lazarus Rising"

When this being sings the blues, people get hurt, which is bad because it can't stop the music. Some quality intrinsic to this being's nature is harmful to those who sense it, named after the proverbial Brown Note whose sound triggers an audience to spontaneously lose control of their bowels.

One sight or sound from this creature turns you to stone, whitens your hair, ages you, leaves you paralyzed, blind, obsessed, insane, suicidal, or dead. Your eyeballs burst into flame, your eye color changes, or some other change to pupil or iris. Whatever the Brown Note effect is, it must be automatic, not a spell, device, or voluntary power. But a character with this affliction can eventually learn to minimize the damage. This trope is Older Than Feudalism, since it appears in the Classical Mythology of the Greeks and Romans, and also The Bible.


This trope can be a source of angst and drama for a sympathetic, afflicted main character. Their terrible uncontrolled power could be Touch of Death, Deadly Gaze, Taken for Granite, Midas Touch, Energy Absorption, Lovecraftian Superpower, Kiss of Death, Life Drinker, or Reality Warper. There are many tropes for stories where heroes or villains turn into something which fits this trope: Bad Powers, Good People, Blessed with Suck, Human All Along, Was Once a Man, Superpowered Evil Side, With Great Power Comes Great Insanity, Doom Magnet, Hijacking Cthulhu, Poisonous Person, The Corruption, or Walking Wasteland.

But more often, these type of beings make great monsters and villains. They are quite an obstacle to workaround, where it is dangerous to even look. They intensify fear and mystery when no one can get close to them because of the Brown Note. Using this trope might be useful to avoid spoiling the big reveal mystery of uncovering what that creature is, and sometimes the creature may not be even revealed at all. After all, Nothing Is Scarier, and deliberately keeping its true appearance secret may be the creator's way of telling you to take their word for it, because you, the audience, do not want to witness it either.


In games, such beings can increase difficulty. Sometimes a damaging being has a curative counterpart, whose presence is intrinsically helpful and healing.

This is a Super-Trope of Eldritch Abomination. Not every being who causes a Brown Note is an abomination which causes Go Mad from the Revelation. Some beings are cursed, infected, mutated or undead. Some fairy types can have a Brown Note effect, as can some fantasy races with unknown, but not unknowable motives. Sometimes the type of creature is never identified. This trope is reserved for beings and not microbes.


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    Comic Books 
  • Rogue: Before she learned to control it, touching her skin would cause loss of memories, life, or decreased mutant powers. A non-mutant boy named Cody was put in a permanent coma after their first kiss.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bird Box: Civilization collapses due to the arrival of entities whose appearance causes suicidal insanity in whoever views them, driving anyone who so much as catches a glimpse of them to single-mindedly try to kill themselves. The exception to this is a small amount of people who instead develop an almost religious obsession with the entities, becoming driven to try and force everyone else to look at them. That the trigger is the creatures' appearance is emphasized by physical changes in the victims' irises and pupils.
  • Constantine: When John Constantine tries to exorcise a demon from a little girl he tells his helpers not to look. One of the helpers does and his hair instantly turns white, apparently due to the sight of the demons.
  • Doctor Strange (2016): After conducting the forbidden ritual, the skin around the eyes of Kaecilius and his followers dies, dries up and flakes away, leaving shiny, purple, very sore-looking flesh underneath, because they were exposed to what it summoned, Dormammu, ruler of the Dark Dimension, Dimension Lord and Eldritch Abomination.
  • Dogma: Hearing the voice of God would cause death, as demonstrated near end of the movie.
  • The Mummy (1932): The mummy's shambling corpse causes insanity in Whemple's assistant when he catches a glimpse of it.
    "He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face! HAHAHAHA!"

  • Bird Box plays out mostly in the same manner as the film (above), with a few exceptions. Characters who witness the entities do not display inexplicable physical changes, hallucinations, or indoctrinated behavior, but do still lapse into suicidal insanity. Also differing from the film, animals, or at least dogs and birds, are no less susceptible.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them mentions the Nundu, a gigantic leopard-like creature whose mere breath causes a disease bad enough to wipe out entire villages, and the Fwooper, a bird whose song causes insanity.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Simply looking a Basilisk in the eyes is enough to kill you, and if you do this indirectly — as a reflection, or through a camera, for example — you'll still be petrified.
  • "Rappaccini's Daughter", an 1844 short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The title girl has been given a poisonous touch and breath by her Overprotective Dad in a misguided effort to protect her from the evils of the world.
  • Stephen King makes repeated use of this concept in his stories.
    • From a Buick 8 has a portal to another universe populated with totally alien lifeforms. Exposure to one these lifeforms caused permanent psychological damage to members of the Pennsylvania State Police. A character name Eddie described rage at the horror of trespass, and a blind need to kill the alien creature. Character memories of the encounter felt real in a dream-like way and traumatic.
    • In Needful Things, the shop owner Leland Gaunt isn't human. While he lives in the town, people are more easily induced to homicidal rage or suicide. This effect ends after he leaves.
    • The short story collection Skeleton Crew includes, in "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands", a man whose touch causes death due to a curse.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, proximity to the White Queen immediately evokes worshipful mania, with longer-lasting permanent insanity of various types. Only one human is completely immune to it, no-one knows why, and he spends his whole life trying to keep her out of the human world.
    A large man collapsed on the spot and wept like a small child, a holy woman must have been so shocked she entered nirvana because her eyes rolled back in her head and she foamed at the mouth, a group of what looked like indigenous South Americans prostrated themselves before her with their foreheads pressed against the ground, and a gaudy female fortuneteller began gathering up the dirt the Queen had stepped on and stuffing it into a bag like a high school baseball player at Koshien.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In American Horror Story: Coven, a character named Zoe Benson has no control over her Touch of Death ability, which seems to activate on its own immediately after sexual intercourse. The effects seemed to be intense internal hemorrhage all throughout the body, causing blood to escape from the eyes, mouth, ears, nose, and possibly other places.
  • Angel: Anyone who touches Gwen Raiden receives an electric shock powerful enough to kill them (provided they aren't undead), much to her chagrin.
  • Inverted in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush", where the monstrous "Gentlemen" can be killed by hearing a human scream.
  • Doctor Who: The Silence, creatures whose presence causes amnesia, are a subversion, as you forget them as soon as you look away.
  • Supernatural:
    • At the end of season two, when all of Azazel's children meet up, they start comparing their powers: super strength, mind control, etc. Then one woman tells Sam Winchester to stop angsting about his death visions and says it could be worse. Her uncontrolled power was killing people she touched accidentally, stopping their hearts, which killed her girlfriend apparently.
    • The season 4 premiere "Lazurus Rising" revolves around trying to identify the creature who resurrected Dean. A psychic trying to view it had her eyes burned out just glimpsing its face. It turned out that the brown note was a side-effect of the creature's nature and not intentional. The creature in question was Castiel, an Angelic Abomination, but not a hostile one. He usually uses a willing vessel to avoid having this effect on humans.
  • Taken: Due to the aliens' Psychic Powers, people in close proximity to them suffer serious health problems and often die as a result. The first sign is typically a Psychic Nosebleed. In "Beyond the Sky", Sally Clarke develops one after spending only a few minutes in John's presence. It eventually becomes apparent that the aliens are so interested in the Keys family, continually abducting Russell, Jesse and Charlie over the course of almost 50 years, because they are immune to the harmful effects that typically come with prolonged exposure. In "Beyond the Sky", Russell is the only one of the ten men aboard the B-17 bomber who were abducted on August 1, 1944 to survive more than three years after being exposed. The immunity of the Keys family is crucial to the aliens' attempts to create a viable hybrid.
  • Twin Peaks The Return has the Woodsmen, evil beings from the Black Lodge (a malicious Alternate Dimension). They look like mundane dirty hobos, but their creepy, distorted speech puts people to sleep, and they can travel through dimensions and instantly kill people. When they appear, everything turns black and white to signal how reality distorts around them.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Banshees: In the original myths, their voices weren't harmful in themselves, their wail was only an omen of death to come. In modern versions, however, their blood-curdling screams can kill or paralyze.
  • The Bible: During Exodus, Moses asks to see God, but God said that it would kill him, although God did arrange for Moses to view his back. Viewing angels would likewise cause prophets or apostles to fall down in trembling fear. Holy Is Not Safe.
  • Classical Mythology:
    • Don't shake hands with King Midas, because his Midas Touch will kill you instantly by turning you into a solid gold statue, which happened to his daughter in some versions.
    • Medusa, as one of the Gorgons, can turn anyone who gives her a single glance to stone. The only way to view her head without turning to stone is through a reflective surface, which is how Perseus was able to kill her, and her head still holds the power to turn you to stone even after it's been severed from her body, as both the giant sea monster Cetus and King Polydectes learn the hard way. This is apparently due to her having been turned unspeakably, supernaturally hideous by a Curse from the goddess Athena, hence why her severed head still possesses the power to petrify, but this angle is dropped in modern retellings of the myth.
    • The true form of the Greek gods was said to have this effect on mortals. One famous case was Semele, who was tricked into getting Zeus to promise her anything and then asking him to show her his true form. When she saw Zeus' true, unconcealed divinity, she was instantly incinerated.
    • The voices of the sirens enthrall listeners and lead them to their doom.
  • Basilisk and Cockatrice: Glimpsing these creatures can kill you or turn you to stone.
  • Malawian folklore gives us the Nguluka, a flying snake that looks like a Guinea fowl. Anybody who sees it dies.
  • Japanese legend tells about the kunekune, which will drive you insane if you get a good look at it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu: Any human being seeing a creature of the Cthulhu Mythos (even those that aren't Eldritch Abominations) will suffer a reduction of their sanity. If they see enough such beings, they will go temporarily or permanently insane. Some Mythos entities are so horrific (e.g. deities like Cthulhu, Azathoth, etc.) that a person can be driven permanently mad by seeing them just once. The Secrets of San Francisco sourcebook has a scenario, "The Colour of His Eyes", where man assembles an alien looking telescope, uses it, and then has a Colour Out Of Space (basically a form of sentient, malevolent light) trapped in his eyes. Thereafter, he drains the energy from (and kills) anything he looks at, including a nurse caretaker.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Seeing a human's ghost causes the viewer to suddenly age 10 years, since 1st/2nd edition Advanced D&D.
    • Anyone seeing a nymph is permanently blinded. If the nymph is nude or removes her clothing, the viewer dies, since 1st/2nd edition Advanced D&D.
    • The Obyriths, the primordial race of demons spawned by the Abyss eons before life arose on the Material Plane, tend to be this due to how twisted, horrifying and alien their forms are to more recent lifeforms.
      • Their bizarre, horrifyingly-alien appearances grant the Obyriths an ability called "Form of Madness". Their presence is established to be an affront to all five senses, which causes anyone who so much as senses them to be afflicted by an oftentimes permanent type of insanity (phobias, feelings of being consumed by insects, etc).
      • Pale Night, the so-called Mother of Demons, is ancient even among the surviving Obyriths. Pale Night's "Truth Behind the Veil" rule means that anyone who gets a good look at her true form — normally hidden behind a full-body robe implied to imposed on her by reality itself as a side effect of how alien she is to it — must make an immediate (very high) saving throw; success means that the character's mind refuses to comprehend what they're looking at. Those who fail die outright, and if revived remember nothing of what they saw beyond a feeling of sheer horror.
    • Even some incredibly powerful forces of Good cannot be viewed safely by mortals. The Book of Exalted Deeds sourcebook mentions Zaphikiel, the greatest of the Hebdomad and the ruler of Mount Celestia. Only the gods themselves and the other Hebdomad can look upon him safely; anyone else who does so is said to be consumed by his overwhelming radiant energy and destroyed utterly. (Or maybe ascended to a higher form; it depends on who you ask.)
    • Ravenloft: Ghosts in this game setting have a life draining affect. The touch of lichs and ghouls are paralyzing. Deadly Gaze and other Brown Note curses are common, particularly for main characters.
      • Many freaks within the Carnival were cursed and twisted by the presence of Isolde, the mysterious lord of the Carnival, due to the curse placed on her when she was drawn into the Demiplane of Dread.
      • Desmond LaRouche was cursed into becoming half a flesh golem. Those seeing his face must do a fear check to see whether they fall into terror.
      • Ivana Boritsi and her Ermordenung, in Borca, have poisonous touch.
  • Magic: The Gathering: The Alara block gives us the Nemesis of Rea- THE END.
    Words describing it fail. Pages relating it shrivel. Tales recounting it end.
  • Pathfinder:
  • Warhammer 40,000: In some depictions, the Emperor of Mankind (a living deity) is so powerful that most mortals cannot gaze upon his true form (he occasionally disguises himself, both to hide his identity and to protect onlookers). Those who attempt to either die, are blinded by the power inherent in his visage (as happens to Astropaths in the ceremony that links their souls to His), or else their minds simply are unable to process what they are seeing. Even those who can safely look at him (generally those who are extremely powerful or have strong wills) see him as somewhat indistinct, with his features constantly changing and shifting. Some of his sons, the Primarchs, inherited this ability.
  • World of Darkness:
    • Predators, a book for Werewolf: The Forsaken, introduces a being known only as the Unseen, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It's said that its form is so blasphemous that reality itself refuses to show it (just like Pale Night). The Unseen is uncannily good at hunting werewolf packs, to the point that some suggest it's a weapon created by a werewolf-hating Eldritch Abomination. About the only way you learn of its presence is when your guts spill out of a seemingly spontaneous slice in your flesh.
    • Mage: The Awakening Any being from this game setting's Abyss is an Eldritch Abomination which warps sanity and reality around it, but not in a good way.

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: The game doesn't let you get a good look at the monsters, ever, because just looking at them drops your sanity meter and causes the screen to blur... and makes them notice you. This has a Nothing Is Scarier effect, but it is justified since viewing the monsters drains a game character's sanity. The main monster is the Shadow, an Eldritch Abomination on a mission, don't touch even touch the Meat Moss it leaves behind on its trail. Other sanity draining creatures are the otherworldly, water-dwelling Kaernk.
  • In Ancient Domains of Mystery, a Banshee's scream will instantly kill your character if they're not deaf or put beeswax into their ears first.
  • In Mass Effect, Reapers and Reaper technology can indoctrinate organic beings just from being in close proximity, causing the organics to lose their free will and eventually become mindless slaves or even empty shells unable to care for themselves (or they just throw themselves on the nearest Dragon's Tooth and become a more literal cyber-zombie). More disturbingly, the Reaper does not even have to be alive for this to work, as one Cerberus research team found out the hard way:
    A god — a real god — is a verb. Not some old man with magic powers. It's a force. It warps reality just by being there. It doesn't have to want to. It doesn't have to think about it. It just does.
  • Pokémon:
    • Mimikyu is a Ghost/Fairy Pokémon who's unseen except for a shadowy Combat Tentacle and whose true appearance is said to curse and/or frighten viewers to death. But this isn't intentional, the creature is lonely and longs for human friends, and such keeps itself disguised to ensure others won't see its true body.
    • Encountering Darkrai will leave the observer plagued by nightmares, possibly for months. Story development later shows that this is unintentional. Darkrai comes with an inverted counterpart called Cresselia, whose presence causes happy dreams, and their feathers act as a magic antidote to Darkrai's nightmares.

    Web Comics 
  • Freefall Sam Starfall wears an opaque environment suit and an animatronic face mask because his true appearance has a tendency to prompt humans to either vomit or gouge their own eyes out. He's suggested to resemble an octopus or squid wrapped around an artificial skeleton and one comic reveals that he has chromatophores that produce optical illusions that make him look like he's fourth-dimensional or worse (he has a certificate saying he's a strictly three-dimensional being, and has needed it before).
  • Girl Genius's England arc has an extradimensional being that causes madness in Tarvek simply by being near him.

    Western Animation 
  • The Venture Bros.: In "Twenty Years to Midnight", the Grand Galactic Inquisitor appears in the form of Rusty Venture's dead father Jonas. When Rusty complains that this was traumatizing because he thought he actually was Jonas, the Inquisitor displays his incomprehensible true form, horrifying everyone and causing Sally Impossible's mentally challenged cousin, Ned, to crap his pants.
    Grand Galactic Inquisitor: Alright, fine, you wanna see? Here! [peels off his face, revealing his true self, which is shown offscreen, but horrifies everyone else] There! That would have been better? If I showed up like that out of nowhere? Look at you! You practically crapped your pants! Except him, he crapped his pants! [points to Ned]


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