Friday, May 3, 2013

Frank Herbert Saturday Cyberpunk - The Green Brain And Hellstrom's Hive - A Surreal Old School Campaign Part III

This post is going make a whole lot of sense if you read the other parts of this. Go to Part II right HERE
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The summers of the  90's for me were hot, chaotic, and full of part time temporary jobs. The weekends were a time when I worked partially in Boston and partially in Ct. I did a lot of role playing and spent time over the houses of friends in Manchester Ct. Most of the time staying over night and gaming till the wee hours of the morning only to drive home and go to work on Monday. The problem I had was jaded players. Vampires, Mages, Swordsmen, And the like they had seen it all. Everything with a capital letter and the driving forces to face them down.
 I ran a lot of the Stormbringer rpg & AD&D first edition back then. They were getting a bit sick of the usual faces of the lords of order. The small snip it in Deities And Demigods didn't do them justice. Stormbringer painted them in much the same light.
 That box of 60's and 70's science fiction books came to the rescue again. When I say Frank Herbert all I hear is Dune. Well he did write to very good books that get no attention today. The Green Brain And Hellstrom's Hive.
These two fit my criteria for this game. Mostly unknown, very well written, and freaky as all hell.

Into The Human Colony
These two books became the back bone for my alternative Overlords of Order. Were two books set in the near future and taking place over millennia, deals with themes such as human survival and evolutionecology, and the intersection of religionpolitics and power. Most of all the evolution of the insects and human ecology. 
The Green Brain is typical seventies ecology science fiction. Themes of forced evolution, weird biotechnology and the acceleration of the human into humanoid. These books had much in common with the horror and science fiction films of the 60's and 70's. They didn't always end on a happy note or even a hopeful one. 
Plot According to Wiki : 
The book is set in the not-so-distant future, where humankind has all but succeeded in controlling all life on the planet and almost completely wiping out all insect life. The earth is divided into a "Green Zone" which humans totally dominate (or so they believe) and a diminishing "Red Zone" that is not yet conquered.
The "Green Brain" of the title is an intelligent organism that embodies and arises from nature's resistance to human domination. It is able to command social insects to form humanoid-shaped collective organisms which it uses to infiltrate the "Green Zone".
The book is about a small team sent in to the jungles of Brazil to investigate the problem, who find out that some of their assumptions were wrong.
The book is well written and brisk. This isn't Dune set in Brazil.  Things are not as they seem. On a weekend in October. I read this one. And began to make notes. 
Hellstrom's Hive is even more bizarre then the Green Brain. The book reads like a Call of Cthlhu adventure set in the near future minus Cthlhu or any Great Old one is missing from these but the implications are far more horrid.  Doctor Hellstrom is a "mad" scientist out to reshape humanity into something far greater and far less then what it already is. 

The plot according to wiki the simplified version: It is about a secret group of humans who model their lives upon social insects, and the unsettling events that unfold after they are discovered by a deeply undercover agency of the US government.
 Hellstrom's Hive is  more of a ecological spy thriller with overtones of a horror movie that becomes the future evolution of humanity gone horribly right. The book is quick and fast. It actually reads more like a 50's sci fi pulp then it does a 70's ecological science fiction novel.

The Insect Overlords 
Both books are written from two very different perspectives. The Green Brain concerns the continuing control of nature by man until the organized structure of the insects evolves into something completely different.
Hellstrom's Hive is the application of one man's order into the evolution of a very different branch of humanity into a insect humanoid hybrid race.
These became to competing classes of evolved hive mind God Minds competing across the cosmos for the resource that is mankind.
The Insect Overlords of Order
Order And Life
One group is based on the absorbed humanity into the greater insect super organism. The so called Greens in point of fact.Which was starting to spread it notion of order among other planes.
The Hivers were an evolved group of humans who had spread colonies among the planes quietly and quite insidiously. They were becoming a nuisance in the plans of the Irregulars.
Encounter At Reservation Point 
A couple of months game time "The Amerikan Irregulars" had healed up and were employed to gather a downed alien probe upon an unknown alternative Earth. A
 combination of plane segrators, time displacement units, bizarre equipment, mental conditioning, downloaded personalities, and sheer fire power were used for this mission 
The adventurers came upon a simple small town America setting. Things got bad fast as they found themselves going against Hivers for the first time. In fact the mission almost ended badly if not for the fact that they found the probe outside of town by sheer luck.
One PC bit the dust due to the sonic weaponry of the Hivers. Town of Reservation point is still a sticking point in a group of six of my former players.
From Green To Red 
The second encounter this time with the Greens was at a terraforming station deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle when the PC's were supposed to grab another hard drive from a computer room.
The encounter became a running gun battle with one PC almost losing a leg. The encounter with an acid shooting insect ended badly for the PC. Critical thinking on the party's part saved their comrade. 

Hellstrom's Hive For The OSR 

There are a number of ways of using Hellstrom's Hive for your OSR games. For SWN Hellstrom's presents a unique spin. The alternative world of Hellstrom is going to be a lower technology level then the characters are going to be used to. For a game like Mutant Future Hellstrom is a group of specialty mutant who have evolved a rather unique life cycle and specialized mutations. They might be dimensional travelers such as I have used or given the full Hellstrom treatment with truly weird evolution at work.
 The humans of Hellstrom's Hive are evolved insect human hybrids specialty adapted to their roles in their respective society. They might be a uniquely alien colony of humans lost in the universe in a game of Xplorers or something far more alien.
These being's minds should be difficult to read telepathically and very dangerous because of the hive mind.
In Carcosa "The Hivers" have appeared as a group of a specialized men.A group of lunatics in a lost valley that the other races avoid like the plague unless they wish to end up within the vats of the Hivers.
Each member of Hellstorm's hive is specialized and bred to their roles. And selected for their traits. Their technology level in whatever game I've run has been 60's to 70's with very unique and weird biotechnological artifacts. Some of these have included their own people.
"Hellstroms" is also a mega front corporation for the Hivers in my Talon sector campaign and they are just as dangerous as they were in the 90's "Amerikan Irregular's" Campaign. 

Using The "Green Brain" In Your OSR Campaign File:Leaf-cutter Ants.jpg

Where in "Hellstrom's Hive" is humanity adapting into a specialized biological insect like social order and lawful structure. The "Green Brain" is insects adapting humans into their own alien agenda. They are interested in expanding out their own zones into expanding zones. For a game like SWN this means alien biotechnology on a scale not seen by many PC's. For Xplorers this means a whole different scale which breaks the usual "Star Ship Troopers" tropes. The book is a perfect way of presenting truly alien humanoids who have taken a completely different path then humanity. A  shadowy reflection of ourselves as we might become. The lawful god mind will really put the fear of a new Mother nature into Mutant Future players. They'll be seeing a group of mutated humans guided by a god mind of alien aspect. Specialized giant insect artifacts that will allow the DM to create some weird technology.

The Mega dungeons Of Frank Herbert

In the "Green Brain" mutated insect abound creating alien megadungeons throughout that world. Specialized mazes cut into the Earth and above the ground. These could be used as a template for designing some very unique and alien megadugeons where ecology and strangeness abound. I suggest taking a look at termite mound diagrams and more. 

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Hellstrom's Hive is unique in the respect that it takes place within a Valley and the author takes pains to describe the entire set up of the place. There is some truly disturbing technologies within the hive society of the book however. These aren't for the faint of heart. There are miles of levels that run under a town and then into the heart of the Earth. They enable a DM to really go to town.
As I've said this isn't a nice book. These books have left folks that have read them uneasy, and are typical of the 70's speculative science fiction of the New Wave era. 


  1. Apparently "Hellstrom's Hive" as well as the "war with the ants" science fiction film Phase IV, were inspired by the singularly weird Academy Award-winning documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle --

  2. Frank Herbert's "Hellstrom's Hive" and Phase IV were both motion pictures as well as novels; both however were inspired by HG Well's Empire of the Ants which predates both films and novels.
    The atmosphere of Wells short story pervades all of the works. The final quotes from "Empire of Empire Of The Ants" pretty wells sums up the whole situation.
    A final section reports that Holroyd has returned to England to warn the authorities about the ants "before it is too late." The story concludes: "By 1920 they will be half-way down the Amazon. I fix 1950 or '60 at the latest for the discovery of Europe." You see H.G. Wells had just met fellow author Joseph Conrad. The atmosphere of doom from the insects comes down from the very start of this type of ecological science fictional disaster.
    You can read more
    Thanks for the comment!


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