I believe this was part of the background for an RPG I might have played briefly once, more than 20 years ago.

The bit that stayed with me is the alien race, whose average intelligence is normally not as much as normal human intelligence. When they first met humanity they were a bit afraid of us, because we were smarter, but the first time humanity and this race fought humanity discovered that being in combat made them much smarter. I believe they actually had genius-level intelligence for as long as they were in mortal danger. As a result, they innovated very quickly in battle and rapidly became dangerous opponents.

One result of this is that after a battle they would have some new weapons or devices that they would build, but they wouldn't necessarily know how to use them properly until the next time they were in combat. The one case that sticks in my mind is this race's main tank, that was originally (for some reason) built with the turret facing backward from its normal driving direction, so that's how it's still being built. I definitely recall a black-and-white sketch of the tank and its crew.

It's also vaguely possible this was an illustrated book packaged with a computer game, back when that was still a thing. It's also possible this was one of those "make up little stories to go with the art" books that were popular in the 1980s and I'm way off on the time.

1 Answer 1


The game is 2300 AD (earlier known as Traveller: 2300), which was GDW's sequel to the World War 3 RPG Twilight 2000. The Kafer have a similar biochemical response to humans when faced with danger and/or stress, however the hormone that's analogous to human adrenaline doesn't improve their physical capabilities, it improves their intellectual ones, and they retain a slight increase to intelligence afterward that gradually becomes accumulative, meaning that Kafers not only become dramatically smarter during battle, after the battle while their intelligence decreases again, it doesn't decrease as much. Therefore, veterans of repeated encounters will end up being just as smart as humans right from the start.

Because, like humans, even observing a conflict could cause a sympathetic physical reaction, the culture that eventually emerged focused on ritual violence: those participating would get smarter, but the people watching would likewise get a boost, albeit a smaller one, that was sufficient to maintain a technologically advanced society. The ruling classes specifically arranged things to ensure that they would regularly get that boost to stay intelligent, and thus in charge.

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    Did some digging, and this definitely looks right. We played a bit of Twilight: 2000 over a couple of years and I think someone in the group picked this up, but we never actually ended up playing it.
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 3, 2022 at 23:45
  • The first edition (GDW) of T2300/2300AD spelled the race name as Kafer; I think it's the Mongoose reissue with the new Traveller rules that spells it Kefer. Commented Mar 4, 2022 at 11:51

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