Let's read GURPS Alpha Centauri

Séadna

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In 1999 Firaxis Games released "Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri" for the PC. A God game where the player guides the development of human civilization on Chiron, known in game as "Planet", a mostly habitable world orbiting Alpha Centauri A. Throughout I'll just use Planet. The story woven by the game has four main elements:
  1. One of humans adapting to an alien world and all the unexpected practical problems that brings. Combined with the minutiae of management and construction typical to a God game this gives a hard Sci-Fi feel.

  2. The humans are organised into factions representing purified and in some cases "extreme" versions of various ideologies, such as Communism, Capitalism, Social Democracy, Technocracy, etc.

    These first two parts give the game a feel like Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series or to a lesser degree the earlier parts of The Expanse.

  3. The slow ascent of mankind into technological godhood with heavy borrowings from current theoretical physics and conjectured advances in other sciences. Sort of an up to date "Last and First Men" by Olaf Stapledon. Thus in the long run the game becomes more a grand space opera.

  4. The realisation that the planet's native life constitutes a hive mind that is functionally a somewhat well meaning god. The bare fact of this, what it means for mankind and how it is viewed by the game's various human factions pulls the story away from pure Space Opera and gives it a little spiritual flavour.
In 2002 Steve Jackson games released the supplement for GURPS 3E that I'll be looking at here.

The book is broken into a one page introduction and the following seven chapters:
  1. Prologue: The background to the trip to Alpha Centauri. Worsening conditions on Earth and disaster on approach to Planet.

  2. Planet: A guide to the Alpha Centauri system, Planet's geography and native life

  3. Factions: The various ideologically driven human groups

  4. The Road to Transcendence: The various technological advances and major social projects that can be achieved over the course of the game.

  5. Colonists: Player Character details

  6. Hardware: Weapons, Vehicles, Equipment

  7. Campaigns: GM advice and suggestions, including using the PC game itself as a GM tool
Basic idea is a post per chapter except in the cases of Chapters 3 and 4. There I'll have a group of factions or technologies per post as there is quite a lot to cover.
 

Lessa

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Your initiative is righteous, brother Séadna. God bless you.
 
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dbm

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Interesting! I often wondered what this particular book was about, and never had the chance to check it out personally.

I’ll be particularly interested to learn if it has any ‘new’ sub systems for rules?
 

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Ooh! a selection from the Gurps video games line of source books, those books were always fun both from a mechanically and narrative standpoints. How an RPG approaches Civ in space? how is the game changed by adding the boardgame component? and of course the big one, can resource management be considered roleplaying? Sadly the North Sea Alliance and Duncan Hughes will not be appearing in this book
Duncan hughes

Gone fishing
 

Séadna

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Note: I will underline a word choice from the author when it seems a bit contentious. In general these reflect perhaps a simulationist slant from the author. And yes we could argue what "Simulationist" means, but with GURPS it should be fairly obvious.

Introduction (and back cover):

The back cover informs you that only GURPS 3E Revised and Compendium 1 are necessary for the game. Supplements like Bio-Tech, Psionics, Space and Ultra-Tech are not necessary. Although later in the book there will be ideas for using them. In essence this is a supplement for plain GURPS 3E on the cusp of its conversion to GURPS 4E

The introductory page first cites the main differences between the game and its predecessor Civ II. These are:
Ideological Disputes and Philosophical speculations
Larger-than-life characters

After this we're told the obvious difference between the PC God game and the tabletop RPG. That we're going to be playing a colonist on Planet, not the leader of a faction across the centuries.

Then there is a note about the genre, namely that the game is not strict hard Sci-Fi, but a space opera. Alpha Centauri is more along planetary romance lines like Dune and to approach the RPG as such. Obviously this serves as both getting the GM in the right frame of mind and as a conceit to make the players aware of.

To emphasize this a few things are listed that make the setting lean toward hard Sci-Fi, followed by Space Opera elements that underline the setting at a deeper level.

The hard Sci-Fi elements:
The Tech was extrapolated from modern physics, chemistry and biology
The fictional orbital mechanics and chemical composition of the system are realistic
Planet's native life had its biochemistry worked out to some degree

However on the Space Opera end:
Ultimately these are constrained or modified to serve a story. They are not examined for setting self-consistency that is necessary for a tabletop RPG.
Good and Evil are sharply drawn (Not entirely sure about this myself, which I'll expand on when we hit the factions)
Societies are dominated by singular extreme ideologies
Science in the end solves all problems and grants even transcendence
Superhuman powers become available
Terrifying mysterious aliens

In light of this the supplement gears itself toward story oriented space opera action. There's an repeated claim that the players and GMs not dwell too much on the setting consistency, even saying "Don't fret too long about suspension of disbelief".

I found this a bit unusual as the Alpha Centauri setting is pretty well worked out. I mean if you have to suspend disbelief for a setting where the biochemistry, technological progress and orbital mechanics are worked out in detail, either consistent with known science or based on reasonable extrapolation, then it's hard to see what RPG setting would be down to Earth enough aside from genres like a police procedural etc. Certainly not any other Sci-Fi. It's true the setting is exaggerated on the sociological end, but it's still pretty tame for a tabletop setting
[I'd be interested if anybody has any insight into this]
 

Séadna

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Chaper 1: Prologue

Here we're told the background to the mission to Alpha Centauri.

Resource consumption and Climate Change have driven human civilization to the edge by 2025, with widespread famines in the Third World and food shortages in the First. Political tensions mount as resources dwindle and the economy retracts. The British monarch is assinated in 2029, Los Angeles has a huge outbreak of mob violence in 2036. Prior to 2050 civil government has essentially collapsed as the population becomes more unsettled and violent.

Russia then goes to war with China and the USA. There's apparently a 10th Crusade in the Levant, resulting in large scale genocide between Christians, Jews and Muslims! The big event is a nuclear war between Pakistan and India in 2050 that kills half a billion.

Humanity has city sized space stations and colonies on the Moon and Mars, but these provide no hope should things go south on Earth because they're not self-sufficient.

However in the late 2040s a habitable planet is discovered orbiting Alpha Centauri. This leads to the Unity project where 10,000 of humanity's brightest and noblest are to be placed on a massive starship and sent on a 40 year journey to colonise this new world. This is essentially the last joint venture between the nations of the Earth. The ship is titled "The Unity" and built in near Earth orbit.

The Unity is actually statted by the supplement. However this is clearly not intended for use as a major plot point is that the Unity is destroyed before reaching Planet and the stats only make sense if you have GURPS Space.

There are some interesting points. It scoops its fuel from the interstellar medium, travels at 11% the speed of light. The flight plan is to accelerate for the first half and then deccelerate for the other half with a very small margin of error (i.e. it carries precisely as much fuel as is needed). It has 20 labs and surgeries, 40 workshops, 500 cryotubes (GURPS Tech Level 9). It is an absolutely massive ship. Dwarfing the ships in say GURPS Traveller and given the absence of weapons and the ability to be steered in any real way, not exciting to use.

The tech level of the ship sets up the initial tech level of the setting, that is late interplanetary/early interstellar. Roughly speaking what you'd see in Cowboy Bebop, The Expanse or Firefly.
I've removed elements not in Alpha Centauri

Interplanetary: fusion rockets and reactors, star probes, variant humans, automeds, suspended animation, blasters, crude terraforming, colonies on other planets, and possibly forced-growth clones, reactionless drives

Upon entry to the Alpha Centuari system the ship is hit with a pebble sized piece of debris which causes enormous damage and instantly kills 1/8 of the colonists. The crew attempts to repair the drive, but there are disagreements over what exactly should be done and fighting breaks out, culminating in a mutiny that is contained. During this a bunch of small factions emerge, each controlled by a charismatic leader (more about these in the Faction chapters). They all agree that if the captain cannot retain control of the ship, they will each head for different areas of Planet in the Landing pods.

There is then an explosion in the command module with most of the higher staff being killed. This causes all crew to be released from cryo sleep. The captain ends up being killed, but his last act is to release the landing pods and let the colonists get to the surface.

The chapter ends out with telling us that the factions lost contact with each other for a good few years after planetfall. This isolation leads to the group ideologies becoming more extreme.

Also statted in this chapter are the landing pods. This is something necessary for a game set in the early years as the landing pods are intended to be cannibalised. The main points here are a large fusion power plant and ~470 tons of metal and 4 cubic meters of supplies (147 cubic feet).

With the backdrop out of the way, we can now head on to the setting info.


Captain's killer is identified in the supplement as a cadet. A background story written for the game identifies her motive as being that humanity didn't deserve a second chance to ruin another world
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FeralToaster

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In light of this the supplement gears itself toward story oriented space opera action. There's an repeated claim that the players and GMs not dwell too much on the setting consistency, even saying "Don't fret too long about suspension of disbelief".

I found this a bit unusual as the Alpha Centauri setting is pretty well worked out. I mean if you have to suspend disbelief for a setting where the biochemistry, technological progress and orbital mechanics are worked out in detail, either consistent with known science or based on reasonable extrapolation, then it's hard to see what RPG setting would be down to Earth enough aside from genres like a police procedural etc. Certainly not any other Sci-Fi. It's true the setting is exaggerated on the sociological end, but it's still pretty tame for a tabletop setting
[I'd be interested if anybody has any insight into this]
Glances at the Gurps shelf sees Gurps Traveller, Gurps Mars, Gurps Uplift, Gurps Blue Planet, Gurps Transhuman and Gurps Planet Krishna (aka Gurps Sprague de Camp). All of them are hard scifi engineering scifi of varying flavors with the possible exception of Gurps Planet Krishna which was written by an engineer trying to write a space opera but couldn't help writing like an engineer. Yeah Gurps doesn't actually have a lot of pure space operas options all things considered so I could definitely see a writer actively telling the reader to put ideology stuff ahead of the expected scifi engineering stuff to distinguish this setting from the hard scifi Gurps usually favors. I'm putting my own interperation on this of course.
 

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Séadna said:
Captain's killer is identified in the supplement as a cadet. A background story written for the game identifies her motive as being that humanity didn't deserve a second chance to ruin another world
I could swear Yang was behind the captain's death. At least it was my impression by reading the novella that came in the game manual.

Good and Evil are sharply drawn (Not entirely sure about this myself, which I'll expand on when we hit the factions)
Don't like this myself either. I'll wait you engage the topic at your time, then I'll elaborate on my thoughts.
 

Séadna

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I could swear Yang was behind the captain's death. At least it was my impression by reading the novella that came in the game manual.
Do you mean where Santiago's people have him detained and are leading him out of his cell? (Appendix 5, p.233)
 
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Lessa

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Do you mean where Santiago's people have him detained and are leading him out of his cell? (Appendix 5, p.233)
Oh that's what transpires in the novella? I must be mistaken then. Doesn't Yang say something suspicious about the episode that makes him a suspect, or something? :worried:

By the way, does the book says something about the expansion factions?
 

Séadna

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Oh that's what transpires in the novella? I must be mistaken then. Doesn't Yang say something suspicious about the episode that makes him a suspect, or something? :worried:
I'll say more about Yang later, but yes there is something he is up to. In short he probably held to his ideaology from very early on and always planned to break away (though not violently).

By the way, does the book says something about the expansion factions?
Yeah, they're all there.
 

dbm

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I find it interesting they have pitched the setting as space opera rather than sci-fi. I would have said it was fairly straight sci-fi, personally.
 

Séadna

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I find it interesting they have pitched the setting as space opera rather than sci-fi. I would have said it was fairly straight sci-fi, personally.
Yeah me too. I've had a read of GURPS Mars since F FeralToaster mentioned it and its Hard Sci-Fi option is very engineering diamond hard Sci-Fi, so possibly the GURPS community at the time had Sci-Fi as basically engineering in space.
 

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I remember a discussion I had with a friend some time ago. This friend only played Brother Lal on the basis that he is the more good-willed faction in the game with it's humanitarian ideology and all. I disagreed and argued Brother Lal is actually a fucking hypocrite. See, he is NOT really a pacifist but a peacekeeper. His personality in-game is Erratic, not Pacifist (the Gaians and Morgan are Pacifists), so he will gladly smoke your ass at the first disagreement with you, be it due to a social policy he dislikes, you hampering his expansion as a neighbour, shadowing him on the tech race, etc. He will kill human beings for his agenda.

I posited that no faction in the game can be considered the "goodie-goodie protagonist/hero" of the game's story. All them are too far on the ideological radicalism scale to fit the role. Even the "humanitarian" one.
 
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Séadna

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Planet:

So this chapter consists of two parts. The astrophysical set up of the Alpha Centauri system and its planets and then the Geography and Life of Planet itself. I'll cover the Astrophysics in this post and Geography and Life in the next.

From here on "The Sun" refers to Alpha Centauri A and "Sol" refers to the Earth's sun.

Astrophysics of the System:
So the Alpha Centauri system is basically the two stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B. We're told the colonists call the former "The Sun" and the latter "Hercules". The Sun is noted to be significantly brighter than Sol. Hercules is said to orbit the Sun on an elliptic orbit that takes it between Sol-Saturn and Sol-Pluto in terms of distance and takes about 80 years.

More pertinent for a game is that Hercules is always bright enough to read by at night, being between 140 and 1,400 times the brightness of the Earth's moon in the sky. Hercules is also responsible for the "grand seasons" on Planet. More on this below.

The book states that Proxima Centauri or Alpha Centauri C is essentially unimportant to the game. Just another star in the sky.

Due to the presence of Hercules only two planets managed to form in the system. Planet itself and Eurytion. Eurytion is stated to feature late in the game when the colonists advance enough to send spaceships there. It's a small planet close to the Sun with one "Day Face" constantly under its intense glare and a "Night Face" with frozen temperatures. It's rich with heavy metals, so suitable for some kind of mining colony set up in the late game.

It's briefly stated that Hercules and Proxima have their own planets but that these don't play a part in the story of the colonists.

I think if your game had the chance of people heading to Eurytion, it will have people heading to these worlds. So I should add that in real life Proxima is known to have at least one planet. It's a rocky planet probably (90% chance) less than three times the mass of Earth in the habitable zone. It was only found in 2016, but I think a possible Earth-like world so close is an obvious thing to add to the game. Maybe some GM created faction went there, facing very different problems from those who went to Planet.

Hercules might have a molten lava planet very close to it of roughly Earth's radius. This is only based on data from 2013 and has low confidence currently.

Astrophysics of Planet:
Planet itself is about 20% larger than Earth and more importantly has gravity that is 30% higher. The game represents this by having the encumbrance of all items multiplies by 1.3
However in addition you must take the persons weight and add 0.3 times that to their encumbrance as well. As such mechanically their own increased weight on planet is represented by an item of weight 0.3*Character Weight.

I've gone through a few typical characters (engineer, farmer, etc) with standard enough equipment for the setting and in all cases the heaviest thing they were carrying was their own increased weight. Under the GURPS rules it often translates into a medium encumbrance. Decreasing movement from 5 feet per second to 3 feet per second. With any gear this is often brought further down to 2 feet per second.

Similarly jump distances are reduced by 1.3
Projectile weapons don't have their ranges reduced by default, but an optional rule gives the same 1.3 reduction.

Day is shorter on Planet: 17 hours. The year is longer: 532 Planet days. Combined this means the Planet Year lasts ~387 Earth Days.

Planet has no regular seasons like Earth, coming from having no real orbital tilt. However it does have "grand seasons" due to Hercules's approach and retreat. These last about 80 years. More on this when we get to the lifeforms.

Due to Planet having no seasons in its year Colonists still use the Earth year. This is called "Mission Year" since it was used on the Unity. It's 500 Planet days with various leap years to keep it in sync with Earth. The book doesn't say this, but it should be one leap day every three Mission years, but no day added on every 43rd leap year. (This is the kind of thrilling stuff you don't get in other threads!)

Planet has two moons. Nessus and Pholus. They are much smaller than Earth's moon, but due to being closer are roughly the same size in the sky as Earth's moon and each other. Pholus can eclipse Nessus and either or both can eclipse the Sun partially.

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Lessa

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Planet has no regular seasons like Earth, coming from having no real orbital tilt. However it does have "grand seasons" due to Hercules's approach and retreat. These last about 80 years.
Gives it a Pitch Black (Riddick) vibe. Only with wild flora and man-eater psiworms instead of those bat-like things.
 

Lessa

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And an opposite viewpoint on Lal, from a friend at other thread..

The Brazilian Slaughter said:
I think Lal is actually a pretty cool guy, its just happens that he seems himself as the one continuing the mission set by the UN and considers himself the Captain's sucessor. Lal is the closest thing to a continuation of the original mission, while the others are all opportunists creating their own private utopias.

He is not a pacifist in the "Let's get on a circle and sing Kumbaya" sense, more of a "Pragmatic Pacifist." He's not a aggressive and belligerant like Miriam, Santiago and Yang, but he's not a pacifist builder like Deidre and Morgan, either.

Don't forget: In "Journey to Centauri", Lal says that yes, he is willing to kill for peace.

I know people see him as the toothless peacenik UN, but Lal actually embodies what a lot of people in the 90s saw as the future UN: Actually pretty toothy.

I get the feel the UN as a faction is supposed to be the "moderate, simple and somewhat blandish" faction. They're the guys that look normal so everyone else can be weird.

He is the "Logical and Reasonable" guy of the Unity crew, and is clearly quite intelligent. Lal is also the guy who cloned his dead wife so he could love her again, so he is definitively moved not just by logic, but emotion too. "Erratic" might be a precise definition.

I still think he is an hypocrite. :hehe:
 

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This is a very short one but has taken a good bit of work, since it might have an effect on a campaign (he says to justify the detail he went into!)

Atmosphere of Planet:
So now we start into Planet itself.

First of all the atmosphere is quite rough. Only 9% is free oxygen available for human respiration. However since the atmospheric pressure is higher (1.7 Earth's) this isn't as bad as it could be, since the partial pressure of oxygen ends up being 72% that of Earth's (Book says 70%). Partial pressure of oxygen being the actual important component of being able to breath.

The book says that due to the higher gravity and the lower concentration of oxygen, combined with the higher concentration of nitrogen means the air becomes unbreathable just a few hundred feet above sea level.

Now I modelled this a good bit to get more detail. To be clear what I did was model Planet's atmosphere as a triple layer atmosphere like Earth's, worked out the molar mixture of gases and accounted for the higher surface gravity to get a new partial pressure of oxygen. I then fed this through the aveolar gas equation taking into account other gases in Planet's atmosphere to get the effective partial pressure of oxygen and nitrogen in an unaugmented human's lungs.

A new colonist needs roughly 31 days to acclimatize to the atmosphere at sea level on Planet. And prolonged exposure to the outside air will cause nitrogen narcosis (euphoria and impaired reasoning). Standing at sea level on Planet is like being 2.67km above sea level on Earth regarding the oxygen content and being like 100 meters under water for Nitrogen narcosis.

Going up even 150 meters (~500 feet) will lead to laughing fits, nonstop chattering, overconfidence, delayed responses and poor short term memory. The talking and laughing fits combined with the lower oxygen will kill somebody in short order.


The book says the air is just "unbreathable", but I think this model of human biology on Planet shows a much darker fate. Somebody ascending a hill on Planet basically becomes obsessive, risk taking and confused and will eventually chatter and laugh themselves to death. You can imagine how that might be worked into the local "folk" culture.
 
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dbm

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Wow. You did the calculations or the book included them? Did you do them based on prior knowledge, or is there something in one of the GURPS Space books that addresses this sort of thing (it’s a long time since I looked at Space)?
 

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Wow. You did the calculations or the book included them? Did you do them based on prior knowledge, or is there something in one of the GURPS Space books that addresses this sort of thing (it’s a long time since I looked at Space)?
I did the calculations. The book just says the air is unbreathable a few hundred feet up but doesn't really go into details. I had to work out the acclimatisation time, and the specifics of the partial pressures of nitrogen and oxygen in order to see how bad the level of nitrogen narcosis and oxygen deprivation was. It was from prior knowledge, it's not in a GURPS book.

If anybody ever wants to do this for a fictional planet you'll need (if you've no interest in maths, see the 2nd paragraph of point 4 for something that might still be interesting):
  1. The Barometric equation, to get the pressure at various altitudes. Adjusting it to other planets means changing the gravitational acceleration, the pressure at sea level and the average molar mass of the air. The latter is worked out from the relative mixtures of gases in the atmosphere and requires a bit of chemical knowledge.

  2. The partial pressure equations to get the partial pressure of each gas. This only takes the absolute pressure (from above) and the relative concentration of that gas

  3. Aveolar gas equation. This is required only if you want absolute accuracy and models the difference between the partial pressure out in the air versus that in the lungs. For most planets only going to stage 2 should be enough. For Alpha Centauri's planet it isn't because of the presence (1% of atmosphere) of toxic gases and because going to the second stage didn't give a completely clear answer to nitrogen narcosis because it was borderline.

  4. If you want to be very very accurate (this wasn't necessary for Planet) note that the pressure on most planets usually has "layers" where it suddenly drops rapidly. So for instance on Earth you can't use the pressure at ground level to work out the pressure at 12km up because of a sudden pressure drop at 11km (8.5 km on Planet). Instead you have to use the pressure at 11km as the "new" ground level for the barometric equation.
    This doesn't matter on Earth or Planet since nobody would live far up enough for it to be relevant. It might matter on a world with very high pressure as it could mean the pressure is low enough up near the summits of massive mountains to be livable. So you'd have the Valleys between mountains where the pressure is lethal, with cities encircling the summits.
    The pressure drop off points on Earth are 11km, 20km and 32km. On Planet 8.5km, 15km and 25km. This changes how airflight works on Planet. Which I'll get to later.
 

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Planet: Weather and Water

The next section of the book deals with Planet's weather and water. Planet is 70% water like Earth and there is a roughly similar distribution of lakes, rivers, seas, oceans as on Earth.

Note there are no canonical Oceans, Continents, Mountains etc given as it is assumed that the PC game will be used to randomly generate terrain.

Planet has no polar ice caps. Thus rather than cold polar water being carried to the equator as on Earth, instead warm oxygen-depleted water sinks at the equator and drifts to the poles. This whole system means Planet's oceans are like the Black Sea on Earth writ large: Reasonably fresh water on top, but very salty oxygen-poor water deep down. This means all sea life on planet is at the surface except for extremophile bacteria that crowd around volcanic vents.

Since Planet rotates more quickly than Earth and has higher surface temperatures, on average the weather is a good bit more violent than Earth. That's all the book says, but I've done a crude model (the main reason for the delay on this post) that suggests severe hurricanes occur three times more often. The tropic zones are also constantly covered in cloud and heavy rainfall is common across Planet at all latitudes. Although there are many spots where there is very little rainfall, especially far from mountains. Might be a bit harsh on players when added to the gravity and difficulty breathing.

Planet: Terrain and Landmarks

Geologically there isn't really any major distinction from Earth. Hills, Plains, Mountains, etc are all equally common with nothing more extreme than Earth.

More interesting are the landmarks on the Planet:
  1. Borehole Cluster. Three boreholes made by the planet's previous inhabitants (first mention of aliens in the book). They remain functioning, but little else is mentioned about them, such as what they are used to mine. 200 miles apart from each other.
  2. A giant barrier reef made from a choral like species, called Fossil Ridge
  3. Freshwater Sea. The only freshwater sea on Planet in contrast to most of its bodies of water which are salty as mentioned above.
  4. Garland Crater. A region where Planet was hit by a small planetoid. Life has still not recovered here and precious metals lie close to the surface.
  5. Geothermal Shallows. A series of underwater geysers lie along the edge of one of the continents.
  6. Great Dunes. Planets single large desert the size of the Sahara
  7. Manifold Nexus. A collection of mysterious alien ruins. More to be said later.
  8. Monsoon Jungle. Planet's most bio-diverse area, a large jungle that lies next to an ocean from which it receives rainfall. The plants here are taller than everywhere else on Planet
  9. Mount Planet. A large shield volcano. Goes on to be a source of minerals, thermal energy and large industrial centres are built along its base.
  10. New Sargasso. An area of ocean where the ocean floor is covered in fungus. Supply pods from the Unity are often found here
  11. Pholus Ridge. A tectonically active region like the Ring of Fire on Earth.
  12. The Ruins. A ring of monoliths containing an area several hundred miles across at the centre of which no native life grows. Making it great for agriculture.
  13. Sunny Mesa. Just says it's great for collecting solar power due to its clear weather and altitude.
  14. The wreckage of the Unity
  15. Uranium Flats. A grassland with deposits of uranium.
Planet: Agriculture and Resources
There's a good bit about farming and mining.

Sea farming mainly consists culturing and harvesting kelp, seaweed, plankton and fish brought from Earth that thrive on planet. Kelp being the mainstay.

Land agriculture revolves around the growth of fruit bearing trees and other Earth crops. Unlike the sea farming the Earth flora do not thrive on land. They need to be protected from native life and diseases, in many areas a complicated condensation system must be employed to carry rain water from regions which receieve heavy rainfall. Also Planet's soil was very sensitive to losing its fertility so complex farming techniques had to be developed in the early years to retain it.

Genetically engineered trees were developed early on simply to pull minerals from the soil for industry. These trees spread rapidly over Planet displacing native flora.

Tidal and Solar energy were the main sources of power before Fusion was invented. Mining was much the same as on Earth, except perhaps mining platforms in the ocean were more common than mines on land. Fossil fuels however are very rare for reasons explained below.

Now onto the native life!

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Planet: Life
The main feature of Planet's life is total symbiosis. Every species is part of a planet wide web of cooperative relationships. This means that there is essentially no waste and so fossils are vanishingly rare (hence no fossil fuel). This web is centred around the dominant life form: the Xenofungus.

Just to note the following does "spoil" the game's plot a bit. (Xenofungus section).
It's also the first time prices are given in the book. Rather than give values in a fictional currency they simply give the value in dollars meant in a "socially equivalent" way, i.e. this is as valuable on Planet as $10,000 is in today's society.
GURPS hexes are mentioned below, they're three foot/one metre basically. Armour is measured by units labelled DR. Heavy Plate has DR 9 for example.

Flora:
The major difference between flora on Planet and on Earth is that the former has little carbon and oxygen, but plenty of nitrogen. This means plants can't really use photosynthesis to make sugar. Instead they have a very complicated system for storing energy in nitrogen compounds. The end result is some strange chemical properties and often lethal toxicity to humans. This is a source of many deaths early on in Planet's history since the fruit often looks delicious.

Even more so many nitrogen compounds are low yield explosives. So many trees bear "grenade fruit" that literally explode to spread their seeds or defend the tree. Tree bark, in order to withstand these explosions, is similarly much tougher due to its nitrogen rich structure.

The most common form of flora is grass, moss and palm-like trees. Much of planet is covered with a carpet of grass with the odd bunch of fruit trees here and there.

Fauna:
Most animal life is neither hostile or particularly noteworthy. None are near sapient like dolphins and apes. The books mentions a firefly and humming bird analogue. For the most part you can assume small Earth-like life.

Xenofungus:
d2enma6-c595cdc1-9616-4e83-9393-fc6588030873.jpg
The dominant form of life on Planet. Takes the form of a dense mat, often thousands of years in age, of tube-like fungus. Mats range from 2 meters thick at their perimeter to 30 meters thick at their centre. Each tube starts off as a microscopic spore. Mats can spread by dispersing their spores into the wind.

Since the fungal shoots are often dense and thick, they prohibit movement so that travel times are a fifth the usual rate. Often they block any vehicle not specifically designed to crush them, though they can be cleared with special flamethrowers.

In very old extensive mats a large Fungal Tower emerges at the centre with strange organs growing at its summit. The purpose of these organs is intended not to be known in the first century of settlement.
Fungtow_sm.png

Xenofungus is very mineral rich and, when colonists finally learn to process it, a great source for medical and industrial needs.

Of course what is really going on is that the mats are nascent neural networks and thus have a "mat-mind" that is capable of more and more complex thought as the mat grows. Eventually mats will meet producing an even more intelligent mat-mind. The end result of this is a hyper-intelligent planet wide mat-mind. The production of this living god was the reason Planet was terraformed by the alien race "The Progenitors". More on this in the next post.

The psychic leakage of the mats is heard by humans as (depending on the person): moaning, a ethereally beautiful song, distracting or madness inducing white noise or not heard at all. Early on colonists are not aware the effect is psychic and the first century or so involves attempts to record the sound.

A mat often emerges suddenly when spores spread rapidly under the soil, often in response to environmental damage from the colonists. It grows slowly at first, but the length of time from breaking the soil to full development is five minutes. This results in a psychic blast of significant strength.
In GURPS terms it's Mind Blow with power 15 and skill 14. In more generic terms it would be a psychic assault with a better than 50% chance of rendering a person catatonic or like what trainee Inquisitor from 40K can do if you are familiar with them.

Finally xenofungus does grow at sea, but less densely.

Mind Worms:
Mindworm_sm.png

One of the animals most closely in symbiosis with the xenofungus and its primary defense mechanism. It's a thin snakelike animal about six inches long with razor sharp mandibles. There are flying and aquatic variants. They're also hermaphrodites who reproduce sexually. They have very little genetic diversity despite this, each mind worm being almost identical.

When the xenofungus is safe and undisturbed the worms basically prune it and keep it healthy. They can only survive about a month away from the special fluids secreted by the fungus.

If the fungus is under attack however it sends the worms a mixed pheromone and psionic signal. The mind worms will then stop at nothing to locate the intruders and attempt to burrow into their eye sockets and eat the brain! They will seek out weak points in armour, or get other worms to coil around the victims limbs to hold them in place to make burrowing in easier.

A large enough threat will result in a mind worm "boil". This is a large collection of worms that leave the xenofungus mats to find the population centres of the aggressors. The boils incapacitate their victims in advance with a large psychic assault, leaving them paralysed and allowing the individual worms easy access to the brain. Boils that occur at sea are called "isles of the deep". Boils of the flying variety of mind worms are called "Locusts of Chiron", one of the few cases where Planet is referred to by its pre-settlement name.
Isle_sm.png Chiron_sm.png

GURPS stats are:
If you don't know GURPS then 10 is the human average for a stat and it's a roll 3d6 under system.
1d-4 is 1d6 and subtract 4 (minimum). So the worm here only does 1-2 damage. Typical human starting character has about 12-14 HT (hit point analogue) ignoring armour, so a single worm isn't much.

ST: 3
DX: 13
IQ: 3
HT: 15/1-3
Size: <1
Damage: 1d-4 cut

There's also loot! A mindworm boil leaves behind a deposit of rare materials called a "Planet pearl" when destroyed. These go for $10,000 per hex of destroyed boils. These are usually sold to faction governments or private industries.

Boil sizes are (hex extent in brackets):
  1. Hatchling (8-15)
  2. Larval mass (16-25)
  3. Pre-Boil (26-50)
  4. Boil (51-100)
  5. Mature Boil (101-300)
  6. Great Boil (301-500)
  7. Demon Boil (>501)
A boil of standard mind worms moves a hex per turn. Flying ones move two. A human surrounded or covered by a boil will die in roughly six turns (1d damage). Two turns to get through clothing (fixed value) and on average four turns for the kill. Armour, especially sealed armour, slows this down as the mind worms have to burrow through it before they can begin to cause damage. It's a 5 turn delay for unsealed and 5 + 1/5 DR for sealed. Similar rules for armour apply to burrowing through vehicles.
If you're familiar with GURPS, boils use the swarm rules.

Occasionally a hex in a boil will have a larger than usual worm that coordinates their psychic energies. Such "gestalt hexes" as they are called have two powers open to them. Mind Blow (mentioned above, basic telepathic assault) and Dampen (Completely shuts down electronics). It's noted for the GM that gestalt hexes work together and will coordinate their attacks.

More on Planet Life to be continued, including the Planetary Mind and the Progenitors....

 
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Edgewise

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They need to be protected from native life and diseases...
Native diseases? It's hard to believe that Terran life could contract alien pathogens. It's rare enough for that to happen between different Terran species. Do they ever establish the chemical make-up and genetic coding of Centauri lifeforms? I've always thought it would be really weird if non-Terran life had a compatible (i.e. DNA-based) genetic code.
Takes the form of a dense mat, often thousands of years in age, of tube-like fungus. Mats range from 2 meters thick at their perimeter to 30 meters thick at their centre.
Sounds like a great replacement for those missing fossil fuels. Harvest, ferment and distill - voila, you've got alcohol that can be used as a fuel. See, I remember Twilight2k.
 

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Planet: Life
More critters, last few before the Planet Mind. Note the post below gives metric first because that's what I think in and have in my own notes. The actual GURPS imperial values are given in brackets. As a side note it's funny the effects this can have, since you often round up or down on conversion. The Chronicles of Darkness system has abstract units that can be read as either yards or metres according to the book. However metric vampires are significantly more powerful if you play things out fully given the way many powers work by multiplying a base value. Anyway back to GURPS and Planet!

Sealurks:
Sealurk.jpg Sealrk_sm.png
The sealurks are massive serpent like creatures that live deep within Planet's oceans. They have large heads reinforced with bony armour that effectively makes them a living ram. Psionic assault is used as it approaches its victim to paralyse it and allow a head on ram. Mechanically this takes the form of the Mind Blow power. They are known to attack ships, offshore bases and colonies along the coast.

Tactically when they assault groups of humans they will repeatedly use Mind Blow as an area effect, but not ram which is only reserved for armoured ships etc. They will also withdraw when they have spent a quarter of their fatigue points on psychic assaults without the victim's defense significantly wavering.

The book leaves it open to the GM as to how they are tied to the Xenofungus. Ultimately all life on Planet serves the Xenofungus due to it being the hub of the Planet's ecology, but this doesn't mean Sealurks are directly summoned by the Xenofungus as a defence like the mind worms are. It might simply be that their corpses provide food for mind worms at sea or something else. Again up to the GM, maybe they are summoned.

Also their biology is a bit of a mystery since they live far down in the oceans where there is little oxygen as mentioned above. This ambiguity about how they even live and their relation with the fungus are not figured out by the early colonists. Their true nature is probably best left for two centuries or so in.

If you don't know GURPS, Reach C means close range essentially. PD is passive resistance, i.e. the armour's ability to just immediately turn aside bad hits without any damage needing to be absorbed by it.

ST: 20-100
DX: 13
IQ: 4
HT: 15/40-200
Size: 40-200
Move/Dodge: 16/8
DR: 30(Head), 0(Elsewhere)
PD: 4(Head), 0(Elsewhere)
Damage: Special. Deals 1/6 of its maximum hit points when ramming. It also receives this damage to its head.
Reach: C
Mass: 1-8 tons
Telepathy Power: 14-20
Mental Blow: 14

Spore Launchers:
Sporelnch_sm.png
As the picture shows these are large tube like creatures, about 8 metres long (5'), which live in very close symbiosis with the Xenofungus. They're always found in or near Xenofungus mats in groups ranging from 5-60 members in close proximity.

Their primary defense mechanism is to fire Xenofungus spores at an enemy. The open end has a cluster of sensory organs for detecting intruders and directing the launching of spore clusters. A typical one has 2D spores in it, which replenish at a rate of one per day. Spores are about 15cm long (6 inches) and weigh about a kilo (2 lbs).

Much more frightening is that a well developed "sentient" level fungal mat will guide them in their shots. With this help they can fire fungal spores over 80 kilometers (50 miles).

Spores launched directly at a person are lethal, doing 8D crushing damage. If you don't know GURPS well that's a shade off the damage from a GURPS gargantuan dragon's breath. Spores can be fired at a rate of one every three seconds. The accuracy is in general quite good against human opponents and vehicles and with the fungus directing them they can target specific areas.

Spores are launched over massive distances simply for the purpose of spreading the xenofungus. They burrow into the ground to emerge later as a young mat. These thin mats are more annoying than dangerous for human colonies they land in, but must be cleared fast before they develop.

ST: 60-80
DX: 14
IQ: 4
HT: 14/24-30
Size: 6-8 Hexes
Move/Dodge: 1/5
DR: 0
PD: 0
Damage: Special. As detailed above
Reach: Special. As detailed above
Mass: 1-1.5 tons

For Spore shot:
SS: 25
Acc: 15

If you don't know GURPS Accuracy (Acc) is a bonus to your skill roll you from aiming for a turn basically. It's often used to offset targeting specific area like the head which come with large negative mods. SS (Strike Strength) is a bonus so that attacks deal more damage than your base strength, a way of raising strength for attacks without raising it for lifting strength.

Microbes:
This is directly related to Edgewise Edgewise 's question. Before Planetfall it was assumed native microbes would have no effect on Terran life. It turned out two microbes which are harmless to Planet's life are lethal to life from Earth.

The first is the "Planet Blight" which affects Terran plants. Although it's called a disease it's more that it enters Terran plants, most likely thinking they are native and shuts down photosynthesis as an accidental by product of its chemistry. Plants will turn yellow-brown and die in a few days if not treated. However the blight microbe mutates very rapidly, thus to counter it colonists in the first century or two needed genetic research facilities at each Base to keep it under control. It is rare though.

The other is the Prometheus virus. This enters humans and attacks the brain and nervous system. It's transmitted by physical contact and emerges after 24 hours. Characters lose 1 point of DX and IQ per day and need to make a HT roll every day, failure means -1 HT and a success mean +1 HT. If any of DX, IQ or HT hit zero then the characters dies. Having done a few white room runs of this, the typical character dies in 8-10 days if they die. Most likely they won't if they're getting treatment. If not receiving medical care at Tech Level 9 or better the HT roll is at -6 though and in this case they might die but it's still not likely. Getting a 3 or 4 on the roll or getting three successes in a row means you are cured. The worst part however is that you only regain half the lost DX and IQ! The rest is lost permanently.

There is a bit more in this section about taming mind worms, but I won't go into here as I prefer to just describe Planet's life as it is. I'll get into taming the mindworms when I cover psychic technology later.

6-2293_Prometheus_Virus_zps1wo18bkg.jpg
 
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Séadna

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Native diseases? It's hard to believe that Terran life could contract alien pathogens. It's rare enough for that to happen between different Terran species. Do they ever establish the chemical make-up and genetic coding of Centauri lifeforms? I've always thought it would be really weird if non-Terran life had a compatible (i.e. DNA-based) genetic code.
The book doesn't fully answer this (see above). One of the microbes does it as an accidental by-product of its chemistry when entering Terran plants. So it's not really a virus in the proper sense as it doesn't involve genetics, more a poisoner.

The same probably can be applied to the other microbes, but the book doesn't explicitly say this.
 

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Planet: Terrain and Landmarks

Geologically there isn't really any major distinction from Earth. Hills, Plains, Mountains, etc are all equally common with nothing more extreme than Earth.

More interesting are the landmarks on the Planet:
  1. Borehole Cluster. Three boreholes made by the planet's previous inhabitants (first mention of aliens in the book). They remain functioning, but little else is mentioned about them, such as what they are used to mine. 200 miles apart from each other.
  2. A giant barrier reef made from a choral like species, called Fossil Ridge
  3. Freshwater Sea. The only freshwater sea on Planet in contrast to most of its bodies of water which are salty as mentioned above.
  4. Garland Crater. A region where Planet was hit by a small planetoid. Life has still not recovered here and precious metals lie close to the surface.
  5. Geothermal Shallows. A series of underwater geysers lie along the edge of one of the continents.
  6. Great Dunes. Planets single large desert the size of the Sahara
  7. Manifold Nexus. A collection of mysterious alien ruins. More to be said later.
  8. Monsoon Jungle. Planet's most bio-diverse area, a large jungle that lies next to an ocean from which it receives rainfall. The plants here are taller than everywhere else on Planet
  9. Mount Planet. A large shield volcano. Goes on to be a source of minerals, thermal energy and large industrial centres are built along its base.
  10. New Sargasso. An area of ocean where the ocean floor is covered in fungus. Supply pods from the Unity are often found here
  11. Pholus Ridge. A tectonically active region like the Ring of Fire on Earth.
  12. The Ruins. A ring of monoliths containing an area several hundred miles across at the centre of which no native life grows. Making it great for agriculture.
  13. Sunny Mesa. Just says it's great for collecting solar power due to its clear weather and altitude.
  14. The wreckage of the Unity
  15. Uranium Flats. A grassland with deposits of uranium.

Oof, been a long while since I played the first Alpha Centuari (the computer game) but were these features on a map or specific maps like in Starcraft? Honestly, either way the list looks really fun for stepping a colony game (for the tabletop game) and discussing the risk versus reward for each site.
 

Séadna

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Oof, been a long while since I played the first Alpha Centuari (the computer game) but were these features on a map or specific maps like in Starcraft? Honestly, either way the list looks really fun for stepping a colony game (for the tabletop game) and discussing the risk versus reward for each site.
When the map is randomly generated on the PC they're essentially fixed points that are always created. See Monsoon Jungle here:
alphacentauri-1-e1501008062647.jpg
 

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Planet: Deeper mysteries
This post deals with the Alien race known as the Progenitors and their philosophy. Also the planet wide mind obtained when xenofungus extends over the whole surface. Called the Planetmind appropriately enough!
The book has a little bit of advice for running the Progenitors in a way that ignores the "Alien Crossfire" expansion. This section deals with some of my favourite aspects of the game so apologies for some blah, blah. It's a fairly lore heavy section of the book.

The Progenitors:
Within the first few years after Planetfall the colonists discovered clear evidence that another sentient race had existed on Planet prior to human arrival. They dubbed them "The Progenitors". Another few years later they saw fire in the skies and then heard rumours about large bulky aliens settling on Planet. These newcomers could be violent or might completely ignore nearby human groups with little rhyme or reason, although humans were able to discern that two factions exist. So for the first century or so human groups are to have little understanding of the Progenitors.

Physically a Progenitor looks like this:
JudaMarr.png
No art depicts them fully but they are bipedal and describe humans as looking like Progenitor younglings with diseased shrunken heads.

Disappointingly I think the GURPS book says nothing about their physiology and little about their society apart from its philosophy and bits of history. The info I give here comes from combining the GURPS book with in game information and short stories since I think the GURPS books lacks a bit in this regard should somebody one day use these notes to run a campaign. Material in italics is not from the GURPS book.

From the game and its surrounding fiction you can glean that they are herbivores and have a herd mentality with a strict hierarchy where the higher members have tight control over their inferiors. To humans this can make the Progenitor elite look dictatorial, but that's not how they would view it. The control isn't total and some are known to have defected to human factions (more on this later).

They have something similar to male and female but not quite the same. What this means is never really said.


They communicate by altering and reshaping electric, magnetic and gravitational fields as well as elements of reality currently unknown to humans such as "luck" itself (the "probability fields" of the world). This overall sense is called "Resonance" and the primary reason they view humans as primitives is due to their inability to shape resonance. Doing this involves a subtle weaving motion by the mandibles on their neck frills.

There are two major aspects to GMing or playing the progenitors. Their history and their philosophy.

History:
Progenitor society extends back 10 million years at least. During this time they had gained as much mastery of the universe as one could hope while still remaining mortal beings. They could control space and time, they understood the destiny of the universe as well as one could while living within it and their scientific experiments were on such a scale that they often restructured worlds to perform them.

At this point they stagnated. The next step was to become gods, beings detached from an embodied existence in space and time. For this reason they initiated the "Manifold" projects. These were attempts to create cosmic godlike minds by the careful crafting of an artificial ecosystem. There was a massive disagreement within Progenitor society over the risks involved with this and the morality of attempting to gain such power. Those seeking godhood were called The Usurpers. The majority who prefered to remain as they were got the name "The Caretakers". They sought to avoid the full development of the Planet Minds into true gods.

One such mind located in the Tau Ceti system did awaken when the Usurpers took control of the government on that colony and promoted its development. However it was "wrong" somehow and killed all life in Tau Ceti and surrounding systems and due to its ability to act on a galactic scale wreaked havoc on Progenitor society. Plunging it into a dark age. In the aftermath of this catastrophic event the remaining Progenitors were significantly less philosophically and technically sophisticated.

Afterwards there were Usurpers among the survivors who still wanted to continue the quest for godhood. Given the risks to themselves and life elsewhere the Caretakers became more aggressive, wishing to never have an event like Tau Ceti occur again. The resultant civil war between the factions caused the destruction of dozens of the race's colony worlds and the deaths of trillions of the remaining Progenitors.

They have arrived on Planet because it seems to be the most stable of the Planet Minds and in some sense was intended by the ancient Progenitors to be the primary one. The Manifold Nexus site on planet allows one to commune with the other god minds as they emerge and guide their development. There is also the implication that Planet is natural for the most part and possibly the basis for other the other Progenitor god minds (See below). The location of Planet was lost for a long time and for most of the game the Progenitor factions that land on Planet cannot contact the rest of their group.

Caretaker Lular H'minee "Sacrifice: Life" said:
Tau Ceti flowering: Horrors visited upon neighboring systems must never be repeated. Therefore: if it means the end of our evolution as a species, so be it..

My main criticism of this section is that the Tau Ceti incident is buried in the Usurper and Caretaker faction leader biographies later in the book. I feel it should have been up front here as a formative event for the whole race.

Philosophy:
The Progenitors view the entire universe as single entity that presents itself in a variety of ways to sentient beings depending on how and at what scales they view it. Thus "matter" and its subdivisions is simply how the sentient mind comprehends the transcendent stuff of reality. The manifestations at each scale are rich in their own unique experiences and thus constitute different experiential worlds all lying layered within each other, this being summed up in the phrase "worlds within worlds". They also believe that each scale as its own self-awareness in a sense.

The book doesn't say this but the technical name for such a philosophy would be (bit of a mouthful) "animate substance monism-epistemic dualism". The most important parts being "substance monism", i.e. that things as they are independently of the human mind are one holistic totality. "Epistemic dualism" refers to the fact that the sentient mind divides the world into itself and "matter", but this matter and its layered structures of galaxies, planets, everyday object, molecules, atoms, etc is not fundamentally real but how the mind structures its experiences of the world. "Animate" due to the fundamental stuff having some kind of awareness.

If you leave aside the final self-awareness part this is a common view of the world suggested by quantum theory (see Bernard d'Espagnat: "On Physics and Philosophy"). So academic human colonists trained in the philosophy of physics would probably recognise the progenitor view.

The progenitor term for this philosophy is summed up in the term "Manifold". Planet itself being called the "Sixth Manifold". The book says this refers to the fact that progenitors view Planet's mind as crucial to the development of the other godminds and the future of the universe itself.


Artefacts:
Even before meeting the progenitors humans discovered their monoliths and battle ogres. Battle Ogres are combat walkers to be discussed in the gear section.

Monoliths are 12 metre high (40 foot) obelisks with four sides surrounded by a low wall with a single gap for access. They are covered in Ancient Progenitor writing. They essentially improve anything in their vicinity. Repairing machines, upgrading undamaged ones, increasing a human's physical and mental capacity. Three or so centuries after Planetfall the colonists will discover this is done by the monoliths essentially manipulating luck (the "probability fields" of the world).

Mechanically if you spend 2 days near a monolith roll 3d6. Get 11 or higher and any damage, illness, affliction, etc is healed. Equipment and vehicles are fully repaired and are at full power. Get 15 or higher and you can use character points to buy an advantage or remove disadvantages, even outside the rules and normal requirements subject to GM approval (although the book says to allow it by default). This can only be done once per character even if they visit another monolith.

There are other smaller "special items", basically Progenitor site dungeon loot. I'll list them later for Gear.

Planetmind:
I've said a bit on this already. Eventually the fungal mats will achieve enough density and coverage over the planets surface to become one massive self aware entity.

As it develops certain "sensitive" colonists experience disturbing dreams, alter states of consciousness and religious visions which were initially written off as due to stress by psychologists. Two or three centuries in however studies of the xenofungus reveal the bioelectric signals, allowing them to be mapped. Then the presence of a superbrain becomes clear. Even in the first century scientists realise the world is so symbiotic as to be basically one organism with the xenofungus as the "brain", they just didn't think this brain was globally coordinated and gearing up for sentient thought.

Most of the time the Planet mind is in a sort of dream state, unable to coordinate its thoughts coherently. Every few million years it wakes up and achieves true godhood. However this burns out the xenofungus and the psychic backlash devastates all other species on Planet and resets the whole ecosystem. Unfortunately Planet achieves sentience too late to prevent the burnout.

The hope for the later game is that humans feed planet their knowledge by hooking their super-internet and AIs into the Planetmind as it awakens. This might give it the knowledge to prevent its own death and the coherence of thought where it begins to refer to itself as "I" rather than the "We" it uses when it is still a connection of smaller matminds. (More on this later in the section on Transcendence and the different types of campaigns)

There is meant to be a growing tension and fear of the Planetmind once human societies realise it is on its way. Some even venerate it and await its judgement such as the Cult of Planet. The GM is meant to convey a genuine ambiguity about how Planet will turn out. It might not be friendly.

The Manifold Nexus site (see previous posts) was built by the Progenitors to allow Planet to communicate with the other five sentient planets they constructed. This includes the still living, though reduced, Tau Ceti mind that nearly destroyed their race.

Planet itself has gone through the awakening cycle several times over the last billion years, where as Progenitor society is only ten million years old and Tau Ceti awoke for the first time about ten thousand years ago. This combined with the special reverence for Planet over the other Manifold worlds implies it is a naturally evolved god.


Options:
So the book gives you the option to just dump the canonical Progenitors if you wish and simply leave the monoliths and artefacts unexplained. Perhaps some other race settled and were killed when Planet woke up.
Other options given are to reskin the Manifold Caretakers and Usurpers to be two different races. Or never have aliens show up and have the different artefacts be from different alien races so that the colonists see settlers before them attempted to live here and didn't survive the Planetmind (adding to the terror and tension).
Also one might have the Usurpers and Caretakers be a different race from the ones who built the artefacts on planet and they're just settlers like humans. In which case I think one would have to alter the Tau Ceti event to be when they tried to use one of the manifold worlds built by the "true" Progenitors.

Minor Thoughts:
First being a colonist on Planet is tough. Poor air quality, rough weather and high gravity pretty much means PCs from the first two centuries will need to be physically hardy and careful about how far they go from colonies. Add to that that the whole Planet is a living being whose antibodies (the mind worms) constantly want to kill you and the existential terror of living on the body of a god.

I'm glad the lore implies Planet isn't just another Progenitor experiment and is rather some unique ecosystem which has developed a god that needs others to help it mature. The whole "Ancient Aliens did everything" is a tired trope and would remove the blend of religion, mysticism and SciFi that Alpha Centauri delves into.

Next we head into the Faction section. First up everybody's favourite apocalyptic religious extremist: Sister Miriam Godwinson!
472832-miriam.png
 

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Planet itself has gone through the awakening cycle several times over the last billion years, where as Progenitor society is only ten million years old and Tau Ceti awoke for the first time about ten thousand years ago. This combined with the special reverence for Planet over the other Manifold worlds implies it is a naturally evolved god.
But...
They could control space and time...
In theory, they could have gone into the past to seed the planet so it would be ready by the time they reached it. I'm not saying this based on my knowledge of the lore, but only what you've said here. I am basing the idea on the Xeelee, Baxter's fictional hyper-advanced race who use time travel to guide the evolution of their own species.
The whole "Ancient Aliens did everything" is a tired trope and would remove the blend of religion, mysticism and SciFi that Alpha Centauri delves into.
I see what you mean. Like you say, there are so many ways of reinterpreting this material. Even if the Progenitors did set it in motion, perhaps so much time has passed that they are now a fundamentally different species. This conflict between Caretakers and Usurpers reminds me of the conflict between the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za and Kohr-Ah. I could imagine that after enough time and with enough bio-engineering, they could have become two distinct species from one original line.
 

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I remember the fan community back in the early 2000s used to have theories about the Progenitors and the Usurpers being two subspecies due to bio-engineering.

In theory, they could have gone into the past to seed the planet so it would be ready by the time they reached it. I'm not saying this based on my knowledge of the lore, but only what you've said here
This hits off an interesting divergence between the GURPS book and the game. There are a few of these as I go on in several sections.

There is a piece of technology at the end of the tech tree in the game and this supplament (GURPS Tech Level: 13) called Temporal Mechanics.

The game explicitly says this does not permit time travel with it's descriptive quote:
Academician Prokhor Zakharov "For I have tasted the fruit" said:
Time travel in the classic sense has no place in rational theory, but temporal distortion does exist on the quantum level, and more importantly it can be controlled.

However the GURPS book describes the same advance with:
GURPS Supplement p.82 said:
Physics states that teleportation through space is equivalent to pas-sage through time; therefore, artificial "temporal fields" allowing the manipulation of time itself were a natural follow-on to matter transmission. Teleportation to past or future moments became possible, leading to "chronoviewers" and a form of "time machine." Stasis generators created zones cut off from the rest of physical reality, in which time passed extremely slowly. These stasis zones proved to be a useful defense, with applications in both military and civil engineering.

Since the Progenitors had all the tech possible prior to the Tau Ceti incident, the book RAW easily permits what you say.
 

FeralToaster

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Interesting, my take on use of time travel as civil and military engineering infrastructure was a sorta Easter egg for Infinite Worlds (or whatever it was called back then, "Timelines"Maybe?) as an example of how a mature high tech civilization actually uses time travel instead of y'know adventuring.

Also good reference to Star Control. Been a long while since I thought about that series.
 

Faylar

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Nice! I've never played GURPS, but always appreciated the efort they put in. GURPS Space was one of my favourite books.
 

Lessa

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I prefer the base game take on the monoliths as remains of some ancient, unknown and extinct (in the previous planet awakening aeons ago ?) civilization.

The Alien Crossfire expansion introducing aliens and explaining all the planet mysteries felt like a letdown to me too*. The cultural/ethical/philosophical conflict between the original human faction is the where the game shines.

*Though I like the new human factions introduced, as they bring their own philosophical musings.
 
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Séadna

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Factions:

Very brief little post introducing the factions. The descriptions of the factions are pure fluff with almost no mechanical implications. The odd faction might have a suggested new skill or alteration of an old skill and there is a small blurb about suggested skills for a faction character but that's about it. The only mechanics are typically the stats of the Faction leader.

The descriptions have the following format:
  1. History behind the faction.
  2. Basic Ideology
  3. Strengths and Weaknesses of Ideology
  4. Relationship with other factions
  5. Leader biography and Stats
  6. Daily Life/Life Style
  7. Suggestions for Character generation
  8. Adventure Seed
The following is a bit of silliness as you wouldn't really fight the faction leaders.

The human faction leader who is "most advanced" in terms of GURPS XP is Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang of "The Human Hive" faction, a 295 point build. Most are in the upper 100 range, roughly 160-190 points.

The Progenitor faction leaders however are 430 and 495 point builds and are lethal characters in combat.

As a rough equivalent in D&D systems you could say the human faction leaders are around level 4 characters, Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang is about level 6 and the Progenitor Judaa Marr is around level 11 and crosses into being a valid character for a GURPS "Supers" campaign. In Savage Worlds terms they're Heroic with the Progenitors being Legendary.

In white room battle simulations I've run Juda Marr tends to draw on average with a fan conversion of Magneto from X-Men and the two progenitors together can often take down Tiamat from GURPS fantasy!

Edit: Replaced generic "him" with Juda Marr
 
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Séadna

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The Lord's Believers:
Believe3.png
So we start off with the main religious faction from the base PC game. Quite a bit is fleshed out compared to the game.

History:
The faction leader Miriam Godwinson was the Unity's psych chaplin. It seems that during the last century of civilization on Earth many major religions developed Psych Priests. These were charismatic religious leaders who were also highly trained in human psychology. This was normalised enough to be a formal position aboard the Unity. During the accident that lead to the Unity's destruction, Miriam Godwinson was severely wounded and isolated from the rest of the command crew. With literally seconds to spare and despite her heavy injuries, she walked along the exterior of the Unity's hull in a Vacc suit to reach one of the final escape pods! The pod contained a few hundred people. Several were wounded with many suffering from radiation poisoning from solar emissions due to the failure of the ship's shielding. The pod itself was heavily damaged and most of its supplies destroyed.

Of course they managed to land safely on Planet. However of all the factions they were in the most dire straits, lacking supplies and materials (the book says they were essentially the poorest faction). Due to Godwinson's unbreakable faith and her near peerless combination of understanding human psychology, oratory and debate technique she managed to keep the group alive and motivated. In her own mind they were her "flock". Within the space of a couple of years they were all converted to her particular brand of Christianity. The book closes their history with this cool sentence:
They were no longer the dregs of the Earth. They were the Lord's Believers

Note that many of those within the early flock would have known her as she had significant celebrity status on Earth. See her biographical section.

Basic Ideology:
The Lord's Believers hold to a modified form of Christianity. They are an offshoot of a sect back on Earth named the Evangelical Fire, which Godwinson grew up in. Although this is the sect's name, the name for their doctrine is Covenant Christianity. God is conceived of as utterly relentless and all pervading, urging humanity forward to construct his kingdom in the physical universe. Without fail one must strive toward being completely attuned to God's will, every action furthering his Kingdom. Part of the ultimate aim of building God's kingdom is that all of humanity will be this in sync with the Almighty.

The two core pillars of the faith are Worship and Dissent. Worship is that by simply being so committed to God's plan, in a sense by freely choosing to be an extension of him in thought and action, every activity engaged in is an act of Worship in itself. Dissent is that they are called on to persuade others away from false ideologies. This is not just constantly preaching the truth, but being devoted to intellectually dismantling opposing viewpoints. Virtually the whole faction are incredibly articulate and persuasive in person.

However if the unbelievers are so closed to the Word as to attack, then all Believers know they are also God's warriors. Every assault is a holy war.

Thus far this is basically what Godwinson and the other higher ups in the Evangelical Fire sect already believed but couldn't be so strident about back on Earth. The only real modifications since Planetfall are :
  1. That Planet is considered the final promised land spoken of in the Bible, the location of the New Kingdom of God.
  2. Godwinson herself pushes the "Dissent" doctrine more strongly than would have been the norm back on Earth as she enjoys philosophical debate. If you've played the game you know the many quotes from her book "We Must Dissent"

Strengths and Weaknesses of Ideology:

The main strength is their fanaticism. Essentially no Lord's Believer has ever been converted to another ideology. Even after their settlements are conquered they basically never fall into line or have their beliefs waver. They also become violent and ferocious during an offensive, whipped into a frenzy by the desire to crush the heathens. This means that when all else is equal they are one of the most difficult factions to defend against. However on the defensive they aren't quite as intense and no better during a siege than the typical faction.

Weaknesses include an aversion to the scientific method and its resultant applications and technology. This is due to suspicion that they run counter to God's plan. There is also a tendency for intelligent members of the faction to seek Ministry rather than a scientific career. Together this means the Believers lag technologically. They also have a difficult time integrating with Planet's biosphere as they see it as something they directly own. A gift from God. Thus they are often ignorant to the subtle will and cycles of Planet to their own detriment in the form of a sudden mind worm attack.

Relationship with other factions:
The Lord's believers hold democracy (no point in choosing incorrect forms of government) and atheistic totalitarian regimes in equal disdain. Since basically every other faction falls into these two categories in their mind, they are very unlikely to form alliances and are generally extremely aggressive to their neighbours. No true alliance is possible. It might only be that your superior military might forms a strong argument against attacking you. Even then they might do attack you anyway.

However they have particular hatred for the University faction and the Consciousness faction. The former for its conception of an utterly godless reductive mechanical world. The latter because they advocate spiritual mutilation, becoming half-machine and losing their souls.

The Leader:
472832-miriam.png

Sister Miriam Godwinson was born in Georgia, which was then part of the Christian States of America (CSA). The CSA itself having formed after the collapse of the old United States. The book never says its exact extent.

Her father ranked high in a rapidly expanding apocalyptic branch of Christianity called the "Evangelical Fire" (mentioned above) which arose in response to deteriorating conditions on Earth. Godwinson herself has a dual secular and religious education. A degree in theology from the College of the Covenent and a doctorate in psychology from Yale University. I assume the former is the real life Covenant College at Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

By the time she began her ministry the Evangelical fire was the largest Christian denomination in the region once called the United States. By 26 she was the third highest ranking member of the sect, the Head Psych Priest.

She voluntarily entered UN service and was sent to the Middle East in the wake of the massive conflict known as the Crusader Wars (see post #6, 3rd paragraph). She was there to serve as military psychologist to the armed forces trying to reintegrate the region. However she also engaged in religious ministry while there. She was so good at it that it backed fired for the UN when millions declared her a living messiah! This forced the UN to let her go.

Her incredible talent at counseling and guidance, as well as political pressure from various American governments convinced/forced the UN to grant her a position on the Unity mission as the ship's Psych Chaplin.

In person she is incredibly charismatic, empathetic, draws attention and is driven to give you hope and guidance. Her enormous experience as a psychologist and public speaker allow her to easily project these abilities on a mass scale in public speeches and mega-sermons.

Of course underneath the empathy and smooth delivery she is bitterly intolerant of any other ideology, but hides this very well.

Some interesting points from her stats if you had her in a game:
  1. She has a particular joy for philosophical discussions where she dismantles the views of nonbelievers.

  2. Her Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish are good enough that she is indistinguishable from a native.

  3. 46 years old at Planetfall. 5' 6'' in height.

  4. She's an extreme ascetic.

  5. She has a sense of duty to spiritual guide others to the point that it's a disadvantage

  6. Unsurprisingly she has the "Extreme Fanaticism" disadvantage. If you don't know GURPS this is like a high trait like Pious in Pendragon where she would have to roll to act against her beliefs and most likely fail. Obviously she'd never act against her beliefs in normal situations. However this would be interesting for "GM surprise" where even in the most dire situation of her and her flock's safety being threatened she might not betray seemingly minor points of faith.

  7. Highly skilled in Vacc Suits, Teaching, Computers, Conducting Rituals, Writing, Psychology.

  8. Near human limits in Savoir-Faire, Theology, Bard and Leadership. (In GURPS Bard is being a persuasive speaker and storyteller. Savoir-Faire is manners and being able to conduct yourself in high society)
Her works include:
  1. The Blessed Struggle
  2. Last Testament
  3. The Lord Works
  4. But for the Grace of God
  5. The Collected Sermon
  6. We Must Dissent
Daily Life:
The typical Believer shuns creature comforts and luxury, leading an austere life. Most carry a small personal religious symbol at all times, such as a metal cross about the neck. Clothing is plain and functional.

The leadership is composed of Ministers who function as both priests and psychologists. They heavily enforce the basic doctrines but not how to fulfill those doctrines. So to the surprise of the other factions the Believers do not blindly follow their leaders. Ministers are trained in how to moderate disputes without controlling them. The society as a whole has a healthy appetite for discussion and debate although of course within service of their beliefs.

Character Generation:
A Believer character is often high in Social skills like Bard (Either Performance or Persuasion in other systems) and Leadership. This reflects the emphasis on ministry. They also have a moderate score in Theology by default.

Adventure seed:
A Minister takes the PCs aside and asks them to help him raid a nearby outpost belonging to some Godless faction. However he must weed down the recruits to the most faithful. The tests he puts them through are extreme (not specified) and in the end he won't have the numbers to stand a good chance at attacking the base. However this is his intent and the Player characters learn he wishes to take the outpost with poor numbers to prove the might of God. Will the players make it through the elimination process? Will they agree to join the attack? And survive it?

Thoughts:
Personally I would have liked a little on how the faction dealt with the Progenitors theologically. A minor criticism.

Now, Go through my children!

 

Faylar

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Her and Santiago get no quarter from me. I attack them on site, or prepare to take them out first.
 

Faylar

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Factions:

Very brief little post introducing the factions. The descriptions of the factions are pure fluff with almost no mechanical implications. The odd faction might have a suggested new skill or alteration of an old skill and there is a small blurb about suggested skills for a faction character but that's about it. The only mechanics are typically the stats of the Faction leader.

The descriptions have the following format:
  1. History behind the faction.
  2. Basic Ideology
  3. Strengths and Weaknesses of Ideology
  4. Relationship with other factions
  5. Leader biography and Stats
  6. Daily Life/Life Style
  7. Suggestions for Character generation
  8. Adventure Seed
The following is a bit of silliness as you wouldn't really fight the faction leaders.

The human faction leader who is "most advanced" in terms of GURPS XP is Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang of "The Human Hive" faction, a 295 point build. Most are in the upper 100 range, roughly 160-190 points.

The Progenitor faction leaders however are 430 and 495 point builds and are lethal characters in combat.

As a rough equivalent in D&D systems you could say the human faction leaders are around level 4 characters, Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang is about level 6 and the Progenitor Judaa Marr is around level 11 and crosses into being a valid character for a GURPS "Supers" campaign. In Savage Worlds terms they're Heroic with the Progenitors being Legendary.

In white room battle simulations I've run he tends to draw on average with a fan conversion of Magneto from X-Men and the two progenitors together can often take down Tiamat from GURPS fantasy!
Why rate yang so high? He is about on par with Santiago for combat training and only has a high pain threshold over her. He is far older than her, however, and lacks her willpower.
 
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