Monday, December 17, 2018

Uplifts for Mothership

Uplift is a can of worms that nears AI in terms of ethical quandaries, and just like AI society all ran headfirst into it, damn the consequences.

Fallout ensues, but not the big-picture, existential fallout involved in AI. The little, pernicious fallout. Racism and class struggles and all those ugly little ways the rich keep the poor at each others' throats.

Uplifts generally fall into three categories:
  • Under the thumb of the Company that created them.
  • Independent of the Company, integrated into human civilization.
  • Independent of the Company and human civilization; part of their own society.
Patrons of uplift tend to fall into these:
  • Corporate  (Do this because it will make us money.)
  • Scientific (Do this to learn how it all works.)
  • Philosophical (Do this because it is the right thing to do.)
Patrons' ethical stances (and ability to live up to them) vary greatly.

Great Apes

Chimpanzees were the first successful uplifts, followed shortly thereafter by gorillas and orangutans. They are the most numerous of uplifts, but have unfortunately because they have not been as successful in their independence movements as other uplifts and have remained mostly under corporate control.

The Simian Independence Movement (SIM) has taken a beating from corporate counter-action in recent years (restrictive legislation passed in the wake of violent protests pulling the lion's share) While there are dreams of revitalizing the movement and distant plans for the construction of an all-ape habitat, for now most of the great apes have sided with the spacer's unions.

Stat Bonuses: +10% strength
Saves: Sanity 30 / Fear 30 / Body 30 / Armor 30
Stress & Panic: May re-roll a panic table result if another Great Ape is nearby.
Starting Skills: As teamster.


Second successful uplifts, second most populous, but the first to declare species self-rule and name a homeworld (Quincy's Moon, now christened Ks!!ssi*csi**k). Dolphins possess a small spacefleet of their own, and they and their ships are commonly hired out to Companies (dolphins make exceptionally good navigators and technicians). Early uplift models toyed with re-introducing legs to the bodyplan, but this was abandoned for robotic harnesses.

Stat Bonuses: +10% intellect
Saves: Sanity 30 / Fear 30  / Body 35 / Armor 25
Stress & Panic: Can help another crewmate reroll a fear save 1/session.
Starting Skills: Computers, Mathematics, Echolocation (+15%), +3 pts.


No one has taken to life in space better than octopi. No bones to worry about, eight arms that can work on their own, the ability to squeeze through the tiniest spaces, and no issues with isolation. Even post-uplift, octopi are antisocial bastards (unless they've gotten into the psychedelics).

The asocial nature of octopi means that there's not much to speak of in terms of in terms of octopus culture or society, outside of a few small clades engineered with sociability in mind. Most will put in their time, buy off their debts, and head out on their own.

Stat Bonuses: +10% intellect
Saves: Sanity 60 / Fear 70 / Body 20 / Armor 20
Stress & Panic: Lose 5 HP on failing a panic save to autocannibalistic stress atavism.
Starting Skills: Camouflage (+20%), Tight Squeeze (+20%), +2 pts.


No one knows how crows got uplifted, and the crows aren't telling. They've spread through the cosmos like bushfire, free of any corporation or government. They are half again as cunning as you think they are, and keep their secrets close to the murder.

A friendly crow grants a +15% on checks involving intellect or technical problem solving.


The resurrection and uplift of elephants was part of one of the finest cybercrimes in human history. The genome in its entirety had been bought up by a Sino-American trademark-squatter soon after their initial extinction and left fallow - the 'company' was just an AI waiting to litigate anyone else who tried to bring them back from extinction. Almost a century later, hackers affiliated with the Life Without Chains eco-activist group managed to track down the company, crack open its data storage, and make out with the blueprints (Operation: The Lobotomy to Save Jumbo)

Shortly thereafter, a terribly fortuitous and entirely legally binding mistake saw a newly-scouted gaian world donated to the week-old "Help for Troubled Trunks" charity.

A few years later, the elephants had returned. The anarchist communes responsible for the resurrection check in from time to time, but mostly leave the elephants be. It seems to be going well.

You are not likely to interact with an elephant.


Uplifted whales have a problem: they're fucking huge. Planetside populations tend to be stuck in the ocean, and those in orbital habitats need significantly more space than most settlements can spare. Floater variants genengineered for the upper atmospheres of gas giants are currently being tested, but have yet to see actual usage.

This hasn't stopped them from carving out a niche in interstellar civilization - their gigantic brains (coupled with their cetacean affinity for calculation) lead many to serve as pilots, navigators, and science crew - linking themselves up as a go-between the ship's AI and the human crew.

Such whales till typically remote-operate an android as needed.

Stat Bonuses: +10% Intellect
Saves: Sanity 40 / Fear 40 / Body 30 / Armor 20
Stress & Panic: Loss of connection with proxy trigger fear save for all crew present.
Starting Skills: Computers, Mathematics, Piloting, +2 pts


Three alien species within the 50 LY margin are considered prime candidates for uplift, with maybe a half dozen more on the short list. No official attempts at uplift of these creatures has yet been made. Unofficial...well, one never can tell. Most people will say it's inevitable, but the how, when, and "will it be a disaster?" are yet to be seen.

Radio Trees

Prosperity, Alpha Centauri 

More animal than plant. Can be found clustered around the small, salty watering holes of Prosperity. Adults stand ~ 1.2 - 3.4 meters in height. Rubbery outer skin is uneven horizontal stripes (white and black) and resistant to the elements. Six-legged stump capable of burrowing into soil to hibernate until next wet season or migrating to nearby water source. Strings of light, heat, and pressure sensors line trunk. Yellow-orange fronds at the top are extensions of shortwave radio broadcast organ, maximum range ~20 km. Highly communicative, individual specimens have demonstrated excellent memory. Well-documented account of communities passing messages between two mated individuals relocated over two hundred miles apart. No known predators, symbiotic relationship with local fliers (directed via broadcast) for aid in long-distance mating. Currently on extinction watchlist due to air toxicity and radio pollution.


Tormance, Arcturus

Highly-social endotherms.  Flat, circular body with mouth on bottom and four eyes around rim. Eight arms with manipulators (2 between each pair of eyes), plus four brightly colored membranous wings for gliding and intimidating rivals (name given because wings at rest look akin to a mitre) ~1.3m in height when adult. Highly social, highly aggressive. Tool usage observed in food gathering and intercommunity warfare. Scavenging omnivores, typical pack behavior is claiming kills made by larger solitary predators. Communication via inflatable external organs located on the dorsal surface and limited color-change.

The Puzzleboxes

Alppain, Arcturus 

Colonial organism. Main body is irregular composite of cartilaginous cubic structures between 2cm^3 and 5m^3. Can restructure modules to repair damage or adjust to environmental variables. Largest known specimen was larger than scouting ship. Filter-feeders. Live in high-pressure, high-temperature region just below ocean-atmosphere transition band, but have been observed reconstituting swim bladder segments into air bladder modules for low atmosphere floating. Migrate across feeding grounds in pods that can reach over 1000 individuals. Information transfer via exchange of neural modules. Individuals may separate to reproduce, multiple individuals may join together to form larger instance. Xenobiologists are stumped as to how and why these things exist.


  1. The Mothership train does not, will not, cannot stop. Also, David Brin wrote some damn good space opera and I will never tire of scavenging Eclipse Phase for parts.

    1. I saw Mothership and its adventure module being sold at the local game store right next to Wizards' products. And that's when I realized this game has made it!

  2. You know I haven’t read the brin uplift stuff. Is it good? I love this list btw. I’m gonna work up a dungeon off of it.

    1. Yep, it is some solid sci-fi. I read Startide Rising and The Uplift War and had a blast with them.

  3. Why yes! I would like to play a space whale in a space horror game!

  4. Great post! Startide Rising is one of my favorite sci-fi books. I look forward to playing a dolphin spacer which will be perfect in some of the upcoming ocean adventures.