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    Ashtagon's Avatar

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    Default A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    So I'm trying to create a suitable mix of alien races for Generic Sci-Fi Campaign(tm). I'm not sure exactlyu what I do want. I know some of what I need, and I know some of what I must exclude...

    1) Abslutely nothing that is existing IP. A "cat-race" is fine; "Larry Niven's Kzin" is not.
    2) I don't want to simply have "elves/orcs/generic fantasy race" in space.
    3) Ideally, I would pander to established SF tropes. It would also be nice to cover the alien races found in "UFO watcher" circles.
    4) The alien race specs should ideally inform not just their individual characteristics, but also something about their culture and starship design.

    It's a tall order, I know. Any suggestions on where to begin?

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    BardGuy

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    How about a mishmash of stereotypical aliens? spindly, almost skeletal lizards with flowing blond hair, that pilot flying saucers with phallic sensor arrays. (Based off of the Greys, lizardmen, and nordics)

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    The approach I started to take regarding the design of creatures cultures is to focus on the consequences of their traits. If it's a race of shapeshifters, they'll probably have a different concept of beauty; if they can't get bored, their society will be more industrious, etc. If you choose 3 such traits for each race, and maybe decide some things about their home plant that will effect how they would have evolved, and think hard about how the race will be, I think it will work well.

    Here are some random traits that you could choose from:
    Spoiler
    Show
    Mute, telephatic, telekentic, can travel space without technology, incorporeal, can't feel trust,
    hiveminded.

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    I would especially advise to make sure you have at least one, highly-imaginative nonhumanoid race.

    For an example, a concept I've been sitting on for an "old" interstellar species, that now that I think about it could almost be considered a reinterpretation of dwarves if you focus on the mining, metalworking, and lawful aspects while tossing out the rest:

    Imagine one central body with four limbs, all fully double-jointed and featuring four fingers and two thumbs, with multiple depth-capable eyes on prehensile stalks that have a few different properties, like one sees primarily in IR, one in normal light, one in UV light, and one designed to be able to focus for extremely fine detail at the cost of being nearsighted. They also have some sensory capabilities we humans don't have, such as as their skin prickles painfully if exposed to gamma rays or particle radiation above a certain level, they can sense electromagnetic fields, they can "hear" radio waves, can emit a weak radar signal they can use in the absence of light to "see", and they have an organic neural interface port that translates electrical digital binary into something their brain can process (with the equivalent of a hardware firewall). They can also survive for approximately two hours in a vacuum without protection (being able to resist vacuum, cold, and radiation), and are biologically optimized for zero-g.

    This species doesn't bother with artificial gravity within its ships for obvious reasons, they are considered the premier miners (asteroids and comets), use their neural interfaces to earn reputations as some of the best pilots to be found, and are also hailed as the best at several sciences, including: artificial hibernation, Bussard Ramjets, Dyson Spheres, genetic engineering, and materials science / metallurgy. A long time ago, this species genetically engineered itself for life among the stars and left its home world, and have long chosen to leave the planets for the "young" and "foolish" among the other sentients. Their culture is a strict meritocracy and technocracy (that is, nobody is allowed to get a position of power they aren't qualified for, their politicians all have degrees and experience in whatever they're regulating, etc), and while they do practice capitalism, their culture strongly emphasizes the need for everyone within their species to contribute to not just themselves to but to their people as a whole, and damaging renewable resources or enriching oneself at the expense of others (beyond basic and "fair" competition) is seen as disgusting, shameful, and taboo. They did eventually pick up FTL (whatever form exists in your setting), but they aren't often found zooming around the cosmos like hummingbirds from flower to flower, favoring instead to act in an organized manner and make use of their environment, almost like a species of ant that can adapt to farm whatever is near (fungus, other insects, trees, you name it) without destroying it.

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    An obvious source of information is really weird existing species. A quick wikipedia dive into plankton found these:
    Spoiler: Plankton
    Show







    Then there's other esoteric sources. For instance, I once made a creature based on the citric acid cycle, called the gellipede. It had three to six segments depending on life style, each of which corresponded to a carbon and attached molecules found in the TCA.
    Spoiler: Krebs cycle
    Show

    As can be seen, there's a CH3 group, a CH2 group, a CH group, a CHOH group, a CO group, and a COO- grouping, plus a CO2 group that leaves. You get eight distinct life phases with different but repeating gelatinous segments, and it constantly spawns a small single segment creature (the CO2 analog), while consuming a 2 segment creature (Acetyl CoA).

    Is this the nerdiest creature I've ever come up with? Probably. Is it bizarre enough to be really alien? Absolutely.

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    Ashtagon's Avatar

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    It's cool coming up wirth alien species to populate a universe, but for the purposes of a cantina setting, they need to be able to interact meaningfully with each other. If their biology is so different that they can't breath the same air, drink stuff that can be served at the same bar, have some means of maniplating objects, and a means of communication that won't cause communication issues, they can't be used.

    The purpose of aliens races in SF (and fantasy) after all, isn't to showcase odd biology, but to examine the human condition through social interaction. A race of 20-foot tall reptilians may be cool, but has no real place as a PC race, due to the fact that the size limits meaningful interaction with others. Star Trek's Tholians present a similar obstacle due to their need for heat.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    How do you feel about uplifted animals? There's a lot of possibilities there.
    Quote Originally Posted by Flickerdart View Post
    Why be Evil when you can be Lawful?

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    Quote Originally Posted by MrZJunior View Post
    How do you feel about uplifted animals? There's a lot of possibilities there.
    That's a separate branch of my overall project. To whit:

    1. Uplifts (aka furries, aka moreaus).
    2. Pop Culture (greys, reptilians, "nordics", etc.)
    3. The Cantina (Quark's Bar, that scene from Star Wars; utterly non-Earth, alien, but similar enough to us to interact at a meaningful level)
    4. "Conventional" fantasy races (IN SPAAACE)

    Note: While the inspiration for the basic concept would suggest obvious sources as raw material, I can't/won't use them because they are not open IP. Instead, I'm trying to figure out the design principles that would make for a good selection of races to form the concept.
    Last edited by Ashtagon; 2017-12-28 at 04:47 PM.

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    Quote Originally Posted by Knaight View Post
    An obvious source of information is really weird existing species. A quick wikipedia dive into plankton found these:
    Spoiler: Plankton
    Show
    The top center one looks like an Elder Thing

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ashtagon View Post
    So I'm trying to create a suitable mix of alien races for Generic Sci-Fi Campaign(tm). I'm not sure exactlyu what I do want. I know some of what I need, and I know some of what I must exclude...

    1) Abslutely nothing that is existing IP. A "cat-race" is fine; "Larry Niven's Kzin" is not.
    2) I don't want to simply have "elves/orcs/generic fantasy race" in space.
    3) Ideally, I would pander to established SF tropes. It would also be nice to cover the alien races found in "UFO watcher" circles.
    4) The alien race specs should ideally inform not just their individual characteristics, but also something about their culture and starship design.

    It's a tall order, I know. Any suggestions on where to begin?
    How generic, on a scale from campy "you know how this works" generic generic to "uses many of the same base elements but in a very original way (or as close as one person writing a campaign can get)"?

    You might get good mileage out of combining inner/cultural stereotypes and outer/biological stereotypes. For instance:

    Cultural:
    Proud warrior race
    High and mighty ancient astronaut god people/space elves
    Logical people
    Sleazy car salesmen
    Always following a hype people

    Biological:
    Robots
    Lizard people
    Small large headed grays
    Gremlin/goblin/gnome people
    Hairy monsters
    Space dinosaurs

    By making the space dinosaurs the sleazy car salesmen of the setting, you get an original race. For more fleshing out, combine with an alignement/outlook (good, evil, neutral, dedicated to neutrality, orderly, way too happy, yes this overlaps heavily with the culture thing) and/or an environment they live in (desert, jungle, asteroid belt). A proud but at heart good warrior race of desert welling robots might be something they haven't seen before, even though they immediately get what it's about, because they've seen all the elements before.
    The ultimate OOTS cookie cutter nameless soldier is the hobgoblin.

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    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    If you don't mind using races from Star Wars, there are unofficial species menageries floating about from Edge of the Empire. At the very least it could give you ideas.

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    Default Re: A cantina of alien races (Sci-Fi)

    Here's a race I used once

    the Riil
    A species of bipedal insectoids (like dnd's Thri-Kreen, but two-armed and with a completely different culture). They live their entire lives on massive habitat spacecraft, their homeworld long forgotten. As a result, they are skilled at living in zero gravity and at repairing starships. Their designs are utilitarian, with a focus on defense, trying to protect their passengers at all cost (lots of triangles (the strongest shapes), heavy shields, point-defense systems, you get the idea)

    The point is, it doesn't matter. As long as you give your species something that makes them stand out, their other traits don't matter as much. You could have space-orcs, but change a physical or cultural trait to be very different, and they wouldn't feel like just orcs in space anymore.

    Good luck on your race creation.
    Last edited by bc56; 2018-01-12 at 11:27 PM.
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