The Coldest War:

The Antarctic Rim in GURPS Technomancer

by Loki Carbis

"I watched the sky a long time, concluding that such beauty was reserved for distant, dangerous places, and that nature has good reason for exacting her own special sacrifices from those determined to witness them."
-- Alone by Admiral Richard E. Byrd

Unlike its more peaceful analog in our own world, the Antarctic Rim in GURPS Technomancer is among the most dangerous and hard-fought of territories in the world. The major reason for this is the Zhukov Hellstorm, the larger and more powerful cousin of the Trinity Hellstorm. But unlike Trinity, Zhukov is not located within the territory of any one nation.

Antarctic History

Before 1949, not much attention was paid to the region. But the ready access to magical energies provided by the Zhukov detonation inspired the interests of many nations. Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States all had interests in the area -- mostly scientific research bases or territorial claims. After Zhukov, these nations were joined by several others, including South Africa, China and Japan.

In the pre-Zhukov days of Antarctic exploration and science, a somewhat utopian spirit prevailed. All were visitors, and all were tacitly encouraged to leave petty nationalism above the 60th Parallel. Post-Zhukov, this attitude was replaced by a vastly more pragmatic and world-weary outlook. Antarctica had become a strategically vital possession, and all other nations were to be treated with suspicion at best -- hostility at worst. The arrival of the Chinese on the continent in 1950 raised the stakes even higher, as all three superpowers got into the act.

In 1957, in conjunction with International Geophysical Year, the Antarctic Treaty was signed. It promised a military and industrial free zone, with strict anti-pollution and anti-armament legislation. On the other hand, it also included the controversial "mutual defense" provisions that required all signatory nations to assist their fellows in keeping non-signatory nations out of Antarctica. Signatory nations included the USA, the UK, the USSR, Poland, France, both Germanies, Norway, Japan, Australia, South Africa and Chile. Notable non-signatories included China, New Zealand and Argentina. By 1965, the treaty was being routinely violated, as magical and industrial research converged, although the official story was that magical research of any sort was not covered by the treaty (which was true to the letter, if not the spirit, of the agreement).

In retrospect, the Antarctic Treaty seems to have exacerbated rather than relieved political stresses on the southernmost continent. Petty territorial disputes and a complete lockdown on scientific research exchange (due mostly to the increasingly blurry line between science and magic) contributed to the ill-feeling. More and more, Antarctic settlements became a series of heavily-armed military city-states, none really trusting the others. The Japanese government was the sole exception to this policy, with the Syowa Base having only the most minimal of defenses, and an open-door policy to everyone (although cynics on all sides claimed that this was merely an effort to steal knowledge, particularly magical knowledge, from anyone who had it). But the quick fall of the base to the attacks of the Killer Penguins in 1984 just gave hawks everywhere another reason to crow over the doves.

It is now commonly accepted that the Killer Penguins were aware of the Treaty, and exploited its weaknesses in their campaign to conquer all Antarctica. Aside from Soviet bases attacked in retribution, only non-signatory nations were targeted by the birds until 1983. By the time that Treaty signatory bases were being attacked by the Penguins, they had been sufficiently divided and made suspicious of each other that a cooperative response was nigh impossible (the evacuation of the Syowa base is one of the very few examples of this paranoia being overcome).

Antarctic Conditions

The climactic conditions in Antarctica are possibly the most extreme in the world. Average winter temperatures range from -40F to -94F in the interior of continent, while the coastal regions range from +5F to -26F. In the summer months, the interior ranges from +5F to -31C, and the coast between +41F and -+23F. (Full rules for the effects of such temperatures may be found on pp. B130 and CII133-135).

The other major climactic factor is the wind. Katabatic winds can gust up 320kph in coastal regions, and higher still near the Zhukov Hellstorm. The winds in the interior are not so severe, but the risk of getting caught in a blizzard or a whiteout is very real at all times.

The Aurora Australis is a common enough sight in the skies below 40 degrees South Latitude. It presence depends on the interaction of solar activity, fluctuations in the earth's magnetic field and variations in the intensity of the Zhukov Hellstorm. It can reasonably be seen anywhere in the area discussed in this article, but is most common in the areas around the south magnetic pole and Zhukov Hellstorm. When it is visible in the sky, all spell casting is at +1 to skill and power -- but the effects of all backfires are rolled at +3. These effects are both doubled if the spell caster is actually on the Antarctic Ice-Cap. Curiously, the Killer Penguins seem immune to both these effects.

Political Entities in the Antarctic

Argentine Territories

It should be noted that all current Argentinean possessions were formerly claimed by the United Kingdom (and in some instances, Chile as well). These territories were all captured at the time of the Falkland invasion in 1982. These territories include South Georgia, the South Orkney Islands and the South Sandwich Islands, all of which are heavily defended by Argentinean forces. Although no one believes that the United Kingdom will allow their capture forever, the Argentinean high command is quite confident that it can hold them in the event of a counter-attack -- barring American intervention. A lot of Argentina's foreign policy objectives are thus aimed at isolating Britain from potential allies, and keeping her actual allies busy elsewhere.

Chilean Territories

See Disputed Territories, below.

Australasian Territories

Existing in an uneasy tension with the United States -- the nations are friends, but no longer allies, Australasia holds numerous territories, including the Auckland Islands, the Balleny Islands, Campbell Island, Heard Island, Macquarie Island and Scott Island. Of these, Macquarie Island is the site of a major naval and air force base, and the focus of much top secret military research, with Heard and the Ballenys also well garrisoned. The more northerly Aucklands and Campbells are open to tourists, while Scott Island has been declared a national park, and is closed to all human landings, except in emergencies.

French and Norwegian Territories

Although these islands are nominally under the control of France (and Norway, in the case of Bouvetoya), their extensive use by NATO forces means that they are de facto possessions of the United States. This includes Ile Amsterdam, Bouvetoya, Iles Crozet, Iles Kerguelen and Ile Saint-Paul. Peter I Island, the most inward-lying of the Norwegian possessions, fell to Killer Penguin attacks in 1987, and has been held despite repeated efforts to reclaim it. There is some ill-feeling on the islands about the assumption of power by the American military, occasionally leading to minor acts of sabotage.

Japanese Territory

The McDonald Islands are among the most heavily settled of all the Antarctic Rim territories. Since the purchase of these islands, Japanese government and industry have spared no expense in utilizing them. In addition to a thriving magical college, the McDonald Islands boast the world's most advanced superconductivity research laboratories, extensive whaling bases (technically illegal under the terms of the sale, but no one seems to be in a hurry to do anything about it), and even a tourist resort. Permanent population is about 1200 people, plus between one thousand and three thousand transients, with the numbers peaking in the summer months. Usually about half of them are spell-casters.

The chief settlement of the McDonald Islands, a port named Mizuho, is a well-known place for clandestine meetings and a haven for spies. It is sometimes referred to as the "Casablanca of the Antarctic" and with good reason. Under the relaxed gaze of the security forces, pretty much anything not involving violence, however criminal, is tolerated (unless it would harm Japan or Japanese interests).

South African Territory

The previous territories and bases on the Antarctic continent claimed by South Africa have been lost to the Argentines (who then lost them in turn to the Killer Penguins). Now, only the bases on Prince Edward Island and Marion Island remain. Both bases are heavily defended against incursions, and are the centers of magical research by the South African government. Despite the provisions of anti-apartheid that were written into the Antarctic Treaty, all publicly known South African mages to date have been of Caucasian descent. Even in the paranoid Antarctic, South Africa is seen as unusually isolationist.

Utopian Territory

A multi-ethnic utopian band calling itself the Human Liberation Front during the British-Argentine conflict of the 1980's seized the former British territory of Shag rocks. Extensive use of stone-shaping magicks has greatly expanded the original islands, which were simply a series of desolate rock outcroppings. When it was revealed, in 1996, that the leader of the movement, and President for life of Utopia Island was Richard Byrd, the result was massive public outcry. Byrd's views on retaking Antarctica were well known, and it was widely believed that he might foolishly trigger a war between the Killer Penguins and humanity. So far, however, he seems content to wait and gather his strengths. No one doubts that he has a plan, but so far, no one knows what it is.

Disputed Territories

Argentina, Chile and Britain all lay claim to the South Shetland Islands, just off the Antarctic Peninsula. Already over-crowded, the islands have been the site of fierce guerilla warfare between Argentina and Chile ever since the Falklands War of 1982. Although Argentina holds more territory than Chile, the Chileans are a long way from being defeated. With the aid of their Uruguayan allies (and the more covert assistance of both Brazil and the United Kingdom), the Chilean forces are planning a major counter-offensive for next summer.

In addition, the westernmost island of the chain is the home to bases belonging to the Soviet Union and China. Thus far, the island has been left alone by the battling South American nations, but inevitably, one or both of the two bases will become involved in the war, complicating an already volatile situation.

Penguin Politics

Although it is generally accepted that the Killer Penguins share a hive-mind, it is somewhat less well-known that the hive-mind is not a single monolithic consciousness. Each of the seven species of penguin present in Antarctica has a separate hive-mind -- but these are all psi-linked, and tend to act as one. There is an internal politics among the hive-mind, largely aligning into two factions. The Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins form one faction, while the King and Emperor Penguins are the other. The Rockhoppers are usually neutral in these internal conflicts, leaving the balance of power lying with the Macaroni and Gentoo Penguins. In practice, this means that most decisions will be made by the Macaroni Penguin consciousness, the most magically powerful of the seven. GM's may choose to individualize the seven species -- details may be found below. Each description mentions only the differences from the standard Killer Penguin template on p. T65-66.

Adelie Penguin

120 points

Absolute Direction, and 2 levels of Temperature Tolerance. It is possible that the Adelie Penguins -- who are physically more numerous and more powerful than the Chinstrap Penguins who dominate them, possess a Hive Mentality. If so, lower racial point cost by 20 points.

Chinstrap Penguin

103 points

Chinstrap Penguins are notoriously the most aggressive of all the Penguin breeds. They all gain Combat Reflexes, but suffer from Bad Temper and Bloodlust. They also gain a -2 reaction from other Penguins as a result. (large group, all the time).

Emperor Penguin

172 points

The largest of the Antarctic penguins, Emperor Penguins gain +1 to both ST and HT. In addition, they have five levels of Extra Fatigue, Night Vision, Oxygen Storage and one level of Pressure Support.

Gentoo Penguin

123 points

The smallest of the Killer Penguins, Gentoo have one level of Super Swimming, but lose one level of ST. They are also less dependent on Mana than other Killer Penguins -- reduce the frequency of its requirement to Daily.

Macaroni Penguin

136 points

The Macaroni Penguins are the most magically talented of all the Penguins. They have +1 to IQ and Magery 3 and receive Weird Magic +1 as a racially-learned skill. They also suffer from two levels of Magic Susceptibility and the disadvantage of Edgy. In addition, their yellow feathers are well-known to humans and Penguins alike as potent mana organs.

King Penguin

137 points

Almost identical to Emperor Penguins, King Penguins also gain +1 to HT. In addition, they also have three levels of Extra Fatigue and Night Vision. Suffering from something of an inferiority complex, the King Penguins compensate with Extreme Fanaticism.

Rockhopper Penguin

119 points

The best swimmers, and the most independent of all the species. Rockhoppers gain a Racial Bonus of +2 to Swimming skill, and do not have the Fanaticism that characterizes other Penguins. They are still largely hostile to humans, but would be the most willing of the species to break from the Mindsharing commune. Their access to the Mindshare is limited to Racial Memory, at a range of touch only.

Roleplaying in the Antarctic

It's very easy to just portray Antarctica as a very cold, very lonely place. To do so is to miss much of the potential of the frozen continent. Antarctica is almost completely untouched by human beings -- even the few settlements that were ever made have been largely reclaimed by the elements. Antarctica is a land of strange and eerie beauty, particularly in the vicinity of the Zhukov Firestorm.

Be sure to play up the featurelessness of the all-white surrounds, the extreme cold and constant howling of the wind. The fear that killer Penguins could be hiding anywhere -- even in plain sight -- should be played on. Antarctica is almost physically unbearable, and the experience of visiting there should be almost that to the characters. At the same time, Antarctic sunsets are unlike those anywhere else in the world (excepting the Arctic, of course), and the aurora Australis appears to be almost a living thing as it writhes and undulates. The beauty of the place is undeniable and you should try to communicate this mixture of extraordinary splendor and unparalleled danger to the players as much as possible.

Adventure Seeds

A Ridge Too Far: a plane carrying dignitaries or other important people has gone down somewhere in the Antarctic, and the PC's are given the mission of recovering it. This will require an overland trek to the crash site, evading both Killer Penguins and hostile governments, and then a wait for rescue once the magical beacon is lit. Of course, the rescuers aren't the only ones who can see the beacon -- the characters could easily find themselves besieged by the Killer Penguins.

Birds of a Feather: A team of magic-using infiltrators is sent to Antarctica to study and report on factions within the Penguin Hivemind. This will require shape-shifting magicks and a very unusual undercover role. And assuming the mission succeeds, the characters will probably be sent back the following summer to foment discord and distrust among the penguins.

We're off to see the Wizard: whatever faction the characters represent has need of the services of Richard Byrd -- but approaching him isn't easy. This is basically a dungeon-crawl, Technomancer-style. Byrd's island is large and well-defended, and he has a corps of fanatically loyal followers. And if the PC's get past all of that, they still have to get him to agree to help.

Ice-Cold Fusion: the Killer Penguins have located the secret necronium reactor in an abandoned base. While the political fallout back home is dealt with, the other Antarctic Treaty nations put together a multinational expeditionary force to get to the site and magically render it safe before the Killer Penguins either blow it up, or worse still, figure out how to use it. Tensions between different nation's representatives will make this even more difficult to resolve -- and does any nation involved not have a hidden agenda? Alternately, this could be run with the PC's being one of several competing national teams, a la Matt Reilly's "Ice Station."

The Big Cold One: this is it! The Pentagon has decided to reclaim Antarctica. Naturally, the information has leaked out, and now everyone's trying to get in on the act. As well as American (and allied NATO) forces, the Argentineans, the Australasians, the Chinese, the Russians and the South Africans are all mounting their own assaults. Chile is ominously silent on the matter, and the Human Liberation Front is threatening to fight against anyone who sets foot on their island. No one's heard from Byrd yet, but he's certain to get involved in this at some point, although on whose side is another matter entirely. And is there any real chance that the Killer Penguins will take this lying down?

Timeline of Events



The Trinity Event. Magic begins to work.



Australia builds research base on Heard Island. South Africa builds base on Prince Edward Island.



Australia builds research base on Macquarie Island.



Soviet nuclear bomb test in Antarctica produces second Hellstorm. Following this event, the South African government is quick to build its first Antarctic base.



United Kingdom builds base on Gough Island. China and Japan build Antarctic bases. Other governments expand pre-existing bases in the wake of the Zhukov Event.



The first mutant penguins are captured and experimented upon by Soviet scientists. In the long run, all are dissected. South Africa builds a second Antarctic base.



While on a mission to Antarctica, Richard Byrd's party is lost during a blizzard. Later investigations determine that the blizzard was magically created, and the Russians are blamed (wrongly) for the incident.



The first penguins are taught Russian. To the amazement of researchers, within a week penguins all over Antarctica are speaking the language. China builds two more Antarctic bases.



International Geophysical Year dominated by studies of Hellstorm-related phenomena, especially Antarctica Hellstorm. The Antarctica Treaty, hailed by politicians of all signatory nations as a triumph of goodwill, is seen by most non-signatory nations as a self-serving and hypocritical document.



Vivian Fuchs-Edmund Hilary Antarctica expedition massacred by Killer Penguins.



Over the next five years, several Antarctic bases are lost to mysteriously sudden blizzards. Although there is much finger-pointing and laying of blame between the various Antarctic nations, the true culprits are the Killer Penguins.



Dissection experiments conclusively prove the existence of Penguin hive-mind.



Killer Penguins observed building igloos and communities.



South African bases overrun by unidentified forces.



Killer Penguins attack a small Soviet base, capturing several military grimoires.



Argentina invades and captures the Falkland Islands, and all other British Antarctic territories with the exception of Gough Island and Shag Rocks. Shag Rocks is claimed by a utopian movement and declares itself to be an independent state.



France begins airstrip construction on offshore islands near Dumont D'Urville base, killing large numbers of wildlife, including several penguins. Argentina openly claims captured South African bases. Later that year, Killer Penguin attacks hit several French bases in retaliation. Dumont D'Urville, the only French base in the mainland, is overrun and destroyed.



Killer penguins attack poorly defended Syowa Base (Japan). Joint effort by the ANZUS treaty nations (Australia, New Zealand and United States) evacuates base to Macdonald Island, which is abandoned to the penguins. The Japanese build "temporary" facilities under the watchful eyes of ANZUS.



Killer penguins observed using magic; building igloos. French intelligence agents bomb the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour, New Zealand. The ship sinks, but swift reacting Auckland police mages prevent loss of life.



In the wake of the Rainbow Warrior bombing, relations between New Zealand and NATO pact countries sour. A Chilean scientific expedition captures a number of Killer Penguins and removes them to Chile for study. Much to their amazement, one of them claims to be Richard Byrd. Scrying proves the claim, and he is returned to his human form, although he is no older for his time as a Penguin.



Australia sells Macdonald Island to Japan. Construction of a permanent Japanese base begins at once.



Byrd finally returns to the United States, where he becomes a passionate advocate of retaking Antarctica.



Penguins begin to attack Antarctic stations.



The last non-Soviet human settlements are abandoned or fall to penguin attacks. Byrd drops out of the public eye. He is believed retired by the public, but the US government is aware that he has gone underground, although not why.



Penguins overrun Ice Station Zhukov, thus completing the conquest of Antarctica. Australia and New Zealand combine into one nation. The new Australasian Commonwealth now includes the North and South Islands of New Zealand as its seventh and eighth states.



Norwegian base on Peter I Island falls to Killer Penguin attack.



Penguins announce Antarctic Socialist Collective.



Richard Byrd makes his first public appearance in years, declaring himself President for Life of Utopia Island.



Penguin attack on Campbell Island base repelled by Australasian forces.

Further Reading

Article publication date: September 21, 2001

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