Lugh’s comment on The Evil of Eugenics plot-a-day inspired me to write up a plot-a-day for Genetic Engineering. Lugh basically suggested that wizards created monsters in genetic experiments as a weapon against an undead horde, which is a nice and modern take on the origin of those creatures.
Genetic Engineering is really a staple of fiction by now. It usually goes horribly wrong, unleashing monsters or designer plagues on mankind. The sort of story you would associate with Genetic Engineering roots in Frankenstein and encompasses a lot of Post-Apocalyptic fiction; at the high end an unstoppable virus has become a popular alternative to global thermonuclear war for the purpose of destroying Earth to allow for such a setting or story.
Ignoring the total destruction of human society – which is usually a setting choice rather than a plot device – Genetic Engineering can be used in many ways in your adventures or stories.
The evil villain is breeding an army of unstoppable mutants – usable in (almost) any campaign and setting. The player characters need to stop him from unleashing that army. Perhaps the villain is already using some of his creations to terrorize the nation or to assassinate politicians that stand in his way. Even the Aliens movie franchise could be seen as a variation of this idea (and indeed, Alien Resurrection picks up on that theme).
Genetically engineered plants and creatures often feature in the colonization of other planets; realistically, Mars could be terraformed with their help. And you know what may happen next, of course – the plants used begin to mutate, the animals go crazy, and some may even develop intelligence. Depending on your setting this could result in anything from man-eating insects to a full exotic and alien ecosystem. Jungles on Mars! But that is setting. The players may have to investigate why colonists in an outlaying mining town disappear, and then find a way to exterminate the smart bugs, or they may even have to protect the new Martian ecosystems from an evil Colonial Authority that attempts to eradicate the “mistake”.
A lone mutant runs rampant in a city, and the PCs have to stop him.
Genetically-modified humans are patented and used as a slave labor force by an evil corporation.
According to urban legend, Stalin wanted to breed human-ape crossbreeds to be used as soldiers. While there seems to have been little to this, at least one Russian scientist was conducting experiments to that end. No matter what the purpose, such experiments pass as unethical by today’s standards, and the PCs might have to look into a scientist who is doing follow-up experiments of the same nature. Or it could lead to a Planet of the Apes scenario.
In general, genetically-modified pets may go on a rampage.
A corporation on a distant colony world / in a dystopian future controls the world’s grain because it genetically engineered it in such a way that it is not viable after the first generation. Each year, the farmers have to buy new grain from said corporation which is abusing this monopoly more and more. The antagonists need to step in and end this injustice once and for all.
Genetic engineering is usually portrayed as “evil”, but it doesn’t need to be. A good, easy twist would be to offer a genetically engineered vaccine that is the only thing that can save mankind from a mutated plague; or a certain type of genetically modified grain that could solve a famine. If the producer of these is then less than clean – say, they also use their products for “evil” things – that sort of plot could offer a good amount of conflict of interests.
To cover another cliche: It’s not people who are behind the genetic experiments, it’s aliens. This can easily become zany, too, if you combine it with any sort of whacky conspiracy theory. Then twist it around and set it in a High Fantasy world.
There are surely countless other ideas, but that’s what I can come up with for now.
Asteroids. Big lumps of rock and metal floating in the endless void of space. The Dawn probe is about to enter orbit around Vesta, where it will stay a year before moving on to Ceres.
So I was wondering: What can you actually do with Asteroids? They seem pretty useless, but here are some ideas:
Prisons: Try to escape from a ball of rock a few hundred kilometers in diameter, literally out in the middle of no-where. Good luck.
Mining: Some asteroids contain valuable metals or minerals or even tiny primordial black holes, and could be a source of conflict if more than one party claims them.
Warfare: Use them as a military base or crash them into a planet. It ensured victory over the dinosaurs.
Secret hideout: Pirates, spies, alien invaders, mad scientists, religious fanatics, the Space Mafia, rich eccentrics, anybody who wishes to remain out of the limelight for a while may set up shop on an asteroid.
Space ship: Hollow them out, put in quarters and a big drive system, and ride a chunk of rock to the stars. In theory you could even use the rock of the asteroid itself as reaction mass.
Waystation: Use it as a refueling and resupplying depot on your way to the outer system, or assemble your first FTL ship using that asteroid as a base.
Monuments: What better place for the grave of your early space heroes than an asteroid cemetary?
Natural Hazard: Very dense asteroid belts might actually pose a hazard to spaceships. The asteroid belt in the Solar System doesn’t; but it’s a staple of Space Operae to posit belts where asteroid tumble about chaotically and close enough to each other to constantly bump into one another. If a belt is created within the story’s timeframe, say by destroying a planet, it could become a new hazard to hyperspace lanes or what have you.
Doomsday: In fiction, asteroids have a habit of constantly crashing into Earth or other inhabited planets. The players could either be helpless to stop it, and need to deal with a society gone wild in expectation of doomsday, or are heroic heroes that get sent into space to help Bruce Willis blow up that approaching menace.
Mystery: Back in the days, people thought the asteroids might be the left-over of a fifth planet that was ripped apart. They don’t have enough mass, among other things, so this seems no longer plausible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true in your fictional universe – and it might be the origin of asteroid belts in other systems. The players could hunt for artifacts from the fifth planet, prevent a similar fate from befalling Earth, could encounter Aliens in cold sleep, survivors from the catastrophe; or they could travel back in time to prevent the disaster (or, in a twist, cause the disaster in the first place to keep the timeline intact).
What other uses could asteroids have in adventures? How have you used asteroids in your games or stories?
Here’s another idea for a plot which would work great for both fiction and RPG sessions.
Michael Persinger, a Neuroscientist, investigated a case in which a teenager reported that she received nocturnal visits from ghosts. The scientists were called in at the request of the mother, and determined that a clock close to the girl’s head combined with a mild brain injury she had received as a baby caused the hallucinations. The clocks was removed, and the “visitations” stopped.
The article in the Scientific American goes into greater detail, especially on follow-up experiments designed to determine scientific causes for sightings of the “supernatural”, including experiments to test whether a person who wants to see a ghost is more susceptible to such causes and thus more likely to “see” a ghost.
This would work well in a setting in two ways; you can either take the “ghost baby” story and turn it into an investigation (and, since an electric clock is probably very anticlimactic, you may wish to use the devil / evil spirits / space aliens as the cause), or you could take the scientific experiments in general to kick-start a campaign. The investigators either come to delve into the “true supernatural” (Ghostbusters did it, why not you?) as a consequence of their inquiries or they uncover pranksters or frauds who may even be making a great deal of money off of the unsuspecting. The later works especially well if your players actually do expect ghosts.