How do you Alien, /tg/?
I'm working on a homebrew space opera setting and I want to give the sense that life isn't exactly rare in the Milky Way, but I don't want to just have rubber forehead aliens because Star Trek.
So how do you make interesting aliens?
Don't listen to >>44545967. Your only frame of reference is the human one. Just give them agency in the setting and keep the details to a minimum. When they do appear their interactions should be strictly professional or downright cold. Star Trek fantasies be damned, these things shouldn't be here to fuck you or to be fucked by you.
Make them human looking and acting enough to be sympathetic/recognizable, but also don't have them be rubber forehead aliens.
Both Halo and Mass Effect do this well off the top of my head.
>When they do appear their interactions should be strictly professional or downright cold.
If you can't have alien friends, what's the point? It's not like everything necessarily leads to fucking.
Right, that. I like that direction. But how do I do that? I'm not even really sure where to start.
There are varying definitions of interesting here. The problem with rubber-headed Star Trek aliens is that no thought went into them. They have weird forhead or ears or something, but we eat the same food with no concerns, can interbreed with humans, rarely have differing senses or biological requirements and so on. Which is neat for a single race, but when every one of them are like this, it's just bizarre.
On the other hand, aliens who are constantly cold and aloof don't have any potential to be characters. They're just scenery, in that they're weird, but they'd be functionally identical to an automated calling system if all they are is professional or cold.
Start by taking a fundamental assumption you have about life, because thats just how life on Earth works, and then change that assumption. Then build a race whose life cycles, outlook, and culture have all been influenced by that thing in a reasonable way without making them a copy past of some human culture. It doesn't have to make perfect sense to us, as long as it makes sense to them.
For example: a race whose reproductive cycle involves every member of their race carrying parasitic eggs in their guts that don't hatch until the 'parent' dies. This means that these beings never expect to meet their children, but also means that death isn't a bad thing for them, as long as it isn't a 'wasteful death' that gives the children no chance to hatch and survive (like being incinerated or dying in space) which would terrify them.
Their civilization would almost certainly arise as a support structure for children to come/death cult, because the only way to provide for your children is to make sure that they will be well taken care of by others. So it becomes a debt-based economy of favors, either making sure that someone is in debt to you (to be paid in the form of providing for your kids when you die) or selling your children as slaves to some powerful organization before you die/they are born, so that they have a place in the world even if it means it is at a low rung. Better a slave than an orphan.
Their concept of slavery is probably closer to the old roman version of it, because most people are expected to pay off their debt and eventually earn their freedom.
Because they have a different fear of death than we do, they probably seem to alternate between being fearless monsters or absolute scardy cats, depending on the nature of the danger. Their complex debt/favor economy is probably going to be the sort f thing that humans generally just never understand beyond the basics, because its thousands of years of layered ways of achieving dominance.
>it's just bizarre.
1) Practical effects. It's hard to get too drastically alien without heavy CGI.
2) In-universe, it's intentional. The majority of sapient humaniform life was seeded by one progenitor race.
That's kinda cool, actually. Thanks for the advice!
>Their complex debt/favor economy is probably going to be the sort f thing that humans generally just never understand beyond the basics, because its thousands of years of layered ways of achieving dominance.
An economy you just explained in 351 words.
Thats the general concept. There is a difference between that and actually understanding what the hell is going on when you interact with it.
Because what is really valuable in the transactions isn't a material good, what is equivalent to what is going to seem really arbitrary and confusing to anyone not raised in that culture, even ignoring differences in what they even consider to be valuable in the first place or how they come to those decisions.
"The government prints paper that you can trade for anything you want as long as you have enough of it" is a pretty shitty explanation of the entire field of economics, and will fail you if thats all you know about how money works.
>Your only frame of reference is the human one.
This is important, because actual incomprehensible aliens always run into one of two problems:
1) the goal turns out to be less incomprehensible than originally intended and thus distills the mystery, tension and drama of the plot into a badly run philosophy 101 class
2) the goal is actually incomprehensible and therefore meaningless or worse, uninteresting to our dull, dull human minds.
No, but understanding how the aliens' reproductive cycle works, and how their society has built up around that, would go a long way towards understanding the aliens' motives.
Besides, it's not like their economy would really be all that different from ours on the surface. They're still going to be trading for goods and commodities. They're still going to have some form of currency. And they're still going to have problems with resource scarcity and allocation (because if they don't, there's no need for them to be so obsessed with debt, is there?).
Actually, the more I think about it, the less sense it makes for this species to have such a domineering culture. If they're evolved creatures, then there must have been a point when they were just pack animals, operating on pure instinct. In such a pack, it would be family and relatives that raised a dead parent's offspring, because that would best ensure the survival of the family's genes, and because complete strangers would have no incentive to propagate a rival's genes.
Follow that line of reasoning up into sapience, and there's really no reason whatsoever for the debt system to take hold. Every parent would just leave their children to be raised by their surviving relatives, as they had done for billions of years previously. In a tribal situation, they might even leave their children in the hands of designated caretakers, who might not be direct blood relatives, but would hold such fierce loyalty to the tribe that all their tribe-mates trusted them anyway.
Doesn't sound all that different from humanity, does it?
While some folks will suggest going full starfish alien, keep in mind that these things will have to hypothetically function as living and/or sapient organisms, so don't just make the different for the sake of being different, think about how the differences would work and why something would develop them
With no such thing as parentage and no need to get together for sex, I can't imagine that they have such a thing as a family structure. You have siblings, who were born from the same parent as you, but why should you give a shit about anyone else?
Humans take so long to develop because there was a parental structure to support such lengthy development until they were mature. If these aliens don't have that, and instead develop at a faster rate like animals do where an infant can be up and walking within a couple days (during which time they simply eat the corpse of their parent for food) they would be pretty solitary by nature. They would only compete for territory and food, competing for mates no longer having any meaning because unless you use advanced (for a caveman) tactics to ensure no offspring survive, killing other aliens doesn't do anything to stunt their presence, they just get replaced by their kids.
You wouldn't really need a community structure until you had shit you need to have passed down directly, such as property or skills/other knowledge, where a living person doing the handling makes things tremendously easier. even if your kids happen to pick up the knife you had when you died, they won't know how to speak or read unless someone teaches them.
This would mean that their early evolution would primarily be solitary aliens running around, living, dying, and resulting in more of themselves without much necessity for interaction with each other until a small group of them slowly stumbles onto the idea of cooperation for mutual gain.
> natural life must be carbon based as only carbon makes long-chain molecules with sufficient complexity and energy storage/slow burn needed for life [*]
> evolutionary pressures for life are influenced by geography/geology, for example, our biochemistry is influenced by our evolution in the ocean, the prevalence of warm-bloodedness is influenced by the ice age, and so forth.
> create a series of K-T style events and impermeable/difficult to pass barriers
> walk through a diversity explosion and a few extinction events, not that many
> for sentient life, assume a pressure/need for altruism and trust, or at least flocking behavior, since societal and technological advancement is contingent upon this
> this means that the creature must be a) intelligent, b) not particularly physically invulnerable/killing machine solo, and c) has a long enough lifespan to allow accumulation of knowledge between generation (unlike, say, an octopus)
> walk through a few iterations of this
...aaand, you have humanity to one or two decimal places. Rubber foreheads optional.
Hell, sometimes even the goatees are optional.
Eh, perhaps, but not really. Witness the social behavior of the most intelligent life on Earth, for example: humans, other great apes, elephants, toothed cetaceans, crows, parrots. There are a lot of commonalities in their social structures and approaches to problems, but signfiicant differences that would make a technologically-extrapolated version treat space travel and interstellar incidents differently.
This is honestly just as silly as a rubber forehead alien, just on the opposite extreme.
Just because it evolved on an alien world doesn't mean that the laws of physics are different to them. Logic will still be logic, math will still be math, and they will still be subjected to the laws of nature and evolution. Their bodies need fuel, communication, locomotion, and will be made of the same base elements we know today. You could scour the universe and still not find the sentient shade of blue you're after.
A good way to go about making an alien race, at least in my opinion, is to go down a list and essentially evolve them in your mind. Fluff out their planet and how they evolved as animals, and then think about how they would build their society and architecture to suit their biology. When it comes to evolving intelligence, there are a number of factors that help make things easier and faster. The list itself was assembled by scientists in an effort to help them know what to look for in their search for theoretical intelligent alien life.
1) They will need graspers of some kind. Tentacles work but lack the fine motor controls to be all that efficient, they have grip and strength but can't lift much or hold small instruments, so the best option is some kind of bony or otherwise rigid segmented organ. It will most likely evolve from an existing foreleg, but could evolve from a complex mate attraction organ or sexual display organ just as easily. Keep in mind what it evolves from, as other members of their family or order will likely have a less evolved version, like how mamals on Earth have 4 legs, while humans have two legs and two arms, with many animals having dexterous forelegs they can use to grip food or climb.
2) They will likely be omnivorous. This just makes them more likely to survive as a species by allowing them to eat a wider range of life on their planet. Niche animals don't usually become widespread and are more prone to extinction. This of course assumes that your planet has a major distinction between food producers and consumers, that is, plants and animals. You could have the line between these creatures blurred, either way, being able to eat as much of the things that live on the planet as possible improves their chances of making civilization.
3) They will likely have some predatory leanings. While they may or may not be apex predators, animals that are capable of hunting are almost always more intelligent on average, and tend towards more social interaction. While herd animals do live together, they don't cooperate or interact in meaningful ways. Obviously there are many exceptions to this rule, (elephants, gorillas, whales, ect.) but on average things that hunt tend to develop more intelligence at a faster rate, and tend to develop social bonds more often and in a more permanent way.
4) They will likely be unable to digest any form of life or food from Earth, or any other alien planet for that matter, due to differences in their biology. Same goes for air, depending on what method of oxidation they use and what exactly they breath. Oxygen is a rather efficient source of fuel, so it wouldn't be too odd to say they evolved to breath a similar atmosphere. In fact, such a similarity with humans would mean they would interact far more often and in far more personal ways, face to face instead of over a phone or via pressure suits.
5) They will require a vocalizing organ of some kind. Doesn't really matter what, so long as it is capable of conveying complex sound structure that can be formed into language. This vocalizing organ will likely be too different from the human mouth and vocal chords to speak any human language, and vice versa, so go crazy with this one.
6) They will likely be land dwellers. Again, most of these are very much just guidelines, but flight requires wings which would hinder or reverse the development of dedicated complex graspers, and aquatic development would hinder evolution due to preventing the discovery and use of fire. Such an evolutionary background would not make intelligence impossible, but it would make it less likely. Of course, intelligent but ocean-locked life exists even on Earth, so such creatures would be perfect picks for being uplifted by pre-existing aliens, or would be interesting exceptions. Life from gas giants and other such locations would be somewhat out of luck, however, as they would lack any material with which to develop writing, fire, metallurgy, or any type of machining and invention.
You don't need to tick every box, and in fact your aliens would be more interesting if they all were missing a few. Once you have a general idea, you can figure out how they evolved those features, what evolutionary pressures shaped them, and eventually develop their home world to fit them, and from there, you can fluff out their cultures to be shaped by all of them.
>hyper capitalistic lizard people that believe the corp-gov should be responsible for raising young, not family unites
>naive tribal amphibian people, even more recent uplifts than humanity, mild mind reading
>photosynthetic turtle people, chill as fuck because they live on hell planets like Venus, no colony conflicts with them ever
>space drow, illuminati scientists always causing trouble
>giant parasitic scorpions bonded with said space elves, slave race to the space elves
>four armed yetis, are surprisingly shit with advanced technology, their galactic region devoid of heavy elements
>ancient machine race, the only non-human race with independent FTL, older than the God Machines
>heavy worlder amphibian race, sexy sexy blue ladies on hoverbikes
>intra-telepathic bee race, the best specialists in the galaxy, in whatever trade you're looking for
>Ansible God Machines, every race has one and they meet for galactic diplomacy
>other humans that evolved stranded on the far side of the spiral arm, FTL malfunction 1000 years ago
>Zombie plague that has gone full sapient, just can't ever be stomped out for some reason
>synthetic life forms with nanomachines for blood, macroscopic extremophiles with no real ambition, pawns of the God Machines
I think I have enough xenos for my space operas, what do you think?
>So how do you make interesting aliens?
Beyond everything else, make sure, make damn sure, they have a point in the setting. Fluff AND crunch. Be aware that often you're going to have to stat these things if you're going to make this setting work. You can have a fascinating race in fluff that will mean jack shit if it isn't balanced enough for the crunch. It doesn't have to be perfectly balanced, but don't go too far over or under the curve for it.
My suggestion? Try to see what roles you'll need for your campaign and see what aliens will be needed to fulfill those roles. Are there precursor beings that developed FTL tech first? If so, are they still around in some form or another? Are the most recent race in space humans, or something else? Who are the military powers, the economic ones, the diplomatic ones? Obviously it can be as hard of soft as you want it, but you still have to think about this. Get those things set up first, and then try to work into what races will occupy what roles, and how tightly they fit into them.
A rough example: a race that tries to keep something resembling a galactic economy going, it would need either above-human intellect in regards to number-crunching, or advanced computer systems capable of running the necessary calculations. Even taking inspiration from Earth life (which you will, be honest; you have a bias towards what you know and what you can research), there are a number of ways you could go with this. Perhaps they are more like crows or parrots, quick to pick up on new tricks and learn new things, inventive in their problem-solving methods. Perhaps they're more like elephants, with good long-term memory and potential for long-term planning. Perhaps they're more like octopi, with a complex but more spread-out nervous system that's maybe better-suited towards multitasking. Expand from there.
Family groups would have VERY strong ties and would likely be insular then. Like a description of "kiith" from the Homeworld games. Humans can have such a behavior too, but for us it is less encoded, and more cultural. For such an alien, larger family groupings would be expected (maybe upwards of 200 in the same "home") and a stronger loyalty to ones family would be instinctual.
>Everything listed is simply X thing from earth, in space, plus machines
What you wrote looks like something a 15 year old came up with, there's no real aliens, no real reasons, its all "I wanted X so I made it."
At least you've achieved fanfiction tier terrible.
>So how do you make interesting aliens?
You break common conceptions and match an alien to it's strange environment.
So to do this, you gotta sit down and understand evolutionary biology and the variables of different environments. It's something that takes time.
I like looking into sword of the stars, which makes aliens interesting by way of their culture and psychology.
Take for example, the Liir. They're hermaphroditic psychic dolphinwhales, that spend their days frolicking and love to immerse themselves in the arts and civic duties. They loathe industry, and try to live at peace with their environment.
What makes them interesting, then? Those are the Liir living in planets. The ones in space are the Black Swimmers, tasked with the protection of their race. To become a Black Swimmer they have to die - a funeral procession is held as they abandon their old lives, and are left in a tank to 'drown' as they go against instinct to learn to breathe the oxygenated liquid medium they require for their spaceships.
With their telepathic and empathic abilities, they not only have to empathize with the death, but taste every shade of pain and rage and despair and fear as that experience devours someone's consciousness. That's what killing is like for Liir, and they have to train themselves for it.
And off they're into the void, where there is no Song but the cold tones of machines, and that of their deranged fellows.
So what are the Liir? Psychotic, xenophobic space dolphinwhales that can kill you with their mind.
Break the norms. Usually when people think of aliens, they think the Humans will be the ones withdrawn about how the others look, reverse the role. Here's a story by the artist Keith Thompson that I really enjoy, which works on those lines, if it helps...
The Triadultus have only made contact once. Despite extreme reserve and secrecy in every other manner, their delegates arranged to meet in person at the First Contact Summit.
Most of what can be postulated about the Triadultus is gleaned from exhaustive analysis of the physiology and behaviour of the delegates. Notably they appear to be a colonial organism comprised of three distinct individual organisms. One organism comprises the base or "foot" of the body, and appears to be whole despite a physically intrusive interface with a lightweight synthetic trunk. The two other partners in the entity appear to be cut down to a head and a single arm each.
Communication at the summit was sparse and confused. The Triadultus, despite initially appearing confident, became disoriented with their surroundings and uncomfortable with the human delegates. Finely tuned questions and discussions-points from the Earth Plenipotentiary Peace Commission evidently disturbed the Triadultus representatives; revealing they were under the belief and experience that they physically resembled the homo sapiens they were meeting in every apparent measure. The summit was cut short. No follow-up communications with humanity have occurred since.
This is so adorable to me.
>Oh alien space jesus i'm actually about to make first contact i'm so nervous
>Keep it together K'xfl'plorg, pretend you're at just another embassy meeting
>B-but they're so weird. Their entire body is composed of one organism! We're going to stand out, what if they think we're weird, what if they make fun of us oh god oh god
>Wait we know! We'll just dress up like them! Maybe they'll feel more comfortable if we look more familiar!
>H-Hi there homo sapiens. What a nice day to flex ou- MY two long top limbs, and raise my complex sensory orb above these broad arm joints!
>Wh-what do you mean what's the purpose of our-MY outfit? Strange!? But.. but the-this is what humans look like, right?
>Function!? It's, i mean... W-we-we uh- I- uh, i mean
>Spaghetti everywhere. Scuttle out trying not to cry.
>Immediately take shuttle home. First contact is ruined. We've ruined everything ever
>Cry into pillow all night. We can never go back.
mfw we haven't heard from any other civilizations because they're too insecure to leave their own planet
Sorry, but it includes zombies for 0 reasons other than it's what the kids like these days.
Fanfiction tier terrible. He basically as 0 aliens, it's all just different versions for something a mad scientist could have worked up in his spare time.
I do similar stuff. The real uniqueness shines through when the PCs get involved and you have to make it up as you go.
Stuff like rescuing a damaged ship, crash landing on a world together, running into their fleets, etc.
not everything has to be a 3-6 foot tall biped, or even an "animal". Ben Mauro has a series called lycon that show a race of vaguely humanoid alien fungus.
I'd recommend reading, or at least reading about, Starship Troopers and Forever War. Heinlein and Haldeman do a good job of presenting aliens that are simultaneously easy to comprehend and totally inscrutable.
I pretty much agree with >>44554004
Example/Thought Experiment: An alien planet has an atmosphere which is very thick/composed of substances in such a way that conventional RGB-spectrum vision isn't all that helpful. With that in mind, alien life could have evolved to see in a different range of light, like infrared. If the atmosphere is thick enough, they may not have evolved eyes at all and instead get by with echolocation.
>For example: a race whose reproductive cycle involves every member of their race carrying parasitic eggs in their guts that don't hatch until the 'parent' dies. This means that these beings never expect to meet their children, but also means that death isn't a bad thing for them, as long as it isn't a 'wasteful death' that gives the children no chance to hatch and survive (like being incinerated or dying in space) which would terrify them.
>driving down alien highway in alien car
>come up on car crash
>babies pouring out of wreckage
Hey fuck you bro, I like zombies. Whats wrong with includig them? Space Operas need insatiable evil hiding in the shadows. Its enthralling to find a stranded ship with a distress beacon, and its filled with man eating crazed ayys
A thousand times what this dude says.
To elaborate (without putting words in anyone's mouth):
Remember that you're making a game first. Good players will judge your xenos, so by all means put time into their biology and culture. But also don't put work into stuff that won't be seen at the expense of knowing their role in your narrative. The reason Star Trek could get away with Hat planets was that (when it worked) the aliens weren't there to show off science but because they had a role in the story. Without this consideration, your game runs the risk of just showing off your biology degree and not telling a good story.
And consult Earth life for xeno super powers. Yes, life elsewhere would be different, but it will be different in a way we cannot expect (otherwise, it wouldn't be different from what we know). You could try to make up convincing bullshit, but you are not going to make up something weirder than some actual Earth life, and with Earth based weirdness you can at least show that it could really happen. Just don't make your aliens all about proving that they are believable.
Yeah. Thinking a fungus would need a torso or head is just as dumb as thinking all aliens would be mammals. Torsos are for keeping our squishy life-important bits allbkn one safe spot, and a head is just a housing for our sensory apparatus. It's kept near the brain to minimize nerve conduction distance and therefore minimize decision/reaction time in case it's needed. And the head is at the "front" so that the environment can be sensed before the life-guts are put at risk.
If you are gonna make a believable alien creature, you have to know WHY animal has a certain shape. With a distributed brain/nervous system a fungus could be any shape, so you gotta give good reasons for the one you choose. But yeah, four limbs and a head is limiting beyond reason.