(Note- This is essentially a codex entry for a planet that is the setting for a few backstories of a couple of characters, as well as for an adventure I'm working on cooking up for an old 3e D&D offshoot called D20 Modern. Anyways, enjoy! Feedback is welcome, as long as it helps me improve this. Also, if this technically belongs in the fanfiction section, I apologize, and would humbly ask that it be moved if that is the case.)
A planet found among the Frontier worlds, LV-538 is an earth-like planet, some might even say pastoral in some places. Currently, there are several colony settlements owned by Chigusa Corp for the United Americas, as well as a Weyland-Yutani research station up in one of the mountain ranges of the main continent. The colonists' primary exports are beef, grain, raw materials, and ancient artifacts from the ruins that dot the landscape, assumed to have been constructed by several different civilizations over the millennia.
The primary sentient indigenous species are creatures known as Red Howlers. A race of red-skinned, four-eyed, lean but muscular humanoids, their physical prowess is comparable to that of a human adult; however, their four eyes grant them far greater perception. They vary in height from five-foot-six inches to as much as seven or even eight feet tall, especially in the case of chieftains and berserkers, who are often the biggest and strongest of the lot. The colonists and howlers have a somewhat strained relationship, but by and large leave each other alone. Skirmishes happen every now and then, but the threat of Colonial Marine intervention keeps full-scale war from happening.
(Red howler image below. Spoiler due to size)
Howler technology is best described as "savagely sophisticated," in that it is advanced, yet primitive. The Howlers primarily fight with single-shot break-action rifles, with the chieftains getting access to an over-and-under double-barreled version with greater stopping power. What makes this weapon unique is the ammunition it fires: some sort of plasma shot. How the Howlers manufacture this ammunition with the technology on hand is unknown, but they also have a working knowledge of explosives manufacture, if the grenade pistols they use and the multi-mortars on the backs of their war beasts are any indication. The signature weapon of their nobility and honor-guards are double-headed halberds, and their armor is typically comprised of a light-but-durable material known as Bonesteel, which is harvested from the carcasses of creatures that have a great deal in common with ankylosaurs back on Earth.
Howler residences vary depending on their environment. They are scattered into different tribes, each with their own identity, customs, and dialect. The tribes that live on the plains move with the herds of herbivores, much like the American Plains Indians of the Old West. Forest tribes, meanwhile, live up amongst the trees or in great longhouses. The mountain tribes live in walled fortresses atop the white peaks, their population sustained both by trade with other tribes and by farms constructed on mountainside terraces. Of all the tribes, the mountain clans are the most powerful, with access to the most raw materials for the manufacture of their weapons, and the security their mountain fortresses offer.
Several artifacts recovered from Howler burial sites indicate a religion based around the four elements. They apparently worshiped a giant race of human-like aliens, theorized to be Engineers, given the similarities to artifacts recovered from other confirmed engineer sites. Other murals, however, indicate that at least one other race has made contact with the howlers, who would demand sacrificial tributes. Whereas the Engineers are often associated with life, creation, earth, and water, these creatures are often more associated with death, war, air, and fire. Judging from the figures depicted in the carvings that have been recovered, it's speculated that this race of "demons" are none other than the Predators. At some point in their past, the howlers overthrew these "demons," led by a king named Kadesh the Demon-Slayer. While the hunters no longer have the populace under their thumb like they once did, the creatures still pay visits, as the demon legends are still going strong among the tribes.
As for the colonial settlements, cattle ranchers and farms are the primary means of income on the plains, while settlements closer to the Howler tribes tend to be stop-offs for archaeology and safari teams looking for ruins or big game to hunt. Among the most influential of the ranchers is the Ricarde family, who can trace their history on the planet back to the first wildcatters that arrived when the world was uncharted, and now boast a hand in the planet's agriculture as well as its colonial administration.
The jungles and forests, however, are truly impenetrable at the moment. The forest howlers that live among its trees are secretive and isolated, their villages hidden up in the boughs of the forest. Satellite imaging is of little help when trying to penetrate past the forest canopy, and deadly creatures of all shapes and sizes stalk down below. It's rumored that ancient cities and ruins can be found deeper in the jungle, but few have managed to penetrate that deep, and so far, only a handful have returned, often mad with fright and hunger, their companions falling to howler attacks, traps, supplies running out, or worse, if the talk about nightmarish "dragons" is any indication. Basically, anybody going into the jungles without plenty of supplies, a knowledge of the flora and fauna, and a great deal of firepower is bound to meet a bad end. This doesn't stop the expeditions though. The Weyland-Yutani outpost circumvents this by simply flying around it using their Cheyenne dropships whenever they come into town for supplies, but if they have penetrated deeper into the jungles, well they're not telling.
(EDIT- Modified for better flow and to fix some grammar errors. And so there you have it: Howler Country, sort of a combination of the Old West, the Amazon, and the Andes Mountains. I do not claim credit or ownership of any of these pieces of scenery art, but they nail down what I had in mind for the place.)
Howler Burials, sacred sites, and Kadesh the Demon Slayer
Red Howlers that shed their mortal coil are, naturally, buried according to their tribe's customs, which vary depending on the environment. Forest clans, for instance, bury their dead inside sacred groves, or in some cases, underneath the trees that their villages are built among. The plains tribes, meanwhile, will often put their dead inside a grave barrow, which is typically marked by an array of standing stones. In the case of a chieftain, his barrow will have his personal emblem chiseled on one of the standing stones. Howler barrows are typically sealed up with a sort of "mud plug" and allowed to grow over, so that eventually, discovery of the entrance to the barrow is pretty much impossible. The Mountain Howlers, meanwhile, have two methods. Their nobility and richer families will inter their dead within crypts dug into the sides of the mountain their city resides on. In the case of clan chieftains, these tombs can get very extensive, and often feature cunning traps and puzzles to deter grave robbers. The second method, typically used by those who cannot afford a crypt, is a sky burial, where the cadaver is left up on a high point of the mountain, exposed to the elements. In some cases, the body is hacked to pieces so that carrion birds can take it away much quicker.
Howler barrows, burial grounds, and tombs typically contain a weapon of some kind buried with the deceased, usually a serrated bonesteel sword. Nobility typically are buried with bonesteel mail, a double-halberd, and a portion of their personal possessions, particularly jewelry and hand-crafted figurines. Naturally, howlers don't take well to the desecration of their burial sites, and should a howler party encounter a dig team of humans, they will often shoot on sight. As such, archaeology teams usually go heavily-armed or bring additional security. At this time, no teams have attempted to enter one of the greatest sites of construction on LV-538: Kadesh's crypt.
Archaeological evidence uncovered by Dr. Grayson and other teams indicates that the Howler tribes were once unified in a continent-spanning empire, formed during the reign of a Howler King known as Kadesh the Demon Slayer. According to legend, Kadesh was responsible for freeing his people from the yolk of their demon masters, afterwards forging the largest empire the civilization had seen. When he died, his kingdom split apart due to disagreements between his offspring of who would rule. Since then, the howler tribes are largely scattered, though the tribes still assemble on a yearly basis at the entrance to Kadesh's tomb, which is inside a massive burial mound surrounded by standing stones. The grounds surrounding Kadesh's burial mound are considered sacred by the tribes, and no howler will attack another howler while there, believing that it brings bad luck. The tribes also honor Kadesh with gifts of food and weapons, leaving them in the antechamber. If the items are missing the next day, the Howlers believe Kadesh has given his blessing to his people from beyond the grave. Kadesh was buried with a unique double-halberd called Stormfury. Plenty have attempted to enter the crypt to claim the weapon for the respect that it would bring, but so far, none that have entered the tomb have come out alive, falling prey to the numerous traps inside it and, if rumors are true, the honor guards that live inside the crypt, completely isolated from the outside world.
I painted my Kroot red, too.
(Sorry about taking ages to talk again in my own thread)
Yeah, the whole kroot look-a-likes thing was my brother's doing. When I started expanding on his idea, he said they were "Like kroot, but with four eyes and red skin." Hence the depiction in the commission I posted further up.
I'll likely be cooking up another entry soon enough once the idea pops in my head.
-On Extraterrestrial Ruins-
(Note- As in previous entries, I do not claim ownership of any scenery pieces that I post here. They are merely there to set the general tone.)
Since LV-538 was colonized nearly 25 years ago, xenoarchaeological expeditions funded by Weyland-Yutani and Chigusa Corp have uncovered multiple sites that clearly indicate the planet was used by at least two spacefaring civilizations: the Yautja and the Engineers. Ruins of these two races that have been dated are frequently far older than ancient howler sites, often by centuries, if not moreso. The most famous XT sites are known as "The Fence," "The Pit," "The Garden," and "The Cluster."
Owing to their preferred environs, Yautja sites are much rarer, and thus only found scattered inside the jungle on the main continent. These range from non-functional weapons caches to small structures that appear to have been watch posts or even way shrines, possibly used as territory markers by whichever clan ran that area. These tribal markings on the shrines range from stylized depictions of a Hunter Mask and crossed blades to something far more serpentine, and in one case, what looks like three entertwined worms or serpents. The most notable confirmed Yautja site or structure is known as "The Fence." A series of stone pylons spaced a hundred meters apart, these structures form a perimeter around one of the few unexplored patches of jungle. The structures are roughly ten meters high, and carved into snarling serpentine visages that match reports and statements taken from the survivors of the incidents at LV-426, LV-1201, and BG-386. It has been determined that the pylons emit some kind of ultrasonic field that animals such as dogs will not go near. It is unknown to Chigusa what lies beyond the Fence, as all expeditions they have sent past it have vanished. Weyland-Yutani remains tight-lipped about any discoveries they might have made from their research outpost, and any that might be inclined to talk seem to disappear or be reassigned. Rumors still persist, however, that a vast stone city, its streets watched by ancient serpents, sits in the heart of the jungle, with a colossal temple looming over it all.
Confirmed Engineer sites are far more plentiful, and at least three sites or regions have been identified and catalogued by both corporations, as well as explored, at least as far as they safely can be. Determined not to make the same mistakes of the ill-fated Prometheus Expedition, explorers going through ruins will often do so armed and clad in full protective gear. This has proved prudent, as several of the sites held mutated creatures within, and these abominations will often claim many lives when they are stumbled upon before being felled by pulse rifles or auto-shotguns.
The first of these sites to be discovered lies within the White Ridge Mountain Range. Known these days as "The Pit" for the multiple deep shafts that go down into the depths, it is suspected of being some kind of administration or manufacturing facility. Several of the finds there have been instrumental in furthering an understanding of Engineer artifacts and technology, and it is rumored too that one of the corporations managed to procure a fully-intact, though non-functional, pressure suit from the ruins. Any detected traces of Chemical A0-3959X.91 – 15, otherwise known as "The Black Goo," are immediately cordoned off and access is severely restricted in order to prevent exposure to the powerful mutagen. Howler healing poultice, itself an extremely potent restorative, has been discovered to contain traces of this chemical. What the Howlers do in order to turn this dangerous mutagen into such a powerful healing agent remains unknown. Despite being the most explored of the three sites, The Pit still has many secrets waiting to be uncovered.
The second site is found in the eastern jungle, deep within a series of canyons within the Demon Peaks. Known as the Garden, it is far more dangerous than The Pit, as would be expected from a site that is speculated to have been for research into the bioweapons that the Engineers dabbled in. This means there are more areas holding the black goo, as well as more mutated creatures, usually native fauna that blundered into a cache of the goo. Many of the vaults remain sealed behind what can only be described as a "musical lock." According to reports by Dr. Grayson, these sorts of locks are saved for extremely dangerous items, and are best left undisturbed. It is suspected that they would open if someone were to play specific notes upon an engineer flute, but nobody has been able to test the theory yet.
The last of these Engineer sites lies on the northern reaches of the main continent. Known to humans as The Cluster, Howlers refer to the region as the Forbidden Valley. The main pass into the area is marked by several tall statues of Engineers, each holding a large, curved sword. Red Howlers refuse to pass beyond the cordon of these massive constructs, believing it to be sacred ground. A lifeless rock desert, the area got its human designation from a collection of near-identical Engineer temples that bear similarities to the structure that was located on LV-223. The strange part about these temples is just how sterile they are. No artifacts have been recovered from any of the Cluster temples, not even a goo ampule. To this day, it is left to speculation on why this region is so desolate while everything beyond its mountain ranges is lush and teeming with life, but even seismic scans are unable to determine what lies beneath the empty passageways of these structures.
The presence of these ruins means LV-538 remains a proverbial Mecca for xenoarchaeologists looking to strike it big. Of these, Dr. Grayson is the most notable. Accompanied by a Bishop synthetic, she remains the leading authority on the ruins of all three species. While she occasionally works with Chigusa Corp, Grayson has thus far refused to extend the same courtesy to Weyland-Yutani, citing the company's tendency to both withhold information and treat its employees like disposable assets. Furthermore, while the Engineers seem to have largely disappeared, it is suspected that the Yautja still pay frequent visits. Whether this is for conducting another hunt or something else remains to be seen.
Dr. Maria Grayson (Commission from the same guy that drew the howler)
-On Howler Medicine-
Red Howler medicinal practices are much like the rest of their technology: seemingly primitive but highly effective. Their primary short-term medicine is a sort of powder that is rubbed over damaged areas, killing pain and closing wounds, albeit at the cost of the subject's coordination for a short time. Medicine in the settlements, however, is an entirely different affair. Howler apothecaries utilize an extremely powerful healing poultice that closes wounds and can even reattach severed limbs if the limb is held against the stump and the poultice is applied. An analysis of samples recovered indicate there are trace amounts of Chemical A0-3959X.91 – 15 inside the poultice, but instead of obliterating the subject's genetics, it rebuilds them. As near as can be determined, the chemical is filtered through something the howlers possess, likely a mushroom or some other sort of fungus.
Another notable red howler chem is the aptly-named "Berserker drink." A definite case of exactly what it says on the tin, this chemical mixture is a powerful muscular stimulant that strengthens its imbiber's muscles and durability. It also has the side effect of making the imbiber prone to powerful rages, during which they will wish to tear anything they can get their hands on limb from limb. Howlers that frequently use this chem are typically much taller than their normal brethren, clad in a bonesteel breastplate and carrying a massive axe that could blow right through a marine's breastplate. Imbibing the drink before a battle starts, Berserkers have been noted to be able to take injury after injury before dropping, though once the high from the adrenaline and the stimulant wears off, it's not unheard of for a howler berserker to fall over from their wounds.
Analysis of recovered samples shows a cocktail of various herbs and fungi which are plentiful across the planet and its environs. Other medicines and their uses can be found across the tribes, and some even carry salvaged Yautja medicomps, as the medicine contained inside may be painful, but like Howler medicine, is extremely effective.
-On Howler munitions and weapons-
As noted in previous entries, Red Howler weapons are notable not just for their chrome-like finish, but also for the fact that they seem to fire plasma bolts. The truth is a bit simpler. The rounds from a howler's bolt or blast weapon are smeared each day in a mixture made from a special phosphorous-like substance that, on impact, results in a mini-explosion akin to a plasma blast. Marine armor protects against the first few rounds, but sustained hits will destroy an M3 breastplate. Higher-caliber blast weapons have much better penetration.
Howlers are also noted for being experts in manufacturing explosives, able to craft grenades with both timed fuses and impact detonators, which can be thrown or shot out of their grenade pistols or crew-served multi-mortars, which are typically found in guard towers, prepared positions, or on the backs of their war beasts. A destructive weapon, the multi-mortar launches a barrage of explosives across a wide area. Recently, howler war beasts have been seen carrying what look like hand-cranked gatling guns on their backs instead of the multi-mortar. The weapon is gravity-fed ammunition through a port on top of the gun that a clip is hooked to, allowing the howlers to release a stream of blast shells downrange.
In a standup fight, it's clear that a colonial marine is more than a match for your basic howler warrior, and a combat exosuit, barring the use of a multi-mortar, could easily lay waste to most howler villages with little trouble. The problem lies with the fact that the Red Howlers both know the terrain and know to stay out of pulse rifle range. The other problem lies with the fact that it would take time for a ship of marines to arrive, leaving the much lighter-armed colonists to hold off an angry war party until the marines arrive. Fortunately, marine intervention has not been necessary for a long time.
-Howlers at War-
Red Howler military doctrine, despite being varied from tribe to tribe, can be found to have several common elements. The creatures tend to prefer quick raids and attacks from afar, where their superior eyesight and coordination gives them the advantage over their foes. To this end, the primary red howler firearm, the Bolt Rifle, is well-suited for such engagements; it is sturdy, reliable, accurate at long range, and carries plenty of stopping power. Its performance suffers against armor, however, as has been demonstrated in tests involving firing a bolt rifle repeatedly into a standard M3 chestplate. Even with the plasma blast effect from the shell coating, the plate withstood several rounds before failing, though the testers later admitted that the wearer would still probably be stunned and even knocked over from taking a small plasma burst at that range.
While it is certainly a primitive weapon, especially compared to the firearms available to the Colonial Marine Corps, it is far from being a simple musket. These weapons are breech-loaded, rifled, and utilize brass cartridges with rounded conical slugs, much like old earth rifles and minie ball rounds of the 19th century, and it is suspected that it won't be long before the howlers are able to mass-produce repeating rifles. Should that take place, the firepower available to a howler raiding party will dramatically increase.
Blast pistols, which are typically used by group leaders, give a bit of a preview on this, though they vary in design. Some are in a pepperbox pistol configuration, while others are more like an over-under double-pistol. Rarest of these pistols, however, are actual revolvers, which are typically only found in mountain settlements or among howler nobility. The multi-shot capability of these weapons often means a distinct firepower advantage in close combat over someone armed with a standard bolt rifle.
Grenade pistols and launchers, meanwhile, are simple tubes with a stock or handle at the other end, somewhat resembling an old M79 grenade launcher. The grenades used in these devices are seemingly a scaled-up version of a blast shell, offering a plasma detonation that is about equal in destructive power to an M40 HEDP frag grenade. The biggest weapon currently in the howler arsenal, the multi-mortar, is the logical conclusion of this line of weaponry. Loading up six mortar rounds, the weapon can be rapid-fired to effectively saturate an area with explosions. Until the arrival of the gatling blast gun, it was the most destructive weapon a howler could use. However, owing to its bulk and weight, as well as that of the ammunition, this is typically a crew-served weapon.
In close combat, meanwhile, Red Howlers have a variety of weapons to call on, ranging from machetes and swords to giant cleaving axes, barbed spears, and halberds with a head at each end. The latter weapon is typically found among the higher castes, and is just as much a status symbol as it is a weapon. With blades for chopping, tips for stabbing, and hammerheads for bludgeoning, a skilled double-halberd user, such as a clan chief, can be a terror in close combat that is rivaled only by a howler berserker.
The typical Red Howler out for war carries a bolt rifle, a pouch of shells, a bonesteel machete, a canteen, and a bag with strips of jerky. They protect themselves with leather armor with bonesteel studs, though this is clearly more of a melee precaution. Still, some protection is better than none. The howlers in a war party will array themselves into several small groups, each one led by what could be considered a sergeant. These officers are typically clad in a bonesteel mail shirt and carry a serrated sword alongside a blast pistol or grenade pistol.
Further up the chain are the captains, which are usually part of a chieftain's inner circle. Elite fighters, they wear a breastplate made of bonesteel, and often carry more advanced bolt rifles that typically feature an over/under barrel, a blast pistol, and a double-halberd. Accompanying a captain at all times are a pair of honor guards, which are similarly-armed, and hand-picked from among the most skilled of the sergeants. Of these, a handful in any tribe will be part of a berserker lodge, casting off their bolt rifles and swords for a breastplate and a powerful axe that could cleave a human right down the middle. As mentioned in previous entries, a berserker is able to withstand a withering amount of punishment, their ability to sense pain rendered inert by the powerful cocktail of drugs they imbibe before each battle.
For mounted combat and quick raids, some tribes, particularly on the plains, have been able to capture and train large raptor-like creatures and use them for mounts. These raptor riders often utilize blast pistols and a spear that has a blast cartridge at the tip, allowing them to do extreme damage against someone they might charge into. These raptors, for lack of a better term, are, however, quite temperamental, even after their training, and it's not unheard of for a mount to kill his rider if it is wounded and enraged.
The other creature the Howlers use, often referred to simply as a war beast, is a large ankylosaur-like creature, and is also the source of the material howlers refer to as bonesteel. A strange substance that, by all rights, should be impossible, it has the strength and behavior of steel, but the weight of bone. This is what they craft their blades and armor from, but the main use of these beasts is to carry a red howler multi-mortar and its ammunition. A driver sits behind the head, directing the creature, while a gunner loads, aims, and fires the multi-mortar or gatling gun. It takes a long time to raise and rear a dedicated war beast, and as such, they are used very sparingly.
Lastly, come the chieftains. Being the top of the heap has its perks, as a clan chief will wear the best armor, carry the best weapons, and be the most skilled fighter in his tribe. Their double-halberds and bonesteel mail are a cut above anything else in the tribe, and their blast rifles pack much greater stopping power than a standard bolt rifle.
Red howler war parties typically involve several dozen howlers, a handful of sergeants, a warbeast or two, some raptor riders for scouts and quick raids, and a captain with his cadre of honor guards. A chief does not leave on a war party unless the matter is one he feels warrants dropping his tribe's entire military might on, and as such, the captain leading the war party often acts with the authority of the chief. Communications are often via dispatches sent through runners or raptor riders, and this delay in orders is one of their key weaknesses, since if a runner can be stopped, the message cannot be delivered.
Howler combat doctrine is largely dependent, again, on the environs of the tribe that is fighting, but the tribes all share some tactics. Howlers will typically try to pin their opponents down with steady volleys of bolt fire, aiming to envelop their foes in a pincer. Plains tribes, meanwhile, will often use raptor riders to bait an opponent into a carefully-laid ambush, while a tribe in the jungle might force an enemy into a trap zone. Mountain howlers, on the other hand, often make liberal use of explosives to trap an enemy in a pass, allowing their gunners to rain bolt fire and blast grenades down on their heads.
It is doubtful that these tactics might work on a platoon of Colonial Marines, but against untrained colonists is another matter. It is for this reason that expeditions are routinely told to not engage and chase lone howlers, both to avoid a potential ambush and to keep from giving the tribes a reason to massacre the colonists.
(Note- This was meant to be a separate post. However, anti-spam measures decided this was a double-post)
-XS-2020 "Praetorian-Killer" Combat Exosuits-
A recent creation, this latest model of the combat exosuit was created to combat large extraterrestrials such as Harvesters or advanced stages of Xenomorph XX121. Nicknamed the "Praetorian-Killer" by those that developed it, it is more than adequately equipped for such a task, with a number of offensive and defensive options available to its pilot. It is for this reason that mercenary security forces deployed on LV-538 often try to have at least one such suit deployed, as it enables them to engage pathogen mutants at engineer sites or howler patrols with a dramatically-reduced risk of severe injuries or worse.
The first iteration of the suit, which is available for purchase by mercenary groups like the Iron Bears, comes equipped with a minigun on each shoulder, allowing the exosuit to release a torrent of high-caliber armor-piercing shells downrange, shredding almost anything caught in their path. Should an enemy get within striking distance, however, the Mk-1 also possesses a heavy riot shield on its left arm, and a large club in the other that delivers both a crushing blow and a powerful electric shock. This has the added benefit of preventing acid blood bursts in close quarters.
The pilot, meanwhile, is protected with full NBC shielding inside their compartment. The alloys used in the construction of the suit's armor plating are also treated to be resistant to molecular acid, taking far longer to burn through than comparable untreated materials. The armor is also proof against most small arms fire, blades, and projectiles, and gives any group with access to one a considerable firepower advantage.
The Mk-II variant, which is currently available to only the Colonial Marines, eschews the riot shield in favor of additional firepower, replacing it instead with a 40mm grenade launcher that can hold up to 18 grenades, typically HEDP proximity bombs. It can also be loaded with firebomb grenades, shrapnel grenades, or tungsten buckshot rounds, essentially turning the launcher into a giant shotgun that will reduce anything in front of it to hamburger meat in the blink of an eye. One of the miniguns is also removed, with a phase plasma pulse cannon replacing it. This scaled-up version of the XM99A Phased Plasma Pulse Rifle takes inspiration from plasma caster weapons recovered from dead Yautja, and is placed on a swivel mount on the shoulder that allows it to follow the movement of the user's head and deliver powerful charges of burst plasma with devastating accuracy at almost any range. As the mounting is above the pilot's actual head, this weapon does not carry the same risk of the pilot from blowing their brains out as a normal salvaged shoulder cannon would. Use of the plasma blaster has to be limited, however, as it puts a strain on the hydrogen fuel cells used to power the suit. The new crystal-carbon armor plating is lighter than the previous iteration's armor as well, giving the suit improved mobility.
As with any exo-suit, the primary weaknesses of the Praetorian Killer are with its mobility compared to that of a human, and relative difficulty with extremely rough terrain. It can still go many places that an APC or tank cannot, however. The other problem is that once an exosuit is toppled, getting it back up is next to impossible without another suit or a winch. Despite this, however, the firepower and protection these suits provide is almost unparalleled, and for many mercenary groups stationed on LV-538, the Praetorian Killer remains their trump card against Red Howler incursions.
-On the human settlements-
LV-538 was first discovered 30 years ago by wildcatters in the employ of Chigusa Corp. Due to the earth-like atmosphere and pastoral environment, it was easy for Chigusa to get their colonizing efforts fast-tracked, narrowly beating Weyland-Yutani out for being the first to discover and colonize the world, much to the consternation of the far larger Wey-Yu. Given that LV-538 is practically a paradise compared to most other colonized worlds, settlers arrived in droves, causing the town of Landfall to grow rapidly, before settlers went out to found more towns. The original plan by Chigusa was to use the planet for an agri-world, as earth species of grains and animals could grow and sustain themselves on the soil and grass. The near-earth climate also has saved Chigusa Corp a substantial amount of money, since they do not have to terraform the planet.
The discovery of Engineer and Yautja ruins resulted in an adjustment by Chigusa. Having experience with these matters, Weyland-Yutani was allowed to create a research outpost, though ostensibly they are required to share their findings with Chigusa, as they have the rights to archaeological finds on the planet due to being the first ones to both find the planet and plant a settlement. In practice, it's clear that Weyland-Yutani is keeping several cards close to their chest, such as what lies beyond The Fence, but the influence they are able to exert allows them to avoid having to answer any difficult questions.
There are presently five settlements in all, not counting the research outpost: Landfall, Greenhill, Lakeside, River Fork, and Wildsgate. The first and oldest of the towns, Landfall hosts the primary colony spaceport, and has a population of about a thousand colonists. Consisting entirely of prefab structures, it is responsible for shipping raw materials, food, and artifacts off-world. Transit between the settlements is typically done via a series of roadways or the rivers. Currently ranging from unpaved to gravel, these pathways are often traversed using ATVs and other off-road vehicles. As mentioned in previous entries, Weyland-Yutani makes heavy use of Cheyanne dropships to avoid having to brave the dangers of the jungle whenever they come for supplies.The next three settlements, Greenhill, Lakeside, and River Fork, are comprised of roughly three hundred colonists apiece. Between crops, cattle, and supplying expeditions, these settlements turn a decent profit, especially if an expedition returns bearing artifacts. The outermost settlement, Wildsgate, is the smallest and most recent one. Wildsgate functions as a "launching point" for numerous expeditions from Chigusa and other contractors. A village of 100 people, these prefabricated structures lie atop a tall hill, granting it a commanding view of the area. Unlike the other settlements, Wildsgate lives almost entirely off the money gained from equipping expeditions in search of big game or ruins.
Unfortunately, Wildsgate's location renders it prone to attacks by howlers, who do not take kindly to sacred sites and burial grounds being poked through. As such, it has a heavy mercenary presence to attempt to deter the natives from an all-out assault. All the same, residents have learned to stay inside the walls on the off-chance that a howler sniper might be lying in wait. Lately, howler attacks have been been getting more sophisticated, and often involve different tribes each time. If the situation becomes too volatile, it won't be long before the Colonial Marines are called in.
(Note- the name is a shout-out to a particular mission from the end of a quest chain in the Frackin' Universe mod for Starbound. As usual, I do not claim ownership in any way of the background art, and it's more for setting the mood.)
-Delta Freya Incident-
While a ball of ice on the other side of the galaxy may not seem relevant to events on LV-538, the fallout from the incident on that frozen wasteland of a planet was partly responsible for the extreme caution archeology teams are displaying these days. Out beyond the Frontier, Delta Freya was discovered by a Weyland-Yutani survey ship about a decade ago. The ship itself disappeared without a trace, but not before sending back several images of the surface, which caused enough of a stir that Wey-Yu immediately sent a speed ship with an archaeology team led by Dr. Malcolm Carlyle, an expert on xenoarchaeology and ancient languages. Accompanying the team were several squads of guards, with several even rumored to be combat synthetics.
Finding a harsh, frozen surface awaiting them, Carlyle's team set up a prefabricated base camp before eventually setting out. Of the sixteen men that went on the expedition, only Carlyle returned. He never spoke of what was found, or if anything was found at all, but the base was abandoned and the planet never visited again. The official story is that what was thought to be a promising discovery was nothing but a dud.
Unofficially, however, the rumors go that the team discovered an ancient city of black stone on the surface, a city that did not match the architecture of any civilization found up to that point, of twisting structures and wormlike statues. Braving the cold, the expedition eventually found an entrance into a system of tunnels that ran under the city, taking them deeper and deeper, bearing witness to things that man was never meant to know. Whether it was by traps, the cold, or something else, only Carlyle emerged, a changed man. Those that have talked with him speak of his eyes seeming empty and hollow at times.
Thanks to the loss of Carlyle's expedition, the planet has been marked with a warning beacon, telling ships to steer clear. Carlyle is still leading expeditions, but the events of Delta Freya have left a stain on his reputation as a man that has a tendency to get those under him killed. Over in Howler Country, this, along with the tragedy that befell the Prometheus Expedition back in the 2090's, has led to the archaeology teams exercising much greater caution while exploring a new site, especially in the case of Engineer ruins.
(I will admit this takes on a few Lovecraftian themes. Considering the nature of the Aliens 'verse, stuff of that nature feels like it'd be a natural fit.)
A more recent discovery, the Engineer ruin known as the Observatory lies in the Dragon Peaks, a cluster of mountains that lie to the north of the perimeter of the Fence. Unlike the other ruins discovered, the Observatory is relatively intact and still functional. Furthermore, the ruins do not show any signs of the Engineer's goo, making it a much safer ruin for archaeologists to poke around in. That said, it's only safe by comparison to ruins such as the Pit and the Garden. Archaeology teams still have to travel to the location heavily-armed, as the local clan of mountain howlers, the Stone Bloods, consider the Observatory to be a sacred site, and will react accordingly if they see humans in or around the location.
The Observatory got its name from its main chamber, which is activated by a combination of pressing nodule buttons and playing a tune on an engineer flute. Once activated, the room projects a map of the star system. The holograms can be interacted with, allowing observers to zoom and focus on individual planets within the system, including LV-538, in remarkable detail. The map lacking any notations of Yautja ruins is taken as confirmation that the Engineers utilized this planet long before the Hunters did, otherwise the structures likely would have been depicted on the map.
As thorough as the map is, however, Dr. Grayson has indicated that several pieces of it are missing, leaving those areas blank. These include areas such as the Forbidden Valley, along with the interiors for the Pit and the Garden. A slot off to the side of the console that controls the holograms seems to confirm this theory, and is suspected to hold an object that, if inserted, would reveal the obscured area. It is likely that this function was in place so that the higher-ranked Engineers could keep certain things hidden from prying eyes that were better left a mystery. At present, no location indexes have been found.
Unfortunately, the spiritual aspects of the Red Howler civilizations are a partial mystery, owing to the fact that there are few, if any, available in-person sources. Most of the available information these days comes from archaeological finds, as well as distant observations. As mentioned before, the main gist of their religion is built around the four elements, or at least, that's the best that can be determined.
According to recovered artifacts, water is the element of birth, while Air and fire represent growth and change, respectively. Lastly comes that of earth, which to the Howlers represents the ultimate fate of everything, a return to dust. Water and Earth symbolizing life and death likely plays a large role in why the Engineers are associated with these two elements, which is rather fitting, given the black goo's ability to both create and destroy. The Sky Demons, all but confirmed to be one or more clans of Yautja, meanwhile, are associated with air and fire, both for what is seen as an ability to walk upon the winds and the change their arrival brought, subjugating the howlers until the rise of Kadesh the Demon Slayer, who went on to create the greatest empire that race had yet seen. To this day, these "demons" are talked about in hushed whispers, as if talking about them might risk summoning them.
As mentioned before, Engineers were seen in a more reverential light, though still feared to no small degree. There are plenty of tales of the "great stone-faced giants" obliterating all before them with waves of death as punishment, but at the same time, there are other tales where their gods would visit the tribes in time of need, healing those that were sick or passing on their wisdom.
Howler shamans and priests are often the elders among their tribe, and carry great influence as the spiritual leaders of their clans. They also advise the chieftains, guiding them towards what they feel are actions that would incur the favor of their gods. In addition to brewing their tribe's healing poultices and berserker drinks, shamans are also the archivists of the tribe, carrying on the traditions as well as their history. How this is recorded varies from tribe to tribe. For some tribes among the plains, the clothes themselves tell the story, whether it is an arrangement of beads, symbols on a belt, or otherwise, carrying on meanings that only that tribe will understand. Other plains tribes might record their history upon the insides of their tents, while forest howlers are known to carve their history along the side of a tree. The mountain clans often tell their story in murals inside their temples, or chisel it into stone tablets.
A full picture remains unavailable for the time being, as nobody has been able to have a conversation with an actual Red Howler to truly confirm the picture that has been painted. The present tensions also make such a possibility increasingly remote.
As mentioned in previous entries, LV-538 is a proverbial mecca for archaeology teams, whether it is to research Engineer ruins or to make a name for oneself by uncovering valuable artifacts from a Howler grave barrow. Those that seek out Howler barrows or mountainside crypts often head towards an area known as the Deadlands. The title can be a bit of a misnomer, as it is just as lush and fertile as anywhere else on the main continent, barring the Forbidden Valley, which remains a harsh rock desert. This focus on burying their dead here likely also has to do with it being the location of Kadesh's tomb complex. The area can be compared to the Valley of the Kings of ancient Egypt in many ways, from warnings of curses to cleverly-hidden tombs.
Gaining access to the Deadlands can be tricky, owing to the fact that it lies north of the White Ridge Mountains. Several clans of mountain howlers live along that ridge, with some even having access to an air force of sorts with the winged creatures they ride, which most folks that have seen them drawing comparisons to old dragon legends of earth, or possibly even pterasaurs. As it stands, several barrows have been raided in recent years, prompting the Howlers to increase patrols. The artifacts recovered have given key insights into Red Howler culture, at least for the plains and mountain clans. The Howlers that reside in the jungles and forests, however, remain as mysterious as ever, owing to the much greater difficulty that lies with finding both their villages and their burial grounds, since their dead are often buried beneath the trees that they reside in.
Barrows are typically a single hollowed-out mound, with the deceased and his possessions inside. Some barrows, however, have a false crypt, meant to deter grave robbers. The real crypt in this case is in a stone vault below the fake one, and houses the real valuables, as well as the one that was interred there. This extra measure often indicates the deceased was a shaman or a chieftain, who possessed enough wealth to afford such an accommodation.
The cliffside crypts are a far more complex affair, as archaeology teams have to contend not just with the traps and puzzles that might be waiting inside, but also an angry clan of mountain howlers if their expedition is discovered. Paradoxically, this often means that small teams have a better chance at plumbing the secrets of a cliff crypt, as they are much more likely to evade detection. Owing to their better access to metal and stone, the cliff crypts can often feature traps that would not be unlike something out of an Indiana Jones story, from pressure plate-activated dart launchers to floor pit traps, rolling boulders, and in a couple of cases, a spinning razor adjusted for approximate head height. Cliff crypts will also often have multiple vaults, as well as shrines to the spirits that protect the crypt, likely the remnants of some form of ancestor worship among the clans. The valuables recovered include jewelry, bone carvings, ceremonial weapons, and so on, which often fetch a pretty fair price on the open market once the expedition returns to civilization. Museums and research firms also pay top dollar for these finds, though it should be noted that a lot of it is hazard pay.
-Language and Communication-
Red Howlers get their human designation in part from how their voices work. Autopsies of dead howlers has revealed something rather interesting about their biology: namely that they have two sets of vocal chords. One for more in-close communication, the other for releasing the howls over long distance that they have been named for. Much like wolves, the howlers use this method for long-range communication, though the messages might be a bit general and unspecific. The main set of vocal chords have much finer control, allowing for more precise wording and language.
Howlers generally have two languages; the first is their tribal dialect, which is spoken only to members of that tribe. The second is a sort of "general" or "trade" language, spoken to other tribes, likely a holdover from Kadesh's empire. Like much of the rest of Howler culture and practices, this seemingly crude method hides something truly sophisticated. Small shifts in tone can convey a multitude of meanings, from clicking of their mouths to actual speech. A howler can, albeit with some difficulty, speak human speech, but it tends to be clumsy and broken. Humans are unable to truly speak like a howler, and any peaceful interactions usually require at least one howler who understands both languages being present to translate. Howlers also possess a silent hand cant, which is typically used by war parties. Other means of long-distance communication include sending couriers, or having a string of howlers relay the message, one after the other. The problem with the latter approach is a message can sometimes be garbled, much like the old human game of Telephone. Smoke signals and flame beacons can also be used, allowing a prearranged message to be sent from one tribe to another, typically used to gather allies before going off to war, or gathering outside a clan chief's tomb.
Writing also tends to vary a bit by region, but for the most part, again, owing to the Kadeshan Empire, is still relatively universal, at least with regards to the trade language. History and myth, however, tend to be represented pictorally, including Kadesh the Demon Slayer's rebellion against the Yautja. Much like the old Egyptian hieroglyphics, these remained by and large a cipher, the actual meaning being hidden for much of the time humans have spent on LV-538. It wasn't until recently, when Dr. Grayson and Thorwald's expedition discovered The White Obelisk, that a true understanding of Howler glyphs could be achieved.
The White Obelisk is what can be best described as an extraterrestrial Rosetta Stone, bearing Howler glyphs one one side, and then writing on the other four sides in Howler Trade language, Yautja script, and most curiously, Engineer writing. Thanks to the lingual expertise of Professor Thorwald, who has experience with both Engineer and Yautja writings, translations of both the trade language and glyphs soon followed.
Having a means of reliable communications with the nearby plains tribes has gone a long way to helping keep the peace, but the mountain clans remain as isolationist and xenophobic as ever, while the forest villages often stay hidden in the boughs of the trees that make up their home.