It’s SOOooo Alien!

The craft opened and from within emerged an alien life-force. As we watched in a bizarre mix of horror and curiosity, the strange creature from beyond our planet…

  • Walked?
  • Glided?
  • Swam?
  • Floated?
  • Flew?
  • Oozed?
  • ?

I was wondering this morning why it is that in the pantheon of aliens traversing the stars in media such as movies and TV, most are categorically lumped into what are obviously two silos of alien manifestation and depiction:

  • The Star Trek/Star Wars alien dichotomy where sentient beings are typically hominid in design with non-humanoids being mostly relegated to a lesser status. Granted there are a few exceptions, but this description is sufficient for our 30,000 foot view of the question.
  • The Lovecraft alien take where all lifeforms outside our small cosmically backward, backwater planet are essentially foreign and dangerous in both form and function. Which is arguably less easy to describe but far more likely considering how alien some creatures here on Earth can seem at times.

And that got me wondering a couple of things…

First, I’m curious how aliens are presented at your role playing table.

Do you take your gaming cues from and follow the Trek/Wars alien concept with most aliens being of the humanoid variety?
Do you find your RPG inspiration in a more Lovecraftean model with its strange and terrible creatures from beyond?
Or perhaps you find a healthy mix of the two, sufficient enough to not be listed as generally in either camp.

And second, why?

Do you take your direction from canon material such as is typical (and arguably expected) when running a game in Call of Cthulhu or Star Wars d6?
Is it a matter of ease?
Or perhaps simply one of genre (horror vs. space opera) focus?

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4 Responses to It’s SOOooo Alien!

  1. Philo Pharynx says:

    I think it comes down to the cost. On Star Trek, aliens are humans with funny foreheads because makeup is cheap and quick. There’s a similar issue in games. If you have a really alien PC, you need to specify what is different from your standard human and you need to balance any advantages and penalties in game terms. How many points is having four tentacles? Does a climbing penalty count for points in a universe with personal antigravity technology? How about a character that is blind, but sees by radar? If two different races cannot easily use items made for each other, is that a penalty on one race or both?

    There’s also the cost in terms of identification. Most people can figure out how to roleplay a vulcan or a wookie pretty easily. How do you roleplay a sentient insect? A parasitic fungus? A blob of tenacled protoplasm?

    Some people will want to spend the time on the rules and culture, others will want a human with a few changes.

  2. Kevin says:

    Good point Philio.
    I hadn’t considered the breadth of hidden costs on both sides of the table to non-humanoid aliens in my post.

    For the record “friendly host/alien parasitic fungus that consumes the host to survive but would prefer to not do so” sounds like a great rp challenge.
    Just keep said host away from the sentient insect character that finds said fungus a delicacy.

  3. Hatman says:

    We once created a scifi setting. Exactly the same point you made also bothered me, so we tried to go another way tan most designs. First we created a planet and than we thought about how life could exist on that planet. This automatically brings the weird and sci to the fi. Yeah, we kinda are exobiology fans and it needs a lot of time to overthink the whole species from an biological point of view, but it’s deffinatly worth it.

    How else could you come up with our six-footed Species No3 (working name). Their whole body is black, even their flesh because their planet has only a thin atmosphere and thus much radiation. They use this radiation via melanin as energy supply (food supplement). That is cool and strange.

    My point is, if you want strange, don’t think strange. Take a given environment and think logical what would be diffrent there. You get a new ecosystem. Now think, why would this species become intelligent? How they lived, before and while they became intelligent will tell you a lot about their psyichie.

    Well, I hope you get the idea.

  4. Kevin says:

    That’s some great advice on making strange from tweaking normal as opposed to replacing it altogether.
    Tweaking normal can lead to foreign but understandable which can be odder than simply weird any day of the week.

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