This adventure was originally posted to the Amber Zone website in April 2021, and is reprinted here and in the September/October 2023 issue with permission. A Spanish translation appeared in Vuelo Raso N. 7, and was sent to us by Vuelo Raso’s editor. Lea este artículo en español.
Spindrift is a watery world, (HYDRO = 9 or A), with a large population (9 or A) of Eroctopi, an intelligent race of eight-limbed water-dwelling sentients usually between 1.5 and 2 m long. (STR-1, DEX+2, END-1, INT+1). World ATMO could be 4-9 but is most likely 5, 6 or 8; SIZE is 6, 7 or 8. Contact with humans is recent and limited as the planet is off the beaten track. It is also difficult because Eroctopi communicate via touch and a well-known black ink defence. Almost unknown to passing merchants who are trying to develop trade links is an additional language of coloured inks. Human presence on Spindrift is almost entirely on an island 200 km south of the equator where a small D class starport has been established. Population: 25,000. Those not working for the ’port and its ineffectual Warden, assigned to Spindrift as a sinecure, are mainly engaged in resource exploitation (fishing and mineral extraction) in areas the Eroctopi have leased. Some small research groups are present. Law Level is low amongst the humans and high by custom rather than enforcement amongst the Eroctopi.
Eroctopi have fancifully coloured and patterned skins and live relatively solitary lives in ‘bulbs’ on the shallow seabeds. Bulbs have an opening at the base, are 5-7 m in diameter, and are usually grouped in ‘villages’ of some four to six dozen. Periodically a dozen or so Eroctopi gather in a mating ball – the coloured ink is important in gaining acceptance to these – and the females give birth to a clutch of live juveniles. The latter, left to fend for themselves, are easy prey for other marine creatures in the first weeks of life.
Eroctopi technology is barely recognizable to humans. Transport is via “muscle fish” (or “kvart”), 12 m long eel-like creatures which several Eroctopi may ride using harnesses attached to fleshy protrusions. Records are kept via quipu-like strands and knots of a particular seaweed. Lighting is provided by lengths of worms bred to excrete blue-tinged lumichrome compounds. Distant communication is via a pony-express like system of Eroctopi who dedicate themselves to the job and are honoured for their role in society. Weapons are blowdarts (2D damage, range underwater 5 m) made from the stiffened intestines of kvarts and loaded with barbed urchin spines, or shells modified for cutting (1D damage, range Melee). Little is known about creative outlets, but fine examples of coral art are known causing the right algae to release the right sugars to produce the stunning colouration.
The PCs, perhaps merchants delivering cargo, or a research team drawn by reports of interesting lifeforms, are contacted by a marine biologist, Sarine Pemvarston. Smelling rather fishy, her skin is lustrous and gleams as if it is well oiled. She has a mane of hair tied in eight thick waist length braids. She is barefoot and wears shorts and a vest. She has livid looking red welts on arms and legs but appears cheerful, if determined. Sarine explains she is one of the few humans who can communicate with Eroctopi, and asks the PCs to meet her down at a dock-like structure.
Sarine sits on the edge of a floating dock which is virtually at sea level; her legs in the water. She waits a short while. Suddenly the water boils and tentacles appear, wrapping themselves around Sarine’s arms and hands, stroking and tapping. She is not in the least concerned and can be seen making similar motions on the tentacles with her hands; it is almost sensuous. She turns to the PCs and introduces them to <sliding stroke, three taps and a tentacle tip squeeze>. “I call him Slider. He’s a sea gherkin farmer and a local, well, magistrate for want of a better word.” She gestures off to the south. “From the driftfields almost at the Bissal Plain.” The PCs may get the idea it is a way away.
The Bissal Plains, she explains, have much reduced flora and fauna and are deeper than the shallow, fertile seas surrounding the starport where large populations of Eroctopi make their homes. She will get lost in explaining some of the information given above about bulbs and mating balls.
“But I’m getting side-tracked.” Sarine’s enthusiasm for her subject is clear to all. “That’s not why I’ve asked you here.” She explains that the Bissal Plains are where Drifters, a subspecies of Eroctopi (STR+2, DEX+2, INT-2, EDU-2, SOC-2) are usually found. Drifters do not live in communities and have no permanent dwellings; they prefer somewhat deeper waters. Slider is concerned. His farm, or more accurately range, is close to the Plains and he has noticed Drifters are appearing discoloured and even seem to be going missing although formal records are non-existent. Employing around 200 of them as seasonal farmhands, if that is the right word, he is doubly concerned: for his business and because he knows several Drifters as friends.
If the PCs wish to interact with locals or to do anything outside of the previously agreed human exploitation areas, they will need to present themselves to the, Sarine will hunt for a good word, senate. Not so much a place as a gathering which will take place near the starport in an underground cavern some 30 m below sea level. Eerily lit by lampworms, a seething mass of Eroctopi will meet and remain in tentacle contact with neighbours to discuss community issues. The PCs can attend using diving gear or a research sub (crew 2, passengers 8, large panoramic windows down both sides). Sarine will use diving gear but over comms can brief the PCs on some of the factions that may be involved:
- Deeps: traditionalists keen on keeping to tested hunting methods, extremely wary of contact with humans.
- Reform Pod: interested in giving Drifters more of a place in community and a political ‘voice’; Slider largely aligns with this group.
- Seakeepers: concerned about population pressure of Eroctopi on the fertile parts of Spindrift; a subgroup of radicals however support a feeding programme for Drifters to increase their numbers to work the marginal areas of the seas and seabeds.
- Spinners: in favour of greater links with humans and adopting more offworld technology; they can provide one or two underwater weapons the PCs would be familiar with if asked, crossbows (2D damage, range 3 m) and spearguns (1D+2 damage, range 2 m).
Sarine makes it clear that these can be amorphous and overlapping groups; they are not as distinct as human political parties. Some individuals might vary their allegiance depending on the specific issue at hand.
It shouldn’t be difficult for Sarine to persuade the senate that the PCs be given licence to look into the matter, but this agreement may take some time to achieve, and the PCs will face many questions, not always relevant to the task at hand.
One feature of Spindrift – or certainly that part of the world near the starport – which will become quickly apparent to the PCs is that weather plays a crucial part in human activities and to a lesser extent to the locals. Indeed, the PCs will be fortunate if they haven’t had to land their starship in heavy rain and high winds. [Michael Brown’s Weather can be used to model this very nicely. (Wx = 10, Stability= +4 or use UWP as suggested)]. Or simply: it is a fine day on a 2D roll of 11+, otherwise: Roll 1D. 1-2= overcast. 3-4= minor storm (6D6 x 10 mins). 5= major storm (4D6 hours). 6= cyclone (1-3 days). Once a storm’s duration is finished, reduce to previous severity (and roll again for duration) until overcast and then roll for fine days again. Whereas piloting in fine or overcast conditions is a Routine task, Piloting in a minor storm is Average, a major storm is Difficult, and in a cyclone a Very Difficult task. Other activities should be adjusted as the Referee sees fit. Eroctopi will not be seen near the starport or on the surface in cyclones and are unlikely to be seen near the surface in a major storm.
The PCs might take a number of different approaches:
- study patterns of disappearances. (Admin or a perhaps a Science that would include data analysis would be suitable skills). This will reveal that they’re usually during moderate or major storms and there are gaps of two or three weeks between batches of disappearances. This could lead to:
- check starport ship movements against disappearances (Admin or Investigate).
- set camera traps or employ farmhands as watchers in various places (Slider could make this offer if the PCs don’t think of it themselves) perhaps using Investigate skill or Recon.
- ask Sarine and Slider to interview leaders of various factions. (Diplomat or possibly Advocate might be relevant here). <Green Weed>, one of the of biggest gesticulators amongst the Seakeepers will appear ‘shifty’ to Slider and if pressured in some way will have heard rumours of what is happening.
- investigate rumours of an unknown monster (Recon or Investigate).
- map the Drifter discolouration which would approximately centre on sources of stress.
Depending on time available for the adventure, interests/ideas of players, and the general direction of play, various difficulties for any of the above should be set bearing in mind weather conditions, working through a translator, and possibly having to work underwater. The Referee can provide additional clues as rumours from native inhabitants, starport workers, or perhaps a visiting ship crew that has ‘seen’ something suspicious.
Dotting the Bissal Plain are various seamounts with numerous dormant or extinct volcanoes which break the surface of the sea in places. Old lava tubes and caverns exist above and below sea level but are not used by Eroctopi due to their dislike of cold water upwellings in the vicinity. None have been assigned for human exploitation. However, a Far Trader, the Dorsal Plume is using them as a covert base of operations. Its crew, four young merchants, have found a market Jump 1 away for the inks of Eroctopi in the art world and as industrial dyes. Having learned, from a research paper they came across accidentally, about the neglected and uncounted Drifters, they think they’re a safe ‘catch’. They have not revealed the source of the ink to their customers. Under cover of the inclement weather and using the seamounts to gain easier access to water at depth where they lure the Drifters, they fill their hold with the creatures, “process” them in transit and command very good prices at their destination for an exclusive and rare product. They leave no permanent gear or obvious signs of habitation but there may be evidence in the form of lost spears or broken speargun rubbers or even a mislaid facemask. The crew are not aware that the distress they’re placing on the Drifters, who aren’t generally aware of what is going on, is causing the discolouration in their numbers. There may be a research project in mapping the discolouration as it spreads through a hitherto unknown psychobiological mechanism from hunt locations.
Complications could consist of romantic interest from Sarine; a volcano not being as dormant as thought; a band of Eroctopi trying to thwart the PCs; or even some assisting the merchant crew.
Depending on the actions of the PCs and the interests of players or Referee, there could be several possible resolutions. Close combat in caverns or lava tubes, underwater combat, a chase and then space combat, or even a diplomatic solution – although turning the merchants over to the Eroctopi would probably result in their deaths.
Idioms from Sarine’s field notes:
“Its lacquering lasts.” Statement of admiration regarding community mindedness (referring to the stiffening process of blowdarts).
“The surface may rage, but the bulb is at rest.” Used literally about the relative calm of home during a storm, but idiomatically used of an individual who gesticulates wildly in debate but achieves very little.
“Its patterns are thin.” An insult suggesting a lack of intelligence.