If you are going to play a science-fiction space faring game, you will need aliens! The IF corebook provided several interesting races, and here is a book not of additional aliens, but providing a toolkit for those who'd prefer to design their own, or of course, create game versions of their favourite aliens from film or fiction. It takes you step-by-step through the process of creating a complete alien race, ready to serve as player-characters or adversaries... or just that odd fellow sitting beside you in the cantina. Drawing on earlier work from ComStar Games, a company intertwined with the Avalon Game Company, it puts a distinct twist on the process, tailoring it to the Infinite Futures ruleset.
Chapter 1: Character Concept talks about the need to have an overall idea for your new race. Not just physically, although that's a major part of it, but philosophically: what is the racial outlook on life? Are they aggressive war-mongers, scholarly pacifists, do they admire the artistry of a chef or a painter... or a swordsman? Are engineers more valued than lawyers? What sort of environment did they develop in, and how has that influenced them? Lots of questions to help you find the answers you need to begin building your new race. Some of the 'flavour text' you come up with will not impact the game mechanics, but don't lay it aside - a tripedal race that bears live young, has three eyes, is omnivorous, and is covered with short pink fur may or may not have any racial characteristics rules-wise based on these features, but you are already beginning to visualise them.
If you are desperate to have a fictional species in your game, be aware that there's always a player who knows more about Klingons or whoever than you do! So if the intention is for the race to be antagonists, avoid using something that players, if not characters, already know about - unless the idea is that this race has been known to them for a long time! Scavenge bits from here and there by all means, but always look to making them different and surprising too. These rules are designed for making new races roughly equivalent in strength and capabilities to the standard human, with an eye to game balance. Think carefully before making your aliens too stronger (or too weaker), an invincible race of super-aliens may sound cool... but will get tiresome if the regular joes that make up the character group can never get the upper hand. The rest of the process pays due attention to this by using a point-buy system to ensure that alien races are balanced with those already in your universe (but there are rules for how to tip that balance in an appendix, if you are determined to do so).
Ideas and concepts beginning to form, we move on to Chapter 2: Species Creation. Now it's time to start putting in some numbers, beginning with the core of the process: ability score adjustments. Once you have decided on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the alien, it will become clear where the adjustments need to be applied. Choices can be significant, especially as far as combat is concerned should Strength and Dexterity be involved. Then you need to decide on specific racial traits. Perhaps your new alien has some ability that comes naturally to them but not to other races. Additional senses, different body type, affinity for certain skills, enhancement to some aspect of combat ability, special attack modes: all are possible and by assigning a point value to each, it becomes relatively simple to track that all-important game balance.
Next comes Chapter 3: Racial Skills, which allows further fine-tuning of just how your new alien race approaches problems and lives its life... a society in which everyone's telepathic will be quite different from one in which communication is primarily olfactory or visual - and all will be puzzling to those verbal humans! A whole raft of possibilities opens up to a race which can fly, others may find their way around using echolocation or sense vibrations. There are a lot of ideas here, along with the associated game mechanics to make them happen. Picking a few of these, or using them as a template to structure your own ideas, will help you customise your alien.
This is followed by Chapter 4: Feats and Drawbacks. This is a discussion of 'racial' feats which are inherent to the alien in question, rather than the regular pick'n'mix feats characters take as they advance, but they can go a long way towards defining that alien's capabilities. Drawbacks are things disadvantageous to the species, which add extra points to the pool of points used to ensure game balance.
Chapter 5: Finishing Touches rounds off the creation process. It is more conceptual in nature, covering things like society, language and other things which are vitally important to making the alien... well, alien; but which are not reflected in game mechanics. There are loads of ideas, just reading through them spawns visions of what is possible and how you might make not just an alien creature but a whole civilisation behind it, and make it come alive within your alternate reality. Game mechanics are important, but the underlying concepts are what make your aliens believeable.
Then there's a checklist to note down your choices made as you run through the processes outlined above, and a couple of Appendices. The first is a series of alien races outlined in brief, to show you want can be done using this development system; and the second talks about racial levels, how to scale your inventions when you really do want them to be markedly more or less powerful than the majority of races in your universe.
If you seek aliens, look elsewhere. Here is a masterclass in how to build aliens: thought-provoking and mechanically sound... but you need to do the work to make your aliens come 'alive' to inhabit your alternate reality. Here are the tools to empower you to make it happen.
Return to Infinite Aliens 1 page.
Reviewed: 16 May 2011