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zslane

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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I don't know if this has already been mentioned but the Well World series (Jack L. Chalker) I think is the ultimate in exposure to alien sentient/non-sentient creatures.

The genre is based on science and technology (but some of the creatures are taken from fantasy/mythology).

Of course there is the massive computer that helps with communication between species.

You have both carbon based and silicon based creatures (although the two are separated except for a common area and only a few silicon creatures ever interact with the carbon based lifeforms (as far as the story goes).

 

I have always wanted to run a Hero game based on that series but the amount of work would be tremendous. At least for me (8^D).

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The most alien of aliens, aren't so much what they look like, but how they think. As a counter example, let’s take a look at Japhet, from The Orville. Physically he is a yellow gelatinous blob about a foot in diameter, that generally manifests a mouth, so as to communicate with his fellow crew members. (In the voice of comedian, Norm McDonald). However his reactions to the episode plots and his fellow crew mates, and his interest in the ship’s Doctor show that he shares the traits mentally and other most of the humans in the cast. He is a lonely, status conscious, technician, with insecurities that motivate a somewhat short temper, marring an otherwise easy going, blue collar attitude. The show has  better than average makeup and all of its aliens look great. However the Most alien of aliens is Commander Bortis. He’ s frustrated by the delay or imprecision that his coworker’s  humorous asides cause. His delivery is always precise and respectful. And his species reproductive cycle and exclusivity makes an an interesting subplot, but on the whole, he is less alien than a foreigner attempting to play tabletop with Americans (My German GM on roll20 goes ballistic when interrupted by players.)

 

the Alien-ness of something, is how they think, how they respond to stimuli, and their motivations. The problem is balancing the goals and intent of the players with the desire to make things Alien. Current events display that even slight differences on motivations and thinking cause a lot of conflict. Also, narrative based decisions would tend to favor  aliens that are somewhat relatable, simply for the fact that the plot has to go somewhere; rather than being halted  by incomprehensible aliens.  This is a big reason that I had no living Aliens in my aborted Star Hero campaigns. Cyberneticaly or genetically enhanced humans are weird enough. The Expanse, as well as the Alien movies; show that even a brush with an alien eco system results in horror. If that is what you are going for, knock yourself out. XD

 

 

Edited by Scott Ruggels
Horrible iPhone autocorrect

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I have a certain fondness for setting games in a far future after the Long Night where various human colonies decided to genetically modify themselves to suit their environment and maybe make a few upgrades.  That being said, there's nothing wrong with aliens being bipedal.  The advantages for an advanced tool user being a biped over any alternative I've ever thought of or seen (particularly if you exclude cheats like psionics) are considerable even if I've made quadrupeds with bifurcate prehensile noses, arboreal land squid and radial burrowers with serpentine lower bodies and a ring of digging arms surrounding their neck.  There's a reason why bats have a similar body plan to birds despite evolving the faculty of flight independently.  It's just a good design for a large flyer.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't rationalize a helicopter type of flier that would work nearly as well.  Even my balloon jellyfish were a bit dubious.  

 

 

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3 hours ago, zslane said:

Methinks more people should play Spore... 🤔☺️

 

Methinks every time I see someone on twitch playing Spore, it is so their main character can have an abnormally large phallus (as compared to total body mass).

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The evolutionary diversity that Spore supports should be an inspiration to alien species creators. All you have to do is look at just how weird a species can get and still function superbly to get a sense of the possibilities. Bipeds need not be the only (or even most common) morphology in your game unless you feel they absolutely have to be.

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Given the huge size of the universe, I bet there's at least one alien out there right now explaining to someone why its own non-humanoid body plan is the only reasonable option for sapient tool-users. "Well, yeah, Gorblax, I'm not saying that you COULDN'T have an alien with only two legs and all the important nervous system bits in a separate body part mounted on top. It's just that our own body plan offers so many advantages that it's reasonable to expect most tool-users to be shaped more or less the same."

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