Thursday 11 April 2013

I is for Icehenge

I have lifted this idea wholesale from Kim Stanley Robinson's 1985 novel Icehenge.

Icehenge is a circle of columns of ice, each slightly different, averaging 3m wide and 9m tall. They can be found on an otherwise dull and unexciting ice ball, the outermost planet of the Kibara system (007 Aquila). The ice-liths all have sloping upper surfaces and it looks more like a slightly smarter modern art version of the Callanish stone circle than Stonehenge, with is lintels and nested circles and horseshoes of stones.

What the hell is it doing there? Endless quantities of cranks have theorised about the place, coming up with the usual blather about prehistoric starfaring cultures from Earth and extinct aliens, interstellar ley lines, astronomical alignments and so on.

Serious archaeologists know only that the ice is local (they checked the chemistry), the site was smoothed off before construction and that they have no idea how old it is, dating ice left standing out in a near vacuum is not something they have any firm idea about. It is also damned far from anywhere, getting there even at 6G acceleration from the system's inhabited world takes a couple of weeks and the amount of comet debris nearby makes a short warp inadvisable. Someone tried it once and got their ship smashed to bits, giving the tin foil hat brigade plenty of theories about curses and warp distorting defences to witter about.

Standing as it does on a flat white plain so far from it's sun that Kibara Prime is lost in the starfield and with a ragged ring of ice chunks that orbit the planet hanging in the sky above it, it is a very beautiful and spooky place and tourists are willing to pay a pretty steep price to go and see it.

Adventure Hooks

  • It is a meeting place for space druids. Various eccentrics from around Known Space built it and they have built others yet undiscovered in systems more less in a line back to Earth. On the appointed day all the rings will be occupied by twits in spacesuits with pointy hats waving freeze dried mistletoe and they will supposedly telepathically contact each other. Will it work? Who knows, but the PCs have a bunch of nerdy computer programmers and accountants calling each other by made up celticy sounding names led by a systems analyst calling himself Arthur with a ice sword he keeps in a bucket of liquid hydrogen willing to pay oodles to be taken out there. Lets hope they don't have a theological split along the way eh? Or get too riled if it doesn't work, or too over excited if it does.
  • It really was aliens. It will soon be midsummers day on this isolated world, which only happens every 300 years and that's when the true alignments will come right, according to anyone who knows anything about megaliths on Earth. Various rival scientific expeditions are setting out to see what happens. They know the stars the alignments will point at already from computer models, this is just a sightseeing trip really, but some are a bit curious to see what happens. Does a space portal crossing hundreds of parsecs open? Do disembodied alien intelligences appear and dispense ancient wisdom? Or do the various squads of scientists squabble and have a fight and miss it all?
  • The main tourist carrier is Jellaby Lines, founded by Douglas Jellaby, they guy whose starship fell out of warp in the outer system and who found the ring by accident 40 years ago. Or that's his story – he actually built the thing himself as a money spinner. A boffin with an answer to dating the thing properly is aboard his ship, along with the PCs. Is he going to fall out of an airlock?
  • The Duke of Hereford from England, not having anything better to do, is on his way to the place. Terrorists from New Dorset, a colony trying to secede from the English Empire will be there to meet him.
  • The bit about astronomical alignments is pish, a PC realises, its places on the planet that are important, like that big ice mountain on the line from lith 18 to lith 6... what is under there?
  • It's a graveyard. A scout ship with a crew from the Western Isles of Scotland crashed here a hundred and seventy years ago, well supplied, but with no comms and no way off the world and at that time precious few ships passing through. They built it as an homage to Callanish back home to pass the time and maybe, just maybe, a signal to passing vessels to come down and save them. Deep seismic probes, only useable with big explosives, will find the graves and deep buried ship.
  • A bored teenager throws a chunk of ice at a lith while the PCs are there, and the thing vibrates. Now there's no sound in a vacuum, but perhaps there's a way to listen to the noise with a contact microphone – what tunes can you play, and what happens when you do?
  • There is a lake under the ice – liquid nitrogen mostly, it being effin cold out here in deep space – is that why the henge is here? Drilling down into it awakens the Elder Thing lurking within, and as it squawks its spawn, frozen for aeons in the ice chunks in the rings above begin to wake...
  • It was aliens, no kidding, really it was – they put this here as a marker for a strange matter waste dump that would warn any sensible species to stay well away. And what kind of buffoonish species couldn't read the clear warning signs from the variations in height of the liths, reflecting the extended tentacles of a Multiploid Quercate in pain? The overgrown monkeys digging a ruddy great tunnel under the site with laser drills, that's who.
  • The liths were built by drug smugglers. Why take the risk of having a maser or electromagnetic beacon for your dropped drug packages when a visual sign will do? Make it something suitably weird and silly and no one will suss it out.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

H is for Hobbits

Known Space has hobbits. Doctor Shin Wei Chung was possibly a visionary (or possibly a lunatic), and during the late 21st century when global warming became a massive issue he decided the only way humanity was going to survive was by using less resources, and that meant less humans, or at least less biomass of humans. So why not have the same number of people, but each individual smaller, more efficent? His agricultural research station in an out of the way corner of Tibet had successfully produced miniature cattle and he now set about sampling all the known human mutations that reduced size and worked on the genome around them to mitigate some of their less healthy consequences.

His first generation of small people were sent out into the world with false IDs to study in the best universities and they soon took over the project themselves. After three generations the result was a population averaging 3 foot six inches tall, well proportioned and agile, robust with no serious long term health problems, breeding true with no occasional big people, just humans, but little; Homo sapiens minimus.

However the worst of global warming was past, fusion power and mass interstellar colonisation had seen to that, and they were not going to inherit the Earth from their bigger (and in their opinion more short sighted and wasteful) brothers.

They existence of the project had gradually become known over its first century, and the Chinese authorities who had (unwittingly at first) funded it kept doing so, hoping to use the hobbits as cheap starship crew – you could after all fit twice as many into a starship, cutting life support costs considerably – and put the project under military control. People inevitably didn't quite take them seriously, a source of great annoyance, and when tourists took to coming to gawp at them and the military talked about abandoning the project and finding them jobs in Tolkein theme parks, they got pretty angry. In the end they staged a revolution, throwing out their military trainers and demonstrating their complete grasp of guerilla tactics in the wilds of the Himalayas. They ended up in Nepal and Bhutan, and eventually got enough money together to fund a colony ship. They now live happily in the mountain valleys of Tau Ceti Prime, and can be met anywhere in Known Space. They still don't like being called 'hobbits', or 'halflings', or any other literary or mythological name for little people. They aren't going to start a bar fight over it (well not often anyway), they know they would probably lose, but they are certainly verbally scathing about people idiotic enough to make an issue out of their height.

Hobbit characters

STR 1d6
DEX 2d6
END 2d6+1
INT 2d6
EDU 2d6
SS 1d6+1d2

Hobbits can be any profession. They only need two tons of life support as starship crew, not four, and at a pinch four can fit in a standard stateroom. They have few entirely hobbit crew starships, and these have smaller bridges unusable by anyone over four feet tall and tiny corridors that big people have to creep down.

Hobbit military forces are not to be messed with. Just because you are short doesn't mean you can't drive a tank or fly a grav-bomber, and they are well trained in infiltration and the use of laser carbines. Weaponry has to be specially made to their size though, even a normal size pistol is unwieldy for them, and this is not available anywhere except their homeworld unless specially made.

Adventure Hooks

  • Fricking aliens have landed! After two centuries of looking the human race has finally met the Little Green Men! Or is it a bunch of Hobbits having a laugh with big yokels on a backwater planet? Or doing something else secret, landing their starship way out in the desert?
  • Hobbit mercenaries have been deployed in an ongoing brushfire war. Their opponents say they are really child soldiers and all kinds of treaties have been violated. Go and check it out for the UN and try not to get a laser beam between the eyes.
  • A starport city has a problem. Big people are accusing recently arrived hobbit immigrants of taking their jobs and things are getting ugly. A hobbit undergound has grown up, the little bastards are using the ventilation ducts to get all over the domed colony and firebomb heightist bigots.
  • Hobbit punks have a new sport, dog jousting. You get a big dog and ride it into an arena to fight, bloody dangerous but good fun. They need more dogs though, and they are banned in the hobbit state, can you help smuggle in some rottwielers please?
  • A hobbit couple are seeking their wayward son, who ran way to space many years back. They fear he may have committed the ultimate betrayal and become a growth hormone addict, he might not be easy to find.
  • The main hobbit religion is Buddhism, their culture developed in Tibet after all, and one  sect have concluded that all big people are reborn as smaller ones, and that there is a direct link between reduced height and spiritual development, the shorter you are the more holy you are. A group of hobbit monks looking for the latest incarnation of the Mini Lama have found that he is to be born on planet Simba, mainly inhabited by Masai, and feel they might need bodyguards and a trained diplomat to help look for him.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

G is for Gene Splicing

In Known Space a certain amount of genetic tinkering is regarded as perfectly acceptable and normal, but there are still people out there who regard it as 'unnatural', and researchers and technologists do sometimes go to far.


On many worlds there are developed ecosystems, and most of these are based on local variations on proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and fats. These are not always close enough to Earth's native biochemistry to be easily digested, so genetic engineers put synthetic enzymes into normal gut bacteria to help things along. Eat a yoghurt with the bacterial mix and over a few days (not usually accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps) your gut flora will adapt to local food.

Starship crews who skip from planet to planet frequently hate this and try and stick to imported food, but medical officers will passenger vessels will administer the bugs while aboard ship.

For any planet where this is action roll 4+ vs Endurance plus skill of medical officer supervising. A failed roll will result in 1d6 days of illness reducing END and STR by 2 and all skill rolls by 1.


From TL9 onwards it becomes possible to take stem cells from a sick person and grow quite complex organs in the lab. This makes transplants of most of the viscera and even replacement bone and muscles far easier. The 5000Cr cost to replace lost characteristics due to injury are reflected by this and this can be used to replace those lost by ageing as well, but only 1 point per characteristic.

At TL 10 one rather stupid but popular implant are specially crafted steroid glands. They will increase STR by 2, but the cost is advanced ageing, with ageing rolls made each 3 years rather then each 4.

At TL 11 'improvements' become possible. Livers that can synthesise Vitamin C and essential amino acids are a comparative doddle, hard wearing kidneys less prone to kidney stones, lungs with better self cleaning capacity etc. For 15,000 Cr (give or take), a PC can improve END by 1.

Also at TL 12 it becomes possible to put in improved muscle fibres and strengthened bones, giving +1 STR for 20,000 Cr, to a max of 3 STR as various parts of the body are improved. The appearance of these at higher levels can be quite ungainly, for each point gained over 12, one point of DEX is lost.

Gene selection

At TL9 knowledge of the functions of the thousands of genes means that embryo selection is possible. A batch of egg cells are fertilised artificially and DNA analysis is used to select the 'best' by the lights of the parents. At TL 7 and 8 this is used to eliminate embryos with inherited genetic disease, but at TL 9 'positive' features can be selected, though the influence of genes is not absolute. If a person has SS 9+ and TL 9+ they can swap 1d3 stat points between STR, END, DEX and INT. At higher TL it becomes cheaper and easier, SS 8+ at TL 10, SS 7+ at TL 11+.

Germline modification

Germline modification means any changes made to the genes is passed on to the next generation, creating the risk of a 'genetic aristocracy'. Different cultures take different views on this, mostly negative, but fortunately it isn't that easy to do. Even at TL 12 implanted genes are slightly unstable, and the genes either have no effect, or even cause disabilities.

The wild and wacky stuff

Secret projects to radically modify human beings have taken place, but they have always thrown up many failures. Rumours that this or that corporation or dictator has financed such a secret project float about regularly. Nothing has been proved however.

Adventure Hooks

  • A PC discovers that he has been subject to peculiar experiment – he has Einstein's brain. The DNA from Einstein was stripped of its immunological markers, the PCs own substituted and, as an embryo, the stem cells that lead to the brain substituted. Who did this? Has it made any practical difference? Did it even work?
  • In a care home for people with learning disabilities a doctor has made a troubling discovery – scraps of DNA that look like tags from a gene implant. The person they come from has a shadowy history, being abandoned in a hospital as a child, and severe autism means they are not at all communicative about what happened. Where did this person come from?
  • A clinic is offering a rather silly modification – pointy and other modified ears at knock down price. They have become all the rage among the fashionistas. Thing is it's being run by Plesios PLC, and unsavoury rumours link them to a neo-fascist regime. What else are they putting into their patients while the ears are being sewn on?
  • Some twit has implanted roid glands into Alsatian dogs, and with a cybernetic jaw, IR vision eyes and natty bullet proof dog coat you have a fantastic guard dog. Just introduced as starport security, and already marmalised half a dozen thieves out by the warehouses. You have packs of cyber implanted, steroid crazed bullet proof hounds between you and your starship and there's no sign of the handlers.
  • The Metelli family are very wealthy, have produced great scientists, a number of eccentric artists and have a politician or two in the family. Gerald Metelli is in the running for president of the colony of New Campagna, his rivals want definitive proof that they have been using germline genetics and do bit of rabble rousing. Get DNA from one of the clan and don't get caught.

Saturday 6 April 2013

F is for Finn MacCool

Finn MacCool, or Fionn mac Cumhail, was a really big, really tough Irish hero who did too many marvellous things to recount here, in Known Space he is a bloody great Irish robot and he lives on the planet Nua Domhan.

Nua Domhan

286 Aquila X 8B1 110 3

Ireland in 2313 is still part of the European Union, and Irish settlers can be found all over Known Space wherever the EU has stuck its starry circle flag. But for one Irish patriot and freelance star-scout, David Delaney, that wasn't good enough, he wanted a bit of outer space that was forever Ireland, and so the unclaimed world of Nua Domhan was officially colonised in 2278. This was rather against the Irish government's wishes. Nua Domhan had gone a begging since it was one of the most useless hunks of junk in Known Space, a large Venusian type world with boiling temperatures, sulphuric atmosphere and more volcanoes than you could shake a stick at. What attracted Delaney was its rather pretty version of the Giant’s Causeway, a plain of hexagonal basalt columns larger in land area than Ireland itself, lapped by an emerald green sea of sulphuric acid and dissolved copper sulphate.

When the Irish Navy took absolutely no interest in guarding the place, a popular charity appeal raised enough money to by a second hand picket vessel to be despatched to guard Ireland's new interstellar empire.

Colonisation was a dead letter. Delaney's Irish Imperial Exploits company went broke, but not before purchasing, at a knock down price, Fionn MacCumhail, a giant construction robot. This was a failed project of Nakamura Industries to create a passenger carrying walker that could take tourists across the Pacific sea floor. Now it would stride across Nua Domhan planting atmosphere reduction machines that in a mere 30,000 years (at the current work rate) would make the planet a sizzlingly hot but just about inhabitable paradise!

This quixotic project is currently funded by the son of a former Saudi Prince who retired to his horse stud in Waterford county after the Arabian revolution, an Irish-American software baron, a national lottery and the occasional grant from the ever complaining Irish Dail. There are four personnel on the planet itself, living in extremely cramped quarters in Fionn's torso and going quietly mad from cabin fever and the stress caused by Fionn's frequent break downs and many niggling malfunctions. Another two guys mind the orbital picket ship and storage facility. They spend up to a year on duty at a time, with next to no visitors. The current owners keep making vague promises about buying another robot, or making a proper orbital station with enough room to swing a cat, or finding a way round the communications problems that mean Fionn can't be controlled from orbit, but nothing ever seems to get done. The low TL does not reflect the technology of Fionn (actually about TL10, TL11 for the self-repairing acid resistant smart material kilt), but the local capacity for manufacture, ie pretty damn poor. They can bang out a few very crude machine parts in the engineering section of the picket ship and that's it.

Adventure Hooks

  • Fionn has had it. He fell into a crevasse and broke and the crew need rescuing.
  • Nua Domhan has been invaded! Well, a gang of hard up belt miners took over the orbital station and stripped it for scrap metal. Quite how the Irish government will react no one knows, the speed of communication means they probably haven't even heard about it yet, but anyone in the area could defend Irish national honour and nab the varmints if they felt so inclined.
  • The guys on the ground are going off the rails. They say there's a monster following them, but the whole system is only a billion years old, there's no way bacteria could have evolved on the planet, even if a living system could ever cope with the bitterly acidic atmosphere and boiling temperatures, which the planetologists doubt. Lay off the Jameson's guys.
  • There's good money to earned on Nua Domhan for the right kind of people. The Fionn Mac Cumhail co want experienced spacers used to spending a long time in a cabin to run the robot. They go broke about a month into the PCs contract, and the picket ship is out of action.
  • Fionn's got a new brain! PCs deliver and possibly install an up to date AI unit. Thing is the provenance is a bit dubious, it looks a bit second hand really, and you had to pick it up on Annabel's Grave
  • The new terraforming bot has arrived, CuCuhlainn, an updated version of Fionn. The old soldier has been stoically plodding the sulphurous wastes for years. He's an old bot with no true AI, but could he have actually got a bit territorial? Anyway he's not responding to commands and heading for the new bot in what might be interpreted as a menacing and deliberate air.

Friday 5 April 2013

E is for Eagle's Nest

Back in the early 22nd century warp drive vessels became cheap enough for all kinds of small companies and political fringe groups to go of into space and found colonies. Some very nasty racist and sectarian groups took the chance to set up their own warped ideas of utopia, including some neo-Nazis. Most people on Earth at the time thought 'good riddance', and most of the colonies didn't do well, collapsing into faction fighting and pissing off their neighbours and getting invaded and broken up. But there are persistent rumours of the existence of 'Eagle's Nest', a Nazi planet that has remained stable and prospered in isolation for 200 years and now allegedly constitutes a major threat to Known World security.

No one knows where it is. Sightings of alleged Nazi starships come from all over the rimward end of Known Space, conspiracy theorists are sure that they ply well known space lanes in disguise.

One well known world with a neo-Nazi presence is Orpheus, their colony here is small, but it does provide some insight as to how the fabled Eagle's Nest might work.


463 Aquila E 757 64A 7 Agricultural, Garden

Orpheus has a population of 7 million in four colonies. The oldest is Asgard, founded early in the expansion period by American white supremacists. The planet has a thin oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere, a well developed ecosystem with a full range of native animals and plants with plenty of Terran imports doing well, but it is a bit on the cold side.

The Asgardians have only 750,000 people and a small subcontinent left. They successfully captured and enslaved the occupants of a number of colony ships from a diverse range of nations in their early decades, but eventually a large contingent from Vietnam landed far enough away from them and were sufficiently well armed and warned about their presence to fight them off. The Asgardians had not managed to maintain a very high tech level – crucial minerals on Asgard are not as accessible as they are on Earth and they had a habit of ideologically purging educated personnel – and their outdated weaponry failed to make an impact

The Vietnamese were soon joined by Khazaks, Egyptians and French Canadians. Thirty years ago the Asgardians attempted to take over the planet and made great inroads thanks to an unexpected nuclear strike, but an alliance of all three colonies, plus forces from neighbouring planets, the European Union – the Asgardians had captured a ship load of Italian colonists early in their history – and a foreign legion of anti-fascist activists and adventurers from across Known Space counter invaded. The war eventually bogged down into a stalemate, and an armistice signed.

The current major power, with 4 million inhabitants, is the Orphean League, a rather grim but multi-racial police state which controls the bulk of the former Asgardian territories. They are subject to frequent uprisings and rebellions from ex-Asgardian citizens, 'forcing' the government to impose serious limits on local freedoms. They have resorted to forced internal migration and outright off-planet deportation to control them, and re-education camps allegedly exist in the boondocks of the world. A fair proportion of the younger ex Asgardians have become normal enough, but the population was subjected to a century and a half of vehemently racist propaganda and the erosion of this mindset has been slow.

The Asgardians live behind a massively fortified frontier, and can only maintain a tech level of 5 due to massive destruction of industrial capacity and trade restrictions. They can manage TL 7 genetics though, and a corps of certified 'Purifiers' have everyone's DNA on record. Those who carry what they define as 'impure genes' are given the choice of sterilisation or deportation, and encourage those the regime deems fittest to have numerous children. There are known to be barracks like boarding schools where hundreds of children are 'educated'. The many small farming communities are given a lot of independence, but sadly they just compete to be more hard line than the next lot, with councils of wilfully ignorant and brutal farmworkers monitoring each other's every utterance for deviation from the ideological norm. The one remaining town is, on the surface, quite pleasant. The Asgardians are desperate for foreign currency, technology and trade and go out of their way to give a good impression to outsiders. The model town is of course inhabited by an army of informers and secret police, and has many foreign infiltrators equipped with cybernetic implants from a variety of secret police forces on the look out for evidence of links with Eagle's Nest.

Adventure Hooks

  • PCs offered a mission to be dropped in a deserted area inside Asgardian territory to spy on a military testing range where they appear to have a suspiciously high tech artillery system.
  • An Asgardian exile met on a different world claims that his DNA changed between the mandatory test at birth and a later update. He claims the Orpheans are releasing a retro virus into Asgardian airspace infecting people with mutant genes, a blatant crime against humanity. The Asgardians are bastards but do they deserve this? Or is the guy a raving paranoiac?
  • The Orphean police have a standing list of wanted Nazis whose location is unknown. Fancy some bounty hunting? Maybe some have fled to Eagle's Nest if you follow the trail long and hard enough...
  • A shipload of diehard rebels have been deported from Orpheus and taken in by the Adelbert Corporation on Epsilon. What the hell do they want with these racist lunatics? Load the fools with cybernetic implants and use them as 'special security' when the war against the New Canaanites comes?
  • What really happens in those Asgardian schools? The rumours are lurid to say the least, but hard data would be nice – might even enable the Orpheans to get enough military aid to restart the war.
  • Reformed Odinism has become popular among the New Age set on a rich and heavily populated world. The usual moral panic and rumours of a cult are going about, but a local reporter thinks the leader is in fact an exiled Asgardian, which puts a different complexion on things.

Thursday 4 April 2013

D is for Dim

There are stars of all sizes and colours, white, yellow, orange, red and brown. There are quite a lot of brown dwarfs dotted around, dimly illuminating star systems consisting of interstellar dreck and slurry, particles of dirty ice too small for a beetle to colonise. Most don't appear on any but the most detailed star maps, space is big, it is very rare one even rates as a navigational hazard, space is big and they rarely impinge on the direct routes between more interesting inhabited systems. The exception is...


Aquila 473 B 100542 C Non Agricultural, Non Industrial, Vacuum

Brandy lies in the middle of a dark nebula made of a mix of organic molecules most notably ethanol (well methanol actually exists out there so why not?).

Four different colonies compete, run by British Petroleum, New Standard Oil from the US, Lukoil from Russia and a gang of mainly Scandinavian freelance belters called the Berusadine Brotherhood.

Each of these has a base (BP have bagged the only orbiting body big enough to be a planet and built a starport called New Milford Haven) and a number of refineries and mining vessels trundling round the system, grabbing the oil/ice asteroids and sucking in the denser strands of gas. 

From the main world Brandy gives about as much light as a 40 watt bulb, a dull purplish brown star about 20% covered in black sunspots edged in dull red. Every few hours a cloud of ethanol gets close enough to be caught up in one of the sluggish solar flares, making it burn with a dim blue flame. Residents say its looks a bit like a Christmas pudding, if you squint and are three sheets to the wind.

The main product of the system is a variety of interstellar light mineral oil, but inevitably various bored engineers have found a way of distilling off the booze to make 'Starshine' - various kinds of 90+% proof liquor dosed with food colouring and flavourings cooked up by organic chemists from the heavier fractions. Most people find it vile, but it is popular among the growing number of semi-feral spacebums who work asteroid belts and Oort clouds throughout Known Space, especially with a couple of ice cubes freshly chipped off a comet and shot of Ultra-Bee venom.

Adventure Hooks

  • New Standard Oil are trying a new venture, the 'booze cruise', taking college students out into deep space in a gas scooper on a fun filled holiday of liver damage and high jinks. If a given batch of dipsomaniacs drink an entire asteroid they get their money back.
  • British Petroleum Health and Safety have had it with the 'Starshiners' running illegal cracking plants in unoccupied craters, they want undercover agents to infiltrate their organisation.
  • Clive Lam of the infamous Clive's Bar wants a hundred gallons of top quality interstellar liquid brain damage, and he has heard the Berusadine boys are the ones to get it from. Don't screw it up, if they don't chuck you out of an airlock, Clive will.
  • One of the Lukoil mining vessels, the St Valdimir, has not been heard from in some time. Find it and find out what the hell they have been drinking, last known location has massive cyrillic swearwords, crafted from frozen poop from the vacuum toilets, doing a three body orbit round each other.
  • The New Canaan temperance society are in town with a US Navy surplus frigate and a hold full of tracts. Tread carefully around the Standard Oil stations.
  • Astro-chemists have wondrered where the millions of tons of ethanol has been coming from, things of that molecular weight shouldn't be possible to build out of drifiting carbon dust,hydrogen gas and radiation. Professor Stella Artois has made a shocking announcement – it is made by a bacterium-like thingy that evolved in deep space! Wonder if it any are still floating in that Starshine gunk that has got so popular? And what effect will they have if ingested?

Wednesday 3 April 2013

C is for Cybernetics

Most people in Known Space don't like cybernetics and regard those sporting them as freaks and wierdos or worse. The interfaces available for use with computers at higher tech levels are pretty good, holographic controls, data gloves, display visors, and having chips wired into your brain looks like a very nerdy affectation for little actual gain. Trying to hide cybernetic devices is also frowned upon by most governments. The only reason you would want to do so was because you were up to no good, and security forces tend to assume anyone with implants is a spy or terrorist until they prove otherwise. Cybernetics are also expensive, dangerous and and frequently lead to mental illness.


'eff off tinface!

As well as the modifiers by tech level on p38 of the Monggose Traveller Cybernetics books, add a -1d3 DM for degree of cultural bias against cybernetics and a further -1d3 if there has been a recent incident on the world involving a cybernetically enhanced criminal, spy or terrorist. Then give a -1 DM for every 3 Law Levels the society has – the higher the law level the greater the paranoia about crime and subversion and the more dangerous a cyborg is in the popular imagination.

Prejudice at its mildest level to a flat refusal to allow the individual to enter a business premises or home due to fears of covert surveillance and people assuming that a cyborg is mentally ill. More serious negative reactions may involve local toughs offering to fight the cyborg in order to prove that real men are tougher than half a man, local police forces taking a more violent than usual line with cyborgs committing misdemeanours (That metal oaf is littering – wait is he dropping a nanobot spy thingamajig? Shoot him!) and concerned citizens calling the cops on the spot.

On most worlds a special ID can be granted for those who have had implants for legitimate medical reasons, which can defuse most cases of prejudice. Others demand that cyborgs who have had elective enhancements have a day-glo orange tattoo, especially those who have concealable enhancements, so the public know that they are under serious danger of being 'gargoyled', recorded and monitored against their will.

Side Effects

'Ah, the anaesthetic is wearing off. You may feel the urge to scream...'

As well as the survival roll on p35, make a second roll at -2 to see if there are side effects, with an extra -1 per implant/improvement already possessed.

These may be constant pain from badly joined nerve endings, infection, feedback from a new implant disabling another, Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome, outright implant rejection resulting in failure within 1d6 months, losses to INT, EDU and DEX due to general brain and nerve damage. Each operation and type of enhancement will have its own particular pitfalls.

The Law

'I am afraid your legs are illegal in this colony. Please report to the special customs agent, the guy over there with the oily overalls and the hammer drill...'

Plenty of states outright ban elective cybernetics and put severe limits on the capabilities of medical cybernetic implants. Weapons as part of a cybernetic implant are treated as one category higher with regard to laws relating to arms. It might be OK in a jurisdiction to have a concealable handgun, but not if it is so concealable that it springs out of your thigh or shoots from your wrist. Concealable cavities are also frowned upon, and many jurisdictions will insist on them being welded shut. Higher law levels will have strict laws about recording devices and dmand that memory chips be removed from enhanced eyes and ears and their wi fi blocked. Really nasty ones will wave these things through, but put hackers on the job of putting viruses in the software to monitor the cyborg and shut down the implant if law enforcement deems it necessary. And what goes for entering a state goes double for entering a corporate enclave and quadruple for government and military offices. (Yes sir, you may come onto our airbase, but only if you unscrew your head and legs).

Mental Illness

Bow puny meat-things! I am Mechanisto the Great!

This is the big bugbear. Any talent beyond the human norm seems to result in some eccentricity as a side effect, and gaining that talent through messing around with the brain and nervous system just makes those eccentricities more extreme.

All PCs have basic sanity of 11+1d6. Modify this using the table below

For each 10% body mass replaced by cybernetics -1
For each extra skill level gained by cybernetic means -1
For each stat point gained -2
For each moderately superhuman ability (high speed, UV vision, armour) -1
Modification directly affects brain -1d3
Major deviation from human body plan (weapon, wheels instead of legs, grav units etc) -3

A roll under sanity must be made after every additional cybernetic modification, and at the GMs discretion after every traumatic experience the PC meets during play.

Failure results in the acquisition of a behavioural quirk. Roll d10 on the table below +1 per existing quirk, and repeats make an existing quirk worse.

1 Mild megalomania. I am just better at this than you thanks to my machine parts. -1 on all social skill rolls.

2 OCD. Any failed task must be repeated again and again until it is done right to achieve machine like repeatability and perfection.

3 Clean freak. Must keep cybernetic bits clean and in working order. Roll vs Sanity on exposure to dirt or freak out about malfunctions and infection.

4 Paranoia. THEY don't like cyborgs. They ARE out to get me. -1 social rolls.

5 Paranoia II. The computer is jealous of my humanity, the robots feel threatened by me.

6 Depression. Oh why did I do this to myself. I am a freak. -1 on all social rolls.

7 Mania. I can do things a million times faster and more efficiently than ordinary meat people. Look! -1 on all skill rolls, -2 on social skills, roll vs sanity or become aggressive if fail in a task of contradicted.

8 Existential paralysis. Is this real, or just an input from my machinery? Roll vs sanity in any crisis situation or dither unable to work out what is actually going on.

9 Schizophrenia. Temporarily lose touch with reality. Roll vs Sanity every hour to get back online.

10 Schizophrenia II. Lose all emotional affect, cannot feel or express emotion. -2 on all social skills.

11 Mild psychopathy. Total lack of empathy, see people as machines to be used and manipulated with appropriate social inputs, feel no embarrassment of fear. +1 social skills.

12 Major psychopathy. Who or what the hell are these gibbering meat puppets? -3 social skills, save vs sanity if opposed or become homicidally violent.

13 Megalomania. Who the hell are these sacks of slime? I am great! Automatically fail all social rolls, save vs sanity at -2 or use violence on anyone who fails to agree with your godlike superiority at everything.

14 Extreme Paranoia. Get the bastards before they get you. Fail all social skills, kill all humans in sight if fail sanity check at -3 (and robots, and let's chuck in the cyborgs just to make sure).

15 Catatonia. Endless paradoxes, feedback loops, depression and weltschmerz. Totally useless, cannot move or think.

Removing augments gives a repeat sanity check to lose a quirk, but not all reverse operations will increase the sanity score – you can't put back brain cells that have been flushed away to make room for a microprocessor.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

B is for Bees!

As yet no-one has discovered any indisputably intelligent aliens in Known Space, but there are a few species that come tantalisingly close like the Ultra-Bees of Myrmidia.


Aquila Sector 375 Myrmidia D 578210 7 Low Population, Garden

Myrmidia ought to be the ideal colony world, warm climate, oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere, developed ecosystem etc. but unfortunately the local lifeforms are a bit unfriendly.

The single land mass is overrun with Ultra-Bees. Bees stand for Bee-like Endoskeletoned Exocranial Semi-sapients, they are vertebrates, mostly in the 12-25kg range, with a brain outside their skulls, a small knot of nervous tissue covered in sensory hairs. They have two small eyes on stalks, a rounded furry body with eight spindly legs and a gas sac and small wings that function very well in the low G.

The taint in the atmosphere is entirely due to their many varieties of pheromone. These have some effect on humans, making them dizzy, inducing panic and euphoria, aggressive outbursts and depressive misery or a very uncomfortable combination of all of these depending on what kinds happen to be floating by at the time. Trying to breathe the stuff without a gas mask results in a bad effect on a roll of 10+ (End and Int mods) in the first round, 9+ the second, 8+ the third etc. and each fail requires a d6 roll on the table below

1 Dizzy – lose 1d3 Dex, roll vs Dex or fall over
2 Panic – roll vs Int or lose -1 on all skill rolls. Second result gives a -2 modifier, then -3 etc. and run away
3 Euphoria – as above, but tendency to drop equipment and strip naked
4 Aggression - +1 Str and End, save vs Int or attack colleagues. Each repeat gives -2 to the save
5 Depression - -1 to all skill rolls automatically, each repeat add 1 to this, Euphoria effect above counteracts it.
6 Two of the above.

The beasts themselves have a nasty bite and though they rarely attack immediately they will summon more ultra-bees (1d6 in the first round, 2d6 in the second, 3d6 in the third etc.) until they outnumber the party at least 5 to one. Use the attack/flee rolls below until the total mass of bees outweighs the mass of the party or the vehicle they are in, then attack is automatic and flee is 2-. Attacking them first will just make them mad, doubling the number flying in and adding two to the caste table roll below.

The little bastards do seem to have worked out that humans don't like their air. Any attack has a 1 in 6 chance of being on the characters breathing equipment.

They come in a variety of castes from the typical flyer/worker bee to diggers, transporters and soldier bees. They have eliminated all other animals on the planet and changed the plant ecosystem to a variety of fruits, flowers and brassica like species grown in neat gardens. They don't eat this stuff, they take into their hive for purposes unknown. Their hive is made more like a termite mound, dug into the ground and built up into vast twisted spires made of dirt and tree-trunks bound together with concrete like tree-sap/sand amalgam. And it is vast, covering the entire surface of the one continent and tunnelled up to two miles or more under the surface.

No one has seen the Queen Ultra-Bee or Bees; 'take me to your leader' type speeches just result in a typical massive bee attack, trying to get inside their hives is suicidal, the little wretches wall off the tunnels and tunnellers dig holes under the attackers dropping them down pits hundreds of meters deep and often ending in lava pools or subterranean lakes.

Bee caste roll d8

1-4 Worker Flyer 12kg Scavenger/Reducer 39612 Teeth+1, 0AP 1d6 dam A9+ F7-
5-6 Transporter 50kg Herbivore/Intermittent BAA01 Teeth and Claws 2AP 2d6 dam A10+ F4-
7 Tuneller 200kg Herbivore/Filter DAF01 Claws 3AP 2d6 dam A10+ F5-
8-10 Soldier Flyer 50kg Carnivore/Chaser BG923 Thrasher 3AP 2d6 dam A* F5-

For each soldier in a group reduce A and F scores of the rest by one, for each five soldiers give +1 attack to a max of +3

The human colonists live on an artificial island/oil rig kind of affair way out in the deepest, most distant part of the ocean where the stink of the pheromones is weakest. Originally an EU scientific outpost it is now a communist aquafarming collective barely scraping by on kelp, oyster beds and lobster herding. The locals do not visit the mainland, it just isn't worth the hassle, and only half-heartedly searching for the artificial pheromone mix that will enable them to do so safely. In fact they are working to emulate the bees, researching powerful enough human pheromones to ensure a harmonious and cooperative society.

Adventure Hooks

  • Some people will get high on anything. Drug barons are offering good money for Ultra-Bee aggression glands.
  • A lobster herder got attacked by some strange fish-thing. He reckons it had a fuzzy external brain. Have the Ultra-Bees learned how to swim?
  • The Ultra-Bees are at war! Who the hell knows how it happened but the southern and northern halves of the continent are having at each other in billion strong assaults featuring artillery bees never before recorded by science.
  • Bees in spaace! Some silly sod has managed to trap a couple of dozen bees and has them in a freighter hold, hoping to take them to a zoo. No one has heard from him for a while and there is a suspiciously termite mound looking asteroid floating through space near the PCs ship, heading for somewhere civilised.
  • At the hive's core. A really really determined scientist, Professor Jules Vernon, has built a hopefully bee proof tunnelling machine, want to try looking for those queens?
  • Crews of visiting starships have been joining the local colony, becoming happy communards toiling for the greater good of all.
  • For shits and giggles a couple of spoilt rich kids dropped a load of marijuana seed on the bee-lands from a high altitude grav speeder. The stuff took root, the bees are actively farming it and are apparently going a bit weird. Time for friendly contact? Or to take an armoured combine harvester and get as much dope as you can before the bees sober up and kill you?