Flynn’s Guide to Alien Creation
This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of the magazine.
Guide to Alien Creation. Jason Kemp.
Samardan Press: http://www.lulu.com/samardanpress
Despite some funky illustrations (save the cover, which one can see is gorgeous), this is an excellent first start to alien creation for any Space Opera type game. Traveller, however, is an odd game, best described as “Hard Space Opera”, which means that it takes elements from known reality but still has all the familiar handwaves from the Space Opera tradition—FTL, portable fusion power, et cetera. This guide veers toward the softer side in several ways, such as having more aliens than the “stock” Traveller setting would suggest.
Countless examples drawn from his soon-to-be-published Ari Drakara Campaign Setting round out the supplement.
It takes the basic Mongoose Traveller rules and applies them to the creation of sentients/sophonts. Where I found it lacking was that while it really does have a “Hard SF” grounding to even how it approaches the creation of species, the rules outlined are more associated with the territory of Star Wars than of Traveller. Where this was evident was in the fact that aliens could be found on vacuum worlds or zero-g worlds. So, “it might be life but not life as we know it” would have been my throwaway line. But, this supplement does not go there; it rather describes them as having “Vacuum Survival” or “Zero-Gravity Adaptation” alien traits. To redeem it, partially, it does give the suggestion that these not be the homeworld of said alien species. The Referee takes the UWP as their starting point and uses a building block approach and 2d6 to determine characteristics. Fortunately, it does tend to avoid the appearance-only approach of certain high-fantasy RPG sourcebooks—determining appearance is left to the Referee. From the basic environment, our alien begins to acquire traits grounded in the particular ecological niche that their forbearers occupied. Sounds all very Hard SF, I know. But, unfortunately such traits include Electricity Resistance, Organic Radio Communication, Resistant to Fear, Xeno-Empathy, etc.
Having said that, the good thing is most of the traits are convincing and believable even if they veer toward the fantastic (or fantasy). “Flynn” has done a great job in helping us to think through the process of creating believable alien sophonts and avoiding “bumpy head syndrome” (a la Star Trek) or taking Terran analogues and making them bipeds (Star Wars and much of TV Science Fiction), but it just does not go far enough for me—what I wanted to see was something grounded more firmly in the Hard SF tradition which would allow me to play in such universes as Ian Banks’ Culture or Poul Anderson’s worlds. Therefore, this is not the supplement that I had hoped for. However, if you like your SF soft then this supplement is for you.
Jason “Flynn” Kemp brings alien sophont creation to life with a set of rules that are grounded more in soft SF or Space Opera traditions and in spite of the quirky art, it is recommended to all Referees who venture to softer side of Traveller.