Sword of the Stars - GURPS
From Lore Forums
The Zuul are a race of space-faring marsupials. Zuul have been present in this region of space for at least 300 years. In the first two centuries of their existence, they frequently made guerrilla attacks on the colonies of all other sentient races. Because those attacks seldom left any survivors to tell the tale, little was known at first about the raiders: their physiology, technology, and motives remained a mystery for many years.
In the 25th century, the numbers of the Zuul in the region increased exponentially. Organized under a single leader, they became a coherent Horde and waged open war intermittently on the other races from 2438-2462. As captured prisoners, combat casualties and salvaged technology became available to the science corps of enemy races, a number of disturbing discoveries came to light.
First and foremost: it was conclusively proven early on that the Zuul were not the product of natural evolution. The savage marsupials were the result of profound and sophisticated genetic tampering, shaped by bio-science which far surpassed that of any known race. Modern Zuul who still belong to the Horde culture have deified the alien species which created them as “The Great Masters”. In recent years they have asserted that the entity which shaped them was only one God among many. Among Horde-born Zuul, this Creator-deity is known as “He Who Shapes”.
Although it is nearly impossible to say what sort of creatures served as the base stock for the Zuul, it is clear that a number of their natural attributes were enormously enhanced by genetic tampering. Rate of reproduction, tendency to aggression, intelligence and psionic abilities were all artificially increased. The latter two qualities increased further with time and natural selection.
In only a few decades, the Zuul went from a smattering of disorganized raiding parties to a large, organized, and coordinated fighting force. Although the core of their current domain is unknown, all contemporary Zuul are descended from a population of Zuul which was used on the Morrigi women of the Irridia system as a bio-weapon.
In the modern era, a profound schism has arisen among the Zuul. Modern Zuul are now divided into two major population groups. The Suul’ka Horde retains the traditions of the past, and remains biologically and culturally identical to the Zuul of the 25th century. The Prester Zuul, however, have abandoned the Horde and its culture completely. Philosophical and physical descendants of a Zuul known as the Deacon, the Prester Zuul have formed an Alliance with the modern Liir. Their culture is a fusion of the teachings of the Deacon and traditional Liirian values and practices. They are biologically, socially and psychologically very different from Horde-born Zuul.
BASIC ZUUL BIOLOGY
The Zuul have a number of physical characteristics that are unusual in a sentient race. There is a high degree of sexual dimorphism within their species, with enormous physical and psychological differences apparent between males and females. Zuul also undergo an unusual cycle of development from birth to adulthood. Because there are such extreme differences between male and female Zuul as adults, and between all adult Zuul and their offspring in the early phases, a Zuul family seen together might easily be misconstrued as four or five separate species.
Nonetheless, there are some general statements which apply to all Zuuls. They are a species of non-placental mammal, warm-blooded and oxygen-breathing, with a very high metabolic and reproductive rate. They thrive in a variety of conditions, and adapt with alarming speed to nearly any set of environmental challenges. Zuul of both sexes and all ages are covered with a thick coat of hair; colors vary with the individual. This fur will be considerably less dense on the adult male, and the coat may be greatly reduced in length and thickness on hotter worlds.
Zuul of all ages are omnivores, and have a taste for carrion. This is especially true in early childhood. Although the metabolic rate of Prester Zuul is much lower than that of Horde-born Zuul, any growing Zuul child will consume its own weight in meat on any given day. Some xenobiologists speculate that Zuul were bred from a rootstock of carrion-eating predators, which may partially account for the extremely high resistance they have to infection, especially by bacterial pathogens.
Zuul of all ages also possess a rudimentary telepathic ability, which is strongest in the adult male. This crude telepathic communication is the basis for the basic Zuul social unit called a coterie or Hand. Forming a Hand is an instinctive behavior pattern for the Zuul species. All adult Zuul are members of a coterie, which usually consists of a group of six-twelve females and one male. The male Zuul takes the dominant role and serve as a de facto “brain” for the entire unit. A coterie of Zuul IS a single unit, for all intents and purposes, subject to the direction of a single will. In any Zuul society, the coterie as a whole is considered the individual “person”.
Despite their resistance to disease and their native intelligence, the maximum lifespan of a Horde-born Zuul is not long. If he or she meets with no accidental or violent end, the Zuul metabolism is still so high that most members of the species die of natural causes before the age of 50. Among the Prester Zuul, however, the picture is very different. The average lifespan of a male Prester Zuul is nearly double that of Horde-born Zuul. The life expectancy of Prester Zuul females is more than ten times higher of the Horde-born counterparts.
The average Zuul male ranges in height from 85-125 centimeters, with a mass of 45-70 kilograms. Although far smaller than his female cohorts, he is strong and agile, and very adept at climbing. All of his senses are quite acute, but his vision is particularly sophisticated, especially in comparison to the female. Some scientists suggest that under primitive conditions, he was adapted to serve as the “eyes” of his hunting party, helping them to track prey from an elevated position.
Of all Zuul, only the adult male is fully “sentient” in the modern sense of the word. His forelimbs are equipped with long-fingered, sensitive hands with opposable thumbs. His punch-claws are vestigial and do not interfere with tool use. His brain is much larger and more complex than that of a female Zuul. He is far more intelligent and has a more sophisticated telepathic ability. This large and complex brain is analogous to that of many other star-faring species, and allows him to understand and communicate complex ideas. Unlike the females of his species, he has both telepathic and verbal language skills, and with his dextrous hands he can build and de-construct various mechanical devices.
The psionic ability of the male Zuul is likely his most dangerous feature. It is through a telepathic link that he can control his coterie of much larger and stronger female Zuul. They obey his telepathic commands instantly and without reflection. The male Zuul can also use telepathic coercion and interrogation on members of enemy species.
Among the Suul’ka Horde, Zuul males who are adept at coercion are known as Imperators. Those who specialize in telepathic interrogation and the “ripping” of minds are known as Inquisitors. Among the Prester Zuul, the range of activities for Zuul males is somewhat different. Males who specialize in leadership are known as Shepherds. Those who are capable of removing data from another sentient mind are known as Sin Eaters.
The adult female Zuul is a massive creature, ranging in height from 150-220 centimeters and weighing in at roughly 175 kilograms. Her bones are highly dense and strong, hinting at a species origin on a high-gravity world. Her muscular body is capable of leaping two or three times her own length, or lifting/pressing up to 400 kilos. Although she normally stands and walks upright, her hips and spine are still not fully adapted to running on two legs. She will drop to all fours when she wishes to move at speed, and is most comfortable strolling on all fours.
Her fangs are quite sharp and her jaws are capable of exerting over 200 kilos of crushing force. Although her brain is small relative to that of the male, with a maximum mass of roughly 800 grams, the female Zuul is a sensitive and intelligent beast in her own right. Her visual acuity seems to be limited, but her hearing and olfactory senses are quite sharp, and she also possesses a simple empathic ability. With the direction of a male, she is capable of sophisticated tool use, including the operation of heavy machinery. If the male of a Zuul coterie is killed, however, the females remain highly dangerous, particularly among the Prester Zuul. Even without direction, a group of female Zuul is a hunting pack of very large and intelligent predators, and they can always use simple weapons with some skill.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the female Zuul’s physiology is her fertility cycle. An adult female is almost always “pregnant”, for want of a better word. She carries a full litter embryonic Zuul at all times. Although these offspring are conceived within her body, they emerge within 30 days from the aqueous environment of her womb and are placed within a marsupial pouch for safe-keeping. Up to a dozen of these Ripper “proto-worms” will be attached to her nipples at any given time.
Like other marsupials, the Zuul female forcefully ejects her “milk” into the mouths of her offspring while the eyeless, worm-like pups nestle in the safety of her pouch. Unlike ordinary marsupials, however—or ordinary mammals, for that matter—the milk of a Ripper female is not primarily intended to nourish her young. Instead, she secretes a narcotic fluid which is designed to keep her pouchlings dormant. They will remain effectively comatose until the flow of her “milk” has stopped, and will only awaken and begin to grow and develop when she has died, or removed them from her pouch.
Infant Zuul are known as “Zuulings”. Once the flow of “milk” to an undeveloped Zuul has stopped, it quickly rouses from its dormancy. At this stage of a Zuul’s life, the tiny infant has no eyes, no ears, and only vestigial limbs. The full length of its body is not more than 15 centimeters. Shaken from the sleep induced by its mother’s milk, however, the infant Ripper will obey its one imperative: to eat. Within minutes it will begin to devour all animal and vegetable matter in its path.
A profound divergence has arisen between the two Zuul cultures which presently exist in the universe, and this difference begins from the moment of awakening. Among the Suul’ka Zuul, females are used almost exclusively for hard and hazardous labor, and it is not unusual for a brooding female Zuul to die while carrying a pouch full of young. If she does, the members of her coterie will not be concerned. The mother’s own body immediately becomes a host for the proto-worms sleeping in her pouch. Upon awakening, the infant Zuul tunnel through flesh and bone until every particle of their mother is devoured.
It is not necessary for a female Zuul to die in order to provide nourishment for her children, of course. She may also remove proto-worms from her pouch at any time and place them within the corpse of a fallen foe, or into any mound of meat or vegetable matter she may have gathered for the purpose of feeding them.
Among Prester Zuul, Zuulings are removed from the pouch of a female, even if the mother is killed, and they are provided with food by their parents and the community, which also supplies them with telepathic nurture.
After an initial burst of growth, the infant Zuul of any society has an average length of 40 centimeters and a mass around two kilograms. Zuul at this age greatly resemble the members of the Terran family Mustelidae (weasels, ferrets, etc). Armed with sharp teeth and claws, the young Zuul will also have the keen senses and intelligence of a cat-like predator, combined with a rudimentary telepathic sense. This very primitive instinctive telepathy allows the infant Zuul to detect prey, and to recognize other members of its own species.
If allowed to follow their instinctive drives without interference, Zuul of this age will usually form a nest with one or two other infants of the same sex and begin a life of hunting and stock-piling kills. Infant Zuul have a metabolism so high that they sleep only rarely. They must hunt constantly for the calories to keep their long, slender bodies warm, and support their rapid growth and development.
Among the Suul’ka Zuul Horde, there is no relationship between infant and adult Zuul at this phase. When living on the surface of a planet, it seems to be common practice for adult Zuul to abandon their offspring during infancy and expose them to the elements, forcing them to adapt to the environment or die. The high rate of infant mortality is deemed desirable, because only the fittest Zuul will survive the ordeal.
Among the Prester Zuul, cultural practices are very different. Both male and female Zuulings receive nurture and care, and coteries are formed in nursery schools. Infant mortality is low.
Assembling notes on the history and culture of the Zuul was difficult at first, for a variety of reasons. Very few Zuul were captured alive and taken prisoner. Of those taken captive, only the males could be interrogated at all, and interrogating a male Zuul presents a significant challenge to those without natural Psionic defenses.
Only one captured Zuul patriarch chose to cooperate with his captors. Correlating his testimony with all available physical evidence, it became clear that Zuul “society”, as such, was a relatively recent phenomenon. The Zuul species is extremely young. The entire race has existed in its current form for less than three hundred years. Since they were first created and unleashed on the unsuspecting inhabitants of Irridia V, the Zuul have been in a constant state of flux.
SolForce investigators were given the location of Irridia V by a Zuul presently known by the codename “Deacon”. Irridia is a hot giant star surrounded by dense high-gravity planetary bodies. By the time of their arrival, the ruins on the fifth planet had been abandoned by the Zuul for over 150 years, and most of the structures were in a state of weather-beaten disrepair. Nonetheless, with the help and guidance of Deacon, a team of crack xeno-archeologists was able to piece together the tragic history of this world…and to find the remains of its former occupants.
Irridia V was the colonial outpost of the Morrigi. Because SolForce scientists had no knowledge of the Morrigi species at the time, they referred to the occupants of Irridia V as “Species X”. The colony on Irridia V was a scientific research facility. The majority of resources were devoted to laboratories and machinery designed for high-energy research, possibly in the field of gravity manipulation.
It may have been this research which first attracted the attention of the Suul’ka, whom Human investigators dubbed “Species Y”. Morrigi informants are tight-lipped on the subject of the Suuligi War and its causes, but they agree that the female scientists living on Irridia V did not expect to be attacked in any way, and had made no effort to defend themselves.
When the first infant Zuulings appeared in their area, the Morrigi women did not immediately recognize the voracious creatures as a deliberate attack. They were mistakenly regarded as an infestation of native pests. The Suul’ka, however, had deliberately and maliciously dropped the first Zuul on Irridia V with the intention of destroying its Morrigi population. The remains of the drop-pods they used have been found. These were obviously released from low orbit, filled with live female Zuul that were intended to die on impact with the planet’s surface. Similar wreckage has been found on dozens of dead worlds which were formerly occupied by Morrigi women before the Suuligi War.
The mass awakening of Zuul infants following this drop must have created an appalling wave of destruction. Mathematically speaking, most of the agricultural resources of the colony would have been wiped out within a few weeks—as well as many members of its civilian population. And despite the efforts of the Morrigi scientists to fight the horde of infant Zuul, a large number of Zuul clearly survived to latter childhood and began to form their first coteries in the undefended perimeter of the colony.
It was here that the original intentions of the Suul’ka may have gone awry. We cannot say precisely what they meant to achieve when they created the Zuul, but it seems unlikely that they realized the full potential of their creation. All we can say for certain is that they dropped the Zuul on the surface of Irridia V and departed the scene. There is no evidence that they ever returned. It seems probable that they expected the savage Zuul to survive only long enough to wipe out the Morrigi—they could not have expected this to take long, as the population of Irridia V was small and not at all prepared to defend itself.
Thereafter, it would probably have been logical to assume that the Zuul would quickly die out, exhausting the very limited resources of a bleak, half-terraformed world in very short order. The Zuul, by nature a rapacious and highly aggressive species, should have quickly eaten Irridia V down to the bedrock and then suffocated when the last of its oxygen-producing plants were destroyed, as they did on many other planets.
When the Suul’ka were tinkering with the intelligence and psionic capabilities of the Zuul, however, they may not have realized the fascination that male Zuul would have for the minds of potential victims. It is horrifyingly obvious, from the evidence found at Irridia V, that the Morrigi women were not at all quick in dying. The majority were not eaten until years or even decades after the first generation of Zuul reached adulthood. Instead, these colonists were held captive, enslaved, studied, and “mind-ripped” by the primitive forbears of the modern Zuul, who used the alien scientists and their advanced technical knowledge to build the first ships with which fledgling Zuul would reach the stars.
The length of time that some of the Morrigi captives remained alive is itself astonishing, and is probably due to the natural, in-born Psionic Resistance for which Morrigi women are notorious. In a very real sense, both the Morrigi and the Suul’ka were the “parents” of the modern Zuul. In Horde cosmology, the contributions of both species are regarded as sacred. Among the Prester Zuul, these events are considered an enormous Original Sin which it is the duty of all Zuul to expiate through courage, sacrifice, and good works.
Kerberos Lore Forum
Horde Zuul names have three possible components.
1. Honorific. What a Horde Zuul calls you is a message. He is telegraphing his opinion of your threat potential, and/or expressing your personal relationship. If he has ever actually tested your strength and been bested by you, you have earned the title “Dominus” or “Master”. If you are ranked above him, but he has never directly taken you on, he will call you “Lord”. If you raised him from a pup, and have been his mentor and teacher, he will call you “Father”. The only other honorifics that matter are “Imperator” and “Inquisitor” (which indicate your primary strength and role in life) or indications of your profession.
2. Personal name. There are a variety of Horde personal names which are emerged over the past several decades. Most of them are awarded by paternal Zuul when a boy reaches the age of sapience. The are only a few hundred known Horde Zuul names, so most of them are individualized by adding a third component, an epithet, which will distinguish one “Aka” or “Jakh” from another.
3. Epithet. Generally this is selected by peers or sons. An epithet is a distinguishing characteristic or mark. For example, a Zuul who seldom bathes, or who rolls frequently in carrion, might be called “the Filthy” or “the Foul”—he will also receive this epithet if his mind leaks any expression of sexuality. “The Ravenous”, “the Insatiable” and “the Hungry” are fairly common epithets for a Zuul, but a Zuul with impressive jaws might be called “the Bonecrusher”, while particularly large and powerful male might be called “the Giant” or “the Womanly”.
This same pattern exists to some degree among Prester Zuul, although the number of personal names is much greater.
Honorifics for Prester Zuul include “Prester”, “Elder”, “Father”, “Shepherd”, and “Blessed”, which generally indicates a powerful Sin Eater. The Deacon gave his followers the first round of Prester personal names, and many of these have become traditional now; Lucius, Thomas, Petras, Barnabas, Innocent, Abram, Levi, Enoch etc. are all very traditional Prester name, but there are many others that have been added as the empire has expanded.
Epithets for Prester Zuul generally indicate their religious affiliation or the stage that they have achieved in their spiritual journey. So a male called “Brother Jeremy of the Wheel” is likely a lower-ranking Zuul who follows a spiritual path which incorporates some Buddhist ideology. “Father Levi the Keeper” is a male with Shepherd capability, who has been tasked with the leadership and defense of a community; “the Defender” is another epithet which points to this responsibility. Many admirals and other military commanders are known by civilians as “Busthariel”, “an angel who defends the people”.
By contrast, epithets like “Peregrinus” and “the Wanderer” tend to indicate a Zuul who still has much to learn and who has been tasked to leave his home community and travel among the stars seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Epithets like “The Baptist”, “the Witness”, “the Evangelist” and “the Liberator” indicate extremely powerful Zuul who are tasked with telepathic conversion, either of Horde Zuul or of other species—if you are captured by the Alliance and hear that your next interrogator is a Zuul with such an epithet, it’s time to unleash everything you’ve got to try and escape—because after you have a little chat with “Prester Barnabas the Witness”, you will not remember why you wanted to escape. Or do anything but help the very nice Alliance achieve their very important goals.
The highest ranking Sin Eaters are given epithets like “the Cureton”, “the Healer” or “Hazael”, because they see into the sick and wounded soul, and cleanse and heal it.
Prester female Zuul do have names, but these are known and “spoken” (telepathically) only by their families and eventually by their husbands. There appears to be a lingering superstition—perhaps with some shred of truth to it, in a telepathic society—that a female’s personal name has power over her, and makes her susceptible to command. In any case, strangers are not encouraged to converse with Prester females. The male is typically the spokesperson for any coterie, and females are seldom encountered by strangers unless they are on active duty with their husbands. If you penetrate so far into Prester civilian life that you know a woman’s name, you are technically as close to her as her brother, and as entitled to call her “Asenath” or “Abigail”—so long as you’re good at talking without moving your lips. ;)