This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue.
|Bilateral symmetry, tetrapod (four-limbed), quadruped (all four limbs used for locomotion)
|Oxygen-nitrogen inhalant, Carbon dioxide exhalant, tolerant of a wide range of tainted atmospheres
|Diurnal (active during the day)
|Arid steppes, deserts, lightly wooded areas
|Diet and Trophics
|Herbivore/grazer, poikilothermic (varying body temperature at varying levels of efficiency; will get sluggish in cold environments)
|Two genders, mild sexual dimorphism, conjugal intercourse, viviparous birth (one or two calves), iteroparous (reproducing more than once in a lifetime). Females may also reproduce by parthenogenesis, but this is very rare and thought to be triggered by nutritional factors.
|Lifecycle and ontogeny
|Two years to sexual maturity. Lifespan of about twenty years in the wild, about thirty years in captivity.
|M: 70, F: 90, J: 45
|10m (F: 6m)
|Athletics (Endurance) M: 2, F: 4,
Athletics (Strength) M: 2, F:4, J: 1;
Recon 0; Melee (bash) 0 (M: 2)
|Flee 6-; Attack: 10+ (M: 8+);
Head Bash (M: 5D, F: 4D, J: 3D)
|Slow Metabolism (-2 to Initiative);
Armor (+4, J: +2); Large (M: +3; F: +4, J: +2)
|M: Male (’bull’); F: Female; J: Juvenile (‘calf’)
|Melee/20m if thrown
A huge four-legged herbivore native to the steppes of the arid planet Spinell, the bardicant has been successfully domesticated and introduced to many other worlds, where it is valued as a mount and beast of burden. Selective breeding and natural adaptation to different climates and planetary gravitations have resulted in many different sub-species. Riding bulls (males) are often bred for speed, intelligence, endurance, or simply for certain hide colours.
An adult female has a height at withers of about two meters and weighs a hefty three tons, with the bulls being slightly smaller. Nearly a third of this bulk is made up of segmented food sacs within a hump in which the animal stores water, fat and protein. This enables a well-fed bardicant to endure long periods of time without food or water. Bardicant meat is edible and rich in essential amino acids (and there is quite a lot of it in a single slaughtered animal), but it needs to be treated and boiled for at least an hour to get rid of certain toxic by-products that may cause mild diarrhea and fever. Even so, the meat retains an unpleasant sourish taste. On the positive side, it can be dried or salted and will keep for up to four months if so treated.
Adult male bardicant, with human figure for comparison
Growing out of the hump are dark-ringed, pointy quills, which are surmised to be an atrophied defense mechanism against the predators of its home planet. The quills are raised when the animal is alert, angry, or pleased, and flattened when in repose. Bardicants used as beasts of burden often have their quills removed to facilitate fitting a harness. In more primitive societies, the longest quills (which grow to a good meter in length) are often painted and used as javelins.
Both males and females have a very tough hide, with a horny texture. The original colour is a mottled mossy gray, which on its native planet Spinell enabled a herd to pass as a rocky outcrop when settled down for the night, a time when the bardicant is almost blind. Today, many bardicant breeds have a brown, tan or reddish colour. Primitive settlers and barbarian cultures fashion bulky suits of armour out of the hide.
Male bardicants have a flat, bony crest used as a weapon; with the force of a charging bull behind it, it can cause damage even to an armoured vehicle and knock a civilian four-wheeler on its side. In the mating season, bulls clash with each other in stunning displays of violence, although injuries are rare. Particularly vicious fights may result in a bull being turned on its back; the animal cannot right itself and will usually die in a short while because its body weight crushes the lung sacs in this position.
Bardicants usually live in herds of three to twenty females and about as many males. The females, being slower and more ponderous, take up the center with the calves while the more agile males form a roaming perimeter protecting the herd from predators. Females are usually sluggish and will only break into a lumbering run in the face of dire danger, but the males can be surprisingly fast for their bulk. Wild herds can be dangerous; while domesticated bardicants seldom harm a human, wild bulls are territorial and may attack.
Out of the mating season, domesticated bardicants are docile and may even develop an affection for their keepers. During the season, which happens between every two years in times of abundant grazing and every six years when food is scarce, the keepers mark the animals with paint and release them into the wild—no pen will stand up to the force of two raging bulls full of hormones. Afterwards, the steppes are searched and the bardicants collected; if well-trained, they will usually recognise their keepers and follow them home willingly as soon as they are found.
Riding a tamed bardicant requires a set of electric barbs set into the gums of the animal (the only sensitive area). Without the electric snaffles, the bardicant may still be willing to obey its master, but will have no idea in which direction it is supposed to go (make regular DIFFICULT Riding checks to keep the animal going and pointed in the right direction, and VERY DIFFICULT to get it started again if it has stopped).
The more intelligent breeds of bardicant are about as smart as a horse, and some of them may be trained to obey a few whistled or verbal commands. Females are slower, but can carry greater loads (up to their own weight) and go for longer periods without water, so their main use is as beasts of burden or draught animals. Bulls are faster and less ponderous, and are primarily used for riding.
The characters need to cross the desert and purchase riding bardicants.
- Unfortunately, some of the bardicants are not properly trained. As soon as a herd of wild bardicants is sighted, they try to elope (while still carrying their riders?) and join the herd. It will be hard to keep them in check using the electric snaffles. If they manage to reach the herd, the mounted characters will be caught in the middle of a fight as the bulls sort out the pecking order with the newcomers.
- During one night, curious omnivores take apart the electric snaffles (if you think this is ludicrous, consider that a flock of Australian kea birds can take apart a car within half an hour). They carry the batteries to their nest. The characters have to either retrieve the batteries, or jury-rig something from their weapons’ power sources (which will probably fry the bardicant’s gums if they don’t use an inverter or power conditioner).
- One of the bardicants develops a lasting affection for its rider. When the characters reach their destination, the animal will refuse to be parted from xir. This may range from a loud and mournful keening whenever the character is out of sight (and the bardicant can keep it up all night) to attempts to break out of the pen or compound and go searching for xir—in a bustling city. “Excuse me, sir, but is that your bardicant heading for the china shop?”
- One of the bardicants has its nostrils infested by parasites. It will be difficult to control, stopping ever so often to rub its nose against a rock or tree. If untreated, the parasites will slowly migrate into the lungs, and the animal will start to weaken and suffocate after a few days.
The characters come upon a group of tourists on a safari. As the characters are riding bardicants and wearing local garb, they are mistaken for indigenous tribesmen and asked to pose for holograms.
- One of the bardicants inadvertently steps into the remnants of the campfire and burns its foot. Now it is hobbling and cannot keep up with the others. The characters will either have to reduce their pace, or leave the animal and some of their equipment behind.
- One of the bardicants has an annoying habit of suddenly stopping and digging holes in the ground. Just as the characters are getting exasperated with the beast, they notice that it has dug up a subterranean water reservoir. The bottom is sprinkled with gold nuggets.
The characters are hired to transport a herd of bardicants to a frontier planet.
- The handler falls ill during jump, and the characters will have to figure out a way to get the beasts out of their cargo hold—they are unnerved by the unfamiliar terrain outside and refuse to move.
- Mating season strikes while the ship is in space. A lot of restless two-ton bulls are in the cargo hold, and spoiling for a fight. The ship’s outer hull will take a lot of punishment, but interior bulkheads will not withstand a raging bull.
- The imported bardicants bear a disease. They are immune, but the native bardicants are not. The planet’s population, faced with the prospect of losing their herds, is getting desperate. They take one of the characters hostage and force them to get them a vaccine—preferably quickly, because every day more bardicants are dying, and nerves are on edge.
The characters are crossing the steppe in their own vehicle.
- Mating season. A hormone-driven bull confuses the characters’ ATV with a particularly attractive female and tries to copulate with it. Chasing it off with weapons may anger the herd and result in a stampede.
- The ATV runs into a landslide and is turned on its side. Fortunately, there are some paint-marked bardicants in the vicinity (set free for the mating season and never retrieved). If the characters succeed in baiting and handling the animals, they can construct a crude harness and use the bardicants’ strength to get their vehicle back on its wheels.
- As the characters make camp for the night, they have to erect a folding fence to keep off a certain species of annoying or dangerous animal. Unfortunately, a bardicant bull lumbers into the fence, gets entangled and destroys part of it in its efforts to get free.
- Travelling during the dark period: The lumpy rocks the ATV moves over are in fact a herd of bardicants settled down for the night. Naturally, the bardicants take offense.
- The provisions bought in the last village are spoiled. The characters need to separate a bardicant bull from the herd and bring it down, then divide the carcass for meat—and finally, they have to treat it. Did anyone bring a large enough kettle to boil half a ton of meat? A cooking pit may do the trick, but in any case it is impossible to dig a large enough hole for the remains—which will immediately draw scavengers that make the cooking party a dangerous ordeal. At first, the critters keep a careful distance, but they are getting bolder by the minute…
- The characters come upon a group of illegal poachers who shoot the herd’s calves. They saw off the crests and leave the carcasses to rot. The mourning mothers will stay at the site of their dead calves, refusing to move, eventually starving. The characters may try to bring the culprits to justice, or they may try to get the herd moving again—for example, by constructing moving dummies with the skins of the dead calves.
- The characters need to be off, but the compound’s exit is blocked by a herd of wild bardicants. The locals’ advice is to wait—the beasts will go away eventually, and it doesn´t pay to irritate them. The mission, however, is urgent and bears no delay—getting medicine for a sick crewmember or getting the message to the Consul in time.
- Lying alone in the steppe is a bull lying on its back and slowly suffocating. It has slipped down the side of a stone slab and ended up in that position. If the characters choose, they may use their vehicle to put the bardicant back on its feet (which should require a bit of planning)—and then they have to gun the engine to get clear of the ungrateful beast.
- The characters come upon a group of settlers who are in a heated argument and on the point of drawing weapons. It turns out that both sides released their bardicants for the mating season and inadvertently used the same colour to mark them. Now both are convinced that the other side wants to steal their animals.
The characters encounter a group of nomads in the desert.
- They will only accept the characters if they successfully tame a wild bardicant bull—riding a mount of one’s own is a badge of adulthood.
- The nomads use lacquered bardicant quills as throwing weapons; each tribe has their own colour pattern. One tribe has attacked the characters before, using quills marked with their enemies’ colours. They hope to have created enough of a “misunderstanding” that the characters will take revenge and decimate the rival tribe with their superior star-forged weapons.
- During a long solar eclipse, enemy tribesmen mount a strike against the clan the characters are negotiating with. The clan’s riding bardicants are of no use, since they are nearly completely blind in the murky light. The characters need to get the chieftain’s fertilised eggs to safety in their ATV—or find a way to use their vehicle’s headlights to illuminate the camp so the tribal warriors can use their mounts and drive off the attackers.
- The nomads hold a festival in honour of the characters. The young men of the tribe, wearing their finest apparel, try to outdo each other impressing their guests with daring stunts on the backs of their galloping bardicants. The characters are now expected to show something similarly impressive to honour their hosts.
- The nomads want to improve their own herd and make a lucrative offer for bardicants of a certain breed. If the characters take the offer, they must drive the herd from the settlements to the tribe’s lands across miles of steppe. Meanwhile, other nomad clans have gotten wind of the deal and try to steal the herd.