Wednesday, December 30, 2020

1d10 organisms from Curie's World

This is a list of 10 different alien creatures you might encounter during your work assignment on the hellish, radioactive garden planet known as Curie's World. This is only a very narrow slice of the planet's staggering biodiversity, but hopefully enough to get your gears turning.
  1. Nuke Tree and Elephant's Foot Tree: Common treelike organisms feeding on the violent radiation outbursts of Curie's star. Nuke trees are tall, slender and their trunks are unnervingly smooth. They tend to form massive forests, fighting for the lethal sun"light" with their melanistic, radiation-collecting fronds. Elephant's Foot Trees, in contrast, are gnarled and bloated, and tend to stand solitary in nuke tree forests. Their roots secrete toxins that kill other elephant's foot tree saplings in the vicinity, thereby ensuring that they have a local monopoly on the specific cocktail of nutrients they require.
  2. Plainsland Scrammer (C 35, I 30, S 55, H (2) 25; kick: 2d10 and Body save or be flung away): Open area grazers occuring in herds of 4d10 individuals, named for their fast run. While running, they fold their middle pair of legs up against their belly, with the scrammers leading the herd's charge using their sidelegs to kick things out of the way. They are suspicious of every movement, responding with threat displays and fleeing if necessary. They are a favored prey of the greater chernobog.
  3. Greater Chernobog (C 65, I 55, S 30, H (4)30; scything claws: 3d10, digestive syringe: 2d10 damage and 1d10 Body save decrease): The apex predator of the area where Company extraction works are active, a horse-sized, black-carapaced myriapod-thing with powerful pillar-like legs and wicked sickle-shaped claws on its foremost pair of limbs. It is an ambush predator lunging out from between nuke trees or tall sootgrass to strike down prey. It cannot sustain long bursts of running, and will usually give up on prey it cannot run down within a two or three combat rounds. Felled prey is pumped full of digestive fluids, liquefied and slurped out of its skin. Chernobogs are highly territorial and solitary animals, and indiscriminately attack each other out of mating season.
  4. Black Sarcophagus (C 15, I 0, S 0, H (3) 10; acid spray: 2d10, acid bath: cumulative 1d10 per turn): Sessile organism, shaped like a black bathtub with six petals, lying in wait in nuke tree forests. Once someone or something stumbles into it (Intellect check to notice, Body save to avoid), it snaps tightly shut and begins to fill itself with digestive fluid. A Crisis check of two Strength checks are needed to pry it open, from the inside or the outside. If attacked, it sprays corrosive digestive fluids at its attacker, squealing loudly.
  5. Treetop Tokamak (C 30, I 70, S 45, H (1) 25; throw bulb: 1d10, batter: 2d10, bioluminescent flash: Body save or dizzied): About man-sized, arboreal brachiator with six limbs, each of which can function as an arm or leg, as needed. Named after their squawking call. Tokamaks are highly intelligent pack hunters, employing complicated group tactics, throwing heavy fruiting bulbs from the treetops and disorienting their quarry with dazzling flashes of bioluminescence, before descending on their overwhelmed prey and beating it to death. A tokamak troop usually counts 2d10 individuals; if a few of them are felled, they cut their losses and flee.
  6. Tsar Whaleworm (C 85, I 25, S 15, H (5) 100; fin slap: 1d10 to people or 1d10 MDMG to structures and submarines): Massive, peaceful filter feeders that resemble many-finned giant worms, each the size of a train. Graceful, combed tentacles extend from their mouthparts, scooping up xenoplankton. Whaleworms usually come near the shore in pods of 1d10 individuals, and don't attack unless they're bothered. There's been rumors of the Company sending out armored submarines to try and harpoon one of these massive creatures, but corporate consistently denies this claim.
  7. Trinity Cyst: Named for its trilateral symmetry. Bloated bladder growing from the ground in nuke tree forests, a defensive mechanism against herbivores deployed by certain radiotrophic xenofungi. If stepped on, it bursts with a cloud of poisonous powder - the powder is biochemically incompatible with humans, but incidentally it is also horribly radioactive and sticks to everything. Intellect check to notice the cyst, Body save to dive out of the cloud's way.
  8. Whistling Stalker (C 45, I 65, S 75, H (3) 30; claw spurs: 1d10): Large, agile flying creature with two pairs of wings - the first pair, broad and sheet-like, enables gliding and powerful upward flaps, while the second, small and delta-shaped, facilitates fast air propulsion and aerial maneuvers. The stalker spends most of its time gliding on its forewings, surveying the area for suitable prey (like a juvenile scrammer or a lost tokamak, generally roughly human-sized things). It dives out of the air to attack and attempts to grab its prey (Combat vs. Body save opposed roll), then ascend into the air and drop it onto an exposed rock surface (Body save or die).
  9. Tumbler-Snapper (C 20, I 35, S 60, H 1; scratch and bite: 1d10, nuke ray: 5d10 and appropriate radiation penalties): A small, ciliated, eight-legged critter that feeds on the fruiting bulbs of local xenoflora, separating out radioactive materials from its food and storing it in a special gland. As a defensive measure, it can trigger criticality in this gland via carefully controlled chemical reactions, and emit a searing burst of radiation. For radiation-resistant Curian predators, this burst is still strong enough to sicken and discourage them from attack; for humans, it causes severe radiation burns and can kill in minutes, even through a hazard suit. The tumbler-snapper has only one shot at this before it has to replenish its fuel gland again.
  10. Three-mile Mycelium: Enormous network of radiotrophic xenofungus that reaches deep into the earth, feeding on the radiation output of the planet's ubiquitous natural nuclear reactor deposits while keeping a symbiotic link with the nuke tree forests above. The mycelium exhibits a cold, vast fungal intellect - not exactly sapient, but intelligent. It wants the forest to be nice and healthy, so it can keep getting nutrients for it. To this end, it subtly manipulates local wildlife through subtle physical and chemical means - areas with an active mycelium might see worse harvests or more wild animal attacks on planetside workers, and the Company may decide it's better worth sending its workforce elsewhere.

Curie's World

Do you want to give your players a Company job that actually pays well for once? Sure, but they'll have to suffer for it.
Welcome to Curie's World, one of the worst hellholes a teamster could possibly find themselves in.
[Content warning: cancer, body dysmorphia, psychological abuse.]
At first glance, Curie's World doesn't seem all that bad. It's a rocky planet slightly bigger than the Earth, with continents, seas and a thick, turbulent atmosphere. A balmy average temperature of 23°C (despite its distance from its dim red dwarf primary) and a surface gravity of just 1.1 g make the planet pleasantly familiar to Earthers, while its low axial tilt and relatively ineccentric orbit means there are no wildly changing seasons. Much of the planet is covered in warm, shallow seas. The atmosphere, while quite vaporous and containing trace amounts of certain poisonous gases, is nitrogen-oxygen based, richer in oxygen than Earth, and breathable as long as said poisonous gases are filtered out beforehand (a relatively simple task). The planet bears rich, thriving life. Sure, the surface may be a little dim and foggy, but still very comfortable as far as planets go. By all counts, Curie's World should be an ideal colony.
So what's the catch?
Natural nuclear fission reactors are geological formations composed of a uranium deposit, rich in fissile ²³⁵U, which becomes inundated in groundwater. The groundwater acts as a neutron moderator and enables the deposit to undergo a self-sustaining chain reaction. When it reaches criticality, the reactor soon raises temperatures by a few hundred degrees, boiling away the groundwater, which stops the chain reaction. Once the reactor cools off, groundwater trickles back into the deposit, and the cycle starts again.
On Earth, there is only one known site with natural nuclear reactors. It is located in Oklo, Gabon: a complex of 16 reactors which ran for a few hundred thousand years approximately 1.7 billion years ago, depleting 5 tons of uranium oxide and producing an output of about 100 kW thermal energy in the process. A reactor cycle lasted about 3 hours, with 30 minutes of criticality followed by 2 hours and 30 minutes of cooldown. 
Reactor 15 in Oklo. The yellow stains are uranium oxide ore, the white ones are hydrothermal quartz formed by rapid water circulation.
It is believed that natural nuclear reactors cannot exist on Earth anymore, due to the decay of ²³⁵U content in uranium ore over time.
On Curie's World, planetological survey probes have found 235,354 natural nuclear reactors so far. And counting.
Quirks of the planet's geology cause these unusual features to occur readily. Abundant uranium deposits, richer ²³⁵U content in those deposits, and a much higher percentage of heavy water in the Curian water cycle compared to Earth all make criticality much easier to achieve. Hundreds and hundreds of running fission reactors dot the landscape of this pristine wilderness planet. At night, the seas are illuminated by an eerie blue glow: Cherenkov radiation cast off by undersea reactor sites, which form long geological chains similar to volcanic island chains on Earth.
This lush paradise planet is a radioactive hell. On top of all the dangers of a biodiverse garden planet, the ubiquitous reactor deposits underfoot emit massive amounts of ionizing radiation during their cooldown cycles, when their fission products are not insulated by groundwater. To make it even worse, the primary of Curie's World, a violent, highly metallic flare star, frequently and unpredictably erupts in energetic stellar flares, sending waves of ionizing proton radiation towards the planet. Curie's meager magnetosphere barely deflects any of it. (It does, however, make for some beautiful auroras, even very far away from the poles.) Setting foot on this planet, even in a hazard suit, is a sentence of slow, agonizing death.
In short, the Company is blowing through its Curian workforce like Kleenex.
The Company is interested in Curie's World for a number of reasons. The most obvious is mining. Curie's crust is abundant in uranium ore, which is richer in fissile ²³⁵U than ore found on other planets, saving a whole lot of headaches on uranium enrichment and exotic neutron moderators. Other radioactive ores are also plentiful. What's more, the planet's waters contain a lot of deuterium oxide, or heavy water, which is separated out of Curie's seas by massive, floating water extractor stations, similar to oil drilling rigs in appearance.
The other, less immediately apparent value of this planet is biotechnological research.
Curie's World is a life-bearing planet. Large hosts of alien creatures populate the surface, with underground thermo- and radiotrophic organisms feeding on the heat and radiation output of the nuclear reactors, and tall, treelike radiosynthesizers (the famous "nuke trees") spreading their sooty-black, comb-shaped fronds towards the sky, nourishing themselves on the red dwarf's violent stellar flares like an Earth plant would on light. Upon these primary producers, diverse ecosystems of strange, exotic and often dangerous animals are based - all thriving within an environment that would horrifically and painfully kill an unprotected human being within days.
The solution to this mystery is that Curian organisms have the most powerful DNA repair mechanisms known anywhere, which enables them to avoid instantly dying from super space cancer in the radiation-bathed terribleness that is the environment of Curie's World. The Company's biomedical department is very interested in these mechanisms. Research into how Curian animals make do is projected to yield revolutionary (and eminently patentable) cancer treatments, life-extension techniques, and radiation protection for spacers. They also want to use the radiation-eating xenofungus to make self-healing radiation shields for spaceships, which will definitely not go horribly wrong in any way.
It's a terribly, terribly profitable planet, and the Company is willing to pour immense amounts of money and resources into exploiting it.
1d10 jobs on Curie's World
    1. Maintenance of the uranium mining robots.
    2. Tagging, release and radio tracking of a Greater Chernobog.
    3. Heavy water extraction.
    4. Repairing the heavy water extraction platform.
    5. Processing the washed-ashore corpse of a Tsar Whaleworm.
    6. Geological surveying for new mining sites and underground natural nuclear reactors.
    7. Capturing a live Tumbler-Snapper.
    8. Accompanying important Company scientists who all have better accommodation than you.
    9. Collecting live samples from the Three-mile Mycelium.
    10. Power station maintenance.
So where do the poor sods that are your players factor into all this?
Well the Company first tried sending probes down there, but the intense radiation fried their electronics very, very fast. So they started sending people. People restock themselves on their own, with very little Company input needed, and they cost significantly less to pay than an orbital drone factory.
Thing is, Curie's World is such a shithole that the only way to attract workforce is to actually provide a high pay. Working on this planet is widely regarded as one of the worst jobs out in the black; the only people who willingly take this job are generally utterly desperate, with nothing to lose but everything to gain. The good salary is the only thing that makes it worthwhile for most workers planetside.
Why is this poor teamster here?
    1. Working off a huge debt.
    2. Trying to disappear from a crime syndicate.
    3. Believes they deserve to suffer for something they did.
    4. Incurable, suicidal wanderlust.
    5. Sentenced to hard labor.
    6. Trying to pull their loved ones out of poverty.
    7. Blindly worships the Company.
    8. Rugged individualist prospector.
    9. Genuinely unphased, just here for the money.
    10. Lobotomized Company bioroid.
When you arrive to work on Curie's World, they upload your mind into a simple, utilitarian, mass-produced sleeve. These come in one male and one female variant, and largely look the same - they're made for  work, not for convenience. They stash your original body in a large, efficiently packed cryobay, where it will stay for the duration of your work assignment. They give you a big pack of mildly effective anti-rad pills, a hazard suit, and the tools for your job, put you in a shuttle with fifteen other sleeved workers, and send you down. Then you'll work for a month or two, until you develop severe radiation sickness and die while vomiting and bleeding internally. (Here's some good rules for radiation sickness by Swampgirl.) At this point, a chip implanted into your sleeve's brain stem activates and beams your consciousness back to the Company space station in orbit, where they put you in a new sleeve and send you down again.
This is all a huge expense, but cheaper than sending a new probe every week, and still preferable to leaving the planet unexploited.
What are you bawling about? It wasn't even your real body, you big baby. Do you even remember what your own body feels like anymore? Here, take this neurochemical pill to suppress your crippling body dysmorphia, and get in the shuttle again. Don't you want that cute daughter of yours back in the slums on Omicron Colony to get into that nice university? Then you better get in the shuttle, friend, because that tuition isn't paying itself.

Dogs in Space

artist:  John Pohlman (Inspired by Noisms' fantasy dog breeds .) Floaters "Floater" is a catch-all term for dogs adapted to ze...