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Rifle Mugwort

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2020 issue.

Morphology Long vertical main root, wiry grayish branches, feathery leaves, beehive-shaped pods
Biochemistry C/H/O/N, broadly compatible with human
Respiration Carbon dioxide inhalant, dioxide exhalant, photosynthetic, tolerant of a wide range of atmospheres
Ecology Indeciduous
Habitat Arid steppes and deserts, along subterranean water veins (rifle mugwort), tropical jungles (sniper mugwort)
Trophics Demands low nutrient, sandy or rocky soil (rifle mugwort), humid, medium nutrient soil (sniper mugwort)
Reproduction Self-pollinating, seeds ejected by pressured air.
Lifecycle and Ontogeny Perennial (blooming once per year, existing for several planetary years)

Rifle mugwort owes its name to a horrible pun made by a Solomani explorer. The shape of the plant’s leaves reminded him of mugwort (“Beifuß” in his native Anglogermanic), and he named it “Gewehrbeifuß” for its ability to shoot its seeds over long distances. “Gewehr bei Fuß”, however, is also a formal military drill command, meaning “order arms”. The final exploration report was in Anglic, and the name was translated to “rifle mugwort” by the translation computer.

The sticky seeds travelled quickly to other planets on the outside of cargo containers, and rifle mugwort can be found on any number of worlds throughout the Aldebaran, Solomani Rim and Diaspora sectors, often in the vicinity of Class-D or lower starports (where there is little formal quarantine concerning foreign plant life), but especially around smuggler ports and pirate landing spots – everywhere ships touched down that had seeds sticking to their cargo and were not thoroughly sanitized.

Rifle mugwort is a bitter, slightly poisonous plant able to survive harsh extremes of temperature. In arid regions, it usually grows along subterranean water veins. For most of its cycle, the plant remains dry and barely alive, but a short rainy spell can trigger a sudden spurt of growth, and seeds ripen in the honeycomb-shaped pods within a few days.

During this time, the pods also build up air pressure and prime themselves for ejection. As soon as the humidity drops again, it becomes dangerous to move near a patch of mugwort.

Clusters of seeds are fired with considerable force in the direction of a source of vibration. In its native environment, the plant shoots its sap-coated seeds deep into the bodies of passing animals. The tacky sap ensures that even seeds that do not penetrate stick to fur or carapace and will be carried away, but the plant’s main intention is to wound the animal. The sap’s poison causes severe sepsis (ensuring the animal’s death) and intense thirst so the animal will search out a watering hole or other place that has abundant groundwater before dying. In this way, odds are that the animal will die and deposit the seeds in an area with enough water for the emerging mugwort plant to prosper. Many mugwort plants can be found sprouting out of the pile of bones or bony shell left over from an unwilling host.

A single large plant can fire from twenty to a hundred bursts from its pods before it is empty. The damage is dependent on range, because the seeds lose their kinetic energy quickly. At close range, ejected seeds have been found to penetrate jack or mesh, and even at thirty meters they can raise an ugly welt on unprotected skin.

A person moving within a radius of 30m from a mugwort plant will be attacked each turn on 8+, with appropriate modifiers for causing stronger vibrations, such as carrying heavy equipment or wearing servo-assisted armour. If an attack is triggered, 1D bursts will be fired at xir per turn. The plant is considered to have a DEX modifier of –2 and a “Gun Combat” skill of 0. Seeds are fired in bursts, which are treated like a burst attack by an automatic projectile weapon with an “Auto” trait of D3+1. Damage is D6 at a range of 10m, D3 at 20m and 1 at 30m, with appropriate modifiers for burst fire.

If a seed penetrates the skin (i.e., causes 2 or more points of damage – 1 point is considered a bruise but not a penetration) and is not immediately dug out and cleansed within a minute, the wound will become poisoned. The poison has an END check of DIFFICULT (10+) and does damage of 1D over an interval of 1D hours. Its side effects are fever (-2 to all actions), dehydration and a burning thirst. Victims must consume an additional two liters of water per day or suffer an additional 1D damage to their INT per interval.

Sniper Mugwort

Virenni, the original home planet of the rifle mugwort, has large desert areas dotted by oases where there is surface water. The vegetation in these spots is lush, thick and jungle-like, and certain plants evaporate the groundwater under the thick canopy of leaves to create a humid rainforest microclimate. Mugwort seeds that are carried into an oasis by a dying animal (or drop from a container in a different planet’s tropical zone) will grow into a different kind of plant from the mugwort commonly encountered in the desert.

This “sniper mugwort” has larger leaves and is less dry. Its pods are also larger and build up more pressure. The plant propagates itself by randomly scattering its seeds; since it grows in a moisture-rich environment, it does not need animals to carry them to water. The seeds are expelled with more force, since they have to slash through thick foliage, and are consequently more dangerous if they hit. They lack the poisonous coating, which makes the treatment of sniper mugwort wounds much easier.

A sniper mugwort plant will attack randomly and fire single seeds in all directions up to 30m away. The chance to be hit is actually pretty low (11+) unless the victim is within 5m of the plant (9+). Damage is 2D. The seeds hissing through the leaves and shaving the bark off trees often cause the impression that the group is under attack from a hidden sniper – which is a nerve-jarring experience that will cause a group to duck and freeze until being roused to action again with a successful DIFFICULT, INT, Leadership, SAFE roll. Realising that it is a plant and not a sniper firing at them takes a successful VERY DIFFICULT, EDU, (Gun Combat/Slug or Tactics or Survival or Science/Biology), SAFE, UNCERTAIN check. +2 is added to the roll if the group finds the projectile, although the dark, hard seeds do have the appearance of a slightly flattened bullet upon cursory examination.