Don't write an Aslan sourcebook...

Discuss the Traveller RPG and its many settings
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Postby walkir » Sat Mar 28, 2009 2:38 pm

Ishmael wrote:To appear sentient ( as opposed to mindless beasts like a swarm of ants ) they have to be able to meaningfully communicate with humans which implies a shared understanding of basic concepts common to both races.
Not necessarily. They need enough communication for a verbal "get out off my lawn!", as simply destroying every ship that comes near a certain line might look like animal intelligence, yes. But they need no understanding of the same concepts.
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Postby Ishmael » Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:17 pm

walkir wrote:
Ishmael wrote:To appear sentient ( as opposed to mindless beasts like a swarm of ants ) they have to be able to meaningfully communicate with humans which implies a shared understanding of basic concepts common to both races.
Not necessarily. They need enough communication for a verbal "get out off my lawn!", as simply destroying every ship that comes near a certain line might look like animal intelligence, yes. But they need no understanding of the same concepts.
not only the concepts of territory and ownership, for example ( your example ) but also similar enough viewpoints such that meaningful communication of their position on those matters. Otherwise, they would appear as mindless animals in actions regardless of any technologies they might possess.

If they have and use technology, then there would have to be same understandings of the concepts of natural laws and physics and math and other sciences as with humans. They would have to work under the same physical laws of the universe.

I'll stand by my position that aliens, in game terms, differ from humans primarily by cultural characteristics.
Without shared understanding of a basic level of concepts, communication and interaction beyond fight/flight would be meaningless.
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Postby walkir » Sat Mar 28, 2009 3:33 pm

Ishmael wrote:not only the concepts of territory and ownership, for example ( your example ) but also similar enough viewpoints such that meaningful communication of their position on those matters. Otherwise, they would appear as mindless animals in actions regardless of any technologies they might possess.
Well, I was using the hydrogen breathers of the uplift universe as example. No one (no oxygen breathing alien, as strange as they may be) understands them, as they don't understands oxygen breathers.
The only thing they understand about each other is a need to not be in the same spiral arm. That much was communicated, but everything else no one understands (in both directions).
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Postby daryen » Sat Mar 28, 2009 9:24 pm

Ishmael wrote:It just means that the alien has to be different enough from the player's culture to seem exotic AND the alien culture must be self-consistent. Broad stereotypes make this easier to manage and yet is the least satisfying.
As an aside, this is where Travellers' treatment of Aslan breaks down. Their culture is not self-consistent and they are portrayed in mind-numbingly contradictory ways. Note that having aliens behave inconsistently is OK, as that adds to the realism. But to be structurally inconsistent to the point of nonsense is not OK.

Let me give two examples from the Aslan. One good; one bad.

Their "land-lust". This is portrayed as some kind of base-level instictual drive for Aslan males to acquire land. This is so extreme as to drive significant portions of their population away from everything they know to acquire it. Of course, this is all nonsense. There is likely a strong "acquisition" drive, and land is presented as the most valuable thing that can be acquired. But 99.9% of their population is perfectly content to toil away with no relevant "land" of their own, and no prospects to get any. In reality, this "land-lust" is a huge self-lie and misdirection that hides the unpleasant truth that Aslan nobles drive away potentially disloyal heirs to protect their chosen heir and maintain their legacy.

This is an example of a "good" inconsistency. It flows well, and adds depth to their societal structure. It fleshes them out and makes them more "real" as an alien culture.

The "ihatei". The ihatei are, really, expeditions created by powerful Aslan nobles to collect their disenfranchised and restive noble sons and get rid of them. If there are only a handful, then they can be kept in line. However, when there are enough of them, the leading nobles will give them the use of antiquated or obsolete ships and send them out on their own. The written rules specifically state that their resources are meager, and such bands are only infrequently generated.

Yet, somehow, countless hordes of these ihatei are pounding on the shores of the Imperium, a constant danger to flood in and simply smother the worlds they choose to invade. Prior to the Rebellion, they are a continual threat, and produce continual pressure. Once the Rebellion occurs, they are able to flood in to the rimward border of the Domain of Deneb and capture whole subsectors virtually overnight. Including hi-tech, hi-pop worlds that most pocket empires wouldn't touch if they were on their own!

This is an example of "bad" inconsistency. From the very background given on the ihatei, there is absolutely no way that there could possibly be that many ihatei. If there were, then all of Charted Space would already be inundated with them! And these are rag-tag fleets, full of obselete ships with technology the Aslan can't use anymore. And yet they can outright conquer TL F worlds? It is just stupid. Crap like that just needs to go away.
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Postby rust » Sat Mar 28, 2009 9:56 pm

daryen wrote: This is an example of "bad" inconsistency.
This is one of the reasons why I decided not to use the Aslan in my set-
ting.

The existence of the "ihatei" as a method to get rid of a surplus of male
relatives seems perfectly plausible to me (guess what the less pious no-
bles of Europe used the Crusades for ... :twisted: ), but both their numbers
and their successes seem ridiculous to me.

While I could accept that the first few waves of "ihatei" might have come
as a surprise and therefore have been successful (think of the Viking rai-
ders), after some decades - not to mention centuries - the potential vic-
tims would have been prepared, and the "ihatei" fleets would have be-
come a way of ritual suicide at best.
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Postby GypsyComet » Sat Mar 28, 2009 9:59 pm

daryen wrote:
This is an example of "bad" inconsistency. From the very background given on the ihatei, there is absolutely no way that there could possibly be that many ihatei. If there were, then all of Charted Space would already be inundated with them! And these are rag-tag fleets, full of obselete ships with technology the Aslan can't use anymore. And yet they can outright conquer TL F worlds? It is just stupid. Crap like that just needs to go away.
To be fair to the discussion at hand, this is more of a wider setting issue than a problem with the Aslan as an alien race. This particular problem has, IIRC, been recognized by just about everyone except the authors (ie. DGP's original crowd) and recast as a panic reaction by the Imperium's most remote frontier. That the Peace has been broken (by the gunning down of the Ambassador during the assassination of the Emperor) in the eyes of many Aslan is part of their savagery. They no longer consider the Imperium an enemy worthy of honor and attack without it.

This is more revealing of a GDW/DGP (and GW, oddly enough) disconnect in the Trojan Reach. The Trojan Reach is portrayed in the CT Adventure "Leviathan" (written by GW back in the day) as a howling frontier, yet the Imperium has been in the sector's core-trailing quadrant for centuries, and Tobia is a power to be reckoned with. If the Imperial border really is a line over which no one looks, then the Aslan Ihatei could indeed flood into Imperial space and take even Tobia by surprise. This is, however, NOT the Imperium we keep seeing in the Marches; an Imperium that is always looking into unaligned space for commercial advantage, military concern, and sheer curiosity. The Ihatei can't be a surprise.

But that's how DGP wrote them in the 1116 to 1120 period. It is noteworthy that the Aslan all but dropped off the threat list after the initial setting of 1120 was established. I suspect no one writing for MegaTraveller honestly believed that the Aslan were more than a shockwave of locally-handled and more violent than usual *colonists*.
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Postby daryen » Sat Mar 28, 2009 10:22 pm

GypsyComet wrote:To be fair to the discussion at hand, this is more of a wider setting issue than a problem with the Aslan as an alien race. This particular problem has, IIRC, been recognized by just about everyone except the authors (ie. DGP's original crowd) and recast as a panic reaction by the Imperium's most remote frontier. That the Peace has been broken (by the gunning down of the Ambassador during the assassination of the Emperor) in the eyes of many Aslan is part of their savagery. They no longer consider the Imperium an enemy worthy of honor and attack without it.
Actually, that brings up another "bad" inconsistency. The Aslan do not have a racial identity. Their identity is totally wrapped up by their family and clan. So, if the Ambassador was not from your particular group or clan, you, quite frankly, don't give a crap. There is no possible way that this could cause the Aslan to suddenly decide that all humans everywhere are scum and deserve to die. That is a ridiculous overreaction and just doesn't fit any better than the ihatei excesses do.

I agree that the Aslan did attack (the clans, not the rag-tag ihatei), but it was because of the chance to gain advantage through an opponent's weakness, not because some ambassador that 99.9+% of all Aslan wouldn't give a crap about. There were enough clans that hate the Imperium already. An ambassador's death won't change that, either way.

Besides, even if most Aslan in general did care if the Ambassador was killed, they wouldn't hate the Imperium; they would hate Dulinor. Unless the Aslan are supposed to be stupid, too.
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Postby qstor » Sun Mar 29, 2009 1:05 am

btw I don't know if anyone noticed but the cover for the Aslan sourcebook is out. The artwork in the picture is a bit fuzzy. But it looks ok. Not oversized like the Vargr picture in Prison Planet.

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Postby StephenT » Tue Mar 31, 2009 2:58 pm

daryen wrote:Actually, that brings up another "bad" inconsistency. The Aslan do not have a racial identity. Their identity is totally wrapped up by their family and clan.
That's not right. They don't have a strong racial identity, but they have a very strong shared cultural identity. All Aslan share the values of fteir (their "code of honour"), and are willing to accept as equals any other people who are willing to live by those values. So non-Aslan can be adopted into Aslan culture, by following the tenets of fteir; but people who deliberately break its laws (such as Dulinor) are barbarians, animals, worse then vermin, and regarded as such by all right-thinking Fteirle.

Given that, Aslan who want to attack the Imperium aren't acting to avenge some other clan's slain ambassador. They're acting to prove how strong and tough and noble (and worthy of a large landholding) they are, by stomping the evil, dishonourable barbarians. Dulinor just made humans into a legitimate target in Aslan eyes... just like the actions of a few hundred Japanese pilots on 7 December 1941 made the entire Empire of Japan (and Japanese-American US citizens) into a legitimate target in American eyes.
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Postby captainjack23 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:06 pm

StephenT wrote:That's not right. They don't have a strong racial identity, but they have a very strong shared cultural identity. All Aslan share the values of fteir (their "code of honour"), and are willing to accept as equals any other people who are willing to live by those values.
The problem for me is simply that it's hard to see how something as subjective as a code of honor could be so pervasive and so consistent for so long, over such a widely dispersed population.

Granted the Aslan code has better definition, and less pervasive implications than the simple "we worship logic" or "we worship war" alien monoculture stereotypes, but it still seems too artificial as is. Still, my favorite though game is taking an odd given, and then working it forward for consequences, and backwards for causes. So.....

Perhaps if it was a new "religion" spreading thru Aslan space in the last century ? In which case, what did it replace ?

Failing that, one has to wonder if it is in some way biologically wired -and if so, it needs to be explained in terms of ecological biology rather than sociology. Hmmmm. Perhaps a variant of the instincts that keep mating fights from always being fatal ? In which case, would the females have it at all ? Most such species (Baboons) have it confined to the males.
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Postby khazwind » Tue Mar 31, 2009 10:52 pm

captainjack23 wrote:Perhaps a variant of the instincts that keep mating fights from always being fatal ?
The only instinct that keeps mating fights from being fatal is the instinct for the weaker animal to back down. Animals often kill each other within their own species.

And, as an aside, some animals kill for fun and a lot of animals, particularly lions, will kill infants of their own species to ensure survival of their own offspring.

Human social history has not been a story of apes losing touch with their gentle instincts. It is a story of apes overcoming their animal instincts to develop societies.

I could certainly imagine how that story could play out for the Aslan. Fierce territorial carnivores struggling to find ways to cooperate.

Plus, I don't see the problem with the Aslan sexes being markedly different. On earth, sexual dimorphism (difference between sexes) is common. Consider size/behaviour differences between sexes in lions, baboons, chimps, a lot of birds.
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Postby rust » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:17 pm

StephenT wrote: They don't have a strong racial identity, but they have a very strong shared cultural identity. All Aslan share the values of fteir (their "code of honour"), and are willing to accept as equals any other people who are willing to live by those values.
Frankly, I doubt that this is a viable concept.

Codes of Honour usually only work well where they are connected to bio-
logical urges, primarily the protection of the own bloodline and of an indi-
vidual's social status within that bloodline.
Loyalty therefore usually is to the leader of the bloodline, who has the po-
wer to determine the individual's status within the bloodline, and not to an
abstract concept of behaviour.

Therefore I think that Aslan might be willing to accept foreigners who ha-
ve some value for the welfare of the clan, especially because such foreig-
ners will hardly compete for bloodline (= mating) rights, but not because
the foreigners follow a certain code of honour - standing outside the blood-
line, they are just "useful neutrals".

As for the murdered ambassador, I think the Aslan of his bloodline (and
perhaps those of some minor allied bloodlines) will feel an urge to take
revenge, but the idea that other bloodlines would spend any resources on
something that has no immediate value for them seems strange to me.

However, honour (like religion) is often used as an excuse for actions that
have far more mundane motivations, usually economic ones, so I could
well imagine that Aslan clans "call honour and mean land".
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Postby captainjack23 » Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:57 pm

khazwind wrote:
captainjack23 wrote:Perhaps a variant of the instincts that keep mating fights from always being fatal ?
The only instinct that keeps mating fights from being fatal is the instinct for the weaker animal to back down. Animals often kill each other within their own species.

And, as an aside, some animals kill for fun and a lot of animals, particularly lions, will kill infants of their own species to ensure survival of their own offspring.

Human social history has not been a story of apes losing touch with their gentle instincts. It is a story of apes overcoming their animal instincts to develop societies.
To be pedantic, both the submission display, and the acceptance of it are hardwired in most cases. interactions have to balance reproductive dominance, genetic dispersal, and defense of the troop. Killing off the male loser detrimentally effects the latter two factors, moreso than ensuring reproductive dominance. But, yes ;).
I could certainly imagine how that story could play out for the Aslan. Fierce territorial carnivores struggling to find ways to cooperate.

Plus, I don't see the problem with the Aslan sexes being markedly different. On earth, sexual dimorphism (difference between sexes) is common. Consider size/behaviour differences between sexes in lions, baboons, chimps, a lot of birds.
Exactly. And given that, one could note that most Aslan (the 3/4 female part) probably live under a very different code; and are the ones most aliens will deal with, except in warfare.

I can almost see the male code being perpetuated for the males by the females as a way to deal with male aggression and touchiness. In fact, given that the Males are supposed to not be able to deal with math (and thus handicapped with all of the logical thinking that that suggests), one might wonder if the females are intentionally keeping them dumbed down -the opposite of Nivens Kzin whon seem to have bred the females for non-sentience.
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Postby rust » Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:28 am

captainjack23 wrote:
In fact, given that the Males are supposed to not be able to deal with math (and thus handicapped with all of the logical thinking that that suggests), one might wonder if the females are intentionally keeping them dumbed down -the opposite of Nivens Kzin whon seem to have bred the females for non-sentience.
And here we have another "Aslan problem": High tech warriors in star-
ships who are not able to deal with mathematics are not exactly convin-
cing. :)
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Postby daryen » Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:13 am

StephenT wrote:
daryen wrote:Actually, that brings up another "bad" inconsistency. The Aslan do not have a racial identity. Their identity is totally wrapped up by their family and clan.
That's not right. They don't have a strong racial identity, but they have a very strong shared cultural identity. All Aslan share the values of fteir (their "code of honour"), and are willing to accept as equals any other people who are willing to live by those values. So non-Aslan can be adopted into Aslan culture, by following the tenets of fteir; but people who deliberately break its laws (such as Dulinor) are barbarians, animals, worse then vermin, and regarded as such by all right-thinking Fteirle.
Most clans do share a strong cultural identity. But it is quite fluid. The background is pretty clear that some clans were specist and enslaved humans irrespective of the humans' culture. Most clans weren't specist, but did expect foreigners to behave properly. A few clans were even tolerant. And it is also very obvious that their definition of honor was sufficiently flexible to allow for whatever reaction made sense at the time.
Given that, Aslan who want to attack the Imperium aren't acting to avenge some other clan's slain ambassador. They're acting to prove how strong and tough and noble (and worthy of a large landholding) they are, by stomping the evil, dishonourable barbarians. Dulinor just made humans into a legitimate target in Aslan eyes... just like the actions of a few hundred Japanese pilots on 7 December 1941 made the entire Empire of Japan (and Japanese-American US citizens) into a legitimate target in American eyes.
No. They see an opportunity in a weakened neighbor. Some might use the excuse of honor to justify their attacks, but it is just that: an excuse.

Sure, the death of the Ambassador would server to poison the view of humans in the eyes of some Aslan. But not nearly enough to set clan-level policy. No, the clans attacked because they saw opportunity and they wanted to. Quite frankly, they didn't need an excuse.
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Postby StephenT » Wed Apr 01, 2009 11:39 am

daryen wrote:No. They see an opportunity in a weakened neighbor. Some might use the excuse of honor to justify their attacks, but it is just that: an excuse.
In the same way that Christianity was "just an excuse" for the Crusades. And dislike of the Nazis was "just an excuse" for World War Two. Wars may be fought for selfish reasons, but if you have an ideology to stir up your people's righteous anger, it helps an awful lot. It can even push you into starting a war you didn't really want to fight, sometimes.

Bear in mind that calling Fteir a "code of honour" is rather simplistic and reductionist. It's more like a religion and a political ideology rolled into one. Even so, I'm sure there have been variations and developments over the centuries - but these are probably not the sort of thing you'd read about in a game supplement. (Still, if you think you can persuade Mongoose to publish a book on The Sociopolitical Evolution of Fteir in Aslan Societies of the Trans-Rift, then go for it. :D)

As for the people saying that codes of honour are only significant if they're rooted in biology: well, that's exactly the case for Fteir.

"Some Imperial anthropologists speculate that Aslan pride is a reflection of their territoriality. The theory goes that a primitive Aslan could best defend his females and territory by the appearance of strength. A vigorous response to any threatened intrusion on his rights would deter other males before an actual fight started. The value of this lay in avoiding injuries for both sides. If this theory is correct, then for an Aslan male to appear weak or vacillating is to invite other males to take from him all he holds dear."

"The move from the forests to the plains forced [Aslan] to hunt in prides, with a consequent merging of family hunting ranges and thus a need for joint defence against intruders. Groups which could trust each other implicitly in battle or on the hunt had an evolutionary advantage; they could seize and hold better lands, and tackle larger prey."

(From GT:AR2)

The last point is significant for those people complaining that loyalty should only apply to those of the same blood. Aslan prehistory taught them that cooperating with non-family who are willing to work with them and fit in with their culture helps their own family to survive and pass on its genes. (ETA:) And by that argument, acceptence of Fteir is a shibboleth. How do you know that these new strangers are trustworthy hunt companions and not dangerous intruders? Well, if they accept Fteir, they're on your side and can be trusted. If not, kill 'em all.
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Postby rust » Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:24 pm

StephenT wrote: How do you know that these new strangers are trustworthy hunt companions and not dangerous intruders? Well, if they accept Fteir, they're on your side and can be trusted. If not, kill 'em all.
If all clans, including the enemy ones, share the same concept of fteir,
the acceptance of fteir does not help much to distinguish friend from foe.
This would only really make sense if each clan had a unique concept of
fteir, so that accepting that specific concept would at the same time in-
clude to reject the concepts of other clans, I think.
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Postby tzunder » Wed Apr 01, 2009 12:42 pm

It's time that the Zho and the Vilani were given a deep elaboration to make them as well defined as the Solomani. Not that lots of stuff doesn't exist on the Vilani, they are (after all) the core culture of the Imperiums, but they seem to me to need presenting as well as the Solomani.. and the Zho similarly. What is it like living in a psionic society?
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Postby daryen » Wed Apr 01, 2009 4:02 pm

StephenT wrote:As for the people saying that codes of honour are only significant if they're rooted in biology: well, that's exactly the case for Fteir.
Ah, see, that is one of the things I believe is the "good inconsistencies" in the Aslan description.

The text says that the societal imperatives (land-lust and honor) are biologically rooted, but that is a complete and total lie. It is an important lie, because it must be believed if the structure is to be sustained and perpetuated. But it is still a lie.

We know this because of assimilated Aslan and other barbarian Aslan. Vast numbers of Aslan are able to assimilate into various human cultures with little to no problems (e.g. the Imperium and the Darrians). There are even isolated Aslan who "lose" certain aspects of their culture all on their own (e.g. sex roles). Or they transform and pervert that culture (Glorious Empire).

Without the constant maintenance and reinforcement by society's leaders, Aslan seem to easily shed their culture. And it doesn't even have to take generations. It is apparently fair common for individual Aslan to drop their own culture when such actions suit their purposes. Witness the ability for characters to gain Tolerance in character generation, or for males to be able to handle money in character generation.

All of this honor stuff is pure social construct. It is not biological.

(And let me stress that this particular contradiction between what is stated and what is done is actually a very good thing. It gives the race more depth and more options. It helps explain how they have shaped themselves and how they act and what they can really do. This definitely is one of those "good contradictions" I mentioned earlier.)
The last point is significant for those people complaining that loyalty should only apply to those of the same blood.
Note that I have never said, or even implied, this. I talk about "family" and "clans". This in no way implies blood. Aslan can join families through marriage and (probably) adoption. Clans are based on groupings of families that may or may not be related to each other. Clan relations can be remarkably fluid, too.
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Postby StephenT » Thu Apr 02, 2009 5:08 pm

rust wrote:If all clans, including the enemy ones, share the same concept of fteir, the acceptance of fteir does not help much to distinguish friend from foe. This would only really make sense if each clan had a unique concept of fteir.
Sure. They all have the same concept of fteir now. The clans with different concepts all got wiped out. :twisted:

In other words: no, I don't think the precise form of fteir promoted in the Aslan Heirate of 1100 is biologically programmed into all Aslan; rather that certain aspects - like territoriality, ritualised politeness overlaid onto confrontational behaviour, loyalty to allies and acceptance of those who share common beliefs - are innate to the species.

I'm sure a 'Human Sourcebook' written by Aslan would simplify human nature in exactly the same way, and talk about how human social customs and traditions are all rooted in our grooming behaviour and mating rituals and so forth. It wold be just as accurate and fair. :)

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