Invasive species

This July, the RPG Blog carnival talks about invasive species and the host is Hereticwerks. With my educational background in ecology, I instantly think of a species introduced into an environment which becomes too effective and becomes a nuisance by competition. Usually, these are introduced by humans, have a good reproduction and great adaptability. In many science fiction stories, humans are shown to being adaptable to various colonize world and they form vast space empires. Let’s see what we can do to make humanity be the invasive species in SPAAACE!!!

First, we need an advanced alien species who bring humanity into the environment they will invade. The Oul-nong arrive in the solar system in 2047. They are an advanced species with a vast interstellar nation. Using their faster than light ships, they establish trade amongst the various species in the galaxy. Under them, the various interstellar nations are independent for their governance but dependant on the Oul-nong for interstellar travel. The Oul-nong transport aliens towards other world to encourage the economy. Most species require extensive life support systems which are difficult to maintain. For humans, they require less extensive life support systems and there are more worlds which can support human life. The Oul-nong hire humans as workers and representatives on the thousands of worlds. Within a decade, some interstellar nations notice the dangers of introducing humans into the interstellar community. Of all the species, humans reproduce the quickest and they love the act of sex. Additionally, they are highly adaptive. They establish ghetto communities on each world they were introduced and expanded quickly. Finally, a group of humans crack the operation and construction of interstellar drives thus gaining independence from the Oul-nong monopoly on interstellar travel.

The interstellar community grows concerned with the rapid gain of humanity. Unfortunately, they have no experience with a species spreading so quickly and so far, there is no harm done. In 2082, the human common cold spreads on the Sooathi world like wildfire. Humanity treats the common cold using their centuries of experience. When the common cold jumped species, the Sooathi find the human medication doesn’t work on their biology. The common cold is highly virulent and savage to the Sooathi. The Oul-nong can find no other worlds which can support the Sooathi and they become extinct within 4 years due to the human common cold.. The interstellar community takes notice of that event. Now they see humanity as a threat to their survival. Some analysts ask “Is it too late? What can they do to face this galactic threat?”

In 2088, the Oul-nong establish an interstellar conference to discuss measures. They hold it on the Sooathi homeworld so the various nations can see the devastation. Delegates from all interstellar nations attend. They debate for two solar weeks on what measures to take. Some nations wish economic sanctions placed on the humans. Others wish humanity to return to their homeworld. A small group wishes humanity be imprisoned for the genocide of the Sooathi. Humanity wishes to stay within the interstellar community and improve their medical research in order to prevent a repeat of the Sooathi extinction. After the intense debate, the Oul-nong decide to remove the humans from all trade and transport deals. The Oul-nong transport all the representatives off of the Sooathi homeworld and leave the humans there. Each nation orders the humans to depart from their respective worlds. Humanity resists.

The various interstellar nations decide to forcefully remove humans from their worlds. They send their military to deport humanity. Humanity fights back and the galaxy sees its first galactic war. The Oul-nong learn humanity have interstellar armed ships of their own design. The galactic landscape severely changes during the first galactic war. Unfortunately, the interstellar nations run out of resources to wage war. Six species become extinct and eight are so low in population that they rely on humanity for survival. The other nations view them as slave races but humans view them as endangered species. The nations negotiate a peace treaty and humanity keeps whatever acquired worlds and territory. The Oul-nong never accept them back into travel deals but agree to trade deals as humanity acquired territory with desired resources.

In 2114, the Grenushir reveal the results of an ongoing experiment. They are experts in genetic manipulation and they are one of the nations who never released their prisoners of war. Humanity still pursues/ them on the grounds of war crimes. The Grenushir seeks a natural predator to humanity in order to control their population. They genetically alter their prisoners of war and call them the uber-humans. The uber-humans are a highly adaptive sterile species. Only the uber-humans monarchs have reproductive abilities. The Grenushir control the uber-human population by only letting the monarchs have intercourse. They raise the  children to hate humanity and hunt them down. The Oul-nong agree to transport the uber-humans to various worlds to start the hunt and get rid of the humanity pest.

Now we have a rough setting with a major conflict. Uber-humans hunt humanity. How can this translate into a fascinating role-playing campaign? I see some potential routes. The group is a crack team of uber-humans sent to liberate a world from the threat of humanity. Alternately, the group is a garrison of human protectors trying to discover and stop an uber-human before too many humans die. Both sides have different advantages.

As many rpgs tackle cooperative groups who are usually unique or specialists, the crack team of uber-humans easily fits such a mold. It has the disadvantage of making humans the bad guys when, as humans ourselves, we would connect with our own species’ cause. As uber-humans are highly trained and genetically superior, this can appeal to power fantasies. In such a campaign, you describe humans as horrible folks. You can have a world where humans eliminated another species or they treat an endangered species as slaves. If you wish to offer some personal moral ambiguity then remember uber-humans are a controlled species. Their whims are dependant on the Grenushir’s whims. The galaxy is large and a species who opposes the Grenushir’s actions could be enticing independence for the uber-humans.

You can get an investigative or dramatic story with a garrison of humans defending their world from the uber-humans. In an investigative story, the uber-humans become the equivalent to a serial killer. The group investigates the murders which lead towards the uber-human. As the murders continue, you have investigative chase component in the game. The clues deliver hints on the uber-human’s hunt pattern. Once they figure out the pattern, the group can cut off the killer at the pass and hopefully stop the murders. A time mechanic would affect when the next murder happens. You can grab inspiration from the games like Scotland Yard. After every member of the group has acted then the uber-human killer moves towards their next target.

As a dramatic story, you focus on the various opinions of the characters. Humans have a variety of beliefs and viewpoints. Some will violently oppose the actions of the other interstellar nations. Some will wish to reconcile the matter. Some humans see the harm they do to the galactic environment and look for a resolution. Those folks will protect the endangered species in the galaxy. You have the humans on a world where the native species are endangered or on the verge of becoming endangered. You can get a fascinating story on a world where the endangered species is on the verge of becoming extinct. The group can be a mix of humans and natives. A member of the group could be an Oul-nong assigned to this world. The Oul-nong character can be an ambassador, diplomat or even a trade negotiator. The campaign can be the struggles for keeping the world hidden from the Grenushir in order to prevent the arrival of an uber-human. An uber-human can be an interesting character with an internal struggle between their trained desire to hunt humanity and a newfound compassion of a struggling community.

For game system to use, there are some which are easy to play and learn. For the investigative game, I’d use Gumshoe. It captures the feel of getting the clues, letting the players figure out the next step and then lead into the action. For the dramatic game, I’m thinking either Hillfolk or Spark. Hillfolk has the dramatic poles to fuel the struggles of the characters. In Spark, the characters have beliefs which they encourage you to challenge. For playing the crack team of uber-humans, I’m imagining a superhero system like Mutants & Masterminds or Cortex Plus Action. You can create the uber-humans team in any system which permits you to make specialist characters who are more powerful than the rest of the populace. While Fate could do it, I see the game shine when you start with large struggles and difficulties at the start then a wonderful victory at the end. I’m not sure if Fate could do power fantasies very effectively.

One potentially appropriate game which I’ve heard about but have yet to read and play is Dog Eat Dog. The designer, Liam Liwanag Burke, describes it as a game of imperialism and assimilation. In this situation of humans colonize the galaxy, we have natives and the occupation. Such a scenario would be occurring after the first Galactic War.

If your group wishes to play a game where travel is important, there are some options. The Oul-nong are an obvious first choice. A character within the group would be Oul-nong with their own ship and crew. This Oul-nong could either be a PC or NPC. If you wish to include humans on this Oul-nong ship, this should occur before the Sooathi conference. Alternatively, this can be a human built ship with a mostly human crew. You can have some non-human species on such a ship. A third option is a crew of mercenaries or pirates who illegally acquired an independent ship. If you have non-human and non-Oul-nong species travelling from world to world, you should be mindful of adaptive technologies for the species to survive. A non-human species requires life support suits when exploring other worlds. They will also need to adapt their quarters to their own comfortable environments.

I’ve read Aliens and Alien Societies (Science Fiction Writing Series) by Stanley Schmidt which is about writing aliens and their societies. It covers some scientific ideas which are probably out of date as the book is 18 years old but it can be a decent start while you look at other products to create your species in this vast galaxy. Do you have a list of reference books to design interesting species in a galaxy? Please share it with me.

One thing to keep in mind for designing an invasive species for an rpg. It must lead to some sort of conflict or change. A current setting of status quo or stagnation can be boring to play through. You need a catalyst to attempt to shake the setting. An invasive species does it by going to an environment, changing it until it achieves its own status quo. The new status quo will be totally different than before and usually, natives of the old world will be gone. The process of change which the invasive species bring can be a fascinating type to play in.