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Eroctopi

This article originally appeared in Cepheus Journal #007 and was reprinted with permission  in the January/February 2022 issue. The Sophont Creation Card and Fillform for this alien was sent to us separately by the author, and did not appear with the original Cepheus Journal article, but did appear in the Freelance Traveller reprint.

Native to Spindrift, D769927­2, second planet out from its primary with a 20-hour day, the eroctopi are a race of intelligent eight­limbed, bilaterally symmetrical cephalopods usually between 1.5m and 2m long. Some older individuals may grow up to 4m long. Life expectancy is around 40 years. By far the largest proportion of the population prefers to live in warm, relatively shallow seas. About 10% of the population are Drifters, a somewhat larger but less intelligent nomadic subspecies who prefer deeper waters. Some 0.1% are Bleachers who like colder, more acidic water and are considered rather sly by the general populace.

Spindrift has, in the last two decades or so, seen humans arrive on the world giving it its name and a small rough and ready starport. Initial scouting expeditions gave way to research teams once the sentience of eroctopi was established. Some communication has been established with difficulty although few humans have learned the local language and few eroctopi are willing to persevere with the limitations of interspecies dialogue. More recently merchant crews have been looking for trade opportunities and some resource exploitation of the world has begun. Terminology and descriptions below are taken from human researchers’ best translations rather than trying to replicate eroctopi language.

Physical Attributes

In all sub­species the tentacles are prehensile and much of the inner surface covered in suckers which are adhesive and allow the manipulation of objects. Eroctopi have two hearts, one of which circulates blood around the body and one of which pumps it through the major gill and two minor gills. Oxygen may also be absorbed through the skin. Eroctopi can survive for up to an hour outside of water although dexterity is reduced by 1D3 under such conditions (not half as per Aquatic alien rules on p.29 of the Cepheus Engine Core Rules).

The mouth of an eroctopi is a chitinous beak (1D damage when used in attacks). Two sacs, close to the anus, inject ink and mucus into the water. The larger sac contains a black ink used defensively; the smaller sac contains coloured ink used in mating rituals.

Teuthologists have found that Eroctopi are not colour blind (unlike Terran octopuses). Also, they possess advanced stereognosis and it has been suggested that they might be employed to refine 3D printer output. There is ongoing debate amongst researchers whether the word eroctopodes would be a more accurate designation. The discussion is completely academic to the eroctopi who refer to themselves with gestures that might translate, rather grandly, to those who marshal the resources of the seas.

Communication

One of the earliest difficulties the first explorers of Spindrift encountered was the fact that eroctopi communicate via touch and, normally, use all eight tentacles to engage in rubbing, tapping, and grasping gestures. This has been difficult to replicate with just two inflexible human arms and very few have become proficient in communication with eroctopi. It is also relatively unusual for eroctopi to adjust to the more limited gestures of humans attempting interspecies dialogue, or perhaps more accurately, interspecies octoarthron.

Reproduction

Eroctopi generally live fairly solitary lives in communities of up 70 or 80. However, they will unite for a year or so to breed. Eroctopi are trioetic and require all three sexes of male, female and hermaphrodite for the fertilization of eggs. This is process is not well understood by humans as it has been little studied. What is known is that it is more complicated still in that several of each sex come together in mating balls which can last for a day or more. The coloured ink that eroctopi can discharge are known to be instrumental in the ‘courtship’ of acceptance into a mating ball. The female lays strings of up to a thousand eggs some three months later and are these are protected by all three parentals. The eggs hatch a year later at which time they are abandoned and the parentals will separate and go back to their individual lives. The newly hatched eroctopi are easy prey for other sea creatures and few will survive to adulthood; those that do become mature at four years.

Government

“Government” is perhaps too strong a word for reasonably individualistic creatures who would rather debate and reach a general consensus than impose their will on others. Spindrift might be considered balkanized as there is no overarching “world government” but the various and numerous communities across the planet do in fact keep in touch with each other and their culture, as well as a relatively minimal set of ‘laws’, are fairly homogenous in the entire population. On a regional level various ‘senates’ congregate and are formed from any eroctopi who care to participate. These are not fixed locations but will take place wherever seems appropriate at the time. In general, factions will develop around certain issues. Examples are given in the adventure linked below. These factions are amorphous, ill­defined and usually quite transient. For important issues senates can be large assemblages with everyone in loose contact with their neighbours.

Law Level

Law level is relatively high but this is by custom rather than enforcement. In general, eroctopi are community-minded and while they can be skilled hunters are seldom prone to violence against other sophonts. Weapons, for example, would almost never been seen in senates and blowdarts are used by those on serious hunts rather than casual meal acquisition. Such enforcement as might be necessary is by a senate-sponsored group of eroctopi – perhaps half a dozen – put together for a particular matter of concern. If the matter is larger, more groups would be temporarily assigned.

Disease

Eroctopi can sometimes (1 chance in 36 per year) be infected by trematodes which cause skistosomnamulus, a sleeping disorder. Those affected can sleep up to fourteen hours a day – although not necessarily in one dormant period. Interval 1D6 weeks.

Statocysts, sac like structures in their bodies, are sensitive to changes in gravity and eroctopi are generally intolerant of space travel unless artificial gravity plates are finely tuned (Engineering, Education, 1D6 kiloseconds, Difficult) and stable. Without this, eroctopi aboard spaceships and starships will experience a grav sickness which causes STR ­1, DEX ­2, and INT ­2 for the duration of the travel or Interval: 1D days at Referee’s discretion. However, in zero­g they are able to orient themselves quickly and receive a DEX +2 bonus on top of any characteristic Dexterity bonus.

Technology

Eroctopi technology is barely recognizable to humans. Transport is via “muscle fish” (or “kvart”), 12m long eel­like creatures which several Eroctopi may ride using harnesses attached to fleshy protrusions. Records are kept via quipu­like strands and knots of string seaweed. Lighting is provided by lengths of worms bred to excrete blue-tinged lumichrome compounds. Distant communication is via a pony­express-like system of eroctopi who dedicate themselves to the job and are honoured for their role in society.

Armour and Weapons

Costs and weight are notional as eroctopi would typically barter for items and the weight is on land which would rarely be the case.

Armour TL AR Cost Mass Skill Required
Blubber 1 6 (but DEX –1) Cr100 3kg  
Scales 1 4 Cr200 1kg  
Shell 0 10   varies  

Blubber: Segments of treated kvart flesh worn like a carapace but bulky and reducing dexterity.

Scales: Armour crafted from large iridescent fish scales that protect the wearer and, in certain light conditions of the shallows, dazzle the attacker.

Shell: Eroctopi can use large discarded mollusc shells as armour and as a way of retreating from combat.

Weapon TL Cost Mass Range Damage Type LL
Shell 0   100g Melee (close quarters) 1D3 B A
Razor Shell 0 Cr50 100g Melee (close quarters) 1D S 9
Long Shell 0 Cr100 150g Melee (extended reach) 2D S/P 8
Pike 1 Cr40 2kg Melee (extended reach) 1D+3 P 8
Blowdart 2 Cr200 3kg Ranged (blowdart) 2D P 7

Shell: A simple shell with bulk used for bludgeoning prey or opponents.

Razor shell: A sharp edged shell which may or may not be fitted with sponge or blubber on one side to make handling easier.

Long shell: The bill of a benthic burr used rather like a sword.

Blowdarts: Made from the stiffened intestines of kvarts and loaded with barbed urchin spines. Range underwater 5 m, RoF 1.

Costs of shells represent the difficulty of finding one more than any intrinsic value.

Eroctopi with DEX 10+ may use two weapons in different tentacles.

Art

Coral art is a popular creative outlet and was how humans first discovered eroctopi were sentient creatures. Artists are adept at causing the right types of algae to grow on the coral in order to release a variety of sugars that produce stunning colouration and patterns. Some efforts to generate human tourism visits to the best examples have been popular.

There is considerable artistry displayed in the scale armour which skilled artisans create. Blowdart range is a maximum which is only achieved by the finest lacquer layers. A typical ‘homemade’ blowdart may only have a range of 3­4m.

Eroctopi are very fond of what translate as pithy sayings but endeavour to encapsulate some part of their cultural wisdom. Much history is handed down via storytelling.

Fauna

Assume a vast variety of ocean (shallow, open, deep) flora and fauna. Two examples of the latter:

Benthic Burr
12kg, Pouncer (Carnivore), Deep Ocean Swimmer, 3C11A2, #App: 1
Melee Combat (slashing weapons) 2, Survival 1, Tactics 1, Athletics 0, Recon 0
Sword (2D), Teeth (1D); Scales (1); Speed: 6m

Kvart (or Muscle Fish)
800kg, Filter (Herbivore), Open Ocean Swimmer, KAP088, #App: 4
Athletics 1, Recon 0, Survival 0
Thrashing (3D); Hide (5); Speed: 12m

Character Generation

Adventures on Spindrift with only eroctopi characters are entirely possible. In more standard games, PC eroctopi could be created but some careful consideration by both player and referee should be given to how this would integrate into any typical adventuring group. At the very least some accommodation would be necessary on a starship and even a tank the size of a stateroom would be considered very cramped quarters for a single sophont. Also, see note on artificial gravity and zero­g in the section “Disease”, above.

Roll characteristics as normal with the following modifiers but a minimum of 1:

Eroctopi Character Generation: Characteristic Modifiers
  STR DEX END INT EDU SOC
Common Eroctopi -1 +2 -1 +1    
Drifters +2 +2   -2 -2 -2
Bleachers -1 +1 +1 +2    

Appropriate skills: Advocate, Animals, Athletics, Bribery, Carousing, Farming, Gambling, Gun Combat (blowdart), Jack­of­all­Trades, Leadership, Linguistics (but use Arthristics), Liaison, Medicine, Melee Combat, Navigation, Recon, Sciences, Steward, Streetwise (but use Waterwise), Tactics (all common Eroctopi and Bleachers receive this at level 1 and Zero­G. Comms is a skill unique to those who devote themselves to transporting messages or recording history on quipu.

Appropriate careers: Athlete, Agent (particularly for Bleachers), Barbarian, Colonist, Diplomat, Drifter, Entertainer, Hunter, Maritime Defence, Merchant, Physician, Scientist, Scout, and Technician. More strictly that latter might be a biotechnician or even ‘biologist’.

Terms start at age 12. Aging sets in at 24, i.e., the end of the third term.

Adventure Seeds

  1. A trio of egg watching eroctopi who dwell at the outer edges of a community are being predated by a sea creature that is new to the area. They, and perhaps some neighbours, need to locate the creature and either destroy it or find a way of moving it to another area. The creature may not be alone.
  2. A team of eroctopi scouts is put together to explore an unknown region of the ocean as potential for an ever expanding population to dwell in, or for resource exploitation. As well as the flora, fauna and natural events they encounter, they find there is a hitherto unknown subspecies of eroctopi in the area.
  3. A teuthologist has been murdered in its bulb; very unusual in the eroctopi community. Her last communication in a senate was that it was researching cephalopod colour variations and had found an interesting anomaly in an undersea volcano well outside of inhabited areas. A group of eroctopi are tasked with investigating.
  4. A small group of Bleachers have gathered together to try to force the common eroctopi to do their bidding. They plan to set up a more formal government with themselves as leaders naturally. Their justification is a rising population which will soon overwhelm available resources. When their force starts becoming lethal, a senate details off half a dozen eroctopi to first reason with the Bleachers and, if necessary, use retaliatory force to stop them. The players could be eroctopi on either side of this conflict.

For a human adventure using this world and these sophonts, see: https://amber.zone/2021/04/22/amber-zone-spindrift . This could in turn be one stopover world in Larshon’s quest to find sophont cephalopod life in PoetrySue’s The Githiaskio Mystery