ON THE MUTATION OF SPECIES

Coba Ball Court Skull

(From the Mutes & Norms Player's Guide)


The Viral Wars began on July 13, 2063. On that unluckiest of all Friday the Thirteenths, scattered outbreaks of various rare, deadly, and highly contagious diseases struck major population centers around the globe. Within days, as local police and military forces moved to quarantine the affected areas, and rapid-response treatment teams from the International Centers for Disease Control entered the panic-stricken hot zones, a second wave of outbreaks erupted, then a third, overwhelming the resources of the ICDC. As if the sheer number and variety of sicknesses weren't bad enough, symptom clusters began to appear that didn't exist in diagnostic databases. Clearly, a terrorist attack of unprecedented scope, sophistication, and coordination was under way. Yet as time went by and no group creditably claimed responsibility, speculation grew that the criminals themselves had been the first victims of the plague they'd unleashed … and, indeed, the perpetrators were never discovered. Adding to the sense of a crisis spinning out of control—an impression fueled by live and video footage from the affected areas broadcast continuously over the worldwide medianet, that anarchic electronic playground to which the majority of the Earth's population was connected by netaccessories implanted in the body or worn like watches or jewelry, and in whose theoretically boundless and infinitely protean netspace people could live out every fantasy imaginable in the form of virtual personality constructs, or virts—was a leaked report from ICDC scientists that revealed the existence of a terrifying new class of smart viruses.

Smart viruses, or savvees—so-called for their ability to manipulate their own DNA and RNA, and that of their hosts, in response to preprogrammed instructions and changing environmental conditions—had been around for more than twenty years. They were indispensable weapons in the war against such scourges as cancer and Alzheimer's disease, even the aging process itself. Advances in savvee technology had resulted in the development of cellcoms, microscopic cellular computers that were smaller, cheaper, and, when linked in parallel processing networks, exponentially more powerful than the old electronic computing devices, which had been limited to sequential binary operations. Cellcom technology had made possible the creation of membrains, which had led in turn to the medianet and the great virtual flowering of netspace.

Membrains—bred to manage industries and branches of government (always with human oversight)—were grown from neural stem cells harvested from aborted fetuses and transplanted into biotronic wombs whose cellcom and savvee-rich environment produced giant brainlike organisms capable of performing sophisticated cognitive tasks with an illusion of human intelligence. Indeed, some scientists claimed that this was more than mere illusion, and that the Holy (or unholy) Grail of artificial sentience had been achieved, but Turing tests conducted in netspace using the virts of humans and membrains proved inconclusive. Although some believed this inconclusiveness was itself proof of sentience, most scientists remained skeptical, convinced that the human penchant for anthropomorphic projection was responsible rather than any synergistic quantum leap in computing power due to the marriage of natural and artificial minds.

Like embryos that remained forever young by refusing to be born, continually renewing themselves with stem cells, membrains were effectively immortal as long as they remained within the pyramidal shells of their biotronic wombs. But death followed swiftly if those shells were breached or suffered significant interntal damage: membrains could not survive outside them, nor, dependent as they were upon an environment maintained with exquisite precision, could they, in the event of that environment's extreme or prolonged disruption, survive within what were no longer nurturing wombs but treacherous, inescapable tombs.

The savvees at work in the deadly plague outbreaks—dubbed "psychopathogens" by medianetwits, a mouthful soon shortened to "sikes"—went beyond any smart viruses heretofore known. Sikes not only manipulated their own genetic material, and that of their hosts, as did all savvees, they jumped between hosts, hacking into and hijacking the genomes of other organisms. Self-evolving pathogens capable of engineering ever-more-deadly and cure-resistant strains of themselves as they spread through exposed populations, the sikes were unstoppable. By the end of the first apocalyptic week, hundreds of thousands of medical and military personnel were trapped along with tens of millions of infected civilians behind expanding cordons of quarantine. Mortality rates within those hellish circles of suffering and contagion approached 100 percent.

Human mortality rates, that is. When it came to infection, sikes were not choosy; they spread everywhere with equal facility, leap-frogging across species, jumping from animals to plants and back again, hitching rides on anything that lived, no matter how large or small, simple or complex; even the cellcoms that flew or floated through the air, or burrowed through the ground, became vectors of sike dispersal. But they were ruthlessly selective when it came to killing. Of their myriad hosts, only homo sapiens sickened and died; sike infection was benign in all other organisms … except membrains. Sealed within their biotronic wombs, the membrains were not merely immune to infection, they were not exposed to the sikes at all.

As the plague outbreaks worsened, the invulnerability of membrains to sike infection made them convenient scapegoats for people who needed something, someone, to blame. Rumors spread that the sikes had been engineered by membrains grown intelligent enough to betray their creators (treachery constituting another proof, some said, of sentience). The Orbitals—the twelve great membrains responsible for maintaining the medianet, named by scientists after the ancient gods of the Greek Pantheon: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Ares, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, and Hermes—were out of reach, orbiting the Earth in biotronic satellite-wombs equipped with the most sophisticated physical and virtual defenses. But not so their earthbound brethren. All over the world, both within and without the rapidly spreading zones of infection, these so-called lesser membrains—which, unlike the Orbitals, were named by no single convention—came under attack by panic-stricken mobs.

By that time, membrains had become essential cogs in the worldwide political and economic machine, indispensable to the efficient and profitable functioning of national governments and multinational corporations. By attacking membrains, the enraged mobs were really attacking the authority and stability of institutions which, behind a facade of differing political and economic systems, had long since come to constitute a single worldwide state. This could not be permitted.

National and corporate armies were called out to supress the violence, which they did, brutally, acting in the name of law and order and characterizing the mobs as composed of criminals whose predatory actions had forfeited their claim to human rights. This assertion proved unconvincing, however, in light of the scenes of wholesale slaughter broadcast over the medianet by cambots—mobile, autonomously functioning newsgathering devices the size of houseflies or smaller—and by the victims themselves, who, like most people, maintained a constant invirted presence in netspace via worn or implanted netaccessories. The fact that the dead were lawless rioters, many of whom were already dying from the sike plague, did not sway public opinion in favor of what furiously backpedaling government and corporate PRvirts were soon referring to as "the regrettable overreactions of local officials." Despite such conciliatory public statements, the decision had already been taken at the highest levels to escalate the response to the riots and to the sikes that were their ultimate cause.

Like wildfires, the plague outbreaks had spread quickly outward from their flashpoints in all directions. They consumed everything human in their path and left only the dead behind, corpses lying amid a world otherwise untouched, unchanged, save by the final paroxysms of violence perpetrated by the dying against the membrains, the cities, and each other. Because sikes persisted in their non-human hosts, these ravaged yet strangely peaceful areas, both graveyards and Gardens of Eden, remained deadly to humans and, hence, uninhabitable. And they were expanding at an exponential rate, covering more and more of the globe; unless something was done immediately, membrain simulations showed that the human race would go the way of the dinosaurs in under a year. Already hundreds of millions were dead, and vast areas of the planet had been rendered uninhabited and uninhabitable.

The first step in fighting the plague was to cut the sikes off from what sustained them. But it wouldn't be enough just to encircle the plague areas with human-free zones, isolating them like holes at the hearts of donuts. No, for the isolation to be effective, all life would have to be eradicated within those rings, or else the sikes would simply ferry across on whatever organisms survived and resume their genocidal march on the other side. Fortunately, although international treaties banned the non-peaceful use of savvees, no government or multinational had been able to ignore the potential political and military benefits—not to mention economic profits—of weapons research and development. Thus, secret stockpiles of weapons-grade savvees were available for use.

In the greatest single deployment of air power in history, the world's combined air forces established firewalls of lifelessness by dropping billions of tons of conventional, nuclear, chemical, and savvee ordinance on the as-yet-uninfected zones that surrounded already infected areas. At the same time, satellite weapons poured down relentless streams of deadly radiation. To prevent, as far as possible, infected persons or other potential disease vectors from evading the sterilization procedure, no warning preceded the action.

Although the firewalls didn't stop the blitzkreig-like advance of the sikes, they slowed it down enough to give humanity precious time in the race to escape extinction. To win that race, scientists were counting on another secretly developed class of smart viruses: savvees targeted specifically against other savvees. These so-called anti-savvee–savvees—christened ASSkickers by the media—had been modified to destroy or disable other savvees by a variety of methods refined in ever-more-sophisticated membrain simulations: methods which, however, for obvious reasons, had never been tested outside the laboratory. In a sense, that would remain true, for what else but laboratories were the thousands of miles of newly established no-man's lands, each as lifeless and cratered as the surface of the moon? What else but lab rats were the millions of people trapped within them? Infected, they were as good as dead; it hurt them not at all, and might help everyone, to turn their already ravaged bodies into battlefields on which armies of sikes and ASSkickers would fight an epic if microscopic war to decide the future of the human race.

And so, at the same time the sterilized zones were being carved out by massive aerial and satellite bombardment, other planes were dropping payloads of ASSkickers into the midst of the infected areas. Membrain models had predicted that a war between smart viruses would be decided quickly, with one side overwhelming the other in a matter of hours (though thousands of generations of savvees would be born, evolve, and die in that time). But which side would emerge triumphant in the end, the sikes or the ASSkickers?

Weeks passed before the world, or what was left of it, learned the answer. During that time, macro-scale war ripped across the Earth as people rose up in outraged horror at the actions of their leaders. While the physical firewalls had been successful in isolating the sikes and their infected victims, a similar attempt to sever the sterilized zones and all they contained from the medianet proved a failure. Like angry ghosts, the virts of those caught in the air strikes filled netspace with cries for justice and revenge. Their cries were heeded. In country after country, military discipline collapsed as units went over to the side of rampaging mobs made up of their families and fellow citizens, bringing their weapons with them. The authorities struck back with everything they had. The global implosion was swift, brutal, and catastrophic: by the end, nations and corporations that had been all-powerful days before no longer existed, billions of human beings lay dead or dying, all but a handful of the lesser membrains had been destroyed, and the world had been thrust into a second, and infinitely darker, Dark Age. A literal one, as so much dust and debris had been blown into the upper atmosphere that the sun rarely peeked through the dense cloud cover, leaving the Earth locked in a wintry, all-but-perpetual twilight. Somehow the membrains had overlooked this possibility in their simulations.

Another overlooked possibility was that neither the sikes nor the ASSkickers would win their microscopic war. Yet this is just what happened. Instead of one side annihilating the other, a new savvee strain emerged from the crucible of conflict, a smart virus neither sike nor ASSkicker, but a mutation born of both. And this new savvee had a miraculous effect on all those sike-infected people who had not yet perished of the plague.

It cured them.

This news brought vindication to the men and women who'd planned and carried out the air strikes—at least, those who'd escaped the retribution of the mobs through luck or foresight. They'd succeeded in stopping the sikes, albeit at a terrible cost. Yet while millions of people had succumbed as the rival savvees battled for supremacy, hundreds of thousands had survived. True, the survivors were cut off from the rest of a decimated humanity by the deadly wastelands of the sterilized zones, but that was just a temporary inconvenience, soon to be remedied. In any case, imprisoned though their bodies were, their invirted minds could still soar freely through netspace.

Because the hardware and software infrastructure of the medianet was highly redundant, spread among scores of satellites and ground stations coordinated by the Orbitals from their biotronic fortresses, along with the surviving lesser membrains on Earth, the system had suffered minimal damage and remained fully operational. Already the membrains were effecting repairs. But like the Earth itself, netspace had become a lonelier, larger-seeming place in the aftermath of the Viral Wars, haunted by the virts of hundreds of millions of the dead. The sophisticated programs continued to run autonomously, some unaware that their physical bodies no longer existed, others driven mad by that knowledge.

But none of this could detract from the victory won by the visionaries who'd destroyed much of humanity in order to save it. The world, though gravely damaged, would recover in time. Civilization would renew itself, as it had so often before in the wake of tragedies natural and manmade. If that renewed civilization came to judge them harshly for having had the courage to do what needed to be done in mankind's most desperate hour, so be it. Their consciences were clear. The human race had survived.

Or had it?

A month after the ASSkickers had been introduced into the infected zones—an anniversary observed not only to the day, but to the minute—every single supposedly cured individual within those zones became ill again. As these survivors of the sike plague lay senseless and fever-wracked wherever they had fallen, their bodies began to twist into strange new shapes beneath their clothing, flesh and bone rearranging under the impassive gaze of cambots as if human DNA had been replaced by the representational algorithms of virts.

In the secondary stage of the disease, which, like the primary phase, struck all the afflicted simultaneously, the outer epidermal layers ballooned outward, tearing free of the body—stripping away clothes and netaccessories in the process—then hardening into a chitinous gray shell that retained its last shape: a shape different in each case, but always some recognizable distortion of the human form, like nightmares cast in swollen effigies of wax that had begun to melt only to solidify again. Those whose sole link to the medianet had been through externally worn netaccessories simply ceased to exist in netspace; their virts—which until then had mirrored the condition of their bodies, ballooning right along with them—collapsed from within like rotten melons and dissolved to nothing.

Implanted netaccessories continued to function for a time, and scientists from the surviving military bases and corporate headquarters that had already begun to resemble feudal baronies were able to backtrack along this wireless umbilical to detect the intense biological activity taking place at the core of what were beginning to look rather alarmingly like cocoons. Yet as data was being gathered and interpreted, the implants, too, stopped working. It was as if they'd vanished from the bodies that housed them, just as the virts on the other end of their wireless electronic tethers vanished from netspace, collapsing into nothingness as the others had done. From that moment, cambots and surveillance satellites were the only windows into the infected zones.

The sickness ended with the same suddenness and simultaneity that had marked its onset. A week after the cocoons had formed, what had been growing inside them emerged. It was not, as anxious observers had feared, a new species.

It was five of them.

Remote viewers looked on in shock and disbelief as the creatures cracked open the discarded shells of their former selves and stepped into the overcast light of what passed for day. The truth was undeniable. In the war between the sikes and the ASSkickers, it wasn't only the offspring of the rival savvees that had mutated. It was their hosts as well.

The survivors were no longer human.

But if not human, what were they?

Some had the appearance of undernourished, freakishly tall adolescents whose spindly arms served as the upper frames of wings that stretched to their sides in a manner akin to the anatomy of bats … save that these wings, and their heads as well, were tufted with damp twists of hair that quickly dried into colorful plumage: a fine, sleek feathering. These were the airies. They did not remain long upon the ground, but, flexing their wings, leaped skyward. And the clouds parted before them like curtains thrust aside to admit the sun.

Others were squat and blocky, with short, heavily-muscled limbs and hairless skin that was dark and rough as granite. Squinting tiny pink eyes as if against an oppressive brilliance, they turned their broad, shell-like backs on the smudge of the sun and, in a blur of arms and legs and more flying debris than seemed possible for arms and legs alone to generate, tunneled into the earth. These were the delves.

Still others, who had fallen close to rivers or lakes or an ocean shore, came forth glistening with prismatic scales like some combination of the chain-mail of courtly knights and the armored skin of the dragons those knights had hunted through centuries of myth and legend. With webbed toes and fingers, bulbous black eyes protected by a nicitating eyelid whose rise and fall was like the drifting of a gray cloud across the face of the night, and throats marked with vertical slits to either side, just below tiny ear holes set into skulls as polished as pearls, these were the merms. They made their way to the nearest water, rainbow-clad dancers moving just a little faster, a little more gracefully and sinuously—and, somehow, seductively—than seemed not just possible but right, so that those watching via the medianet found themselves entranced and horrified in equal measure, as if the mere sight of these creatures called to them like a siren's song. Upon reaching the edge of the land, they dove into the water, cleaving it without so much as a ripple, and, even after the distant observers had filled and emptied their lungs a dozen times, still had not resurfaced.

A smaller number emerged looking relatively human … apart from an utter lack of hair, eyes like white opals, and carbon-black skin fissured with spidery networks of veins that, in their normal state, glowed like buttery gold and made the air around their bodies waver as though with an intense heat. Smoke rose where their bare feet touched the ground, and anything flammable within an arm's length smoldered or caught fire. Sometimes fires began quite a bit farther away and spread in directions and at rates of speed (both fast and slow) that were unlikely if not impossible ( the flames unaffected by shifting winds and frequent rains), only to be snuffed out all at once, in their entirety, like candles on top of a birthday cake blown out to make a wish come true. At such moments, the delicate tracery of veins was observed to glow more brightly, passing along a spectrum from yellow to orange to red and finally to a white-hot incandescence in which, for an instant, the creatures' skeletons blezed darkly through their skin as though exposed by a nuclear flash. These were the manders.

Finally, a very, very few stepped from the cocoons with bodies unchanged beyond the wasting effects of the sickness. Initially it was thought that these survivors had escaped whatever curse had transformed the others, but soon it became clear that they had been changed as well, and just as profoundly … only on the inside, where their differences could escape detection until it was too late. These were the boggles. It was the ease with which they could blend into and pass unnoticed among normal human beings that made this relatively small population, numbering no more than a few thousand at first, the most dangerous and terrifying of the mutant breeds. Boggles were telepaths of such imperious power that they could not only read minds, they could take them over … though their range was limited. Boggles didn't need humans or human technology to access the medianet; they could project their virts directly into netspace without netaccessories. What's more, they could do the same for the other mutant breeds, all of which rejected the use of advanced human technologies and thus had no means of entering netspace themselves. And because, although changed, the mutants still possessed the medianet access codes that they, like all humans, had been automatically assigned at birth, the Oribtals did not register their presence in netspace as unauthorized.

From the enclaves where technology and authority survived, preemptive air strikes were launched before, as was feared, the mutants—or mutes, as they were called, the word falling like a curse from the lips of normal humans—could escape the confines of the infected zones. These expeditions were destroyed in seconds while passing over the sterilized zones. Some of the aircraft burst into flame and exploded. Others were slapped to the ground by gusts of wind that struck with the force of compacted hurricanes. Still others, flown by the virts of pilots whose bodies were many miles away, were taken over by the virts of boggles, who either crashed the planes or sent them back to their bases in kamikaze missions.

Naval assaults fared no better, with ships of all sizes and armaments demolished before they could launch their missiles or fire their guns, sucked down by whirlpools or swamped by gravity-defying waves the size of skyscrapers. Submarines crumpled like tin cans crushed in the hands of undersea giants.

When ground forces were sent in, the earth itself became the enemy, the ground cracking open to swallow entire armies and their equipment then seamlessly closing up again or erupting to spew rivers of molten lava and clouds of toxic gases.

Even satellite weaponry proved useless against the mutes, who pooled their powers to block every particle beam and laser … though they left the satellites themselves untouched, either because they were unable to destroy them or because they planned to make use of them later.

Nor could the humans use savvees against the mutes, for every savvee introduced into the infected zones was itself infected and mutated into the strain that had brought the mutes into being in the first place, a strain which had no further effect on mutes and none whatsoever upon normal humans, as if its mutagenic properties came into play only in the presence of sikes … and there were no more sikes: they, like the ASSkickers and so many other things, had not survived the Viral Wars.

Thus, in a matter of spendthrift weeks, the normal humans—or norms, as they were contemptuously referred to by the mutes—had run through most of the reserves of men and materiel left to them. What remained was barely sufficient for the self-defense of the enclaves, each of which blamed the others for the debacle. Instead of uniting the enclaves, their defeat by the mutes fractured already shaky alliances and triggered generations of mistrust punctuated by brief and bloody spasms of war in which a succession of latter-day Napoleons and Hitlers sought to unify the human race under a single authority—their own.

It was only the numerical superiority of the norms that kept them from being wiped out by the mutes in those years. As it was, both mutes and norms rendered each other extinct everywhere on the globe save for a portion of what had once been known as North America, where the two species faced each other across a meandering dividing line a thousand miles long and wide, a deadly hot zone known as the Waste.

But at last a strong leader arose among the norms. This was Pluribus Unum, a warrior who, at the age of 31, through a combination of bribery, promises, lies, religious zealotry, and brutal force, brought the surviving enclaves together under his banner and established a strong and stable central government. He ruled not as king or emperor or Caesar or President, but took his title from a legendary leader of the past, the American who had ordered the first use of the atomic bomb, a weapon sacred to Trinity, the three-faced god of the norms. He would be the Truman, leader of the true men and high priest of the Trinitarian Church.

By that time, three hundred years had passed since the Viral Wars. Netspace had become less virtual, more real, at least in the minds of the surviving norms, who had lost all sense of a boundary between their flesh-and-blood bodies and their invirted electronic incarnations. Their world-view had become medieval, full of magic and portent, with devils and demons crossing busily back and forth between interpenetrating spheres of physical and spiritual existence, and the presence of the divine ubiquitous. Though much of the science and technology that had fueled the Viral Wars was lost, scientific achievement had not vanished; it continued under the guise of religion, its experiments and discoveries pursued by priests who employed symbol and metaphor in place of mathematics and all the other forgotten tools of the scientific method. But underneath the empty words and gestures, cellcoms and membrains—or, at any rate, the three surviving lesser membrains that had remained loyal to the norms, piously rechristened as Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed—performed their calculations, made their measurements, reached their conclusions, and, in automated factories viewed as temples by the norms who served and worshipped there, produced technological marvels in some ways more advanced than anything available before the Wars … yet so sophisticated and intuitive in design and function that the most simple-minded could employ them. Much of this new technology consisted of psibertronic armor and weaponry designed to give norms a fighting chance against the psionic abilities of the mutes. Bands of brightly armored young noblemen and women bearing weapons of archaic appearance—swords, maces, bows and arrows, boomerangs—entered the Waste, where, post-apocalyptic knights-errant crusading in quest of glory or death, they tested themselves against the challenges of an insanely warped environment … not the least of which were the groups of young mutes who, for the same reasons, entered the Waste from the opposite direction.

And what of the mutes? After the orgies of extermination, the surviving mutes realized that the ad hoc system of shifting alliances that had heretofore governed the relations of the five races would not be sufficient to ensure their long-term survival, much less the defeat of their common foe. Something more cohesive and permanent was needed. Delegates from Airieland, Manderly, Delphland, and Mermidon came to Mutatis Mutandis, capital city of the land of Boggling, to form a government. The result was the Commonwealth of the Five Nations, administered by a council of five representatives elected or appointed by each race. Mutatis Mutandis, the Many-sided City—so-called because of its numerous gates, each of which possessed a unique ceremonial function—became the capital of the new nation.

With the exception of boggles—who were frequently sent into the Truman Empire as spies and assassins, and for that reason had to be able to pass as norms in looks and behavior, and whose psionic access to netspace made them responsible as well for interacting with Jack and Jill, the two surviving lesser membrains who had allied themselves with mutes in the aftermath of the Viral Wars—mutes shunned norm technology, putting their trust in the physical and psionic abilities bestowed on them in what they called the Becoming. That these abilities were a result of norm technology was an irony to be savored … and a reminder to be forever on guard against the taint of norm corruption they carried within themselves like some mute equivalent of original sin.

After three hundred years, the Commonwealth had extended its borders far beyond the former sterilized zones, and its population had swelled to nearly a million: admittedly less than a fifth that of the norms, but the mutes were confident of ultimate victory despite their lesser numbers. They moved against norm enclaves one by one, choosing at first the smallest, the most isolated, the least defended. Defeated enemies were put to death or enslaved. Norm females of child-bearing age were used as breeding stock, for mute genes were always dominant, and it was necessary to increase the population of the Commonwealth as quickly as possible, by every available means. Unfortunately, because the act of giving birth to a mute was invariably fatal to a norm, each breeder could be used but once. This was not a difficulty shared by female mutes, who often produced as many as ten or more offspring during their fertile years … although the races did not breed true. The union of two merms, for example, might yield a merm child, but it might also yield an infant belonging to one of the other races (or a norm throwback, immediately put to death). Such children were fostered out to parents of their own race, as was also the case with the so-called breederborn. Between these two procreative sources, the success of the mutes was statistically assured. Their birthrates were higher, gestation periods shorter, than those of the norms. They had the odds on their side. Despite the efforts of Pluribus Unum, norms would join Neanderthals in extinction, and mutes would take their rightful place as the Earth's dominant species.

Such is Earth in the year 2372. Players have a choice of six character classes. As a norm, you will rely on psibertronic enhancements and netaccessories to survive. As a member of one of the five mute races, you will depend instead on inborn physical and psionic powers; boggles (as noted below) constitute a special class in this regard. The distinctive strengths and weaknesses of each character class, along with the effects of technological items, whether weapons or otherwise, are set out in full in the appropriate sections of this Player's Guide. Membrains—whether Orbitals or of the lesser, earthbound, variety—and all the denizens of netspace, such as virts, are non-player characters (NPCs) controlled by the Gamemaster, with the exception of virts belonging to player characters and the virts of NPCs that come under players' control. Players may, if they choose, have more than one character in the game at a time, but it is the responsibility of the Gamemaster to ensure that each character's behavior remains within established parameters for its particular race, class, and culture.

That said, the final authority on the interpretation of these guidelines shall be the individual Gamemaster. Players looking for the security of a fixed and unbending set of rules are advised to take up chess or Monopoly. The object of Mutes & Norms is simple: survival. As such, it has no pre-ordained stopping point. Death itself may turn out to be a new beginning.