Alien species that predate mankind – and usually meddle in human affairs or guide our evolution and development – are one of the big, big tropes of science fiction. There is probably no really good way of telling how this got started or even what source influenced Traveller directly – though von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods was published in 1968 and, from what I understand, quite popular in its heydays. And then there’s 2001.
While in reality it’s a load of hogwash and nonsense, there is nothing wrong with using Ancient Astronauts in a science fiction context. While it’s certainly an often-used trope, it is a great way to introduce mystery into your story or campaign. Works in most genres, too – you can even use them in a “hard” science fiction setting, the Fermi paradox being what it is. I personally like ancient aliens quite a lot – my favorite examples are probably Protetor, Mass Effect and the Heechee,
All said, pre-historic sentient species are absolutely to be found in Colonial Space. But how many, and what are they like?
Alien Ruins? Must be Monday
The Enderrans came from a world teeming with different sentient species. Humans, Endari, Thurin and Mineons were only a part of a larger, global community – if probably the dominant and most advanced alliance of species. Enderra also had a long and colorful history, and as its society became a scientific, technological culture archaeologists discovered ruins of several extinct non-human species.
Making first contact with Extraenderran species, and finding Ancient Alien ruins, therefore did not faze the Enderran explorers, exiles and colonists one bit. They expected it, and had there been no sentient aliens at all it would have shaken their fundamental beliefs a lot. As it stands, some scientists spend a lot of time wondering why there are not more alien species around.
It has to be understood that faster-than-light drives are an Enderran invention. That is not to say that it is impossible for anybody else to work it out on their own, but no other known species has managed to build ships that can enter hyperspace.
Of course, “reactionless” grav drives still allow you to build fairly efficient STL ships, but this all severely limits the scope of Ancient alien empires in known space.
Here’s what exists in the setting right now:
Old Colonial Ruins: Though not technically an “ancient alien civilization”, several worlds in local space had once been settled by Enderrans, only to be abandoned later. Some died during the Dark Age, others simply failed for economic reasons. Many are known and documented and almost all have been looted, but some settlement undoubtedly remain for intrepid adventurers to discover. While modern war ruins are mostly ignored by scientists, archaeologists and historians have great interest in earlier settlements.
These are the sci fi equivalent of ghost towns.
Single Star System Cultures: Advanced civilizations that never made it out of their own star systems before becoming extinct existed on at least five worlds. Two died from nuclear war, one from what seems to have been a global plague, one for completely unknown reasons, and one from multiple asteroid strikes.
STL Culture: One alien species settled on five worlds using STL spaceships. This species is not extinct, but fell back into the stone age after an interstellar war escalated beyond control.
The Builders: The setting’s “true ancient aliens” are quite enigmatic, since they did not leave much behind – except for their monumental buildings and construction sites. These exist on worlds throughout the sector. Any newly-discovered Builder site is immediately seized by the government, but they have yielded little. What little is known about this species is inferred from their architecture alone.
Others: There are doubtless other species that existed in the past… their ruins waiting to be discovered.