by Joe Taylor
At first, the creatures were thought to be some previously-unknown species of tiger which lived only in the deepest jungles of the Dark Continent.
When enough railway workers disappeared that the work slowed, hunters were sent in to deal with the new man-eaters. When the hunters failed to return, soldiers were sent. Then more soldiers. Then all contact with the outpost was lost and further down the line, people began seeing red-purple shapes in the wilderness just beyond the towns. Large shapes, like long tigers without legs . . .
Thus GURPS War Against The Chtorr meets GURPS Steampunk.
In this scenario, the Chtorran invasion begins in the 19th century rather than the 21st. It assumes that the plagues caused by Chtorran microbes in the novels do not happen -- this keeps the steampunk setting intact and gives humans a fighting chance. The infestation begins in remote, "uncivilized" areas which are only just being explored. First the worms appear in Africa, but are soon spotted in the Amazon, Tasmania, and near the Rocky Mountains. Characters (and players unfamiliar with the Chtorr series) may assume that the strange creatures are just another one of the many unusual animals native to these lands which Europeans have never seen. When the worms and other Chtorran life-forms begin to rapidly spread, replacing Terran flora and fauna, it becomes evident that something else is going on. Unknown enclaves in South East Asia grow unmolested until they begin to spill over and threaten India and China. It is only a matter of time before the ravenous gastropedes are stalking the black forests of Germany. Biologists debating theories of evolution now have a totally different ecology to observe while scientists push the technology envelope to find new ways of combating the threat.
And the Chtorran infestation is a difficult threat to combat at TL5 or TL5(+1). Science just barely has the tools necessary to understand the ecological threat the alien life poses and the larger implications of it may still elude scientists until much of the world is already "Chtorraformed."
The Great Powers will be more inclined to fight the invading ecology with physical military means, concentrating on destroying the gastropedes. This is a task which military technology of the period may not be up to.
Any kinetic damage done to a Chtorran (such as with bullets) which penetrates its DR is divided by 10 before being applied to its Hit Points.
Tech level 5 firearms do not stand a chance of harming a worm. Before a GM decides to weaken the gastropedes to make the fight more fair, it should be pointed out that even TL8 firearms are just as useless and that developing new weapons to fight with is what War Against The Chtorr and Steampunk are all about. The TL5(+1) electric gatling does only slightly less damage than an AM-280 and has a higher RoF. Explosive damage, if the bomb or shell is in contact with the Chtorran when it goes off, does double damage before being divided by 10, so artillery and land ironclads can be somewhat effective. If the campaign has or develops etheric shock weapons, they would act like particle beams and do full damage which is not reduced, as would a lightning cannon (see p. STM89). Damage from a wind cannon would be reduced and damage from a vibra-cannon which penetrates DR is first divided by 10, then is -1 per full 1,000 lbs. of target weight.
Chtorrans hit by a flasher or hand flasher roll at HT-2 to avoid their effects, though being blinded often drives them into a rage (and isn't too effective since they can still track their prey by smell).
Even if the campaign includes these "baroque weapons," the most effective means of fighting a gastropede is with fire. Flame weapons do an extra +2d and damage is not reduced. Tech level 5(+1) flamethrowers would not be any different in operation than those of TL6. GURPS High Tech has weapon stats for a man-portable flamethrower from WWI and one from WWII -- both are TL6. GURPS Vehicles can be used to design vehicular flamethrowers for those land ironclads. What effect chemical weapons such as Mustard Gas would have on Chtorran life forms is anybody's guess, but the results certainly wouldn't be pretty.
So the PCs ought to be able to dish out some damage once they find the right weapon systems to use. However, the Chtorrans may still need to be toned down a bit for this setting. A charging gastropede will probably be the fastest thing on a TL 5(+1) battlefield, too fast for heavy weapons to track them. A fully adult worm might be more than a match for even steam-powered mecha like the O-Daisuchiimu. Considering that Steampunk weapons often have a very low RoF or even require time to reload between each shot, a GM may want to reduce the Chtorrans' move score to slow the pace of the battles a bit. This is probably the only area the GM will need to tinker with in order to keep things balanced and give the PCs a chance.
Still, the worms should remain exceedingly hard to beat. If the PCs will need any slack from the GM, it should probably be that he reduces the rate at which the infestation grows and changes. Always keep it just ahead of mankind's ability to manage it, but since the campaign world won't have the luxury of instant worldwide communication, that will probably mean things proceed at a slower pace than in the novels.
GURPS War Against The Chtorr recommends doing without the plagues in any campaign set below TL7. Much of the flavor of a steampunk campaign comes not only from the technology, but from the culture of the Victorian Age, which would certainly be destroyed if Chtorran diseases run rampant. The GM can, of course, include the Chtorran plagues in his campaign if he wants.
Diseases such as Influenza and Yellow Fever were still a common cause of death in the 19th century, so the plagues could be incorporated without disturbing the Victorian feel too much. In this case, the first step to fighting off the invasion is to discover some sort of "Chtorricillin" to beat the germs -- an effort which the PCs will no doubt be at the forefront of.
The tone of the campaign should be somewhat different than that of a normal War Against The Chtorr game. The 19th century was a time when everyone thought that science would soon be able to solve any and all of mankind's problems. Even when faced with a problem 19th century science is woefully inadequate to fight, that positive attitude should still prevail. This invasion takes place in a world which has not been devastated by plagues, so the social upheaval in the Chtorr novels is not present and the powers leading the fight will probably not be hindered by coalitions of Third- and Fourth-World countries. However, the invasion can move and change faster than the rate at which information can be transmitted and there are parts of the world which are still unknown where the alien ecology can grow deep roots undisturbed. Humanity should begin fighting the invasion as soon as it appears because it will be a long time before a way to make real progress is found. It is suggested that the GM begin the campaign in a historical TL5, 19th century setting and let it develop into a steampunk TL5(+1) world as a result of fighting the invasion.
An important rail line under construction in Africa is being plagued by what seems to be a man-eating lion or tiger. Only a few native workers have gone missing but the rest are so frightened that all work has ceased. The PCs can be a small military unit or a group of hunters hired by the government, with a naturalist or two going along to study the creature.
The man-eater is actually a lone Chtorran gastropede, far more dangerous than any lion. When the party arrives at the work camp, rumors about the beast may clue them in that it is something different. If the party survives hunting the worm, this would make a good introductory adventure.
Trouble in Show-Low
Show-Low, Arizona (named after a card game) is a new boom town. The news of some gigantic man-eating worm found in Africa is largely regarded as a hoax, or at least no cause for concern in America.
Trouble begins when a local Indian village is destroyed and every last man, woman, and child in it vanishes. Other neighboring Indians are divided about what to do, but many blame the US government or the white folks of Show-Low. Some begin making raids on the town and tensions between the white settlers and local Indians rise until bloodshed looks inevitable.
When tempers reach their peak, with Indian warriors surrounding the town, a large family of six gastropedes -- the same ones who wiped out the Indian village -- attacks Show-Low. Can the settlers and Indians together right off the aliens? The PCs can be townsfolk, Indians, or adventurers just passing through who get caught up in the strife.
Expedition to the Amazon
The Royal Academy of Science is sponsoring a large-scale, coordinated effort to study the Chtorran infestation. A large cargo airship is being converted into a flying laboratory which will allow the scientists on board to conduct on-site investigations safely. The infestation in the Amazon jungle is one of the most developed and has had little interference by humans so the research will be conducted there. PCs of a scientific bent will be invited to join the expedition, while military types may be hired as security. While on board the airship, the PCs can rub elbows with the likes of Charles Darwin, Alfred Nobel, or Thomas Edison.
It's a chance for the players to experience some serious, scientific investigation of the infestation and really learn something about the threat. It's also a chance for them to find out some crucial information which could help mankind's struggle -- or for something to go terribly wrong and mankind loose some of the best scientific minds of the age.
* * *
An alternative Chtorr/Steampunk campaign can be set in Etheria (see p. STM126), where fantastic technology allows space travel in the 19th century. Instead of discovering tropical forests and amphibious primitives living on Venus, however, space travelers find a far more alien world, one with jungles as red as the surface of Mars and creatures resembling gigantic, carnivorous caterpillars. In this scenario, Venus, Earth's own neighbor, is the homeworld of the Chtorr! Europeans set up a few colonial outposts near the poles, where the most deadly creatures scarcely venture, but worm huts dot the horizon and only a few degrees of latitude away are vast mandala complexes with thousands upon thousands of worms.
Though the dense, steaming atmosphere of Venus seems to fit Chtorran life better than Earth, there are still aspects of the aliens which would seem to be incongruent with it being their homeworld. The GM can feel free to alter the habitat to fit the Chtorrans, alter the Chtorrans to fit their environment, or ignore the evidence all together -- perhaps Venus isn't the Chtorrans' homeworld here, either, and the infestation simply missed Earth and hit the next world. In this setting, Venus is supposedly a more primitive planet, yet here it boasts life forms far more developed and voracious than any on Earth. The simple explanation (if one is needed) is that Venus is indeed more primitive but it has not suffered any mass extinctions like the one that killed off the dinosaurs, therefore its current ecology is older.
In any case, the GM will have to handle a fully developed Chtorran ecology and fix the gaps in the food chain by deciding what a Chtorran gastropede's normal prey is -- and if anything preys on the worms in turn. The players will have to face a Chtorran ecology running at full speed, but one that is also stable. Once again, the GM will probably want to assume that Chtorran (or Veneran) diseases and micro-organisms will not pose a problem for the human race. It will be up to the GM to decide whether or not there is any intelligent Chtorran life -- something which was a mystery in the novels -- and how it will react to the human invaders. In this setting, however, it is unlikely that there is an intelligent, sentient Chtorran species, but the average "animal" will probably be unexpectedly clever. Having to survive on the edge of a screaming, red, fully Chtorran world will likely be challenge enough.
Why would anyone want to go there to begin with, much less establish a colony in such a deadly, forbidding place? For the same reasons why Europeans ventured to the New World, or Australia, or Africa. The GM can make the planet home to rich mines of precious minerals or jewels -- some of which are unlike anything on Earth. The hallucinogenic Chtorran plants may lead to a parallel of the opium trade. Scientists will want to study the native life, too, especially with the mechanics of evolution in hot debate.
Human settlements on this Chtorran Venus could take the form of military outposts, scientific surveys, prison camps, mining and trade stations, or even full colonization efforts. The Chtorran wilderness also offers the ultimate in big game hunting.
A campaign in this setting will be different from a normal Chtorr campaign in that the characters will constantly be surrounded by a fully developed Chtorran ecology. Most adventures will come from carrying out whatever goals bring them there while surviving the local wildlife. When things get too rough, they can always go back home to an Earth which is not endangered by an invading ecology, and there is no need to worry about the survival of the planet or the human race. At least, not until samples from that alien world are brought back, either on purpose or accidentally, and begin to spread out of control . . .
The Most Dangerous Game
The PCs are either big game hunters themselves or are hired by one to help with his expedition. In any case, the players will have to brave dangerous alien jungles for the glory of being the first man to mount a gastropede's mandibles as a trophy. Alternatively, the PCs are hunters on a mission for a scientific establishment and have been hired to capture and bring back a live gastropede. Without damaging the specimen, please.
The PCs are on a transport carrying prisoners to a penal colony on Venus. They can be the ship's crew, the guards, or the prisoners. En route, the prisoners try to escape and take control of the ship. During the struggle, the ship goes off course and crashes hundreds of miles from the nearest human outpost. Lost in an alien jungle, surrounded by deadly life forms, the survivors must somehow work together to make their way back to civilization.
Heart of Darkness
A company which has several outposts on Venus set up to exploit the planet's resources and native life has lost contact with one of its camps furthest in the interior. The place was a mining camp which had recently begun to also collect some of the hallucinogenic local plants which are replacing opium in the drug trade. It was under the command of a former military officer, a highly-decorated individual who was also known as a deeply sensitive humanist. The PCs are sent to investigate this sudden lack of communication and determine whether or not the camp has been overrun (and whether or not anything can be salvaged). As the outpost is deep in the wilderness, the PCs must disembark at a colony nearer to the pole and their make to the site by way of a river, which the company has built its camps along and uses to transport goods. As the PCs stop at these camps along the way, they see cute, dancing bunnydogs devoured by a family of worms, they come under nightly attack by one strange species or another, and their progress may even be slowed by a seasonal pink storm and the resulting feeding frenzy. In short, they gradually experience more and more of the alienness of this terrifying place. When they finally arrive at the camp in question, they find that the commander has become infected with neural symbionts and is growing Chtorran "hair." He claims he can speak with the jungle and even keeps a baby gastropede as a pet! The workers and soldiers in the camp have gone renegade with him. The commander intends to become a "native son" of this alien world and drive off all other human settlements, which he claims are a harmful blight to his new master.
Article publication date: May 4, 2001
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