Sunday 30 October 2016

All Rockets are Haunted

Starships are bullshit. 

All that zipping about in hyperspace thumbing your nose at Einstein, playing silly buggers with Dark Matter, cheeking Higgs by creating shipboard gravity with no mass, juggling all those new quarks*, kicking Heisenberg in the nuts by disassembling your spaceship into particles and reassembling it hadron by hadron with no help from Maxwell’s demons, folding, warping and ironing space-time like you are an effing black belt in eleven dimensional origami, all serious bull.

You just can’t do that and expect everything to go swimmingly. Sod about with reality and you get unreality, and when things get unreal all kinds of worms chew their way out of the cosmic woodwork. All rockets are haunted, all spacers have a tale or two to tell about stuff that shouldn’t happen and if you believe the starport bar hype ghost ships outnumber the living ones by ten to one.

*Dark, Light, Jale, Ulfire, This, That and the Other (the Vague quark is still kind of theoretical)

All page references are for the Mongoose Traveller Pocket Rulebook.

The Ghost Nebula, photo by NASA

Starship Hauntings

All starships in Known Space acquire quirks that violate the laws of physics, a consequence of violations they themselves commit by merely existing. In the Traveller rulebook starships acquire one technical oddity per ten years as per the table on p136. Replace it with this one.


1d6% of the ship per warp number has been fractally rearranged on a macro scale. Appears normal while in warp, but reverts to rearranged state on re-entry to normal space. Usual functionality of inorganic components is strangely unimpaired, though impossible to fix if they go wrong. Organic material (ie crew) present when the rearrangement takes place is utterly jiggered, but may return to apparent normality when jump space is re-entered, if they are in the rearranged space. On the next return to normal space the affected organics are rearranged wherever they may be, and if they are not in this area that gets terminally messy. A number of ships have hermit crew members trapped in this situation, only properly alive during warp.
Unusually finicky warp drive, needs to be 1d10 (exploding) % further away from a gravity source to engage without causing a misjump and internal gravity must be disengaged when entering or leaving warp. Can be lived with, but warp drive can be replaced to avoid this issue.
Screaming Reactionless Drive. Unusual high pitched or ultrasonic noises come from the reactionless (maneuver) drive when in operation, usually very quiet but occasionally ear piercingly loud. No detectable vibration from any moving parts. Nervous engineers claim that the noises are some kind of language, really batshit ones say they are the howls of dark matter life-forms as they are called into existence and ejected as exhaust gases. Soundproofing does help.
‘Poltergeist’, or at least a transient and mobile anomaly in the internal gravity field. Crew may feel momentarily heavier or lighter, or gravity may even temporarily reverse or change vector so that walking down a corridor feels like going uphill. Stuff falls off shelves once in a while and spilt liquids may form tiny whirlpools. Replacing all the grav plates has only a temporary effect.
Temperature anomaly. Transient and mobile increases and decreases in temperature wander around the ship while in warp. Internal life support can compensate to some extent, but sudden sweats and chills of a few seconds can still be felt.
As Trav table.
As Trav table, but ‘Luxurious starship’ mysteriously cleans itself up when no-one is looking. May be helpful pixies, may be reversion of matter to a more ordered state in violation of the laws of thermodynamics, whatever, Stewards love it.
As Trav table, but ‘erroneous library data’ comes from a different time period. Entries in the Devangari alphabet dated ‘in the four thousandth year of the Treta Yuga’ for example, or from sometime in the next millennium written in Third Order Sinesperanto.
As Trav table, but ‘psionic echoes’ are merely real echoes in confined spaces where there really shouldn’t be any. Shouting into the broom cupboard sounds like shouting into a cathedral.
- 1 DM to all sensor checks. Sensors show ghost ships once in a while, or disconcertingly pick the wrong four dimensions out the eleven to display their results. The resulting images may resemble the innards of a giant lifeform, or passing space krakens or just squiggles.
-1 DM to all repair attempts, may just be old and knackered components, engineers claim it really is gremlins and/or control subroutines with malevolent AI sentience
Increase maintenance cost by 50%. Entropy is strong in this ship, or the gremlins are doing overtime, or the crew are just untidy buggers who put used ration packaging behind bulkheads and have attracted cockroaches with the urge to tinker.
-1 structure. Something went wrong with the warp field at some point and the frame is now recrystallised in nanometer scale fractal baroque.
Damaged thrusters, -1 to all Pilot checks. On bad days the dark matter backwashes over the hull leaving it slightly magnetised, squamous, spicluated and tenebrous.
As Trav table, but data as per entry 11 is present. This data may actually be useful and true, if you can translate and decode it. The dodgy data tends to disappear and reappear randomly with each warp however, and while you might print it or write it down as hard copy, the hard copy changes too wherever in the universe it may be.
As Trav table, but ‘improved computer’ secretly has a mild case of the AIs and its own agenda, and the improved sensors appear to be receiving in some exotic variety of radiation otherwise unknown.
Time dilation. Internal ship time moves 1d6% faster per warp number when in warp making trips subjectively shorter.
Mass dilation. Ship is 1d6% heavier, reducing effectiveness of drives.
Internal space/time warp. Corridors and rooms change size. Not visibly, or obviously, but it can be an awfully long walk to the head from time to time and you may wake up in a stateroom the size of a hangar or a cupboard. Crew subject to frequent deja vu and Jamais vu hallucinations.
Doppleganger ship. Sensors frequently indicate vessel on same course at limits of sensor range, exactly the same model, transponder code etc as own vessel. Attempted communication results in short circuit as comms officer finds he is talking to himself with a slight radio delay due to distance. Some reports tell of the Doppleganger appearing ever closer, no one knows what happens if the two ships ever meet.
Ghost crew member. Glimpses of the spook are seen out of the corner of your eye, footsteps heard, doors open etc, but nothing ever shows up on internal cameras or recordings, nor via Ouija board. Will carry out repairs/pilot/clean up and the like when no one is looking, some captains even try and schedule them duties on the roster. May or may not be deceased former crew, some are alleged to be ‘Grey’ humanoid aliens, others are allegedly pur black or pure white cats. Only present while in warp space.

Space-time Anomalies

Investigations into these phenomena by warp physicists (a neurotic breed since they spend their lives dealing with this shit) have shown that space/time is permanently altered every time a ship enters or leaves warp space. Fortunately space is pretty big, and your chances of flying through one of these areas of dubious physics is slim, but they do move and they are becoming very common in well travelled areas. The Earth system now has millions and belated attempts are being made to map them after they allegedly caused a few hair raising incidents, but with dozens more being created every week and their widely varying manifestation and detectability this is probably futile.

When rolling for encounters in space on the table on p 139 or the Traveller rulebook a roll of 71 or 83 has a 50% chance of being a space anomaly.


Dead Space. Ship ‘becalmed’ in lightless void for a period of time, no sensor input, drives make no difference. Roll 2d6  - 2-8 Minutes, 9 hours, 10 days, 11 weeks, 12 years, roll 1d6 (exploding) for units of time.
Temporal anomaly. Ship time subjectively speeds up (50%) or slows (50%) by 50%. Crew see this as a sudden speeding up or slowing down of the passage of the ship through space. Lasts 1d6 hours.
Doppleganger ship appears displaced from vessel 1d6 hours ahead on course, lasts 1d6 hours.
Large gravitational anomaly passes through ship in a wave from bow to stern doubling mass of anything within it by two then halving it a moment later with a random vector (ie everything may suddenly slam into the ceiling, roll ‘downhill’, be stuck to the floor). Several may be encountered in succession resulting in a rollercoaster effect.
Radio anomaly. Comms traffic suddenly changes to a different, possibly past, possibly future language, Space Traffic Control certainly sounds funny in ancient Akkadian.
Dark Matter plume. Scars hull with random recrystallisation of metals and ceramics, passes through ship as a 1d6m radius temperature (1-3), gravitational (4-5) or radiation (6) anomaly. Counts as an armour hit, and radiation as a crew hit.
Electromagnetic anomaly. Affects all ship systems, -1 DM to all Sensors, Comms, Pilot and Gunnery rolls until repaired. Reduces Computer rating by 1 unless shielded.
Acoustic anomaly. All sounds on the ship are muffled and echo as if in a vast cave. Sounds of distant screaming from Reactionless drive, all crew affected by sudden migraine/vertigo/epilepsy, lose 1d3 Int, regained at 1/day.
Gremlin. Series of 1d6 (exploding) internal hits to ship systems, happening at intervals of 1d6x5 minutes. Successful Computer rolls modified by Int can deactivate the suddenly rebellious ship subroutines after each hit.
Involuntary warp entry. Does 1 hit to warp engine, sudden acceleration to trans-light speed. A very quick de-warp will at least eject you back into real space in the same system.
Naked singularity, Does 3d6 damage, with a successful Pilot roll reduced to 2d6.

In Warp, no-one can hear you gibber (usually)

The ultimate nightmare is a malfunctioning warp drive. A ‘misjump’ result on the table on p 141 of the Traveller rulebook will result in one of the following interesting ways to die (or at least have your starship expensively fucked up).


Screaming death. By some horrible accident your ship is caught up in the dark matter intake of somebody elses R-Drive. Entire vessel and contents slowly squished into an R-Drive reaction chamber and ejected as exhaust material. Can make an emergency warp exit, but not before 1d100% of the vessel has been disintegrated.
Knocking from outside of ship during entire journey. Intermittent loud thumps reverberate through entire vessel from unknown source doing 1d6 external hits per week in warp. Sensors show nothing, if functional, and exiting the vessel during warp is not advised in any circumstance as the warp bubble rarely extends more than than a couple of inches from the hull. When back in normal space hull shows spiculation, squamation and tenebration in peculiar spiral patterns.
Temperature anomaly. While in warp space temperature rapidly drops. Lose 10 degrees Kelvin in the first day, 75% chance of losing another 10 degrees K next day and so on until temperature stops falling and stabilises or everyone freezes to death. Roll Engineer skill to get a ‘soft’ exit from warp if needed, otherwise a ‘hard’ exit causing 1 hit to warp drive, roll d6 on 5-6 a second hit and roll again etc. On a roll of 2 on the Engineer skill ship fails to exit, warp drive still takes damage, and it may plough on through warp space until everything reaches absolute zero and disintegrates.
Warp exit failure. Ship rematerialises with 1d100% of its structure fucked up on a subatomic scale. All surviving crew suffer 4d6 x 50 rads. Oddly enough the rearranged matter still seems to be functional, and the ship can re-enter warp with a -4 modifier to success if the pilot and control room are intact, and the screwed up matter will be back to normal at least while in warp space. Repairs can be attempted and 1d10% per Engineer roll effect number less will be rearranged on a subsequent exit. Ship will overshoot target by several million km due to excess time spent in warp space.
Warp exit failure. Ship does not leave warp when it is supposed to and ploughs on. Cutting the fuel for a ‘hard’ exit causes 1 hit to warp drive, and roll a d6, on a 5-6 a second hit is caused, the roll again and on 5-6 it suffers a third hit and so on. Ship overshoots target by 1d6 million km, more if the crew dither.
Warp entry failure. Warp drive suffers 1 hit. Roll a d6, on a 5 or 6 it suffers a second, roll again and on a 5-6 it suffers a third and so on and so on. On a bad day this will blow up the entire ship and at the very least will result in an expensive repair.
Partial warp entry failure. The warp core warps, the ship doesn’t. Warp core is just plain gone, leaving a knot of entirely fucked-up space-time in the engine room. Roll hits on Power Plant and Reactionless Drive as above, plus 1d6 further internal hits as the drive core blasts through the ship in the form of dark matter, rearranging all the real matter it meets in a nanometer scale fractal pattern. Just hope you aren’t in its way
Deformed Warp Bubble. d100% of the ship is outside the warp bubble and does not warp, the rest does. At minimum the warp core itself warps (half tonnage of warp engine) with effects as item 8 above. Otherwise the section that warps suffers explosive decompression and if the crew survives that they must make the best of a week long trip in airless wreckage with one side open to warp space. The section that stays in normal space suffers 1 internal hit per 10% of ships mass that warped as the rest of the ship ploughs through it in the form of a dark matter wave. This is how space junk is born.
Directional screw up. Add or subtract 1d6 to the x, y and z coordinates of your supposed exit point, and you have travelled +/- 1d6 years into the past or future. If into the past then there is no chance of meeting oneself. Your past selves and ship have just disappeared while in the warp and the events of the last few years have only happened to you and will not repeat. If into the future, again the ship will have quite simply have been lost for the duration of the time gap. Chances are you will be several parsecs into deep space with insufficient fuel to get anywhere near a planet, so it is a moot point anyway.
Ghostification. One member of the crew becomes a ghost, invisible and inaudible to the rest who also forget he ever existed. Ghost ceases to exist at all when ship returns to normal space, reappearing the next time the ship enters warp. Ghost may also become temporally unbound and each return to the ship may be to some point in the vessels past or future, though if to the past he will never see himself. It is as if he never existed at all. There is a 50% chance that he may suddenly find himself as a back or white cat ghost.
Dead Space. Ship has not entered warp space but another dimension entirely, nothing outside the ship, turning drives off and on does nothing. Stuck until fuel/air/food runs out and everyone aboard dies. May rectify itself spontaneously in 1d6 (exploding) time units. Roll 2d6 2-4 hours, 5-6 days, 7-8 weeks, 9 months, 10 years, 11 decades, 12 centuries. When ship exits it is apparently in the same place it started, but galactic rotation, stellar movement etc. may have shifted the local solar system some distance away. From outside the ship has become a naked singularity and a major hazard to shipping.

And a tip of the hat to M John Harrison again for more inspiration from the Kefahuchi Tract novels. Read them!

Saturday 1 October 2016

In Flight Entertainment

Low passage in Known Space is not all about refrigeration, it’s about sensory deprivation, bodily invasion and embarrassment too.

The Low Berth tank first becomes available at TL 10. The passenger is anaesthetised, many interesting implements and tubes are inserted into every bodily orifice and they are cooled to about 4 degrees celsius. They then awake, partially, and spend the trip drugged into immobility and semi-consciousness, boredom kept at bay by virtual reality headsets. At higher TLs it becomes possible to keep the passenger in the tank longer with fewer long term repercussions.

The process is not that dangerous as long as precautions are taken to prevent pressure sores and deep vein thrombosis, the nutrient mix pumped down the passengers gullet is of sufficient quality and the bodily wastes are removed efficiently by the suction pumps at the other end.

It does take a toll though, and passengers will need a few days to fully recover at the other end. For the longest trips a course of physiotherapy to return the limbs to full use and a weaning process to rehabilitate the gut to solid food are recommended, and it is not recommended for older passengers.

But it is cheap. A medical orderly with very basic nursing skills (Medic - 0) can manage 10 passengers during the trip, plus 10 more per level of medic skill beyond that. Most dedicated ‘Fridge Ships’ make extensive use of automated monitoring through computer expert systems.

Upon opening the berth at the destination the attending doctor makes a medic roll. These can be hired at a class C or above spaceport for 50Cr plus 10Cr per medic skill per passenger de-tank, cheapskate transport companies like RyanSpace charge this as one of their many hidden extras. A stay in a rehab centre at the spaceport will be a minimum of 100Cr a day.

Add the passengers Endurance bonus, the doctor’s Edu bonus, -1 per two weeks in the tank, +1 for TL 11, +2 for TL 12.

0 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll

1 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll at +2

2 Possible permanent injury, make an ageing roll at +4

3-5 Lose 1 from Dex, Str, End and Int per two weeks in the tank. Recover 1 point at random per day spent in a quality rehab facility, if you make an End roll gain an extra point. If a stat is reduced to 0, there is a permanent loss of 1 point to that stat.

6 Lose 1 stat point per week in the tank, roll randomly for each, may be from Str, Dex or End, regain 1 a day through a stay in a medical facility.

7 Lose 1 stat point per two weeks in the tank, as above.

8-11 Lose 1 stat point per four weeks in the tank.

12 No stat loss, can walk away after an hours medical check up.

Poor or miserly passengers may decide to forego the recovery clinic and tough it out, walking off stiff muscles and dealing with the vomiting and diarrhoea as their gut wakes up to solid food again. Recovery takes twice as long if inactive and just relaxing in a normal hotel, five times as long if the passenger insists on bustling about the city or wilderness. 

There's no such thing as a bad trip in  HappiCorps low berth tank!

In Flight Entertainment

The VR set ups in the tanks again vary in quality. You may spend a couple of weeks trapped in a dire sub-D&D MMORPG, you may have a relaxing jaunt through one of the standard travelogue programs like the sights of Old Earth, or endless re-runs of soap operas. Military ships of course take the chance to put their tanked soldiers through battle sims, exploration vessels enable their staff to brush up on their science education, and there is usually some kind of language learning or cultural orientation sims for those planning a long terms stay in a destination colony.

Skill training packages can be used in the tank, but being drugged up makes the information hard to retain. Roll 8+, + Int bonus for a week in the tank to count as a week of training in a given skill.

And there are persistent rumours of these VR sets being used to do nefarious things to passengers. Colony ships taking bulk shipments of indentured labourers to Torch allegedly get the poor sods used to their future life by running them through sadistic programmes of simulated beatings, the Orphean League allegedly pay space lines to subject travellers to ideological indoctrination in Orphean Humanism, all ESA Starbuses supposedly try and hypnotise passengers into talking French and liking camembert, the CIA choose random passengers to turn into ‘Manchurian Candidates’ to assassinate key people on their destination worlds, etc.

One fact that is undeniably true is that some people are vulnerable to VR addiction, and many high-tech worlds have Tank Parlours where people may enter suspended animation and play these VR games for days, weeks or even months at a time without the excuse of being in transit on a boring spaceship ride. There are some tough worlds out there and plenty of boring ones with little but dull repetitive labour due to robot shortages or meaningless unemployment due to an excess of automation; tank addiction is on the rise.

Adventure Hooks

  • It’s fucking MMORPG time again, three weeks passage between Quintus and Fargen mugging orcs and pootling through Elder Scrolls CXXXVII… Some sonofabitch is making the whole thing even worse by fragging everyone, and how did he level up so fast anyway? Has he been stuck in the tank grinding away for months? Yes he has, he’s an Aquilan businessman’s tank addict son, he’s been in the ship’s tanks for about a year now blowing thousands of credits hiding from his dad. His father might offer a reward for his safe return but his body will be in terrible shape after a year and getting him out alive will be a major medical operation and you might need a shrink on hand to convince him that he is not in fact Ygloog the Necromancer. Takes it mighty seriously - getting the rest of the passengers to gang up on him in game might take the little snot out, but he will bear grudges and his baggage allowance is mostly taken up with an auto-laser.
  • Half a dozen people on Zephyr have been found babbling in an unknown language, apparently suffering from some kind of amnesia and nervous breakdown and exhibiting quite high levels of violence. Psychiatrists are baffled until some nerd realises they are talking Klingon and further investigation leads to the ‘Enterprise III’, a Free Trader where the medical orderly in charge of the low berths ran out of the usual anaesthesia for the low passengers and started using some street-drug shite that was mostly scopalamine. He spends his off shifts in the tanks himself and subjects the passengers to a lot of Star Trek fanfic.
  • J’accuse! An experiment in AI is underway at the University of Fargen. Volunteers wanted to spend a month in the tank in a simulated Revolutionary period France, but the twist is that one or more of the other players will be the latest model of political science AI rather than the usual dumbass NPC subroutine. The originator of the scheme, Professor Davide Danton is so sure no one will spot his cyber-sans-culottes he is offering 10 000 Cr prize money if you do. Try not to get guillotined, I hear this AI plays for keeps.
  • The code-monkeys of Neuland on Epsilon have always excelled at producing genuinely interesting VR entertainment and also at stealing, cracking and recycling whatever content comes their way. One such, Ultra-Simian Odin-seven of the Galloping Gibbons collective (they are a silly lot in Neuland), wants a Chinese military battle-sim and will pay handsomely to get it. Or he already has it and Chinese security agencies, baffled by the anarchist antics of the Neulanders and losing agents, want it back and have to get outside contractors to do it. Or it happens to be a simulated space marine drop on the US colony of Newhio and a PC who experiences it in low passage gets the distinct feeling that it is too good and too uncannily accurate to truly be purely a Neulander shoot-’em up game and feels the urge to dig further.

Saturday 24 September 2016

The Angels of Chickentown

Two things inspired this post, the newtown of Thamesmead and John Cooper Clarke’s poem ‘Chickentown’.

I spent a lot of time in Thamesmead in my youth. It is a massive housing estate built on land reclaimed from the Thames marshes in the late 60’s and lies between a couple of major prisons and a huge sewage treatment works. It is full of classic 60’s and 70’s prefab concrete civic architecture which has, as usual, aged badly. It is regularly used as a backdrop for films and TV who want that dystopian urban nightmare vibe, most notably ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and it was rough as a bear’s arse, grim, grimy and graffitoed with pubs built like concrete bunkers, though I had some good times there.

One of the jollier bits of Thamesmead

Used to drink here. Wouldn't touch this place with one these days.

'A Clockwork Orange' was almost a documentary about the place.

The poem ‘Chickentown’ is about Manchester’s less salubrious bits but it could have easily been written about Thamesmead, Broadwater Farm, Alamein Gardens or any one of a score of grotty estates in and around London or hundreds up and down the UK.

The fucking cops are fucking keen
To fucking keep it fucking clean
The fucking chief's a fucking swine
Who fucking draws a fucking line
At fucking fun and fucking games
The fucking kids he fucking blames
Are nowhere to be fucking found
Anywhere in chicken town

The fucking scene is fucking sad
The fucking news is fucking bad
The fucking weed is fucking turf
The fucking speed is fucking Surf
The fucking folks are fucking daft
Don't make me fucking laugh
It fucking hurts to look around
Everywhere in chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town
The fucking view is fucking vile
For fucking miles and fucking miles
The fucking babies fucking cry
The fucking flowers fucking die
The fucking food is fucking muck
The fucking drains are fucking fucked
The colour scheme is fucking brown
Evidently chicken town

The fucking pubs are fucking dull
The fucking clubs are fucking full
Of fucking girls and fucking guys
With fucking murder in their eyes
A fucking bloke is fucking stabbed
Waiting for a fucking cab
You fucking stay at fucking home
The fucking neighbours fucking moan
Keep the fucking racket down
This is fucking chicken town

The fucking pies are fucking old
The fucking chips are fucking cold
The fucking beer is fucking flat
The fucking flats have fucking rats
The fucking clocks are fucking wrong
The fucking days are fucking long
It fucking gets you fucking down
Evidently chicken town

The fucking train is fucking late
You fucking wait you fucking wait
You're fucking lost and fucking found
Stuck in fucking chicken town

The great Johnny Clarke doing it on stage...

And now the breadcrumb and mucilage slathered mechanically recovered meat...

The Angels of Chickentown

Earth is still a going concern in 2316, still home to 40% of the Known Space’s population of Homo sapiens, though it has taken some hard knocks. Global warming has led to some areas being flooded beyond recall and economic upheaval has stomped once relatively prosperous areas into the mud.

Thamesmead, now known as Chickentown to all and sundry, is one of them. From a swamp it arose and to swamp it has returned, the lower floors of the bulk of its concrete tower blocks and houses are now well underwater with half-assed attempts to bridge the gaps between the upper floors of the tottering remains to keep it as a viable place to dump 24th century London’s poor.

The one industry it has left is growing synthetic chicken in a huge factory on the edge of what passes for dry land. Curtains of semi-permeable cellophane capillary systems are seeded with chicken muscle cells and hung in pulsating rows to grow into slabs of cheap protein. These are carved up, covered in starch and preservative and frozen for the cheapest of the cheap budget supermarkets.

For the last few decades it has provided next to no employment, the wretched human staff replaced by the even more wretched biobots. These are loosely strung together skeletons of vat-grown rhinoceros bone reinforced with teflon and steel and covered in chicken muscle. They have pumps instead of hearts, vinyl sheaths instead of skin and their pimple of chicken brain is bypassed by a computer connected to the rest of the body by insulated wire that zaps the muscles into convulsions with electric shocks.

Few people go into the Green Farms Ltd concrete shed these days, it is almost entirely self contained tier of hell of its own. A few biotechies come over from Beckton on a ferry to inject organic sludge reclaimed from Crossness Sewage works into their feeding sphincters, nail any loose bones back into place and bugger off. The biobots load their frozen product into unmanned drone barges which pootle up the Thames to drop them off for the driverless trucks that take them to the unmanned automarts for unemployed humans to buy on their government issued ration cards.

The stinking canals and sumps of Chickentown are overlooked by winding monorails that pass between the ruins in thick odour-proof plastic tubes, ferrying the marginally better off from the outer ring of dormitory towns to the centre of London and back. The viable flats are surrounded by a layer of squats and a further layer of fuck-knows what in the ‘Sacrifice Zone’, that part left to the mercy of the widening river as sea levels rose.

The defeated hordes of unemployed shuffle through life as best they can unable to save enough for a coveted ticket offworld to a colony where people can feel as though they matter. There are ‘sponsorships’ - actually indentured labour contracts - for those with ‘marketable skills’, but lackadaisical education policy has made these skills hard to acquire. The National Lotteries dishing out tickets at random are the best most can get though the pubs of Chickentown haven't seen a leaving party in years.

Street gangs are rife, but even in 24th century England guns are still rare and no more than one in fifty yobs has one, though they can be rented by the hour if you know the wrong people. The local police buzz around in helicopters, targets for futile fusillades of bricks but usually little else. They raid drug labs and hydroponic cannabis plantations once in a while, but none of the major players of the drug business would be seen dead in Chickentown and also the police mostly can’t be arsed.

Most of these gangs are boringly conventional scrotes with names like ‘The Burgess Block Butcher Boys’ and ‘The SE28 3PH Warriors’ admitting their pathetically limited scope and ambition. They knife kids from round the corner for being from round the corner. Their turf may be a few tumbledown terraces on the shore of an open sewer but the fact they are willing to spill blood to ‘defend’ it gives it a value, in their eyes at least.

So far, so conventional; those economically surplus to requirements just playing at the wannabe rebel/outlaw role their society has laid for them through the media. The more serious rebels are the Angels, a subculture that has rejected the mud, blood and concrete in favour of the ineffable and numinous, though even they are just unconsciously aping the city slickers up in London in their own demented fashion.

Dressed in pure white trainers, the palest of eggshell blue bondage trousers and ruffled calico shirts they float a few inches off the ground with recycled low power grav-moped engines in backpacks decorated with ragged wings. Their hair is bleached an almost ultra-violet white and capped with aluminium halos, their ears plugged with earbeads playing ethereal choral works, their eyes covered in bug-like white goggles playing their own private augmented reality channel that transforms their shattered concrete eyries in the Sacrifice Zone into beautiful palazzi, the drowned shopping precincts into picturesque loggias and the graffiti into Mannerist frescoes.

Their beatific smiles betray their constant state of rapture, electrodes implanted into their brains to induce a pleasant hum of low-voltage euphoria. They are the elect, those on the edge of transhuman transcendence in their own badly-educated opinion, but all that technology costs money and they have no qualms about using all the usual gangster tricks on the preterite to maintain their makeshift heaven on Earth.

They favour the dart-gun in street battles and muggings, nothing so crude and in-yer-face as the double bladed stanley knives, weaponised hedge-trimmers and machetes of the lesser gangs, injecting their opponents with massive doses of DMT-related instant hallucinogens, the Angel's electronic accessories transforming the frothing panicked screams of their victims into the happy cries of children.

Adventure Hooks and Chickentown Events

  • The fucking oddbod Angels have been grinning even wider than usual of late, they mutter disjointedly about something called ‘The Rapture’ to anyone daft enough to listen as they float above the streets. They have been secretly hoarding some potent hallucinogen up in their tower block out in the river and they are plotting to get it into Green Farms product. People are going to go apeshit all over London.
  • Green Farms have been losing hundred of crates of chicken nuggets to gang kids in canoes for years and the police have just been treating it as a bit of lark. They have persuaded the Home Office to let them deploy their own law-enforcement, terrifying biobots tricked out with stab-proof skins and the skulls, muscles and nasal acuity of giant Alsatian dogs. They are sniffing through the streets for pheromone codes from the missing boxes and busting down doors and don’t seem that responsive to their handlers.
  • A gang of Angels broke into the transit tube and ambushed a commuter train, robbing everyone aboard and treating them to a not bad version of Handel’s Messiah while they did so. This is taking the effin’ piss, MPs have been written to, the Home Secretary has been questioned in Parliament and the Daily Mail (still in existence as a chip implant  that conveys their own brand of ‘news’ to your VR goggles and adrenaline to the limbic system so as to induce the appropriate outrage) demands action! But the police, usually up for a bit of headbreaking, to be going softly softly. Rumour has it that the Home Secs son is an Angel, or even that the Bishop of Southwark is holding them off as he sees a glimmer of potential salvation in the garb of these hoodlums, even if their actions don’t match. The Mail wants the TRUTH! Investigate the story, but don’t be too scared of making shit up. A Mail reporter has already gone missing looking into this though, see if you can find him before the bastards wire his brain up to the national grid or marinade him in LSD while you are at it.
  • The Goitre Squad have had it up to here with those high and mighty Angels. They want that augmented reality system hacking into and they especially want the location of all the Angels. They have got their mitts on a couple of shotguns and they are taking them down, though EMP weapons to overload their euphoria trodes would also come in handy.
  • Archangel Michael was finally done in by the Black Street Boot Boys, his subordinates Raphaella and Gabriel are duking it out and they are quite literally crucifying each other’s followers. 
  • Astra-Zeneca-Glaxo-Beecham-Alexion, the sole remaining pharmaceutical corporation in England, wants to talk to the Angels. They have some experimental drugs they are working on for the MoD, and the Angels have a habit of shooting such into people, howzabout collaborating on a cheap and violent clinical trial under field conditions?

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The New Men

I have been re-reading 'Light' by M John Harrison (fantastic book, highly recommend it) and I am stealing his sad and grotesque 'New Men' for my Known Space Traveller setting.

Origins of the New Men

Over the course of the 21st century gene splicing in humans became a possibility. It mostly failed or had relatively minor effects (as explained here) and attempts at 'positive' genetech were banned across most of Earth, the side effects were just too cruel.

But the extra-terrestrial colonies were a bit of a free for all – the corporate states set up on asteroids within the solar system in the 22nd century made their own rules and, after they were destroyed in the Great Tax War, in systems throughout what would become the core sectors.

Known Space became aware of the New Men in the mid-23rd century when a vessel named 'Please Remove All Packaging' turned up on Captain Morgan's World and disgorged a horde of gangling red-haired, blue-eyed, clueless wierdos who immediately hit the bars, drank all the rum and coke on the planet and threw up in the gutter.

No one knows for sure who made them. Genetic analysis suggests they were engineered to adapt to some low-g, highly polluted environment and interviews with anthropologists suggest they had based their culture on intercepted TV signals from Earth and the main colony worlds. They had a high tendency towards naïve gullibility about advertising and low quality news broadcasts, a trait they have not lost, and are vulnerable to drug addiction, partly due to genetics and partly due to the disappointment of being in a civilisation where nothing ever quite matches the marketing blurb.

It is postulated that they were cloned – genetic variability amongst them is very low – to be the workforce of some hidden dystopian industrial concern and their traits were to make for easy management. Clues from 'Remove All Packaging' are non-existent. The colonial government of Captain Morgan's World tried to take possession of the ship to cover the New Men's bar tab, but the crew resisted, flew off and tried to shoot up the colony from orbit. In the ensuing space battle and pursuit the vessel was lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant.

The New Men's favourite muppet.

The New Men today

Seventy years on the New Men are present on many worlds throughout Known Space. They like highly developed worlds and are uncomfortable and nearly helpless in frontier situations where they have to show a modicum of initiative to survive. They tend to live in dense Kowloon-like rookeries often taking over old industrial plant and warehouses. Their population has mushroomed, the original few hundred have become tens of thousands in just two generations. Their birthrate is high but conspiracy theorists allege that the original batch was just 'test marketing', further boatloads have been sneaked into Known Space as illegal immigrants from their mysterious homeworld or cloned en masse by dubious government or corporations.

A few have the mental wherewithal to make a moderate success of business, more hang about in the lower echelons of organised crime, the majority have the lowest category of jobs that have yet to be successfully automated or no job at all. In some colonies discrimination against them is high, and there are campaigns to have them classified as a variety of anthropoid ape. This is justified by the fact that they are sufficiently genetically distinct from standard humans that standard human-New Man matings almost always result in genetic disabilities; technically they are a semi-species.

But it is their mental and cultural make-up that makes them really stand out, they have a weird cargo-cult mentality that if they ape the trappings of success with the latest fashions and latest tech (which they can almost never afford) they will genuinely become the attractive successful people they see on the adverts. They are so prone to believing propaganda they have bought into all the lurid conspiracy theories others have made up about them and added more than a few of their own. They even have a small religion based on their search for and reclamation of their homeworld, which in their minds of course is an amalgam of all the perfect worlds depicted on the adverts.

But they have developed a certain solidarity and take the hard knocks dished out by the rest of humanity on their weak chins. They are persistent, mostly hard working given the chance, don't ask for much out of life (which is fortunate as they don't get much) and are mostly happy with their lot. A few corporations are taking advantage of this fact and have many New Man employees (though next to none in management).

New Man characters

  • Strength -1, Endurance +1d3, Intelligence -2, Education -2, Social Standing 1d6; in addition they are limited to Athletics-1 skill die to poor lifestyle and peculiarities in their muscle structure, but they resist radiation, disease and poisoning at an additional +2 on any rolls, and any attempt to use a social skill against them will have +2 to success due to their general cluelessness.
  • Roll for a further flaw/strength (d6):
      1 – Media addiction. Cannot get through the day without the nirvana that comes from several hours of cheap trashy TV, algorithm generated pop and lowest common denominator 'news' outlets. The cleverer ones say they are watching 'ironically'.
      2 – Low cunning. Have managed to imbibe enough criminal culture and have suffered enough hard knocks that they have a sixth sense about when their lives are at risk. +1 to any Streetwise rolls, only +1 bonus to baffling them with social skills and + 1 initiative when it comes to running away from ambushes.
      3 – Loyalty. They have a boss who has their best interests at heart (some hope). Attempts to persuade them into betrayal are at -2. Still bloody fools about everything else though.
      4 – Drug addiction. Everything from alcohol to being a wirehead, and including the high tech vice of tanking (complete submersion in a full-sensorium CPRG played in sensory deprivation tanks under life support). -1d3 Endurance, -1 Strength, -1 Dexterity.
      5 – Emergency metabolism. Suffer fewer penalties from lack of food and water and exposure to cold temperatures; effectively +1 to Survival rolls, though they hate the outdoors.
    • 6 – Agoraphobia. Needs to stay indoors away from the sky and wide open spaces. May get by on the streets at night if they are very crowded and busy. Tend to live in the most crowded and junk-filled conditions possible in a kind of nest. OK with space though, looking at it through a spaceship window is too abstract for it to be real, though they wig out completely if they put on a vacc suit and actually go out into it.
  • Have a -1 DM to enlist in the following careers: Agent: Intelligence, Corporate, Citizen: Corporate, Entertainer: All, Marines: All, Scholar: All, Scouts: Courier.
  • DM -2 to enlist as Citizen: Colonist, Drifter: Barbarian, Merchant: Free Trader, Navy:Flight, Nobility:All, Scouts: Survey, Exploration.
  • Get a +1 to enlist as a Rogue: Thief, Enforcer, +2 to enlist as a Citizen: Worker.

Adventure Hooks

  • New Man drug-dealer Vernon Artery has pissed off mafioso Tony 'Legs' Macarthur for the last time. The useless twit has gone to ground in the 'Goon Box' rookery, a vast collection of cargo boxes and derelict cargo-vessels welded to the side of the orbital up-port. They all look the same to Macarthur's regular enforcers, but they ought to be easily persuaded to give him up.
  • There is hope for the New Men! Or at least there is a bit of a glimmer in the fact that they have been found by medical researchers to have a higher than usual requirement for dietary Selenium. Give them supplements and they might be a little less gormless. A control group are being given the stuff and yep, they do seem to changing a bit... but is it because they are gullible enough to believe that this is the answer to all their problems they are emulating being assertive, decisive and thoughtful, a placebo effect? Or are they (as some claim) secretly the master race and just needed to fix this one flaw in their metabolism to take over? Will it trigger heretofore unnoticed genetic switches and change them even more thoroughly, after all some other nuts claim they are a form of bioweapon designed to infiltrate humanity before destroying us.
  • Music promoter Jax 'the Jaxx' Jaxson (Dave to his mates), wants New Man musicians. They just love algorithm pop, they feel it in their very bones, their souls. They could, with the right training, actually write it, maybe better than the computers can. Get out there into NewManTown guys! Who is hip amongst them? Who is happening? Who ain't brain dead and only capable of whistling fast food chain jingles?
  • The colony of Gerisomov-Urcaria has deported all its New Men, a right-wing nut president's simple solution to public order issues. They aren't being total bastards about it, they have bought land on Saint Anne so the New Men can set up a colony of their own far away from 'normal' folks. The New Men don't do well in the countryside though, and Saint Anne has some issues with racism of its own. Will the poor boobs survive? Or will their own leader, Ned Hepatic, who seems to be more than a bit of a fascist nut himself, be able to weld them into the united 'human hive' all-conquering army he saw in his favourite episode of 'Space Trekkers'? And they certainly seem to have brought a lot of guns and cocaine seed, maybe they ain't as daft as they look.