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This article originally appeared in Cepheus Journal #011 and was reprinted in the January/February 2023 issue.

Koszra (CA66378­1) is a desolate world a little larger than Earth and orbiting an F-class star. While life is abundant in the oceans and there is oxygen in the atmosphere, the land is a wasteland of sand, boulders and dried mud. It came as a great surprise when first survey of the planet found several dozen oases of complex life, inhabited by a complex ecology made up of dozens of species, with none more than a couple of square kilometers in area. Even more surprising was that the oases were inhabited by an intelligent species that toiled endlessly to maintain the oases, which would have been unstable and prone to dying out without their efforts.


The Koszrans and their accompanying biospheres were unrelated to the * endorheic: having no outflow to an external body of water such as a river or ocean, and only losing water through evaporation. See https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/endorheic and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorheic_basinocean life biochemically, which suggested that life evolved twice on Koszra—once in the seas and once on land, probably in a large endorheic* lake before moving onto terra firma itself. This led to the additional theory that the planet had once had abundant life on land and what remained was what was left over after a mass extinction event. But evidence for this was scant and the universe presents many puzzles; there were no follow­up investigations, and it took another entirely unrelated world survey elsewhere to crack the mystery.

Iphis is an even less­promising planet over 30 parsecs from Koszra. It had been known but ignored for many years, as it was one of the many Venus­type worlds found throughout space; it was accordingly of little interest to settlers, scientists, or megacorporations. A late analysis of its initial, cursory survey suggested that it had flipped over into this state relatively recently, some 550,000 years ago, and so a follow­up expedition took a closer look. There they found the scorched, dead remnants of a terrestrial biosphere and a technological civilization that had become extinct when the planet died. Further modeling showed that, coincidentally, the parent stars of Iphis and Koszra had been much closer together at the time, the two passing by each other at roughly 0.2 light years—as happens periodically to every star in the galaxy as they wend their way around their 200­million­year orbits of the galactic center.

Though there was precious little biological material left on Iphis to analyze, the planet’s investigators were able to prove that the multicellular organisms found on Koszra were related. Perhaps those in Iphis’s civilization knew that they were doomed or perhaps it was just a coincidence, but they must have used relatively primitive space drives such as light sails or Orion nuclear propulsion to bridge the nearly 13,000 AU between the two star systems and colonize Koszra. Though a poor settlement target by galactic standards, to the point that the Koszrans have dwindled in technology back to early farming­age technology, Koszra became a final refuge for the species after they went extinct on their original planet.

Culture and Psychology

While it’s difficult to say how the Koszrans lived on their homeworld, on this planet they have settled into a culture of small scale, local terraforming. While Koszra has abundant water and oxygen, life had never taken hold on the land prior to the arrival of the offworlders. Faced with a set of dead continents the Koszrans took the plant and animal species they brought with them and constructed a stable ecological network suited to small areas—roughly 50 hectares (half a square kilometer, or 125 acres), with none larger than a few square kilometers. Each of the several dozen that now exist in the present day is enough to support several dozen Koszrans, who live in the centerpiece of each colony: a rounded spire some 30 meters tall and five wide, made from cemented sand and the saliva of a hand­sized insect­like organism analogous to an ant or termite. This is one of the things that is known to have been done by the Koszrans on Iphis, with collapsed “skyscrapers” up to 200 meters found here and there in that planet’s present­day scorched landscape. Scientists studying the Koszrans hypothesize that the pre­intelligent ancestors of the species lived commensally with the insects in their mounds, perhaps in exchange for general maintenance and cleaning of their mutual home. Certainly, this is what they do in the present day, though the insects are now completely dependent on their erstwhile roommates and are more like domesticated animals to them.

All of the other plants and animals in a Koszran local biome have a purpose too. The proportion of trees that produce edible fruits or seeds is far higher than in any natural circumstance. No less than fourteen different types of shrub produce leaves with medicinal value to the Koszrans or their domesticated animals. Even the “grass”, on close examination, resembles organic steel wool—all the better to break up and channel the planet’s usually torrential rains. Moreover, everything supports everything else, not just the Koszrans.

Even so, these miniature biomes are not permanently stable, though they are far closer to that standard than they have any right to be. For 500,000 years the aliens have had to carefully prune, fertilize, plant, and breed all of their charges, slowly building them up and always, always keeping their garden homes from tipping over into collapse and extinction. The endless effort has molded Koszran psychology just as much as they have shaped the environment they live in.

Koszrans have two main themes to their thinking which colour everything they do. First, they are aware of how things connect to one another, and are very interested in how changing one thing will affect another thing. For example, humans are often surprised to find that, as alien as they are, Koszrans can quickly decipher their visitors’ social arrangements: who likes and dislikes whom, who’s a mentor and who’s a student, who’s in charge…who’s really in charge. They are also not averse to manipulating humans based on what they discern. Fortunately, this doesn’t grant them any near-supernatural ability to do so, but nevertheless humans can find them very canny at getting what they want.

Their other major psychological trait is conservativeness. Making the wrong choice in relation to the web of life that they maintain every day could mean the death of their home, and its reversion to the dead sand that covers most of the planet. This is not a hypothetical fear: it has happened in the past to some unfortunate oases, and every Koszran knows their stories.


Like all the animals on their original homeworld, the Koszrans are trilaterally symmetrical. Their body is a rounded triangle, point downward, and is flat in front while being convex at the back. Two limbs extend from each of the body’s three points, one pair of which at the bottom is specialized to serve as a base to stand on—this frees the other two pairs of limbs to act as manipulators. When walking, however, a Koszran tips forward and moves on all of its limbs at the same time. This means they can’t carry anything while moving, and so most wear a cloth webbing into which they can tuck objects that they want to use when they reach their destination.

The species is somewhat smaller than a human, with average height while standing being 1.2 meters (3’11”) and mass being 35 kilograms (80 pounds)—the latter actually being a bit higher on Koszra itself due to that planet’s higher­than­terrestrial gravity.

There are three eyes around the edge of a Koszran’s body, and so when prone they can see in all directions; when standing, the edge of the body folds forward slightly so that all three eyes point in that direction, which hurts their situational awareness but compensates by making it easier to see fine details of what they are doing with their manipulators. In the center of their flat front is a single, radial mouth used solely for eating. They breathe through six apertures, one located on either side of each eye. The two on the side of the sturdy bottom tentacle breathe in continuously as the Koszran’s triple lungs work in sequence; air likewise flows out constantly from the four breathing holes on the upper part of their body. Koszrans speak with these outward-bound apertures, producing meaning out of their whistles. The species can’t reproduce human language, but humans have invented small vocoder units which clip to their speaking holes and translate on the fly; not many Koszrans have them, but they are ubiquitous among those of the species who interact with humans regularly.

Though their appearance is not particularly unusual by the standards of the many alien species encountered by humans, the Koszrans are quite different at a more fundamental level. Life in the ocean was based around DNA, albeit with amino acids of opposite chirality to that used by terrestrial organisms—a common type throughout the galaxy. What made researchers realized that the Koszrans and the plants and animals of their microbiomes were not related to the planet’s sea life was the fact that the Koszrans were based on something much more unusual: 1,5­anhydrohexitol nucleic acid (HNA), which until then had only been seen in artificial laboratory conditions.

There are many different ways for life to code genetic information but, in general, if life in the galaxy does not use DNA it uses something very different indeed: consider the Penrose­tile sheets of the Zorreshi, or the aluminum­copper­iron quasicrystals of the Lisher­Unuria. Koszran biochemistry was particularly unusual because their HNA was similar enough to DNA that it could interact with human DNA, but different enough that it opened up new possibilities for DNA­ and viral­vector based medicines that had never been seen before. A small ampoule of sap or blood from the Koszran biosphere could serve as the foundation for a pharmaceutical scientist’s career—and promise huge profits to their employers should its study pay off.

Relations with Humans

This difference, and the lust for profits based on it, has colored Human­Koszran interactions ever since it was discovered.

The aliens cherish the place each plant and animal species occupies in their oases, and rightly so: all are necessary, all have their purpose. While not totally set against giving some to humans, their inherent conservatism makes them slow to reach that stage. Impatient humans have sometimes short­circuited the process and, if they successfully get off­world with their loot, put themselves beyond any possible restitution or retaliation. Every time it happens, the Koszrans are made more reluctant to trade legitimately, and the human authorities strain to keep open that channel while also having to deal with powerful corporations that can protect malefactors, or at least keep the product of their thievery no matter what.

Accordingly, access to Koszra is restricted. The free­trade elements of the off­world human government have made sure that the planet stays open to some extent, but those who are looking to protect relations with the Koszrans have managed to make the human port of Creswell Terminal, located on the shore near a half­dozen Koszran oases, the only allowable landing place. Human colonization is absolutely forbidden, and the planet still belongs to its quasi­native inhabitants.

But as always, the authorities are overstretched, and have a hard time keeping 100% of visitors within the port as required by law. If nothing else, the system for getting a scientific study permit to travel is notoriously corrupt.

Koszran NPCs

A Koszran will be 105+2D centimeters tall and mass 32+1D kilograms; they are much less variable in these ways than humans are.

Despite their alien shape and biology, Koszrans have characteristics superficially similar to those of humans. Roll 1D+1 for ST and 2D­1 for DX. Social Standing in human society will be 1D/2, rounded up, while in their own society it will be 2D­1. If their social standing is 10, it will mean that they are the leader of a single oasis, while 11 makes them the leader of a small confederation of oases. Other characteristics are rolled in a standard manner.

While individual Koszrans vary, a few basic rules can cover most NPCs of the species:

Adventure Seeds

Race for the Prize

A group of bio­pirates has raided a distant oasis for several samples of Koszran life, intent on escaping off­world and selling them. Their ship is far off in the desolated landscape and will take time to reach but is similarly far from the authorities at the starport. The thieves will likely make it to their destination. The PCs are in a better position to catch them but will have to deal with the hazards of a planet­sized desert, from the punishing light and heat of the F­class sun to flash floods when it rains. They will also need to decide if they are on the side of the angels, or if they intend to rob the robbers and claim the booty for themselves.

No Plan Survives First Contact

An accident, either in orbit or while traveling the desert, leaves the PCs stranded. They will be able to arrange a pickup by the port authorities in a week, but they have minimal resources to keep them alive until then. There is an oasis just a few kilometers away, but these Koszrans’ history with humans has made them highly suspicious and prone to violence. The adventurers can choose to make contact and try to smooth things over enough to obtain some supplies, or if they decide to take their chances with staying put the Koszrans will decide to come and deal with the interlopers on their own terms.

Tricks of the Trade

Our heroes have received permission to negotiate with a friendly settlement of Koszrans for whatever they will agree to, up to and including the ever­valuable biosamples. However, two other groups have received the same go-ahead and only one will be permitted to actually trade in the end. The contenders will have to compete with one another by means fair and foul, while also having to account for this being exactly the sort of complex social situation that Koszrans are good at exploiting.

My Old Koszrani Home

A recent chance discovery of records on Iphis have finally elucidated the method by which the Koszrans on that planet managed to travel to their new world. When the two planets’ stars were close to one another a very large comet bound to the destination sun was nudged by their gravitational interaction and ended up passing through Iphis’ outer solar system. This 100­kilometer body meandered through over the course of more than a decade, which gave the Koszrans time to turn it into an ark. Its orbit was perturbed enough that, while it carried the Koszrans to their new home system, it was now on a hyperbolic arc and carried off into interstellar space after a single pass. The Koszrans off­loaded to their new world and the comet carried on. Somewhere out in space is a massive slower­than­light starship, abandoned for half a million years.

While it will be difficult to find, the orbit retrieved from the Iphisian records is good enough to narrow down the possibilities for its position in the present­day. Sufficiently determined adventurers just might be able to track it down and board it to see what might be worth examining—either as scientists or looters.