Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Molch Vornid War

One of the many body forms that Molch "extensions" take

The Molch Vornid War is an ongoing, localized conflict outside the boundaries of any of the great spacefaring races, in the FUZ (Fifth Unincorporated Zone). The Molch, a peaceful and intellectual, but physically hideous race, have long provided the sentients of the galaxy with thought provoking philosophical tracts. Be this as it may, they have nonetheless attracted the unkind attention of the sentient Vornids, botanoids (plant creatures) who, apparently on religious grounds, are incapable of tolerating the extreme ugliness of the Molch and are conducting a holy war to “cleanse” planet Molch of its occupants.

A Vornid commander

Invading Molch in force, despite its considerable distance from Vornus, and setting up fortified bases on the planet, the Vornids initially conducted ghastly sweeps in which they annihiliated the peaceful Molch who naively came to greet them as friends.

But soon it became apparent that the Vornids had started a fight rather than a massacre, for the Molch, when given no choice but to defend themselves, are capable of just that, conducting tenekinetic and psychic attacks of startling destructive power.

The Molch also proved more difficult to eradicate than anyone had anticipated – while the details are still unknown even to the friends of the Molch, each individual creature seems to be a physical “extension” of one or more vast beings which reside at the core of the planet itself (or, at least, somewhere under its surface). When a Molch extension becomes elderly, it disappears into certain designated caves called life-portals and soon thereafter another Molch extension emerges, unlike the first and fully mature (there are no Molch children, nor do they appear to be separated by gender). Thus, as long as a Molch extension, living or “dead,” is capable of being transported into one of these caves, it will soon emerge as a new extension. In this way many sectors which seemed “cleansed” by Vornid attacks were in short order heavily populated by Molch again, aimlessly wandering about and chatting amongst themselves, as they are wont to do.

And so at first the Molch seemed quite capable of defending themselves against the Vornids, who had opened this campaign with very aggressive tactics, sweeping straight down on Molch population centers in their slaver galleys and engaging the Molch at point blank range -- the very range at which Molch psychic blasts were at their most devastating, ripping Vornid troopers to pieces or turning them inside out, their slaver galleys brought down in flames. And at their command, certain types of Molch were able to animate stone into vaguely human form (the form they had long ago noted to be most effective for close combat). These towering stone constructs, the Molch Defenders, had only one purpose -- hammering the foes of the Molch – and they never slowed or tired in its pursuit. Although they could be destroyed with enough firepower, the Defender-construct battalions were phenomenally resistant, and utterly terrifying foes in close combat.

But the Vornids rapidly adapted their tactics around the strengths of their hated race-enemy, as was their way. Now they take to opening battle by bombarding Molch population aggregations from space, then move the slaver galleys in to conduct long-range direct fire from nape of earth, often many kilometers away, bringing the devastating power of the mighty ventral rifles to bear, and closing in only when many Molch have been “killed” and Defender-constructs smashed into pieces. This has proved to be a very effective tactic and evens the score in the resulting close quarters battle.

Not achieving the instant victory they had anticipated, the Vornids supplemented their own expeditionary crusading army by hiring large numbers of mercenaries from far and wide, a rogues’ gallery of pugnacious alien regiments exploited as cannon fodder but also at times hired for their specialist combat skills. Kark and Stick regiments served the Vornids in large numbers, using their native vehicle technology to carry the fight to the Vornids. Felids also joined the fight, sub-contracted by the Garn reptilians who are the overlords of the Felids and who have close economic relations with the Vornids. Indeed the Molch-Vornid War is just one of the many campaigns the Felids have had to endure when they have no enthusiasm for the fight and no love for their employers. As one Felid wrote back to his cub, “there is no honour in making war in this way, my imravi … using long range firepower to blast peaceloving creatures … making war upon animated stone machines … serving detestable, emotionless creatures which sway like the weeds in the breeze, stink like a bog, and have no faces. This war wears us down, imravi, but heed my words -- disloyalty to our masters, those who rose us up, would be more dishonourable still.”

The Vornids quickly came to the conclusion that the key to victory was destroying or at least neutralizing the Molch life-portals, striking at the mysterious underground “essence” that generated the individual Molch. And with each battle they are gradually achieving his goal, establishing bases closer and closer to the life-portals, although at bitter cost. Detest it though they may, soon the embattled Molch had to consider adopting some of the methods of their Vornid enemies – by spreading it out to other races, reaching out, somehow, to someone who might help them to preserve the Molch essence that continuously dwelt below the surface for millions of years.

But how? Contact with the humans, their faraway spiritual allies, was impossible due to the extreme human reaction to the Molch physical appearance, which invariably brings insanity with long enough exposure. And only through the humans, with their vast net of contacts and communications, could they hope to approach other races to seek out help.

The Essence pondered this question, and then came to a conclusion – it would create a new kind of extensions, these to be shaped like the humans, which would hopefully be at least tolerable so that humans and Molch could communicate in close proximity. And it set about attempting to generate such extensions, at first bringing to being many that were wholly unsatisfactory, and had to be folded back into the Essence. It was a grave expenditure of energy and thought at a time that this could be ill-afforded, but finally, with the crucial help of one selfless human philosopher who traveled to Molch and gave her sanity so that the Essence might better understand human physicality, extensions began to emerge which vaguely resembled human life forms. They had no tenekinetic powers, and were thus unable to defend themselves. As a wholly new variety of extension, they did not have much of the wisdom of the Essence, and were often na├»ve and fearful, and the Essence fretted over them. These new extensions were indeed still hideous to human eyes but at least were not madness-inducing to gaze upon and communicate with, and they conquered their fear and feelings of vulnerability, traveling out alone, spreading far and wide, seeking human help wherever they could find it. They called themselves the Molch Emissaries.

And these kindly, hideous creatures achieved their goals, and human help came.

Billions had read, heard or digi-grated the philosophy of the Molch and taken it into their hearts, and were willing to tolerate the nausea-inducing appearance of the Molch Emissaries in order to save the wise and kind spirit that had generated them. Forbidden by federal law to serve as mercenaries, the humans either arranged for the Molch to hire alien mercs, or served themselves, outside the law. Entire battalions were formed, some idealistic volunteers, others mercenaries hired by human donation, purchasing their arms from Mercanto-Dett Military Solutions, the great multiplanetary corporation based on New Australia, or from the black market, these being mostly Nova Respublik weapons and vehicles. In coordinating the actions of these human battalions with the overall Molch defense, the Emissaries proved their worth again, acting as communications links between the humans and the Molch, who the volunteers could not set eyes upon without going mad.

Human financial contributions also hired Kark regiments to assist the Molch, and these fought well, sometimes against their own kind, bringing their native-designed vehicles with them.

Combattants of the Molch Vornid War, seen to scale -- a Felid, an Ursid and a Molch Defender-construct

Further allies and mercenaries came to the Molch almost by accident. Perhaps the best example of this was those famed Armadilloid gunfighters, “los Viejos,” who were at first approached by the Vornids to serve as mercenaries but upon hearing the grisly details promptly killed the Vornids and traveled to join the Molch side. While they were not pleased by the appearance of the Molch, they served right amongst them, often acting as an elite close-range fireteam, for it is said that los Viejos never miss a target they fire at with their dreaded plasma sixguns.

Another example of such a fortuitous alliance involved the Ursids, massive, phlegmatic creatures who have been exiled from their Federal homeworld and now travel the galaxy selling their services to the highest bidder. The Ursids love a good brawl and bring daunting firepower to bear – their standard armament is a BPFG (bear-portable fusion gun) which can crack open a heavy tank at long range. First sub-subcontracted by the Felids, the Ursids immediately took a disliking to the conflict and particularly to the Vornids, and at the first opportunity changed sides, working for less than their normal wage, which was to be paid by human donations. The Ursids have become accustomed to the appearance of the Molch, although like virtually all sentients they find them to be disturbing to be around for too long a time.

Regarding the war itself, the Molch are, as always, philosophical. They seem to take it almost in stride that the Vornids are fanatically seeking their destruction, and have even published poignant tracts in which they plead with other sentients not to judge the Vornids too harshly for their actions. This does not mean, however, that they permit the Vornids to destroy them or penetrate the secrets of their subterranean essence, and the fight goes on, with no quarter on either side.

One thing the Molch truly do fear, however, is that this war will eventually draw the attention of the Cult of Andromeda, as local wars often do, as flies are drawn to a corpse. About this the Molch are very clear – the Cult presents an existential threat and is never, under any circumstances, to be suffered to survive. Few creatures have pondered the universe and the nature of existence as continuously as the Molch, and so few can appreciate the nightmare that can be unleashed by Andromeda and her followers.

Our first codes for the combatants in the Molch-Vornids War are in fact already available – the Molch themselves, released as Lovecraftian intergalactic terrors in our popular 1930s Eldritch Horror range. The models were however specifically made to represent the various types of Molch “extensions,” including the vaguely humanoid, although still disgusting, Molch Emissaries, who can be used as command liasions between the Molch and their various allies. To be released very soon will be the (literally) heartless Vornid pirates, the big, even-tempered Ursid mercenaries, and the big animated-stone Defender constructs. Soon after those we will release the armadilloids called “Los Viejos,” the deadliest shots in the known universe – death in a sombrero. Stay tuned for more information.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Federal Review of Sentient Xeno-Biology: the Vornids

Perhaps the strangest of all the sentients in known space are the Vornids, commonly called “slavers” or “pirates” because they often engage in piracy or raiding for the primary purpose of seizing other sentients to sell in the galactic slave market. They inhabit a chain of heavily fortified colony pods on the mid-level belts of the gas giant Vornus 5, and also live, sometimes temporarily, in many colonies and outposts in outlying star systems. They possess sophisticated technology and are capable of FTL travel.

Vornids are the only known sentient botanoids capable of fairly rapid movement. They transport themselves using a series of motor-vines emanating from the base of the body trunk, and are also capable of precise manipulation using mid-trunk manipulator-vines. They are capable of obtaining energy by both consuming other life-forms just as animals (and some plants) do, or by more conventional photosynthesis. They “see” by continuously emitting spores from a single “eye” on top of the body trunk, which return information to the individual. While radically different from the senses of most sentient animals, this system evidently produces roughly equivalent awareness of the creatures’ surroundings.

Because of the unlikely physical nature of the Vornids, the prevailing theory amongst federal scientists is that, rather than evolving into this form, they were engineered. One possibility is that the Vornids were created as a race of slavers by an imperial race which no longer exists, or has yet to reveal itself. The Vornids’ social interactions with other sentient races are limited to raiding, piracy, trade in slaves and goods (putting slaves into the market and taking raw materials and finished goods from it), and banking, which is a thriving business for them. Due to their active engagement in slavery the Federation has criminalized any form of trade or financial transaction with the Vornids, including use of their galactically-famed banking system, but alien civilisations (and less scrupulous Freeholds) are actively engaged with the Vornids on all levels.

No matter what the level of engagement may be, however, until recently there were no species of animal sentients in known space which had any significant level of comprehension of Vornid motives, biology or society. They remained a mystery even to the Garn, who heavily employ the no-questioned-asked Vornid banking services, and the Karkarines, who often act as interpreters and go-betweens for the Vornids.

Their motives may not be known, but their methods are. When on raids, the Vornids appear on a planetary surface in force, relentlessly driving sentients before their implacable advance. Their large Slaver Galleys skim rapidly along, hugging the surface, huge barbed grabber-vines dangling down, embracing any unfortunates in their path and stuffing them into expanding trap-bladders on the bottom of the Galley. Any creature that enters these trap-bladders cannot escape or be rescued unless it is released by the Vornids themselves, as species-specific toxins are released into the trap-bladder when any attempt is made to open them.

The great Slaver Galleys also function as combat transports for the Vornids, each Galley being able to carry a squad on a dorsal troop platform, into the surface of which the squad is able to root itself securely, using their motor vines. The Galley mounts its own firepower, a huge ventral rifle of formidable power, capable of destroying a heavy tank with a single shot, as well as two deck guns manned by Vornid crew. These deck gunners are the only crew apparent on a Slaver Galley, and so it seems that the Galleys are themselves living creatures, because they maneuver and also fire the ventral rifle when no Vornids are seen aboard.

Vornid infantry squads are made up of the basic troopers with their trichome rifles, which propel multiple stingers at great speed. These stingers appear to be guided by the shooter, as they swerve and strike at targets that are out of direct line of sight, making their shooting attacks unusually effective. Over time the stingers adapt to take advantage of the genetic peculiarity of their targets. Depending on the susceptibility of the targeted species the stingers can cause rapid death, temporary immobilization or, in the most resistant species, only mild irritation. The most common human response is incapacitating pain, although multiple attacks can lead to cardiac arrest. The trichome rifle is suited for use solely by the Vornids themselves, and should not be handled under any circumstances as the weapon self-envenomates upon contact with animal tissue.

Vornid troopers apparently need to use both of their manipulator-vines to shoot the trichome rifle, although Vornid commanders, recognizable from their ventral thorns, wield a small pistol-like version of the rifle in one manipulator-vine, leaving the other free for other purposes.
The largest weapons carried by Vornid infantry are the thorn cannon and the heavy trichome gun. The thorn cannon has considerable anti-armour capability and is able to penetrate the battle dress of Federal SAB troopers. The heavy trichome gun is essentially a cognate of Federal squad automatic weapons, being capable of longer ranges and a much higher rate of sustained fire than the trichome rifle. These heavier weapons can either be carried by some troopers in infantry squads, or in their own units.

As botanoids, the Vornids are extremely tough and exceptionally difficult to kill in battle, particularly because most weaponry in use amongst the major powers has been developed for purposes of incapacitating animal life forms. They also do not seem to experience fear or panic, and as such proven combat tactics often do not yield the expected results. Whilst Vornids are relatively agile for botanoids, they are still not as fast or maneuverable as most animal sentients. However, they are capable of digging their motor-vines into the earth and are extremely difficult to expel from a position.

It is impossible for animal sentients to communicate with the Vornids unless they provide a V-trans device, which is worn on a sentient’s forehead and permits the wearer to understand simple communications from a nearby Vornid also wearing a V-trans device. In this way the Vornids have very effectively controlled and limited alien understanding of their communications. In fact, until the Molch-Vornid War, nothing was known of Vornid motives or racial goals at all. This war, the only one launched by the Vornids for purposes other than slaving, shed the first light on the Vornid racial consciousness, perhaps permitting Federal scientists to rationally speculate about how the Vornids might react when faced by certain challenges. But what we still have much to learn about this mysterious race.

Part II will summarize the start of the Molch-Vornid War.

The Vornids will be released soon, in three packs -- the warrior pack of eight different poses, the heavy weapons pack with two thorn cannoneers and two heavy trichome guns, and the command pack with two low-level commanders and a high commander. Each pack contains sprues for the Vornid's mouths, half open and half closed, but there are some extra mouth pieces in case you have some preference. Also in the pack are accessory sprues with flowers, leaves, and other growths that can be commonly seen on many Vornids. These are purely optional and may be left off. Also released with the Vornids will be the Molch Defenders, huge stone creations used by the Molch to defend themselves, and the Ursids, cigar-chomping bearman mercenaries who carry heavy fusion guns into battle. A little further down the line will be the huge Vornid Slaver Galley, and vehicles used by the Karks when they perform mercenary service on their own.

Those of you who have been following the discussion on TMP will know that the Molch themselves are the creatures already released as "Thing from Beyond" in our new Eldritch Horror line -- they were originally made as the Molch, peaceful and intellectual but hideous creatures, but they are being crossmarketed as Eldritch nightmares too. Stay tuned for more delvelopments.