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How alien are your aliens?

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I think one need only consult a Cthulhu mythos bestiary for examples of very alien aliens. Not all of them are devoid of humanoid characteristics, it's true, but a great many of them are anything but humanoid. Lovecraft was fascinated by their intrinsic opacity, the inability of Man to grasp their nature and their intentions. But GMs can choose to go where Lovecraft did not, and present adventures which are opportunities for PCs to do more than just run from these aliens in existential terror.

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Dean Shomshak did just that with his denizens of the Qliphoth for the Champions Universe. Admirably so, I might add. Several other Hero authors have taken that up and run further with it. For purposes of this discussion, I would particularly recommend Jason Walters' Scourges Of The Galaxy "enemies" compilation for the Star Hero line. The Church of the Infinite Dark is a splendid example of the kind of existential threat to the galaxy PCs have to confront, when Lovecraftian horror infects a sci-fi setting.

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HPL's At the Mountains of Madness is worth examining in this light. Physically, the Antarctic "Old Ones" are incredibly alien. At first they seem monstrous, too. After all, some of them dissect the humans who discover them. By the end of the story, though, the narrator admires their courage and says, "They were men."

 

Now, at no point does the narrator personally interact with any Old Ones. He knows only that some individual Old Ones have scientific curiosity,and he infers courage. (And dissecting some humans was fair. After all, the human explorers had dissected one of the Old Ones, thinking it was dead.) From the illustrations he's seen of the Old Ones' history, he can infer a few other points of potential resemblance between how humans and Old Ones think and act. Beyond that, he's probably projecting. But one of the points of the story is that moment of feeling a connection with something that first seemed wholly alien. And it's awe-inspiriting, because Lovecraft first took the trouble to present the Old Ones as so convincingly alien.

 

The Great Race are another instance where creatures that physically seem outrageously alien turn out to have aspects of thought and culture that humans can understand and empathize with. And also some that are not so empathetic, such as how they plan their species' mental survival across billions of years and from planet to planet by swapping minds, sometimes forcing entire other intelligent species to die in their place. The alien-ness of the Great Race lies their perspective as much as their appearance. But an SF campaign with the Great Race at its center, with characters hopping from body to body across eons and planets, interacting with other human epochs and other species, could be incredible.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Yes, perfectly articulated, Dean.

 

I understand the appeal of humanoid-centric sci-fi. It is easy to write/create and easily relatable. But to my mind, it is also excruciatingly unoriginal and kinda boring as a basis for a sci-fi RPG universe. That approach makes little to no effort to take advantage of one of science fiction's most potent offerings: aliens that aren't just proxies for human racial and/or cultural differences.

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