Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The New Men

I have been re-reading 'Light' by M John Harrison (fantastic book, highly recommend it) and I am stealing his sad and grotesque 'New Men' for my Known Space Traveller setting.

Origins of the New Men

Over the course of the 21st century gene splicing in humans became a possibility. It mostly failed or had relatively minor effects (as explained here) and attempts at 'positive' genetech were banned across most of Earth, the side effects were just too cruel.

But the extra-terrestrial colonies were a bit of a free for all – the corporate states set up on asteroids within the solar system in the 22nd century made their own rules and, after they were destroyed in the Great Tax War, in systems throughout what would become the core sectors.

Known Space became aware of the New Men in the mid-23rd century when a vessel named 'Please Remove All Packaging' turned up on Captain Morgan's World and disgorged a horde of gangling red-haired, blue-eyed, clueless wierdos who immediately hit the bars, drank all the rum and coke on the planet and threw up in the gutter.

No one knows for sure who made them. Genetic analysis suggests they were engineered to adapt to some low-g, highly polluted environment and interviews with anthropologists suggest they had based their culture on intercepted TV signals from Earth and the main colony worlds. They had a high tendency towards naïve gullibility about advertising and low quality news broadcasts, a trait they have not lost, and are vulnerable to drug addiction, partly due to genetics and partly due to the disappointment of being in a civilisation where nothing ever quite matches the marketing blurb.

It is postulated that they were cloned – genetic variability amongst them is very low – to be the workforce of some hidden dystopian industrial concern and their traits were to make for easy management. Clues from 'Remove All Packaging' are non-existent. The colonial government of Captain Morgan's World tried to take possession of the ship to cover the New Men's bar tab, but the crew resisted, flew off and tried to shoot up the colony from orbit. In the ensuing space battle and pursuit the vessel was lost in the atmosphere of a gas giant.

The New Men's favourite muppet.

The New Men today

Seventy years on the New Men are present on many worlds throughout Known Space. They like highly developed worlds and are uncomfortable and nearly helpless in frontier situations where they have to show a modicum of initiative to survive. They tend to live in dense Kowloon-like rookeries often taking over old industrial plant and warehouses. Their population has mushroomed, the original few hundred have become tens of thousands in just two generations. Their birthrate is high but conspiracy theorists allege that the original batch was just 'test marketing', further boatloads have been sneaked into Known Space as illegal immigrants from their mysterious homeworld or cloned en masse by dubious government or corporations.

A few have the mental wherewithal to make a moderate success of business, more hang about in the lower echelons of organised crime, the majority have the lowest category of jobs that have yet to be successfully automated or no job at all. In some colonies discrimination against them is high, and there are campaigns to have them classified as a variety of anthropoid ape. This is justified by the fact that they are sufficiently genetically distinct from standard humans that standard human-New Man matings almost always result in genetic disabilities; technically they are a semi-species.

But it is their mental and cultural make-up that makes them really stand out, they have a weird cargo-cult mentality that if they ape the trappings of success with the latest fashions and latest tech (which they can almost never afford) they will genuinely become the attractive successful people they see on the adverts. They are so prone to believing propaganda they have bought into all the lurid conspiracy theories others have made up about them and added more than a few of their own. They even have a small religion based on their search for and reclamation of their homeworld, which in their minds of course is an amalgam of all the perfect worlds depicted on the adverts.

But they have developed a certain solidarity and take the hard knocks dished out by the rest of humanity on their weak chins. They are persistent, mostly hard working given the chance, don't ask for much out of life (which is fortunate as they don't get much) and are mostly happy with their lot. A few corporations are taking advantage of this fact and have many New Man employees (though next to none in management).

New Man characters

  • Strength -1, Endurance +1d3, Intelligence -2, Education -2, Social Standing 1d6; in addition they are limited to Athletics-1 skill die to poor lifestyle and peculiarities in their muscle structure, but they resist radiation, disease and poisoning at an additional +2 on any rolls, and any attempt to use a social skill against them will have +2 to success due to their general cluelessness.
  • Roll for a further flaw/strength (d6):
      1 – Media addiction. Cannot get through the day without the nirvana that comes from several hours of cheap trashy TV, algorithm generated pop and lowest common denominator 'news' outlets. The cleverer ones say they are watching 'ironically'.
      2 – Low cunning. Have managed to imbibe enough criminal culture and have suffered enough hard knocks that they have a sixth sense about when their lives are at risk. +1 to any Streetwise rolls, only +1 bonus to baffling them with social skills and + 1 initiative when it comes to running away from ambushes.
      3 – Loyalty. They have a boss who has their best interests at heart (some hope). Attempts to persuade them into betrayal are at -2. Still bloody fools about everything else though.
      4 – Drug addiction. Everything from alcohol to being a wirehead, and including the high tech vice of tanking (complete submersion in a full-sensorium CPRG played in sensory deprivation tanks under life support). -1d3 Endurance, -1 Strength, -1 Dexterity.
      5 – Emergency metabolism. Suffer fewer penalties from lack of food and water and exposure to cold temperatures; effectively +1 to Survival rolls, though they hate the outdoors.
    • 6 – Agoraphobia. Needs to stay indoors away from the sky and wide open spaces. May get by on the streets at night if they are very crowded and busy. Tend to live in the most crowded and junk-filled conditions possible in a kind of nest. OK with space though, looking at it through a spaceship window is too abstract for it to be real, though they wig out completely if they put on a vacc suit and actually go out into it.
  • Have a -1 DM to enlist in the following careers: Agent: Intelligence, Corporate, Citizen: Corporate, Entertainer: All, Marines: All, Scholar: All, Scouts: Courier.
  • DM -2 to enlist as Citizen: Colonist, Drifter: Barbarian, Merchant: Free Trader, Navy:Flight, Nobility:All, Scouts: Survey, Exploration.
  • Get a +1 to enlist as a Rogue: Thief, Enforcer, +2 to enlist as a Citizen: Worker.

Adventure Hooks

  • New Man drug-dealer Vernon Artery has pissed off mafioso Tony 'Legs' Macarthur for the last time. The useless twit has gone to ground in the 'Goon Box' rookery, a vast collection of cargo boxes and derelict cargo-vessels welded to the side of the orbital up-port. They all look the same to Macarthur's regular enforcers, but they ought to be easily persuaded to give him up.
  • There is hope for the New Men! Or at least there is a bit of a glimmer in the fact that they have been found by medical researchers to have a higher than usual requirement for dietary Selenium. Give them supplements and they might be a little less gormless. A control group are being given the stuff and yep, they do seem to changing a bit... but is it because they are gullible enough to believe that this is the answer to all their problems they are emulating being assertive, decisive and thoughtful, a placebo effect? Or are they (as some claim) secretly the master race and just needed to fix this one flaw in their metabolism to take over? Will it trigger heretofore unnoticed genetic switches and change them even more thoroughly, after all some other nuts claim they are a form of bioweapon designed to infiltrate humanity before destroying us.
  • Music promoter Jax 'the Jaxx' Jaxson (Dave to his mates), wants New Man musicians. They just love algorithm pop, they feel it in their very bones, their souls. They could, with the right training, actually write it, maybe better than the computers can. Get out there into NewManTown guys! Who is hip amongst them? Who is happening? Who ain't brain dead and only capable of whistling fast food chain jingles?
  • The colony of Gerisomov-Urcaria has deported all its New Men, a right-wing nut president's simple solution to public order issues. They aren't being total bastards about it, they have bought land on Saint Anne so the New Men can set up a colony of their own far away from 'normal' folks. The New Men don't do well in the countryside though, and Saint Anne has some issues with racism of its own. Will the poor boobs survive? Or will their own leader, Ned Hepatic, who seems to be more than a bit of a fascist nut himself, be able to weld them into the united 'human hive' all-conquering army he saw in his favourite episode of 'Space Trekkers'? And they certainly seem to have brought a lot of guns and cocaine seed, maybe they ain't as daft as they look.