Showing posts from February, 2015

We Have Met the Alien and He Is Us!

Okay Walt Kelly said it first. I went into some of the problems of designing a good alien and as I said it's hard. The good ones are all very different but with something that makes us want to relate to them. The mile long aerofauna of a Jovian world might be fascinating creatures but few would want to risk the dangers of descent into their hell world to carry on an exchange with any regularity. Maybe not. They might be the best mathematicians in the galaxy and able to clear up humanity's vague understandings of FTL navigation but you get the idea. On a more extreme case I have no idea how we'd interact with a super intelligent shade of blue ("Mauve! We require mauve to survive! You will give us your mauve or we will inflict plaid upon you!".) Can you trust that marker? True it is labeled cobalt, but I digress. An easier technique is to take humans or uplifted animals and give them some new tweak or development that makes them alien in some way. I already went

Day of the Mook

The mook is a feature of many campaigns and genres. They are basically there to die to make the heroes look good. The classic example is the Star Wars Stormtrooper, feared across the galaxy and only able to hit one frigging target in six movies (also they hit the only woman in the SW galaxy the fiends!) Also I think the armor was designed to attract blaster bolts to the chest to avoid costly medical bills. If you don't simply want a horde of mooks to make the heroes look good you have to do a little work to figure out WHY they're a horde of suck. In most space operas the reason is that they simply propel the plot forward. No matter how bad they shoot there is a great number of them an eventualy you'll have to run. Many referees have a problem with letting characters waltz through opposition. I'm one of them. There is some justification for mookishness in Terran history allowing a smaller force to fight its way to glory or survive to fight another day. Here are some

Mind Matters

Creating aliens is hard in any venue. To really be alien a being has to differ from humans in some fundamental way. Otherwise you're just slathering latex on your actor's forehead or renaming orcs and elves. One of the most obvious ways to create an alien is to give them telepathy. As humans we are used to saying one thing and meaning another (lying if you want to be uncharitable). We communicate through a flawed and complex medium called language. We are sometimes unclear. Telepathy cuts right through the bullshit. You can say what you mean. On the downside you say what you mean. The medium of telepathy is not given enough development in most settings. When you and another are communicating mind to mind to you hear voices in your head? Can you send a mental picture? Are the exchanges like memories you suddenly can access? That in itself can add a lot of color to a scene. As humans we live in two worlds, the outside world and the one in our heads. What happens when you blur

The Three Types of SF Stories

Isaac Asimov categorized three types of SF stories. There was Adventure Fiction/Space Opera in which the technology and science was secondary to the plot (which was often grandiose, epic or gonzo). There was gadget fiction in which the story hinged on the hero's attempts to gather resources and build a gadget to revolutionize ... something. Then there's social fiction in which the heroes must deal with the effects of technology on society. Put another way you can tell stories about your clone soldiers fighting the dark forces of the insurgency, you can tell a story about your struggle to build a clone-omatic chamber and acquire some Marilyn Monroe DNA, or you can tell a story about how your Marilyn Monroe clone refuses to take any more of /those/ kind of photos and is forming a group for clone rights. SF roleplaying is mainly composed of the first and third types of stories. This should come as no surprise. Inventing new tech is pretty difficult and in most systems it is poin

Translator Wanted

One of the elephants in the SF airlock is communicating with aliens. Most of the time it is pointedly ignored and they all speak english or you get some story about them having listened to our radio and television broadcasts for years and decoded our language. This idea in itself can be mined for comedy gold. Imagine an alien ambassador who studied human language by watching reality tv (the most vulgar word in english is 'beeeeeeeep'-ker.) I'm mostly going to dwell on aliens and humans who consider language making noises with their mouths. Creatures communicating with different patterns of plaid or pheromones may be a later post. Star Trek pulled out the universal translator which scanned brainwave patterns to find key ideas and concepts common to all intelligent life. It found the patterns it recognized and created a grammar for them. It wasn't exactly universal. Some exotic life forms (anything requiring visual effects) required tweaking. At east speaking to alien

The Care and Feeding of Conquerors

Every space setting has its  conquerors. They may vary in effectiveness and track record but they all want the Galaxy (or at least the Local Arm). Nothing gets a group of players talking and planning like an invasion whether they are joining the defense or figuring out how to jack the local bank during the carpet bombing. First invaders need a reason for not playing nicely with others. In Traveller the Aslan want your land. The Vargr want your stuff. The K'kree want you to file down your teeth and eat salad. The Klingons wanted it all because Klingons were the greatest (damn those Organians!) Their reasons will color their methods and the nature of their occupation. The K'kree, for example, don't really care how their subjects lead their lives as long as they don't eat meat. Similarly if you move out of the way of the Aslan landlords they'll let you be. More mercenary invaders may let you alone aside from going through your pockets every week or so or may start st

Ship Dossier: Launches

Ship Dossier: Launches
Now on DriveThru