So, I've decided to post a bunch of those here, to get back into the whole pro-traveller mindset, to get them to a wider audience (safe from the No Fun Allowed lobby that seems to spring up on any forum) and generally to make it easy for me to get me into the habit of posting again -the lazy way.
This is a world that has already been inflicted on my scout campaign. This is the classic post catastrophe survey planet, with several distinct mysteries: what actually caused the disaster, what made the survivors decide to attempt to return, and the biggie, the fact that the increasing taint and decreasing fertility almost guarantee that this is the last generation of inhabitants. Related to this is the cause of the fertility decrease, and some unexpected historical findings about the original base on the moon.
I must note that this is a UWP that would be either zeroed out or elevated due to the problems with the low tech and the atmosphere; instead, I decided to see if it could be made plausible, if not realistic, as a medium-term challenge for a scout crew.
This one does play fast and loose with the way an atmosphere would work in this situation- and the recovery of the planet post impact (ie cooling off). is highly atypical. As regards the atmosphere, it's a cheat. As regards the catastrophe....let’s just say that it is a big clue that what happened wasn't necessarily your standard everyday asteroid impact.....another clue (if noticed) is the atypical formation of the crater -no central peak, which is very unusual, especially when this recent. Although it must be noted that there are very few other examples on this scale to draw conclusions from.
Oculus is currently named for its appearance from Space. A barren greyish rockball, the planet’s sole habitable area is a massive impact crater with a denser atmosphere allowing mostly circular weather patterns to form, giving it the appearance of an immense eyeball. Unofficially it is known as “Bullseye”. There are a wide variety of local names for the planet, although, interestingly, none of them translate as “home”, for reasons which may become made apparent when the planets history is considered.
The last known records of the planet are from approx -1779, just prior to the collapse of the second empire and indicate that its original name was Famideii. At that time, the planet was petitioning the remains of the central government for aid and succor; they reported that the planet was in severe economic and technological distress, and may have been involved in a local conflict with neighboring star systems. There is no evidence that the petition was acted on, or indeed, ever seriously considered.
Best estimates are that the planet fared as did many smaller and isolated settlements in this area : poorly. However, an essentially habitable environment kept the colony from dying out, and apparently enough of original technology and/or knowledge was available to enable recovery to begin once the crisis years had passed. By at least 900 years previous to the present, well before recontact, Oculus seems to have been an excellent example of an abandoned colony well on the road to recovery. The original physical UWP of Oculus is estimated to have been C756. Population code is estimated to have been in the 7 - 9 range, with a local tech level of 7-8; government type and Law level are unknown, but it is likely that the society may have been either Balkanized or Oligarchic, due to the later history. It is known that the society had a fairly extensive orbital presense, as well as semi-permanent bases on its moon, and at least one of the inner planets. (Vacuum rockballs –Luna & mercury type)
Unfortunately, at this point, the planet suffered a massive catastrophic event; most evidence suggests that the planet was struck by a massive long orbit comet or asteroid. The surface of the planet was devastated and rendered uninhabitable; at least 90% of the planet’s atmosphere was lost, and likely a similar amount of the water. The resultant impact crater is approximately 15% of the surface area of the planet; it is clear that the planet came very close to complete fragmentation.
It is unclear if the civilization had any warning of the event, but even if so, it would have had limited capacity to respond. It appears that a major project to construct self supporting settlements on the inner planet and the moon were in progress when the impact occurred, and may have been prompted by the approaching event, possibly carried out by a subset of the planetary polities (if balkanized), or a ruling elite (if oligarchic). It is likely that the orbital presence was destroyed or crippled by the secondary effects of the event, and the local moon base also damaged to a lesser extent.
Post disaster, it appears that the extraplanetary surviving population (perhaps population 3-4) attempted to consolidate into one of the two off planet bases, and managed to struggle to survive for several hundred years.
At some point, at least 500 years before the present day, the survivors decided to attempt to recolonize the Mainworld. It is suspected that the attempt to maintain a civilization in the face of the challenges of a low grav and zero atmosphere planet proved insoluble or finally collapsed. It is likely that the return to the home planet was a last ditch attempt to survive a massive system collapse and die off. Currently, the extraplanetary bases are completely abandoned, and have been extensively stripped of all useful goods.
At this point, some semblance of habitation was possible on the remains of the homeworld. The remaining atmosphere had partially largely settled into the impact crater, giving a barely breathable thin atmosphere on the floor, and below that, a series of deep canyons formed as the lava flows of the crater floor cooled gave a denser if tainted (volcanic outgassing) atmosphere.
Genomic data suggest that no more than 2000 related individuals returned to the planet. The current ecosystem is entirely artificial, and likely only survives due to intense husbandry. As perhaps six species of non-human domestic animals are known to exist, as well as a wide variety of domesticated food plants, it is surmised that the surviving extraplanetary population had access to stored ova, or cloneable resources; this is the clearest evidence that some subgroup of the original inhabitants may have had warning of the impending disaster. On the planet nothing more complicated than lichen and bacteria survived the calamity.
The returning survivors have managed to survive, although with a severely regressed society and in a very precarious situation. The colonists seem to have dispersed into two cultural groups, nomadic tech 1 dwellers on the floor of the crater, and more numerous and somewhat more advanced tech 2-3 city dwellers in the deep canyons. The nomadic population is estimated at pop 4, and the city dwellers at pop 5.
The planet is still wracked by frequent quakes and volcanic activity, as well as a greatly elevated rates of meteoric impacts resulting from the debris thrown off planet by the initial impact. Further, as a result of the continuing volcanic activity, is possible that the low atmosphere taint will increase to a point where survival in the canyons is impossible.
Contact with the inhabitants has been limited as the population has only recently been identified.
Both floor and canyon cultures are extremely insular and balkanized, the nomads by tribe, and the canyon dwellers by city and village. The canyon dwellings are essentially pueblo style settlements, seldom with more than 1000 inhabitants. No central or unifying polity has arisen, likely due to the lack of surplus resources and the constant struggle to maintain agriculture. Culturally, the inability of the local infrastructure to support a leisured or professional class has led to most of the canyon dwellings to develop an essentially unstratified society, although there are exceptions.
The inhabitants suffer from a variety of environmental problems, including UV exposure, lung damage, and decreased fertility. Starvation and famine are common in the canyons, and the extremely hard life of the crater floor above has led to more than one tribal group to simply die out. For both groups, but especially the canyon dwellers, survival requires an immense amount of cooperative effort, particularly with regard to agriculture, which produces almost no surplus. Wars are infrequent due to the desperate emphasis on agriculture and food gathering, but raiding, particularly between the floor and the canyon dwellers, is frequent.
Currently, the world is not interdicted, but contact is discouraged, while a debate rages in the Imperial administration about the best way to deal with the situation: evacuation, technological uplift, or cultural quarantine.