Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Psi-Wars: Building Aliens part 1: Concept and Theme

Yesterday, we discussed aliens in Psi-Wars and where to get them if you need something immediately.  In a sense, that makes a good "first step" for Psi-Wars, but players will almost certainly want something more original and the GM will want something better tailored to his setting.  In that case, we need to make our own aliens.

Building aliens is "just" a matter of building a template.  This is simple enough, and discussed in detail in GURPS Campaigns on page 450.  But I wouldn't write an entire post, just to tell you that, would I?  Everyone already knows that bit.  What they struggle with is how to come up with a good concept, and how to come up with a good design.  Alas, we don't really have additional details in any GURPS book I can find, though I will note that Template Toolkit 1 does have some essentially good advice on templates in general despite a focus on occupational templates.

At its core, designing a racial template is no different than any other RPG mechanic, in that you need both context ("fluff") and mechanic ("crunch") and they need to complement each other well.  Players who see the template need to immediately grasp what it is, what purpose it serves in the setting, and why it would be interesting to play.  Star Wars, in particular, needs cinematic shorthand for its aliens.  The movies never stopped to explained that Gamorreans are dumb muscle, for example, it's just obvious from the very first time you see one.  Given the huge volumes of aliens that will likely fill our setting, we should follow suit.

Remember "Who Gives a Sh*t?" from the beginning of this iteration?  This definitely applies to alien creation.  For players who aren't deeply involved with the alien race, we don't want them to have to do homework to understand our new alien, thus we need our cinematic shorthand: the alien and its purpose should be instantly identifiable from the first description in the game, but if someone is going to play one, they'll want, at a minimum, a social context to know how to play them (what is their culture?  How do they relate to the rest of the setting?) and a mechanical context (their template) and ideally enough detail that, while entirely optional, means you have plenty of story hooks and information you can feed the players should the race become increasingly important in the game.

Today, I'm going to focus on building up a good and instantly recognizable concept.  Tomorrow, I'll work out the deeper mechanics, like the template.

Aliens in Psi-Wars

Like a broken record, I've been discussing the pulp origins of Star Wars.  Not to put too fine a point on it, the stories from which Star Wars draw its origins don't entirely fit modern sensibilities.  Sci-fi is one of the few places where some of those older sentiments can continue, though, because you're less likely to be accused of racism if you're discussing aliens (even when Star Wars is often accused of racism, it's seldom because of how it actually treats its aliens.  If people criticize how Star Wars portrayed the Trade Federation aliens, it's not that they're being unfairly cast into a villainous niche, but that they trade in negative stereotypes of East Asians).

The core theme of these older stories were twofold.  First, our European heroes explored exotic and strange lands full of people with inferior, dangerous cultures or, where their cultures where comparable, the European hero could fuse that culture with his own.  Thus, our hero might rescue an English damsel from cannibals (a strange, inferior and dangerous culture), then go to "the Mysterious Orient," to defuse a sinister conspiracy (from a dangerous, exotic culture) and learn the secrets of kung fu (fusing another culture with his own).  Generally, you don't see this sort of story much anymore ("You do realize Africa isn't populated with cannibals, right?"), but Star Wars is rich with them.  Tusken raiders and Ewoks become our inferior antagonist cultures (the Ewoks were definitely trading in cannibal tropes and were "so stupid" as to believe C3P0 a god, which is also a typical trope from this earlier, pulpier era), and the Jedi traditions are an ancient culture that our human hero is fusing with his own.

Now, the intent in Psi-Wars isn't to trade in legitimately racist stereotypes.  Rather, my point is to point out the themes you tend to see in Star Wars and other space opera, and how we can use the tropes of older adventure fiction to our advantage.  Humanity, dominant at the center of the galaxy, represents the familiar, "home" culture, the standard that we understand (we are all the "European hero").  Aliens represent the dangerous and inferior foreigner.  Few alien cultures will be able to stand up to the might of the Empire or the righteousness of the Rebellion (sure, we'll have some aliens in one or the other, but they'll know their place and both will definitely be led by humans).  Aliens will generally serve as side-kicks, antagonists, sources of mysterious wisdom and exotic background flavor, just as they do in Star Wars.

Now, we can take that too far.  Players will actually want to play aliens, and they'll probably not take too kindly to a dismissive attitude of their race, and this is largely true in Star Wars as well.  Already by the prequels, you can things like Twi'lek Jedi or aliens being treated as more important and central, a movement away from the alien as the strange foreigner, but the roots of it are there, and its those roots I want to get at.  Those roots give is a framework within which we can work, but we don't have to slavishly stick to it.

Alien Concepts and Where To Find Them

We have a rough framework from which to put our aliens, but it's not enough.  For additional sources of ideas, let's turn to GURPS Space.

First, look at page 135, where it gives us 4 roles for aliens: Aliens as Humans, Aliens as Beasts, Aliens as Things and Aliens as Monsters (this, by the way, parallels how GURPS Fantasy treats races).  Then we'll take a look at the aliens "Some Common Aliens" from page 136

Aliens as Humans

First, we have aliens as humans.  This fits races like Twi'leks, where the characters look largely human (two arms, two legs, two eyes on other side of their nose) with a few features that mark them as exotic, but don't get in the way of their humanness (like tentacles on their head, far away from their face, in place of their hair).  The point here is to create a race that players can easily relate to, easily sympathize with.  We might have found the death of Oola less tragic, less sympathetic, if she had been a strange, 6-legged furry critter with spiny teeth.

Because of their inherent humanness, they tend to be popular for players, who will find them easier to play. Almost every "alien Jedi" depicted in Star Wars or the expanded universe, has been an "alien as person," as have most "playable races" in various Star-Wars CRPGs. However, the need to keep them physically similar results in a lack of seriously defining traits.  A twi'lek looks human, has blue, green or red skin and tentacles on their head.  What are they obviously good at?  Nothing leaps to mind.  Being sexy, perhaps?  This might not matter much, as whatever inhuman trait you give is often enough to signal that they are, in fact, alien. The moment players realize they're talking to a blue-skinned space-elf, they understand that they're dealing with an exotic culture, and that's usually enough.  If you're going to create "defining traits," they tend to be subtle: Mystical aliens-as-humans might have inherent psionic abilities, graceful aliens-as-humans might have higher DX, and desert-adapted aliens-as-humans might have leathery skin and beady, black eyes.

Aliens as Beasts

...We were surrounded by English crew members that could hardly keep themselves together. They were, "Here comes the guy in the dog suit." They made fun of us, which was OK. 
-Harrison Ford, regarding the making of Star Wars

Many aliens will borrow their traits from animals, like Chewbecca did.  This gives them vastly greater flexibility and far more exotic traits, but it makes it harder to sympathize with them.  That is, few movie goers complain about the lack of Chewbacca-oriented plot, or the lack of backstory, or the lack of subtitles.  Chewbacca isn't a full-realized character, he's a anthropomorphic dog.

That said, because they can draw on well-known tropes ("This alien is like a tiger!" "Oh, so he's stealthy, predatory and majestic?" "Exactly!"), they're great for ready recognition ("Oh, isn't he one of those space-tiger aliens?") and really allow one to ramp up the exotic physical traits.  And because they're relatively familiar, they can be relatively sympathetic.  The typical "cat girl" alien is a readily sympathetic character (though such characters are arguably Aliens-as-humans with a handful of cat-like traits, like cat ears and a tail), and if someone kicked your space-dog-alien, you'd probably be unhappy with them.

Aliens as Things

Some alien concepts seek to be different for the sake of difference. Such aliens exude menace, or tend to be "icky," what GURPS Fantasy calls "Wugs."  Great examples include Geonosians or Hutts.  Star Wars trades in these more readily than other sci-fi, like Star Trek, likely because movies have bigger budgets than TV shows and such aliens tend to be spectacularly exotic. Their exotic nature lends them very well to very exotic traits, and thus make them easy to physically define, but they're not only rarely sympathetic, they're inherently unsympathetic.  If you informed your Star Wars players that a colony of Twi'leks or Wookies had been destroyed by the Empire, you might get a visceral reaction.  One of the players might have even had a romance with a Twi'lek.  If you informed them that a colony of Hutts or Geonosians were wiped out, some of the players might even nod and approve!

We can use this lack of sympathy in a few ways.  First, we can push the players a little by mingling sympathetic traits with unsympathetic traits.  The original Twi'lek design had a slick, almost slimy skin and, of course, their tentacles, which makes them seem just wuggish enough to remind us of their alienness.  Rodians too, with their bug-eyes and spiny heads, seem particularly exotic and strange.  This mixture creates someone who seems human enough to relate to, but alien enough to be exotic, or even repellent.  If we choose to go for an unvarnished wug, however, then we universally have something villainous or, at least, truly exotic.  Such a creature inevitably falls outside of Communion except for the tenuous link via Broken Communions "the Other." This doesn't mean that they have to be monsters, but players (and Communion) will often see them as such.

Thus, the instant image a player gets of a chitinous alien with pulsating tendrils and slime-dripping fangs is generally that of "That's a monster!" It's instantly memorable, but requires a bit more explanation than an Alien-as-Beast, as their role isn't instantly obvious (if you saw a Hutt, stripped of all context, for the first time, would you assume it was a criminal mastermind? Or perhaps dumb muscle?  Or perhaps some kind of devious industrialist?).  This does allow you to branch out into unusual designs, though, and inject some true weirdness into your game.  I don't recommend that you include many of them (Star Wars is not a setting well-suited to starfish aliens) as differentiating between them requires a little too much explanation ("No, these are the other crawling, wriggling poisonous space aliens!"), but the setting can definitely support a few.

Comical Aliens

While I'm sure the first thing a Star Wars fan might think of when it comes to "comical aliens" is Jar-Jar Binks, Star Wars is actually loaded to the gills with comical aliens.  They fit the milieu of "inferior to the familiar culture."  They let us laugh at the weird, foreign aliens, and generally emphasize the strength and dignity of our central culture by contrast.  In practice, comical aliens tend to be parodies/deconstructions of existing elements.  In a universe with a dangerous empire, there might be a miniature alien empire somewhere in the reaches with goblin-emperors who are self-conscious of their height, and ogrish shocktroopers who're constantly running into each other and sprawling onto the ground in a tangle of limbs and weapons.  Where we have saintly religious orders, we might have a puffed-up religious order with overwrought ceremonies and utterly arbitrary rules.  In the end, though, whatever insight they might offer into the short-comings of our setting or our favored SF tropes, they ultimately don't matter as much as the heroes do.  They are victims to be rescued or minor opponents to be casually dispatched, rather than central players.

On the friendly side, these aliens tend to be silly side-kicks, as exemplified by Gungans, and perhaps by the Ewoks.  What dignity and power they have is, itself, laughable.  They do not have kings, they have "bombad bossas," and their military is made of glowing balls carried in weird ox-carts.  They tend to be incompetent, but obviously mean well.  They're highly sympathetic: if one were to slaughter a race of them, the player reaction might be "Why? WHY? They're completely harmless!" 

Another friendly comical alien might be the mascot, an example of which might be the Sullastan. These adorable little guys hang out with you and might even help a bit, but their support is more often moral than genuine and, if they're actually good at what they do, it tends to be less dramatic: they're background technicians, researchers and librarians, not commandos, fighter aces or diplomats. These tend to evoke a protective reaction from players, and attacking a mascot is the equivalent to kicking a puppy.

On the antagonistic side, these aliens tend to be incompetent antagonist or irritating inconveniences, examples of which might be Rodians or Jawas.  They often serve those who opposed the players, but they do so badly.  If they face off against the PCs, the results are a foregone conclusion, usually ending with cool quip like "Sorry for the mess."  If they're too weak and minor, like Jawas, then they represent irritations rather than opponents.  A Jawa won't kill you, and someone who slaughters Jawas is as bad as someone who kicks puppies, but they can still steal your stuff, set annoying traps, and generally run around with flailing arms causing a mess.

Comical aliens tend to share a few common traits, whatever their role in the campaign.  They might be physically incompentent, represented by traits like low DX or, even better, Klutz.  They also tend to be physically unimposing, with a physically small size and low ST.  If they're skilled or talented in a direction, it's rarely direct or dramatic: they'll be masters of cleaning, fixing things in the background, thievery or laying traps, not in divine wisdom or exceptional combat skill. 

Comical races work best as Aliens-as-beasts, or as a mixture between wug and human.  For the former, we can trade on existing critter tropes to create a silly race: imagine a race of intelligent space monkeys or space raccoons!  For the latter, we use the character's human traits to generate sympathy (especially "cute" traits, like large eye and large head with a small mouth and small limbs), but wuggish traits to make them repellent and weird enough that they're worth laughing at.  These tend to carry their wug traits in their face, and have ungainly, or ridiculously proportioned human traits (think of Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama).  The point is definitely not to make them threatening: no bristling mouth of fangs, glistening carapace or threatening pincers, but instead just enough ick and yuck to push them out of the "human" category.

Judge me by my size, do you? 
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

We can subvert the trope, and Star Wars does!  Yoda is definitely a comical alien who turns out to be profoundly powerful and epic, not funny at all (this has been true so long that sometimes people forget that Yoda was always meant to seem very silly at first).  If we take "silly" to mean "unimposing," there's definitely an advantage into fading into the background: Gandalf chose Hobbits as his ringbearers for many reasons, but one of them was definitely the fact that they were the last beings Sauron would expect to be carrying his ring to their doom.  Imagine if a crack squad of Jawas were deployed against the empire.  How seriously do you think the empire would take the threat?  Probably not at all!  

The inherent sympathy of comical races also gives us a chance to re-evaluate our own misconceptions and to look at a maligned minority: What is it like to be a member of a thriving and culturally rich that everyone takes to be a joke?  Consider the fact that one of the main reasons the Gungans fought the people of Naboo was that the latter didn't take them seriously, and thus they had no representation, which is a perfectly legitimate complaint!  While we're laughing at how stupid the Gungans are, we're perpetuating the very attitude that makes them ill-inclined to help us in the first place.  In that sense, comical races represent a wake-up call.  Perhaps we shouldn't judge a race by its size, or its ridiculous, floppy ears.  To reflect this, consider giving the race a Social Stigma of some kind, usually (Minority) or (Second-class Citizen). This reflects the fact that society itself doesn't take them all that seriously.

Primitive Aliens

While the first thing a GURPS player might imagine when discussing "primitive" aliens is a race with a lower tech-level, but consider the concept more holistically.  The word "primitive" invites contrast with "modern" or "advanced," creating an arrow of progress: "they" are beneath or behind "us," making them iconic for our theme of aliens as "not as good as us."

How that ineptitude manifests varies depending on your themes, but the most common dichotomy is found in Ibn Kalhdun's "Book of Lessons," and reiterated in Dune: You have "hard men" who live in a harsh environment and form deep ties with one another and then eventually become such masters of their environment that they live in that they burst free and conquer all around them. Thereafter, life in the city softens them until they lose their edge and become the next decadent, degenerate civilization that the hard men of the wilderness conquer.

In a sense, all Star-Wars aliens are "primitive" compared to the central, dominant culture of the setting, but this discussion will focus on those whose "primitive ways" or "opposition to progress" are central to their nature.

The heroic side of this is the noble savage, typified by the Ewoks, certainly and perhaps by Wookies, but perhaps best typified by the Fremen of Dune. The noble savage represents the starting position of Ibn Kaldun's model, with a tribal people who disdain the softness that technology offers them.  They live apart, surviving off the land and becoming hardened by it.  They tend to have strong, upright morals and serve to challenge the hero on his over-reliance on technology.  Alternatively, they might be innocent, having never been exposed to the "dangers" of technology and, with a childlike innocence, mistake the heroes for Gods.  For them, whether they know it or not, technology is poison that threatens to unravel their way of life.

Then, on the villainous side, we have the marauding barbarian, typified by the Tusken Raider, and stage two of Ibn Kaldun's model.  These do not passively disdain the sophistication of civilization, but actively work against it or, perhaps, desire it so strongly that they destroy it in the process of acquiring it: the barbarians who burn down the city they just conquered.  These are "barbarians" in the most absolute sense: they usually don't speak any comprehensible language, and they have no hope of understanding technological sophistication, so they just unthinkingly (and superstitiously) hurl technology to the ground and destroy it.  In some ways, they represent the opposite of the noble savage in that technology is not toxic to them, rather, they are toxic to technology.

The culmination of Ibn Kaldun's model is the decadent degenerate, probably best represented by Twi'leks.  These races aren't primitive in a technological sense, though they generally have less competent technology than the "home" civilization, but they are morally primitive.  These ancient empires live in decaying cities and offer empty rituals to long-vanished gods.  They might be sophisticated, but not in any useful sense.  Instead, the narrative holds them up as a counter-example for how (morally, philosophically) advanced ("with the times") the heroes are.  Such aliens usually engage in barbaric practices, like slave trading, druge use or human sacrifice.  This idea draws heavily on the real-world phenomenon of "Orientalism," where Western civilization took to exaggerating the decadent wonders of "the orient," and the decadence they depicted wasn't that which the culture actually had, but that which the artist found titillating.  What we're trying to do with decadent aliens isn't necessarily to represent a realistic depiction of a degenerate race, but to offer our players a taste of what we, as role-players, might find both intriguing and morally dubious, so they might enjoy the lascivious dance of the slave-girl, and thereafter righteously cut her chains, or they might enjoy being made a god-king of a primitive people, but then bring them proper government and enlightenment.

Primitiveness is probably better represented by culture than race, but sometimes these things become inextricably intertwined.  Noble savages tend to enjoy some kind of traits that make them hardier and better able to survive their environment.  Marauding barbarians have traits that strip their humanity from them: they tend to have lower IQ, or they're Bestial, etc.  Both tend to be profoundly physical, and are usually stronger and faster than the average human, and the noble savage is often beautiful as well, fit and lithe.  Decadent degenerates tend to be cunningly clever, but the signs of their sins have ruined their physique: lechery means they enslave the beautiful, gluttony makes them fat, vanity and greed makes them adorn themselves with soft garments to cover their softer skin, and so on.  The truly excellent degenerate race makes others wish to be degenerate: they tend to be servile, especially beautiful, or quick with sycophantic praise.  They might be pre-disposed to pushing their conquerors onto a couch and seeing to their every need, sapping their strength through vice, and then to destroy them with treacherous means, like poison.

Primitive aliens need some level of humanity to express their primitiveness, because players will too easily mistake primitive space-bug for a clever animal, not a sapient alien.  Therefore, these races should be aliens-as-human, or alien-as-human mixed with some wug traits (even Jabba the Hutt has a human-like face and finds humanoid women to be attractive).  Bestial aliens are especially appropriate to the noble savage and the marauding barbarian, to emphasize their wild themes ("The tiger-alien savages are unimpressed by your need to use a blaster to kill a space mammoth"), but they should retain some fundamental human traits (opposable thumbs, upright posture, language, etc).

The fundamental conceit of the primitive alien is that they are primitive compared to us, that their ways aren't as good as ours. If we want to subvert this trope, we have a few ways to do it.  We can, first of all, question if our ways are really so advanced.  The Noble Savage is especially good at this, because he often questions the value of the sophistication the PCs hold dear, and points out the many advantages he has over them.  Dune, at least, seems to show the Fremen way of life as superior to the "more advanced" Empire.  The marauding barbarian might be legitimately fighting against something terrible: given that Tatooine is ruled by the Hutts and the Empire, is it so weird that Tusken Raiders are in a constant state of rebellion against the authorities?  Perhaps the problem with Tusken Raiders isn't that they constantly raid, but that nobody actually talks to them to coordinate their efforts!  And the "decadent degenerates" might carry profound philosophy in their libraries, beautiful art forms that you can explore, and good reasons as to why they've stuck to their specific culture for literally thousands of years.  The Jedi, after all, are also an ancient culture that hews close to its traditions!

But another way we can subvert the trope is to reduce the distance between "them" and "us."  Is the alien race really so different from us?  We might depict a race as wild and savage, when it fact it has quite complex technology and is becoming increasingly interconnected with the empire.  Twi'leks don't want to be enslaved!  They seek freedom. This idea that they're a bunch of degenerates has been imposed upon them by outsiders, and by an Empire who just doesn't care enough about their plight to help.  If the PCs assume that all Twi'leks just like being enslaved dancers, they'll have another thing coming!  "Primitive" is a label others assign in comparison to themselves.  If we look closer at that comparison, we might find that it's based on a faulty premise.

Mastermind Aliens

Our premise of "the great human hero" breaks down if other aliens are smarter than us.  Thus, it might seem as though the idea of a Mastermind Alien is doomed from the outset, but I would argue that Star Wars actually has these, as does most space opera.  Star Wars routinely depicts Yoda as at least philosophically superior to all other Jedi, and the expanded universe includes races like the Sith and the Chiss, and the Geonosians are the monstrous race that came up with the Death Star. Thematically, masterminds from pulp era stories either resemble the decadent degenerates above, only as effective, or they're something much closer to him.  The masterminds of Star Wars are more often human (mad Imperial scientists, for example) than alien, but we don't necessarily have to follow suit.

On the heroic side, we have the Wise Sage. The race has acquired some great wisdom or knowledge that becomes the center of that race's being.  These are our "race of Jedi" or "race of psionic oracles."  They offer us some great and powerful knowledge, but only if we're humble enough to listen.  In typical pulp fashion, the hero might initially dismiss the wisdom of the Wise Sage race, only later to learn just how wise they are but, of course, the race needs the hero to save them, so instills our hero with all the wisdom he needs to save the day.

Villains tend to be Monstrous Masterminds.  They concoct elaborate plots, or lurk, like spiders, at the center of a vast web of conspiracy.  Usually, like the Wise Sage race, they've mastered some specific technology or philosophy, but it's an evil philosophy, one that brings great power at great risk to everyone else around them, or the technology at least matches the technology of the setting, and may well be superior, but nobody would rightly use it.  It's an evil that must be purged from the galaxy!

Mastermind aliens obviously have some fundamentally superior intellect, whether it's simply a higher IQ or access to unique mental traits.  Often, especially in a setting like Psi-Wars, what sets them apart is some inherent psionic ability. Alternately, they might be an utterly normal race, but one with a culture and a technological infrastructure unique to the setting.  In most cases, though, they should not have superior physical traits and they may even be physically inferior.  If we want to maintain our "superior human hero," what he brings to the party is his physical prowess.  If a mastermind was both intellectual and physical, he wouldn't need the hero.  That's not to say that they cannot have a physical tradition (a forceswordmanship style), but something necessarily prevents this intellectually superior race from taking over the whole galaxy.  What is that?

Mastermind Aliens work best either as Aliens-as-Humans, or as wugs.  The problem with wugs, in general, is that their fundamental inhumanity make it hard to express the fact that they're people rather than monsters, but one of the hallmarks of people is their intelligence.  A menacing, clicking bug-thing with access to terrifyingly advanced technology is obviously a sapient alien.  The Geonosians were this sort of alien.  Alternatively, they might look a lot like us, though typically more beautiful, thin and ethereal.  They usually have a tenuous grasp on the mortal coil.  Wise, sagely, bestial aliens are possible, but most players will associate bestial aliens with physical, primal traits, not with intellectual mastery.

If we want to subvert the mastermind aliens trope, the single most toxic concept behind mastermind aliens is that they have some sort of sinister conspiracy against the rest of the galaxy.  They might be hunted out of fear and paranoia and concoct complex plans out of necessity. Yoda also managed to lose a lot of his alien nature in the prequels simply by being wrong.  Mastermind aliens often have a reputation for "having all the answers."  If you can show that they don't, that they're just as scared and uncertain as everyone else, it drains a little of the mystique from them.

Warrior Aliens

Much of what I've written about Mastermind Aliens applies to Warrior aliens, but in regards to the physical rather than the mental.  In principle, warrior aliens should be martially superior to our great human hero and our central civilization.  They are, generally, a terrifying threat of some sort, and so we must be cautious in determining why they haven't taken over everything.  They do make an excellent addition to a setting, though, both in that players will be interested in playing a warrior super-race, and in that they provide excellent opponents.  Wookies are probably the best example from Star Wars.

Heroic Warrior Aliens are often Warrior Poets. Essentially, they're Noble Savages with decent equipment.  If an Ewok is a Noble Savage, then a Wookie might be a Warrior Poet, though really your iconic Warrior Poet is the Klingons (or the Green Martians of Barsoom, especially Tars Tarkas), which shows the difficulty of having a Warrior Poet in a game like Star Wars, as they quickly become as cool, in an action-oriented way, as the "great human hero."  Generally, however, one of the race will battle our "great human hero," be defeated or be fought to a standstill, and then be so impressed with the "great human hero" that he joins him as boon companion thereafter.  Warrior Poets tend to mingle their particular cultural elegance with their sheer physical prowess, hence the name, and thus in addition to inherent racial advantages, usually boast some exotic martial arts.

Villainous Warrior Aliens tend to split off into one of two groups.  The first is the Brainless Muscle, like Gamorreans.  These use brute power and sheer mass to intimidate their way across the galaxy.  They tend to be pirates, cheap mercenaries and criminal muscle.  They're much more of a threat than the Incompetent Antagonist, but they're not an existential threat like the Marauding Barbarian, because they buy into the system.  Generally, they exist to allow the players fight an interesting new opponent who still isn't that much of a threat: when you're tired of kicking Imperial Troopers around, try some of these guys on for size!

Finally, we have the Dread Conquerors.  These guys tend to blend the worst of the Monstrous Mastermind with the worst of the Marauding Barbarian, and tend to be sold as the "greatest threat the galaxy has ever faced."  They live for war, often with a toxic and intolerant ideology that stands for all the heroes despise, and which drives them to conquer all before them, and they have the technology and prowess to do just that! Their only downfall might be that they lack the intellect to truly pull it off.  Examples from the Star Wars EU include the Yuzhon Vong

Warrior aliens almost always boast improved physical prowess, most commonly in the form of great strength and toughness, but they can enjoy greater speed and grace as well, or a wide variety of natural weapons.  They tend to lack substantial intellectual advantages or psionic abilities, and the Brainless Muscle especially tends to suffer a penalty to IQ.  Warrior aliens can be any sort of alien, but they're most commonly bestial aliens or wugs.  All warrior aliens benefit from the primal association with bestial traits, like claws or fangs or fur, and the more villainous they get, the more natural it is for them to be inhumanely wuggish, so that players feel no remorse slaughtering entire armies of them (which is often necessary).  Even when we want sympathetic warrior poets, they can benefit from a few bestial traits, to remind the players just how fearsome they are.

Subverting the trope of the warrior alien can be as simple as giving them some brains or removing this hypermasculine idea of all-war-all-the-time.  If you show warrior aliens with a gentle side or a family life, then their presence as the faceless horde to defeat softens a little (imagine a Gamorrean father playing with his Gamorrean hoglings before sighing, taking up his halberd, and going to work for that awful slug another day).  This is often a necessary first step to making anything other than the warrior poet playable for player characters, and even warrior poets could benefit to having more to their life than just all combat all the time (Klingons, I'm talking to you!")

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