Roleplaying in the World of the Cretaceous
Copyright © 2002Christine Morgan
Based on and inspired by Raptor Red, a novel by Dr. Robert T. Bakker
In nearly every book, movie, and RPG that features dinosaurs, they are cast as monsters that the humans (be they time travelers, cavemen, or modern man who has somehow re-introduced dinos into his world) must face, flee, or overcome.
The main characters themselves are rarely dinosaurs, with a few exceptions usually found on the children's shelf of your local video store -- these talking and singing dinos are another variant of the "cutesy-animal" subgenre of entertainment. Not real dinosaurs, with real dinosaurian needs and behaviors.
One book stands apart from and above all the rest when it comes to depicting dinosaurs as actual characters. This is Raptor Red, a novel by renowned paleontologist Robert T. Bakker. Not only is it the best dinosaur book I've ever read, but it is very near the top of the list of the best books I've read. Ever. Period.
Raptor Red turned dinosaurs from fascinating monsters into believable, compelling characters. Its dramatic story played out against the natural background for these creatures, as realistic as one of the world's foremost dinosaur experts can deliver.
As I read it for about the fifth time, I found myself wondering what it would be like to run a game in such a setting. Many of the gaming elements are there -- problem solving, character interaction, combat, treasure (in the form of plentiful food), survival.
Wouldn't it be fun to play a raptor?
(adapted from GURPS Dinosaurs using Bunnies and Burrows style descriptions)
Changes in Scale
Since the player characters in this sort of game will all be large, monstrous dinosaurs, there are several changes in scale required. This section is an extrapolation of many ideas that originally appeared in GURPS Bunnies and Burrows.
The most obvious change required is the alteration of attributes. The average Raptor has ST 30, DX 14, IQ 10, and HT 10/30. Effectively, this is a new race of creatures, and attributes can be raised and lowered from this baseline. More than likely, Raptors were not as intelligent as humans, and thus should not have a 10 IQ. But since there will be no humans in a GURPS Raptors game, this is of little importance. It measures the difference between Raptors and each other and raptor and their (predominately) prey.
(* GURPS Dinosaurs gives pretty much all the species an IQ of 3, and the raptors an IQ of 3-4; The truly dedicated GM could use the method of adjustment from GURPS Bunnies and Burrows, but given the tremendous variety of species, sizes, and stats among the Cretaceous population ... it is far easier to simply bump their average IQ to 10 and adjust the IQ of the other species accordingly, with most of the prey-types ranging from 6-8. "Hers was a beautifully alert and sentient species" -- Preface to Raptor Red. )
(** The various species of Utahraptors are distantly related but have become so genetically diverse that they are not compatible as mates; rituals such as mating dances have become different; generally, the two types react to each other with suspicion and hostility.)
Several Advantages and Disadvantages, for a variety of mostly obvious reasons, are not suited to a raptor character. As always, the GM's decision is final.
Inappropriate Advantages and Disadvantages would include anything related to: technology, literacy, drugs and alcohol, the military, the law, religion, wealth, fashion, languages, magic, music, martial arts, social/cultural connections, plants and animals, psionics, super powers, and the occult.
In addition, there are many Disadvantages that would not be appropriate for a raptor character. Physical capability is a must for survival, and any raptor too different from the norm would have a very hard time living to maturity. Phobias of things that don't exist in the Cretaceous world and some moral or ethical habits also aren't suitable choices.
There are very few skills available to raptor characters:
New Raptor-Specific Skills:
Scent-Marking, M/E -- raptors use this skill to mark territory and leave signals. One method of scent-marking is accomplished by use of throat-glands, rubbing against something to "mark" it in much the same way that a cat might do. Dung is the most powerful means of scent-marking. Signals range from advertising one's presence to possible mates to warning away enemies. The scents fade over time, and can also be purposefully disturbed by covering them with earth or overlaying with a fresher scent.
Nest-Building, P/E -- once Survival has been used to locate an acceptable sleeping site, be it for a single night or a longer duration, a raptor will use this skill to scrape together and collect branches and leaves to create a comfortable spot to bed down.
Mating Dance, P/A -- this skill is more important in males than in females, as his part of the dance is much more intricate and complicated than hers. It is an act in two parts, the second half more difficult (-3 to skill). Modifiers: -4 if the male does not offer food as a symbolic gift to show he can provide.
Grooming, P/E -- this skill is used to keep the skin and claws clean, and is also used in a variety of social encounters (affectionate, comforting, etc.). Raptors are fastidious because of their innate fear of illness, infection, and disease.
Diurnal / Nocturnal -- a raptor may only be one or the other of these, not both. Diurnal raptors rise before dawn, and are at their best early in the day. Nocturnal raptors are slower-starting in the morning but stay up and alert farther into the night. Generally, siblings will have different sleeping habits to give the whole group a better chance at having some of them survive into the next generation.
Raptor Communication and Posture:
Raptors, having no actual speech, rely on gestures, postures, motions, and certain vocalizations to get their ideas across. Their facial muscles are not designed for a wide range of expressions.
Gestures include bobbing and weaving of the head, shifting of the shoulders, clawing at the air, baring the teeth, snout bumps, nuzzles. Vocalizations range from low reassuring croons to a shrieking threat call.
Unlike other predators, who sit in a low, horizontal position with shoulder near the ground, raptors sit upright with their torsos held nearly erect. They also sleep sitting up, often leaning against one another.
Dangers to Chicks:
Under normal circumstances, protecting and providing for the chicks is a main driving force for the adults. However, if a famine or drought situation becomes too bad, the adults will be forced to abandon the younger chicks and try to breed again when things have improved.
A male raptor courting a female who still has young chicks from a previous mating is instinctively programmed to kill those chicks, just as a lion will kill cubs sired by a male other than himself. They're not his; he has no genetic investment in them, therefore it isn't worthwhile for him to take care of them. By getting rid of them, he frees up their mother to start a new family carrying his genes.
Chicks are also the target of other predators. Competition for game is fierce, and it makes sense to get rid of the other team while they're still young and helpless. This, too, is seen among lions, who will hunt down and slaughter leopard and cheetah cubs.
Chicks are susceptible to cold, and in adverse weather conditions will huddle under the adults for warmth, much in the way that a hen's offspring will do.
Disease and Injury:
Ticks and other bugs carry diseases that can prove fatal to raptors. Choosing a nesting site free from such hazards is part of a Survival roll.
Some types of birds and small pterosaurs can serve a function much as they do for rhinos and other large animals, by plucking ticks and parasites from beneath the skin. Small mammals of the era eat insects, so nesting near a mammal colony will give some built-in protection against scorpions, assassin bugs, and other hazards.
Raptors are prone to various other types of illnesses, especially respiratory infections (roll vs. HT each week spent in a damp environment). Because of their diet, their keen sense of smell, and their ability to regurgitate, they are not very vulnerable to poisoning.
Injury is not uncommon, given that raptors are not only going up against prey with built-in defenses such as horns, spikes, and whip-tails but must also defend themselves against other predators.
Raptor First Aid consists of licking wounds, rolling in mud to coat and ease them, and making sure that an injured raptor is sheltered and fed long enough to let the body's natural healing processes patch them up.
Males court, females choose, is the general way of things. Females are generally larger and stronger than the males, so they have the ability to accept or reject suitors.
A male will perform the Mating Dance to demonstrate his grace, agility, and strength. The goal here is to convince the female that he's worth risking herself in reproduction.
Occasionally, females will take the initiative and may even fight over males. Usually, this takes the form of threat gestures and generally trying to psych out one's opponent. Sometimes, though, things will get bloody. Females use their Brawling skill and hand claws until one is driven off or yields.
The ideal mate, male or female, is one that is sleek, well-muscled, and well-fed. Their sense of smell can determine if another raptor is too closely-related for mating. Bright or prominent markings are often a factor of attractiveness. Raptor turn-offs include skinniness, scrawniness, and any sign of poor health such as bites, ticks, or other parasites.
Game References: GURPS Dinosaurs, GURPS Basic Set (3rd Edition), GURPS Compendium I.
1. A Sticky Situation
A raptor chick wanders too far from the nest and tumbles down a slope, ending up in a patch of tar. A pack of oviraptors are near enough to hear the chick's cries for help. The smaller dinos are light enough to step on branches that have also gotten stuck in the tar. Can the adults drive off the oviraptors and save the chick, before the commotion draws the attention of larger predators?
2. The Great Fire
Lightning touches off a monstrous grassfire, sending all living things fleeing before the fast-spreading flames. The pack becomes separated and must fight individual battles to survive, face fear-maddened dinos, and regroup.
3. Hunting Party
Game has been scarce, and the raptor pack happens to scent a small herd of iguanadon grazing in a field. As they make their stealthy approach through the lightly wooded area at the edge of the field, they detect more raptors, also hunting. But the other pack is made up of Yellow Snouts. The two raptor packs must decide which is more important -- prey, or their age-old rivalry.
4. Land Bridge
The sea level has dropped sharply, giving the raptor pack access to an all-new territory. Harried by increased competition from other predators, seeking plentiful game, the pack crosses over into this new area, discovering it to be swampy. The dinosaur species they encounter, such as anklyosaurs, are new and unfamiliar, with defenses that the raptors have never seen.
5. The Shadow
The raptors have just made a sizeable kill, enough to feed the entire pack for weeks. As they are settling down to gorge, a massive shadow heralds the arrival of quetzalcoatlus, largest of the pterosaurs. If the pack can drive off this giant interloper, they can salvage their kill; otherwise, dozens more smaller pterosaurs and other scavengers will swoop in for a free feast.
6. The Dating Game
An unattached, astonishingly desirable female raptor appears on the scene and sparks a competition between the males of the pack to see which of them can bring the best offering of food and perform the best mating dance. How will the females of the pack react to this new arrival?
I'd like to make a comment about this article.
This page has been visited times.