Sothosa is a system-neutral planet with genetically engineered inhabitants, a miner’s union, and an exploitative corporation. Does your campaign need a planet like this? This article is designed to help you flesh it out.
Table of Contents
Galactic society is always hungry for resources. There are always more people being born, more people who need housing, ships, holodiscs, among other things. To this end, freelance surveyors fly beyond the edge of known space, scanning and logging planets in the hopes of finding a mineral-rich, habitable world.
Apollo Surveying did just that.
That world is Sothosa, a dusty red rock on the fringe of the galaxy. The atmosphere is thin, with an oxygen concentration comparable to the summit of Mt. Everest. Yet despite this, the planet is reasonably warm near the equator.
There is life here, though only down in the canyons that crisscross the planet. Patches of moss grow across the rocks, and “dagger-snakes” use their bladed tails to scrape it off. The dagger-snakes, at two feet long, are the largest creatures native to Sothosa.
The Sothans are a genetically engineered subspecies of humanity, extensively altered to withstand the harsh sunlight, thin air and arid conditions of Sothosa. They have red skin, long and back-swept ears, and slit-like pupils. The first wave of Sothans, known as the Founders, were originally baseline humans, altered through a dangerous and painful process. The later generations were made in the traditional way.
Culturally, they tend to be hard working and community focused. In lieu of “Mister” or “Miss,” they use “comrade.”
The planet is now on its third generation of colonization, and the earliest colonists are in their 50s.
Neo Cairo is built on the floor of an east-west canyon, carved out by water in the planet’s ancient past. A thick pane of synthetic diamond covers the top of the canyon, sealing it from the atmosphere. The city is cramped, with narrow roads hemmed in by apartment complexes. A streetcar line runs the length of the city, making travel quick and easy. The city is divided into west and east by a thick wall with several gates. These gates are usually kept open, but are set to slam down in the case of a depressurization event or other emergency
The two largest open areas under the glass are Founders’ Park in the west and Union Park in the east. Founders’ Park is dedicated to the first wave of Sothan settlers, and in its center is one of the tracked rovers that were used as both work and home by the earliest settlers. A nearby plinth displays the names of the first people to land on Sothosa.
Union Park, near the eastern end, is centered around a museum of armor and weaponry from the union revolt. Pictures of the 13 Sothans slain in the revolt adorn one of the exterior walls.
Police Department of Neo Cairo
The Police Department of Neo Cairo (PDNC) is a low-lethality police department serving Neo Cairo. Most of its patrol officers are equipped with stun batons at best.
PDNC headquarters is on the eastern side of the central airlock. It is three stories tall, with Neo Cairo’s only prison taking up the upper two floors. The main floor contains interrogation rooms, a small armory, evidence lockers, and so on.
Sgt. Jordi Carpentier, patrol officer. Jordi bears the characteristic red skin and slit pupils of a descendant of the first Sothans, but his build is much taller and wispier than the Sothan average. He patrols the southern sectors on foot and is well-known by the community.
Officer Lara Fernandez, hotshot. Fernandez is a recent graduate from training, excited to make a name for herself as a protector of the city and guardian of the people. She has dark red skin and curly, shoulder-length hair.
Lieutenant Lea Cellucci, riot officer. Lt. Cellucci is the kind of woman you bring in for the worst situations— Hostages, riots, raids on bandit strongholds. She’s certified in every weapon the PDNC has in its armory, from the simple stun baton to anti-electronic Directed Energy Pulse weapons. She lacks the characteristic red skin of a Sothan, but has the slit pupils.
On the western side of the airlocks that divide Neo-Cairo into west and east, this four-story building meets most of the medical needs of the citizenry. Its eastern end butts up against the divider wall, and a dedicated airlock on that side allows emergency access for medics and patients alike, even in the case of a depressurization event.
The Neo-Cairo Medicorps handles medical emergencies within the city and, occasionally, beyond. Its emergency responders have four ranks, in descending order of seniority: Paramedic-Captain, Paramedic, Emergency Medical Technician, and Emergency Medical Responder.
Paramedic-Captains, Paramedics, and EMRs are generally assigned to the “wagons,” which are effectively modern-day ambulances driven by electricity instead of gasoline. EMTs are usually assigned to “sprinters,” electric bikes small enough to be loaded into a passenger elevator, but carrying enough medical equipment to treat common wounds or, in more serious cases, stabilize a patient while awaiting a wagon for transport.
Paramedic-Captain Valentyna “Val” Kulyk, ex-soldier. Captain Kulyk served for several years in a war far away, stitching up soldiers and civilians alike. She is highly skilled at triage and command, and is generally the first choice for incident commander at any site. Her skin is pale, and the right side of her face is noticeably more wrinkly than the left. Her accent marks her as a former soldier, enunciating everything clearly and precisely and eschewing planetary jargon in favor of soldier slang or academic terminology.
EMT Omar Ryo, hotshot driver. EMT Ryo was raised by the state after the unfortunate deaths of his parents, and as such, he has an almost fanatical level of patriotism. He drives one of the motorbike-ambulances Neo Cairo employs, weaving through the tight streets with an uncanny nimbleness.
Dr. Cass MacLellan, founder. Dr. MacLellan is dark red Sothan with a long braid of brown hair. She was one of the earliest recipients of the Sothanization gene treatments, and describes the experience as “like going through puberty for a third time, but at least I don’t have to take hormones anymore.” The gene treatments left her abnormally sensitive to light, and she has to wear thick goggles whenever she’s in unfiltered sunlight. She is the head surgeon of Neo-Cairo Med, and has no desire to move into administration.
The Groovy Cucumber
If you want to eat something other than Lieburgers, The Groovy Cucumber is the place for you. The premier drinking establishment on the east side of Neo Cairo, they serve everything from Founder’s Fizz to turbo-vodka imported from the Galactic Core. The food is, for the most part, made from the same stuff the Lieburgers are, but the chefs here have spent years fine-tuning their recipes into something that even gourmands from much more prosperous worlds could respect.
Δ Ch’oe, exceptional chef. Δ (pronounced “Delta”) is a short, stocky Sothan woman with shoulder-length red hair. She is responsible for the menu and staffing of The Groovy Cucumber, both of which she takes very seriously. She often tracks down any new offworlders in Neo Cairo, hoping to buy some exotic ingredients for special dishes. She drives a hard bargain for these and often pays slightly below a reasonable rate, but a complimentary meal at The Groovy Cucumber is usually thrown in to make up for it.
P Ch’oe, businessman. P (pronounced “Rho”) is a short, broad-shouldered Sothan man with buzzed black hair. He handles the financial side of The Groovy Cucumber’s operations which, in practice, generally means convincing his sister not to order large quantities of strange meat. The Ch’oe siblings are the children of a pair of eccentric physicists, who gave them their odd names. Their younger brother, Λ, is off-world studying physics somewhere in the greater galaxy.
Goby Zelhorst, host. Goby is a wiry Sothan man with an artificial nose. The nose is a triangular piece of plastic with two tubes sticking out of the bottom. He used to be a miner, which is where he sustained the injury requiring such a contraption. Now he works for The Groovy Cucumber, taking care of guests’ needs, whether that be passing on special orders or digging up some pirated holomedia for entertainment.
The Old Port
The old spaceport sits a few kilometers to the south of Neo Cairo. The facility is built around the remains of the original landing craft, a cryo-colonization ship called the Sothosa Explorer. The Sothosa Explorer was mostly dismantled by the original crew, with its components being used to build what is now the old spaceport. Some of the Founders still live here. The old port only sees significant traffic on Landing Day, the yearly celebration of the initial touchdown. The buildings here are not sealed from the atmosphere, so only Sothans can spend significant time here unaided.
Samir Jun, founder. Samir is a white-haired Sothan with incredibly wrinkled skin. He is an expert geologist, and many of his papers are highly cited in the greater galaxy. Even after 40 years on Sothosa, he still dreams of the orbitals and planets he visited in his younger days. A thick, white scar stands out on his right upper arm, a lasting reminder of an injury from decades ago. He lives in the dorms at the old port because he finds Neo Cairo too claustrophobic.
The Space Elevator
These days, the vast majority of cargo and people dock at the Sothosa Space Elevator, a geostationary space station secured to the surface by an array of incredibly strong cables, which also facilitate travel planetside. Facilities on the station are sparse, consisting of a Lieburger restaurant, the regional offices of Apollo Surveying, and a capsule hotel.
The bread and butter of Sothosa. Most of the mines are dug into the sides of the canyon Neo Cairo inhabits, sheltering them from sandstorms and making the return trip to Neo Cairo’s industrial area relatively easy. I won’t go into incredible detail about exactly what ores can be found on Sothosa, but most of the materials used for Neo Cairo came from the mines. Some mines, like Claim 36, have run out of usable ore and been abandoned, and some of those have been taken over by Sothans who don’t want to live in Neo-Cairo’s cramped environment.
“This is a union town, son.”
The Union protects workers’ rights. A strike 30 years ago turned into an armed revolt, which eventually resulted in suitable living conditions. Currently, the Union includes every industrial worker in Neo Cairo, from miners in the walls to construction workers to the algae farmers at the top of the canyon walls. It does not include civic employees like medical staff, police, or fire, nor does it include retail.
Eleanor Feldspar, Union president. Feldspar is a tall, broad-shouldered Sothan. Her black hair is kept in a short mohawk. Her right arm is encased in a partial exoskeleton, which was severely injured in the union uprising. She has a nearly-instinctual dislike for offworlders and has worked very, very hard to manage it.
Caydin Dew, Union vice-president. Caydin is a wiry man with black skin, slit pupils and the characteristic back-swept ears of a Sothan. He is the son of a baseline human and a Sothan, one of a small but growing minority. He speaks softly and is often at Eleanor’s side, carrying a tablet of key facts and figures.
“What’s mined is mine.”
Lieber Prospecting is a mining company with an exclusive contract for Sothosa’s minerals. As a result, its logo is everywhere on the planet. Stamped into infrastructure, painted on mining equipment, and even branded into the skin of the Founders. As a result of the union conflict two decades ago, the planetary economy has opened up a little, but Lieber-owned enterprises like its fast food division, Lieburger, are still quite prominent.
Lieber maintains an armed presence in the form of its Watchmen, a majority-human group of armed security personnel. They are officially barred from entering Neo Cairo while armed, and can primarily be found guarding the various mines on the planet.
Renata de Jesus, Vice President of Sothan Operations. De Jesus is a black-haired businesswoman from Lieber Prospecting’s corporate headquarters, sent here to ensure the smooth flow of resources into and out of the planet. She barely hides her disdain for the Sothans, due to both their genetic alterations and their working-class status.
Lieburger (LEE-burger) is Sothosa’s most prominent fast food joint, with three locations in Neo Cairo and one on the space elevator. Their burger patties are made out of processed algae with Simulated Beef Flavor, due to the complete lack of livestock on Sothosa. The food is mediocre but cheap.
Lozan “Lo” Carpentier, manager. Lozan is a Sothan in his mid-30s with short brown hair. He runs the east side Lieburger and, as a side gig, helps the Sandrunners’ piracy operation by importing burnable media under the guise of corporate data storage. He’s a simple man who just happens to have a substantial gambling problem, which the media piracy gig helps him pay for.
The Civil Government
“Bonum commune communitatis.”
Formed by order of the galactic government after the union revolt, the Civil Government of the Sothosan Settlements is a democratic body in charge of the non-mining-related affairs of the planet. In addition to controlling emergency services and New Cairo’s maintenance operations, it serves as a buffer between Lieber Prospecting and the population of the planet, arbitrating disputes about production rates and so on.
Governor Vai Dagger-Snake, radical. Governor Dagger-Snake is a Sothan politician with a nativist streak. As a young child, he witnessed the Union Uprising and that event left him with a deeply unfavorable opinion of offworlders. He is widely disliked by Lieber Prospecting representatives and galactic government officials, which is starting to cause genuine friction. The flagship project of his administration is a museum in the northwest sector, depicting local Sothan art.
Representative Josiah al-Rassi, moderate. Rep. al-Rassi is Dagger-Snake’s chief political rival. He, too, was a child during the Union Uprising, but it affected him quite differently. He believes that preventing a similar bloody event should be the government’s highest priority, even if that means placating offworlders occasionally. He is currently trying to build relations with the other colony worlds of the galaxy.
“It’s called art. Look it up sometime.”
50 kilometers or so east of Neo Cairo, down in the canyon, sits an abandoned mining operation designated Claim 36. The prefabricated habitats at the front of the mine have been taken over by an “artist’s collective” called the Sandrunners. They do produce art of varying sorts, from sculptures made of old mining equipment to low-brow comedy animations, but their primary trade is illicitly copying and mass-producing offworld media bought from travelers, then selling it to the local population.
By some incredible coincidence, media in this era is most commonly distributed on something that looks and functions almost exactly like a MiniDisc from the 1990s. These are usually referred to as “holodiscs.”
Laina Jun, pirate. Laina is a short, slim Sothan with bright blue hair that she keeps tied in a braid. Artistically, she’s a photographer, capturing the unique vistas and wildlife of Sothosa. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pay the bills, so she also runs Claim 36’s mass-piracy operation, supervising the banks of holodisc writers and deciding what offworld media is worth distributing.
“Crossing the skies!”
Apollo Surveying is a consortium of survey ships. They initially discovered Sothosa and marked it as likely to contain substantial mineral deposits. They now have a permanent presence at the Neo Cairo Spaceport, consisting of a few hangers, offices, and caches of supplies.
Hosni Asfour, chief. Hosni is a gray-haired, brown-skinned man nearing retirement age. He was part of the original crew that flagged Sothosa, and takes great pride in how well the planet has developed. He was born with only one leg and, when reminiscing about his surveying days, often jokes about how that made him the most fuel-efficient crew member, due to his lower mass. He has a mechanical prosthetic, but doesn’t use it in the office.
The Mystery of Claim 105
Two days ago, a group of miners went missing on the lowest level of Claim 105. The rescue team sent in after them also went missing. Now, family members in Neo Cairo have begun to worry after not hearing from their loved ones, and have asked the Union to investigate. The Union, in turn, has reached out to a group of third-party armed offworlders to accompany their representative, Anwar Jun, in his investigation.
Claim 105 is a mine located between Neo Cairo and the space elevator. A ring of industrial workshops encircles the minehead, and a small cluster of prefabricated habitation modules, or “fab-habs,” sits a hundred meters or so away. Beneath the surface, several levels of shafts extend out in various directions, following veins of valuable material.¹
A pair of elevators, side by side, allow access to the various levels. These elevators haul both people and equipment, and have a section of minecart track running down the center. The deepest level is “the 1K,” a kilometer below the surface. The mining operations on this level recently breached a cave system and, while surveying it, a team of miners went missing. A recovery team was sent in after them. They have also gone missing.
Claim 105, like all Lieber-owned mines, has a small contingent of Lieber Prospecting’s “Watchmen.” They are security guards under a slightly more friendly-sounding name. Most are human and wear a supplementary oxygen system when outside of the fab-habs. They are armed and serve to discourage any armed union action. Outside of Neo-Cairo and the space elevator, they are the only law-enforcement body.
Lieber Prospecting is currently jamming any transmissions out of Claim 105 and blaming some kind of atmospheric interference. They want to cover up whatever happened down in the caves and chalk the disappearances up to a group of miners leaving the camp without authorization and getting lost in the desert, because if they died in the mine production will have to halt until the cause of the accident is determined.
The Union is aware something unusual is going on at Claim 105, but the level of secrecy is unusual. This is the most likely faction to contact the party, as an armed escort could help ensure the safety of any union representatives sent out.
Patrick Thorsen, watchman. Officer Thorsen is a tall, muscular human with tan skin and surprisingly fluffy hair. He has been ordered to not allow anyone into or out of the area around Claim 105 and spends most of his time patrolling the perimeter in a rover to fulfill this duty. As long as a Union representative is with the party, however, he will grudgingly let the party in, on the condition that he escorts them the whole time.
Anwar Jun, Union representative. Anwar is a short man with a medium build and a square jaw. His left hand is a cybernetic, installed after his original hand was crushed in a mining accident. He almost always wears a flat cap, which hides a bald spot on his head. When outside of Neo Cairo, he wears his old miner’s jacket, a tough article with a patch reading “305 – Goblin Crew” on the right arm. His deep voice and intimidating body language make him quite convincing, even to unsympathetic offworlders.
¹ Hey, if you want to hear more about sci-fi mining, check out my Davastis 6 article https://2minutetabletop.com/davastis-6-mining-adventure/. If you want to flesh out the actual mine sections, that article is a great resource.
The 1K’s elevator area looks like any other level’s. Two side by side elevator bays connected to the minecart network. A sign on the wall of the chamber reads “1000M” and below that, somebody has spraypainted “1K!” and circled it in orange spray paint. A small electric locomotive sits on a side track, ready to haul people or ore carts deeper into the mine. A tunnel leads off to the north, with a track running down the center of it.
About a kilometer from the mine shaft, an equipment staging area has been set up around a passing track for the mine carts. The lights here are on. A half-eaten Lieburger sits on its wrapper on an equipment case. A disassembled pneumatic breaker has been laid out on a table, beside a set of wrenches and a bucket of replacement parts. Whoever left here meant to come back.
500 meters further down the tunnel, a locomotive with three flat equipment-hauler cars sits at the end of the laid track. Just behind it sits another locomotive with two passenger cars marked with green crosses. The second locomotive has “RESCUE” written on the side, and the passenger cars are clearly set up like rail-bound ambulances. Just beyond the end of the track, the floor suddenly drops several feet and slopes sharply. The tunnel has breached a cave system here.
Tracks in the sand clearly show that whoever entered this cave went downwards.
The truth of the matter is that about 200 meters below this breach, there is a cave filled with flat creatures about the size of a tarot card. These creatures survive by clinging onto other creatures, tapping into their spines, controlling their bodies and leeching nutrients from their blood. Most commonly, they do this to dagger-snakes and use them to feed off the moss that grows in various parts of Sothosa, but this works on other organisms as well.
There are eight people who have been taken over in this way. Four, the miners, are armed with heavy mining equipment, but the rescue crew is only armed with their fists. The tarot-leech creatures are still getting used to controlling these bodies and will be very clumsy at the beginning of combat if fought. However, they will quickly learn to control them better, and get more accurate and more lethal the longer combat goes on.
The tarot-leeches can be ripped off the necks of their victims while only moderately injuring the victim. They will lose some blood and probably fall unconscious, and medical attention is highly recommended, but they are unlikely to die from this.
The party will likely encounter the rescue team first, as the miners were deeper into the cave when they were attacked. This should allow them to get used to fighting these creatures, before throwing in the added complication of mining equipment being used as weapons.
At the lowest point of the cave system, some 300 meters down, is a partially flooded chamber crawling with tarot-leeches and dagger-snakes. Exactly what to do about this place (quarantine it, blow it up, and so on) is ultimately up to the party, but these strange creatures are probably of great interest to researchers.
Successfully rescuing the miners and rescue team without killing any of them will result in a substantial reward for the party. This reward will be higher if Anwar is killed or otherwise happens to die below the surface and the party agrees not to disclose what actually happened, or Lieber’s attempt to hide it.
The deaths of one or all of the miners and rescue team will decrease the reward. If no one is successfully recovered, Lieber will reward the party with enough fuel for their spacecraft to get to the next inhabited system, and a recommendation not to come back.
Sothosa and Neo Cairo was a lot of fun to write, combining my love of sci-fi and dense urbanism. Neo Cairo is supposed to be cramped but not unpleasant, a dense but lively place with its own culture. The Sothans themselves underwent several revisions in terms of their origin, finally settling on the first generation being humans who underwent extensive genetic alterations.
While there were a lot of inspirations for this article, from Robert Zurin’s The Case For Mars to the city of Vancouver’s Bike EMTs, I’d like to give a particular shout-out to Liquify’s album Lost In Time, which I was listening to for a good 70% of the time I was writing this.
One last thing before we get to the downloads and comments section. If you’ve never donated blood, please look up your local blood agency and at least read about the process. There’s always a need for more blood, and it could make the difference between life and death for somebody.
Have a good one, y’all.
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Former esports wannabe, current TTRPG streamer and TTRPG creator interviewer. I like science fiction and I have a soft spot for licensed tabletop RPGs. You can find all the campaigns I’m in and interviews I’ve done over on YouTube.
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