Rubber suited alien syndrome


Banded Mongoose
One of the worst tendencies in science fiction is the monolithic alien race - all of whose members behave the same.

A discussion of this started up on a different thread, but it deserves its own discussion. (I have taken the liberty of quoting other's responses to my posts).

I've found aliens can be as unique as a referee/GM want's to make them.

Vargr being like dogs, sure, because they were genetically engineered from dogs. But they are just as much like people. And partly whatever the Ancients added to make it all work together. They are inherrently unpredictable, with their weird thought processes held partly in check by a desire to fit in with the group. Of course charismatic leaders aren't being held in check by the group so...

Aslan - I think the writeup in Mongoose's alien mod comparing them to other sci-fi aliens caught the scope. When you say they are kind of like samurai cats, or is it like the Kzinti, or the Klingons (TNG version. The Solomani are like the original series Klingons).

The analogy works until it doesn't.

And players will generalize/stereotype based on who they encounter.

They can encounter a disgraced mentally ill Aslan who is adicted to drugs and has no sense of pride - suffering any degredation to get his next fix. Living in human society of course because he can't go home. So how much trouble do the PCs get into when they run into a normal Aslan and think they know how to behave around him.


GypsyComet added
My suspicion is that the Aslan were intended to be patterned on a generic Samurai and/or modern Yakuza culture, but only up to a point. That point got surpassed, mostly by FASA and DGP succumbing to the Japanese aesthetic model as well, but it is possible to haul the Aslan back from that precipice.

Every Aslan male fancies himself a warrior, but how many actually are? That's a hard answer to drag out of any of the Aslan material, which presents males as "warriors and land owners" top to bottom. This creates questions:
Do the womenfolk really handle *all* of the rest of society?
What are low SOC males like? Criminals and scum, or just the low guys in the pecking order of warriors? Do even the trash collectors have their honor to keep up? Do the Aslan have criminals as we define the term?

I continued...

Well, it is like every American male modelling himself after Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Kanye West, or after some billionaire entrepreneur or famous athlete.

These are people generally idolized by the media, showered in money, who end up with hot women. Obviously society rewards them.

But most do not get to be there. You get athletes struggling to be on the same teams as the big name stars, actors trying to make it into big movies, and executives working to rise in the companies of the billionaires and make a fortune on stock options. Rewards trickle down to those who don't make it to the top, while the majority don't acheive any success in any of these fields. Most of us take jobs doing something that pays the bills and allows us to support families while many wish they had tried to start their own business and invent something or had been more successful at sports.

Aslan society, because of their genetic imperitives, is prone to conflict because there is only so much land to go around. It is also prone to some amazing cohesion as those who are at the top - owning vast estates or entire worlds, have land they can provide to those who support them - conditional grants of land that stand as long as the recipient (and potentially his heirs) remains in loyal service. Those who receive these grants are bound in service to their lord because (1) they will lose the land if they fail in loyalty and (2) they lose the land if the lord's lands are conquered. An Aslan may acheive some success and position through skills other than those that are particularly prized, and will receive honor and recognition befitting his station, but would still carry some secret shame that he had not been a "true warrior".

There are differences between what a society most values and what everyone in that society does. An Aslan male that excells in diplomacy so much so that he is of great value to his lord would be at the mercy of being challenged by a male who is a skilled warrior. The difference in general value to society and value to his lord is important here. That potential challenger, who fits more with the Aslan ideal, may quickly realize that humiliating the diplomat means challenging his lord and the warrior the lord assigned to protect the diplomat.

Kind of thinking of the Rodney Dangerfield movie "Back to School". "Oh, no, no. I never get physical. I just get upset. And when I get upset..... HE gets physical"

And being dependent on the protection of his lord, that diplomat will do an exceptional job in serving his lord's interests.

Another male, with less skill may be just a farm worker - working hard to earn a plot of land the size of a small vegetable garden that he can work for himself. It is next to nothing to the warriors that the farm worker wishes he was one of, but for that farm worker it is everything that separates him from the slaves and he will fight to defend it and work hard in service to ensure it is not taken away.

As for criminals, there are those who can't function in society. They may be angry at society for making no place for one of their abilities, or be looking for opportunities to lie, cheat and murder their way back up to a higher level of society.

And where a criminal has gone too far beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior to ever come back there is still the opportunity to make a future somewhere else. There's land in the Imperium and people are willing to sell it, for money!

Reynard responded:

Is every other race incapable of breaking the stereotype mold other than the very diverse Imperial human? I know that's been a defining moment with every culture on Earth absolutely knowing every other culture behaves only one way and we have the stories, pictures and anecdotes to 'prove' it. Wait, I'm wrong, I forgot about player characters who tend to diverge from the... norm. No K'kree has ever been curious about humans to actually go off on their own if only a while to get to know a human? Aslans have never settled down in Imperial space so maybe their children have a different view of their world compared t their parents or grandparent?

And the Vargr.. oh yeah, they're the alien recommended for character because they can have personalities as a human.

Other than that it seems the other races, including non-imperial humans, are meant to have a one track mind often negative. Seems as silly as the guy in a rubber alien suit concept except that's been sci fi forever.

I continued....

Hold it. There are cultural prejudices and attitudes that can drive how a given sophont will fit into his or her culture or other cultures as well as individual preferences

Maybe an Aslan may greatly enjoy using his claws to finish a hunt and also enjoy picking bits of flesh off those claws as it appeals to a primal warrior instinct. But after being subjected to how many cat jokes while growing up in the Imperium a different Aslan will be self-conscious about appearing to lick his paws - or make a point of it so that some insulting remark can be used as a pretext for a fight.

It is a general problem in sci-fi that alien species are presented as some monolithic group where everyone is pretty much the same. I prefer working within generalities but there are always exceptions. Always.

Their warriors always behave this way except when they behave that way, or that other way, or...
And he will do this, unless he is in a bad mood today, or busy, or....

Some of that low-social-standing block will be those incapable of fitting in. In North America we all get jobs and work and buy a house and settle down with a family except for those who never get stable enough to buy a property or just prefer to rent and then there are those divorced people who have lost their houses and then of course are the homeless who have just fallen through the pigeonholes of society and just don't fit in.

But the not fitting in might apply at any level, and the degree that others put up with it may depend on the standing of the individual and their clan.

Mad Bob the village idiot talks to himself all the time, he is so weird. Not like Lord Dingleberry who likes to converse with himself on the most eclectic of matters, he is so eccentric.

There are embarassments to any family who struggle with doing what the family expects of them - and some black sheep family members who just aren't spoken of in the presence of the clan leader. But rumors are spoken about the clan leader's brother who did __________, and how he was given a starship with a crew on the condition he never come home again.

There are those who follow the rules because they think everyone should follow the rules, those who follow the rules unless they are confident they won't get caught, and those who just can't follow the rules.

The bloodthirsty butchers, the philosophic warrior-poets, the ambitious, and the content, brave, the cowardly, the strong, the weak. Where do the weak fit in in Aslan society (you can roll double 1's when rolling strength, and even with a modifier that will still be very low). Where do the cowards fit in? Is this cowardly related to the Aslan ideal, or cowardly as humans understand it?

And do they even want to fit in?

Do Aslan nerds dream of being super-Aslan? Or building a big robot to beat up the warrior who bullied them?

Do they have transexuals? Aslan born male who just want to manage money and engage in exciting ventures in trade and accounting? Maybe no regular self-respecting Aslan will acknowledge their existence, but do they exist?


Interested to hear your thoughts.
If Aslan are Japanese, than it's from the Sengoku period, also referred to as the Warring States period, as opposed to the Mahou Shoujo/herbivorous otaku period.
Myself I am rather unfond of the traveller aliens, I make jokes about them that can be rather cruel. Like how do you keep Aslan away from you? adopt a Vargr. How do you get a Vargr out of an airlock without a suit? throw a stick. Things along those lines, but I do see the point aliens in Traveller are stereotypes, and not much else.
Meanderer said:
Is this cowardly related to the Aslan ideal, or cowardly as humans understand it?
Cowardly, like many things, is a matter of individual perception. Even if it is a human that is defining it, other humans may not feel the same.

Always breaking up the grandchildren arguments. One thinks one thing. One thinks another. There is no right or wrong. Situational. Individual Perception. I give an example to the grandkids. One is in middle school.

"Would you be considered tall or short compared to first graders?"

"Would you be considered tall or short compared to a professional basketball player?"

"How can you be both tall and short?" I ask

Meanderer said:
Where do the cowards fit in?
With others that think the same. Maybe there are others that think it wise to walk away to fight another day instead of dying for honor. In their group, and possibly in others eyes too, it is smart and not cowardly.
Meanderer said:
And do they even want to fit in?

Do Aslan nerds dream of being super-Aslan? Or building a big robot to beat up the warrior who bullied them?
Why not. As you've said, not all are the same.
Vargr were engineered from wolves, not dogs.

But that bit aside, the typical Vargr is going to act as much like a wolf as a typical human acts like a chimpanzee.

However, both the humanity and the vargr of the OTU are a product of Earth.

Aslan, Hivers, K'kree, Droyne, any number of minot races, are all completely alien, so using the nearest human cultural equivalent to describe them is all we have to go on.

That said I agree, alien races are just rubber suits for humans. At least the T2300 alien races are a bit more alien.
I see no problem with non-human species that have similar development to humans in the same galaxy represented by OTU. As a matter of fact, the major representative non-human races run the range from the chimeric vargr to the parallel evolution of the aslans to the herbaceous designed K'kree and lastly the hiver with few recognizable features to anything human. These are the majors and we know there have been many, many official and unofficial sophont representatives.

A non-human sophont does not have to be so radically designed that you wonder how they function at all to be considered a true 'alien'. Doesn't mean I'm against altogether and I have developed a few but they should no more be the standard than those featuring similar features especially in a universe with biospheres everywhere often friendly to such features. seems the same amino acids in the realm tend to raise similar crops.

Originally Traveller started with major races easy for the players and referees to relate to. Along the way there have been many races added but it seems Traveller, like the old Star Trek, has been human centric. I do have two or three reference sources for creating aliens. Traveller game mechanics are simple and we see don't allow much to diversifying beyond descriptive fluff. I must say though that T5 has developed a decent system but is for a more complex mechanic than MgT.

Since most have not seen the varieties of aliens from past sourcebooks and magazine articles, I would love to see an MgT alien module not as detailed as the ones for the major races but gives a race their unique modifiers plus physical and mental traits in game terms. Add history and background to flesh them and maybe a certain parameter of UPP they would fit. Keep it generic so they can be plugged into any Traveller universe. I defiantly would love some of the older, familiar races included. Might be a creation system available with a variety of traits to build your own races.
Sigtrygg said:
But that bit aside, the typical Vargr is going to act as much like a wolf as a typical human acts like a chimpanzee.


We didn't evolve from Chimps. Two different evolutionary paths. What we evolved from (whatever came out of Africa + Homo neanderthalensis) are long extinct so we may behave VERY much like them...

Vargr DID evolve directly from Wolves. A VERY short time ago. So, they are going to have wolf behavior incalculably more than humans would have chimp behavior.
"History" and "Generic" are not fully compatible. The more of one you use, the less of the other you have claim or access to.

A book in the format you describe is one of the least liked of the T4 line. We also have the example of all the add-ons in the GURP Traveller books, many of which simply don't fit very well.

"Generic" needs work to fit into a specific setting. Sometimes a LOT of work.

Inscrutable alien psychologies have a long history in SF of being excuses for the writer to be an ass. This has extended to RPGs with barely a ripple. How many Kender players have you known? TSR spent far more time trying to explain Kender psychology than they had with any other race, and the vast majority of players who fielded a Kender simply used that as justification to rob their own parties blind.

The complex rules of war used to justify Battletech's Clans were simply in the way of "that guy" using vastly superior tech to squash anyone he faced.

To some extent Traveller has succeeded with alien thought because very few players or Refs even entertain the idea of playing near the K'kree, much less playing as K'kree. And let's face it, Hivers are the Traveller universe's "that guy" full time. Inscrutable psychology as an excuse to be an ass.
GypsyComet said:
Inscrutable alien psychologies have a long history in SF of being excuses for the writer to be an ass. This has extended to RPGs with barely a ripple.

You're right. And it always ticked me off when an author took that lazy way out instead of developing the alien race in question.
sideranautae said:
GypsyComet said:
Inscrutable alien psychologies have a long history in SF of being excuses for the writer to be an ass. This has extended to RPGs with barely a ripple.

You're right. And it always ticked me off when an author took that lazy way out instead of developing the alien race in question.

From the POV of a fiction writer, developing the inscrutable alien may not be that necessary. Their use as an apparently capricious and random influence on the story *is* the development the story needs. The typical fantasy equivalent is faeries. "Who knows why faeries do what they do?" Monty Python's Knights Who Say NI! are another fine example of inscrutable alien behavior that looks like insanity but may be completely justified to another alien.

In gaming, my point is more that once you go too far towards truly alien behavior, even if you try to explain it, you are simply enabling players to justify stupid BS with "alien!" and a shrug. If you limit such aliens to the Referee, then the writer's usage of the inscrutable is more appropriate.
GypsyComet said:
From the POV of a fiction writer, developing the inscrutable alien may not be that necessary.

That depends. IF they use it as an unknown and not long duration in the arc of the story, sure. If it is used as a race that has been interacting with others for a long time, no.
So we can have a Cowardly Aslan, a Robot without a heart, I assume the scarecrow is just impossible, and we can have Dorothy and her dog land their house on some world after traveling through a freak atmospheric wormhole Since the wizard is a big phony anyway, he could exist in the Traveler Universe. the Wicked Witch can ride a grav vehicle disguised as a broomstick with no pollution controls.
Tom Kalbfus said:
So we can have a Cowardly Aslan, a Robot without a heart, I assume the scarecrow is just impossible,

If we can have a living organism transmitted via light pulses (a la Virus) we can certainly have a living scarecrow with less fuss.
Oh you specist!! The scarecrow was made of straw, a plant sophont who felt its mental capacity was subpar to others and learn it is not just different.

And droyne flying monkeys.
The player that makes continuous dog jokes about Vargr is the same player that makes continuous Family Guy jokes about humans. That's the problem with letting geeks in RP games. They won't role-play.