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. 

No comments: