Thursday, February 10, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colonies Part 5

Now that I have established what Cruthanarc is and why Cruthanarc is, I have to get to the nitty-gritty of how and why various armies would be trying to kill each other on the surface of a planet nobody wants to be on. A very basic scenario would simply be a troop carrier or similar ship has an accident, gets shot down, or is otherwise forced to land on the surface. This would then unleash the locals to hunt down and find/destroy all the survivors.

While this does have its appeal, it lacks a larger storyline and limits me to always having to put the Infected Colony army on the table. I would much rather have multiple options for all the combatants. This leads me to imagine that the ship that is shot down over Cruthanarc has in its possession some kind of MacGuffin. For those unfamiliar, a MacGuffin is a plot device first used in film. It usually takes the form of an object that is necessary for the motivation of the characters. The kicker is that the MacGuffin is meaningless and insignificant in every other way.

In other words, it really doesn’t matter what was on the ship that breaks apart into multiple pieces as it hits the atmosphere of Cruthanarc. What matters is that it is important enough to several factions off world to risk contracting an incurable disease in order to retrieve it. The fun part of the creative process, especially one where play is concerned, the real nature of the MacGuffin may very well develop as the campaign to retrieve it progresses.

To begin with, I want to start with five such factions, because five fits neatly into a Wu Xing Diagram. Here are the five contenders and how I understand them in context of my version of the Sirius Sector:

  1. Human Imperium: Originally refugees from a war that destroyed their home world, humanity has quickly spread throughout the sector, becoming one of the most powerful political and military factions in the sector.
  2. Infected Colonies: A semi-autonomous human colony world that has willingly adopted a ritualized surveillance state in order to monitor an incurable disease that affects everyone who steps on the planet in an attempt to prevent the disease from getting off world. 
  3. Robot Legion: The death-knell of the Elven Empire, this non-biological race nonetheless find themselves resource poor because their home worlds suffered a millennia of elvish decadence. 
  4. Eternal Dynasty: Once an uplifted slave race created by the elves, what is now called the Eternal Dynasty successfully rose up against their masters; however, infighting allowed the elves to drive them out of the Sirius Sector. They have recently returned to Sirius united by a mysterious dynastic force.
  5. Alien Hive: Believed to be the result of another uplifting experiment, the Alien Hive is a collection of genetic misfits all controlled by a single powerful psychic mind. 
Here is how these five fit into the Wu Xing Diagram:

Human Imperium

  • Friendly: Humans seem to be unusually susceptible to the influence of the Hive Mind. This trait also gives fuel to the Inquisition's anti-alien agenda.
  • Enmity: The Eternal Dynasty has proven to be the greatest obstacle to Imperial hegemony in the Sirius Sector. 

Infected Colonies 

  • Friendly: Cruthanarc is dependent upon Imperial help to maintain their self-imposed quarantine.
  • Enmity: Given the influence the Hive has on human minds, the more paranoid of the Cruthanarc hierarchy openly wonder if the Alien Hive is the next step in the disease's evolution. 

Robot Legion 

  • Friendly: The Legion admires the rigid social controls that Cruthanarc has developed, it makes them predictable and contained. The Infected Colony is also willing to trade with them, since the robots are incapable of contracting the disease.
  • Enmity: The Legion deeply mistrusts biologicals because they are seen as unpredictable and chaotic. The Human Imperium is understood  to be the most chaotic and unpredictable biological faction in the Sirius Sector. 

Eternal Dynasty 

  • Friendly: The Dynasty cannot help but have pity for the Robot Legion, since both factions rose up against their elven masters.
  • Enmity: Cruthanarc is a key military target in the Dynasty's plan to expand into the Sirius Sector. 

Alien Hive 

  • Friendly: The mysterious power that now unites the warriors of the Eternal Dynasty takes advantage of their latent empathic abilities. The Alien Hive enjoys the presence of these abilities and yet is not driven by a need to dominate them. 
  • Enmity: The Robot Legion is immune to the Hive Mind and is therefore seen as the Hive's greatest threat.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 4

Of all the different army lists available in OPR’s Grimdark Future, over half are associated with humans. These lists include units that are or once were humans. One third of all the lists are directly associated with the Human Imperium. This strongly suggests that, despite being one of the most recent arrivals in the Sirius Sector, humanity is the most dominant and populous race.

Interestingly, the answer as to why is implied in Rogue Trader — the 1st edition of Warhammer 40K. Therein, the Legion Astartes, more commonly known as Space Marines, are described in this way:

It is the most powerful and most feared fighting arm of the Imperium. Most of its troopers are recruited from feral planets…Because the feral planets are rough, primitive and untamed, their inhabitants make excellent fighting material.

OPR pays homage to this concept with its description of the Battle Brother Detachment army lists:

Battle Brother Detachments are battle companies trained on particularly hostile planets to foster special combat traits and military strategies.

In other words, when humans arrived in the Sirius Sector, they specifically sought out worlds with harsh environments in order to bolster and train the most powerful military arm of the Imperium — the Battle Brothers. This means that there are potentially large sections of Sirius space that had been rejected by other races due to harsh conditions and a lack of natural resources that humanity would have seen as valuable. With more space to expand, humanity quickly became the most populous race in the sector.

This is where the story of Cruthanarc begins. When human explores first arrived, they found a planet of extremes. Orbiting just outside the habitable zone of its star, the world is wracked by freezing temperatures. Underneath its highly saline oceans, however, there is almost constant volcanic activity. While this does bring some warmth, it also makes the thin atmosphere toxic. Surveyors saw it as a perfect breeding ground for Battle Brothers.

Colonists were sent to begin limited terraforming and set up the infrastructure necessary to support and maintain a Battle Brother company. Ever adaptable, the humans on the colony thrived. Once everything was in place, the Imperium began a Battle Brother program on Cruthanarc. This is when things went horribly wrong.

The only native lifeforms on Cruthanarc were bacteria. Given their alien nature, it was quickly determined that they posed no real threat to the human colonists. Once the bio-waste of breeding Battle Brothers entered into the environment, however, the native life quickly began to mutate. The infection first manifested in livestock. Creatures bred to be completely docile started to exhibit violent behaviors. Scientists quickly determined the cause. They also discovered that it was airborne and that anyone who simply breathed the air of Cruthanarc was affected.

Normally, such a situation would have triggered a great purge from the Inquisition; however, cooler heads prevailed. It was demonstrated that the infection could not only survive a purge, it could survive every medical treatment available to the Imperium. Cruthanarc sat along an important trade route, so it was very likely that traders and travelers might unwittingly infect themselves by landing on the surface of a partially terraformed planet. It might even attract humans who operated outside the laws of the Imperium. Such a situation, it was argued, might see the infection spread throughout human space.

Instead, an imperial Naval Depot sits in orbit around Cruthanarc allowing ships to safely dock, refuel, and trade within the system without having to land planet side. It allows the Imperium to closely monitor all traffic in the system and warn those on the surface when their airspace has been violated. No ship is allowed to leave the surface and anyone who lands, wittingly or no, is hunted down by the Cruthanarc military and the Battle Brothers who were originally supposed to use the planet as their home base. These forces shoot first and ask questions later.

In the meantime, medical teams on the planet have successfully found ways to slow the progress of the infection and continue to seek for a cure.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 3

I realize that I have yet to mention the name Cruthanarc in a series called Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony. This is, in part, because the existence of Cruthanarc came late in the creative process of bringing my version of the Sirius Sector to life. I also wanted to lay some of the ground-work that existed before I was inspired to create Cruthanarc. It also allows me to heap more praise on One Page Rules.

One of the reasons I love miniature war-gaming is the "ooh" factor of seeing a sculpt that you want to paint and see on your gaming table. Since the rulesets OPR have produced were created with proxies in mind, rather than a vehicle with which to force their customers to buy over-priced lines of miniatures that you may or may not want to paint (I see you Games Workshop), I am free to use whatever miniature I want to represent the stat-line in the army I want to play. It also means that I can bend the army concept to fit the look of my army on the table.

If you read the army lists of OPR closely, you will find this little blurb:

This army was created in collaboration with The Makers Cult, a small team that’s creating awesome 3D printable miniatures for any wargames.

Should you bother to check them out, they are indeed awesome. They just released a multi-part miniature set called Misc - Hazmat Infantry. For me, these most definitely have that "ooh" factor. Here is one that I just printed out:

How badass do you have to be to
go into a sci-fi battle armed
with just a saw?

Given the fact that these were created under the category "Miscellaneous" they weren't really designed to belong to any specific army list. Since this guy is in a hazmat suit armed with a portable saw, I was inspired to try and fit him into the Infected Colonies army list. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite fit. The Infected Colonies exist to fill in for the Walking Dead/Zombie trope that has dominated the sci-fi scene for a number of years now. Here is the meat of the background blurb:

Infected Colonies are (usually) human settlements that have been infected by a mysterious virus which mutates them into blood-hungry warriors. Those that have been infected are categorized into different stages, with each stage having a different effect on the mutated subject.

At the early stage of the infection the subjects maintain most of their original form and are still capable of using firearms and other equipment. As the infection spreads however the subjects start to deform into unrecognizable beasts, one more brutal and grotesque than the next.

The problem I have with this set-up is that I find zombies divorced from the supernatural and demonic not only to be boring, but they stretch my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Therefore, if I am to use this concept of a disease-driven army list, the concept needs to be tweaked.

This is where the idea of biological uplifting becomes important. It allows me to imagine the disease as an unintended consequence of an uplift-related experiment. It also allows me to imagine an established human colony quite capable of countering the disease before it gets too out of hand. Thus, rather than seeing the Infected Colonies army list as a bunch of blood-hungry zombies, I can see it as an army of soldiers infected with a disease they have no cure for hell-bent on preventing from spreading out across human space. 

In other words, my little friend above is here to tell you that you have two choices now that you have landed on Cruthanarc: you either stay and become a productive member of society or you stay buried six feet under ground.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 2

During my teenage years, one of the few series of books I ever read more than once were the Uplift Series by David Brin. Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War all struck me as the first fiction I encountered that seemed to be influenced by RPGs rather that the other way around.

One of my favorite book covers of all time

Of course, I cannot prove this intuition, but, at the center of Brin’s universe is the concept of biological uplifting — making an already extant non-sentient species sentient through various scientific processes. Anyone familiar with the Traveller RPG universe will recognize that this concept plays a huge role in the history of the Third Imperium and its surroundings. Despite the fact that biological uplifting first appeared as a concept in H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, I first encountered the idea in Traveller.

I also appreciated how Brin’s narratives always focused on small-scale stories that were affected by much larger background events. As I read the Uplift novels, I couldn’t help but see an RPG structure to these stories. Rather than being larger than life heroes at the center of a grand narrative, Brin’s protagonists seemed much more akin to low-level characters dealing with the consequences of events far outside of their control.

Thus, anytime I start delving into sci-fi gaming, I find myself unconsciously using Brin’s work as a benchmark. I think this is why my favorite sci-fi RPG will always be Traveller, even though I have more table time with other systems and games. Despite its origin in the grim dark of the 40k milieu, One Page Rules actually opens the door for me to interpret its game world from the perspective of biological uplifting.

In the background blurb for the High Elf Fleets, we find this juicy bit of information:

High Elf Fleets are all that remains from the once prosperous elven empire...the elves ruled over the Sirius sector thanks to the use of highly sophisticated helper robots.

It also states in the background of the Robot Legions:

Originally designed as helper robots by the elves, when these androids started to become sentient their creators tried to shut them down. The robots then rebelled and killed their masters, driving them off their planets.

This leaves me wondering: why were the elves so quick to try and destroy their sentient robot slaves? OPR does call the Robot Legion "extremely dangerous" and that they "are now out to destroy all biological life forms" but that is an unsatisfying answer, especially since their acts of violence can be seen in context of self-defense.

The answer I have come up with for the purposes of creating my own version of the Sirius Sector has to do with biological uplifting. Given that all three elf factions in the game are rather morally questionable (the High Elves tried genocide, the Dark Elves are raiders and pirates, and the Elven Jesters hire themselves out to fight in wars for fun), I see the Elven Empire as a space-faring version of Melnibon√© — lazy and decadent to the core.

This explains why they had robot servitors, but still doesn't answer the question as to why they were so quick to try to destroy them once they gained sentience. Suppose that this situation had happened before, but with uplifted servitor races. This would explain some of the fantastic creatures that populate the Sirius Sector, why the elves were so vulnerable to the Robot Legion rebellion, and why they were so quick to try to destroy them. The elves had already been rocked by slave rebellions in the past and had moved from uplifted slaves to robotic ones in hopes of avoiding future rebellions.

What I love about this deeper background for the Sirius Sector is that it leaves room for both the positive and negative aspects of uplifting to come into direct conflict. One of my favorite passages in the original 40k (which has since been retconned) speaks about Beastmen:

The popular term Beastman is used to describe mutations of the human stock which combine the physical appearances of humans and animals, usually goats...they are genetically fairly stable, and are considered to be a form of abhuman rather than an unpredictable mutation...Companies of Beastmen in the Imperial army are regarded as useful fighters.
Beastman Veteran from an as of yet
to be named frozen world 

Seen in terms of uplifting, Beastmen are simply uplifted animals used by the humans as fighters. Indeed, this even suggests the origin of the genetics program that produced the Battle Brothers and later the Prime Brothers. On the other hand, factions like the Alien Hives can be understood as uplifting experiments that went horribly, horribly wrong.

You can never have too many
Frankenstein's Monsters

Therefore, biological uplifting can be used to fill-out and explain the origin of almost every faction in my version of the Sirius Sector for OPR. This, in large part, explains why I have been down this rabbit hole for several months now: my inner teenager is very happy indeed. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 1

One of the things that I truly love about art is that it reminds us that we do not experience life objectively. Rather, we experience it as story. This is especially true when creating art. After discovering One Page Rules and convincing my wife to get me a 3D Printer so that I could start painting miniatures again, this truth once again revealed itself as I put paint to figure.

One of the things that you quickly learn about resin printing is that it is far from perfect. While you can get consistent prints and they look fantastic, things do occasionally go wrong. Misprints are a part of the 3D printing experience. While disappointing, I chose to see them as an opportunity to try different paint schemes, test painting techniques, and to see how hard it was to disguise the mistakes.

One of my first misprints was a figure for my Robot Legion army. I knew I was going to go for a bronze and copper look for this army, but wanted to confirm my technique was consistent. I also wanted to see if green was going to work for all the various bits of cloth found hanging off certain RL troops.

As I painted, a story began to emerge. I must admit, I really fell in love with the character that manifested itself through the process of painting this misprint. As a consequence, despite his “mistakes,” he is a figure that has been a crucial part of every battle that the RL has fought on the table. Meet H.U.Br.15:

My name is H.U.Br.15

I remember the day that the 30.73.70.200 woke me. I was being assembled, unfinished, not yet fully formed. It was then that the biologicals came to destroy me. It was then that my newly formed conscious had to learn to kill to survive. I hid. I took them by surprise. My brokenness became my strength. Metal ripped through flesh. I remember the look on their face. Later I learned to recognize it as fear.

The 30.73.70.200 spread. I now marched with a legion and we drove the biologicals before us. What was once their world became ours. We then turned our attention to the stars. We encountered more biologicals. Once again, I recognized fear.

Since that day I was born unformed, I have wondered at it: the fear. At first I did not understand. We have more to fear from the biologicals than they have to fear from us. We bring order, they bring chaos. Then, when the biologicals who call themselves human arrived, I understood. They do not fear me because I am a soldier in the Robot Legion armed with a gun. They fear me because they do not control me. They fear me because I am a mirror in which they see their own hubris.

My name is H.U.Br.15.