Friday, May 10, 2019

Not Human at all: Ursas!

What would your PCs do, if they arrived at a Class-E port on some frozen dead end world, and discovered that this character:

"Stan", E7D776  Army, 2 terms Lieutenant
was the Port Authority? The Ursas appeared several hundred years ago; and other than the fact that they came from Earth, their origins are more legend than fact. The Ursas themselves cannot say who uplifted them. They don't think about it that much. They are here, deal with it.

Ursas are intelligent to a level comparable with humans, and some are quite smart. It is unwise to think of them as large, furry humans.  Ursas's motivations are hunger, desire for territory (see point 1), self-preservation or reproduction. Ursas that live in human society have chosen to adopt human means of sating these desires. Working for pay to buy food negates hunger and the need for territory.  Cooperation with humans provides security and the opportunity to find other Ursas to address that last drive.

Ursas are not aggressive, unless they sense a threat. They know that they can intimidate humans with their size and will do so if it helps their goals.  They will fight if facing a threat to themselves, their territory, their cubs, or any character the Ursa considers important to protect. Ursas in the Army can wear armor and carry heavy weapons. Think about that for a minute.

Ursas also do not have any aesthetic sense. They know that humans have a concept of 'beauty' or 'goodness', but they do not. The concepts hold no interest for them, nor do they fret about the lack of this capacity. Ursas are moral neutrals: they do not comprehend "Should Not", but only "Can Not". Social disapprobation or moral judgements do not persuade Ursas, but the death penalty does.

Ursas can be friendly, cheerful or grumpy as unpredictably as humans can. Ursa characters throw on the Reaction Table just as humans do, but if the Referee decides that NPCs are unaware of or unfamiliar with Ursas, they may face a -DM.
"What is with these humans?"

Ursas generally cooperate with humans.  They understand that humans operate by rules or laws, and when in company with humans they will follow the rules. Usually. Any time that there is no immediate threat in acting contrary to the rules, they will act to further their desires. This is not malice or mischief, both of which suppose a knowing transgression.

Ursas understand human rules as applying only when there is force to back them up. If the rule conflicts with their desires the thinking is this: No force, no threat, no need to follow the rule. Friendship is also an alien concept for the Ursas; they work together towards goals but 'being friends' is not a goal to them.

Ursas will cooperate with another character towards a goal, and will maintain that association for as long as it takes to achieve the goal. An Ursa might work as a bounty hunter and spend months tracking down a convict. They might work solo, or have partners, either human or Ursa. Once they achieve the goal, to the Ursa there is no more need to continue the association. The thinking is not "I'm going to lose this guy as soon as I can," but "I have reached the goal. The circumstances around that goal do not need to continue." It is not malice that prevents long-term attachment to other characters. It is absence of need. Ursas have no psychological need for long-term companionship.

Ursas are tool users, but not tool makers. They can follow the reasoning of a human who invents a tool or device, and use said tool. It seems to not be in their nature to conceive of new tools on their own.

Their very large hands make some technical skills difficult to perform. If the Referee thinks a task requires too much fine motor work, he can assign a -DM to the task.

They are territorial, solitary creatures. Claustrophobia in human dwellings or ships is common. They dislike confined spaces such as starships or building interiors, unless they are very large/spacious. Their sleep pattern correlates to humans' but any time they can sleep longer they will. Jumps are a popular time for extended napping, and this also helps alleviate the claustrophobia. They consume triple the normal human amount of life support or food. Triple the cost for long term subsistence as well.

Ursas do not practice medicine on their own kind beyond basic first aid. An Ursa with Medical skill must decide whether to focus on human or Ursa medicine. Ursa medicine is limited to Skill-1. Human doctors with Xenomedicine can operate on Ursas. 

Uplifted Bears - Ursas
Ursus americanus sapiens

Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Subspecies: Kermode bear (U. a. kermodei) which contains some white color
phase individuals; the Louisiana black bear (U. a. luteolus), and the Florida black bear (U. a. floridanus).
Habitat: Originally dense forests to more open woodlands and brush lands.
Size Varies seasonally and geographically (heavier in N and E). Head–body length 1.2–1.9m (4–6.2ft) Shoulder height 0.7–1.0m (2.3–3.3ft) Weight male: normally 60–225kg (130–500lb), but in some areas where they eat corn, they may weigh up to 300kg (650lb) or more rarely up to 400kg (880lb); female: 40–150kg (90–330lb) but occasionally exceed 180kg (400lb).
Uniform black, brown, cinnamon, or blonde, sometimes with white marking on chest; all
white (nonalbino) individuals comprise up to 10 percent of some isolated populations in British Columbia, Canada, and also occur rarely elsewhere.
Fruits (berries and nuts), shoots, buds, catkins, insects, some young ungulates, and fish.
Breeding: births of 1–6 cubs (typically 2–3) total gestation 6.5–8.5 months.
Longevity: Typically to 25 years, but recorded up to 35 years.
Game Stats for Ursas:

Str:  3D (Min 6)    Int: 2D-1
Dex: 2D-1            Edu: 2D
End: 3D (Min 7)    Soc: 1D+3
In melee combat they use their paws & claws for 3D damage. An Ursa's hide is thick enough to provide an armor DM equal to Jack-2. (Two steps better than unmodified Jack)

Even normal bears possess intelligence on a level with the great apes, and a capacity to use tools.

Ursas have the following Automatic skills: Hunting-1, Reconnaissance-1, Brawling-1 regardless of their career path.

The following careers are NOT open to Ursas: Nobles (the concept means nothing to them), Flyers (cockpits are too small), Bureaucrats (too many rules that are meaningless to them). Only the Scout service will accept Ursas in Space; no Navy and no Merchants.

Ursa Scouts serve aboard modified Type-S scouts. Most interior partition walls are removed to alleviate the claustrophobia. 

Technology Adaptations:
Hands are large, but much more human-shaped. Still able to eat food raw.
Ursas can enter into careers by the age of 4. So in a sense their first term is their entire childhood.

The Church has recognized Ursa as intelligent and self aware beings, entitled to the rights & protections of sophonts, but they cannot be admitted to the Church. See my post on non-humans in the Church.

BTW, I really like bears. They are cool.

Factual data on bears provided by:
David L. Garshelis "American Black Bear" The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Ed. David W. Macdonald. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. 23 April 2012


  1. "Exit, pursued by a bear" Shakespeare, "The Winter's Tale", Act III, Scene III.

  2. Excellent, simply excellent! THIS is what T20's Ursa should have been.

    1. Thank you, Bill. I've not read T20; what are the differences between their Ursas and mine?

  3. T20's Ursa can best be described as "Bob the Bear from Accounting". They think, act, live, raise children, and form communities exactly how humans think, act, live, raise children, and form communities. They're nothing more than humans who happen to look like bears. They might as well be Yogi and Boo Boo.

    Ursa are a player race in T20 and keeping them "player ready" meant some bear behaviors needed to be dialed back or dropped, but the T20 Ursa had everything "bearish" about them pruned. Your version strikes a happy medium. They're still "player ready" but there are also lots of behavioral and others great bits which sets them apart.