Posted: 1 March 2011 in Arioniad
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“As a thinker and planner the ant is the equal of any savage race of men; as a self-educated specialist in several arts she is the superior of any savage race of men; and in one or two high mental qualities she is above the reach of any man, savage or civilized!” – Mark Twain

As I build the setting for the Arioniad Season 2, I hope you’ll come along with me. The posts explaining the milieu will be split into the character view of things – for example Library Data – and designer’s notes, which provide insight into how and why I created the player view. You might find that of interest if you’re designing your own Traveller universe.


The imagoes are a species divided into castes; there are workers of various sizes, larger soldiers with oversized heads and powerful jaws, male drones, and queens. They are bilaterally symmetrical hexapods, vaguely resembling ants, ranging from one metre to 2.5 metres in length, and with carapaces ranging in colour from brown to gold.

Imagoes are blind, and appear to self-organise their behaviour by pheromone equivalents and environmental stimuli, lacking true sentience as a human would define it. This has not stopped them from developing interstellar flight and other technologies; both the reason for these developments, and the means of operating them, are unknown. Most of the time, imagoes keep to themselves in their underground nests and surface mounds; however, these are only temporary structures, and famine or other natural disasters can trigger a nomadic phase, during which they are more dangerous and will consume anything in their path as they seek out a suitable new site; fortunately, the columns are slow-moving, and usually easily avoided. From time to time, in response to as-yet unknown stimuli, imagoes will send out large forces of workers, guarded by a perimeter of soldiers, on raids in search of food or other raw materials.

Imagoes have both an endoskeleton, serving as structural support for the body, and an exoskeleton, which protects them against the effects of the corrosive atmosphere on their homeworld, Mageer. This is the most significant constraint on their expansion; many fear the imagoes conquering the subsector, enslaving or eating all other life, but to date they show no interest in permanent settlements on worlds with atmospheres conducive to human habitation. Their motives for exploring beyond their homeworld remain unclear; they do have a long-standing, and equally mysterious, alliance with four human worlds in the subsector; Ceveis, Esiserve, Zamaso, and Aresar.

Those working in close proximity to imagoes should note that they breathe out hydrochloric acid as well as carbon dioxide and water vapour, and their body fluids are highly acidic. Pure water is harmful to imagoes, and while they can breathe oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres, at least for short periods, they are noticeably less energetic without their accustomed partial pressure of chlorine – note also that normal human-habitable atmospheres would seem thin to them, at best, in addition to having inferior reactive properties as for their biology.


Since the Imagoes of the Mageer Swarm are the dominant power in the subsector, I need to know a bit about them before I go much further. As previously advertised, they will be loosely based on African driver ants. Knowing that ant colonies are self-organising leads me in the direction of Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight, in which he explores (amongst other things) whether a spacefaring species needs to self-aware, or even sentient. That sounds interesting, so I picture an ant-like spacefaring species which is not self-aware, but which creates self-organising, high-tech colonies. This means they will not be suitable as player characters – I have trouble imagining my players running a character which is not self-aware and operates essentially by reflex, at least while they’re in a legal state of mind.

Why haven’t they taken over the subsector, though? Maybe it’s Mageer’s atmosphere, which is corrosive – maybe they can’t live easily on other worlds. I read through Special Supplement 2: Exotic Atmospheres, and decide to use the old space opera trope of chlorine breathers. A bit of surfing leads me to the Chlorine Worlds article at the Orion’s Arm Universe Project. This prompted the idea that imagoe carapaces might have a high concentration of gold, which sounds like a scenario waiting to happen.

Picturing the typical human planet from an imagoe perspective, the air is thin and has a very low concentration of an inferior oxidising gas (oxygen) – I picture them staggering around, labouring under the equivalent of human altitude sickness. No wonder they don’t want to stay.

A Classic Traveller campaign is often defined in terms of the push (what the characters are running from), the pull (what they are running towards), the gimmick (some unique advantage which only they possess) and the enigma (something inexplicable which they try to explain). It looks like the imagoes will do just fine for the enigma, and maybe for the push as well, at some point.

In game terms, I’ll file the serial numbers off Savage Worlds goblins and orcs for the worker castes, and use orc chieftains as soldiers. Not sure what to use for drones and queens yet, I’ll worry about that when I get to them.


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