Monday, February 6, 2017

Space Monsters. Alien Beasts and Psi-Wars

Star Wars is loaded to the gills with space monsters.  A New Hope features whatever tendril thing that was in the Death Star trash compactor, The Empire Strikes Back features the wampa beast and some great swamp creature that spits out R2-D2.  The Return of the Jedi features the Great Sarlacc and the Rancor, which is probably the epitome of a Star Wars space-monster.

Star Wars isn't alone.  People have been fighting space monsters in movies since they were first put to film.  John Carter fought crazed plant-men and 4-armed white gorillas on Barsoom. Doctor Who has fought countless weird space creatures over his many travels.  Flash Gordon had to deal with lion-men and constrictor plants.  Quite a bit of sci-fi, especially after Lovecraft, turned towards horror elements, treating space monsters as monsters, and the works of H.R. Giger have left an indelible mark on what people expect a space monster to look like.

Heroes in adventure fiction have been fighting crazy monsters since the dawn of adventure fiction.  The Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh, two tales from the dawn of their respective literary traditions, both feature heroes battling monsters, and some mythologies start with the death of a great monster, at the hands of a celebrated god, as the creation of the world.  Thus monsters and their defeat at the hands of heroes have a definite resonance with the human psyche, and thus has a place in our heroic Psi-Wars.

So, where do we get started?  GURPS already has a few resources for Space Monsters, including GURPS Space, the GURPS Space Bestiary, GURPS Horror, GURPS Monster Hunters 5, and Pyramid #3-27, Monsters in Space.

Mundane Monsters: GURPS Space

GURPS Space (and the Space Bestiary and Pyramid #3-27) offer us a wealth of creatures, or the ability to create creatures on our own.  They all suffer from a critical flaw, however: all of the creatures they offer are ultimately relatively mundane.

A space monster should plausibly present a threat to the hero.  Luke feared for his life when he faced off against the wampa beast and the rancor.  The space monsters offered in the above works, however, are not a major threat to a psi-wars action hero.  While not alien, consider a bear.  A grizzly is ST 19, has DR 2, has skill 13 for brawling, and it deals about 2d cutting damage with its claws.  The net result is a creature that isn't a serious threat to someone in battleweave, let alone someone in a hardsuit, who will be knocked unconscious from the average shot of a blaster rifle, or a couple of hits with a blaster pistol, never mind a stroke of a force sword.  A bear might be a threat to a criminal goon or an unarmored, unskilled human, or a major threat if you have no weapon at all, but to any equipped and ready character, a bear is no threat.

In a sense, this doesn't contradict Star Wars.  The rancor, often vaunted by Star Wars video games as a threat capable of defeating a tank, only really threatened Luke because he was unarmed and in a confined space.  He was able to defeat it with a rock and some bone.  Likewise, the wampa beast ambushed Luke (learn to listen to the Force, buddy!) and once Luke had his lightsaber, it was no longer a serious challenge.

In the real world, most military operations don't concern themselves greatly with the difficulties presented by local wildlife.  A rampage herds of elephants is an unusual challenge during a tank battle, not a real threat to the tank commander, on par with facing particularly bad weather.  We could allow our space monsters to be no worse than that.

In that case, the critters derived from the above work fine.  Moreover, and more importantly, they work well as local color.  Perhaps a space jungle as a chitinous space monkey with a colorful carapace.  That's interesting!  Or perhaps a desert world has a predatory, claw-faced, reptilian cat-thing!  That's cool too!  Does it matter that these won't make a commando tremble in his boots?  GURPS Space provides us with a quick and easy way to populate our worlds with interesting life, which is one reason I spent the last two weeks describing specific terrains.  Once you've chosen the terrain for your planet, you can sprinkle a few interesting animals on it, and you're good to go.

Horrific Monsters

GURPS Monster Hunters 5 and GURPS Horror both offer us plenty of interesting monsters that are both potent threats and suitably sci-fi in theme to fit psi-wars.  For example, the Insectoid from Monster Hunters 5: Applied Xenology deal 3d+1(2) cutting damage with a Brawling of 18, which is just enough to punch through battleweave, and it has DR 15, which is almost on par with battleweave itself.  A single one might not be much of a threat, but imagine a swarm.

The Cosmic Minion in GURPS Horror on page 75 "only" has ST 20 and some claws, but it has numerous tentacles and various afflictions and inflict Terror on the target, and has some form of Injury Tolerance and the ability to resist psychic powers, making it a truly terrifying threat, though again, more likely to be a threat in a group rather than one at a time.  The true cosmic entity. the Ancient One, on page 74, is stronger than an Elephant, able to deal ~6d cutting or impaling damage, to take around 50 damage, and is unkillable, as well as featuring profound Terror and Psionic Energy Reserves.  That would threaten a group of players.

But the problem with these monsters is, first of all, they're geared towards entirely different sorts of characters.  The point of an Ancient One is not to be side-excursion for a psi-wars adventure, and the point of a insectoid is to terrify TL 8-9 investigators, not to be cannon fodder for an alien world.  Furthermore the themes involved aren't entirely appropriate, at least not to the purposes of a space monster.  What we want here is something more akin to a D&D bestiary full of interesting alien monstrosities that we can inflict on our PCs as an interesting diversion.  Lovecraftian Minions and Ancient Ones represent an entirely different sort of threat, a monstrous and horrific alien civilization waging war on the players.  The insectoid is a good start, but goes too far into body horror to make a good psi-wars monster.

(Or perhaps not.  Psi-Wars has its fair share of sinister conspiracies and evil corporations.  It needn't be as bright and shiny as Star Wars.  Psionic warriors forged from a secret conspiracy waging war on shapeshifting monsters or xenomorphs from alien might fit perfectly well!)

What these works do is point us in the right direction.  They offer us some themes that we might use, and some suggestions about appropriate power-level.  For example, the insectoid isn't remotely realistic, but that's okay, nobody seems to notice.  Thus, we might have monsters with an armor divisor of 3 or 5 on its claws and perhaps people wouldn't mind.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...