Wednesday, March 13, 2013

BRP Supers: The 1861 Comet Universe

The 1861 Comet Universe

This is an incomplete campaign premise for BRP using the super powers rules, inspired by Farmer’s Wold-Newton Universe. I never got this off the ground, but some day I may yet revisit the “1861 Comet Universe.”


   A world not unlike our own, in which superhumans (called posthumans) began to appear in the first generation of children after the comet of 1861. A later period of posthuman development followed the Tunguska, Syberia event as well.

   In this world, 1 in about 5,000 humans is a posthuman, with powers enhanced by alien nanomachines that tamper with the human genome, or a subsequent alien virus which physically restructures the human DNA and turns its victims in to genetically compatible aliens with its creator species. All superhumans in this universe are therefore products of weird alien science, although some entrepreneurial normal humans have also created gadgets and tools to aid them in working with and against posthumans. By 2020 (the present year of the campaign) scientists understand the nanomachines and the virus well enough that they can synthesize and manipulate their own in human hosts, creating new posthumans tailored as they see fit.

   In the midst of this, a privately funded scientific space exploration team has reached the distant 1861 comet and discovered that it is really an alien artifact, designed to seed the Earth with its viral nanomachines, and that its creators are beings called the Yingalath. Elsewhere, secret research on the posthuman virus have revealed that it came from the Tunguska comet, and that it was created by an entirely different alien species.

   In the midst of all of this, a secret cabal of successfully altered posthumans who are now genetically a different species have recognized their imprinted heritage from the distant STL world ship of the Kin’shigar star empire, and that they are the advance force which must prepare humanity for its imminent invasion!

   In 1861, many individuals witnessed a prominent (although not spectacular) comet, known only as the comet of 1861. It was a momentous event because it was determined by observer J.R. Hind that the Earth actually passed through the tail of the comet on June 30th.

   Initially it was a simple astronomical curiosity, but within a few years the first generation of what would later be called posthumans began to appear. The comet, apparently, had somehow altered the genetic structure of infants prenatally. Pregnant women in this period had an alarming percentage of stillborn children, mutated children, and in a small but distinct percentage of births arrived genetically enhanced children.

   The first posthumans were misunderstood, regarded as enigmas and curiosities at first, until a broader awareness of the sheer diversity of posthumans became apparent. Soon, fear and and effort to control posthumans set in. By 1891, the first generation of posthumans had grown up. There was an average of 1 posthuman for ever thousand normal humans in any given population. Governments sought to control, suppress, or destroy them while individuals sought to exploit these miraculous people. The psothumans themselves were often given to widely diverse interpretations of their own gifts, which rarely manifested before the age of 16, usually within 1-3 years of reaching puberty, though a few posthumans manifested their powers much later or earlier.

   During this time, new messiahs appeared, and religious cults grew up around the men and women who displayed miraculous powers. Criminals who could withstand a barrage of artillery were subsequently lured with the promise of wealth and luxury to work for the military of one government or another, and some, manifesting at an early age, were recruited by secret societies, who sought to brainwash and control them. A handful of strong willed posthumans resisted outside efforts to control who and what they were, and became notorious vigilantes, renegades, and criminals.

   It would be decades before scientists began to understand what had happened, as humanity’s understanding of genetics worked to catch up to the mysterious nature of the posthumans, as well as the mutations and failed births. It would be even longer before an actual space voyage reached the distant comet in 2018 and discovered that the comet was an artifact of extraterrestrial origin.
   The Yingalath Comet of 1861, as it came to be known after the discovery by space explorers, was the product of an alien race from long ago, sent to earth to seed the planet with its budding sentient population with the necessary genetic x-factors to stimulate a singularity in evolution. Why these aliens saw fit to send such a unique artifact to earth as yet remains undetermined by humanity, although some souls speculate that it may have something to do with the second known extraterrestrial contact with Earth at the Tunguska, Siberia impact.

   The Tunguska impact happened in a remote region of the Syberian Wilderness in 1908, and it was unnoticed outside of some curious astronomers and researchers for decades thereafter. Because of the proliferation of posthumans already created by the 1861 comet, no one suspected that the detonation of the Tunguska comet in the atmosphere also released a new posthuman virus. It would be until the 1960s that some researchers specializing in posthuman studies began to identify two distinct mechanisms for the creation of posthumans, one a gene-altering mechanism later identified as a nanomachine, believed to have been seeded from the 1861 comet, and the second a biological virus that no one suspected came from the Tunguska comet until evidence in 1989 proved beyond a doubt that the virus had to have originated from the Tunguska region.

   The Tunguska posthuman virus did not affect the unborn, rewriting their DNA, adding evolutionary leaps and bounds to the otherwise human children. Instead, it attacked adult humans, slowly rewriting their DNA, changing those humans over time in to something completely inhuman, on a genetic level, no longer related to the terrestrial animals with which man held kinship. The virus turned men in to aliens, literally. Worse yet the virus drove them mad. These posthumans were driven by a strange insanity, a problem having to do with the way the virus restructured the human brain, turning it in to a tri-lobed cerebrum which mimicked the brain structure of the alien organism that it was attempting to recreate. Worse yet, the virus, a sophisticated creation of alien geneticists in its own right, sought to impregnate that mind with the knowledge and lore of its creator species. This information created a strange sort of schizophrenia in its hosts.

   The first of the viral posthumans manifested between 1909 and 1910, just before the Great War. The viral posthumans were thought to be a new variant of posthuman, and were regarded as far more effective supersoldiers, and a great many of them were recruited and deployed in World War I. This brought many of the viral posthumans together, giving them a chance to discover a unique trait they all shared: telepathy. Viral posthumans could sense one another, and communicate by thought. They became aware of their heritage as the inheritors of a strange alien legacy. 

Gradually, a handful of viral posthumans learned to cope with the schizophrenia of their change, and the secret truth of their origin became apparent. They were the advance soldiers of a potent cosmic race which was traveling on a world ship at slower than light speeds toward Earth. They were to pave the way for colonization when the world ship arrived.

   The viral posthumans began to unite, but adopted an approach of secrecy. Those few leaders amongst their kind realized that they were still too few to deal directly with humanity of the genetic posthumans. Moreover, they suspected that the posthumans created by the 1861 comet were caused by the meddling of another alien species which intended to thwart the aims of the viral posthumans.

   By World War II, the nature of war had changed with the use of superhumans in conflict. No matter what sort of posthuman it was, they were all valued for their unique powers in the war front. By the end of World War II, after the dropping of the atomic bomb, legislation was passed which required posthumans to register themselves in the United States and the allied nations. This created a period of tension, as many posthumans did not wish to be registered. The total numbers of posthumans had been reduced due to the enormous number killed in the war. The remaining posthumans were not being replenished as rapidly by new births of their own kind, which indeed seemed to have diminished dramatically. Many posthumans went underground after the war, and only a handful registered, agreeing to lose some of their civil rights. It would be two decades before the registration act was revoked, and the civil rights of posthumans were restored by Kennedy in 1963 after he took office. The trend continued, and some posthumans who preferred the life of vigilantes and contract mercenaries were even given police powers in some states. This was also a direct response to the increasing trouble caused by rogue posthumans who sought to use their powers for personal gain or the subjugation of normal humans.

   The period from the 60’s on up through to 2020 was a period in which posthumans became readily accepted as a part of life. The face of crime, police, poltics, war, and almost every other facet of life had been affected by the presence of posthumans. The culture of the posthumans was unique, one in which it was almost natural to adopt an identity and seek out unique ways in which to exploit one’s powers for personal gain, or the greater good as many, inspired by the dedicated vigilantes and Samaritans who felt that their powers were given specifically to help mankind. The notion of the caped crusader became a prominent theme in this period, and posthumans were everywhere.

   In 2010 the entrepreneurial posthuman Richard Lourdes used the resources of his company (Skyline Corp.) to fund the first manned outer solar system expedition, called Daedalus 1. The vessel, constructed in orbit and powered by a high efficiency fusion reactor, was set officially to explore the outer solar system, but by 2018 it had pushed outward in to the region of the Kuiper Belt, where the team of 11 researchers closed in on the 1861 comet, and began their investigation. Here, they learned that it was actually a vessel, and that it had been created by the Yingalath specifically to seed Earth with the nanomachines that created the posthumans.

   By 2020 there are many who believe that humanity has been visited by aliens on multiple occasions. There is a creature (the Hammer, Texas entity) which has been encountered by some posthumans, including Nightfall, Tachyon and Silver Ray (licensed enforcers in Texas) that appeared to be a distinct alien life form. Archaeological evidence has even been unearthed suggesting that some of the oldest myths of humanity may, in fact, reflect earlier efforts by the Yingalath or other alien species to “enhance” humanity. Indeed, there is now a popular suspicion that references to the oldest gods (Annunaki, Titans, and so forth) may in fact be references to the Yingalath. Some even suspect that these arliest gods may have been actual Yingalath voyagers who traveled to Earth millennia ago.  

   In the opening campaign, characters are members of various posthuman types and groups, who may be newly awakened to their powers or old veterans. Some characters may even have the transforming viral mutation of the Tunguska comet, instead. The future lies in wait…

Character Archetypes
   Some ideas for character archetypes in this universe include the following:

D%       Result
01-20   Newly awakened posthuman (usually age 15-18)
21-30   Veteran posthuman (been around, normal age)
31-35   Elder posthuman (posthuman from as far back as 1861)
36-37   Enigma (posthuman who appears to have come from a prior era before 1861!)
38-50   Viral posthuman-unawakened (from the Tunguska comet)
51-55   Viral posthuman-awakened but rebellious (aware of nature, working against it)
55-60   Viral posthuman-servitor (embraces his or her nature and works with it)
61-70   Enhanced human through modern Science (using viral or nanite mechanisms)
71-80   Gadget-based normal human (uses weird science or gadgetry to compete)
81-95   Skilled normal human (works to achieve perfection to compete)
96-98   True alien (visitor from the stars to Earth from an FTL culture)
99-00   Other-dimensional being (mystery entity from a different quantum dimension)

Setting Rules
   The 1861 Comet campaign uses the following rules for BRP: Mutations, psionics, and powers. All characters can be one of those listed, depending upon what they want to achieve. There is no magic in this setting.

   Characters should choose skilled packages, and do not by any stretch need to be “classic superheroes.” In this setting there are plenty of otherwise normal people who happen to be posthumans. At an average (current) ratio of 1 posthuman to 5,000 normal humans, a city with a population of 1 million will have 200 native posthumans. That means a larger metropolis like New York could have as many as 1,000 posthumans!

Tech Level
   The setting of 2020 is a futurist’s interpretation of where we will be, assuming the singularity has already happened. As a universe filled with superhumans, the 1861 comet universe has achieved some stranger, indeed some very weird science as a result of the unnatural cometary phenomena that has change humankind. This may not be a “magical” universe, but it is still definitely a pulpy comic-book universe. As such, strange gadgets, high concept big-bang science gadgets, cyberware, nanites and genetic engineering are all normal here.

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