Building on previous posts in the same line: for example, this one on potential Races, this on potential Travel options, and this on Economic levels and options… rambling through some of the occasional thoughts I’ve had re: a mutation mechanism for a Gamma World type of setting.  As always, feedback is welcomed.

The Difficulty

As most probably already know, mutation in real life (in most known lifeforms) doesn’t really work the way it is presented within the Gamma World mythos: “expressed” mutation is a process which occurs over generations of offspring, not within a single individual.  Since the setting is at least implied to be a future version of our own world, this is a potentially significant issue: if it doesn’t work this way now, why would it in the future?  However, the concept of mutation occurring regularly to an individual is a central concept to the Gamma World paradigm (and a sizable factor in making it an interesting setting)… I want to retain it for the implementation.

There are two basic options for dealing with the apparent disconnect between “how things really work” and “how things work in this imaginary future”: 1) simply ignore it, or 2) come up with an explanation for why this changes.  My preference is to attempt the latter: nothing wrong with going the former route, I just believe that by developing a coherent (tho fanciful) story for why this change occurs, a foundation for further enhancement and future decision making is also created, making a consistent setting and plot more likely.

This is a long one… much more beneath the fold…

Background

Casting about for vaguely plausible mechanisms for allowing mutation in humans and other species, I decided to go with an human-engineered symbiotic bacteria or virus as the core mechanism, and a metamorphosis process similar to reptilian skin shedding, or more accurately, the larva-to-adult pupal metamorphosis process. 

Note that I highly doubt it would actually be biologically possible to engineer such thing, but it doesn’t have to actually work… it just has to seem plausible, and be complicated enough that few are likely to pursue it far enough to completely debunk it in the near future.

I’m usually not much for massive “lore” write ups in MMOs (because they only rarely have much impact on the actual play), but I was messing around on New Year’s trying not to obsess about work, and wrote the following as a distraction.  It kind of helps explain where some of my ideas have been heading.  And so, to save time, a potential “back story” as constructed so far…

Excerpted from the History Since The Fall
by Damon Finnes, Archivist Superior of Far-go, Order of Restorationists

After the plague-triggered Cataclysm had largely run it’s course, it became obvious that the decimated remains of life on the planet, let alone civilization, was going to have to change drastically to survive.  Exotic chemical weapons, bio-weapon plagues, and radiological hazards of varying impact and intensity were everywhere, and in many cases would likely take millenia to fade to non-lethal levels.  While most survivors did not have the expertise or resources to do much more than fight to survive from day to day, a few enclaves of the former world-wide technological civilization still existed, and decided to preserve as much as could be salvaged of the lifeforms that had once flourished across the planet.

Most of these efforts focused on relatively mundane efforts, such as obtaining and storing baseline genetic samples, creating refuges and safe havens, and the like, but a few went much further.  These groups attempted to find ways to enhance existing life such that it could survive in the new, far more deadly world of the post-Cataclysm… and two separate efforts achieved some measure of success.

HRRV-A

The first success was a former government organization, headquartered in North America, but with enclaves and significant resources around the globe.  This group created a symbiotic retrovirus (registered with the Nate-O AI as Human Restorative RetroVirus-2117-A-51, or HRRV-A for short) which, when introduced into a host, could accelerate the body’s ability to isolate and excrete harmful materials and aggressive cells, and repair damaged cellular DNA by copying “healthy” DNA and literally invading and replacing the damaged cell.  The only transmission vectors of the virus were through artificial introduction by a complicated injection regimen, via direct and prolonged blood to blood transfer, and/or through the placental barrier, the chemistry of which the virus was designed to recognize as a trigger to “reset” and accept/present a new host DNA template.

HRRV-A was quickly proven to be successful only in a few species: humans and other primates, for the most part.  While it’s primary benefits applied to nearly any species it was introduced into, it could not successfully be passed to subsequent generations in most species, and usually rendered female mammalian hosts effectively impotent (all viable fetuses were killed by the mother’s HRRV-A virus).

HRRV-A is the dominant HRRV in Pure Strain Humans.  It is the primary reason for their exceptional physical resistance and recuperative powers in comparison to pre-Cataclysm humans, and also significantly extends lifespan and intellectual potential, particularly memory (natural cellular decay processes are impacted as well as environmentally induced ones).  Most chemicals, toxins, radiological materials, and other harmful influences are isolated by the HRRV and moved to the bladder or intestines for elimination… a relatively slow process, but quite effective at mitigating the impact over time of all but the most intense influences.

The organization which was responsible for the creation of HRRV-A no longer exists, fractured by internal politics only a few decades after the Cataclysm (see Chapter 9, the Early Shadow Years).  Factions within the Brotherhood of Thought, Seekers, and Knights of Genetic Purity can trace connections back to this group, however, and the group which eventually became the Healers is thought to have began as an adjunct operation to distribute the HRRV-A in remote areas.

HRRV-B

Only a decade or so after the initial distribution of HRRV-A, a second virus, building on the fundamentals of the HRRV-A strain, was developed and tested by a separate group, thought to be remnants of a former multinational business or advocacy entity.  HRRV-B was intended to address some of the shortfalls of the HRRV-A strain: it was designed to be more generic and apply to a far wider range of species, and was significantly more capable of transmission via direct blood-to-blood contact, apparently to eliminate the need for a specialized injection regimen.  Multiple variants were developed for different species, and a mechanism for recovery from catastrophic contaminations was incorporated, an effective hibernation/pupal stage induction mechanism, to be triggered by specific catalysts.

The organization leading this effort was far less cautious and circumspect than the original group.  It quickly became apparent that cross-contamination between species was occurring far more frequently than had originally been anticipated, and that the metamorphosis mechanism had unintended side effects, and was being triggered by natural causes to boot.  Some abortive efforts were made to contain the spread of the virus, but the organization largely self-destructed due to recriminations and differing agendas before any significant progress was made, and the HRRV-B strain quickly spread to become dominant in the biosphere.

Unlike HRRV-A, this strain does not offer significant short-term resistance to harmful influences, although some limited cellular repair does take place as a result of HRRV-B activity on a day-to-day basis.  Instead, upon reaching critical levels of contamination, the host is forced into a hibernation state, a thin chrysalis forms around the creature, and a frenzy of cellular repair and regeneration activity takes place over a 8-24 hour time span.  The resulting impact on the host depends on which specific substrains of HRRV-B were dominant in the host at the time of metamorphosis: significant changes in genetic information and even body structure can potentially take place.  Note that the chrysalis remains are highly dangerous and toxic, having become the repository for most of the contamination which triggered the metamorphosis in the first place.

While the process of metamorphosis is not directly controllable by the host, it can be significantly influenced by a variety of means: changes in diet, exposure to certain catalysts and energies, introduction of specific HRRV-B strains to influence the mutation process, etc.  Over the past 10 decades or so, various organizations and entities have made a study of ways to delay, enhance, mitigate and control the process: access to that expertise can often be obtained (for a price). 

On the other end of the process, meditative disciplines have been developed which can allow an individual to wake from and exit the metamorphosis state earlier than would otherwise occur, with varying impact on the end results.

The group which was responsible for the creation of HRRV-B self-destructed shortly after it’s release, and no known records of it’s origin or purposes remain today.  Factions within the Radioactivists, Ranks of the Fit, and Brotherhood of Thought could probably trace their lineage back to that group’s demise, however.

BRRV

About a century after the Cataclysm, a brilliant (ed. note: but rather unbalanced) “Wizard” (see Chapter 23, Origins of the Wizard-Ancients) is said to have discovered a way to modify the HRRV-B strain to make it potent for most forms of plant life, referred to now as Botanical Regenerative RetroVirus, or BRRV.  Many Ancient scientists and researchers seemed to drift toward a lonely hermetic existence during the Shadow Years, and the mental instabilities resulting from their extreme isolation generated a great deal of upheaval thereafter (and in some cases, continue to do so, to the present day.) 

In this case, the Green Mother, as she has come to be called, probably had an overall positive impact on post-Cataclysm society, although the Knights of Genetic Purity would likely disagree. (Note that many other similar situations involving other Wizards were not nearly as beneficial in effect.)  The impact of BRRV on plants is nearly identical to the impact of HRRV-B on animal life. 

BRRV and HRRV-B are not compatible, and neither crosses into the other kingdom.  However, a variety of situations have arisen where genetic material from one has been incorporated into the other, such that some attributes formerly restricted to one can now occasionally be found in the other… animals with photosynthetic skin, plants with human-level intellect, and so on.  (Note that neither HRRV-B nor BRRV is at all compatible with HRRV-A.)

Personal Commentary: According to the Green Mother, whom I visited personally a couple years ago, she developed BRRV simply because she was tired of having half the rose bushes in her garden wilt and die whenever the wind would shift to blow from a nearby crater.  In a fit of pique after a particularly bad blooming season, she developed the new form of the virus in about a week.  And I quote: “I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  It was really quite a simple thing to do, obvious even.  And the garden has done ever so wonderfully, ever since…” 

(The moral of the story: best to just stay away from Wizards if possible… even their whims can be devastating.)

Engineered HRRV-B and BRRV

Over the past couple of centuries, more and more exotic mutations have arisen, many of which are almost certainly the result of intentional genetic experimentation.  For example, prior to about 50 years ago, no recorded instance or rumor of a “Cold Generation” mutation can be found.  There are now multiple verified substrains of the HRRV-B and BRRV viruses which imbue such an ability, utilizing a couple of different endothermic compounds and reactions that previously were never found in nature, according to accessible records.

It is assumed this is the work of Wizards or mutation-obsessed Cryptic Alliances like the Radioactivists and The Iron Society.  Such engineered variants are significantly more unstable and dangerous than naturally occurring HRRV-B varieties, but some of the more adventurous seek them out anyway, due to their distinctiveness (and potentially powerful effects.)

End of excerpt

Returning to the topic at hand

The narrative above lays out some of the assumptions I’m starting with in terms of implementation.  Some of the mechanics I’m currently contemplating…

Contaminants

A variety of contaminants are possible, and tracked individually as Conditions on the character.  Radiation is tracked in total effective Rads, for example.  In Ancient humans, these simply accumulate, and at elevated accumulations, cause constant damage until the character dies.  Similar mechanics would track the accumulation and impact of mercury, lead, chlorine, arsenic, asbestos, tar/ash, and so on.

Pure Strain Humans (HRRV-A infected) have the advantage of an automatic process which eliminates a portion of all contamination accumulations every hour or so.  Thus, as long as they have the opportunity to avoid constant additional contamination, they will eventually return to a perfectly “cleansed” state.

Mutated Humans, Animals, and Plants (HRRV-B/BRRV infected) suffer the same basic cumulative effects as Ancient humans, but upon reaching elevated levels, can cleanse themselves by dropping into Metamorphosis (which I am assuming would usually be initiated by the player upon logging out, and effectively done “off-line”).  The risk of engaging in this option would be in the changes the character would undergo: potentially, the character could end up with a completely different set of abilities, and need to master an entirely new set of skills and tactics as a result.

Metamorphosis

At character creation, the player could “purchase” a number of general Mutation conditions.  Each Mutation condition would enable one rank of a mutational ability to be expressed every time the character goes into metamorphosis.  The offset for each Mutation condition taken is a negative Karma Rank, placing a small penalty on the character’s general probability of success (appx -1% per negative KR).

Starting mutation-abilities would be selected during character creation as well.  In essence, the player is choosing which variants of HRRV-B were dominant during his last metamorphosis.  Once the character enters play, the impact of a metamorphosis event is determined by tracking which HRRV-B variants the character comes in contact with.  Thus, the player can allow the process to be effectively random, or can take various actions to gain some measure of control over the results.

Each time the character goes through Metamorphosis, an additional Mutation condition is applied (including corresponding negative KR as offset).  During metamorphosis, each and every Mutation condition gets matched up with a mutation-ability, in order of dominance, until all have been consumed.  Example:

Elann, a mutated human, is entering metamorphosis.  He had 10 Mutation conditions, now increased to 11.  He has 15 HRRV-B Infection Conditions at present…

Enhanced Physique (5)
Exothermic Chemical Generation (4)
Genius Capability (4)
Telekinesis (1)
Hemophilia* (1)
Vision Defect* (1)

The first Mutation condition is automatically assigned to Enhanced Physique, since it has the highest rank count (5), reducing it (temporarily) to 4; the second Mutation condition is assigned randomly, since 3 different variants all have 4 ranks unassigned at that point; and so on.

Previously, with only 10 Mutation conditions to apply, he would have received 4 Enhanced Physique, 3 Exothermic Chemical Generation, and 3 Genius Capability abilities, reducing each of them to 1 unassigned unit remaining. The 11th Mutation condition introduces a potential problem: since all 6 variants have 1 unassigned rank at that point, Elann might now pick up one of the defects (indicated with *).

I’m currently going back and forth on how these Infection Conditions will come and go within the character.  The option would always exist to do artificial adjustment of the list, with appropriate tools and skills: the question is what mechanism would be most interesting for “natural” cross-contamination… tie it to criticals, or more specifically, bleeding wound results, in combat?

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