Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Generic Space Opera Bestiary: Space Whale


You thought I was done! But no, I had a few more I wanted to do. I’ve just been distracted by yet more aliens, and these take longer to write than I expected (most of it in the variations).

One I’ve wanted to do for a long time is the majestic whale. Of course, when we think of whale, we’re probably thinking the shape of the humpback whale, the size of the blue whale, and the ferocity of the sperm whale, but I’m leaning mostly towards the blue whale and other baleen whales. These gentle giants of the deep spark our imagination with their fantastic size and their eerie song. So much so that I think they’re the only sea creatures Paizard has tackled thus far! So I wanted to also take my shot at looking at some generic space whales for Keleni to commune with or for Westerly sailors to hunt.


Space Whales in GURPS Space

Whales are going to be open ocean swimmers. Only the open ocean is large enough to handle them (indeed, getting too close to Banks can be dangerous), though they can naturally visit lots of different areas in the ocean. Who’s going to stop them?

They are Filter Feeders. Other whales exist, of course, and we’ll likely revisit the killer whale concept, but we’re primarily concerned with filter feeders.

How big? Well, GURPS Space tops out at 100 tons. The average whale caps out at ~ 20 yards and weigh an average of 100 tons, so the average whale seems to be SM +6. However, I can find cases of 200 ton and 30 yards long, which clocks them in at SM+7, likely a case of “gigantism” among whales. This means whales clock in at ST 120 to 150.

When it comes to their Body Plan, obviously we’re looking at a bilateral creature with two sets of limbs per side, a swimming tail and an internal skeleton.

For Skin, we can keep it simple and note that Whales have Skin, likely with Blubber and several levels of Temperature Tolerance. They are, of course, warm-blooded, and they have Doesn’t Breath (Oxygen Storage).

When it comes to Sex, whales have two sexes and tend to be Strong-K, which isn’t surprising given their size.

When it comes to Senses, my research suggests the following. First, whales seem to have weak vision and especially lack color perception. Peripheral vision is probably fair for most baleen whales. Many cetaceans seem to lack a sense of smell and have fairly weak sense of taste. Whales have exceptional hearing, including subsonic hearing (Paizard suggests subsonic speech, which I can get behind). Sonar isn’t a trait of baleen whales (they don’t hunt), but it’s common among cetaceans. They seem to have normal sense of touch.

When it comes to Alien Minds, the perception of whales would be that of extra-ordinary intelligence, given the intellect of other cetaceans, like dolphins. This tracks with their Strong-K reproduction strategy and their long-life spans, though we should note that filter feeders rank lower, so we might expect literal baleen whales to be dumber than, for example, sperm whales or killer whales, but for the purposes of a “toss it all together in a bucket” alien whale, we can justify the higher intelligence. When it comes to social organization, blue whales are solitary, with the only bond being between mother and child. Most cetaceans seem to form matriarchal pods similar to elephants, however, so we might argue for “Mating Only” fillowed by “Small Group of 2d members” for organization.

This gives them a generic Psychological Profile of Chauvinism +1 (Chauvanistic), Concentration ++0, Curiosity +0, Egoism +1 (Proud), Empathy +1 (Responsive), Gregariousness -1 (Uncongenial), Imagination +0 and Suspicion -1 (Fearlessness 1).

Generic Alien Whale Stats

Paizard has several sets of whale stats, including:

If we made a “combo whale” that implausibly combined all of the above, creating something like a blue-whale-sized sperm whale, we might get something like the following:

ST: 150

Basic Speed: 5.25

SM: +7

DX: 10

Water Move: 7 (10 top speed)

IQ: 5

Perception: 12

HT: 11

Will: 11

DR: 10 (Tough Skin)

Traits: Bad Sight; Color-Blindness; Discriminatory Hearing; Doesn’t Breath (Oxygen Storage x100); Enhanced Move 1.5 (water); Icthyoid; Nightvision 5(Under water only); No Sense of Taste/Smell; Penetrating Voice; Peripheral Vision; Pressure Support 1; Scanning Sense (Sonar); Sharp Teeth; Speak Underwater; Striker (Tail, Crushing; rear only); Subsonic Speech; Temperature Tolerance 3 (Cold); Wild Animal;

Bite (10): 3dx5 cut

Tail or Ram (10): 3dx6 cr


One obvious variation I won’t cover here is the “land whale.” I already covered SM +6 grazing herbivores in Space Elephants, which amount to the same thing.

Sea Serpent

The myth of the sea serpent may have come from misunderstood sightings of whales. Of course, gigantic reptiles really did rule the sea at one point, so it isn’t so hard to imagine such a creature as a proxy for a whale.

We might imagine such a creature as longer and more serpentine (though I can think of no actual examples of “giant sea snakes” in the fossil record). They might have better, forward facing vision, but inferior hearing and certainly no sonar (as that’s a classic cetacean trick). Their scales might justify a higher DR, but they probably lack the temperature tolerance. They don’t Constrictor Attack, but it’s hilarious, so it’s going in.

ST: 150

Basic Speed: 5.5

SM: +7

DX: 10

Water Move: 7

IQ: 3

Perception: 12

HT: 12

Will: 10

DR: 15

Traits: Color-Blindness; Constriction Attack; Doesn’t Breath (Oxygen Storage x100); Nightvision 6 (Under water only); Pressure Support 1; Scales; Sharp Teeth; Striker (Tail, Crushing; rear only); Wild Animal;

Space Whale

Alright, inevitably, someone is going to want a space whale. Despite loads of images of whales in space, there’s nothing more space worthy about whales than you or I. I think it’s the image of a massive whale floating serenely along, singing eerie, alien songs that appeals to us that way. Still, we might imagine giant filter-feeding space creatures, and whales are as good a metaphor as any.

Where do they get their food? Well, they’ll probably get some of it from sunlight, which means they’d blur the line between filter feeder and autotroph. But we might imagine some sort of light, gasbag life form (similar to the “sky plankton” sometimes proposed for Venus) in the upper atmosphere of certain worlds. The space whale dives into the upper parts of the atmosphere, consuming both the sky plankton and as much atmosphere as it can, which it then propels like a jet to return back to space. Once in space, it relies on solar light and massive, beautiful (because space whales are always cosmically beautiful) membranous solar sail “wings” to move around. Why don’t they just stay in the upper atmospheres? Maybe there’s a lot of such worlds nearby, and perhaps there’s lots of “space plankton” just soaking up solar energy and nibbling on micrometeors, I don’t know. There might also be dangerous predators in the lower levels of the atmosphere, making it dangerous for space whales to linger on a world, so they scoop, get their food, and then sail away for awhile to digest.

We’ll replace sonar with radar. They communicate via radio song, rather than deep sea song.

ST: 150

Basic Speed: 4.25

SM: +7

DX: 9

Space Move: 7

IQ: 5

Perception: 12

HT: 10

Will: 10

DR: 15

Traits: Doesn’t Breath (Immense oxygen storage); Enhanced Move 20 (Space); Flight (Space Only; Requires Sunlight) or Flight (Space; Requires breathing in atmosphere recently); Low Pressure Lungs; Metabolism Control 10 (Hibernation Only); Nightvision 9; No Fine Manipulators; No Legs (Aerial); No Sense of Taste/Smell; Peripheral Vision; Scanning Sense (Radar); Sharp Teeth; Striker (Tail, Crushing; rear only); Telecommunication (Radio); Temperature Tolerance 10 (Cold); Vacuum Support; Wild Animal;

Floating Island

One common theme in fantasy and myth is the idea of a creature so vast that people mistake it for an island. Perhaps the creature remains still for a sufficient amount of time to accumulate sediment and even life growing on its back. This isn’t the craziest idea and, arguable, actually happens, just with an especially sessile form of life: coral. And sufficiently slow life does allow life to grow on it, such as the moss that grows on the back of sloths.

We might turn this up to 11. We can imagine a filter-feeding, shelled creature that just… floats along. It has small tendrils that whip out to grab plankton and consumes them, and add this to more and more of its bulk. It has a spectacularly slow metabolism. And it has a great shell that protects it, and allows things to grow on its back.

Part of the story is that at some point, the whale dives and wipes out the civilization that lives upon it. Perhaps this dives to breed, or it meets up with other giant floating islands to breed, and these catastrophic moments destroy the life on their backs, only to have them wander off for their centuries long isolation once more.

I’m not sure such a creature even needs stats. You can’t really fight it. Why would you want to? It doesn’t need to react to predators. It’s just… a floating platform that happens to be alive. But let’s give it a shot.

ST: 5000

Basic Speed: 0.25

SM: +15

DX: 9

Water Move: 0

IQ: 1

Perception: 6

HT: 10

Will: 10

DR: 100

Traits: Blind; Doesn’t Breath (Gills); Metabolism Control 10 (Hibernation Only); No Fine Manipulators; No Legs (Aquatic); Reduced Consumption 10; Regrowth; Restricted Diet (Plankton); Sessile (Floats; may get Move 1 for 1 fatigue); Subsonic Speech; Wild Animal;

Colony Whale

We’re building up to something, I promise.

Some of the largest organisms on earth are really clusters of related organisms: colony organisms. It’s possible for our whale to be some sort of giant Portugese Man’o’War, this massive “sail” organism that floats along, trolling for whatever it passes by, and scooping it up into its, er, gastro-zooid. Such a creature would be loosely coupled, likely have extensive hydrostatic support structures, and it would probably be somewhat weak, all things considered, but it would be quite the alien thing! It would probably float in the water and troll the ocean with its tentacles, snagging up whatever small fish that run into it, sting them, and bring them to its gastro-zooids for digestion.

Unfortunately, siphonophorae don’t seem that well studied

ST: 150

Basic Speed: 5.25

SM: +7

DX: 12

Water Move: 0

IQ: 1

Perception: 9

HT: 111

Will: 9

DR: 0

Traits: Blindness (Detect light and dark); Doesn’t Breath (Gills); Extra Arms (Numerous Tentacles; Extra Long, Reach 14; Very Weak, ST 15); Invertebrate; Pressure Support 1; Regrowth; Restricted Diet (Carnivore); Sessile (Floats); Wild Animal;

Tentacle Sting: 1d pi- + follow-up 1d+1 toxic (Side effect, Terrible Pain); Reach

Digestive Bile: 1d-1 corr, Reach C

Asymmetrical Whale

The alien world of Mer is being devoured by Dark Water! – The Pirates of Dark Water

Okay. Stick with me here. How big can single cell creatures get? I did some hunting and the answer seems to be that they can’t get bigger than the microscopic, but what if we cast that aside, or at least, borrowed inspiration from the microscopic world and pushed the very boundaries of what it means to be life. At some level, life is just a distinction between material contained and controlled by the cell, which itself is made up of smaller cells, organelles, that perform the tasks within. Is it possible to have a creature that is extraordinarily diffuse, less of a single, coherent being, and more of a spread out area of influence?

Consider a vast, water-permeable, but extremely loose structure. Water can pass through this structure, as can most creatures with a bit of effort, but within, a variety of smaller organisms (a few centimeters at most) race about, spreading enzymes and otherwise regulating the interior of the membrane, as well as maintaining the external environment. Those that go within the membrane become soaked in this digestive environment, and their nutrients gets spread around by the swimming organelles into the general soup from which all of the organism subsists. In short, it’s a giant slime, one the size of a whale.

Is that possible? I dunno. But it makes for an interesting and profoundly weird alien.

ST: 0/150

Basic Speed: 4.5

SM: +7

DX: 8

Water Move: 1

IQ: 0

Perception: 8

HT: 14

Will: 8

DR: 0

Traits: Blind; Deafness; Detect (Organic Matter, Precise); Doesn’t Breathe; Doesn’t Sleep; High Pain Threshold; Injury Tolerance (Diffuse; Infiltration); Injury Tolerance (No Eyes, No Head, No Neck); Invertebrate; No Legs (Aquatic); No Manipulators; No Sense of Smell/Taste; Universal Digestion; Unusual Biochemistry; Weakness (1d/second if out of the water)

Corrosive Psuedopods: 1d corr; reach C

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