Monday, February 13, 2017

Aliens in Psi-Wars: Who they are and Where to find them

Alien Heads Concept 1 by Zarnala
Star Wars brims with aliens, but the aliens of Star Wars work in a very specific way.  As I continuously harp on, Star Wars is pulp space opera.  Pulp stories take common stories and just redress them over and over again, and space opera just redresses its stories in space.  The roles of suspicious foreigners or noble savage or strange outsider was recast as alien in most of these stories (and given that these stories were written in the late 19th and early 20th century, much of them ring racist to our modern ears).

When Star Wars isn't using aliens to tell a specific story, it simply populates scenes with them, to remind you that the story is set in space and not in the wild west or Edo-era Japan.  We often don't even get any details about the aliens shown.  For example, it took the West End Star Wars RPG before we got the name "Twi'lek."  This makes sense, after a fashion, as a movie just needs some crazy costumes, but a role-playing game needs additional detail, especially if a player wants to play one.  If a player says "I want to play a member of that tentacle-head species from Return of the Jedi!" then the GM needs access to details on their race, what their stats are, what they're called, etc.  We need to do our homework before players can play.

Star Wars is a very cosmopolitan setting, as is the Action genre.  In the latter, a Chinese businessman might dine with his African business partner somewhere in Paris, and that makes perfect sense, and in the former, we never find Twi'leks just on Ryloth, but all over the galaxy.  There's no reason not to expect to find one on Coruscant or on Tatooine, or even as a Jedi.  Given the fact that we have an entire galaxy worth of aliens we'd expect to meet countless aliens, far more than we can possibly stat.  See "Aliens Everywhere" from GURPS Space, page 21.

This week, I'm going to discuss how to write our own aliens, but given the sheer volume of aliens we might need to sprinkle through our setting, I want to stop and take a look where you can find existing aliens to populate Psi-Wars with as little effort as possible.

GURPS Aliens

GURPS Space 3e contained an assumed setting within it, which was supported by works like GURPS Space Atlas, GURPS Space Bestiary, and GURPS Aliens.  Given that this 3e setting was, itself, a TL 11^ setting, it worked fairly well with Star-Wars like assumptions, and thus makes a good go-to book if you need some ideas to grab. Unfortunately for drag-and-drop play, it's a 3e work, meaning you'll have your work cut out for you if you want to make such a race playable.

That said, there's an official effort to update these races for 4e, the first of which is GURPS Aliens: Sparriels from which Twee is derived. I cannot recommend this book enough: it contains everything you might need for an interesting race, including a template, power-up ideas, unique martial arts, cultural details and suggestions on how you can just drop them in play. It even ha a TL 11^ spaceship that fits perfectly well into Psi-Wars!  In fact, it's so good, I'll likely reference it a few more times this week to point out its strengths and how we can borrow from it.  If you're running a Psi-Wars or Psi-Wars-inspired campaign, I highly recommend the book and any follow-ups that Elizabeth McCoy might give us.

GURPS Space

I don't reference GURPS Space much throughout my work on Psi-Wars, not because I dislike the book, but because it's largely irrelevant to Star Wars and thus to Psi-Wars.  Star Wars bears a closer resemblance to planetary romance than to "true" sci-fi, and seems much more interested in cool CGI scenes than in accurate depictions of astrophysics, and so the careful explorations of how space actually works offered in Space are largely useless to us.

That said, GURPS Space does have an alien generation system, and if you're looking for inspiration, that's not a bad place to look.  The level of detail offered in GURPS Space isn't really necessary: Aliens in Star Wars (and thus Psi-Wars) more resemble fantasy races than real explorations of alternate biologies and psychologies, but that doesn't mean you can't use the book!  Say you have some sort of reptilian predator race, how might they work and look, in a consistent and cohesive manner?  GURPS Space will answer you.  Plus, given that you can just roll something up, if you need to grab a crazy new species, you can do that.  However, you're unlikely to roll up a sapient alien (making it better for random and ecologically coherent animals), and you're even more unlikely to roll up something cinematically memorable.  After all, most Star Wars races are defined by what color skin they have and a few noteworthy marks (like bony ridges or tentacles instead of hair) on otherwise utterly humanoid critters than it is by nuanced biology.

GURPS Monster Hunters 5: Applied Xenology

This isn't the first time I've pulled a Monster Hunter work off my shelf and applied it to sci-fi, but here it's particularly apt.  Monster Hunters 5 takes Atomic Horror, Black Ops and movie magic and bundles them together for some great and memorable races.  Even better, they come equipped with 200-point templates (which puts them out of reach for a starting character, but at least it's a place to start) and ready-made mook templates.  Their technology is a little weak, but that's not anything we can't fix.  We already touched on it for the Insectoid as a space monster, but Nordics (with a proper application of interesting color/markings to make them a little more inhuman), Reptoids and Stalkers all might work well for aliens, though note that these are designed to fight 500-point Monster Hunters, and might need to be toned down for 300-point sci-fi action heroes.

GURPS Horror

Wolf-Man!  Er, I mean, Wolf-Alien!
Like GURPS Monster Hunters, Horror comes chalk full of templates ready made to be dragged and dropped into your campaign, and quite a few are perfectly appropriate as aliens.  In particular, the entire section on Things Man Was Not Meant To Know would make for excellent monsters or aliens associated with The Other from Broken Communion, things that fall completely outside of Communion itself as too inhuman and bizarre for people to comprehend.  Other monsters, like werewolves, ghouls, and the actual section on aliens, could be borrowed and reskinned as aliens.  This might sound silly, but Star Wars actually did it.

GURPS Bio-Tech

Most Star Wars aliens are humanoid, enough that they can be exotic space princesses or cool enemies that our heroes can punch in the face.  An easy way to handle this is to borrow templates that, themselves, are meant to apply to humans.  GURPS Biotech contains numerous "alternate humanoid templates," and none more exotic than the "Specialists and Slaves" section starting on page 72.  What better template for spooky-sexy Dark-Communion cultists than the Gothic Eros template?  Need a strong, furry sidekick?  Try a Chronos or a Felicia! Need a barbaric warrior race? Try the Spartans (or the Chronos, again).  If you want to emphasize alternate planetary terrains, or a species particularly adapted to a biome, try the Pantropic templates, including Selkies and Tritons for the water, Drylander (Nehudese) for deserts, or the Camazotz for dark worlds (though you'll have to remove the low G limitation on their flight).

GURPS Fantasy and Dungeon Fantasy

I probably shouldn't lend too much credence to the idea that Star Wars is just fantasy in sci-if drag, as I find that a bit of snobbery, but there's much to be said for how it treats its races.  While it definitely favors imaginative creatures that are fascinating (or disgusting) to behold, especially when it comes to humanoids, it treats them as psychologically and physically very similar to humans, less strange and mysterious creatures for our heroes to analyze and more comrades-in-arms.  Furthermore, these templates are designed to be fairly decently priced, well within the price-range of a psi-wars character.  A few are even sci-fi enough that your players might not realize that you stole them from a fantasy book, like the Wildmen or Myrmidons.

The GURPS Blogging Community

I suppose I don't need an excuse to plug the blogging community, but a lot of these guys put a lot of work into their posts, and it seems an absolute shame to just ignore what they're doing when it's out there and just perfectly free to you to use!  Now, not every blog brims with racial templates, but Pseudonym has an entire series of racial templates on his blog, Let's GURPS, mostly with a fantasy focus, but that didn't stop us before, and some of his templates seem especially appropriate, like the Fishmen template.  I'd like to draw extra attention to his review of the templates found in DF3, and I'll discuss why in greater detail later this week.  Another blog, Blogging At Default, includes templates specific for his sci-fi campaign, which certainly could be adapted into Psi-Wars.  Communist Doggo has some Mass Effect conversions in his RPG Gulag, which you could borrow or use as inspiration.

(Are you a GURPS blogger with cool racial templates that I missed?  Leave a link in the comments so my readers can find it!)

All of the GURPS!

Really, you can draw templates, or inspiration, from nearly anywhere.  Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what you can do and how you can populate your setting with a minimum amount of work.  Of course, even with all these resources, at some point you'll want additional detail, or you'll want to design something independently.  For that, we'll need to dig deeper into building our own templates.  For that, tune in tomorrow!
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