Coriolis: The Nekatra

Wild Nekatra 2

Possibly the last thing you’ll ever see, if that Nekatra is coming for you . . .
The Nekatra, and all the semi-intelligent species in Coriolis, offer an interesting tangent from the human and super-natural side of the game, both as intriguing and dangerous adversaries, and as potential player characters.  But they are a bit of an off-shoot from the main thrust of the game.  Where did they come from?  Are they, in fact, fully and separately evolved species, or were they genetically engineered by the Legion or some other faction?  Or did they come to the Third Horizon aboard the Zenith or perhaps were they created by the Icons for the sport of their followers?
That said, I remember the first time I reached the page about the so-called “semi-intelligent” species of the Third Horizon.  I almost dismissed the Nekatra with a little tut and a roll of my eyes.  Wolfmen?  Really?  
I mean, at first I wasn’t even taken by the idea of semi-intelligent species at all.  It was a bit like having weird alien races, such as the Vargyr in Mega Traveller (which I hadn’t been a big fan of and always seemed to me to be ripping off Chewbacca).  But I was sure I’d read somewhere that having weird alien races wasn’t something that happened in Coriolis (although maybe that was an interview with Joss Wheden talking about Firefly…).  But either way, having the Nekatra, Skavara and Ekilibri in the game immediately seemed to break that unwritten undertaking – no knobbly-headed aliens in Coriolis thank you very much!
But, in my campaign I’ve had NPC Skavara, minions of the Zalosian Witchsmellers from Phokaas, as well as an NPC, and then PC, Nekatra. 
In the game they don’t feel like knobbly-headed aliens, and they fit well into their own particular niches within the game.  Admittedly, these can feel a little stereotypical:
–  the Skavara are small and rat-like, feeding off rubbish and scurrying around the edges of human society (as the great Foundation scholar Ghalabar Randaishan once said, “you may not know it but you’re never more than 10 feet away from a thieving little Skavara”);
–  the Ekilibri are cute lemur-like creatures, agile and easily trained as pets;
–  and the Nekatra, beastly hunters that are harnessed by humans to fight, either in the arenas of the Horizon or on the Legion’s battlefields.
Wild Nekatra
So where did these species come from?  As with so much of the Coriolis canon, it’s up to us as GMs and players to decide.
The book does offer a suggestion that the Nekatra were bio-engineered from scratch by the Legion, but that doesn’t feel right to me.  Wild Nekatra live on Kua, Menkar and the forest moons of Uharu (not Endor, and no we are not going to start talking about Ewoks here!).  It seems a bit of a stretch to think that the Legion, that’s only been in operation across the Third Horizon for 60 years, would be able to both design and create a full-blown species in that time, and seed these systems with them.  And why would the Legion seed these planets in the first place?  We know they modify some Nekatra, turning them into the so-called Legion Nekatra (more on them in a moment), but what would the Legion’s motivation be to create a species (presumably for their own military purposes) and then let them go free?  You could argue that some escaped to start Nekatra colonies, but again it’s a bit of a stretch to think this happened three times.  And surely, if the Legion had been responsible for creating a species of warrior werewolves they might have wanted to keep it a secret, and might have been strongly motivated to hunt down any escapees in double-quick time.
So I’m not a fan of that.
In my campaign the origins of my Nekatra, as well as those of the other semi-intelligences, are shrouded in mystery, and anyone who bothers to take the time to think about it probably ascribes their existence to the wonders, or the mischief, of the Icons.
But now let’s take a closer look at Nekatra themselves, the details on page 317 of the core book.  They are combat machines, even before the Legion goes and upgrades them even further, when they become mega-combat machines!
With Strength of 6 and Agility of 5 (and thus a Hit Point total of 11) they are going to out-muscle every human they come across, helped by their Melee Combat of 3.
Added to this, they have two combat abilities:
–  the Throat Attack: a vicious strike that reduces the Nekatra’s crit rating from 2 to 1, and let’s the Nekatra grapple its opponent if successful, and;
–  Feral Hunger: a frenzy that doubles the number of attacks that can be made but leaves the Nekatra open and defenceless (other than the obvious, attack being the best form of defence!).
Beyond that, the Legion went and made some impressive modifications to build their version of a Nekatra soldier:  bio-engineering and bionics give these Legion Nekatra an additional 10, yes 10, Hit Points for a standard total of 21, and an increased damage from their bite attack (weapon damage of 4!).  They also have implanted medi-glands that secrete a hormone that allows the Nekatra to rise again once broken.  And if that isn’t enough, the Legion then went and added a range of standard cybernetic implants….
When I introduced Nekatra into my campaign it was in Episode 6, “The Call of a Ghostly Choir”, and they were not immediately antagonists.  They could have become that, but it depended on the way the crew played out the situation.  In the end they rescued the three Nekatra, and they became friendly but distant NPCs as the campaign rolled on.
This worked out well: I’d wanted to bring the Nekatra into the game, but didn’t want it to be an immediate fight.  As we have seen Nekatra are deadly, and especially those modified by the Legion.
If they have a weakness it’s in their lack of a ranged attack.
There’s nothing in the book that specifically states the Nekatra can’t use guns, but their stats don’t include a Ranged Combat skill as standard, and I’ve taken this to mean that they have a distaste of, or maybe a phobia-like reaction to, using guns.  I’m delighted to say that Connor, one of my players who now plays an ex-Legion Nekatra, came up with this thought too, and plays his character, Norsa, in that way.
Norsa Arena
Norsa, during his short career as a Gladiator in the Arenas of Einekkeh
So, how about having a Nekatra, and a Legion Nekatra at that, as a player character? 
Well, it does bring a number of issues.  When Connor’s original character, Captain Leo Valdez, was killed we obviously had the need to generate a new one.  This had the added wrinkle that the crew were now half-way across the Horizon from their start point, and creating a back-story that introduced the new character in a satisfying way was going to present a few challenges.  So, I suggested that Connor consider stepping into the shoes of a friendly NPC, and he chose Norsa, the Nekatra they had rescued and who, since then, had built a relationship with Valdez: indeed, Valdez had agreed to sponsor Norsa as he tried to build a career as a gladiator.
I can hear you all thinking: “ouch, a Legion Nekatra as a player character, how OP is that? “
I certainly thought it and Connor wasn’t blind to the possibilities.  Having a PC as a fully operational Legion Nekatra, or any other exceedingly powerful character, is always a challenge for the GM: you don’t want one character being the solution to every problem, and you don’t want to have to up the ante just to cater for the OP character, and have the others either slaughtered or too terrified to poke their head out when the fighting starts.
It was clear to me that Norsa would have to suffer some setbacks before he became an NPC… 
So, his first fight in the arena didn’t work out as he wanted.  His opponent, terrified for his life but too brash and macho to say it, conspired to have Norsa poisoned before the fight.  Norsa was defeated, badly beaten, severely weakened and ravaged by the poison.  He crawled back to the only safety he knew, that of his friends on the Spectral Corsair, and Connor’s new character was born.
Even after he’d been nerfed Norsa is still a combat character to reckon with: he’s hard to put down (although in Coriolis crits are crits and the weediest enemy might put you down for good!); and he still has the ability to mount a throat attack, a move that’s proved devastating on a couple of occasions.  But it’s also allowed for some interesting role-playing: Norsa has a total aversion to ranged weapons and won’t use them; he rebels against the blood lust he feels, desperately trying to tame his beastly ancestry but sometimes he can’t overcome it; and he’s a Legion Nekatra who fled the Legion, but who has now been unwillingly drawn back under their control.
For me as GM it means I have to be even more careful about how I craft the situations for the crew to face.  But this isn’t a new problem for me, or any other GM: my crew already had the best sniper in the Third Horizon, a cybernetic soldier and engineering and techie skills way up the scale!  Bringing a beaten up old Nekatra on to the crew has just added spice to an already heady mix!

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