Tag Archives: Aliens

Humans as a Baseline

Humans are a useful baseline species for any setting. The reason is simple – The audience is human, and they know what humans are like. There is no need to specify what colors their hair has, or how tall they are – we all know these things automatically. And we can more easily relate to humans.

On Earth, humans became the One Sentient Species because we’ve been the meanest, toughest, luckiest and perhaps smartest bastards around. We’ve outlived, exterminated or assimilated all competition. It stands to reason that either the same happened – or should have happened – in our fictional settings long before the onset of civilized society.

Does it have to be this way? Yeah. Kind of.

Let’s think of the alternatives.

One: We have company, and are slowly crowding them out. This is what happened in Earth’s past, and is really only the precursor to the above-described situation. Good choice for your average fantasy campaign – and this is actually the situation in Colonial Space.

Two: Humans are slowly being crowded out. In this case, it still makes sense to pick humans as the “baseline”, it just means we’re the Neanderthals of your setting. It’s a good choice and can lead to either a dystopian setting, or a “heroic fight for survival”.

Three: A balance of power. I don’t believe this is possible; sooner or later, one species will one-up the other. Cultural or technological sophistication don’t help much, either. We didn’t stop after we got rid of the other human species, we just turned on each other – if you don’t see it, ask the Native Americans, the Rwandans, the Tibetans, and so on. You get the point.

Humans in Colonial Space

Enderra was a multi-species planet. Humans, Endari, Mineons and Thurin made it off the homeworld alive; many others did not. The short explanation is that these four races had developed a series of historic alliances against common threats – and there has simply not been enough time for anybody to get the upper hand; as illustrated by the Endari’s possible off-world origin.

Let’s put this into in-Universe terms:

Humans dominate the major interstellar nations of Colonial Space. This is not due to their greater intelligence or physical strength; indeed, comparative xenobiology shows that humans are mediocre in both aspects. Instead, humans have a much higher reproduction rate than the other Enderran peoples. More children who reach maturity quicker has two effects: One, humans can adapt more easily to changing conditions (both in terms of biological evolution as well as cultural change) and two, it means that human society can more easily absorb deaths caused by hostile environments and wars.

This dominance is not a new development of the space age, but was already in effect back on the original homeworld, Enderra, where most powerful nations were ruled by humans. It was humans who led the age of discovery in their sailing ships and colonized new continents. Humans spearheaded space exploration. Humans led the Continuity Project, and were firmly in control of Fleet Command and the colonial administration. Both Empire and Republic are ruled by humans.

Short and to the point, and we’ve got a rationale that’ll work.

Well, What Sort of Aliens?

Before I go into detailing some of the races in the setting, let’s take a look at common approaches to alien design and their problems (and beenefits) and lay out what sort of aliens we will have in our setting.

Level of Anthropomorphism

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: I am talking about Rubber-Forehead Aliens.

Science Fiction is full of aliens who are little more than humans with some stuff glued to their forehead (and in some cases, in obvious rubber suits). To some extent this is of course necessary because aliens in science fiction are portrayed by humans, and more extreme makeup or even CGI is expensive (and used to be impossible). Still, this is one trope that I should avoid like the plague – no matter how “in genre” it might be.

That is not to say that humanoid aliens are a bad idea. There is a lot to be said for a basic humanoid shape, not the least of which is that it’s the only sentient, tool-making, technologically advanced species we know of – ourselves. If it works in one place, it’ll work everywhere.

Indeed, I expect a large number of aliens in the setting to fall into this category. It will be a tough job to make them convincing and interesting.

There is a subset of humanoid aliens, and those are the human aliens – Aliens that look to human that they are mistaken for them, and often they can interbreed with humans, too.  These exist in many, many settings – Spock and the Vulcans, the humans in Star Wars, Elves and other fantasy races, Vineans from Yoko Tsuno, H. Beam Piper’s Freyans, and so on. They may be slightly odd – Spock’s supposedly somewhat greenish, and has long ears; Vineans are blue, and so on – but they are identical with humans in every other respect.

In general, these are a problem because they make no sense. There’s always the Ancient Astronauts approach that is so over-used (Traveller, Battlestar Galactica are notable examples), but that’s pretty much it. Parallel evolution won’t account for it.

However, in my particular case I will actually use human aliens. Humans, Endari, Thurin, and Mineons are all refugees from Enderra, and Enderra is – as you may be aware – a D&D fantasy world. The Endari are Elves, the Thurin are Dwarfs, and the Mineons are Gnomes. Just don’t tell anybody – it’s a secret.

Last but not least there is that category of Starfish Aliens.

It includes all aliens made to be truly alien. When creating bizarre aliens we need to keep in mind that they also have to be functional – that is, they need certain features such as hands to be able to build a tool-using, technological civilization. A whale, for instance, might be sentient, but he will never build a fire. And when used as characters, it becomes more and more difficult for the audience to emphasize with these truly strange aliens, which is why they are usually antagonists or mere mysteries or flavor.

What capabilities do aliens have?

It often seems that designers give their creatures and monsters all sorts of nifty powers. Some of these make sense, some are borderline, and some are impossible. Fundamentally, I think that if an animal species on Earth has a certain feature or ability, then one of our alien species can have that same ability. The important thing is that we need to consider the implications of such biology when we then design their culture.

They will not have truly fantastic features – invisbility, for example –  but I’ll get back to you on breaking this self-imposed rule at some point, too.

Species vs Culture

One last important distinction that I need to point out is that “species is not equal to culture”. Again, many fictional setting offend on this count – mostly because it is easier on both designer and the audience. All Vulcans are logical and emotionless. All gnomes are terrifying engineers. All Hutts are criminals. All Orcs are evil brutes.

Obviously, I will not have the time and creative energy to create hundreds of cultures for each species, but I’d like to create at least a few distinct variations each to avoid this trope.

 

Aliens and Races Blog Carnival

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopyThis month’s RPGBA Blog Carnival is on the subject of Aliens and Races, hosted by Johnn of Roleplaying Tips. It’s a good opportunity for me to work on the races of Colonial Space, both past and present.

The to do list for this month looks like so:

  • Humans, Endari, Thurin and Mineons are the four species that escaped the destruction of their homeworld, Enderra, and settled in this region of space.
  • Ancients: The Builders, a culture that developed STL star travel, and five other species that never left their own systems before becoming extinct.
  • Avians and Insects, two modern races native to Colonial Space.
  • The Rakh.

I’ve done preliminary work on most of these, and on a few others… We’ll see how far I get.