Sunday 12 May 2013

Saint Anne

If you haven't read 'The Fifth Head of Cerebus' by Gene Wolfe, do so, it's a great book. One of the worlds featured in it is Saint Anne which I am shamelessly stealing and mangling into my Known Worlds Traveller setting.

Saint Anne

Aquila 474 C 768 787 5 Agricultural, Garden, Rich, Low Technology

Saint Anne is a very earth-like world, with a thriving ecosystem of land and sea vertebrates and has attracted a population of 60 million colonists in eight separate colonies. One unusual feature is the fact that is was not discovered until 120 years ago, long after the rest of the worlds in its vicinity were located and mapped.

The world has one land mass, quite mountainous with deserts on one side and a large area of forests and marshland on the other cut by a number of huge rivers.

The first colonists were French 'primitivists', devout Catholics who believed that technology had ruined human spiritual development and who created a quiet rural society. They were followed by Americans, Chinese, Indians, Romanians, Nigerians, Arabs, Brazilians and a colony from the independent Mercian state on Alpha Centauri.

The French claimed that when they landed they were met and attacked by stone age humans, perhaps the survivors of a previous colonising attempt that had foundered, and that these 'Annese' lived on the fringes of their colony for decades before disappearing. No other colonists came across them, though rumours persist of finds of stone tools and occasional sightings. Who these people were, and if they existed at all, remains a mystery.

The second group of colonist were American, who unfortunately crash landed and lost most of their supplies. The French assisted them in their early years and soon colonists were flooding in from across the US. Despite the lack of easily accessible minerals the Americans adopted a rapid industrial policy at odds with the French conservationism and in a war 20 years ago most of the French territory was invaded, and act of quite staggering ingratitude in the opinion of the French. The French resistance has taken an unusual form – the rebels claim that they are at least partly of 'Annese' native descent and no Earthman has a right to their world. Out in the forests bands of rugged survivalists make life hard for settlers of all nationalities, but American logging companies bear the brunt of their ire. Constant guerilla warfare has become the norm all along the inland borders.

The total failure of the Brazilian colony is also a mystery. Latecomers to Saint Anne they picked an isolated spot in the steamy jungles of the far south of the continent and had an initial settlement underway in a couple of years. Then all radio contact stopped. When a boat from the Chinese colony sought to find them a few years later they found the place abandoned, pre-fab buildings collapsing and abandoned vehicles rusting away and overgrown with jungle plants.

The most standoffish colony are the Romanians. They settled in the cooler far north, but since they were a splinter far right organisation who wanted to get away from the EU and its policy of equal rights for gypsies and Hungarians, they found it easy to transfer that mistrust to the other nationalities they shared Saint Anne with. They may have had some internal disagreements – refugees turned up in the Indian state of Coromandel a few years back after a gruelling three month trek through the forests, but they were uncommunicative about what was going on.

Tensions between all the colonies are rising as populations expand and as the booming economy based on forest products and biofuel farming creates winners and losers. Chinese attempts to create a local Planetary Court have been scoffed at by all the other colonies, pointing out their repression of their own local rebels – Revisionist Maoists who tried to set up self sufficient collective farms – has been brutal.

Local technology remains stubbornly low. The fact that you can make a decent living out of the rich soil with only the most basic of equipment has meant there has been little local impetus to improve. The main space port is a class C operation at Chengdu city, though the US port at Hambleton is also rated at class C and is nearly as big.

Large amounts of the inhabited land across the whole world is a collection of small to medium sized farms with a distinctly neo-medieval air. Wealth on this planet comes primarily from land ownership, and the importance of taking and holding it has led to all kinds of dubious goings on and rural militias, armed smallholders unions and the use of armed guards by the bigger enterprises to defend against the 'Annese' have created a tense atmosphere.

The towns and cities are almost all fishing ports and ships are the main form of transport between colonies and up river to their hinterlands. The Indians have some railways, allegedly built by chain gangs of criminals and rebels sent from hot spots back home, and have revived the ancient technology of diesel locomotives, while the Chinese have taken to using airships. The Americans import expensive grav planes, but their limited capacity makes steam powered riverboats the best way of getting farm goods to market in their territory.

Adventure Hooks

  • Stone tools have turned up on the antiquities market on Earth that allegedly come from Saint Anne. A rich eccentric, Ulrich Von Daniken, has decided that they are evidence that there was a spacefaring Atlantean civilisation and that the mysterious Annese were their last survivors. Time to pay the place a visit, with archaeologists, biologists and armed guards in tow. Oddly one of the tools seems to have been crafted from shards of an old coke bottle.
  • A mass grave has been discovered on the border of American and Chinese territory, dug up by Ghoul Bears, a local scavenger species, and found by big game hunters from offworld. The FBI have sent a forensic team to investigate. Who lies in it? The politicos at Hambleton are hoping its Chinese Maoists, an excuse to start a war, but the locals are acting unfriendly – did they find a lost tribe of Annese (real or faux Annese French rebels). Did some local land dispute get ugly? Did they off a bunch of Chinese settlers? Or are they something else again?
  • Yellow Fever has come to Saint Anne. Long controlled back home on Earth the bug is tearing through one of the coastal cities. How did it get here? Biowarfare? People are getting panicky and there is anarchy on the streets.
  • Lovely climate in Saint Anne, sub tropical, well drained mountain soil, just right for growing coffee – and a quite a few other stronger narcotics. Someone has taken to growing cocaine up in the hills, PCs are contracted by one of the governments to take them out, or to smuggle the stuff off world.
  • Starbucks want a coffee plantation, but the most suitable land is currently occupied by a motley collection of French peasants. Persuade them to sell up.
  • A new narcotic is on the market, a local plant that causes strange hallucinations, visions of what might be the past. Now the low-lifes of Hambleton's slums are taking to calling themselves 'Annese', and walking around naked bar ritual scarifications and carrying stone hand axes. Are they tripping their nuts off? People are being found floating in the harbour torn to shreds by being beaten with whips strung with sea shells, just as old accounts say happened to the first French landing party – this shit is getting real.
  • The Arabs are in a serious tizz. One of their factory ships has been lost with all hands deep in the vast but placid Annese oceans. What happened to it? One tale of the old Annese said they were amazing swimmers – has everyone been looking in the wrong place for them? Are they aquatic? Or is there something else living in those deep blue seas?
  • Nothing has been heard from the Romanian colony for months. Have they gone the same way as the Brazilians? Their main settlement was quite a ways inland, up the Kirsco River. Their president's name was Vlad Caecescu. Time for a boat trip into the Heart of Darkness...


  1. That book was very thick as far as storytelling goes. With different points of views. Some suggesting alien mimicry.

    1. Suggestions of all sorts of things, Gene Wolfe being a great fan of unreliable narrators, but it's hard to sustain that kind of multi-layered mystery in an RPG. I ain't saying what's happening in my RPG version one way or the other, I don't even know myself yet, depends on what will work best with the particular group of players.